Friday, March 25, 2011

There's no business like show business

Ah, the theater. The fantasy, the excitement . . . the challenge of making costumes out of thin air when the budget runs dry.

Some of my theater sewing experiences have been just that, but not this time around. The design for my friend's gown for the upcoming production is lovely, and the pattern I was given (Butterick 4571) isn't that far off, but once again, funds were lacking. So my friend came up with an idea - what if she supplied the fabric? And then got to keep the costume at the end of the run?

I thought it was a fabulous idea. I've made a lot of costumes that looked great on her but (a) weren't of a fabric that would last for long beyond its intended use, and (b) they went into the theater's costume stash and she couldn't have them anyway.

This plan would give me better fabric to work with, she'd be costumed for the production (to the designer's specifications), and she'd get the gown at the end. Win-win.

We went to the South Philly Jomar on Thursday night - two Jomar runs in less than a week! be still my heart! - and found what we needed. The body of the dress is an off-black brocade, with a nice visible texture. It won't look dead black onstage, and it will photograph well. The contrast is an ivory brocade. I'm doing a separate underskirt, instead of just a contrast panel, but because the ivory brocade was more expensive, we went with a yard of that for the visible panel and the rest will be made out of a high-grade white muslin that they had for $1.99 per yard.

There are only 2 major changes to the pattern. The designer eliminated the back lacing (thank you!) but added a curve to the overdress in the front that laces, or at least appears to lace, at the waist. For the back, I can get away with an invisible zipper. For the front, I didn't want to do any drastic re-drafting, and because of the color I can get away with what I've come up with. I drafted an extension piece that fits into the princess seam from below the bust to the waist.

I know there's nothing historically accurate about princess seams, but they do get the job done.

We also picked up a dull-finish ivory satin for the lining of the sleeves, and several yards of an embroidered ribbon trim.

Tonight I put the muslin together. It went smoothly, and I have hopes that when we do the fitting on Sunday, there will be minimal changes to transfer to the fabric. She's a good bit narrower than me through the back and a bit smaller in the waist, so this should work. I cut a 12, which more or less matches her measurements, but I've always had to take her costumes in before. I'm so used to Burda and their more minimal wearing ease; Big 4 patterns with their spacious drafting don't make sense after a long stretch of Burda.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Good Wife

I re-read my last post. Would somebody get me some wine to go with that whine?

It's Monday. My four-day man-free weekend is over. Can I tell you, it was a little weird? I did enjoy the time on my own, and all that I got done, but it was . . . not what I'm used to anymore.

I know. You can tell me. I'm married now, I'm supposed to like having him around. And I do.

I just still find myself surprised by that fact. It's not a place I ever expected to be, and the last few days have made me realize how grateful I am for the changes that have come my way.

Jeez. I've gone from whiny, uninspired non-sewer to some Stepford version of myself.

Let's try to find a happy medium. Let me tell you about the weekend.

Friday night: I faced down the mess in the workroom. I bagged up some of the mess, which was distracting me, and got down to business. First off, those green cargo pants. I ditched the cargo pockets, recut new jeans-style pockets, and by bedtime (which I admit was a tad later than usual), I had a new pair of Jalie jeans. I'm still not sold on their fly front instructions, so I used the ones from the Ottobre jean pattern. I'm not 100% thrilled with these pants, but I wore them on Saturday.

When I went out with Andrea. We hit the farmer's market, shopping, went to Jomar to fondle fabrics - and acquire a few. We went to 4th Street for lunch and then to look at a few more fabrics. Fabric acquisition was pretty restrained, considering I haven't been to Jomar since PR Weekend back in May. That may be record for me.

They had a good selection of sample cuts from Marc Jacobs. Problem: most of them are 1 yard cuts. I got 3 anyway, 2 sweater knits and a floral knit that will probably become a KwikSew tshirt. Not sure about the sweater knits yet. I also bought 2 yards of knit that are intended for a dress. Last but not least, I bought the shirting cotton pictured here.

I thought it would make a nice short-sleeved summer shirt for Mario. I had no particular intention of making it up right away, but when Andrea dropped me off, I had to do laundry anyway, so I washed all my new fabrics. The shirting dried without a wrinkle, and when I put it on the shelf, I took it right back down again.

This is KwikSew 2935, the same pattern I used recently for my boss's drinking shirt. The details are a lot easier to see with the lighter color. A nice glass of wine helped me with lining up the print on the center front and the pocket placement.

I started the shirt around 9:00 p.m., and finished it all but the topstitching and buttonholes, around midnight.

