Sunday, February 22, 2009

A UFO bites the dust!

About a year ago, I spent a day in New York's fabric district with my Creative Machine co-moderators, Anne Marie, Carol and Sarah. It was a fabulous time, and one of the souvenirs from that trip was an interesting black-brown-tan print. After aging for a while, I decided it would be perfect for a simple shirtwaist dress (drafted with PatternMaster). I got the pieces cut out, assembled the bodice and skirt, put on the collar...

...and then, it languished in my workroom.

A few days ago I came across the sorry pile of partially-assembled pieces and decided it deserved to be completed. I inserted the sleeves, found buttons, made a matching belt and got it finished.

Not one of the more flattering styles on me, but hey, it's done.

The worst part of this whole project was the fabric: it stubbornly refused to take a press.

Overall, I'm happy with the fit. It's quite comfortable, too.

This was one of the best parts of the dress: the buttons. They are actually made of leather! I sewed them on by hand, with embroidery floss, in a "non-standard" pattern.

I wasn't sure how to finish the sleeves; finally, I decided just to add a cuff with a button.

The belt was easy to make! I just used a commercial buckle, and used two layers of Decor-Bond as stiffener. I fortunately had some small black grommets in my stash. I would have preferred to use a buckle I could cover with matching fabric, but at this stage of the game I was at the mercy of whatever JoAnn's had.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with this dress!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It's official... I'm addicted!

I have now made three bags using the Creative Thimble's Professional Tote pattern. This is an addiction!! The newest incarnation was made with fabrics from Kaufman's new "You've Got the Notions!" line of Project Runway inspired prints, with a stash fabric thrown in for contrast.

The straps were modified slightly so I could cut them from the spool-patterned fabric. I also reduced the amount of Decor Bond used in the straps; rather than fusing it to the entire width of the strap, only the center half was interfaced. This made it MUCH easier to sew.
Another modification was using elastic in the top of the side pleated pockets, rather than the drawcord and cord locks called for in the pattern. I also omitted the interfacing on these side pockets, making them more flexible.

The back side of the tote. It's impossible to see in this picture, but above the contrast pocket is a strip of fabric that can slip over the handle of a rolling tote, making it ideal for travel. I plan to test this strap on my upcoming trip to Puyallup!

The inside has multiple pockets, and I also added one more for good measure. The pattern calls for one key fob and I decided to add two. No particular reason; I just wanted to.

I'm already planning a fourth bag, but it will be a gift so I won't post about it until after it's been presented.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

23 Years and Counting

On February 14, 1986, I married my wonderful husband, Bob. We were married at the pond behind our house, during a snowstorm. Yep, an outside wedding. When we decided to get married, we agreed that he could choose the date and I could choose the venue. He wanted a Valentine's wedding (his parents were also married on that day), and I wanted an outdoor wedding.
To keep it sewing related: I didn't make my dress, but I did make the gray cape I'm wearing in this picture. It was an inexpensive sweatshirt fleece, bound with white bias tape. My maid of honor, Terri, wore a gray cape bound with burgundy.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happiness is... a good muslin.

Okay, I've started making some design decisions around this year's Smithson gown. I really didn't have a starting point, but after a lot of people posted and emailed that the Bug Gown was one of their favorites, I started thinking that perhaps it was time to try a strapless style again.

I hadn't tried doing a strapless gown with Wild Ginger's formalwear program, Celebrations. But I was game to try. So I designed a strapless bodice with a v-front, printed it out and gave it a try. The hip and waist fit fine, but the bust!! It looked like it could accommodate Dolly Parton. I couldn't figure out what the issue was; I had chosen zero ease.

Fortunately, Wild Ginger has the most amazing tech support. A quick chat with their wizard, Karen, led to the solution: reduce the cup size in the measurement chart. Couldn't be that easy, could it?

It could. Taking the cup size from a D to a B yielded a darned good muslin. And here it is.

Now, keep in mind that this is just a rough draft. There's no boning, no foundation... just the suggestion of a style. It's a dropped-waist with a V front and a gathered skirt. There's a bit of fine tuning to do below the waist, but there's plenty of time for that. The event isn't until the end of April.

