Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sleep, perchance to dream...

It's about 5am and I am blogging. I've already read everyone's new posts on my reading list, my head is swimming, but I know I won't sleep yet. Insomnia is a terrible and wonderful thing. I have a big project to work on today and I don't fancy trying to tackle it with a headache. However, there is something creative and full of possibility about this time of the night. I've done some of my best costuming work at 4am, for example.
The trouble with apartment living and having a mezzanine sewing studio is that early morning creating is anti-social. So, reading about creativity will have to do instead!
Do you go through insomniac phases, and if so, how do you pass the time? Do you surrender to it and use it wisely, or persist in trying to go back to sleep? Any tips on how to go back to sleep, on those days when a big day of work beckons more compellingly than a new garment or 57 blogposts?
Please advise! :)
In the arms of Morpheus. At last...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Running away for the weekend... was fab! MrC and I shot off after work on Friday night to the little town of Martinborough, which is about an hour out of Wellington in 'wine country.' Laid out like a Union Jack with a square in the middle, Martinborough is charming, full of gorgeous weekend houses for rent, cosy restaurants, and there are easily 40 wineries within a 10km radius making some of the finest wines in the world.

Aethena House, which is only 50m from the square, utterly gorgeous inside and out (thanks to my clever cousin Lynley's efforts about 10 years ago before she sold it on) and the perfect retreat for two townies needing a rest cure. :) It has four bedrooms and we think it may be a nice place to take a group of friends next time!
ANYWAY, on Saturday after a leisurely brunch on the back lawn, we hit the wine trail. Each time we go, we look for small wineries where we can talk to the winemakers. I love their passion for their product, all the words that dance around with them.
First stop, Coney Wines on Dry River Road. Forgot to take photos. Duh. We bought a Que Sera Syrah and a Ritz Reisling or two. Coney wines all come with tongue in cheek musical names and silly lymerics. The wine in the bottles however is pretty darn fabulous. The syrah is a 
peppery, berry flavoured riot with vetiver overtones that really did inspire lyrical outpourings! The Ritz Riesling spritzes on the tongue and has a light fruity palate that I love. Reminds me of the zibibbo we had for our wedding toasts. Incidentally they gave us a mini bottle of a rose called "Pink Floyd's wet dream"!
Next was Schuberts, much closer to town and run with German passion and hand crafted care. Nice wines, very expensive ($65 a bottle for the one I liked best!) we surprised ourselves by coming away with a cab/merlot blend and a sticky called Dolce made from Muller Thurgau. It was like apricot and honey heaven on the tongue and I HAD to have it. The cab/merlot just kept on giving and conjuring up music in my head so we got it too.
Last was Croft Winery, a "must stop at, every time" winery on the main road into town. I love the place - May Croft is the warm hearted Anglican Archdeacon for South Wairarapa and her husband Peter is a wonderful winemaker with an artist's passion and a scientist's precision. He does this thing where as you take a mouthful of his wine he tells you what he wanted it to do to your palate, and by jingo, it happens. Such precision, such artistry. And May makes amazing pastes from the grapes, most recently a sauvignon blanc paste that we enjoyed immensely on crackers with cheese for afternoon tea. Lovely people whose love of life comes through in their products.
All that wine talk must be boring some of you, sorry! On Sunday we went craft shopping. There are several shops selling all sorts in Martinborough, and I bought a 1972 Golden Hands album full of delightful ideas and projects that took me back to my childhood. In the window she had a selection of those necklaces made from fabric, but with beads in between:
A nice combination of textures and patterns in these necklaces...
And then home. Via Sawmillers Quiltery where I picked up cupcake buttons and a couple of fat quarter packs.
Well, how could I resist!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Making a full petticoat the EASY way - tutorial

