Saturday, November 22, 2014

My worst nightmare...with a happy ending

My next-door neighbor had a baby this summer, and the baptism is this Sunday. I had made a baptism blanket for her first child five years ago, and was planning on making one for this baby as well. Then her mother contacted me and asked if I would be interested in using the train from her wedding dress to make the blanket. Of course! So she sent it up to me and I started planning what to do with it.

Paralysis sets in

I was so incredibly nervous about even starting the project. This was really one of those times when it absolutely must be right the first time, as once that material was cut, there was no going back. So I spent a LOT of time fretting and planning and thinking, until finally I just had to make a decision and do it because the event was coming up. So last week I took a deep breath and started to take the train apart.
First I removed all the lace from the hem, then looked at the placement of the lace appliques on the main section and based the size of the blanket to incorporate them. Then I cut into the train for the basic blanket shape.


The baby's name, birthdate and baptism date would be embroidered onto the blanket. This was another nerve-wracking moment, since it had to be right. I confirmed the name and dates with the grandmother (couldn't ask mom, since the blanket was to be a surprise), and digitized everything with Embird. Then I carefully hooped the fabric and watched over my machine like a hawk to make sure nothing went wrong. Fortunately, my machine agreed to behave!


I had initially planned on using a pale blue blanket binding, but realized that wouldn't work with the rounded corners I had cut. So instead, I used the remaining pieces of the train to cut out strips and turn them into a ruffled edge. I cut the strips 5" wide, to give me a 2" finished ruffle. However, wouldn't you know it, I couldn't for the life of me get it to feed properly through my ruffling foot. Arrgh! Rather than spend a lot of time arguing with getting that foot to work, I figured it was time to learn how to ruffle by hand. And you know what? It was actually a LOT easier than I thought it would be. I got into a rhythm of folding and stitching, and the end result was surprisingly even.

The backing is a very soft Minky-type fleece, which meant it had stretch. To prevent it from getting baggy, I fused a knit interfacing to the back, which made it very stable and didn't affect the softness at all. I stitched the ruffle to the front, sewed the sides right-sides-together, turned it, then edgestitched to keep the ruffles nice and flat. The embroidered label was stitched on by hand.

Here's a close-up of the label.

(I've blurred out some of the embroidered stuff for privacy reasons)

Disaster Strikes

I gave the blanket to the parents Friday evening, and they loved it. But about half an hour later I got a text from the mom... "I hate to say this, but the middle name is wrong." Oh no!!! Somewhere the wires got crossed in the communications with her mother. She asked if there was any way I could fix it, and I said I would do my best.

The Repair

Thank goodness for Peggy's Stitch Eraser! I've only had to use it a few times, but it's been a lifesaver. I unpicked the bottom edge of the blanket so I could get at the back of the embroidery, and started carefully shaving the bobbin threads. Working front and back, with tweezers and a very sharp surgical blade, I got the middle name stitching removed in a little more than half an hour. I then brushed and steamed the fabric to smooth it and even out the needle holes so they wouldn't be too noticeable.

Restitching the Name

I corrected the name on the embroidery file, and very, very carefully rehooped the name area (being very careful to keep the rest of the bulk of the blanket out of the way of the hoop!) and fine-tuned the needle position, then took another deep breath and hit "start".

And it worked out just fine! Once the embroidery was done, it only took a few minutes to re-sew the edge of the blanket, turn it, and topstitch the area I had taken out.

I was amazed that there is hardly any indication that an error was made at all; you can barely see the original stitching and I'm sure that will even itself out when the blanket is cleaned for the first time.

Here's the finished, corrected blanket!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A new dress for the colder months

Greetings! It's been nearly two months since my last post (why does this feel like a confession?). It's not that I haven't wanted to sew; it's just that other aspects of my life (house, job, family) have eaten into my sewing time and kept me from sequestering myself in my sewing room to actually complete a project.

But I did finish a project this morning!! A few days ago, Wild Ginger released the new version of their wonderful pattern drafting software packages. I immediately upgraded my PatternMaster Boutique, and will upgrade the remaining programs as finances allow.

