Thursday, March 25, 2010

Old Friends

Well, my plans for a more productive week were laid waste by the plague. More like a snotty nose and subsequent sinus infection. It started with Ben (one week into preschool) who luckily only had the snotty nose, and then went on to Daddy who got the sinus infection and then to me with a sore throat. So I had that busy week of taking care of others before even contemplating getting into my studio. By the time the weekend rolled around, I was tired, either from a milder form of the cold both of these boys had, or just from exhaustion.

One thing I did get to experience though was a chance to get to JoAnn’s WITHOUT my son in tow. The store opens and hour and a half before I have to pick him up from preschool, so it is the perfect opportunity to go get the few things I need without a toddler trying to pick every notion off the wall, or screaming in protest during a fabric cut. And lord knows, I love nothing more than having little old ladies giving me “that look” when Ben is acting up. Don’t get me wrong, I find his high pitched scream as annoying—maybe more—than the next person, and if I had a magic wand, I would tell my child to please be quiet, and he would sit contentedly in the cart, daydreaming about butterflies and unicorns while I had yards and yards of calico cut to my convenience. But I choose NOT to dose him with Benadryl or beat him, so they will have to look on with their tsking glances and “when I was a mom” phraseology. Besides, it gives them something to gossip about with the other hags while sipping “Constant Comment” at the quilting circle.

I also took a moment this week to embroider a t-shirt for my son for St Patrick’s day. Seeing as he is in fact Irish (I am not) AND has a crafty mother, it seemed only appropriate that he have a fancy-schmancy shirt with awesome green embroidery on it to celebrate the 10% of Irish blood he may possess. (and yes, to show off my skills to his teacher and aides. I’ll admit—I’m a praise whore.There. I’ve said it. Look—A business like mine works word of mouth. If I get a couple of really chatty ladies to admire my work,AND my son looks cool in the process, well, that’s my advertising for the month…)The design I chose was pretty fly—a plaid shamrock (yes, that picture there--awesome right?). It was indeed sweet, but took FOREVER to stitch out. So while I was overseeing that, I took the opportunity to measure Gladys. That’s the name of my first dressform. I bought her when I was making my wedding dress. At that point in my sewing career I knew I needed to step it up. So I bought her online, making sure she could adjust to my measurements and brought her into my sewing room. And while she may not be top of the line, she has been one of the most important additions to my sewing arsenal.Without her, my wedding dress might have looked quite different. I used her to apply lace (a first for me) to the bodice, to test various trims at the waist, and to bustle it. I also believe my mother used her to help with the hem.

I haven’t used her in a while because my measurements and hers haven’t matched up. She is more…graduated... in the bust, and…well…I’m not. When I adjust her bust measurement, her back and ribcage measurement are much larger than mine. Most of us don’t graduate up to our busts—we have a ribcage that graduates up a tad, and then BOOBS. Ok, I guess an A cup will graduate a bit, but I don’t concern myself with their figure. Sizist, I know, but they get the option of going out in public WITHOUT a bra, wearing spaghetti straps without looking ridiculous, and the lions share of fancy-schmancy bras that push and pull and look awesome. Those of us in the…well…let’s just say heavily endowed arena do not get those options, and subsequently are not served well by this dress form (at least for fitted garments). So I’ve only really used her as a “holder” for items I’m making, since fitting doesn’t always work anymore.

But as I move forward in my pattern-making project, I’ve decided to bring her back into my arsenal. Sure, I’ve got a smaller, more high-end dressform now, that would prolly be easier to use, but it is a smaller and I just can’t bring myself to practice on a size 3. I bought the smaller one when I had to make a dress for a slimmer friend, (and got a fantastic deal on it with a 50% off coupon at JoAnns—seriously, pay attention to those coupons!) but haven’t used her since. I haven’t even named the smaller one. She’s below my radar. But Gladys has always been there, holding my aprons, or (sorry guys) to hang the bowling shirts I make to set the hem. And since I am committed to making clothes for the “real woman” it makes sense to use her as my fitting model when I am not fitting myself.

So I brought out the tape measure and jotted down her torso and hip measurements. I’ll only be able to use her for bodice, skirt and sleeveless dress applications since she has no arms, but she should be easier to fit than a fidgety friend for now. Better to learn to fit one symmetrical form before I move on to sloped shoulders or misaligned hips.