Darling bloggettes, I just farewelled my lovely friends Joy and Madame O who have been at mine this afternoon. Joy and I making her a rockabilly petticoat, while Madame O did embroidery, and tried things on. (I have a dress up rack, it is quite fun!)
Anyway, I've been trying to get Joy to make a petticoat for ages but it was daunting her something chronic; she had visions of being buried under metres of tulle frills. So, I thought, we need to find a way to do this that doesn't require pulling up gathers, quarter marking or generally, well, being buried under metres of tulle frills!
So, this is what we did. You could make it a lot fuller by repeating the whole thing and having twice as many layers. We may yet to it. We only used 3m of a kind of netting that is not tulle and not stretch net, but something fab in between. Tricot would be a good substitute,or bridal tulle.
I cut a half circle of the net, 15 inches long, with the top being 14 inches in radius. That is a circle with a total 29 inch radius. Sorry no photo but it is easy to see further on. This gives about 40 inches of waist, heaps to gather onto a foundation skirt.
Cutting 2 x 16 inch wide strips along the length of the fabric. It is not quite 3m long as the half circle skirt bit took up the end. Cut one off each side so you have a selvage on each.
 Joy cutting 8 x 2 inch strips from the length.
 Joy is ruching the 2 inch strips freehand. This is so easy, much easier than gathering stitches, and amazingly even. Just get started, sew an inch or so into the middle of the strip with a longish stitch. Then bunch the fabric up towards the presser foot and let it sew through. Repeat over and again until it's all done...
 You get a wonderful double frill. We did this with all 8 strips, four each, just feeding the next one under the foot as the last one ran out.
 Now I am sewing the ruched 2 inch strip to the edge of my 16 inch strip. No finishing of edges required, this stuff doesn't fray. When you get to the end, just cut your 2 inch frill flush with the end of the big frill. Done!
Now the observant among those present will realise that you have to do all of this twice. That is, there were two 16 inch frills. Now as we were both working on it, we did one each, but the wise woman would join her 16 inch frills together BEFORE adding the 2 inch frill to the edge etc. Just sew them together with a 1/4 or 1/2 inch seam.
 Now sewing the 2 inch frill to the OTHER side of the 16 inch piece, only on the other side. This means that the other 2 inch frill is facing DOWN as I am sewing this one facing up. Capiche? It all makes sense soon. Again, trim when you get to the end. We ended up with about 6 inches left over. If you run out, just make a bit more 2 inch frill and add it. This is not an exact science! These 2 inch frills serve to really hold the bottom out.
 Now, Joy is doing the same thing to this big 16 inch frill as we did to the 2 inch ones - freehand gathering it down the centre. It turned out that the edge of the machine's tray was about 8 inches from the needle so she used it as a guide. There is still no measuring going on. Woot!
 The finished frill. Cute eh!
This may not be obvious from the photo but this is me sewing the big 16 inch frill down onto the bottom edge of the half circle, along the central gathering line. Do this so that the 2 inch frills both end up facing outward not inward.
I'm allowing about 1/2 inch of the half circle to overlap. No pinning, quarter marking etc. Trust the force, Luke!
 And tada!! Here we have stage one complete. I hope this photo makes our 29 inch half circle with 14 inches cut out of the top of it make mroe sense...Yes, we didn't have quite enough frill to go the distance but it's no big deal. Again, the easiness of this is to not measure and pin, but to just gather the heck out of everything and treat it like a trim!
We just cut the bit off at the end. Made it a bit shorter but still big enough.
Joy is marking the half circle at the 4 inch mark to add another frill. This second frill has only come about because I wanted to use up the leftover strip of fabric. I actually think that making this half circle twice and sewing them together at the top would be a near perfect petticoat. And so far, it's only taken us about 3 hours (that is, 1.5 hours with us both working on it)

