Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Mom, can you copy that dress?"

Ah, such sweet words to hear from my teenage daughter!!

Diana and I spent Monday in downtown D.C., exploring Chinatown and Georgetown. We prowled in several thrift shops, antique shops, and trendy boutiques. We bought almost nothing (Diana got a little necklace at Commander Salamander; I bought a magazine), but had such a grand time.

At the Anthropologie store in Georgetown Park, Diana fell in love with this little sundress:
At $228, it was certainly more than I would spend on a summer dress!! But she never asked me to buy it... Instead, she asked, "Mom, can you copy this dress?" We stood there and analyzed the construction, and this afternoon I put together a pattern in PatternMaster. I only wanted a narrow (2") midriff, and the midriff option only goes down to 3", so I ended up creating the midriff strip in Pattern Editor by using the offset tool.

Here's the front view:
This is just a fit muslin; it doesn't have the front bodice detail that will appear in the final version. None of that will affect the fit, so why bother having it in the muslin? It's kind of hard to see the midriff detail in this picture, but there is a midriff band.

The fit is pretty good right off the bat; most of the changes are stylistic.
  • The skirt needs to be about 5" longer.
  • The straps will be wider and will be positioned a little further out.
  • The "neckline" will be about an inch lower.

The only fit change is that I will take in about half an inch at the upper edge. I drafted the pattern with half an inch of bust ease, but it's still too loose for her liking.

The back view:

We'll go fabric hunting in the next few days; hopefully we'll find something right in my stash before we go buying new yardage. It's not like I don't have a good selection!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Diagonal Tank Dress, Take One

Last week I wrote about a bias tank dress I was thinking about making. Well, today I finally got a moment to cut it out and see if the idea worked.

Verdict: Close, but no cigar.

The Good
  • This experiment showed that the concept works. I can take a tank dress, slice it and dice it and reassemble it, and it WILL go together.
  • It's incredibly easy to sew together accurately, as the seams are all straight lines on the grain. The first seam is a cinch; the second is a little fiddly as you're trying to sew a parallelogram together. It looks like it's all twisted, but it isn't.
  • It drapes beautifully; even though there's no shaping in the pattern, the bias makes it hug very nicely.
  • I like the length.

It's easier to see the diagonal seam on this back view.

The Bad
  • Not the best choice of fabric but it was on sale and draped properly.
  • The neckline needs to be wider. A LOT wider.
  • The back armscye makes my shoulders look like a linebacker's. I need to raise the armhole and widen it across the back.
What's Next
I'm going to re-draft the tank with a wider neck and more coverage at the armscye. I'm also thinking about slicing it into more than just two pattern pieces, and using various shades of solids for each piece, to really highlight the seaming. But that'll have to wait a few days... Right now I have six DreamGirls costumes to repair (not mine... the rented ones; those old zippers keep breaking) and two Professional Totes to make.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Costumes are Done!*

*Well, 95% done. I just need to find something to embellish the Bells dresses with. But I'm still calling them done because they are out of my workroom!!

Bob took this shot of me this afternoon as I was pressing the costumes one last time.

I'm buried in a sea of red netting... Each of the three Step Sisters dresses required 10 yards of netting at the hem!

Tonight was the first full "tech rehearsal", with the band, lights, sound and everything. Controlled chaos!! After helping out with the dinner (cast and crew are fed by parent volunteers during "Hell Week" preceding opening night), I scurried backstage to help the girls into their costumes and check for any fit issues.

Then I got to watch them as they did their scenes!!

First up were the Gems:
My camera takes really lousy pictures in low light... I'm hoping to get some better ones during a performance. But the dresses fit perfectly! All the girls really liked them. They are sundress-style sheaths with side/waist darts, contrast top band and contrast pleated mock cummerbund.

Next up were the Pastels:
It's a little hard to see the details of this dress, so here's one of them closer up:
It's a shoulder princess draft, modified sweetheart neckline, empire waist, gored skirt, with an underskirt that has a contrast band attached. It's topped off with a contrast belt and little bows on the shoulders.

Then came the Bells:
These are wrap halter top, empire waist, darted flared skirt. The director wants me to "add some color" so I will be scouting for ideas tomorrow at Michael's or A.C. Moore. Not quite sure what I'm looking for, but I'll know it when I see it.