I'm going to make a waist-length foundation using this pattern as a starting point and boning the heck out of it, as well as adding an elastic underbust stay. I want to feel completely secure when I'm wearing this!!

So, now the decisions need to be made on fabric. Ideas? I'm leaning towards a periwinkle, as several people have suggested. But what fiber? And should I have an overskirt? Layering of fabrics? Contrasts? A matching shrug? Post your ideas... I'm all ears!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hey! Fancy Pants!

My daughter spotted some flannel on sale at JoAnn's, and asked me to make her some pajama pants. No problem; that's what PatternMaster is for. However, she also asked me to match the style of an existing pair of pants she likes. And it had... welt pockets?? On pajamas??? Oy. But I was up for the challenge.
Here's the inside of the completed pants:

The interesting part of it was, the instructions I have for welt pockets kind of assume that you're doing a horizontal welt and a square pocket bag. For these pants, the welt is on an angle and the pocket bag is shaped more like a traditional trouser pocket. An interesting challenge, and it only took me one wrong try to figure it out (love my seam ripper!).

Diana loves them and has already asked for another pair. Here's a close-up of the welt pocket:

A little hard to see the details because the welt is made of the same fabric as the pants. They look a lot like regular old in-seam pockets that you would expect to find on pajama pants, but these really look a lot nicer. I'm going to have to try adding them to more projects in lieu of regular in-seam pockets.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Making pattern printing a LOT easier

A few weeks ago I added a new printer to the household. This one is kind of special... For one thing, it barely fit in the van when I picked it up!
When I print out my patterns from PatternMaster Boutique, I usually have to spend time and effort taping the pieces of paper together. For smaller pattern pieces, that's not too bad, but when you're doing pants or other large pattern pieces, it can get a little unwieldy. Now, I won't have to deal with it anymore!

Here's the HP650C, busy printing out a pants pattern this evening. It prints in full color, on paper up to 36" wide. Bliss!! This is an older printer, and needed to have the status screen replaced, but once that was done, it worked like a charm.

It's a little hard to see here, but this is the printout of the pants pattern. Now I don't have to worry about taping the pieces together inaccurately. This is going to revolutionize my sewing.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

What time is it? Why, it's...

...Time to sew, of course!!

I caught a glimpse of this idea somewhere on the web... cannot for the life of me remember where, though... and it inspired me to digitize this design and turn it into a wrist pincushion.

The design is stitched out onto a speckled cotton, and the rest of the "watch" is of ultrasuede (a scrap from under my worktable). The filling came from a friend's farm, where she raises sheep, so I was able to grab a bag of newly washed wool. This is the best filler for pincushions, as the lanolin lubricates the pins and helps them glide easily through fabric.

I tried making an elastic wristband, but that didn't work at all and I ended up having to take the whole thing apart to replace it with a velcro band.

It has been a while since I digitized anything, and I was happy to see my skills hadn't rusted away entirely. In the process, I upgraded to the new version of Embird, which, I'm happy to say, is still the best bang for the buck in embroidery software. I used their Studio digitizing module, and it really works well.

The Bug Gown

After I posted the Smithson Gowns, several people asked me, "What about the Bug Gown?"

That wasn't made for a Smithson event, but rather for a silent auction fundraiser for my children's school. It was one of the first really fancy gowns I made, and one of the last made with a commercial pattern as I started with PatternMaster a few months later.

I used a Vintage Vogue pattern, modified to add a sheer overskirt with multiple embroideries on it. The effect I was looking for was of walking through a field of flowers; the overskirt was covered with embroideries of flowers, bugs and butterflies.

The base fabric was a pale blue dupioni silk, with a silk chiffon overskirt. I was very happy to have two sewing machines at the time; all the embroideries were done on my Viking 1+ while I was sewing the rest of the dress on my Viking E150.

Here's the front of the skirt, spread out so you can see the various embroideries. The leaves of grass are appliqued onto the underskirt in a random pattern.

The back of the gown. I tried to distribute the embroideries fairly evenly around the skirt.

A close-up of some of the embroideries. The sheer overskirt had French seams, and the bottom edge just had a serged rolled edge.

