18 March, 2016

Black and white and, um, pink??? yellow??? reddish??? all over

As I was starting the above title, I was naturally reminded of an old Communist era joke, what's black and white and red all over?  Pravda (the official  newspaper of the Soviet juggernaut).  And that of course brought to mind the quip that there is no news in Izvestiya and no truth in Pravda.  Tee hee.  Shows my age if nothing else.  But I digress....

Velvet trousers and lace top, accessorized with silk scarf and bass flute.
Photo by the lovely Kyoko of CorgiMark Photography 

This has been an eventful couple of months.  After an absence of two and a half years, I've returned to work, so my available sewing time and after hours stamina have both taken a huge hit.  Guess why I haven't had time to post?

Since I have to be reasonably presentable at work, I suddenly began to feel most keenly the lack of clothing that actually fits the me that I am today, 25 lbs less than a year ago (and that's after regaining quite a bit).   It's shocking how awful one looks in trousers that used to fit but now sag off  jutting hipbones and flap around skinny thighs.  Never mind all my lovely jackets that are several sizes too large - one wants to weep.  But hehey, I am svelte with a vengeance.

So I decided that this sorry situation needed to be rectified in a hurry.  Out came my Jalie trousers pattern 2908, redrafted down from my previous V to a crazy small P, and a couple of trouser-weight black wools from stash.  One, a very nice somewhat beefy twill with a little stretch actually started out grey, but such an ugly utilitarian grey that I promptly threw it into a pot with some Jacquard acid dye and turned it black, the best colour of all.  Grey, btw, is the hardest colour of all - it's never absolutely neutral, there's always some colour cast on it or another - purple, green, blue, impossible!   Add to those two a beautiful stretch poly velvet on sale at my local store, and in quick order I had three pairs of black slacks, two for work, one for my musical evenings, from the same pattern.  

Before sewing these three I made an executive decision:  no front fly on any of them, thank you.  I put a center back invisible zipper in the two work-worthy wools, and made the velvet slacks on an elastic waistband.  You can imagine how very much this simplified construction, can't you?  All feel great in wearing, and I love their smooth feminine fronts.

Photo by the lovely Kyoko of CorgiMark Photography 

The lacy top is based on the Jalie tee pattern 2805.  It's hard to see the neckline in the above photo, but I basically cut it a teeny bit wider than the pattern and then just turned the raw edge under and stitched it down with a zig zag;  I didn't want the headache of using self fabric binding (very uneven, being a stretch lace) nor a heavy binding overwhelming the lightness of the fabric.

So, an easy black and white look that can - and does - take me anywhere.

As a little teaser of what's coming, I'm working on another fun little Jalie zip jacket, pattern 2795 (zip front jacket and hoodie), out of a very funky wool knit from Emma One Sock.  I made some changes to the pattern:  basically, since I wanted to preserve the design of the knit to the utmost, I combined the centre and side pattern pieces of both front and back.  Today, I spent the afternoon prepping two front zip pockets:  first I created two narrow rectangles using silk organza, then hand stitched the zippers and trim into them.  This fabric has beautiful selvage, which I used to its utmost along the CF next to the zipper, and as trim for the pockets.  Here's what the lower fronts will look like:

Cute, right?  Before putting in the lower sleeve/side seams, I'm also going to add hidden zip pockets to the insides of these fronts.  I made one of these inner pockets - yes, just one, on the left - in the last version of this pattern I made, and  it's been invaluable.  Money, passport - close to my heart and utterly invisible and inaccessible.  Every easy wear jacket you intent to travel with needs one of those.

Working away!

29 January, 2016

More sewing aids: sleeve and tailor's boards

I was so pleased with the results of my most recent sewing-related woodworking effort, that I decided to complete my collection of sewing related items while the woodworking tools were all out.  You know how it is... one thing leads to another.

Now, I do have a purchased sleeve board - a rickety folding little thing that collapses if you so much as look at it, never mind press a heavy iron to it.  A source of constant annoyance and frustration.

I do love the internet as a resource.  Just do an image search for "sleeve board for ironing", and up pop all sorts of versions.  I based mine loosely on the free board pattern available from Fearless Makers.

My version is made out of native Canadian hardwood:  sugar maple, 7/8" thick.  It's 25.5" long on the tapered side, and 22" on the other, and both are 5.5" wide  at the widest point.  I also made the taper somewhat narrower than the pattern, thinking that with very small wrists and thus small cuffs and sleeve openings, a very small taper might be particularly useful for me:

Both faces will be covered with batting and cotton to serve as ironing surfaces.