In the meantime, I decided I had to make a dress with the new version to test it out.

First of all, the Upgrade Wizard in the new Version 6 makes importing my existing patterns and charts a breeze! With one click, everything migrated automatically, so I had all my old charts and saved patterns all ready to go.

Since I realized a few days ago that I don't have any cool-weather dresses in my current wardrobe, I would make a corduroy shirtwaist dress using my favorite draft: the kimono bodice. This style has the sleeves and bodice in a single piece, so there is no armscye seam. I call this style my "Peterman Dress" as it is a copy of a dress I got from the J. Peterman catalog ten or so years ago.

This is what the pattern pieces look like. The dress has a shawl collar, standout cuffs, and a gored skirt. The closure is a single-breasted button front.

See that diamond-shaped piece? That's the underarm gusset. This draft is called the Square Kimono, and in order to be able to lift your arm higher than horizontal, you need a little extra fabric. The underarm is slashed along the line, and the gusset piece inserted. It's really amazing how well this design works!!

Front view of the dress:

I'm going to make a self-fabric belt for it eventually, but for now this purchased leather belt would have to do. The dress is actually just a bit too loose; I didn't check my circumferences prior to drafting the pattern (shame on me!) so it's possible they have changed a little. However, it's very comfy!

Back view:

The bodice has four small darts at the waist. I'm not really sure where the bust darts get rotated to on this draft; will have to investigate that. So there are a few more wrinkles in the kimono draft than I would like, but it's still a very nice style.

Here's a close-up shot of the gusset:

To insert the gusset, I sewed the underarm and side seams but left the overarm/shoulder seam open. Then I matched the gusset to the two seam lines and pinned them in place. Sewing them was a challenge, but I'm happy with how they came out. I honestly don't think I've ever done gussets before.

The collar lays nice and flat; I will attribute that to the small darts in the undercollar:

Kind of hard to see in this picture, but there's a long, narrow dart right on the fold line of the undercollar, which pretty much forces the collar to lay flat where it's supposed to. Shawl collars are a bit of a challenge to sew, but I love the results.

Oh, and see that headband? That was a last-minute project to wear to my PMB Users Group meeting today. My hair's been getting long enough to get into my eyes all the time, so I'm going to make some hair bands to help keep it under control (I'm growing it out for a while). I plan to make matching headbands for every outfit I make! It's basically two layers of the corduroy, about 2" finished width tapering to 1" at the ends, 16" long, sewn together on the long edges and turned, and a piece of elastic inserted into the ends to hold it snug.Took about 15 minutes to make... but ten of those minutes were spent searching for my stupid Fasturn tube set so I could turn the thing right side out!!

Of course, I put pockets in the dress. Can't have anything without pockets anymore.

I love this draft, and plan on making a few more of these dresses to get me through the colder months. I might try a version out of a heavy flannel. Depends upon what strikes my fancy at the fabric store.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Demonic sewing

As part of an online gift exchange, I wanted to make something for an H.P. Lovecraft fan. What better than their own personal Cthulhu?
To my surprise, I actually found a free pattern for it! It was quite easy to put together, and I'm planning on making several more for my Lovecraft-loving friends.

I'm not sure the front tentacles benefit from having a little stuffing in them, but oh well.

Here's the back view:

A cute and fuzzy little demon... How dangerous could that be?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Otakon 2014: More costumes

Once Ian's costume was ready to go, it was obvious that he would need a handler. His vision was limited to the two small circles of scrim right in front of his eyes. He couldn't bend over to see his feet, or even to see where a handrail was. The Baltimore Convention Center has a lot of escalators and stairs, and even if we had gotten a special pass to use the elevators, the costume wouldn't have fit. As it was, Ian had to do a lot of ducking down to get through doors.

So I would have to be his handler. The question then became, Do I make a costume for myself, or just be a handler? I decided it would be fun to be in costume as well, but it had to be something that fit with the Looney Tunes world that Gossamer was in. After some thought, I decided on dressing as Granny.

