Tuesday, March 11, 2014

And now time for some... Quilting?

Now I'll be honest... quilting?  Is not usually my thing.  Or at least it wasn't, unless you count my Laura Ingalls/Cady Woodlawn/American Girl inspired obsession with pioneers and the American West that lasted approximately from 4-7 grade and which spawned many a doll-size patchwork monstrosity...  (I was so cool guys, so cool.) But other than that?  No, not so much a quilter.  I mean, why spend hours precision sewing straight lines when there are frivolous dresses to be made, corsets to be built, and jackets to be tailored? 
Plus as one who mostly (solely?) sews garments, I'm often a bit bitter at the array of colors and prints that are available in the quilting aisles... they draw me in with their amazing rainbow of jewel tones and perfectly coordinated pastels only to disappoint when you touch a cotton that is not only practically see-through but shockingly sandpaperesque to the touch.  With the advent of extensive online fabric stores and the move to a city with more on offer than just a JoAnns, this is a bit less of an issue, but still... I've been burned before.
Plus there is a bit of a snob factor... this idea that quilting falls under the umbrella of "crafting" and I'm not a "crafter."  "Crafters" are bored moms poorly recreating something they saw on Pinterest which was itself totally derivative.  Crafters make casseroles out of pre-packaged ingredients because Rachel Ray thought it was a good idea.  Crafters glue pom poms on Popsicle sticks and follow directions.  No, in my mind, I am an artist.  I am a designer.  I may use purchased patterns 85% of the time, but never mind that... in my minds eye I am a creative genius and a beacon of style and good taste...
And maybe a little bit (totally) deluded.
And actually? I love Pinterest and scrapbooks and activities involving glue guns.  And I'm from the Midwest... if you can hide the taste of frozen veggies with a can of Campbell soup, I'm a happy, happy girl!
So absurd pretensions thoroughly shattered, I embarked on that most classic of crafts, the quilt.  What inspired this project, you may ask?  Why it is because my cousin Kristin (who is amazing, FYI... doctor, former figure skater, living with her new husband in the world's most amazing Chicago apartment) is having a baby!  And I decided to make a baby quilt.
Upon making this decision, I could have behaved like a normal person and thought to myself, "Self, you don't know how to make a quilt.  Perhaps you should find some directions or buy a pattern or a book."  But that sort of self-awareness and good sense would be out of character.  Instead, I busted out a sketchbook and drew out what seemed to be an appropriate design for the situation and promptly hightailed it to the JoAnns to bring my dream to fruition. 

Why yes, that is the Chicago skyline... as a quilt.  Because goodness knows I couldn't make my first attempt a quilting something normal and based on right angles because that would be too easy. 

So, design decided upon and supplies obtained, I needed to figure out how to turn my fevered vision into a soft cotton reality.  Now I don't know how you are supposed to do these things but I figured a pattern was in order.  So I made a quilt size square of brown paper from old grocery bags, taped it to the mirror in the bedroom and sketched my Chicago skyline again, this time in full size.  (Full quilt size, not full Chicago size... that would be both ridiculous and expensive.  Plus the baby would get lost.)

For the lake I wanted to create random shapes in different shades of blue and white to mimic motion of water.  Again, I wasn't sure how to go about this, so I just started cutting out random bits of fabric and piecing them together until I had a piece a bit larger than the pattern I created.

After I assembled the water and the shore, I cut out my buildings one at a time.  I would cut each piece out of the paper pattern, cut out the fabric with a 1/4 inch seam allowance and I slowly started building my skyline.  


 After most of the skyline was assembled, I started in on the Sears Tower. (I know intellectually that it has a new name now, but I do not accept this so shush!)

So far, the face of the quilt looks like this:

Obviously there is still a lot of work to be done.  It needs to be pressed and quite a few of the buildings are as of yet unattached.  And that green one in the middle looks wonky.  It isn't actually that crooked but I do think the color is a little off and I may have to replace it.  Plus the sky?  Will be blue and white and gray and cloud-like, and not made of grocery bags.  But it's progress and not bad for two evenings of work on a first attempt I think.  
So what is the moral here?

