Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sewing Class, Part 1a

I was going to call this post Part 2 of the sewing class, but then I started typing. This week, we made the front half of a skirt sloper. Prof. S- provided us with loose instructions and a diagram sheet for the complete skirt but in class we only covered the front half before he decided class was over. So, yesterday I decided I was going to finish my skirt sloper on my own, 'cause I'm independent like that you know? I managed to do the front half, create my hip curve, two darts, side seam, etc, but the back just eluded me. The placement of the darts and then the "trueing" of the back waist were just not explained at all on the sheet (meant to be filled in with great class notes, I suppose) so I just winged it Burda style. I then cut out my pattern and got to work creating a muslin on some cheapo depot fabric. Well. It was not pretty. Serious instruction for the back half is needed, to say the least.

On a really positive note, he helped with the fit of the Forever Fur jacket! He pointed out I have to increase the French dart on the left half first. Then, in order to attach the lining, I'll have to release the facing extensions from the shoulder seams (I tacked them down thinking this was the the thing to do). I expect to have the jacket completely finished and wearable this weekend. Perhaps the gods of winter will smile on the Valley and bless us with some fur wearing weather...

Next week we are supposed to finish the sloper, cut the fabric, lining and make the skirt. Prof. S- is to help tweak fit issues as well. So, I'll leave it to you dear readers...Do you want the front half now on its own or the complete deal next week?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pattern Review: Hot Pattern's Nairobi Bag, or how avoid too much of a good thing...

Anyone who knows me will attest to my fixation with any garment/accessory of red leather. Mostly, I think it's a good thing and I have a few signature pieces that friends and family will always associate with me and being cool/interesting. On the other hand, it's a weakness that has lead me to some fashion choices that required intervention. We all have our kryptonite; mine is cranberry colored leather. Jackets, pants, shoes, bags, name it, if it's red leather, chances are I spent at least 20 minutes trying to talk myself out of buying it. I have accepted that this is my signature color.

Now, with that being said, I wanted to share my latest clothing purchase: the Red Leather 3/4 length coat. It's pretty awesome: vintage without being dated, interesting details, fantastic cut, still fairly supple but could probably use conditioning, and well, it's red and leather. It set me back a cool $24.50 + tax, so I didn't even have to make a show of talking myself out buying it.

Recently, I also decided I needed a portfolio. When I decided this, I was thinking some sort of dark brown pleather job with those little metal corners. You know the kind that you find in your neighborhood drug store next to the index cards? This is what I fully expected to leave Staples with the other day on my way to an interview. Imagine my surprise and delight to find that not only could I purchase one in leather but also in my signature color. How cool is that?! And, it was a very affordable $20 for a letter sized portfolio with a folder and little business card inserts, etc. It's a nice little accessory. Look how nicely it coordinates with my bag :) One could almost think they were made for each other...
So, when I went to my sewing class the other day, I grabbed my coat and bag and just before I slipped out the door, it occured to me that it would be prudent to bring something to take notes. Sitting right there on the counter is my portfolio, so off it went with me to class. Only as I was sitting in class did it occur to me that was an awful lot of red leather on my person. I also had on some red leather flats, you see. It was kind of enough to make me fearful of becoming the "one who wore all the red leather," but not in a good way. You see, I am aware it is possible to have too much of a good thing and then become ridiculous.

Clearly I should have worn a black handbag instead. However, I don't have a black handbag. Part of the problem with loving red leather is being sorely unimpressed by other colors. Hence the dearth of black bags in my wardrobe. Dude, I even have red luggage. The only option was to make what I needed, which leads me to...

Pattern Review: Hot Patterns' Nairobi Bag

Pattern Description:
From Hot Patterns: This super-stylish bag is inspired by the fabulous YSL Mombassa bag, a must-have for every fashionista. this bag is perfect for those luxe smaller pieces of fabric you have in your stash...This is a variation on a classic tote bag, so it's open at the top but has an optional snap or magnetic closure strap inside. the bag also features optional inside phone & zipped pickets, and classic handbag feet on the bottom.

Pattern Sizing:
Full sized it's on the larger end, roughly 15" across. I opted to shrink the pattern 50% and emerged with a bag that is about 8x6," small but not still roomy enough to handle my essentials. As I made it, it's too small for a shoulder bag but just right to hang on the forearm. The strap is on the smallish side, but this could be lengthened if you want to wear it on the shoulder.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it?
I would say that it did! I think the lines of the bag are quite elegant yet very fashion forward.

