Tuesday, December 27, 2016

An unexpected pattern piece

Today I started work on a vintage pattern which looks to be from the 1940's, maybe even 1930's. 
The first thing I do with vintage patterns is to lay out all the pieces so I can be sure I have what I need.  It's a good practice, and I highly recommend it.
This time, I was faced with a conundrum.  I had Pattern Piece A, which was supposed to be the bodice back (the piece on the left).  On the other hand, it looked NOTHING like a bodice back.  It had what looked to be a bust dart (bust dart?) and some gathers, and I couldn't make the position of the armhole make sense with all the gathers.  Huh.
I hunted around in my pieces some more.  I had also been confused by the fact that I had two piece D's, or maybe two piece O's?  Anyway.  Further investigation revealed that one of the Piece D's was actually the real Piece A, leaving the correct number of Piece D's (the real Piece A is the one on the right).

So now I have one extra pattern piece, and I have no idea where it came from.  It's clearly a bust piece with some sort of gathers, but it doesn't seem to belong to any pattern I own.  Huh.

I think I'll just let it live in this pattern envelope until I figure out where, if anywhere, it came from.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Book Review-- Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years

Women's Work:  The First 20,000 Years, by Elizabeth Barber, might be the most important book on the history of clothing/textiles that I've ever read, and I have read a lot of them.

This book presents itself as a history of developments in textile technology from the Paleolithic through approximately the 5th century BCE, with a special focus on Bronze Age Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia.  It begins with the invention of string in the Paleolithic, continues through the Secondary Products Revolution which followed the domestication of animals, and covers the invention of several different types of looms and weaving techniques and innovations in the way that workers were organized to produce textiles.  Throughout the book, the author combines evidence from archaeological evidence like spindle whorls and loom weights, ancient artwork, literature, folktales, modern folk costumes, and ancient textiles which have miraculously been preserved. 
If the book had stopped there, it would have merely been excellent, but it becomes so much more-- an argument that women's social freedom is tied to their economic freedom, and that this, in turn, was tied to textile production for much of human history.  Why textiles?  Spinning and weaving are safe, can be done at home, can be stopped and started at a moment's notice, and generally do not require intense concentration.  Thus, they are compatible with child care.
This book is fascinating, and extremely well-written. If you like sewing, you'll love the detailed discussions of how ancient garments were crafted, and the slice-of-life descriptions of how women would gather together to spin, weave, and prepare fibers.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Silk in the Wash

Obligatory photo.  Yes, I'm running my four ply silk crepe wedding dress through the washing machine as I write this.

I refuse to sew anything that requires dry cleaning.  This is partly because I'm too cheap and lazy to go to the dry cleaner's, and partly because none of my experiences of taking me-made clothes to the dry cleaners has turned out well.  (RIP, several garments). 

I send a lot of fabrics through the washing machine that would probably make you panic.  On the bright side, you now have the chance to learn from my experience!  Here's what I've found about putting silk through the washing machine, and yes, sometimes, even the dryer.

IMPORTANT NOTE #1:  I always wash cold delicate, tumble dry low.  If it's an evening dress, I wash the dress by itself with nothing else in the load.

IMPORTANT NOTE #2:  Always wash/dry the fabric before cutting it out, so it won't shrink after washing.  It's a bad idea to run a dry clean only silk dress through the washer for this very reason.

IMPORTANT NOTE #3:  Never ever ever ever wring out silk fabric.  The fibers lose strength when wet and you could rip it apart.

Without further ado...

Silk Habotai/China Silk
Washer:  YES
Dryer:  YES
This is what I typically use for lining fabric.  With tens of garments and hundreds of washings, I've never had any problems whatsoever putting it through both the washer and the dryer.

Silk Charmeuse
Washer:  YES
I use silk charmeuse for linings and also for garments.  For linings, I've never had problems putting it through the washer or the dryer.  It does come out of the experience looking somewhat sueded, though.  That's why I line dry my charmeuse dresses.

Silk Crepe
Washer:  YES
Dryer:  NO
My red silk crepe de chine dress has gone through the washer several times with no apparent problems.  However, the time I ran it through the dryer, it shrank, and I was only able to get it back to wearable condition by weighting the hem overnight.  Thank God it was cut on the bias and that kludge worked.

