Monday, September 30, 2013

sometimes a great notion (with apologies to ken kesey)

From left: wooden knitting needle, sharp shears, big mechanical pencil, permanent ink pen with fine nib, rolling chaco liner, dental mirror, awl, reverse tweezers with long tips, fat handle ripper, applique scissors, wonder clip, cheap plastic clothes pin, computer cleaning brush, magnetic pin holder. Also shown: plastic basket for projects, note pad and measuring tape (one of many). Above: sorta sorted pattern box (one of many)

I am 54 years old, I have been sewing my own clothes for over 40 years, i haven't changed size much in the last fifteen, and I have no more room in my closet.

If I am going to make something new, it has to be pretty damn nice to earn space in there.

The unholy mess I sew in. I do clear the chair (covered with jammies on the lower left) to sit on. And I do remove the cover.

Given this situation..  

What defines my sewing is attention to detail and quality materials.
(and honestly, the details are often overlooked when I'm in a hurry)

Sooo.....the quality materials....  

I can buy great fabric. I can buy a great machine (either one new or used).

I cannot buy: a good zipper, good snaps, good thread. I can get decent versions if I go online. As an over the counter customer, all I can buy is tolerable.
They ride in a threepart vanity table cup on a lazy susan that does turn. Now and then. The terracotta pot has the dreaded Bernina feet. I think that's a snowdome to the right, below the head of a superbright drafting table light my dad bought me.
If I buy bias tape, I expect it to come without seams. 
Ribbons and facings should be marked as machine washable in regular sized type.
Zippers should be able to withstand a cotton setting temperature iron bumping into them.

I would spend more for quality. I HAVE spent more. I have paid more for the notions for some things than  did for the fabric; it paid off in a lifetime of good wear.

Honest product reviews are hard to find. I do like to touch what I'm buying. I understand the economies of scale that a curated collection of quality items has. There are lots of boutique online stores selling to niche markets. I do get tired of paying

Pattern Review has  a section for reviews of notions, and like most reviews, just mention the ones everybody loves. Amazon is an entertaining place to read reviews of sewing needles.  

First, I prewash everything. 

It's easier to mention what i don't: snaps and thread.  I cannot afford dry cleaning. I wash my wools, my silks, you name it. if it can't survive a kindly handwash, forget it.

Ribbon has been ruined by craft stores. The washable is all mixed in with the crafter, the content is often not listed, whine whine whine. I assume all ribbon is crap until I've washed and ironed it. Even the fancy schmancy stuff. It shrinks so much, it hurts.

I no longer assume iron on facings will stay on. I sew them; I consider the iron part a temporary attachment. I use better facings and linings for the clothing I expect to last longer.
Sewkeys bias knit, Seams Great in the old wide width and in black, Dritz Stay tape both old and new.

I have developed a sewing dependency on nylon bias seam tape.  I run it under button holes. I put it in armscyes, in pretty much any seam that is going to have a stressful life. Seams Right is now only made in a 5/8" width in white. Booooooo! Emma Seabrooke has a fusible bias tape which will do the job, but have to be careful about the fusible nature of the beast. I am trying to make myself create and use silk organza cut into bias strips, but I am rotary tool challenged and YOU try cutting strips of it with shears. I double dog dare ya'. 

Snapsource: Found out about them when i did a pattern for Sewbaby (The Wonder Jacket).  Yes, you have to buy a tool to install them, but it's well designed (I've had mine for over ten years), and the snaps are pretty high quality in terms of size, length of prongs, color choice and repeated wear. Nothing will beat a hand sewn snap. Nothing. The prying apart force eventually opens up the gap between the fabric and the metal. But for decorative/useful purposes, these are good.

Thread. You get what you pay for, except when you don't.  I've purchased super cheap thread that outperformed expensive stuff. I've cursed the day I threaded up with some cheap stuff that I had to remove every bit from a project.  
Bagged by color group. I loves the ziplock bags. This might be a problem.

An important concern with thread is using the appropriate stuff for the job. What would be a hazard in one arena is a benefit in another.