Sunday I had brunch with a friend, and then went back to her house to watch a BBC miniseries that she wanted me to see. I ran home first to throw in one last load of laundry, and managed to knock out the buttonholes and topstitching too. Then I brought the shirt back to her house and sewed on buttons while we wwatched.

I also managed to get the baby dress hemmed and finished. Photos of that soon - I'm sending it off tomorrow, and since the baby's mom reads the blog (or did, before motherhood probably ate her blog-reading time), I don't want to put the dress up here first.

Picking Mario up at the airport tonight. The shirt will be hanging in his closet when he gets dressed for work tomorrow.

In my world, nothing says, "I missed you, I was thinking about you," better than a new shirt.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I know what my problem is

Why I've had so many UFOs lately, so many started-but-not-finished projects.

I'm sewing just to sew. I know, it sounds weird, we all sew to sew, because we love it, but what I've wanted to be doing lately is working outside. Since I can't, I retreat to the workroom and start another project. Sewing is what I do whenever I can't do something else; I love it, I'm good at it, and at the end, I have something wearable or usable to show for the time I've spent.

But lately, not so much. I've turned out 2 skirts I've been happy with, but those were both impromptu projects, done within 2 days and already worn. The UFOs on the table are longer term pieces, started with the best of intentions (and in the case of the dress, much inspiration and a stalking incident, to be explained later). So what's wrong there?

I think started most of them just so that I would have something to do. I don't need a pair of cargo pants. I didn't need skirts, either, but they wanted to be made. The cargo pants didn't want to be made in the same way. I was standing in the workroom, having pushed the dress to one side, casting around for something -- anything -- to make, and I latched onto a khaki green stretch twill and remembered that I wanted to make another pair of jeans, but I didn't really feel like making jeans just then . . . so the cargo idea was born. I cut out the pieces with great enthusiasm, got the pockets and flaps all constructed, and then stopped. Okay, so Lily helped - I had the pockets placed on the back ready to pin down for stitching, and she jumped on them and knocked them out of place and I just haven't been able to face working on them again.

But is that enough of a reason? My cat knocked my pockets off? Not if I'd been into them, it wouldn't have. If I'd been going full throttle, I would have chased her out of the room, picked up my pockets and continued on.

Now, I think the problem has grown beyond itself. The UFOs have become the problem. I need to get them out of the workroom, or I'm afraid the next project I really want to make will end up keeping them company. Whether getting them out of the workroom means finishing them or chucking them into the fabric recycling pile, well, that remains to be seen.

But Mario's been away for a few of days, and while I have a bunch of other things that need to get done in his absence, the bulk of my non-working, non-sleeping time is going to be spent with the sewing machine.

Whether or not that will leave me any new garments to show off when he returns remains to be seen. But what will be there to be seen, hopefully, will be a woman who's cleaned off her work table and is ready to face a new day.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Procrastination: BWOF 3/2007 #122 Skirt

Now I have about 6 UFOs in the sewing room: the sleeveless summer dress for which I was lacking supplies (I am no longer lacking supplies, but am now lacking motivation, having waited too long); a turtleneck for Mario; 2 baby dresses for a friend (both almost done); a pair of cargo pants based on the Jalie jean pattern (cargo pockets all constructed, feline assistant knocked the butt-pocket placement off and I got sidetracked prior to fixing) and now I have the threat of theater sewing descending upon me.

So what did I do this weekend? I made a skirt. I didn't pull one of my unfinished projects out. As a matter of fact, I shoved them all (somewhat neatly) down to the far end of the table and made a skirt. A skirt I'd had no intention of making at all until someone's snoring kept me awake Friday night and I started thinking about spring clothes again.

This is BWOF 3/07 #122, a skirt I liked enough the first time around to have made it in March 2007. I like it for several reasons: first, I don't have that many long skirts anymore, but I think this one is flattering, and also because the piecing - yoke and 3 panels front and back - gives me an opportunity to play with fabric. Which needs to be done, seeing that BWOF recommends using 3 yards of fabric for this skirt, and I only had 2. The same happened with my 2007 version; I ran out of the sequin-embroidered cotton before I cut out the yoke, so that was cut from a matching brown textured stripe and I appliqu├ęd leftover sequined flowers to it.

This time, I just used one fabric, a silk/cotton gauze from Paron's (about 2 years old). I loved the print itself, but the stripe is a little close together, which you can see from the cutting layout. Using it horizontally or vertically wasn't going to work, so instead I cut it up in all directions at once, and liked it much better. Some of the pieces are cross-grain, some are straight, and I cut the yokes on the bias so that I could border them in leftover bits of the stripe. I had one long piece of the stripe left (40", the strange width of the fabric), and I gathered it and sewed it on to the skirt front from the yoke bottom to the side zip. I added an extra stripe to the back as well, but didn't ruffle it as I was running low on scraps.

