Saturday, January 28, 2012

Raise the Titanic

Or at least the luggage. 

This is beyond vintage, folks.  Because obviously I don't have enough to do with a husband, a job, 10 cats, 2 chickens and an old house in need of hand-holding, I signed up to be a test sewist for the Vintage Pattern Lending Library's 1912 Project. Have you heard about it?

Almost 100 years ago - in April, 1912 - the Titanic struck an iceberg and went down in the north Atlantic.  (On a personal note, my father would turn 100 this April, so I've always had that date in my head.)  The Vintage Pattern Lending Library is providing patterns, starting from the April 1912 issue of La Mode Illustree, to a group test sewers, and I'm fortunate enough to be one of them.

Of course, this isn't going to be a walk on the promenade deck.  From the website: 

Construction and cutting information for these patterns are very vague, usually amounting to only a paragraph or two. These patterns come from a different era without all the luxuries that we have come to rely on.  They may have no instructions and no markings. Any notes or supplementary information about the construction process that you are willing to share would be wonderful.  The patterns are replicated directly from the original pattern sheet without changes – so sizing tends to run fairly small. 3/8-inch seam allowance will be added, and other information to clarify construction.

In other words, I'm going to be banging my head on the sewing table to make something that in no way, shape or form will fit me - or my dress form. 

And I think I might enjoy it.  I'll post photos of what pattern I get and what it turns into.

Away all boats.

Friday, January 27, 2012

I have loved this dress

since forever.

Why have I never attempted a knockoff?  It's a simple enough shape; it's just getting the colors right and the lines crisp. 

Oh, is that all?

I have 5-6 dresses in my inspiration file that have been there so long that they've become part of my mental furniture.  Maybe it's time to rearrange the furniture and drag these out into the cold light of day and see how they hold up.

It's not like I'm ever short of a project, but some of these dresses deserve to be made, and other dresses need to take their place in the Inspiration Closet of Doom.

Fine, there it is.  My next Great Dress challenge for 2012 will be to knock off the iconic YSL Mondrian dress, and see if it's still a Great Dress when I'm done with it.

Can I do it in my colors?  Is the shape and the colorblocking iconic enough that if I did it in something other than those colors, people would still understand what I was doing? 

And so long as I like the result, do I really care?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Blinded by the White

If you make shirts for a man long enough, eventually they start to have their own ideas.

"What if you made me a totally white shirt?  A white shirt, but with black buttons and black buttonholes?  And what if the underside of the collar, the inside band and the insides of the cuffs were tiny black-and-white checks.  Could you do that?"

Could I? 

Well, here it is, all finished but the buttons, which I'll sew on tomorrow when I can see straight again.  So I guess I could.

Somehow I had no white shirting in stash, but I actually had the tiny black-and-white check (it couldn't be gingham; it had to be check). 

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we stash - when totally random requests for tiny black-and-white check come in, we can pull it out of the bin and say, "Is this what you wanted?"

Doesn't that feel good?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Making a production of it

We all know one of those people, the ones who can take the simplest task and turn it into an epic saga. Admit it, you know one. Or two.

My mom could be like that, but only with regard to certain things. Sewing was one of those things.

From what little I ever saw, she knew how to sew. But it never grabbed her; it was just something she could do, and when she had no other choice, she did it. She made her maternity clothes when she was pregnant with me, because they didn't have money, but she bought (or was gifted) all my baby clothes.

Every once in a while she would decide to sew something, and then she would have to get the machine out. That shouldn't be difficult. Even those of us without a dedicated sewing space have the machine parked somewhere close by, waiting, where you can reach out and pet it occasionally.

Mom, on the other hand, kept her machine put away. On a shelf, in a closet. This was an early 1960s metal Kenmore, in a heavy case. It had to be taken down by a man, because not only could Mom not swing it down from the shelf on her own, she couldn't even reach the shelf without standing on a chair. And by the time my dad got home, or one of the neighbors' husbands could be borrowed, she'd lost interest in whatever the project was to begin with.

Once the machine was down, it only got worse.  I learned how to thread it for her by following the the diagram in the instruction manual. It was easier than watching Mom fight with it - or listening to her swear at it (though that gave me a pretty extensive vocabulary for a 6 year old).