On another note—the root canal is not yet finished. Turns out there will be a third installment.Yay.

Lessons learned this week:

  • Children in school will bring home germs. Period
  • Again—fabric shopping without my progeny is efficient and wonderful
  • Schools are the perfect for free advertising, and my son is a beautiful model
  • Boobs present a fitting problem/learning experience
  • Old friends are best.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

This was a big week. The little man started pre-school and I had a root canal. Craft/Sewing-wise, nothing really got done this week. But I did get to do some fabric shopping with a friend and picked up a few interesting books at the library.

Since I live in Los Angeles, I am not limited to the local JoAnn’s or Hancock fabrics—even though I feel like I give a donation to Our Lady of Quilting Cottons on a regular basis. I am luckily 20 minutes (if there’s no traffic on the 101 –riiiiiiight) from the Los Angeles Garment district. Not only can I buy a knock-off coach bag and ten skirts for under $50, but some fantastic fabric shops abide in that area. If you are brave enough to skirt past the people hawking corn and porkskins from carts and the inevitable “downtown smells”, then you can enter fabric paradise. I would imagine the only place better would be in New York…

As I often head downtown on a particular mission, I usually head to Michael Levine. They pretty much have everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. I haven’t yet found Mood Fabric, but I’m sure its comparable. Michael Levine has one store of fashion fabric, one store of decorator fabric, and my favorite—the Loft. The loft is where they dump their ends, seasonals and downright unpopulars in big boxes and you have to just brave it and dive in like a trash picker. Fabric over in the loft is sold by the pound, and if you are diligent, you can find some pretty fantastic stuff over there—especially knits. There are a number of my Loft finds in my fabric stash, just waiting for me to create some sort of magic.

This week, since I was bringing a friend/client—we headed to the fashion fabric store. Since I am making gifts for her, I cannot divulge the nature of our trip, only that the perfect colors needed to be found. (and were!) I was cool experiencing the store through new eyes—the absolute sensory overload of color & texture. As a child often dragged to fabric stores, they don’t overload me anymore, so it’s nice to be reminded of how much a fabric store can awe someone.

I should say this was also the first time I brought my little man downtown. He loooooved the elevator (urine smell and all) but was absolutely not interested in the fabric store. I think at one point we stopped and looked at some fish on fabric—a brief interlude—before he threw himself on the floor to lay there—mid traffic pattern—and sing his song. At least he wasn’t screaming—and I was able to get some fabric for a project as well.

The root canal was unplanned. And frankly, not as bad as I expected. The actualy procedure was just long and boring. 6 shots of novocaine—the only the first two hurt. It was the post-procedure that blew. You know it’s gonna be tough when the dentist prescribe Vicodin and gives you that “look”, as if to say—“sorry, but the rest of your week is shot to hell.” It hasn’t been horrible (well, the vicodin made that happen) but it hasn’t been fun either. I’ve been in that state where, I’m in enough pain to take a pill, but once I do, I can’t get anything done. Yesterday, I survived on Advil and was able to get a little crafting done with a good friend, so I’m beginning to get a grip on things. But unfortunately, my dentist isn’t done—she still has to finish the other root—so I get to go through this again in another week. At least this time I know what to expect, and will have enough “soft food” in the house to keep me going.

As far as library books, I was able to pick up Amy Butler's Little Stitches for Little Ones, missing the patterns (lame). It had some interesting ideas, especially for the diaper bags. I am so inspired by her fabrics--rich colors and textiles and a lack of fear to mix those fabulous patterns. This is my deepest challenge--mixing patterned fabric...

I picked up a few other books with simple patterns and ideas--i don't pick them up for the patterns as much as for inspiration. I also got a costuming book, which set me into fits of delight, imagining creating corsets and full skirts, and Elizabethan doublets...I think i was meant to be a costumer...

Imma try to get a grip this week. I need to finish a little dress I’ve been sitting on, I’ve got a bag order I need to start, this “gift” order that needs another consult before I start, and I need to do some re-measuring and pattern drafting to regain momentum on my fashion design project. I’m still getting used to Ben’s schedule, so I may actually be able to start using that time this week. And I need to get this all done BEFORE root canal part Deux next Monday.

And by the way, I hate the time change.

