Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Creative Chat Wednesday - Sew For Others?

Creative Chat

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This Week's Topic:

Who do you sew for and why?

For most of my sewing career I only sewed for myself.  It was pretty simple, really:  I was the only person around when I needed to fit costumes and my skill (and patience) wasn't great enough to be able to fit over distances (or wait for mock-ups).  Later on I still concentrated on myself, but I added in a person now and then who was needed for a specific masquerade entry or whatnot and couldn't complete their outfit themselves.  I also did the wedding dress for my new sister-in-law, which was not only a fitting-over-a-distance issue but also all the emotional issues of a wedding dress and the stress of being delayed in the final fitting for a few days due to an ice storm.  In the last few years I've started doing a lot of sewing for my niece and nephews.  Fitting growing children over a distance has proved to be very challenging, however I can at least rely on my mother and sister-in-law to properly measure them so I know that I'm starting out fine, and children's patterns are so cute I haven't wanted to deviate from them much.  My niece, Thing 1, is coming to Costume Con this year so right now I'm in the middle of a bunch of sewing for her which is incorporating some franken-patterning and improvisation in children's clothes for the first time. I'm also getting ready to start a wedding dress for sister-in-law #2 as well as the flower-girl dresses, so my summer should be full of sewing for other people as well!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Progress Update: Mar 26

Got some more finishing work done this week, and got a good dent in another costume for Costume Con:

This is Thing 1's Lolita Flower Dress for the Future Fashion Folio show at Costume Con.  The bodice is finished, and the skirt is pinned together.  I finally got four good purples I liked in a gradient, but I really wish there were five.  I hate how the bottom of the skirt is two rows of white petals.  I'm debating between making a row of green leaves for the first row and moving all the rows down, trying to dye the extra petals from the third row something in between the third and fourth, or replacing the bottom row of petals with a lace trim.  I'm also trying to decide if I want to hem the petals.  I'm afraid a hem will take away the floatiness of the habotai, but I also don't want them to ravel too much.  I guess, for a one-wear dress it's really not going to be that bad.  They absolutely need ironing before I sew them down though!

Thing 1's finished Easter dress.  Now I only have Thing 2's suit to go, and one week to finish it!

My finished 1912 corset.  I really need to train it a little so it laces nicer on top, and I hate how it gaps in the front so I may put in an underbusk that will extend down further on the bottom to close the gapping.

And my finished stripey underbust.  I really like the black busk, it looks really nice with the black bone casings.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Creative Chat Wednesday - Thimbles

Creative Chat

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This Week's Topic:

Thimbles: Love 'em or Hate 'em?

For all my love of handsewing I am not a thimble person.  The first thimbles I ever used were way too big, so I think I never learned because I couldn't find a good one.  I do use a leather thimble every once in a while, and I have a pair of well-fitting metal thimbles now for leather working, but I still sew the majority of my work without them.  Sure, I stick myself sometimes, but I'm not really a bleeder so I just bear it as part of the price of sewing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Progress Update: Mar 19

I had the flu last week so I didn't get a lot done.  Here's what I did do, though:

I finished the binding on my stripey underbust.  Now all it needs is grommets.

I sewed a lot on the green dress I cut out for Thing 1 for Costume Con.  It needs the armholes finished, a zipper put in, trim, and a hem now.

Also got a lot of work done on Thing 1's Easter dress.  I'm trying to convince myself right now that I don't really need to edge-stitch all those pleats in the skirt.  Dang it.  Also needs the bias sewn on the neck and bias put on the arm holes.  Plus I need to get to Thing 2's suit :(

Got a bit of work done on the skirts for next week's One Week One Pattern challenge.  Really have to get on that.  I almost finished this skirt, and I serged a lot of other skirt pieces so they're ready to sew.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cotton Shortage

In sadder news, the Financial Times reports that India has once again banned export of cotton.  India is blaming speculators fixing prices and China's stockpile of cotton reserves.  What does this mean?  Well, like the last time they banned export in 2010 it's going to lead to higher fabric prices and more synthetic blends as companies try to reduce their costs.  I wonder if more rayons will be sold, too, since they're comparable to cottons or if they'll get more expensive too (I guess it depends on whether they use cotton cellulose or another cellulose to make their product).  Perhaps it was just me, but there seemed to be a slight dip in silk prices as well (or maybe it just seemed cheaper now that cotton cost so much).  Silk has certainly risen in price since 2010, though, but the inflated cotton prices stayed the same, so maybe this will at least stop the silk inflation.