By the time I reached high school, the machine had moved. It still lived in a closet, but it lived in my closet, on the floor, where I could drag it out nightly and sew like a madwoman during the commercial breaks in my stepdad's marathon TV watching.

When I moved out at 18, the Kenmore stayed behind. It went back up onto its shelf in my mom's closet. She didn't love it, but she wasn't ready to give it up. And I spent one of my first paychecks on a sewing machine I could not only lift, but could leave on the kitchen table 24/7.

My mom died 5 years ago. When I went home to clear out her stuff, I fully expected to see the Kenmore up on the highest shelf of the closet, poised and waiting to fall on me. I even planned to take it home, for sentimental reasons, and swear at it every so often in her honor. But it was gone. When questioned, my stepfather said he sold it at a yard sale. He could no longer take it down from the shelf, and since there seemed to be nowhere else it could live, at least according to my mother, he let it go for $5 to someone who actually wanted to use it.

I think he got it right. If you don't love your sewing machine, set it free.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Party in the back

This year, in addition to sewing whatever strikes my fancy, I decided to take a look at my wardrobe and see what I was actually lacking. Novel idea, no?

And one thing that I've needed for some time, and haven't made an adequate version of is, of all things, a black skirt. A longer (though not too long) skirt, full (but not too full). Early last year I made the Ottobre 10 gore skirt, which was fine, but the fabric wasn't as good as it should have been and the seams started showing wear entirely too soon. To the thrift store it went.

I also had a black A-line skirt (my TNT Burda pattern) but though it was longer than my usual take on that pattern, I wanted something below the knee, that I could wear with boots without that gap showing in between.

The newer patterns I've seen just weren't doing it for me, and then I realized I had the perfect pattern all along. (Don't we always realize that?) I'd even already made it up once, in a cream summer fabric. Here's the original patternreview, back in the mists of time.

BWOF 4/06 #122, skirt with back pleats. I used some of my apparently abundant collection of black rayon poly lycra (RPL), which I keep buying in the mistaken idea that I don't have any in stash. This is some serious skirt, people. The back pattern piece measures 44" before pleating, and the front is about 20". Which gives you some significant swish behind, and almost feels like I'm wearing a train. Very cool. The front is much more serious, just a slight flare to it, and the skirt drops from a front and back yoke, the back one curved to accommodate the curved line of pleats. Side zip. Loud lining of black and white floral poly charmeuse.

Original BWOF photo

Even adding 2.5" in length to the existing pattern, I found that if I hemmed the skirt properly, it wouldn't be long enough.  And can I tell you, I also didn't feel like hand-hemming a skirt that had a hem of more than 5 feet in circumference? 

My solution, otherwise known as a design opportunity, was to press the hem up by about an inch and use one of my machine's ornamental stitches to cover the raw edge. Then I added more rows of ornamental stitching on either side.  All in all, the hem is about 1.5" high, and adds a nice bit of weight and interest to the skirt.  And it used up almost 2 bobbins, so you know just how much sewing was involved, though it was the kind where I could just sit back and make sure it fed into the machine evenly. 

I love it.  I don't think I'm going to feel the need to replace this one any time soon, unless I wear it out.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Retro Striped Dress

A friend who was visiting my workroom looked at this dress on the form and said, "Who's that for?" I said it was for me, and she was surprised. "It doesn't look like you," she said. "There's no visible cleavage."

Okay, I guess they are out there most of the time, but hey, I'm going to be 48 at the end of the month, and they're holding up better than quite a few other parts of me, so I'm not against a bit of display. But this dress did not require boobs; as a matter of fact, it requires one of my more minimal bras, just because I like the smoother line with this design.

This is somewhere between a self-draft and a frankenpattern. The neckline/collar came from an old Patrones pattern for a woven top. The sleeve and armhole came from the KS cowl neck pattern, because I liked the draft. The sectioning of skirt/bodice was totally me, as was the shape (such as it is) of the skirt. The front bodice curves upward from the side seams; the back seam runs straight across.