Don't think practially! Just follow the guide of your fevered imagination!  If you take time to figure out how to do something you very well may talk yourself out of it so it's better to just jump right in! 

But, um... if someone has any thoughts as to the best way to do the actual quilting part, please let me know.  My original idea was to machine quilt by outlining the buildings and then free-form quilting the water and sky.  Now I'm a little uncertain.  So now that I've taken the plunge into a quilted Lake Michigan, is there anyone out there who can teach me to swim? 

Monday, March 10, 2014

On Shamrocks, nooks, and cleavage...

This is me... pretending not to notice my very handsome photographer.
Earlier today, I was enjoying my newly created "reading nook."  (And by "earlier today" I mean right now, as I'm typing.)  It's just a corner really, but it's amazing what an armchair, an ottoman, and some luxurious layered rugs can do!  (Why yes, I am posing reading the newest issues of Threads!) And you know what makes the perfect outfit for comfortable lounging?  Why a faux-wrap dress in a satiny soft rayon jersey, of course.  As comfortable as pajamas but you can wear it all day at work? Sign me up!

This simple dress was my project this past weekend.  This Butterick pattern by Chetta B has a wrap style top, flared skirt, and a wide obi inspired sash. 

The fabric I chose has a small kelly green clover print on a black background.  The wrong side of the fabric is all black so I was able to use the same fabric to create the bias binding.  The reversible quality of the fabric also helped make the sash look more finished when tied without having to line it. 
I did make a few alterations to the original pattern.  First, I eliminated the zipper.  Honestly, doesn't a zipper sort of defeat the point of an easy-wear jersey dress?  I really do not understand the Big Four pattern companies love of putting zippers in knit dress patterns.  Second, I didn't attach the sash as directed, but simply finished it with the black bias binding and tied it on.  It not only stayed put, but I think it makes the dress more versatile as I could also pair the dress with a purchased belt or wear unbelted for a looser, more casual look (maybe with boots and a long sweater? hmm...)  Finally I added the contrast bias trim to the sleeves as well.  Honestly, I think it creates a cleaner and more finished look, particularly on the short, almost capped, sleeve.
Generally, I found this pattern to be pretty great.  The proportions are good, the skirt was long enough without adding significant extra length (I think I only added about 2 inches, but I don't really know as I eyeballed it),  and the few hours it took to make this dress is completely worth it for a classic dress that can be worn in all seasons. 
That said, it runs BIG.  Right now, my measurements put me anywhere from a 16 to a 22 based on the back of the envelope.  Given that this is a knit and the jersey I chose has considerable stretch, I cut an 18.  Once the body of the dress was assembled, I tried on the whole kit and caboodle and it was, frankly, enormous.  I ended up taking in the side seams at the waist by two inches on each side.  After wearing it today, I'll probably throw it in the wash to make sure there is no additional shrinkage and take in the side seams a bit more, particularly as I think that will make the bust gap open a bit less...
Which brings me to my other criticism of this dress... it is pretty low cut.  Now I have a relatively high tolerance for low cut. I figure that as a busty gal, my bras are almost all "full coverage" so if the entire bra is covered I consider myself work appropriate.  Now this may just be a rationalization to make up for the fact that as one who can manage to have cleavage in a crew neck (this is only a slight exaggeration) the girls are never work appropriate so, well... screw it.  Point being, if you care about silly things like modesty, decency, and the prevention of so-called "wardrobe malfunctions" you may want to either raise the neckline ever so slightly or find yourself a cami. 
Overall though, I have to say I'm pretty pleased.  Plus, now I have something to wear next week for St. Patrick's Day!  Not that I have any plans for March 17th.  While I love any holiday that lends itself to themed dressing, I am getting too old to deal with half dressed, drunken teenagers whose neglectful and delinquent parents I spend the day judging.  You know you are an old lady when a day of harmless debauchery ends with your threatening to call the truant officer.  No, instead I will simply wear this dress (which for one day only shall be dubbed "the shamrock dress") and raise a pint to the holiday... after all, there is a nook with my name on it!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Acquisitions, Organization, and Future Plans...