I'll be the first to admit that I have a teeny tiny tendency to over-engineer things. Of course I did that here too.  While the pattern calls for a single thickness of board for the support bridge, mine is made out of a doubled thickness:  I was afraid a single piece just wouldn't provide enough stability in use, especially as I wanted to avoid using screws to hold it all together.   The flat boards are simply bonded to the bridge with high strength wood glue, Titebond III; I felt that the double width of the support bridge was necessary to provide plenty of surface for the glue to grip.   

I wanted to have the finished item look, well, finished, rather than made of raw wood - so I used a router to round off the edges of the bridge, and stained and varnished the non-functional, visible surfaces while leaving the surfaces which will be covered with batting and cotton, in the raw state.  

The second, and final sewing item I made is a tailor's board. I based mine - again, with modifications - on a pattern published in this University of Kentucky pressing equipment document.   My main modification was to ensure both main pieces were the same length along their longest axis (they're not in the pattern).  I also put them together differently than what you'll see in internet photos:  whereas in all available versions out there the tapered points on the two main boards are oriented in the same direction, I made them point in opposite directions.  

Why would I do that?!  Well, I'm right handed, so I hold the iron in the right hand and iron from right to left.  Thus, I want to have the boards oriented with the points to the left while I'm using them, and the area in front of them clear for my left hand to manipulate the garment piece.

So, flat surface in use:

And, curved surface in use: 

Also, I put the pieces together in such a way that there are three points of support when the board stands upright, making it very stable.  This way, I can use the curved end to press sleeve heads.

 The pieces are fastened together with glue and dowels - no screws.  

You probably can't see the wood details, which is a pity. I found a beautiful little piece of bird's eye maple for this project.  Very pretty.  It'll be just a delight to use and admire its grain while ironing! 

As a bonus, I got myself a wee little mini-clapper out of the effort:  it's the removed (jig-sawed out) part of the support bridge of the sleeve board.  I just didn't have the heart to throw it in the fire... so I sanded it down and kept it instead.  

  Now it's back to regular programming, aka sewing!

14 January, 2016

Sidetracked! How I wound up making sewing aids

It all started about six weeks ago - a kind of Advent plan for the New Year.  As I was carrying my instruments to a rehearsal gig, I realized that I really need to streamline the experience.  Better than that, I realized I have the wherewithal to do something about it!  You already saw the new soft padded carrying case I made for my recorders - aka straight wooden baroque flutes.  Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, and Handel, not to mention many other composers of that period, wrote for these flutes - the modern metal flute didn't exist in those days.  Neither did the clarinet or saxophone for that matter, but that's another story... And the side  blown wooden flute kinda came into its own with Mozart ( Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pagge-e-e-e-eeeno!) who, funnily enough, detested the flute but wrote exquisite music for it.

So I decided to apply my "soft materials engineering" (sewing) skills to a little hard materials task:  making a portable yet very stable music stand.  One that will stay upright and prevent my delicate wooden toys from crashing to the floor in the hustle and bustle of being bumped by an inattentive musician in a large group.

A quick trip to the local hardware store, a narrow oak board and a few dowels, and a little elbow grease, gave me this:

A recorder stand!
The lower part of the base, folded flat above, rotates out when in use:

That's three sopranos, two tenors, two altos, and a sopranino. 
This is a very stable, completely non-tippy, happy musician configuration.  :D

Then I made a base for my modern instruments:  

The base is rosewood, so it's naturally heavy.  Since it isn't intended for travel, it doesn't need a cross piece.  

It can hold a clarinet, up to three flutes, a spare flute head, and, in a cunning little hole at left, a tuning fork!  

(keep reading, I'll get to the sewing part soon....)

You know how one thing leads to another?  I was chatting with a relative who also plays recorders in a chamber group, and she mentioned she doesn't have a protective case for them.  Or a stand.  

Digs to the rescue: 

The carrying case is designed so the alto recorder can be stowed without being disassembled.  
I also made her a matching padded velvet bag with a flat bottom and drawstrings to carry both the stand and the recorders.  