Wearing History Pattern Giveaway

Wearing History is giving away one of these great blouse patterns!

This is Wearing History #1005, a 1910 blouse.  It's going to be released on March 20th.  They've also got a new skirt, the Cordelia, to match.

I've been coveting some of their other patterns, like their 1940's bra, 1930's jumper, and 1930's hats, so this is the perfect opportunity to get a shipment of patterns :D

Cool Toolz: Clover Mini Iron

My newest cool tool is my Clover Mini Iron:

I am really starting to love having this thing around.  Just like a big iron it has a temperature control:

It's teeny, but I've found it has most of the range of my big iron.  I love this little iron because of all the nooks it can get into.  It's especially useful for pressing those really curvy seams on the hip of a corset:

Unlike a big iron it presses the seams flat without pressing creases into the corset around it, which is nice because those wrinkles can be a real pain to get out.  It's also really useful for ironing things like the gathered trim on my new 1912 corset:

Over time gathered trims like this can get creased and look flat.  With the mini iron I can iron out all the creases without putting more in because of the gathers.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Progress Update: Mar 12

I've done a lot of shopping and cutting this week.  Hopefully I can get some stitching done next week, since everything is ready now!

I wanted to try Tilly's One Week One Pattern Challenge:

 But, when I started planning I realized that all my skirts from my favorite pattern are too large. Yay and boo! So I spent the week cutting seven new skirts from the pattern. I need more skirts anyway, lots of stuff is getting too large. So this is all the cut skirts laid out. I'm using Simplicity 2152 and making variations of the two shortest skirts (the longest is too long on my 5' tall person).

In  continuing from last week, I attached my garters and grommeted my 1912 corset with white grommets.  I realized after posting that I really didn't like the dark, so I went with white and lavender.  I haven't finished the flossing yet, hopefully tomorrow!

I also finished the binding on the bottom of my stripey underbust and boned it.  I need to finish the bottom binding and grommet it in black and it will be done!

More cutting: I am making Easter outfits for my niece and nephews, so I cut Thing 1's dress so I could pattern the collar and skirt.  I'll try to put this together this week.

And the final cutting, one of Thing 1's costumes for Costume Con, cut and ready to sew.  I had to stop because I didn't have any thread the right color, but a weekend shopping trip fixed it and I'll get started this week!

So I put that away and I started on this gathered green bodice for another of Thing 1's dresses.  This one didn't have any green fabric gathered I liked, so I spent a day sewing 2" lines on this one so I could gather it to fit.  Yikes!  It's a bit small right now, but I'm going to baste it to the pattern pieces and then ease up a bit on the threads to make it fit right.  The rest of the bodice is cut, so I should get this sewn together soon, too!  And I ordered more purple dye for the horrid purple dye experiment, that should be in by the end of the week so I can try again for the skirt of this dress.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012


It seems kind of surreal to me to be writing a post advocating organization.  I am not really the most organized person in the world.  In fact, I'm a piler.  I like piles.  I organize with piles.  In fact, I usually find things because I can remember what pile things are in.  In the sewing room, however, piles just don't work for me.  There's too much stuff to keep track of, and little things tend to get lost so I end up buying 5000000 snaps because I don't care to remember where I put the last pack I bought.

Recently, though, I undertook a massive reorganization in my sewing room.  It was an extension of a great system that had started at my last house about 6 years ago that I had grown out of.

When I moved to my current house I got so much more space for my sewing and storage, but I had no system so it all piled up in bunches until the piles grew together and everything was chaos.  When I finally got sick of it I decided to do something and not only clean but set up a system so that I could work happily in my sewing room.

Organizing started with cleaning so I could see the space I had to work with.  For me that wasn't a complicated task.  Until I had a place to put things a detailed cleaning wasn't really an option.  Instead I got big bins and put my piles into bins.  They were as horribly unorganized as my piles were, but when I took the bins to my basement or spare bedroom I could see the space I had to work with. Clearing things out was a very important first step for me.