So I haven't been updating this blog o'mine nearly as often as I should have, but there is a good reason for this... I haven't been sewing nearly as often as usual and thus had nothing write about. I chalk this up to post-holiday laziness and general malaise.  Of course it could also be that I'm busy admiring views like this:
That said, I did acquire some amazing new stuff to help in some upcoming projects.

Most crucially, I upgraded my iron with a nice new Rowenta.  This is not to say that the Hamilton Beach iron I inherited from my mother circa 1980-something is not perfectly lovely... frankly it's stood me in pretty good stead, but it was time for an upgrade and some Amazon vouchers for Christmas proved the ideal opportunity to get a great iron for far less than I would otherwise have paid. 

Isn't that pretty and shiny?  Particularly when compared to my previous equipment?
And I am pleased to report that my new iron is not only visually pleasing, and not covered in burnt crispy...stuff, but it also works far better.  Observe:

These two irons were on the same setting (upper mid-range heat recommended for wool with the steam on).  Just look at the difference!  The new iron created such nice crisp results, comparatively.  The lesson that I've learned once again?  Upgrading to better (sadly this often means more expensive) equipment is pretty much always worth the investment.
I also have acquired an interesting new pattern and some useful books. 
Over the summer, my younger sister was involved in field study in Mongolia and on her way back she stopped off in Japan where she picked up a pattern for her sewing obsessed sister.  Now part of me is deeply tempted to make myself an amazing new kimono, but the larger part of me doesn't want to risk cutting up a pattern in a foreign language I can't even read.  We'll just have to see what happens.
I also bought myself Patterns of Fashion 2.  As someone interested in costuming and historical clothing, I eventually plan on buying more from this series, but I started with the edition which focuses on my favorite era: 1860-1920.  This amazing book(s) diagrams and provides scaled patterns for period gowns from various museum collections. 
I also bought Bridal Couture by couturier Susan Khalje.  This book outlines the fabrication, construction, and application to design and build wedding gowns and formals.  The book details topics such as working with lace and constructing boned bodices.  It's fantastic.  And why did I buy this book you may ask?  Because I have offered to make bridesmaid dresses for my baby sister's wedding set for May of 2015.  It's really the least I can do as one of the co-maids-of-honor.


Early in the planning process, Caitlin and I discovered we had the same dress on our respective Pinterest boards.  Namely, Trashy Diva's Honey dress.


I noticed that this bore a striking resemblance to the Butterick pattern by Gertie (B5882) inspiring the reaction, "hey, I own that pattern!"  And the subsequent determination that I could make the dresses as a wedding gift for less than these dresses would otherwise cost. 
That said, I prefer the true under-bust look of the first dress to Gertie's version, which is designed more to de-emphasize the bust (dear lord, why would I want to do that?).  So I decided to draft my own version as well and figure I can let the bride (remember her?) to make the decision as to what she wanted to use.  So, last night, I busted out my cheap plastic tablecloths (best thing for first draft muslin-ing I've ever discovered) and drafted a 50's style cocktail gown that I'm actually quite proud of!

Pretty, no?  I've also drafted a circle skirt to go with this (you can see it in the back view), but it's ultimately less important to draft ahead of time than the bodice.  

Additionally, I've made some significat Ikea purchases to update the sewing corner of my bedroom and open up the space significantly. 

This new arrangement also gives me the ability to watch terrible reality television while crafting... and what could be better than that?

So to sum up: iron, patterns, weddings, and Ikea... all good things!  Discuss!









Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In lieu of the Superbowl...

Here is the best summation of my opinion of sporting events...

Thus Superbowl Sunday found me not watching commercials and eating wings, but rather at a costume workshop at RockIT CoLabs crafting it up steampunk style!