Silk Chiffon
Washer:  YES
My silk chiffon dress has gone through the wash several times.  It's fine.  It gets lots of wrinkles from air drying, though, and ironing it out afterwards is a pain.  Oh well.

Silk Dupioni
Washer:  YES
I have two silk dupioni dresses, one that I blogged about here and another that I haven't posted yet.  They come out just fine.  Washing makes the dupioni soft and drapey rather than stiff, but I like that, since I almost never make garments with a lot of structure to them.

Silk Brocade
Washer:  YES
I have a silk brocade dress that I've somehow never blogged about.  It goes through the washer with no problems.  Running silk brocade through the wash makes it soft and drapey rather than stiff, but I like it better that way anyway.

Four Ply Silk Crepe
Washer: YES
I have two dresses made out of four ply silk crepe, and I run them through the washer regularly with no ill effects.  One of them is in the washer as I type this, in fact.

Silk Velvet
I run my silk velvet evening dress through the washer and the dryer and it's great-- the dryer fluffs up the pile and the dress comes out looking better than new.  I don't see why you would clean silk velvet any other way.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Selfies, my way!

Here are the stories behind some of my outfit photos.  This post started out as a comment on one of Gorgeous Fabrics' posts-- why getting good outfit photos is so hard.  I thought I was merely being descriptive, but Ann thought it was hilarious.  Who am I to deny everyone a chance at some mirth? 

Exhibit #1:
(1)   Put on makeup. This is not straightforward because makeup that looks overdone in person looks just right or even understated in photos. In this photo, the makeup doesn’t stand out. In real life, the lipstick made me look like Crazy Goth Woman.

(2)  Convince my patient, long-suffering husband to drive me out to a nearby school and wait out in the cold for more than an hour so nobody mugs me in the dark.

(3)  Figure out where I should stand and where to set the DSLR up on the tripod so that the framing looked right and the camera would still focus on me, instead of, say, the railing, or the background.

(4)  Set up the light stand, the flash, and the softbox, and play with the orientation so that the lighting looked good.

(5)  Fiddle with the camera settings and flash power so that there was a good balance in the way the background and foreground were lit.

(6)  Take several hundred shots with different poses and expressions to be sure a handful of them would look OK.

(7)  Pack all my gear up.

(8)  Sort through the several hundred shots until I had maybe 10-20 that were acceptable.

(9)  Edit the 10-20 keepers in Lightroom.

(10) Decide which photo I liked the most.


Exhibit #2:
(1)  Drive to Cape Cod, where my in-laws generously offer to take us on vacation.

(2)  Spend several days observing when the angle of the sun is just right and when I can drag my patient, long-suffering husband along to the beach for an hour or so to take photos.

(3)  Choose between being unable to walk because my sandals get swamped with sand and fall off every two steps, and being unable to walk because OH MY GOD OW OW OW THOSE SEASHELLS. 

(4)  Set up tripod and camera.

(5)  Much trial and error getting the framing right and make sure the camera will focus on me and not the background, alternately setting up piles of seashells and digging holes in the sand to represent where I was standing during the last batch of photos.

(6)  Take a bajillion shots, hoping that my pose and expression looks reasonable in some of them.

(7)  Get honked and/or yelled at by all the cars driving by who wish to convey the sentiment that I am hot.

(8)  Pack up my gear, being extra careful to make sure I don't get sand in my camera bag.

(9)  See (3).

(10)  Sort through several hundred photos and pull out the ones that seem OK.

(11)  Edit the handful of keepers in Lightroom.


Exhibit #3:
(1)  Apply lipstick, eyeliner, and mascara.

(2)  Pack up camera gear.

(3)  Walk to nearby school, sending my patient, long-suffering husband to nearby Italian gourmet store to entertain himself while I take pictures.

(4)  Set up camera on tripod, take some photos.

(5)  Realize I didn't apply enough lipstick, attempt to apply more.  Oops, I don't have a mirror, so I'm going to have to use a series of DSLR selfies.