Were the instructions easy to follow?
I would call them adequate. Better than Burda WoF, but not quite as comprehensive as Kwik Sew or Simplicity. They are more "suggestions" than directions. For example, they tell you that you'll have to ease the bag fronts to the bottom piece but don't tell you how. It's assumed you can do this step on your own.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
As I said above, it's a classic bag. I am really digging that I was able to shrink it to fit my needs. I'm not one who carries a whole lot around, just the wallet, lipstick, and tissues.

Fabric Used:
I used a black microfiber that has been in my stash since 2006's clearance sale at Joann's. I think it was 0.50/yd, so I bought what was left on the bolt, maybe 5.5yds. At half-sized, the bag required just under 1/4yd. I interfaced it with the heaviest interfacing I had in my stash since I really didn't want to have to buy anything else. It was heavy, but the bag could use some additional structure at the base. It's a little too soft at the rounded corners and that annoys me.

The lining was a remnant from the lining of a jacket that is still in the works. It was there, within arm's reach, and just right for what I needed. So, the poly was interfaced as well, but with a featherweight fusible. I used only one pocket and I didn't add the zipper. I think I'm going to have to increase the seam allowances on the bottom of the lining since there seems to be too much fabric in the bag itself. As it is now, I haven't sewed the 6" I left open for turning the bag because of this.

I also included a magnetic snap that was in the stash and some U-rings for purses. The magnet is probably the strongest snap magnet I've ever seen. So strong that I have to dig my nail into the snap to pry it loose. I can totally see myself tearing the bag one day just trying to get it open!

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made:
As I said, I shrunk the pattern 50%. Also, I added some decorative stitching to the seams with black embroidery thread. It's like baseball stitches, but better :) I was really quite happy with how it turned out. The stitching somehow improved on what otherwise would have looked like a cheap little bag. Also, I didn't include any feet. Really, it's too soft to stand on it's own anyhow. I'd be open to recommendations to change this.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
I think I am going to *have* to sew it again. I went through a period where I was buying random fabrics that I liked in 1 yard pieces. Really, what else can you do with 36" of aqua corduroy or butterfly brocade? Not big enough to make a skirt and even if it were, I don't know that I'd want to wear that anyway...

It's a cute little bag that gives some room for play. Next version, if I do indeed make one, will be redrafted to have a zip opening. I think that would be an improvement on the recommended snap. If I had some kind of faux or real skin, I would definitely use it for this bag. Now that I've made it, I can see it's fairly simple to put together and embellish. Great pattern!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sewing Class, Part I

In my last post, I mentioned that I have signed up for a sewing class at the community college. It meets once a week for about 3.75 hours (I think that length is just right, actually) and my classmates are a mixture of design majors and ladies from "the community." We have one student that is studying to be a tailor! How cool is she?! This promises to be a great learning experience because the instructor is going to try to incorporate lessons for her as well, which will include classic tailoring techniques starting with jacket construction. Total cost for 3 credits was $210.

The professor is an interesting man. He's told us that he learned to sew in a couture house and then went on to the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. Prof. S- (not to be revealed unless he says it's ok) is very hands on and is well versed in industrial sewing techniques.

In the class, we will be making a skirt, pants, and jacket, starting with the skirt. Because of our tailoring student, Prof S- has allowed us the option of drafting our own pattern or use of a commercial pattern. The skirt will be straight, lined with no waistband, approx knee length, have a vent, and invisible zipper. The first lesson described how to create a lining pattern from the skirt pattern. (I'll post about this method if folks are interested.)

Other topics covered included a review of the following:
  • to find the proper WAIST, have your client bend slightly to either side and the little fold that appears is the natural waist. This could be above or below the bellybutton. Wearing ease at the waist should be 1/2 inch.
  • to find the HIP, find the widest part of your client's bottom. RTW usually has the hipline 7-9" below the waist, but many people vary from this. You should look at your client's profile head on and also in profile and find the widest part and take this measurement. Wearing ease is 2 inches at the hip, even in slim fitting garments.
  • HEM lines are measured from the floor up. This ensures level hems that are perpendicular to the floor. You would find the point where the garment will end and then measure from this mark to the floor. If it's 30" for example, measure 30" from the floor all the way around.
  • 1" seam allowances in side seams for custom garments, 3/8 - 5/8" for other seams. For custom gowns (think wedding), many designers will leave 4-5" inches, since it's easier to cut out a seam allowance than it is to recut an entire garment.
The recommended text is Connie Crawford's text Guide to Fashion Sewing, 4th ed. Prof. S- says it the best book of its kind available. After perusing his copy, it looks more comprehensive than Reader's Digest or Vogue's guide. The drawings (no photos) are illustrative and clear. I'm not certain if I'm going to buy it, however. I'll probably bring in my book and do a more thorough comparison.