This amazing afternoon started with a tutorial in paper mache, something at which I am shockingly bad.  I somehow managed to make everything both exceedingly soggy and shapeless... it's not good folks, not good.  After that, we learned to fashion top hats from cardboard and fabric scraps.  I am pretty impressed with my quasi-Victorian efforts.

We also had a tutorial in the use of the 3-D printer.  This was actually really cool, particularly in that I think that sewing and crafting is one area where the technology as is, is  sufficient for current purposes.  While there are some 3-D printers which can work in metals or glass, the vast majority are useful only for polymers.  This restricts the use for many purposes but just think of the notions which are nothing but bits of plastic!  Think of the buttons!

So I spent a wonderful afternoon with cool people learning about some of the intersections between sewing and technology...  I can't wait for the next workshop. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Claremont Coat... Decades of Style #4009


So after my very sequin-y, sparkle-y New Year's Eve, I spent New Year's Day enjoying a nature hike along the Pacific Coast wearing my new Claremont(ish) Coat made from Decades of Style 4009
The fabric was a lilac wool tweed purchased by-the-piece from Fabric Mart and a lilac and patterned gray and lilac floral print silk/cotton voile for the lining.  I've always loved lighter weight jackets, and for the first time ever I live in a climate where they are a practical option.  I imagine quite a bit more tweed in my future!  Although I will give one note of caution... this fabric was lovely to work with, presses beautifully, but frays easily.  This was not a problem in the original construction, but the back panel had already began to separate from the side panels near where the panel back facings end.  I've fixed it by hand and lightly tacked the seam to the lining at the weak point which should prevent further fraying along the seam, but if I was to start over I would have finished the seam edges with the serger... 
I set out the pattern to cut just before Christmas, thus the holiday cheer in the background.  I cut the smallest size C, which pretty closely matches my measurements, but if I was to attempt it again, I'd probably go up to one of the larger "C" sizes to get a little more ease in the bust and waist and allow an easier fit over casual clothes.  In the posted pictures the coat is straining a bit over jeans and a sweater but today I wore it over a jersey wrap dress (um... and spanx) and the fit was flawless... take that as you will when determining your own size. 



I followed the directions provided with the pattern fairly closely.  I started by attaching the front yoke to the panel back.

I then assembled the yoke and panel facings and attached the facing to the yoke and panel back assembly.  

Next, I marked the darts on the front and sleeves with tailor's tacks and stitched all the darts.  This is my least favorite part of any project so I always do all the darts at once to get it over with!

I then assembled the coat side back and coat fronts... and attached the yoke and panel back with lapped seams. 

Once the body was assembled, I attached the pockets.  The pocket section attached to the coat front is made of the shell fabric, while the back pocket is cut of the lining.  This way if/when the pocket gaps open a bit, it will be less noticeable.

And then the sleeves... I actually really love these sleeves soooo much and may utilize this technique/design in future garments.  On this pattern, rather than evenly spacing gathers and doing a set in sleeve, the sleeve has 5 small, evenly spaced darts which shape the sleeve cap.  It is visually interesting and far easier to sew!  (I always have to redo set in sleeves multiple times to eliminate unwanted puckers, this is so much easier.)

At that point, I assembled and inserted the lining of the body, pinned and stitched the sleeve linings in and hemmed the whole kit and caboodle.  I found that my interfacing was not quite up to the task of wrangling this wool, and the front was not laying flat so I decided to top-stitch around the front and neck closure as well.  

Now as for buttons (this is always a dramatic issue for me, is it not?) I decided against the classic 2 button closure in lieu of a frog closure (for now).  As I mentioned, this coat had a little less ease than I would have initially preferred, so instead of buttonholes and buttons I decided to have the front closure meet flush at the edges with a frog closure.  It was a "make it work" moment as Tim Gunn would say.  And should my current diet succeed in reducing my girth, I can easily swap out my hand-stitched closures for proper buttonholes and buttons.  Only time will tell.