Pretty simple: a white blouse, purple skirt, and grey wig. And indeed, it was pretty quick to put together. The key was finding the accessories: I would need a Tweety bird and a Sylvester.

Fortunately, I had a Sylvester doll that I inherited from my mother (Sylvester was her favorite character). A friend provided me with a small Tweety figurine that was perfectly in scale with Sylvester, and I rounded it out with a small cage purchased at a craft store.

I'll be honest: I really thought nobody would recognize the character. But I was wrong! I got a lot of people shrieking "Granny!" and taking my picture. And they even recognized the character before they saw Tweety and Sylvester! I was very happy, especially because it was a very comfortable costume. I was able to help Ian get around, guiding his hand onto escalator handrails and making sure he wasn't about to walk into anything.

To give you an idea of the scale of Ian's costume, here's a picture of the two of us together.

Diana's Costume

This year, Diana decided she wanted to create her own character. She discovered she has a knack for fixing costume issues, so she created her own superhero: Cosplay Rescue!

The basis for the costume was this sketch:

She designed the logo herself, and I cut it out of heat-set vinyl (using my Silhouette Cameo). She made the "needle" out of wood. I made the red top with the attached cape, plus the "utility belt." The belt was stocked with all sorts of repair supplies: glue, tape, pins, thread, bobby pins... She had a veritable hardware store in there. And during the convention, she repaired more than a dozen costumes!

Here she is in action, fixing a cosplayer's wig that had started to slide off.

It was so funny to have people come up to her during the day and ask, very tentatively, "Are you really doing Cosplay Rescue?" She would then manage to pull out just what they needed to fix their costumes.

Doing the Cosplay Rescue was so much fun for her that she and I are planning on doing it in an official capacity at next year's Otakon! So I'll be making my own shirt and cape next year, and will be helping her.

By the way, did you notice the button earrings and the thread spool bracelets? Those were such fun finishing touches!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Otakon 2014: How to Build a Monster

"I want to be Gossamer."

My son Ian's favorite cartoon character has always been Gossamer, the big orange furry monster from Looney Tunes.

So when he told me that's what he wanted to cosplay for Otakon 2014, I was a bit taken aback. That's not an intimidating request at all. Nope.

I mean, it's not like McCalls makes a pattern for it, right? So I was totally on my own.

I did a lot of planning and strategizing for the costume. It would be heavy; how would it be supported? How would he see out? How would he get in and out of it?

After much thought, I figured that using backpack frames would be best for the supportive structure. One backpack wasn't tall enough, so I used two frames fastened together.

Now that I knew how tall the frame was, I could think about how to support the "head," and how tall it would ultimately be. I used a piece of thick rigid foam insulation to make a sort of "platform" that was fastened to the top of the frame, and on that I attached two rough "pillows" to form the twin lumps of his head. Once I had those shapes roughed out, I laid the whole assembly on the floor on a piece of drapery lining (as muslin) and drew a rough outline around the frame that looked to be the right shape for the monster. I then sewed it up and Ian tried it on.

Okay, not bad for a first try. The legs were too skinny and the arms weren't the right shape, but the basic idea was there. As to how he would get it on and off, there were zippers in the inseams. You can just see them in this picture, as well as the insulation board and the two cushions. You can also see where his eyes were, which was important as I would need to be able to position the monster's eyes in the correct position so he would have at least a bit of vision. You can also get an idea of the scale of the monster, as Ian is over six feet tall himself, so the monster was over seven feet tall.

I don't have any pictures of the construction process, as I was too busy trying to get it done on time. But here's the final costume, as photographed at Otakon:

The response to the costume was so gratifying!! He was photographed at almost every step.

One last technical note: The eyes were made of thin craft foam, glued into place (after the fur had been shaved away). The pupils were black scrim, so he could see out. The hands were made of work gloves stuffed with polyfil and glued into place. There were slits in the wrists so he could get his real hand out to hold onto railings. The nails were made of Fimo and glued onto the gloves.