The following tools are required:
  • 2x18" gridded, transparent ruler
  • drafting square (triangle with 45 &90 degrees)
  • measuring tape
  • #2 pencil
  • 2 pairs of scissors (for fabric and paper)
  • tracing paper
  • thimble (I guess this means we'll be doing some hand sewing!)
  • bobbins for the chosen machine
We can bring our own machine or use one of the schools. There are a number of machines available for use; I noticed Viking, Bernina, Pfaff, a few industrial Jukis, and a handful of sergers including an industrial.

Next class we will be learning how to insert an invisible zipper the "hard" way and the "easy" way. The hard way promises to look more couture and the easy more dept store RTW. All in all, I'm glad I signed up :) I expect to learn a lot.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lifelong Learning and Forever Fur continues...

Congrats to Sarah who correctly identified that the lining piece was more like the front and not the lining. As I had stated, this is largely due to my own inexperience, but I must also give credit to Burda WoF's lovely instructions as well. With regards to the lining, it stated "cut piece 1 less the width of the facing." The pattern piece has a facing fold line marked, so that's basically where I cut the lining. I realize what I *should* have done was fold the facing piece back onto the front piece and the resulting curve would be the seam line for the lining. See the difference below? Live and learn...
Now, I had to remove what seemed like an awful lot of fabric, but it made sense to do so because there really was a huge amount of excess when I had first basted in the lining. That was the first thing that clued me into my pattern cutting error. I could understand there being some overlap at the hem, but none of the jackets I own had that sort of feature at the facing.

Fortunately, there seems to be *just* enough seam allowance left not to disrupt my very first welt pocket! At first I tried to follow the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, but it was rather weak in its instructions. Of course I then had to surf the web to find what I needed. Honestly, I don't know what I would do if I didn't have the internet. I guess only sew napkins and pillow cases?? Fashion Incubator has a great tutorial on how to do the double welt pocket, but she doesn't address the application of the pocket bag. Her's is just the welts. Debbie Cook's Tutorial on the Palmer/Pletsch method includes the pocket bags and was a bit easier to follow for me. I think it looks pretty nice for my first try, and with really slippery fabric too boot. Live and learn...
In that vein, and because I love being a student, I have signed up to take a sewing class at the local community college! They have a fashion design and marketing curriculum that seems fairly comprehensive. I'll be taking the Advanced Sewing Techniques class and I'm *ridiculously* excited about it. Time seems to be moving slowly this afternoon because I can't wait for 6pm to arrive...

Monday, January 14, 2008

What's wrong with this picture?

I know my last post said that my next post would be of the completed jacket. Well, I kind of got ahead of myself. While the jacket itself is complete, it is not yet wearable due to my own idiocy lack of experience. Anyway, I spent way too much time struggling with both the collar and facings and, eventually, the lining. Which leads me to the title of this post:

There is something wrong with this lining piece. It took me all afternoon yesterday and much of today to figure it out. This is why I still consider myself a beginning sewer.

How long will it take you?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Divide and conquer, or why it's good to know your ruler...

Adding darts to a pattern than has none and needs them desperately:

After my last post, I decided to examine my best fitting jackets and the common denominator is a prevalence of shaping darts in both the front and back. So, I pulled up sleeves and grabbed my curved ruler and got to business. I had determined how much needed to be removed by pinching out the excess at my waist after basting the side seams in a curve so that it was comfortable and gave a nice silhouette. I also basted new darts, but I eyeballed it. It was crude, but illustrative, as evidenced by the following image.
Based on this photo I realized #1: that the pockets had to go; #2 the darts had to be extended up the back, at least to the shoulder blades (about mid armscye); #3 I really suck at just eyeballing darts. I mean seriously, how crazy crooked are those seams? They aren't even level...

Enter the ruler...
At this point, I did a flat measurement of the new width of the back, compared this to the original pattern piece, and found that 3" had to be removed from the waist. This was after taking roughly an inch in at the waist by changing the side seam (meaning, I went from a basically straight seam to a nice curve by indenting 1/2" on each side at the waist and tapering to almost no seam allowance at the very bottom of the hem).