Then I made a stand for my bass flute:

The base is made out of morado, a dense and heavy Bolivian rosewood.  It's big enough that I can add pegs for a regular C flute and an alto flute without compromising its stability.  There's actually quite a bit of woodworking in this little item, as the original piece of morado was a narrow board.  I had to plane the sides very flat, dowel and glue them together, cut to shape, sand, sand, and sand.... The vertical dowel is inset into the base, glued in, and secured with a large counter-sunk bolt from below. 

Bass flute??? Oh, people, it's a thing of beauty: 

On to sewing!

I discovered a wonderful new wood store nearby when researching the materials for these things, and... one thing led to another.  I thought to myself, there are a few sewing things I've always felt the lack of.  Like a clapper and a point turner. 

So I made them. 

For these two items, I picked a South American hardwood called jatoba, aka Brazilian cherry.  It's nothing like a cherry tree:  its only similarity to cherry is its colour, which also resembles a light shade of teak. The wood is very dense (thus heavy), and very hard, so it keeps edges and points very well.  Jatoba is a very common large tree, used for things like railroad ties.   

The clapper is made of a double layer of the board, 13" (33 cm) long, 2.5" at the wide end, 2" at the narrow end, and 2" high. It weighs 2 lbs 6 oz (1.1 kg).  I still want to add grooves along the sides to help with grasping it, but.... my routing skills are rudimentary, and I'll want to build a jig to hold the clapper in place and guide the router in a straight line... so it may be some time before I dare to apply a cutting blade to this very lovely hunk of very smooth wood. 

Here's my new point turner: a useful little piece of modern sculpture!

I'm willing to hazard a guess that might be the only jatoba point turner in existence.....

I freehand designed this one.  The top is 13 3/8" long. The base is 11" x 4.5":  very useful for clapping down entire items like pockets.  The hole in the middle, is 2 1/4" in diameter, perfect for grabbing it.   The whole thing weighs a whopping 3 lbs 9 oz (1.6 kg).   Everything is held together with glue and dowels - no screws. 

Both pieces are sanded very, very smooth:  120, 220, 320, 400, and 600 grit.  That's the natural colour of the wood, too - since they're intended to be used with fabric and a hot steamy iron, I couldn't (and won't) oil or varnish the wood in any way.  

I got only a short (and inexpensive!) length of board for this project, 33" overall. My stingy pattern layout skills allowed me to lay out the parts in such a way that  I made the two pieces above and still have a 7" square board to serve as another instrument stand.  Very efficient use of materials, if I do say so... 

More sewing aids in the works....  Hint:  I'm on a roll!

01 January, 2016

Pendleton coat: the inner workings

The moment I acquired the Pendleton Wool from Ann, I began pondering its ultimate shape:  a short(ish) coat - and collecting materials for it.

As I'd mentioned, the wool fabric is very soft, very spongy, and very, very breathable.  The Arctic wind will blow through it as easily as my own wee breath.  So it needs plenty of invisible support to make it both sturdy and winter worthy.

The support will come in the shape of interfacing, underlining, and interlining.

1. Interfacing - either fusible or sewn-in - serves to provide substance for the fabric in areas of greatest wear and visibility:  hems, vertical edges, collars, lapels.

I opted for fusible interfacing for the collar (upper and lower), full fronts and front facings, and all hems. I also opted for welt pockets, and interfaced the pocket locations, which you can see in the photo below. 

Both upper and under collar are interfaced:   the under collar is cut on the bias and bias-interfaced with regular woven interfacing, while the upper collar is also bias interfaced with fusible horsehair canvas.  

Above is another instance of photos being invaluable in assessing one's progress.  Do you notice the tiny discrepancy in the pattern at the collar points?  After seeing this, I flipped the collar back inside out and re-sewed the right corner to better match the left.  

Collar pinned onto the body, just to approximate the way it'll look when finished. 

2. The underlining of a garment is sandwiched to the wrong side of the fashion fabric and and they are sewn together as one.  That way, the underlining supports the body of the fashion fabric without actually being attached to the face of it, as is the case for interfacing. Indoor garments such as dresses, skirts, or jackets, are often underlined with lightweight cotton or, if more body is required, silk organza.

In this coat, the upper backs and side fronts are underlined with a polyester tie silk from the shoulders to the waist. This supports the fabric and prevents it from stretching out of shape in areas that always experience the most stress - just think of the pulling and tugging you give a coat as you put it on and then move in it.  I chose the poly tie silk because it's more tightly woven than the cotton broadcloth I'd normally use to underline an indoor jacket.  Thus, this underlining also provides some wind blockage where most needed:  the core of the wearer's (mine!) body.