The only drawback of the costume was that it was terribly hot inside it. Even though Ian had a battery powered fan and a cooling neck wrap, he could only endure wearing the costume for about twenty minutes, and would then need a ten minute break to cool off. In the end, he was only able to wear it for a few hours on Friday morning, after which he was simply too overheated to want to wear it any more. Still, he was very happy with the reception it got, and so was I!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Smithson 2014: Another Gala, Another Gown!

After a few intense days of trying to carve out sewing time in between home inspection work, the gown, vest, tie and handbag were all done with some time to spare, and we had another magical gala evening.

So here's how we looked as we headed out the door.

Here is the front of the dress.

You can just barely see the black velvet binding around the neckline and armholes. The hem was also bound with black velvet.

I was amazed at how comfortable the dress was. I inserted an Ambiance lining, which really helped glide it on (there was no closure). And yes, I wore a pretty heavy-duty smoother to even out the lumps!

Here's Bob's vest and tie, ready to go. I used my regular vest pattern, with black velvet for the outside and Ambiance for the lining. The sequined lapels were added like appliques, with the outside and the fold edges bound with black velvet. This really helped it all lay flat and kept the sequins from rubbing his shirt. The back of the vest was fastened with black velvet ribbon through two D-rings.
The tie also had the front edge appliqued, rather than trying to force the sequins into a knot.

Here's my purse! This is the same clutch purse I've used for a few years, with a new black velvet cover. I wanted to glam it up a little, so I cut this dragon head out of the sequin fabric. I thought the sequins would fall off, or that it couldn't hold the detail, but boy, was I wrong!!

Here's the close-up:

Some of the sequins flipped up at the edges, but all in all, it held up fine. The applique was glued onto the velvet with strong clear craft glue.

Construction Observations

I have never worked with sequin fabric before, and was really, really worried that it would be a nightmare. Sure, there were bits of sequin all over my table any time I made a cut:

But once the loose ones were shaken off, there was absolutely NO sequin loss on ANY of the pieces I cut. Even the edges stayed intact! I was flabbergasted, because people had warned me that I would have nothing but trouble from sequins. But then I got to thinking: maybe the reason I had so little trouble was that the fabric was of a really, really high quality? This sure wasn't from the Joann's bargain aisle. Sure, it did a number on my scissors (thank goodness the sharpener guy will be back in my neighborhood next week), but overall it was a dream to work with. It sewed beautifully; I didn't have to hand-stitch anything except the button on Bob's vest.

There are only a few seams on the dress: the shoulders and the center back and train. All edges were covered in a narrow binding of black velvet: I stitched the velvet to the front of the edge, flipped it around to the back, and stitched in the ditch to secure it. Then I trimmed the excess off with applique scissors. I decided to do the edges this way to avoid the look of sequins folded around a corner, and also to prevent having sequins touching my skin.

Originally I had a front drape on the dress as well, but when I put it on, that front drape just felt so much like a bib that I took it off. So the front ended up a bit plainer than intended.

The Gala!

This year's gala was held in the Atrium of the National Museum of American Art, which is not on the mall. From the moment we got there, I had people coming up to me and complimenting the gown and Bob's vest! As a result, we got to talk to a lot more people than we usually do. We even got to say hello to Dr. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian.

Here's Bob listening to Dr. Clough give his welcoming remarks. Oh, and if you look carefully, you can see the tablecloth is blue and green, so the colors were perfect!!

We actually had such a good time that we didn't take many pictures; sorry! Most of the dresses we saw there were sheath style; more and more are opting for two-piece outfits. There were about half a dozen other sequin outfits (jackets), and another handful of beaded jackets. I'll post a few pictures of those later.

Thanks for following yet another Smithson Gown saga!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Smithson 2014: The First Cut

There's something about the thought of cutting into expensive fabric that just paralyzes you.

Over the last few days I started in earnest on my dress (after all, the gala is a week away!). The first thing I did was to clear enough space on my sewing table to spread the fabric out and take a careful look at it.