Next was the thinking stage.  It's very important to think about how you use things and how you work in order to make a system that works for you.  For instance, my first organization system was set up by my best friend.  She is an organization fiend.  She had my sewing room whipped into shape in no time.  The problem, though, was that she organized according to how she THOUGHT I worked, not how I really worked.  Some of her ideas just didn't work for me.  For example, needles had a needle pouch inside the notions bin.  I was constantly reaching for them, however, so frequently that I never put them back where they went and was constantly loosing them.  This is the kind of thing you need to think of: what you use often, what you think of when you need it, and where you use it.

First step is furniture organization.  Once I got everything out of my sewing room a major flaw was uncovered: my serger was unreachable.  I had separated my serger from my sewing machine with my cutting table, and my serger didn't have a chair so I piled things around it because I hated using it.  By switching where my sewing table and my serger were I increased my use of both because my one chair could reach both my sewing machine and my serger and I could finally eliminate all the piles around my sewing table so I could get to both sides of it.

After that I started organizing things according to my logic.  I started with an easy point: my bookshelf.  It was filled to overflowing, so we got a second shelf and relieved the load.  For me, deciding to fill the second shelf with costume books was an easy way to half my books between the two shelves.  Hats went on top, along with a few random things I wanted to display.  All the "I dunno where this goes" was taken off the shelf, and magazines were moved to the small bookshelf that ends my cutting table.  The shelves are much more organized and look better now, too.

The next thing I tackled was my window situation.  Since our house is a rental we have really, really crappy windows.  To save energy we covered them with quilt-batting-and-blackout drapes to keep heat and cold in.  Effective, but ugly.  I never used the windows as anything more than shelves, which left a lot of wasted space.  So, to more effectively utilize this space I got a pegboard cut to the size of my window and secured it in place with mirror-hangers so that it is quickly removable and replaceable in case of some window emergency.  I hung lots of quick-need things on my pegboard like my scissors, cone thread for the serger below, my wig sample rings, tape measures and rulers, snips, etc.  Now I don't loose my scissors nearly as often because they have a place to go (and they're even organized into fabric, pinking, and craft!).

Next I took on my sewing desk.  First I cleaned off the entire top, taking off all the stuff I had piled on it.  Then I decided what was most important to keep on top of my desk: my clock to play music from my iPhone, my boning organization (an ugly pvc-pipe arrangement that I painted pink so it was more festive), my pins, a small drawer set that holds needles, marking tools (a mistake I will soon remedy, I mark things over on my cutting table), and stuff like fray check, my spare thread bin (I like to quickly change thread for projects without having to put it away and get it back out of the big bins across the room, so I have a thread bin to clean out periodically that keeps me from walking so much), and a little organizer with randomness like chapstick and lighters for fabric burns.  The drawers have stuff that I access often: the top left has all the instruction books for everything plus things like tacks and rubber bands, and below that is big boning coils.  The top right holds my bobbins, machine feet, and machine needles, and below that is corsetry stuff split into lacing, busks, and garters and rivets, grommets, and setting tools.  My setting hammer stays in that drawer not with tools because that's where I use it.

Above my desk is a major sewing inspiration area.  To the left I have a huge corkboard that holds my master body blocks as well as some work-in-progress randomness like dye samples, inspiration pictures, and all the ready-access hand needles I need.  To the right is a more permanent inspiration corkboard and, above, corkboards to store the old patterns I've drafted.

Next is my TV stand, another place I used to pile stuff.  I cleaned out underneath it and put in two drawer sets to organize small things like closures, zippers, elastic, etc.  To the right you can see a set of shelves I use to keep the stuff I'm currently working on so it's organized but accessible, I've since moved it over to my cutting table because that's where I was always using it.

These are my big storage shelves.  They hold large bins of stuff like glue, jewelry making stuff, craft stuff, electronic stuff, hardware, yarn, threads, and project bins where I collect all the stuff for a single project that I'm currently working on.

The shelves form one side of what I think of as my "fitting nook".  The other side has three mirrors on the wall to look at things.  Under that, the final remains of my pile system: all the muslin fabrics for mocking stuff up.  I'll be organizing and removing this to the basement soon.  On the wall on the right are a system of hooks for holding projects in progress, right now they're holding all the mock-ups for Thing 1's Costume Con costumes.  In the foreground you can barely see Lindsey, my dress dummy.  She usually sits in this corner, too, accessible but out of normal traffic even when she has a huge hoop on.

Finally for my sewing room, my cutting table.  I put it on college dorm bed risers to make it the right height (your cutting table should be as tall as your elbows when you're standing comfortably).  That made more room underneath for storage.  Ribbons, trims, laces, cords, and ironing stuff stays on this side, while patterns live on the other side.