Since the fabric is so lightweight, and because I cut the yoke on the bias, I underlined just the 2 yoke pieces with some lightweight cream linen left over from last summer's Chocolate Swirl dress. Because I didn't want any shifting, I also stitched along the stripes in 2 places on the front and back, just for extra stability. This baby's going nowhere!

This was not at all what I intended for this fabric when I bought it, but it's apparently a better idea, since I came up with it and finished it in 48 hours.

Sometimes you just have to listen to the fabric. I wish one of my UFOs would pipe up and say, "Finish me!" I promise I'd listen.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Passage to India

Another few pictures from my random collection of pretties.

Now the whole "India style" thing tends to get on my nerves. Burdastyle does it almost as often as they do "safari," and just as "safari" means tan clothes with pocket flaps and random epaulets, "Indian" means bright colors with some beads and sequins thrown on for good measure.

There seems to be no real attempt to tie the "Indian" fashion feature to actual Indian style; in fact, a lot of the clothes featured in those types of fashion spreads probably wouldn't be worn by many Indian women brought up in the culture that the fashion purports to represent. Go figure.

These photos, from an Azeem Khan fashion week collection of at least 5-6 years ago, don't bother me in the same way. First of all, what's shown here isn't being touted as "Indian" style. India-inspired, maybe, and that's fine. Fashion takes its inspiration from a lot of places, and actually what this feels like to me is some bizarre hybrid of 18th century Europe crossed with what we think of when someone says India.

Either way, Khan's embellishments, particularly on the jacket above, are gorgeous and qualify for keeping for that reason alone.

And yes, I do love the bright colors, and the sparkly bits. My mom called me a magpie growing up because I was always attracted to shiny things. That hasn't changed, and I have about as much use for these kinds of embellishments in my life now as I did when I was 10.

But I stand by my magpie taste: shiny is pretty. At least in this case.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It happens every winter

I fall out of love with my house. I get discontent with my indoor hobbies. I get so antsy that even the cats avoid me.

I'll be better soon. The nights are finally above freezing and soon I'll be able to get outside.

When I bought my house, I was happy that it had a front garden and a decent sized back yard. Not that I had a clue what to do with dirt, but in my mind, a house had a yard. Knowing what to do with it would come later. And it did.

The garden used to be ornamental, then a few years ago, things began to shift. It became less about how it looked and more about what was in it. I grew a few tomatoes. I made my first batch of pesto from backyard basil.

It snowballed, and last year, it went over the top. (I think it was the garlic that did it). This past winter was rough; I'm sure I lost quite a few plants. That doesn't bother me anymore because a dead plant is just an opportunity to plant something new. The veggie seedling order has gone in to Natural Gardening Co. : 6 tomatoes (3 plum; 3 regular), 3 peppers (bell, ancho and sweet frying), a cucumber, a zucchini, 3 more strawberry plants. They will keep company with the lettuces I will pick up at the farmer's market, along with a few container-sized tomatoes and a thicket of basil. Somehow, I also have a load of seeds to plant. There will be salad growing in the cracks of the sidewalk at this point.

All this in addition to 4 blueberries, 1 red currant, 1 black currant, 1 gooseberry, 4 strawberry plants, a rosemary bush, perennial thyme and sage, potted mint and lemon balm, a bed of garlic and some self-seeded arugula that's already coming up. I'm also coveting a fig that's volunteered in Mario's sister's back yard, but I don't think I have the space.

I'm not sure when it all happened, but in 11 years I've gone from an apartment-dweller who killed house plants and couldn't cook very well (but who sewed adequately, if infrequently) to a homeowner who gets a little crazy if she can't dig in the dirt, who can make her own bread and cheese, who can preserve all the stuff grown in the back yard, and who makes all her own clothes.

Who am I, and where did I come from? I didn't grow up around people who did any of these things. Matter of fact, I grew up around people who were happy they didn't have to do these things anymore. Like all the women in my family, my mom was an adequate cook, but it all came from cans (and later, the freezer). She sewed with resentment and creative profanity. Her gardening consisted of a few angry rosebushes and some bedraggled petunias. (However, she raised beautiful African violets on the windowsills - indoors).