Shaping the back, or how to take in 3 inches gracefully:
As I was limited by not having a CB seam, I thought two back darts would be both visually appealing and balanced. For a total reduction of 3", that would be 1.5" on each side. On the pattern piece, I added two 18" fish eye darts to the back first. For placement, I found the center back then the center of each side, right and left. Using my ruler, I drew the lines on the pattern, starting from the bottom hem and extended to the top edge of the pattern piece. I measured up 18" from the bottom hem on the left side and marked. I had already marked out the waist line, so at I centered 1.5" (.75" on either side of my vertical line) and marked. Using my curved ruler, I drew out the legs of the dart.

I unpicked all of the seams I had sewn so that I had only the back piece in front of me and could lay it flat. Using a chalk pencil, I copied all the markings from my pattern piece to the wrong side of the fur. I sewed the darts, then basted the side seams, following the curve I had established earlier. I basted the shoulders and tried on once again to see if I was successful.
Much better, right? No more pockets, but that's okay. The waist looks good and, despite the little ripple at the waist (I have to learn to stand straight but I was operating the camera by remote control and had to move fast), it really does lay well. You can see the changes much more clearly on the lining. Note an ease pleat has been added, as well.

Adding front darts...
Having fixed the back, I could now move to the front, which also needed attention. I knew pretty much right away that I would have to add an additional dart under the bust from the side seam. This was easily done and I grabbed my now much loved curved ruler and chalk pencil. I marked my new darts on the pattern piece. Once more, I unpicked the shoulder and side seams so that I could lay the pattern piece flat. I transferred the markings and sewed the new darts on the front.
How good does that front look? Good enough that I permanently stitched the side seams and set the sleeves. Once more, you can see the changes more clearly on the lining.
Despite that my husband dislikes my choice of lining fabric, I think this is turning into a very cute little project! When I modeled my progress, my husband tried to calculate how much I could sell it for on eBay. I encouraged him to sell an old flashlight-type tool that he had and ever since, everything we own has been appraised for possible sale on eBay. It's more than a little amusing, to say the least. But hey, I love the lining; I think it' unusual and it makes the fur look more brown than black where every other fabric I tried made it more black. I also interfaced it because the knit backing of the fur was still rather rough and it could be felt through the lining.

Next post will be of the completed jacket... Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Attention: Sway Back Alert!

For a jacket that was advertised as a "fast sew project, this is really not turning out to be one, let me just say. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as I do have quite a bit of time on my hands currently. I cut out the collar in a manner I figured would be conducive to looking good and as for layout, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. The lining has been cut, with an ease pleat added for movement in the back. However, after sewing the side seams, I don't see that I'll have need for extra ease in the back. Check it out people:

Never mind the pocket flaps masquerading as side fins. Look at the waist! Do you see that pooch in the back right above my hips? The last time I had this bad of a fabric excess, the dress landed in the UFO pile and hasn't seen the light of day since. I refuse to let that happen to this jacket.

So, how to correct the sway back on a pattern with no center back seam? Good question, good question. Since I don't have enough usable fur to cut new pieces with a center seam that can be altered, it looks like darts are going to be my only option. The hip looks like it sits well; not too tight, not too loose. Despite that fold on the right underarm there, the upper back does fit well. That fold was because the right shoulder seam basting was coming undone and I needed to readjust the front , but the hubby just wanted to take the photo and get back to his book.

The only concern I have with darts is, well, they really suck to sew in this fur. In order to sew the bust darts, I had to cut the fabric before sewing. So I kind of feel like I just get one shot with this bad boy...Not much room for error.

Any other suggestions?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Forever Fur Collar Part One...

Last week, just after I had traced out the pattern pieces for my Forever Fur I had to test to see if I had enough fabric to actually make the coat. Since I had cut about 1/4 yard in length already for the La Rue bag, I figured it was going to be tight. Thankfully, I had just enough fur for the body and sleeves of the jacket. The collar, however, was not so fortunate.

After several minutes trying different layouts, I realized that I am about 1.5" short on the collar width. You can see this in the picture below.
My first response was to just go with it and shorten the collar to fit the fabric at hand. But then I looked again at my fabric and tried to visualize the collar cut out along that grain. Instead of having the scallops of the fur running vertically, with this placement they would be horizontal and that would just not do. This was a problem because I would then be more like a foot short, instead of just 1.5."