From one angle, it's predominantly blue.

But look at it from the other corner, and it is a totally different color.

To clarify the orientation, the top picture is viewed from the "bottom" of the fabric, and the bottom picture is taken from what will be the top edge.

I spent quite a while thinking about how I was going to tackle this. With the help of my PMB Users Group friends, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted the end product to look like. The real issue was getting there, with as few seams as possible.

The first step, of course, was to actually cut the fabric to make the basic dress shape. I wanted what was essentially a big tube, so I figured the easiest way to get that was to measure my widest point (my hips), and cut a tube that fit around that (plus some ease and a seam allowance).

First I tried draping it on my dress form, inside out, to see whether I could just sew it inside out that way and have it work. But the fabric is sooooo slippery that it really didn't feel like it would work properly.

Nope, didn't look like much at all. Time for plan B.

Then I realized: why am I trying to reinvent the wheel? I have a knot top shape that fits me well; why not use that as the basis for this dress? So I grabbed my "Tried and True" knit top pattern and laid it out on the fabric in such a way that it was cut as one single piece, with double-ended darts in place of side seams, and a single seam running down the center back.

Here's where that difficult first cut came into play.

"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can..." And with that, I started cutting.

(Note to other sewists: sequinned fabric is not difficult to cut, but it sure puts up a fight. My hands were quite sore when I got through!)

Then I just sewed the shoulders, darts and center back seam on the sewing machine (after testing on a scrap and deciding that the machine-sewn seams didn't look all that bad) and tried it on.

Front view:

Not too terrible, I think! Here's the back view:

The big wedge opening at the bottom is where I will be inserting a godet to make a slight train.

Here's one of the darts.
I'm not thrilled about the dart, but really can't think of another way to do the shaping of the dress; without some kind of dart, it's just going to look like a shapeless tube.

So there you have it; Progress!! I'm going to continue working on it tomorrow evening; now that I know it pretty much fits, it's on my dress form for the tweaking stage. I need to do something about the front and back necklines (such as adding cowls), and finish all the edges. I'm also going to add lining so it slips on and off easier. Then, of course, I still have to make the vest for Bob, as well as a purse for me. Stay tuned for updates!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Smithson 2014: Why, yes, I have completely lost my mind.

"Wait", you may be thinking, "Didn't you just do a Smithson gown a few months ago?" Yes indeed, I did. Last year's Gala was in September. This year they decided to have it in May, on the 31st, to be exact. And yes, that is just a little over two weeks away. Lately it seems like inspiration for the gown is coming later and later, which can mean challenges for getting it all done in time.

This year I was just not feeling any inspiration at all. The last three years' gowns were so much fun to make, and this year I was just struck with an overwhelming feeling of "Now what?" Sure, I could have used the same pattern as a previous year, but in a different fabric. But heck, what's the challenge in that?

I started planning a quick fabric-shopping trip to New York for the end of this week, to find the Perfect Fabric that would just leap out and inject the dress design into my head, fully formed. Hey, it's worked before! But this morning I looked at the weather report and saw that Friday was going to be a day of unending heavy rain -- not the kind of weather conducive for a day on the road, not to mention schlepping in and out of fabric stores. So I reluctantly called off the trip. But then one of my ASG friends reminded me of a closer option that I always seem to forget about: A Fabric Place, on the outskirts of Baltimore.

Today my daughter personal fashion consultant and I headed there to see what we could find. And after more than half an hour looking through the fabrics (and seriously considering a lovely lace, until I saw that it was Dior and carried a $198/yard price tag -- eek!), I spotted one that whispered "look at me!"
Well, okay, it didn't whisper -- it shrieked. With great trepidation I pulled some off the bolt and we draped it to see how it would work. And that's all it took.

Those of you who have seen my dresses know that I tend to be mostly -- well, "conservative" is the closest I can come up with. So you may be totally shocked to see the fabric I picked.