Since I was embroidering all these things directly onto the sheer fabric, I was so worried as I got to the end of each panel... Would I mess up an embroidery and end up having to trash the whole thing? Luckily, it all went smoothly.

After the gala, my Viking dealer asked if I would let them hang the dress in their store as an example of what you could do with an embroidery machine. I was quite flattered and let them put it up. About a month or two later I asked for it back, and when they took it down from the wall it was immediately obvious that the front of the gown had been bleached by the fluorescent light. I was devastated... They blamed the fabric; the fabric store blamed the dealer. In the end I got no compensation for the loss, except for the knowledge that the dress's reputation will live forever on the web! It's really flattering to know that people do remember it.
So there you have it... The (in)famous Bug Gown!

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Smithson Gown: A History

Bob and I joined the James Smithson Society in 2001. Every year, the JSS hosts a black-tie gala in one of the museum facilities, and we attended our first one in 2002. I decided to make a gown for the event, and chronicled the process on my website. It was a lot of fun sharing the process with my online friends, and I got invaluable help and advice as well.
Making a "Smithson Gown" has become an annual event for me, and now it's time to start working on this year's edition. I thought it might be interesting to put together a "retrospective" showing the past seven gowns.
All of these outfits were drafted using PatternMaster Boutique.

This was actually a two-piece outfit: a long fitted top and a silk taffeta skirt with a full netting crinoline underneath. It was a very comfortable outfit, but the skirt ended up being a logistical problem. At the dinner, there were ten people to a table, so there was very little elbow room. And very little crinoline room as well. The gentlemen seated on either side of me were most gracious about the billowy skirt overflowing onto their laps. I vowed not to make any more very poufy designs in the future.


The event was held at the National Zoo this time around, so I decided a more casual look was appropriate. I made a three-piece outfit: a tank top and loose pants out of brown slinky knit, and a sheer duster with a leopard print. The real highlight of the outfit was the "purr-se" I made to go with it: a handbag shaped like a tiger paw, complete with Fimo claws.


Of all the gowns, this has been one of my favorites. For this year's gala at the Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center, I turned to slinky knit again, creating a princess-sheath gown with a fishtail train. The fabric was actually "sparkle slinky", covered in tiny chips of something reflective. Onto that I added Swarovski crystals, laid out to form constellations.
This was also the first year I made a matching vest for Bob, using the same sparkle slinky for the lapels and adding his birth sign -- Cancer, the crab -- as a constellation on it. I was really surprised that several people noticed the constellation on his vest, but not a single person remarked on the ones on my dress. Go figure.

The less said about this one, the better. I had the best of intentions, but discovered that just because something fits, doesn't mean it looks good on you. This was another slinky knit dress. It ended up in the trash almost as soon as I got home from the event, which was held at the new Museum of the American Indian. Even looking at the pictures still mortifies me.


For this year, the gala was held at the Air & Space Museum on the Mall. This gown was fun to make, because it was actually part of a window treatment display I had done the previous month for a drapery conference. The fabric was a very sturdy crushed velvet, which was really too heavy for a dress but it worked anyway. Bob wore his 2004 vest again.


This gala was held at the newly-restored Museum of American Art. This was another fun gown to make, mostly because all the fabrics were, once gain, drapery fabrics! The base fabric was a bright red silk dupioni, toned down by layering it with an embossed sheer. Bob's vest was made with the same layers, with black drapery lining for the lapels because that's the only black fabric I had on hand and time was running short. Even the tie matched.


The gala was at the Smithsonian Castle, so I went with a more "renaissance" feel. Planning this gown was a hoot: the blue fabric was actually scavenged from a pair of drapery panels I made for another drapery conference display! Talk about channeling my inner Scarlett O'Hara! The contrast fabric is silk dupioni, and Bob's vest and tie matched again.


So what's on tap for this year's Gala? It will be held at the newly-renovated Museum of American History. I'm not planning on decking myself in red, white and blue, though! I'd love to hear your ideas!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Tour of My Sewing Space

My sewing room isn't huge: about 12 feet wide and about 22 feet long. It's also in the basement, so there's no natural light. It's probably the only thing I miss here, but I'm managing, with the help of four banks of daylight fluorescent bulbs.
There's a lot packed into the room: a full-sized work table, three industrial machines, and two standard machines. Let's take a look!