(5)  Take photos for real now.

(6)  Framing was awful, light on your face was bad.  Move tripod, take more photos.

(7)  See (6).

(8)  See (7).

(9)  See (10).

(11)  Find something that works, take a bajillion photos.

(12)  Re-take the last 20-30 of those photos because my patient, long-suffering husband, back from the Italian gourmet store, decided to make silly faces in the background and I didn't notice.

(13)  Pack up camera gear, walk home.

(14)  Sort through photos to find especially good photos of myself, especially embarrassing photos of my husband.

(15)  Threaten blackmail.

(16)  Edit keepers in Lightroom.


 Exhibit #4a:
(1)  Fly to Las Vegas, taking advantage of Southwest's generous free checked bag policy to take all of my camera/lighting gear with me.

(2)  Drive several hours to Death Valley.

(3)  Spend the day hiking, or, how I prefer to see it, scouting for locations for sunset photography.  Main criteria:  Scenic, clear view to the west, nearby parking lot, won't fall off a cliff and die.

(4)  Go back to room, shower, makeup.

(5)  Load up on thermal underwear because it is forty degrees out and I am wearing a sleeveless silk chiffon dress.  Why am I doing this.

(6)  Drive out to Devil's Golf Course with my fellow camera nerd dad, leaving my mom at the hotel, because, come on-- wouldn't you stay at the hotel, too?

(7)  Set up camera/lighting gear while there's still some light out.

(8)  Same process as steps (3-6) of Exhibit #1, but this time, I'm trying to do it as quickly as possible before the sunset goes away.  I am also trying not to trip and twist my ankle on the giant salt blocks in the dark.

Exhibit #4b:
(9)  Still at Devil's Golf Course, after dark this time, see if it's possible to backlight myself with the flash and do a long exposure to get the Milky Way in the background.

(10)  Several hours and much experimentation later, no satisfying results.  Difficulty balancing the exposure of the background and foreground, need flash triggers instead of using the flash as an optical slave when I'm blocking line of sight between the on-camera flash and the off-camera flash.

(11)  Realize, weeks later at home when I'm sorting through all the photos, that this one at the beginning where I was trying to get the flash settings right was actually pretty cool, but the exposure was off.

(12)  Spend at least an hour postprocessing this one shot in Lightroom. 

Exhibit #4c:
(13)  Set out back to Las Vegas, wearing that fancy evening dress because I am going to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area to take outfit photos, gosh darn it.

(14)  Stop for a bathroom break in the teeming metropolis of Pahrump, Nevada.

(15)  Find a gas station.  Any gas station will do, right?

(16)  Ask the attendant of this particular godforsaken gas station where the restroom is.

(17)  Oh, it's in the bar...BAR?...next door?  That really sketchy one with all the slot machines and sad-looking scruffy men drinking at 10 AM?

(18)  Well, it IS a restroom, right? 

(19)  Why is everyone staring at me?  You mean you don't get young women in evening dresses coming to use your restroom all the time?

(20)  Well, that was gross.  I feel deep empathy with Lady Macbeth and her obsessive need for hand-washing. 

(21)  Experience deep regret when my mom finds a perfectly normal gas station to stop at not five minutes later.

(22)  Get to Red Rock Canyon, drive around.  Find area of park that is not somehow swarming with tourists and where the light is coming from the right direction.

(23)  Hike around a large area looking for a place where the foreground and background look right.

(24)  Now my skirt is full of static and clings to my legs because there's 0% humidity.

(25)  Set up camera gear, framing, get camera to focus on me, blah blah blah.

(26)  Wish desperately that I could use my 77mm lens instead of my 31mm lens so that I could blur out the background better, but there's no way I could make sure I'd be in the frame from that far away.  So that's out, darn darn darn.

(27)  Several hundred photos, blah blah blah.

(28)  Get home from trip.  Sort through-- between the outfit photography and the landscape photography-- tens of thousands of photos.

(29)  The photo editing in Lightroom eats up all my spare time for the next three weeks.