Maybe it was because she and my aunts were one generation removed from the Depression, or not even. Maybe progress to them meant not having to do those things anymore. I don't know, and they're no longer around to ask.

A co-worker told me the other day that with my skills, I'd have survived very well during the Great Depression. I don't think they're bad skills to have these days, either. And I love knowing just how little we need to purchase outside of our own home - with the way prices are these days, I'll work every Depression-era skill I can find.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

My Image M1114 Skirt

It's Sunday night. It's raining. I'm tired and feeling somewhat lazy, so here's the patternreview for the skirt. I'll talk more aboaut it later, but for now, my eyes are crossing.

Pattern Description: Fly-front jeans-style mini-skirt, with pieced front, back yoke and back pockets.

Pattern Sizing:I made a 38. My Image's sizes run pretty close to Burda's, but maybe a little bigger. In a woven skirt in Burda, I'd cut a 40 and probably use wider seam allowances.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? It looks like the drawing. The two photos of the skirt in the magazine used dark fabric and dark stitching, so you really couldn't see the style lines very well. I also made some changes, noted below.

Were the instructions easy to follow? They weren't too bad. I didn't really use them, being so accustomed by Burda to not bothering until I'm in over my head. But I did read them over, and while their English is a little stilted, and some of the wording is odd (front and back "pass" instead of "yoke"), they made enough sense.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I thought it was a cute pattern. I liked the piecing, and it seemed like a good piece to try out a new pattern magazine.

Fabric Used: Khaki cotton twill. I wanted to use denim, and topstitch it properly (as in, topstitch it visibly), but I wouldn't get too much wear out of a denim skirt. Khaki twill seemed like a good compromise - jeans-like enough, but I'll be able to wear it to work if I dressed it right.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: First off, this skirt is REALLY short. Really. Short. I added 4" to the length, and it's still above my knees. And I'm 5'3". Did I say it was short?

My changes, aside from adding the length: since I wasn't doing it in denim, I really didn't want to do the fly front. I don't like fly fronts on skirts, since I sit most of the day. Pants don't ride up, but skirts do. So that was my first change, moving it to a side invisible zipper.

I probably should have then cut the front yoke and the center front panel on the fold, but I didn't, for two reasons. Reason one: I forgot. Reason two, after I remembered: I'm not big on those inset corners, and I knew if I had to do two of them identically on one piece, I'd be guaranteed to mess one up. Repeatedly. And the center seam actually works for me, with all the other seams.

My third change: see that horizontal line at the bottom of the center front panels? That's what they call a "design opportunity." Otherwise known as I added 4" to both side front panels and the skirt backs, but for some reason the pattern drawing in my head (the inaccurate one) didn't remind me to cut that central piece longer. So that's the length the whole skirt would have been, and I don't think my 47 year old thighs should be loose on an unsuspecting world without a little warning.

Fourth change: I left off the back pockets, which were just a little too jeans-style to me. I thought about changing the pockets or maybe adding flaps, but then I decided that the front pockets, which I didn't even notice in the photos or pattern drawing, were enough pockets for me. I really like them - they're my favorite part of the skirt, and I didn't even know they were there when I made it!

Last change: the traditional jeans-style waistband also didn't make much sense without the fly front. I cut a straight waistband, interfaced it, sewed it right sides together with the skirt, pressed it up and then stitched in the ditch to make a narrow waistband. My original idea was to do a faced waist, but this seemed like a good compromise.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I don't know if I'll make this particular skirt again, since it's pretty recognizable, but I'd recommend it. And it served its purpose well, which was to give me an idea of how My Image's pattern draft stacks up to Burda's and whether I'd want to make more of their patterns.

Conclusion: Cute little skirt, probably not for work everyday, but instead of jeans on a casual Friday, and definitely on the weekends.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Built by Wendy - Coats & Jackets

If you believe Wendy Mullin, with 3 basic, well-fitted jacket patterns, you can rule the world.

It's a good thing most of the world doesn't think that way, or the Big 4 pattern companies would be out of business.

I'll admit, I was skeptical. I've actually managed to reach my age and level of expertise without a personal encounter with Builty by Wendy patterns, and I think that may have been a shame.

The premise of Built by Wendy Coats & Jackets (subtitled The Sew U Guide to Making Outerwear Easy) is, as I said, with 3 good patterns, you can do just about anything. Wendy Mullin goes a long way toward proving her point. The 3 patterns in question, a fitted, princess-seamed jacket, a basic straight coat and a raglan sleeve coat, are included in the book, along with random interchangeable pockets, hoods and collars to jazz up the different variations. (There are 23 variations in all, and each variation comes with an "alternate" look which makes minor changes to the look).