Lessons learned this week:

  • Don’t take fabric stores for granted—it is like a candy store!
  • Don’t force your son to go with you to said candy store—he just sees bolts of fabric
  • Root canals aren’t as horrible as you would imagine. But they can be.
  • Time management is key!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pinch Hitter

So, I was working out a fitting problem with my sloper while my mother was here, and I began to have this feeling I had early on in this project—this book (Armstrong) isn’t always the most…clear. It IS a textbook, and no doubt is meant to be used in conjunction with a classroom teacher, but there’s still just something missing. Well, first off, all the measurements are based on a dressform and not a real person, with no instructions for measuring a real person—which is just fine for a student I suppose, but not very effective for real-world application. The instructions for taking those measurements aren’t always clear either. And the size charts listed in the book are…well…not “plus size” friendly. This burns me a little—no, A LOT. I really detest the sizeism that exists in the fashion world, and the relegating of size 12 and above into the backseat. “Here are the fashions for this spring, maybe they’ll look good on your fat ass. Not my problem” (yeah, I’m talking to you Karl Lagerfeld) You never see an candidate on project runway designing for plus girls, do ya? And before anyone decides to get up on me about health and etc—I’m not talking about size 20, or morbidly obese women—hell, I’m not even talking about “obese” women. I’m talking SIZE 12—the size I was in high school and after, when the comments about my body were definitely NOT in the negative…)

I really have no desire to create a size 3 garment. Ever. Unless it is a 3T garment. Or I have a skinny friend.

And I’m not trying to say that Armstrong is sizist—I mean I KNOW this is a text book for young fashion students. I just find it disappointing that it is in no way connected with the real world.

Back to m fitting problem…there was a gap in the armscye, (that’s a fancy word for armhole for the rest of the world)both front and back. Front was easy—just add a dart. But the back involved opening the seam, moving fabric down, and other mysterious activites that didn’t fix the problem. We just kept trying to fix it and the book just had some strange diagrams and extremely vague instructions. In the end, we kinda took a wild stab at it and hoped it worked. I’m still not convinced it solved the problem…

There was also an issue when I was drafting the sleeve pattern. There was no explanation of where the arm cap measurement was—just some chart to follow (A chart I might mention that I was not on size-wise, so even more guessing) and the measurement for the armscye circumference and its corresponding sleeve measurement wouldn’t match unless I took 2 inches off my bicep. All I kept thinking was, this CAN’T be right.

I should mention my innate fear of sleeves. They still trip me up. Especially the set-in eased sleeve that is a part of most women’s garments.

For those of you who don’t sew, a brief primer: when a garment is made, you usually put the bodice (front and back) together first leaving a hole for the arm. Then you sew the sleeve together so that it is a tube with one curved/funky end. Then you “ease” the top of that sleeve a little—which are just little gathers to make the sleeve fit around your shoulder and allow movement. Then you match up that tube with the armhole, and after some fussing and sometimes cursing, you pin the two and sew them together. If you do it right, you can’t even see the gathers and you have the whole range of movement with the sleeve. If not…well, you rip it out and do it again. It has been said that the ease of a sleeve is the most difficult sewing you ever have to do—and I agree.

This fear I have of sleeves comes not only from my own lessons from my umpteen years of sewing, but from a job I had last year. The big job—the mu’u mu’u job. Yeah—those sleeves were just CRAP. I was working off a pattern drafting program that I no longer use, because it is crap, and the sleeves were just horrid. No movement, horrible ease, bad, bad, bad—and no doubt one of the many reasons I was not asked back to that particular Halau for another job. So, as you can see, sleeves just make me nervous.

So when I found this fitting problem in my own sloper, I was not happy with just guessing and hoping it was right. If someone puts on a garment and cannot move their arms naturally, you lose business. Period. I have thrown out more than one commercial pattern that was just a poor draft for the sleeve and armscye. I want answers on how to fit this properly—not vague diagrams. Remember—this set of patterns isn’t for the clothes one wears—they are the base for those clothes. You make these right, and the fit of the fashion garment will need little to no alteration.

So…for the time being, I am going to stray from Armstrong and move over to Don McCunn for the sloper production. a) he is measuring real people (and shows you tricks to measure yourself in tricky places—like that center back seam…) and b) he has videos. I am already a member of his Yahoo group ( and frankly find his methods clear and concise. I’ve checked out his book previously, and just ordered my own copy for a reference tool. I’m not too keen on his design asthetic(hello, the 80’s called), but his sloper instruction is the best I’ve come across. So, for now, while I am making these slopers, I’m gonna follow hi method, and once I’ve got a sloper with which I am comfortable and UNDERSTAND then I will turn back to the Armstrong to begin the design aspect of my learning.