The things I do for art.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Vogue 2859, 1930's Linen Jacket

Hi everyone!  My travel schedule has settled down enough to post another project!  This one is Vogue 2859, a jacket, blouse, and evening dress from the 1935.  I made the jacket this time.
If you recall, I previously made the evening dress.  I loved that dress, but it shrunk ridiculously when dry-cleaned.  Note to self-- don't dry clean silk crepe de chine.
I gave the dress to my friend C., who has the good fortune to be smaller than me, so she gets all my clothes that shrink in the wash.  She loves it, and I think it looks great on her!

Back to the jacket.  I love this pattern.  I love the art deco seaming, and the fact that it fit me right out of the envelope.  That's a good thing, because with all the funky seaming, I'm not sure how I would have made alterations to the pattern.
The back is even better than the front, I think.
Oh yeah, here's the pattern envelope.
This is not an easy pattern to make.  Figuring out how the sleeves were supposed to go in took a lot of head-scratching, and actually putting them in was complicated and involved intricate, nail-bitey topstitching.

I used mid-weight linen, which was generally unproblematic and easy to work with.  I lined the jacket in mid-weight silk charmeuse, just replicating the jacket pattern, because the inside of the jacket looked like a mess and I had no idea how I could finish the seams otherwise.
Ugly seams!

The charmeuse lining feels marvelous, so this was a great call.
Happy lining!
The jacket closes with two of those slide fastener things (what are these actually called?) on the inside.  It's a little awkward because the jacket doesn't exactly lie flat, but it's not really noticeable.
Did I mention that it's really slimming from the side?
My one not-really-complaint is that in white, it looks like a lab coat.  On the other hand, SCIENCE RULES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, so this is not really a downside.

I could totally see myself making this jacket in black wool gabardine with matching pants for an awesome suit.  As it is, I might have to make myself a pair of slim white linen pants to match.

Horray for the awesome jacket!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

V2903-- Vlisco Sundress #2!

Inspired by the fabulous Vlisco exhibit I recently attended, I, of course, had to go order some fabric from Vlisco.  This is the second of the two sundresses I made. 

This is the only successful photo I took, unfortunately.  I had a marathon run of cutting my head out of the frame.  Holy messballs.

I used six yards of Java fabric.  When the fabric arrived, it had a rather plasticky coating, which thankfully came off when I ran it through the washing machine.  Vlisco seems to have sold out of the exact fabric I ordered, but has the same print in different colorways.  It was unproblematic to work with, and sewed up just like any other batik.

The pattern I used was Vogue 2903, a 1950's evening dress.  It eats fabric (six yards!), but I absolutely love the lines of this dress.
A few construction details.  The first time I made this dress, something over five years ago, it fit me perfectly out of the envelope.  Now that I've put on a substantial amount of muscle through my shoulders and ribcage, I had to add 1/4" through the center front below my bust, center back, and sides.  I didn't make the yoke.  After those alterations, I couldn't make it fit, and plus, I liked the neckline of the dress the way it is.  I didn't line the dress, but I finished the non-bias edges with hem tape to prevent them from fraying.  Next time, I'd underline the bodice with silk organza, because there's some slight tearing around stress points at the armholes.

Anyway, it is an awesome dress, and so fun to wear.  I could totally see myself making this pattern again, either as an evening dress, or in a more subdued solid color as a day dress.

Happy sewing!

Monday, July 18, 2016

EvaDress SP-9774: 1939 Evening Gown with Fun Straps

I have to say, I totally love the design of this dress.  This is one of the only dresses with a V neckline I've made that doesn't gape horribly, and oh my gosh, the straps are fantastic.
Of course, it looks equally awesome when it is sewn up.
I used a Japanese cotton that I bought from Nomura Taylor on my trip to Kyoto, and I think it fits the style of the dress perfectly.
I made a few alterations to the dress.  I adjusted the skirt to fit my relatively large hips, and I added some thin cotton batting to the bust so that I would not need to wear a bra.  In lieu of a hook and eye and snaps for the back closure, I used a zipper.
One thing about this dress, though.  I made it about two years ago.  At that time, it fit me snugly but perfectly.  About a year ago, however, I took up rock climbing.  Fanatically.  I would go rock climbing five times a week and stuff my face constantly and yet my weight did not change.  My pants fit a little looser, though.  It was a mystery.
Then I tried on this dress again.  I could barely zip it up over the rib cage.  Oh.  I think I know what happened there-- suddenly I had all this muscle around my shoulders and ribcage where previously I did not!   Anyway, at least it still fits, because it is a smashing dress and I like it quite a lot.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Vlisco exhibit, and my thoughts on diversity in fashion