This dress came together one idea at a time. It first bubbled up (like the black gold in the Beverly Hillbillies' opener) when I was cleaning the workroom and found the black, white and red stripe. This fabric was a Marc Jacobs remnant from Jomar, just under a yard, plus there was some misprinting of the fabric, so I was really cutting it close. I left it on the table to think about it, and the next time I came in, I pulled a beefy black knit off the shelves and added that to the pile. It was obvious that I would have to use more than 1 fabric - even if I made a top, I didn't think there'd be enough.

The Patrones pattern was in my head when I woke up the next day. I liked the idea of those neckline pleats with the stripe, and I could use the contrast fabric for the collar. At that point, I wasn't sure if I was going for short striped sleeves or long solid ones. As you see, I checked 'none of the above.' Once I had the contrast collar idea set, I cut the fabrics. I used the dress pattern that I had drafted from the KS cowl neck top for the basic shape of the lower dress, and then cut the bodice piece in a curve. Having cut the skirt front higher, I then mirrored that curve and cut the skirts. I constructed the neck pleats and realized that the striped knit was just too lightweight to handle the beefy black knit. I wasn't changing solids, though; a lighter knit would have given a whole different look to the dress that was coming together.

I went in search of a solution and found 2 yards of nude knit (almost Spanx type knit) in the stash. I'd originally purchased it with the idea of making a custom cover for my dress form to cover her custom padding. There's still enough left if I ever get around to doing that. I underlined the bodice pieces with the nude knit, which gave it a nice bit of structure without making it too heavy. Then I added the contrast collar and left it on the form overnight to marinate some more.

The skirts sewed on easily enough, and I pinned it together to check and make sure my stripes and side seams lined up. Then I sat back and thought about sleeves. The Patrones pattern didn't have sleeves, so I cut the armhole in line with the KS cowl pattern, thinking I could use that sleeve whether I went long or short. I decided on long sleeves, cut from the black knit, but after I got them cut out, they didn't excite me. Then, as I was rearranging the table, I dropped a piece of the stripe and looked back and saw it on the sleeve. An idea was born.

But not the same idea, of course. The right sleeves has a block of stripe appliquéd at the wrist. The left sleeve has 3 broken stripes of appliquéd straight down from the shoulder. I tacked the pieces down with Steam-a-Seam and then used my machine's blanket stitch to stitch them down. I was going to use clear nylon thread but (a) I hate the stuff, (b) I didn't have any, and (c) I tried a sample with black thread and actually liked it, so that's how it went.

Once I got the sleeves on, I sewed them from wrists to dress hem, matching stripes and waist seams. I tried the dress on again, and while I liked it, it wasn't quite right. I let it sit some more and on Monday, I went back and altered the curved front seam and raised it by an inch center front, tapering into the original line at the sides. That improved the fit and made the curve more obvious; it lost some of its visible curve while wrapping around me.

Last but not least was the length of the skirt. I cut the fabric so that it went to mid-calf, more to give myself options than because I actually wanted the dress that long. I ended up taking it to right below the knee, because that's my most flattering length. 

I do feel like it has a strong retro vibe, but not too strong. It kind of reminds me of something Claudette Colbert wore in It Happened One Night, or at least my 2012 interpretation of something she would have worn, if she'd had access to good knits.

This is the first piece in my "Great Dress Project" series. I wore it to work on Friday with black tights and heels (and froze my arse off, but that's another story).  I love it, it makes me happy, and I have nothing else like it in my closet. I wasn't too sure about it once it was completed, but it felt good on, and it got more compliments than I've had in a while on a single garment - probably because it looks like nothing else in my closet.

I have other dresses brewing; hopefully, they too might qualify as Great Dresses.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chilly Chickens

Cold bothers them less than me.  Go figure.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Great Dress Project

Which isn't actually a project, though it is about dresses. And that's as good a name as any for something that's going to weave in and out of my sewing for the better part of the coming year.

In my year-end review, I mentioned how many dresses I'd made. Turned out it wasn't that many, but 11 out of 13 of them were pieces I really loved. (One was so-so, though it got worn; the other was the silk twill Burda wadder. Nuff said about that one).