A really fine survey of thread is here: your thread under a microscope.  from Owen's Olivia.  Way down past the photos are links to Threads/Taunton Press's article from 2004 to which thread for what job, Superior Thread's thread types and's thread science article.
 Be prepared to settle in for a good long read. You won't be disappointed.

Buttons. I buy old ones at garage sales, sample sales, wherever bags of old pearl buttons are sold. Pawn shops are a new fave right now. If I don't expect something to last, I'll buy the plastic bag craft collections and PREWASH them. That paint can come right off damn quick. And always sew some spares into the seam allowance for later.

Zippers. I ... I hate zippers. The dress weight zippers generally are okay. All zippers will gap and fail if pulled on in an half-open position, so be prepared to replace zippers for jackets and sleeping bags and (lord help me) tents. Metal lasts a little longer than plastic, but it's the tape that fails, not the teeth.

 I no longer put zippers in jackets unless I put buttons in as well; the button will hold the jacket half open (an action that will destroy the zipper). I only use the zipper zipped all the way up. Even then, the plastic connection at the bottom will pull and fail. It's like a light bulb. You will need to change it if you use it.

All that said, the product comments on make me think she's a reliable source (any seller that admits that products fail sometimes is alright with me). I am not going to pile on the story,  being that in the real world, at this minute, right now, I do incoming customer service calls for a sports publication.

You cannot win that game. You can only postpone losing.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bill Cunningham On The Street

 While I hammer on the dress pattern, a little diversion.

I spend a lot of time staring at designers' work on line and in the papers. An all day extravagance at the end of the long summer job was watching Bill Cunningham’s On The Street narrated slide shows on the New York Times website. One after another after another. Binge!

I love these slide shows, and this is one of my favorites. I have folks I follow on his pages (damn, those photos are SMALL on the page of the Sunday paper).

My fashion muse is Louise Doktor
Scanned from the tiniest photo on the page 2011? 2012? The three sleeve raincoat


There's a story about her waiting to happen.

Not an interesting choice for Louise, but an introduction to a regular of his pages.

It is worth checking out the documentary about BC, named after him, to watch how he works. And watch how many itty bitty photos he crams into the pages now. Whoa Bill! Too many is not enough of any of them.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Left Hand Oven Mitt At Spoonflower

I've been messing around on Spoonflower for about a year, and had the idea to make an oven mitt of my hand. You know, form follows function.

So I scanned my hand. Both sides. Tried very hard to get them to line up the same way, so it would be reversable.

So today I finally got it done.

Lined them up on my favorite lightbox: the dining room window. Pinned.

Marked and sewed and pinked.

I sewed quilted ironing board cover for the liner (reinforcement with wool felt on palms and fingers is layered in there), sewing over the seam on one side, then attaching the liner on the other side and followed previous seams (just out a little, so the outside seam would be the first pass, so my design wouldn't be trimmed). Left the cuff (with the inscription) long to fold over and sew. Could have used bias tape and made a hanging loop, but I don't hang my mitts.

Kids, don't sew it this way. Go to a point, sink the needle, and then sew back the other way. This makes it too bunched up at the thumb joint. You do want to leave batting in the seam allowance; it makes the mitts not have nasty holes for getting burned.

See? Thumbs all squinched up. And yes, it is starting to creep me out.

But it works.

(no, I didn't trim off my fingertips, but I should have left more space around them so that they would show better. And creep me out more....)

My...disembodied.... HAAAAANNNNNND!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New Pattern Coming Soon

Yes, this is a pattern.

And as I always say, it's not the drawing, it's the instructions.....

(back to the lab. Welding masks anyone?)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Tools from the tool shed

After my seam rippers and my notebooks and the camera on my phone,  I had to go to my photo pile to realize my bestest tool is

(or architectural tracing paper, or thumbnail, or whatever)
Comes in grid, comes in 18 or 36" wide, a few yards or humongous rolls.

I let the photos speak for themselves.
I have a sloper. I need a new dress. Let's trace!

I have to move a dart. Let's cut and trace again!

I need to to make two mirrored pieces from one pattern piece

I need one more version of the same collar and see through to the grain (also works for marking plaids)
I need to trace an entire dress

I made three different versions and need to find the last one - ah, yellow!