This is me adding ribbon and lace to the bottom of the leftover fabric strip. I turned it up once, about a 1/4 inch, towards the front, and then I am sewing the lace and the ribbon over that turnup, together. You could sew the lace on and then the ribbon if the idea of doing both at once is a bit much. One last row of stitching along the top edge of the ribbon. It's an easy way to give something a nice, pretty and tidy edge. 
We gathered up this extra frill and sewed it to the line Joy had chalked. We left the first and last couple of inches of the frill free.
To finish it, sew the half circle skirt 'back seam' right sides together, about a half inch. Make sure you don't catch the frills into it. Then on the outside, overlap the frills and topstitch them down. You could sew them together but it's not necessary. Sorry, we tried to photograph this but with all that black, it looked like nothing. Definitely vlog potential this one.
The whole netty extravaganza was sewn onto an underslip with an elastic waist. Afterwards, Joy thought it would be good to make it separate so she could wear the underslip by itself with straight skirts. I think this is a great idea. In that case, you could just turn the top over to make an elastic case. Our finished length was 23 inches. That is 15 inches of half circle skirt, an 8 inch frill, minus seam allowances, plus the extra bit of 2 inch frill to compensate for it.
Petticoat under a full circle skirt. she won't wear this black petticoat with the white skirt as it makes it look grey, but it gives the general idea.
Great twirling potential!
A couple of pink roses for fun
And of course, our entertaining companion for the day, Madame Ornata, demonstrating why her name suits her so well!
OK, so this is what I learnt, and what we will do next time (making a white one).
1. Make half circles out of cotton. Why not? :) In that case I would serge the seams and edges, or use french seams and a narrow hem, since it would fray where the net one didn't. I'd also make two of them.
2. 3m of tulle or tricot 60 inches wide, would be even better - without cutting the half circle off the end, that extra bit would mean our frill was long enough. Without the second, bonus frill I added, 48 inches was enough width so a 96 inch wide tulle would be enough for two. Or just get 6 metres. These are not expensive fabrics :)
3. For a soft tulle or tricot, I might even make two rows of 2 inch frills, lay them one on the other and gather together, for extra body. It's this body that gives the fullness at the hemline.
4. If I did it this way, I would make a waistband on the straight grain out of the cotton and attach it to the two half circles.
5. Last alternative option -Make one of the cotton half circles longer - 23 inches instead f 15, finish the bottom edge with lace and ribbon like I described above, and sew the first 16 inch frill to it 8 inches in from the bottom edge. Then make the second one like described above. Why? Because really with these petticoats you want something nice between you and the tulle. Tulle is itchy, and can rip your tights. This does mean using 54 inch wide cotton unless you have a teency waist.
This all may sound complicated, but I promise that once you actually do it, you will find out how simple it is. If you understand pi geometry and how to size a half circle, it's easy to adapt to the right size and length for you :)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Winter has arrived... is freezing, and raining. Luckily it is raining vertically - the wind here in Wellington often means that the rain is at a 45 degree angle if not actually horizontal. The great thing about the horizontal rain is that the wind generally wrecks umbrellas, but as an umbrella can't save you from it,  it's no great loss. :)

Brown Frock Coat 2 - Setting a pattern piece to the grain

I managed to be short of fabric for my coat by a sleeve back, about 0.7m, so off I went today to get more, and I'm taking the opportunity to do a quick tute on the thing I mentioned in the last Brown Frock Coat tute about setting the pattern pieces straight on the grain.
 Here's my pattern piece with grainline marked. This appears on all commercial patterns too. I made it nice and black so it would show up in my abysmal photos...
 This is me putting a pin into one end while taking a photo with the other hand. MrC was too busy to help! I pin it, catching just a 1/4 inch of fabric and pattern so it can swivel fairly easily.
 Measure the distance from the pinned end of the grainline to the selvage. I'm using a quilter's ruler, but a tape measure would do just as well.
 Now go to the other end of the grainline and slide the pattern piece around until it is the same distance from the selvage as the first one was.
 Pin that end too. Now the whole piece is lined up perfectly withe the fabric grain. Getting this wrong can result in garments that twist and shout in ways you don't want them to!
 Now, smooth the pattern piece outward from the pins and pin it around the outside. This pattern is newsprint and not very big so this isn't very impressive, but if you've got a whole dress centre front in commercial pattern tissue, it really makes a difference!
All pinned around then grainline pins removed. No sense wasting pins :)
I hope that makes sense!
By the way, when I opened out my lovely stripe fabric remnant I found that a big chunk was cut off the side of it. How this happened in the shop, who knows. They were very helpful when I took it back and bought more velvet though - gave me a discount on the velvet to compensate. Luckily I have enough stripy left to do what I wanted to. It was strange though...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Project Frock coat 1 - plus some cutting out tips.