But what makes a great dress? A dress that you look forward to wearing and make sure is always pressed and ready in the closet? It's a combination of style, fit, color, attitude. It's a piece of clothing that makes you feel good about yourself, that sends you out the door in the morning with a smile on your face.

So my plan this year is to make a collection of great dresses. They can be knit, woven, short, long, work-appropriate or casual, but they must be dresses that I'll want to reach for when I open that closet door.

I have a few dresses in my inspiration file that have been around so long they should qualify as vintage. I'm going to pull them out and see what of my TNT patterns will serve as a base for some of them.

The first (hopefully) great dress was accidentally started last week when I was celebrating the cleanliness of my sewing room. I found a Marc Jacobs knit remnant that I got at Jomar sometime last year, and it started an idea that wouldn't go away. I think I have something here. More later.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sewing Saturday

Fits me better than Evelyn!
I was lucky enough to spend the day on Saturday surrounded by other sewing women, sewing machines, sewing projects and enough energy and creativity to run those machines.

Annette of Fabricate and Mira invited group of us to her house and we spent the day sewing, talking, trading fabric and pattern magazines, eating, and sewing. Annette and Mimi also wrapped each other in paper tape (which was probably less fun than it looked to someone not being wrapped in wet tape), and ended up with a Frida Kahlo-esque body cast to work from. I'm actually kind of intrigued, but if I ever do it, I think I may go the duct tape route instead. 

Noile showed off the jacket pattern she's making for her husband, and started working very efficiently at the head of the table.  Lee almost made me reconsider quilting.  Almost.  Pat couldn't stay long but it was great to see her and I believe she left with a few issues of Burda, circa 2006.  Valerie was a satin stitch assembly line across the table.  The fashionably late Andrea worked on a jacket that I can't wait to see finished. 

Stencil was meant for another
project, but I like it here.
Of course I didn't really have a project planned to bring along - I'm working on a dress but it's all done except for hems and a little tweaking. So instead I pulled together some production sewing, stuff I could work on and talk at the same time without risk of messing it up. When I finish a knit project and have a remnant left over, I cut out my standard KS 3338 tshirt from it and put it aside until some time when I have motivation but no projects on hand.

I took 3 tops with me, one heathered gray with a stencil, one solid red and one sweater knit that I picked up at Jomar last year (I think it was part of the Marc Jacobs' remnant haul that they got). All 3 tops were finished except for hems (and about 2" of a side seam on the red tee, because I ran out of bobbin thread and it was so close to the end of the day that I didn't want to bother winding a new one. I finished them up tonight.

Why does red photograph
so badly?
  So not only did I have a wonderful time with friends, I got a lot done. And ran out in the middle to get my hair cut, to boot. Now I no longer look like a sheepdog and I have 3 new tops to show for my fun Saturday.

And (almost) best of all, I took 2 big bags of fabrics that for one reason or another didn't make the cut to stay in the stash.  Almost all of them found new homes, and those that didn't, only made it as far as my downstairs hallway.  Off to the thrift store they went this morning.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sewing by the numbers

Katie hiding behind the fabric shelf
I keep a spreadsheet of my sewing projects each year.  It's nothing complicated, just a list, month by month, of the things I've made and how much fabric Iused.  (I've given up counting fabric in, but I still keep track of fabric out.  Go figure.)

When I printed out the spreadsheet for 2011 and put it on the workroom counter with the sheets for 2009 and 2010 (prior to that I had a different system), I compared the 3 years' sewing and noticed something strange - no matter how many pieces I made, how complicated or uncomplicated they were, my total yardage used for each year was nearly identical:

2009:  149.25 yards

2010:  147.50 yards

2011:  148.75 yards

Really?  It's not a contest, but I find it interesting that without trying, without even adding up the numbers until the end of the year, I end up in the same place. 

There are strange and wonderful things going on in the tidy place that is my workroom.  I'll have something to show soon.

Monday, January 2, 2012

I couldn't sleep at all last night

But look what came out of it!

I spent a good part of the holiday weekend, off and on, cleaning the room.  Sorting patterns.  Taking every single piece of fabric off the shelves, rolling it neatly and putting it back.  It doesn't take up that much less room, but it does make the whole structure less susceptible to avalanche. 