It comes in a neato orange plastic wrapper for tidy storage

It comes in ridiculously large rolls, unlike newspaper. It holds ink, pencil will erase from it without tearing, it cuts nicely, you can iron it, you can pin through it with ease....what's not to love?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Size-ism and Capitalism

Pattern blocks used to conform to this body model.

Ah, the firestorm of size-ism. The Colleterie site's "thoughts-on-sewing/grading-patterns-for-plus-sizes" conversation is intense.

As it should be. It's a big, personal, complicated issue. There's no way to contain all of it in one blog or letter or song or book.

I must apologize for throwing any hornets' nests into a small room, but sizing is, I believe, a cultural convention, and that sewing defies that in a political action.
Dress form of recent vintage. No hips on her!

I believed this long before Elizabeth Cline wrote "Overdressed"; she didn't go far enough by my lights.

Sure, our (choices define (commerce) defines our choices), perpetuating a feedback loop of "cheap and shoddy clothes that fit no one that are bought by everyone, creating more demand for cheap and shoddy...

You get the idea. Clothing is cheap because we expect so little from it. You get what you pay for.

This is the same thinking for sizing blocks for The Big 4 (the big 2:McCalls/Butterick/Vogue/KwikSew and Simplicity/NewLook). Two organizations, with remarkably similar basic shape assumptions. They've got a lot of product to crank out, in a standard that really fits no one, but has been accepted by the majority. We voted for it by buying it.

See the photos of dress forms for a few ideas about the "ideal" body type assumption. Was anyone that shape? No. Industrial strength corsetry made the first image possible. Each was the sizing block of its time.

18th C Wood/Iron dress forms: The back is swayed and the frames are for the skirts, which will stand away from the torso

This is my argument: if you expect free and cheap patterns, you will get the midrange house sizing. If you want more than that, you will pay for it. Your rate of exchange will either be higher priced patterns or your labor in adapting/redrafting those patterns.

In marketing and business, there's the idea that you can have something quick, good or cheap. You can have two out of the three, but you cannot have all three. You have to decide. And just letting the decision go is deciding that you don't care about it

It's not that patterns are too expensive, it's that they've been underpriced for years. See that $30 price on a Vogue Pattern? Did you ever pay that?* See that $22 on a Sewing Workshop? Ever pay that? Were your expectations different? Why? The same level of technique went into both; but one company is underwritten by a mammoth empire (the patterns are a promotional write-off) and the other one isn't. Those badly drafted 'plus size' patterns are a sop, designed to keep your business and keep you quiet. You can have it quick and you can have it cheap.....

The other house motto we have at Ernie Labs is: make it easy for people to give you money. If someone asks you for an item you don't sell (that would make sense for you to sell, like a grocery store selling cabbage as well as lettuce), you should try really hard to get that item in. You do NOT tell a potential customer why you can't; they will write you off and go to the next door/store/website down. Never say no; say 'soon.' 

On a personal note, it makes me very angry to see people giving away their hard work on Burda and Craftsy. I make myself mad at undercharging for my hard work because someone else is giving my patterns away for free. I compete with myself at the end of the day, and the only way i can beat that is by adding value to what I already have out. You stole the pattern, but you forgot to steal the instructions.

I keep going at it because it's what I enjoy working hard at.  It sets my brain on fire in a way that no other activity has. I'm okay at it,  but i will be brilliant someday, tenthousand happy hours later.

And when I get there, I sure as hell will not accept $2 for a pattern.

* I feel really badly for our UK/Aus/NZ pals who do pay something like this. Now and then, there's a Vogue that really does teach you something new in the construction and instructions, but I confess I wait them out for the deep discount sales at Joann's. And I do pay $22 for a Sewing Workshop pattern, because i know what went into it. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

rippin good times

Work continues, and while I could bring the portable Kenmore and set up a'sewin, 

this isn't mine, but isn't it having a nice time in the sun? Ready for my Ebay closeup!

that just seems like I'm admitting work is dead and I'm just babysitting.

So I brought rippin' work.