Could I just piece it? I posted my query on Burda English and received a lovely and detailed response from Fivecats on just how once can seam fur of any kind. I resolved that if necessary, I would take that route. But first, to save my sanity, I opted to try to find another piece of my fur. I hit the road and an hour of digging later, I found what I was looking for! I actually did a little victory dance in the aisle, much to the amusement of some art students standing near by. No more worries, right? Wrong! In my excitement and the poor lighting in the store, I failed to closely inspect the fur. When I got home and laid it out on my cutting table in the harsh light of the winter sun, the crushed fur was immediately evident. It's about 25% crushed, all along the fold line and in various other places that make careful placement essential. Also, this means I don't have nearly enough wiggle room as I had hoped with an extra yard of fabric at my disposal.

I can hear your question: now what? Well, there is enough usable fabric for me to cut a single collar piece with zero errors. Of course, this pressure makes me want to be extra careful with my layout, which in turn makes me question the direction of the fur. Every time I think I have it, I second guess myself and think: huh, that can't be right! I know the collar has to placed so that the fur is running vertically, but then which side is to be along the neck line? The seamed end or the folded end? Egads, I just can't visualize it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Burda 12-2007-122 begins...

Since it's a new year, I decided to start with a challenge and adventure: a faux fur jacket! What's that? Don't I live in the desert, you ask? Good question, very good question. So glad you remembered! For those not in the know, it does, get cold here in the Valley of the Sun. In fact, last winter there were even some little tykes that got to see snow for the first time in their young lives. And, yes, my house is heated. True, it doesn't get so cold for such extended periods that it warrants busting out the wool overcoat, but cold enough to justify a short furry jacket, like this one from everyone's favorite German pattern company:

Pattern #112 from the December issue. For some reason, it's not available online :(

Last year, when I made the La Rue messenger bag, I picked up a piece of fur a SAS Fabrics for $5.99/yd. It was very soft and silky and I loved to touch it - like all good fabrics, right? I only used a small chunk for the bag and ever since, the fur has been languishing in the stash waiting for the perfect pattern. At the time, I thought maybe a vest. But then I realized I've never worn vests - even though I've owned them - because I think I look more than a little ridiculous in them. Something about the lack of sleeves on a bulky item... Anyway, after cleaning the sewing room last week, I was going through the magazine and was just riveted by the photo spread with three wardrobe styling possibilities. Immediately, I pictured myself in my fur.

In line with my resolutions, I have assembled all of the necessary fabrics and notions. I have traced the pattern. I found the perfect lining. I even went back to the fabric store to find an extra piece when I realized that I wouldn't have enough for a proper collar. I am being purposeful, you see. This will not be a UFO. This will not be an orphan. I will wear it and be fabulous in fake fur... Espresso colored fake fur lined with minty green and pink peonies.

I feel more fabulous already!

Happy New Year!

The title says it all folks: Happy 2008! I trust that everyone rang in the New Year in a satisfying way. We went to Scottsdale and did the bar thing, which was a really nice change of pace and a good way to kick start 2008 :)

Normally, I do not indulge in resolutions but this year is somehow different. Why? Well, I want to be more productive this year. In retrospect, I have come to consider 2007 the year of the UFO. One of my previous posts labeled this "affliction" as sewing ADD. By rough count, there were 7 items that were left unfinished for a variety of reasons. Some would say that 7 UFOs isn't bad, but considering I worked on about a dozen pieces, well, let's just say that ratio is not something I'm particularly proud of. But let's not dwell in the past. I have resolved not to beat myself up over them and just take the lessons learned and move on.

Moving on... In 2008, I resolve to

1. Sew complete garments. In this vein, I am going to take a page from Tany's and Carolyn's blog, leading me to my next resolution...

2. Be more purposeful in my sewing. Carolyn always makes the point that she doesn't like to start a new project without all necessary notions and potions, etc. Tany's sewing is beautiful and elegant, I believe, because she is purposeful. She has a vision and makes it happen in spectacular fashion. I want to be more like these two ladies. Let's just say no to orphan garments.

3. Make a concerted effort to increase my wearable wardrobe. Out of all the garments I made last year, my favorite was Vogue 2980, the leopard print top because it goes with all of my favorite pants and skirts and is an instant spirit lifter. I want more garments that I am proud to say I made.

New Years is a great time to reflect on what is working and what isn't, which can lead to positive change. I'm all for positive change. 2007 brought me out of isolation and introduced me to the sewing community online. It's only fitting that 2008 should be the time I start applying the knowledge gained!