Yes, my friends, that is indeed an overall sequin fabric. It is an iridescent green/blue, very much peacock tones. It drapes beautifully and does amazing things for my figure. Honest! And I feel so fabulous when it's wrapped around me!
The style isn't nailed down yet, but I know that it needs to be minimally seamed/darted, and I've got to reinforce the heck out of the shoulder seam because the fabric is quite heavy. Suggestions are welcome!
I've got 4 yards of it, and that ought to be plenty for a simple gown. I'd love to have some kind of short train, and a draped back... perhaps reminiscent of my Constellation gown?

So, what do you think? Subtle it ain't!!

Friday, May 2, 2014

An end to the sewing drought?

It's been quite a while since I had anything to post; I really haven't done that much in the way of sewing recently so it feels great to be able to tell you about some projects I've done in the past few weeks.

Sewing for Me!

I've fallen way behind on my "Garment a Month Challenge" sewing, but plan to get caught up by the end of this month. Here are two projects I finished in the last two weeks: a knit top using my "tried and true" pattern (drafted with PatternMaster Knits), and a pair of jeans drafted with PatternMaster Boutique.

I'm really, really happy with the fit! These are actually a "wearable muslin" for some work pants for me, so I took the time to add all the details like pockets and such. The only modification I had to make after the first try-on was to take in about 2 inches from the center back seam as it stood away from my back a bit too much. Other than that, the fit is great!

Back view:

This is the first time I've had success with yoke-back jeans, even if I did have to take them in a little. I can move comfortably in them, which will be important when I'm dealing with attics and crawl spaces! I think they'll soften a bit in the wash; it's pretty heavy denim. Now I need to find the right shade of green and start making myself work pants!

Sewing Aprons

One of my favorite accessories has been my sewing apron. I made one last year to use during home inspections and it has proved to be an invaluable accessory there! I recently had the opportunity to make two more; one for our annual PatternMaster Users Group gift exchange, and one for my daughter.

Here's the one for the exchange:

The design is from Urban Threads and was embroidered on my Designer1.

My daughter recently discovered a talent for making quick repairs on costumes and asked me to make an apron for her to keep her supplies in as she dashed around backstage at the local high school performance of Aida. She asked me to put a phrase she had to use often to prevent other people backstage from manhandling the fragile dresses.

Both aprons were sewn from plain canvas and lined with drapery lining (my old standby!), then trimmed with bias tape.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What every dangerously crafty person needs

I've been AWOL for a while; lots of stuff going on and none of it involves me in the sewing room (darn it!). But I had to get up there to make a gift for our annual PatternMaster Users Group gift exchange, which was supposed to happen in February but weather delayed our meeting until today. Not that I had a gift ready in February, of course... I didn't decide on what to make until yesterday.
When I did drapery work, one of my vital tools was my work apron. I made my original one from a pattern I got from Kitty Stein, one of the luminaries of the drapery world. She has since discontinued her pattern, but I still have my copy and continue to make them for myself (yes, they do wear out) and as gifts.
Everything from the apron came out of my stash, including the embroidery design from Urban Threads, which I've had since 2011 but hadn't yet used it on anything.

The pockets are made from a scrap of painter's dropcloth that I had trimmed a few months ago. The bias binding is from the aprons I made at the ASG Retreat in January and ended up not using.

The back side of the apron. The original pattern didn't call for lining or anything like that, but I felt that having an extra layer between the wearer and the drop cloth would be more comfortable. So I lined all three layers with drapery lining. The polyester webbing was stitched on with three lines of stitching, and I used a parachute buckle to fasten the belt. Since I didn't know who would be getting the apron, I made the belting 60" long so the recipient could trim it to length.
The apron is really simple to make, but it's such a handy thing to wear to hold thread snips, measuring tapes, chalk markers, scissors, and other sewing tools. I made one for myself to hold my home inspection tools too!
At today's meeting, I also picked up a lot of fabric that was donated to our local ASG chapter by the husband of a member who passed away. So now I have some luscious wools to add to my stash, and I really want to turn them into some wonderful garments.