Like any maker, I have tools I love more than others. I love the Kenmore more than the Bernina. I love the big ass tailors' shears more than the old Ginghers, but not by much. You get the idea. 

I am very picky about seam rippers. It's the ultimate hand tool. In the end, no matter what gadget you use, and there have been several, you end up ripping by hand.

I would like to shout out to the Oxo Good Grips people to make a seam ripper. That big fat rubber handle on one of these....

Or buy some Sugru and do it yourself. Or search online for the recipe for Oogoo. Remember, any self-hardening recipe needs exact proportions, or you have made tar. The NeverHardeningTarOfToolRuiningDoom!

I'm going to share some love here and send you to
Joan's toolbox
to see her $5 on the topic. She is so utterly correct. It's a scalpel. Sit down!
At the moment, this is the go to ripper. Love that fat bottom handle!
This is my next seam ripper

A lot of zipper fail being undone. A giveaway Mariners baseball bag, beloved by Elder Son, got a new zipper after an hour of zip rip yesterday. Today, a gimmewear from Microsoft Office, a souvenir from the bad old days, great jacket, multifail zip. Unsure of what to replace it with.

But that's another post for another day.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Future Beauty - Finally!

I finally made it, with one day to spare.

photo from Portland Monthly Magazine, photo Nathanial Wilson

This show from the Kyoto Costume Institute has been touring the planet for a couple of years, and I have had its dates on my calendar since it was announced last year. I just didn't think I'd be working or parenting every single day from June  though now. 

So I went early and stayed for hours, taking a lunch break with my sister, a break to buy a notebook (I FORGOT MINE!) and borrow a pen. Pages and pages of notes, and when I stop writing this, I go drape a pattern I figured out while I was there.

The arrangement of the manikins has varied from location to location. The above photo does provide a good example of one thing SAM got right; the flat version faces itself. Of course, by the time lunch had rolled past, this space was filled with people. No photography allowed, kids. 

Just click here for more about Final Home coat. I had heard about this project, it's a topic worth searching on. I had never seen one before in person. It was stuffed with fake flowers for this exhibit. Miss the point, why don't ya?

I didn't realize I would turn out to be such a Yamamoto fan, especially seeing
this boned FLANNEL dress The boning in the skirt follows the seams, which are on the slant (oh go to the dang link and read the copy and click on the real zoom button)

Yes, very Vionnet.

What worked for me about this dress was seeing it next to a video of a runway show with it at the end (remember when the end of the show was the TaDAH! wedding dress reveal? When did that stop?). It's on the bias, and very wearable (thought the scowling model wouldn't let on). Lots of little stitches and hook and eye closures just under the arm (this view).

Lots and lots of runway collection videos; heard the comment over and over about folks coming back to just watch all the videos.

Amusing collection of monitors, all on one wall, crammed in a hallway with mid-eighties shows from Claude Montana, Yves St Laurent, Alaia Azzedine , JP Gautier, a real early Lagerfeld Chanel collection (when he used the 5 and the other icons as appliques and fetish objects). There was a lot of snickering from the viewers, somehow forgetting how much they loved what they were watching when it came around the first time.

Repeat viewers talked about evenings where the patrons were as well dressed as the manikins. There were some swell things, mostly Miyake (including me in one of my many versions of top from Vogue 1257). 

This boiled wool (aka felt) dress has a pocket (welt) on the other side, about hand level. Alright!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My grandmother's windbreaker

Does this jacket look familiar?

Does it look familiar now?

If you want to really indulge, do an image search on the term "90's windbreaker"

Oh my gosh.

I had less luck finding a photo of my grandmother in one. She was a quick one. Take my word for it. She loved those track suits something fierce. I also searched on Golden Girls, grandmothers in windbreakers, and sewing expo (where my scone photo appeared early on. Go figure). No dice.

It is too easy to beat up on BurdaStyle these days. They seem to be stuck in an ugly or regrettable rut, and it's unfortunately coming at the same time that they are expanding their online brand.

That said....I particularily love the prepleated 'wrinkles' at the elbow.  Those three rows of elastic that will enlarge any waist.  The sleeves that cut off at an angle to round off the entire torso. 

 It's just... unfortunate.