Last up are the Step Sisters:
Armscye princess sheaths, V-boat necklines, tapered skirt. These girls just squealed when they got their costumes on!! They looked so awesome.

So that's it: 18 dresses in 7 days. That's certainly a record for me in terms of output!! Now I can try to recover my workroom and start working on some of my own projects.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Contemplating a New Project

On the Creative Machine list, a member posted a link to the Magic Bias Dress. It looks really interesting... the concept of making a flowy, bias dress that has the seams on the straight of grain is intriguing. But I'm always reluctant to buy patterns, even for odd things like this. I'm more apt to turn to my trusty PatternMaster Boutique software. The Pattern Editor feature allowed me to take a simple tank sheath and add some seams to it, moving the pieces around to create two very interesting-looking pattern pieces:

They'll be cut on the straight of grain, which means the seams shouldn't ripple (I hope), but the dress will still have the flow of a bias-cut dress.

However, this project will have to wait until the costumes are done, which should be Tuesday. I hope.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Being empowered by "You Have Nothing to Lose"

My trusty old Bernina 2000DE serger decided to break right as I was finishing up the last of the dresses on Friday (see previous post). I was serging the edges when there was a "kerchunk" (never a good sound in something mechanical) and the feed dogs stopped moving correctly. Everything else worked, but the feed dogs weren't feeding anymore.

I've had this serger for a long time -- 15 or 16 years, I think -- and haven't had a lick of trouble with it since now. But I knew its time was going to come sooner or later; the motor is starting to run a bit hot and at its last checkup, the mechanic said it's just a matter of time before it will give out. So I knew that an expensive repair on this machine wasn't going to make sense economically; it would probably be more than half the replacement cost (which is our usual benchmark for deciding whether to repair or replace an item).

I posted a message to the Creative Machine list, which was hosting machine maven McKenna Linn this week, and asked about serger repairs. She replied that she wasn't an expert on sergers, but that mechanical problems could usually be diagnosed by following the linkages until you found the problem. Well, I thought, why not? What have I got to lose?

So I started taking it apart.

Once I got the first few cover pieces off, I picked up the machine and tilted it to one side. I immediately heard a "rattle rattle" -- and spotted a loose piece in the belly of the machine.

Okay, that probably shouldn't be rolling around inside the machine. But where did it belong? So I got my engineer husband Bob to come take a look. After a few minutes of examining the serger, he spotted the place where two arms came together and the little piece slotted in. Now came the fun part: getting it back in place without breaking something new in the process.

The machine is entirely naked at this point; all the covers are off. In this view it's lying on its front; the grey frame is the base of the machine. You can see the gold-colored motor housing to the left of center. Here Bob is trying to maneuver the part back into place.

Success!! The red arrow points to the part now back where it belongs.

Then I had the fun part of fitting all the covers back into place, in the right sequence, and driving home the dozen or so little screws that holds them all together. Of course, I took advantage of it being in pieces to give it a darned good cleaning. No more lint!

Now I can keep this fabulous machine off the "injured reserve" list, and I've probably saved a few hundred bucks in the process!!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why I haven't posted lately

Finally coming up for a breath of air... It's been a busy week in the workroom!

My daughter is a high school senior, and she has been active in the drama program throughout her four years there. This Spring, the school is doing "DreamGirls", and I volunteered to make some of the costumes.

Well, "some" turned out to be 18 dresses and 2 pairs of pants, plus altering about 10 rented or purchased outfits (including transforming some size 12 strapless dresses down to size 2's when there was a last-minute cast change).

The fabric was supposed to be delivered last week, but due to various mix-ups didn't get to the workroom until this past Tuesday the 10th. I've been cutting and sewing ever since, and so far have gotten all but four of the dresses done. I'm tired!!

The first pair of pants are black velvet boot cut:
When the actor came out wearing them, he had a big smile on his face and said to me, "They're so comfortable!" I don't know if he gets to keep them, though. Here's the second pair:

I'll also be making a skinny tie from the same purple fabric; it will be worn with a plain white shirt.

The girl groups were more fun to work on, but also a lot more work due to the wide range of sizes. The dresses are still "in progress" -- they need tweaking, pressing and the addition of a few details.

