Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why I Sew

For Christmas, my husband got me a softbox.  More on that later.  Here's my first successful softbox photo, of me wearing my brown silk charmeuse version of the 1935 Vionnet dress.
I've spoken at length about the construction details of that dress at length before (see here, here, here, and here), and I'm not going to make a post about the softbox until I have a good idea of its capabilities.  So, I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk about why I sew.

It's not to save money.  That was my original justification for taking up sewing, to be sure.  But it doesn't hold up now for several reasons.

At this point, several years in, I have three large boxes of unused fabric, which probably amounts to over a thousand dollars spent on fabric I don't have a hope of using in the near future.  If I'd spent that money on clothes instead, at least they'd be getting worn instead of sitting in a closet indefinitely.

Plus, when I do buy clothes, I generally buy them from thrift and consignment stores.  I spend somewhere between $10 and $30 per item.  The materials costs for my sewing projects are higher than that, not to mention the value of my time.  If I spent the time I spend sewing taking on extra paying work, I could afford whatever clothes I wanted.

It's also not the case that I sew because I can't buy the clothes I need.  I'm close to a standard size in ready-to-wear, so it's not hard to find clothes that fit me.  The sorts of clothes that don't fit me tend to be suit jackets, which I don't have any interest in sewing anyway.

To take a broader view, any consideration of practicality doesn't make sense when you think about what I actually sew.  It's mainly sundresses and evening dresses.  At this point, I have a closet full of sundresses and evening dresses.  It's not like I really need that twelfth swanky evening dress.

Instead, I think it comes down to two reasons.

First, I'm driven to understand how things work and how to do them myself.  The impulse to make my own clothing is the same impulse that led me to build my own computer, learn to cook a wide range of cuisines, build a trebuchet, carry out any number of home improvement projects, and, of course, become an academic researcher.  Learning the nuts and bolts of whatever I'm interested in is my most fundamental way of interacting with the world.

Second, it's very important to me to express my creativity.  Advertisements constantly push the idea that I should consume, consume, consume.  I want to produce.  I have an artistic vision and I want to bring it to fruition.  The fact that I can do so gives me power-- the power of self-expression, the power to show off my intelligence, my skills, and my hard work, and the power to present myself in the way I want to be seen.

In the end, it may not be the best dress, or the best photo, but it's mine and I made it and it's exactly the way I wanted it to be, and I draw strength from that. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Hem Tape Mystery

What's happened to Wrights hem tape?

I was working on a dress and used up an old package, so I opened a new one.

They are clearly not the same product:

The old stuff is silky smooth, like ribbon.  The new stuff is plastickly and papery and generally pretty yucky.  I'm ashamed to be using it, but I can't run out for more right now.

What happened?  Have you guys noticed this, too?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Quick sewing tip

I often use pins to spell out an "F" or "B" on pattern pieces to distinguish the front from the back:
This helps prevent situations where your dress consists of two nearly-identical pattern pieces, one for the front and one for the back, and you cut the front out, get distracted, go to bed, wake up the next morning, and cut out another front instead of cutting out the back.  Which, incidentally, has never happened to me.  Nope, not at all.  Move along, nothing to see here...

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Self-drafted pattern: rhino-print gathered skirt

Here's another one of my projects from long ago, a gathered skirt made from Echino rhino-print fabric.
The fabric is a lightweight to mid-weight cotton/linen blend.  It has a soft and slightly fuzzy texture, like flannel.  It's a great skirt for cool fall days.
Plus, who doesn't love the cute rhinos?
There's not much to say in terms of the construction and sewing-- I used my standard method of making a gathered skirt. 
First, I cut two rectangles of fabric each as wide as the width of the fabric and each as long as I wanted the skirt to be.  I cut a rectangle for a waistband the circumference of my waist, plus a little extra.  Then, I gathered each of the rectangles of fabric and stitched the gathering to grosgrain ribbon, to stabilize it. 
I sewed up the side seams, inserting a zipper at one of them.  Then, I sewed the waistband to the skirt and hemmed the skirt. 
I should make a tutorial with photos at some point. 

Anyway, it's a quick and easy project for a very versatile skirt, and I highly recommend it!
OK, one more photo of me swanning around in my rhino skirt and fedora!

Saturday, December 5, 2015


I titled this post "I am a WIZARD."  You probably came here thinking I was going to tell you some brilliant sewing tips, didn't you?

Nope.  I meant it literally.
Let's review the series of steps that led me here.

I wanted a really warm winter dress.  I had this brilliant blue wool boucle in sort of a terrycloth-like texture.  Since the boucle was so thick, I figured it probably couldn't take much in the way of fine detail, so I selected this pattern:
I made a muslin.  It was way too large in the bust (Really, pattern?  I'm a 33 bust, and you're for a 31 1/2 bust?) and way too small in the hips.  In the course of altering the bust, I got rid of the gathering at the neckline because it was easier to fit that way.  I also made the dress longer, because it would be warmer, and I lengthened the sleeves because I intended to gather them later, also because that's warmer.

The end result?

So very wizard.
My friends were decidedly unsupportive.  Some select quotes:

"Hello, Harry."

"You should buy a hat to go along with that."

"You should applique some yellow stars and planets on it and wear a wizard hat."

Anyway, I'm going to see what I can do to un-wizard this dress.  One of my friends suggested that I just embrace the wizard and add lots of pockets in unexpected places a la Kvothe from The Name of the Wind, you know, so I can magically produce items at dramatic moments.  This is actually not a half bad idea.

Stay tuned!