The above underlining might look like it's on the bias, but it's not - the design is oriented diagonally, that's all.

3. The interlining, or the insulating layer between the outer fabric and the lining, is the critical component that will make this coat a warm one.   Of the three outdoor winter coats I've made previously, two were perfectly interlined for warmth, and I love wearing them.  Until last week, the third (the coral cashmere) was interlined in a seriously substandard fashion, an error that was badly in need of a correction. This is a lesson I won't forget in a hurry.

For the current project, I opted for windpro, a high insulation value technical fabric from Polartec. It's highly water repellent while being breathable, blocks 80% of the wind, and provides warmth without (much) weight or bulk.  I got it from Discovery Trekking Outfitters - a company that makes high performance outdoor clothing and sells its excess fabrics.  They're located in Campbell River, BC.

As you see, the coat's now in progress.  So far everything's machine basted or hand basted together, and fit tested.  I'll discuss the pattern and fit in the next post.

Happy 2016 to all and sundry!

26 December, 2015

The Pendleton coat's lining: dare to try!

Whenever I can, I try to use a fun patterned silk to line my coats and jackets.  But for this one, I didn't have any silk charmeuse in the right colour way.  So I grabbed a light-medium  warm grey bemberg rayon during a members' sale at my local fabric store.  Bemberg is usually expensive, so this was a great grab.

When I got it home, it became apparent that the tone of the rayon's greyness was a tad too warm for the grey of the fashion fabric;  more beigey than grey, in fact.  Lesson:  always  take a swatch of your fabric when shopping for matching fabric.  Head shake at self here....

You'd be completely justified to roll your eyes in my general general direction, and say:  get over yourself, woman!  for pity's sake, who looks at lining?!

Well.... I do.  Every time I put the garment on, and then every time I take it off.  And we sew for ourselves, right?

You already see what's coming here:  another dye job, right?  Right!  But this one, with a difference:  rather than just plain stove top immersion dyeing, I decided to try for a pattern.  I've long been reading about shibori techniques, but have not yet dared to try any.  I've never done anything patterned before, in fact. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to attempt a never-before-tried experiment:   whatever the aesthetic effect, the lining will be wearable, since it'll be quite invisible to the world at large. Indeed, a very safe experiment.

To connect with the pattern of the fashion fabric, I decided on a rectangularish-squarish-patterned tie dye.  I concertina-pleated the lining and then tightly tied narrow bands across the pleats.  Both the pleat widths and the tie intervals are about 6", or 15 cm.

I then soaked the tied fabric in a warm solution of soda ash and salt - this improves the dye molecules bonding with the fabric.  Squeezing out the solution, I placed my wet, tied fabric roll on an inverted aluminum cookie sheet in the sink, and squirted dye over it from a squeeze bottle.

I used two dyes:  Rit liquid dye in navy as the main player, and black instant set Colorhue dye as a finishing touch.

After applying the dyes to my fabric roll, I placed it in a glass bowl, wrapped the lot with thick plastic, microwaved for a total of three minutes, waited for it all to cool, rinsed in the sink, then machine washed in cold water with plenty of soap.

I had no idea what to expect.  But I hoped that the navy dye will at the very least cool down the beigey tone of the lining's original colour, and thus bring it a little closer to my conception of how the colour of the lining ought to play with the grey of the pendleton.  And I knew that the result will be rather subtle, being dark navy on top of mid-tone beige. I like subtle.

The result?  I'm delighted!  Tickled!  Amazed!  I got an unexpected, regular yet very organic pattern, with colours that are mainly cool purplish blue on top of the beige.  It also appears that the Colourhue dye reacted with the aluminum pan and gave some greenish-tealish tones to the final result. The edges of the pleats absorbed more of the dye and created dark horizontal lines, while the ties across the pleats (which prevented the dye from reaching in) created soft light coloured vertical lines.

I'll be very happy to have this unusual wacky lining inside my very regularly patterned coat!

It's so easy to say to oneself, I wish I could, but I don't know how, I've never done it, therefore I can't.

And that's why the last word today belongs to Gary Trudeau:

Amazingly, I remember reading and loving this strip when it was first published:
 21st February 1974.  
Even then, its message resonated with me:  dare to try.  
Dare to aim higher!
   Dare to be bold!    
Just do it.