Next, I cleaned the floor.  I vacuumed for the first time in recent memory and caused the Dyson to choke.  I cleaned the table, and I sorted all the rubble that's in bags and boxes under the table.  I filled 2 trashbags with remnants too small to use, assorted junk and just plain trash, and a brown bag with paper recycling.  I filled 2 bags to take to the sit-and-sew next weekend in the hope that it will get a new home, and another bag for the thrift store.

Last night I worked in there from 9:00 to nearly midnight.  I was tired, but since I'm nursing a cold, I was tired and antsy (that non-drowsy formula certainly is non-drowsy).  We went to bed around 12:30, and at 1:30 I was still wide awake, with visions of fabric swirling in my head like sugarplums. 

I gave in.  I got up.  No point in lying there, resenting others who sleep like logs while I'm awake and obsessing.  Back into the room I went, with the idea that I would work for another half hour or so, until I got tired.

Hah!  Know what time I finally gave up and went to bed?  3:45 a.m. 

And the chicken alarm went off at 7:00 a.m. so I could go out back and feed and water the girls and then go back to bed.  Which didn't work either, because then Mario's phone rang and it was his contractor who needed to stop by at 8:00, and . . .

You see where this is going.  I have a clean sewing room and I didn't get to use it until 8:00 tonight.  But use it I did, and damn, but it felt good. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: Year End Review

Apparently, 2011 was the Year of the Dress, because I made a LOT of them.

Going back through my Month End Review posts for the year to try to pull together my favorites, I was surprised at just how many dresses there were. I felt like I'd kept it mixed up - pants, skirts, tops - but, no, dresses outnumbered everything.  By a considerable amount.


I started off in the early spring with dresses, continued on through the late spring and summer with dresses, discovered Vogue 1250 and made knit dresses, and finished off in the fall with yet more dresses.

I'm so glad I managed to pull together my plaid jacket just so I can feel that I made a complicated, lined, fitted jacket this year. I thought I'd made a few of them, but apparently, no. I made dresses.

Did I say I made dresses?

Another thing that's difficult not to notice when looking at a selection of my garments:  I can't get excited about sewing with solids.  I'm a prints all the way girl, and I'm okay with that.  Face it, some of the prints I chose made those dresses.  My fling with scoop-necked, vintage inspired dresses wouldn't have been half as much fun if they'd been one color.  (Who'd give up that black and white border print for a solid?)

Stepping away from loud clothes for me, there is always the option of loud clothes for my handsome gentleman.  Mario got quite a selection of shirts this year - from black-and-white stock reports to parchment-colored vintage bamboo print to his alltime favorite, the Dr. Who "Exterminate" shirt made from a Spoonflower print.  He wears it entirely too often.  Then again, it's so memorable does it really matter whether he wears it once a quarter or once a week?  It's not as if his co-workers are likely  to forget it.

Patterns used this year were the full gamut: BWOF, KwikSew, Vogue, McCalls, Simplicity and Ottobre.  I think the only major pattern company that didn't make my "best of" list here was Butterick, and I can't think of the last time I sewed one of their patterns. 

I also tried out My Image this year, and really need to try another pattern.  They had some cute stuff, though their fabrics were such busy prints that it was difficult to make out the details of some of their patterns.

Ummm, pot? Meet kettle. Loud, printed kettle.

For 2012, I'm putting together a plan for myself.  (A plan which will be put into action after I finish cleaning up the workroom which, you will be glad to hear, is well under way so I will stop whining about it soon).  Somehow, it involves yet more dresses.

Today, there will be no work in the sewing room - at least not until this evening. We've been spending much of our time off working on the never-ending renovations at Mario's house, but now we're beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel that isn't an oncoming train. Fingers crossed that it will be finished and available for rent by the end of January.

Which is the only reason I'm spending my New Year's day plastering the downstairs bathroom instead of sorting fabrics. The things you do for love (and money).

I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year and are having a much more enjoyably productive day than I am.

I'll be back soon with a photo of the complete, reorganized and unspeakably tidy work space.