I recently went to visit a friend in Philadelphia.  As it happens, she lives walking distance from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which currently has an exhibit on Vlisco.  Huzzah!
If you're not familiar with Vlisco, you're in for a treat.  They are the most prominent manufacturer of Dutch Wax fabrics-- batiks originally developed in The Netherlands for sale in West Africa. 
The prints are gorgeous, detailed, and exuberant.  I've provided high-resolution images so you can zoom way, way in to see what I'm talking about.
I love their sense of humor.
Do you somehow remain unconvinced about the awesomeness of Vlisco?  These sewing machine prints will break your heart.
The exhibit also showcased the work of African designers who used Vlisco in their collections.  I want all of these clothes.
Check out the back of this dress.
I would never have thought to design this, but it is awesome.
Here's the back:
I covet this shirtdress.
There's so much more.  Check out my Flickr album.

As we walked around the exhibit, my friend and I got to talking about diversity in the fashion world.  On the surface, it seems odd that the lack of diversity in Western fashion would bother me so much.  After all, I am a skinny young white woman, and the fashion industry is heavily biased towards skinny young white women.  The clothing in stores favors my body type and skin color, and I see myself in all the advertising.  I should be happy, right?

Not so much.  Why?  It's really boring out there.  What we get in Western fashion is pretty much only what looks good on skinny young white women.  As far as textiles go, we have a pretty impoverished selection of knits and wovens, mostly in subdued solid colors.  Clothes tend to be clingy and form-fitting because it's easier and cheaper to rely on the inherent stretch in fabrics than to go to the effort of tailoring.  Attempts at diversity are aimed at making clothes that look good on skinny young white women look good on people who aren't skinny young white women, not to develop clothes that look awesome on people because of the fact that they're not skinny young white women.

Take this outfit on the left, for instance.  It would not look nearly so good on a tiny young thing such as myself.  It's got gravitas, and I just don't.
As a result, I can't see a tradition like Vlisco emerging in Western fashion because because the bright colors and bold patterns tend to fight with the complexions of white women.  I think we can all agree that surely that would be a huge loss.  I want to see more Vliscos in this world.

In short, we should support diversity not just because it makes life better for people who aren't skinny young white women (though that certainly is a really good reason), but also because it improves fashion in general.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Game of Thrones sewing joke (SPOILER WARNING)

What sewing supply could have saved the Starks at the Red Wedding?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Seam finishes for silk charmeuse: a cautionary tale

You may recall this dress:
I finished the seams with pinking shears, thinking that would be enough.  Nope.  On seams cut on the straight grain, they frayed right through and the seams started coming apart.
Oops.  Don't do that.  You need something more.  French seams are your friends.

I'm now wondering how to fix this problem.  I'm thinking I need to run another line of stitching and nuke the remaining seam allowances with Fray-Check.  Any ideas?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pattern review: Decades of Style 1948 Siren Sundress, another sad disappointment

Continuing the trend of patterns I tried but didn't work out for me, we have the Decades of Style 1948 Siren Sundress.
I don't think this is a bad pattern-- it's just not the pattern for me.  I have two major complaints. 

First, the neckline is higher than what I'd prefer.  This isn't the pattern's fault; it's just what the pattern had to offer not lining up with my preferences. 

Second, the fit through the bodice was a mess.  It was way too huge for me, and gaped horribly at the neckline.  I probably could have wrangled a good fit if I'd had the patience and interest, but I didn't.  In general, I think the dress was designed for someone much bustier than me, and with a V-neck wrap dress, the fit through the bust is crucial.  If you're relatively flat-chested, there may be better patterns out there for you.

Back to the box of patterns...sigh...