Above my table is another series of hooks and corkboards for patterns I'm currently working with.  Tehre's also hooks for my pressing tools and a bin for patterns I'm working with so they don't get scattered everywhere.

There are other storage solutions that are not in my sewing room.  I'm fortunate enough to have room in my spare bedroom for another series of drawers that holds costume accessories like jewelry, socks, wig stuff, and other randomness plus scrapbooking and quilting-specific bins.  The top bunk in the spare bedroom holds all my hoopskirts comfortably.  I have more costume storage in the basement.

This storage system has to be the best thing my best friend has ever done for me (which is saying a lot, she's a solid friend!).  It's made of two heavy-duty storage shelves (the higher the pounds-per-shelf rating the more stuff you can store).  A drill bit on an electric drill, two pipe brakets, and a set of screws, washers, and nuts secure a pipe between the two shelves.  I can store tons of costumes on this rack, plus it's 7' tall so it can hold all but the longest trained dresses without needing folding.  For organization I put all the pieces for a costume together in a dress or suit bag that's fabric on one side (all plastic can hold in moisture, promoting mold and mildew and acid fabric degredation).  Things like shoes, gloves, etc go in a lingerie bag that's in a bin on the floor or on the shelf.  Small things like jewelry get put in a jewelry pouch in the lingerie bag.

My other basement storage is a heavy-duty shelf for paints and dyes and lots of bins for stash storage.  There's a spare clothes rack filled with hanging shoe organizers for all the costume shoes I've collected.  This is also where I initially stored the "pile" bins, but I've gotten those all cleaned out and organized and I've even been through all but one that I moved full of pile stuff.

Although all this is still a work in progress I'm pretty proud of how it is.  Work-in-progress is important, though.  I think your organization should always be a work-in-progress.  If you declare it's "finished" it's harder to change things when you need to, and that's the key to good organization.  If you're constantly looking for things that don't work and how to fix them then you'll never get into a rut where things don't work so clutter forms.  My other big piece of advice is to make things work for you.  It may not make sense to my husband why my jewelry pliers are in the jewelry bin and not the tool bin with the other pliers, but it makes sense to me.  Since I'm the only one who needs to work in my sewing room that's fine.  My final advice is labels.  Labels are good, especially when you've just started an organization system because they help you remember where things are and where they go.  However, it's  important to remember that labels are cheap.  If things don't work change it and change the label rather than pidgeon-holing things and forcing them.  You slapped a label on there once, you can always do it again.

What's your organization system like?  What is your biggest tip to people who want to get organized?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Creative Chat Wednesday - Favorite Task

Creative Chat

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This Week's Topic:

What is your favorite sewing task?

I love handsewing.  I think I put a bit too much of it in my work because I love it so much.  I did learn a lot in college, though, and I do less handwork than I used to now that I can get good results by machine.  Zippers for instance, I used to set by hand but now I'll use a machine because it's just so much faster unless it's a super-special project that needs a hand-set zipper.  I still do a lot of binding and inside finishing by hand, though.  Sometimes there's too much, I have one project right now that's a corset with 33 pieces, each piped, that I need to hand-finish all the inside seams on!  That's a ton of hand-sewing, even for me!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Inspired Designers: Alexander McQueen

I'm gonna do an every-other week series on designers that I find inspiring to fashion and to costuming.

This week: Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen was a visionary who ended his life during the height of his genius. Famous for his love of the grotesque and exaggeration, McQueen appealed to people who looked at the world through the eye of an art critic. Construction-wise he was also quite talented, bringing skills of exquisite tailoring he learned as a Savile Row Tailor together with a desire to work with many varied materials including metal, leather, fresh flowers, and clam shells amongst many other things.  His work was far-reaching, gaining fans such as Kate Moss and Lady Gaga.  He also became a household name, and I think the lay-person will know his infamous armadillo shoes:

After his apprenticeship on Savile Row McQueen obtained a masters in Fashion Design and got a job designing for Givenchy, and he succeeded John Galiano as head designer in 1996.

In 2001 he left Givenchy to resume his own work. In February of 2010 he took his life, leaving his line to Sarah Burton (who later designed Catherine Middleton's wedding dress). Here is more of his work to inspire you:

Click a picture for credit. Article information from Wikipedia and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.