First up is an industrial straight stitch machine, a Juki DDL5550N-7. It has several features that I just love, but the very best of them is the ultra-quiet servo motor. I can keep the machine on and ready to sew without the motor howling in the background.
It also has a computerized control; that's the panel you see on top of the machine. This machine does an automatic backstitch at the beginning and end of the seam, then cuts the thread for me too! The only feature it doesn't have is the automatic presser foot lift; I'm seriously considering adding it in the near future.

This is an industrial blind hemmer, a U.S. Blindstitch 718-9. It is the one machine that is most unlike any home machine. The blind stitch from an industrial machine is different from the blind stitch done on a home machine. For one thing, the needle is curved, which lets it take a small "bite" out of the fabric. It also uses a single thread, creating a chain stitch. This is commonly used for hemming drapery panels, and also for clothing. The long plate on this machine means it's intended for drapery work.

Here's a close-up of the "business end" of the blind hemmer. The curved needle is on the left. To insert fabric, the base plate is dropped via a knee control. The base plate has a small ridge in it, which forces the fabric into a little bump. This bump is then caught by the needle, forming the stitch. The depth of the "bite" can be adjusted, so the stitch can be virtually invisible from the face of the fabric.

Here's the latest addition to my machine "stable": a Juki MO2516 five-thread industrial serger. I'd been using my home machine (a Bernina 2000DE) for years; going to an industrial is a whole new world. It can make nearly 8,000 stitches per minute, which is much faster than I dare to run it for now... I need to get used to it first!

In the corner are my two home machines: a Janome CP1000 coverstitch machine and a Husqvarna Designer 1. They're not used a lot, but they are specialized machines. Coverstitch machines generally aren't used in the drapery world, but I use it whenever I'm hemming knits. The Designer 1 is used mostly for its embroidery and the occasional buttonhole. I've really gotten used to the speed and durability of industrials!

No workroom is complete without a worktable. When I built it four years ago, it was 12 feet long. Unfortunately, a table that long wouldn't fit in this sewing room. So, I had to chop four feet off the table, and that hurt!! The table has a 3/4" plywood base, topped with a layer of homasote, a layer of worktable padding, and finished off with a thick canvas cover. Underneath is storage for rolls of fabric and other supplies. Two rolls of lining hang ready on the wall.

This is a storage cabinet I picked up from an electrician's workshop for about $10; the 30 drawers are perfect for storing extra notions, zippers, snaps, purse parts, and any number of small items. The drawers are labeled because I always forget what's where. The top of the cabinet has the unfortunate tendency to become a "temporary" storage spot for things I intend to put away... someday.

There's more to the workroom, but I'll leave that for another day.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

First Project for February

My daughter Diana and I went shopping at Joanns and Hancock's today, and she spotted some space-themed fabric that she just fell in love with. She asked me if I could make something with them, and I suggested a Professional Tote from the Creative Thimble. Perfect!
So we headed home, and headed down to the sewing room together. With a Mythbusters marathon playing in the background, we worked together to get the many pieces cut out, fused and sewn in far less time than I thought.

Doesn't she look happy? It was like Christmas for her. She kept looking at the bag in progress and mumbling about how awesome it was. You know, there's really nothing better for one's self-esteem than hearing your teenage daughter gushing over your skills.

The bag has many different pockets, inside and out. I'd made the bag once before, which helped make it go faster. The pattern calls for drawstrings and cord locks for the two end-panel pockets; instead, I put elastic in the hem casing. I also didn't interface those pockets; they are much more flexible without the Decor-Bond, which is quite stiff.

The inside has a large central zippered pocket, plus a flap pocket on one side and an open pocket with key fobs on the other. She insisted that I put one of my labels in the bag, so she could show it off to her friends tomorrow.

It's a pretty neat pattern, and I already have fabrics picked out to make two more. Start to finish, it was about four and a half hours. It also helped a lot that I have an industrial straight stitch; some of those seams are really bulky!