First, the Step Sisters:
The girls were all about the same size, so I used one pattern for all three of them and will tweak the dresses over the weekend. Also, there will be a big flounce of netting at the hem. I'm not crazy about the fit, and am thinking of redrafting the fronts over the weekend to widen the bust points. Depends upon my copious free time.

Next are the Bells:
The costume director has asked that they be shortened to knee-length, so I'll be whacking about 8" off each dress. They will also get some kind of embellishment at the top, in black... to be determined.

Finally , the Gems:
Only two of the six are in this picture. I still need to hem them. The top band is just the same bridal satin, wrong side out. I used stick-on gems from Michael's to decorate the band.

Still to be completed are the five dresses for the Pastels. All costumes are due on Monday, so I'll be sewing over the weekend too.

All patterns were created with PatternMaster Boutique and Tailor Made.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Back from Puyallup... What an adventure!

I got back last night from Puyallup; boy, I'd forgotten how much travel really tires you out! The flights both ways were pleasant (I really do like Southwest Airlines), but boring!! Thank heavens for my portable video player.

The reason I was going to Puyallup was to work in the Wild Ginger Software booth, so I wasn't able to take any classes. However, Paul and Lisa Shanley, the owners of Wild Ginger and otherwise known as the Nicest People on the Planet, gave me ample breaks to wander around and visit other booths (and to eat).

This was my second trip to the great Sewing Expo, so it wasn't as much of an overwhelming experience as last year, but it was still a lot of fun.

The People
It was crowded! According to officials, attendance was down about 1,000 from last year. But, when you consider that last year there were 35,000 attendees, that's a drop in the bucket. Lots of people came by the Wild Ginger booth to say hello, which was fantastic. I finally got to meet Kay Lancaster!
I also got to say hi to Phyllis Carlyle, an incredibly talented woman who is also a Wild Ginger user.

The Purchases
I actually didn't spend very much at the Expo, but did manage to find some goodies to take home.
First of all was a visit to Fine French Laces, whose booth was just crammed with heaps of the most lovely lace trims and appliques. It was so hard to choose, but I managed to settle on a few pieces (in between chatting in Dutch with owner Luc Smiers). The picture below doesn't do them justice!

Also at this booth, I picked up several packages of exquisite antique needles, thanks to a tip from Kay Lancaster.


On Sunday I made my way to the Pendleton Wool booth and picked up a few goodies:


At the top is a houndstooth that is the perfect weight for a skirt and jacket, and below is a navy blue melton that will probably become a peacoat (in my copious free time, of course!).

And, since I don't have enough hobbies, I picked up a needle felting starter kit, just because it's something I've always wanted to try, and it seemed reasonable at $25. It has the felting tool, a foam backer block, and a bunch of colors of roving for experimenting. I also picked up a larger package of the turquoise roving, since it went so nicely with the navy melton; I might try to do some embellishment on the peacoat when I make it.


The Omniruler booth had a terrific special: stuff a bag with notions for $5! I now have a lifetime supply of cover-your-own belt buckles, swimsuit hooks, collar stays, snaps and bobbins!


What I Didn't Do
Take enough pictures. I don't have any pictures of our booth, or the halls, or the food, or anything. I was just too darned busy to remember to take pictures!!

Coming Home
My flight was scheduled to depart at 7:10 a.m., which meant I had to leave our hotel at the ghastly hour of 4 in the morning. One of these days, I will actually get to see Seattle in the daylight.
The sun was just up when we took off, and the morning rain had cleared up somewhat, which allowed me one tantalizing glimpse of Mt. Ranier:

Even from a hundred miles away, it's impressive. It's even making its own weather: see the clouds skimming off the summit? Cute story: there was a little boy sitting in the row behind me with his dad, and I told him, "You know what? That's not a mountain. It's a volcano!" The boy's eyes got real big, and his dad said, "Really? I didn't know that!" It's true... where we have hurricane evacuation route signs on the east coast, Puyallup had Volcano evacuation route signs.

Baltimore was lovely from the air; the area had had its first significant snowfall of the winter. As we landed I could see the snowplows still working constantly to keep the runways clear of drifting snow.


Now I'm home, catching up on my sleep, and ready to tackle my next big project: DreamGirls gowns!