But this is more than "take jacket A, use collar from jacket B, add pockets from jacket C, and voila! a whole new look."

Mullin's changes can be more drastic than that, such as the kimono wrap front based on the fitted princess jacket, or adding and subtracting center front excess to add a center zip instead of a button overlap. Her alterations to the pattern pieces are clearly shown and explained, along wtih the sewing steps for every variation. Overkill? I don't think so - this book is both beginner-friendly (okay, maybe an adventurous beginner, but she is aiming at younger sewists, who tend toward the fearless) and challenging enough for an advanced sewist. You can always skip over the construction steps you know, but for a beginner, bouncing from place to place is confusing, frustrating, and often defeating. I've seen more paper wasted for less useful information.

At the beginning of the book, as Mullin introduces her Big 3 jackets, she also emphasizes, over and over, that fit is the most important part of sewing. Getting clothes that fit is why most of us sew. Her base patterns are meant to be traced, muslined, re-traced and eventually turned into slopers that will allow you to trace (yet again) each new variation on a pattern that you know will fit.

It comes through: this is work. You have to do it, or the result won't be worthwhile. But if you do it and get it right, you won't have to re-invent the wheel every time you make a jacket. Do the work.

The book also includes information on choosing and working with different fabrics, patternmaking basics (she recommends Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong), seam finishes, working with facings, linings, bias binding, attaching collars, hoods, etc. Well explained, well illustrated all the way through.

As far as the jackets, each of the Big 3 gets its own chapter: the Fitted Jacket has 6 variations, including a bolero, wrap and peacoat; the Basic Jacket has 8, including a poncho, a jean jacket and a column coat (yum); and the Raglan Straight Coat has 9, including a kimono-style, a bomber, a "Paddington Bear" toggle coat and a classic windbreaker.

After the designs comes a resource section for fabrics and supplies and a thorough glossary.

One thing Mullin has gotten right - a woman always needs more jackets. With at least 4 of these on my sewing list (after the appropriate muslin-wrestling), I can't argue her point.

* One silly thing to like about the book: it's ring-bound. In cookbooks or sewing books, I appreciate a book that will stay flat on the table where I put it and look back at me until I'm ready to turn the page.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Image FYI

I've had a few comments about whether or not My Image has plus patterns - turns out they do, they just don't separate them the way BWOF does.

The information sheet in the magazines gives measurements for sizes 34 through 48, though when I checked the individual patterns, most of them are sized at 36-46. Still, that's a better range than Burda's 36-44. I just looked up the centimeter-to-inches conversion, and here's the size range:

From 34-48:

bust: 32.5 - 44.5; waist: 25.5 - 38; hip: 36.25 - 46.

I started in on the skirt tonight. I haven't gotten enough done yet to actually check the fit - there are a lot of pieces here, and a LOT of topstitching, so all I have together at this point is most of the skirt front.

Tomorrow is another day. A day followed by a weekend.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New kid on the block

So while I may not be the last to climb on the My Image bandwagon, I feel like I'm a little behind the curve here. Melissa and NancyK have both mentioned it recently, and I know I've seen talk on other blogs as well.

The other day, I finally got my hands on a copy (thank you, Andrea!), and I understand the enthusiasm. The styles in the magazine are almost as good as BWOF when they're good, and better by far than BWOF at their more lackluster. The photography is more catalog quality than fashion magazine, and the models are, too. They look much more "average" than the tall - or photoshop-lengthened - BWOF models. I don't think this is a bad thing at all.

Other than their obvious affinity for loud prints which obscure style lines, I have no real commentary on their styling. (And I'm not really one who should talk about prints, but we won't go there right now.)

Quite a few patterns struck me in that first issue, but aside from knit tops, skirts are always a safe place to start. There's a pieced skirt that's calling to me. I've included the entire line drawing sheet here (click to enlarge) and it's #1114 at the bottom. Both versions in the magazine are done in denim, and the topstitching isn't done in a contrast color so you can't see the lines of the piecing. I'm thinking about doing mine in khaki, with contrast thread, and changing from a fly front to a side zip, both to make it more work-friendly and also because I just don't like fly front skirts.

I traced the pieces off, but it was after 10:00 p.m. (well after), and I know better by now. I can continue sewing after 10:00 if my head's clear and all is going well, but I can't start anything challenging, even relatively simple cutting, that late. I'm bound to screw something up.

Sometimes it's just better to turn off the machine and go read sewing books. I got a new one recently I'm really enjoying. Review to follow shortly.