Now, this is not to say the Armstrong is bad—the new edition might even address those things with which I take issue. But since I have no desire to fork out $150 for a new book, I’m gonna work out what I can.

When I was trying to explain this to my husband, he made a simple statement: that book was probably written by a seamstress. And while she was no doubt a good seamstress, she isn’t the best writer and or teacher. I know there are others who would VEHEMENTLY disagree with that statement, but I don’t. I have no doubt the author knows her stuff—she just doesn’t know how to explain it very well.

Lessons learned this week:

  • Fashion hates real women
  • Sleeves are not to be trifled with
  • Sometimes you just gotta watch someone do it to understand how
  • I’m not gonna make friends in the fashion world

Sunday, March 7, 2010

crafting ADD

well, i had a huge crafting weekend, but still haven't touched the Armstrong. In my defense however, i did finish the sleeve draft last weekend and am now waiting to measure my dressform for easier drafting/fitting issues down the road. Besides, i am happy to report that i am losing some weight, and some of the measurements i have are changing... :)

This weekend my mother came up to help me with some organizational issues. (and honey, trust me, i have issues) My latest goal is a business goal, and therefore trumps all personal goals at present. Turns out I have a large stash of material. Last year i bough another garment rack, and put all my material on hangers so that i have easy access to it, physically and visually. But I'm still not using it as I would like--i still keep buying material for projects instead of utilizing my stash. A few projects ago, i had to get some fabric that i knew didn't exist in my stash for a project. and since my customer was not local, i had to email her my choices--enter the scanner. a great way to get a pic of my fabric and voila! it's stored in my computer. hmmmmmm

If all my material were scanned and labeled, I could peruse my "catalog" (i had previously done something similar with all my commercial patterns) to see if i had the appropriate material, and enough for the job...I could put pics up on my business page and Etsy if i was offering a particular style. I could discuss fabric choices with clients even if I'm not in my brain began to explode.

So I waited for a visit from my mother to start this project. I'll be honest, I thought it would be a walk in the park--a couple hours of measuring and scanning. WRONG. oh we spent a couple hours--and we're maybe halfway done. I'm really glad she came up to help with this, or i would be further behind at this point.

(I should also mention here that we also took the opportunity to head out to Pomona for the sew/quilt/craft show, where i bought even more material... and also made the keen observation that quilting folk are...well...rude. I got poked and shoved more times at that show than i ever did at CHA--and this show wasn't even half as big)

It's also fun to take this visual trip through memory lane. Some fabrics I bought with a purpose--a shirt for Pete, jammies for Ben, and i was reminded of the level of sewing I used to employ for my own family. Some fo the fabrics were finds from the local Michael Levine loft--the warehouse where they send all their ends and unpopular fabrics that you have to sort through like a trash picker that they sell by the pound. If you are diligent, there are some incredible finds in that loft. I saw the funky challis print i found (brown, green & yellow wildness) that will make the perfect long sundress once i remember what it is to sew for myself! (gasp!) And of course, some of the material were large remnant peices from other projects--primarily my wedding gown. My mother and I, who put that gown together--with some cutting assistance from my BFF--were reminded of the process, the hunt for the right material--the heavy oyster colored satin--and the embroidered lace that we labored over--it was so expensive, but was sooooooooo perfect against the satin. There was a great deal of hemming and hawing that day, but in the end (with the assistance of my grandmother's spirit, according to my mother) the lace was purchased (too much i might add--now i have over a yard leftover!) and the perfect combination was created. Good memories. I'll admit, i was never 100% in love with the dress, but it was a thing of beauty!

So, now i have this pile of material, and a whole other garment rack of material, that i have to scan and label--but this time on my own. *sigh* But i do have another boon this week. My little man starts pre-school this week--just 2.5 hours a day/4 days a week--but that's 10 extra hours for studio time that i didn't have last week.

But trust me, I'm sure i'll figure out some way to avoid getting in there and getting this job done this week. Have i mentioned the root canal on Wednesday? One day gone...

Lessons learned this week:

If it's good for business, do it! *within reason*
Organization is fun, but time consuming
I have way too much fabric
My mother and i made an awesome wedding dress
root canals suck