My blog reading has expanded recently into sites devoted to vintage or modern sewing, and it is fantastic to see so many young women taking up sewing. It makes my heart happy! I am also aware that some of the techniques I take for granted would be really useful to other sewists, so I decided to make a new coat, and blog the process, with as many top tips as I can muster :)
The coat is a frock style, mid calf, and I can't show you a picture or sketch as I drafted the pattern. But I am wearing a version of it in the previous post about Steampunking it. This one will have a different collar.
My fabrics - a glorious asphalt brown stretch velveteen and a remnant of striped acetate/viscose mix lining fabric that I intend to use as trims and also to bind the seams as this pattern is unlined. They look so yummy together!!
OK, so this evening, I cut out the coat, taking the odd moment to catch Project Runway. How DO they do it? I would just want to lie down under the cutting table!
I place my first pattern pieces on the fabric which is folded along its length and laid out on my kitchen counter. It is a great cutting table! The rest is pooling on the floor at the other end. The reason there is so much room at the end is that I am adding 6" to each length. I want a longer coat this time. I have pinned the pieces with just a few pins, because at this stage I am just arranging my layout.
This next bit is the key to success for anyone who is pressed for room. Just slide the fabric off the end of the counter, pattern pieces and all:
Then you can position and lightly pin the next pieces, and keep repeating until you're done. No guess work needed! :) And it really works better to lightly pin at this stage, just make sure your grain lines are correct. Note that I am cutting my gored pieces all the same way, as velveteen has a nap. It is less economical but absolutely necessary; velvets, cords and velveteens cannot be cut both ways. I cut these fabrics so the pile is smooth when I stroke from top to bottom of the garment, but I notice some manufacturers do it the other way.
So once I have all my pieces positioned and accounted for, I slide the fabric back the OTHER way, and start cutting the pieces out.
Yup, them is forks. they make fantastic pattern weights as their shape presses gently but firmly down; spoons are quite good too. I use them to hold the piece down before pinning a little more generously and cutting out. This pattern has no seam allowance (which I luckily wrote on all the pieces last time, sometimes I forget!) so am adding 1/2" all around.
As I cut the pieces out, I then take all the pins out but I keep the pattern piece with the cut out piece, so as to keep track of any marking etc that I need to do later. This saves on pins, which I am very short of as The Dreamstress was using mine to pin pleats on Tuesday night and she hasn't returned them yet! (she will, she is very honest!) :)
Other cutting out tips:
  1. Before pinning, measure from the selvage or folded edge to the the grainline arrow, and make sure it is parallel. Pin this first. If you catch just a small amount with the first pin, you can move the piece around to line it up. Then you can smooth the pattern piece out from that point and pin down. If anyone wants me to go into more detail on this, let me know and I'll do a separate tutorial. It is SUCH a sensible way to position pattern pieces! :) Of course, this pattern has no grain lines ahem. I do it by eye. But I have 35 years experience so I'm allowed to cheat, sometimes. And I rarely do.
  2. I always leave a small hem of tissue around the outside of a commercial pattern the first time I use it, and cut through the tissue and the fabric along the cutting line. It is easier to get an accurate cut that way. Assuming one doesn't need to adjust the bleeding pattern of course!
And that's it for tonight. More next time!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Importance of being Steampunk

This afternoon a group of us went to see Roundabout Theatre's Broadway production of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. A screening of a film thereof; we did not dispatch ourselves to New York, alas! But it was at the Penthouse in Brooklyn; a small and delightfully chic satellite suburb of Wellington.
Anyway being Us, we dressed up. Noone however thought to bring a camera!! Quelle fromage! It is such a cute theatre! We did make a bit of a stir, and I was asked where I bought my hat and goggles by a woman who is holding a steampunk party. I took great delight in saying, oh, Glastonbury, but you can get them in the Camden market too! She didn't invite us either. Pah.
Here I am, a little worse for wear, afterwards back at home:
Very pleased with my hair, which is my own teased out a lot, then curled up and pinned all around, then my fall added and its ringlets pinned up to build up the back so my hat would sit jauntily. BIG HAIR after all of that!
As for the show itself, it was fun. I love this play. I can't find any photos from Act One online, however I was struck by how similar Gwendolyn's costume in the show was like my interpretation, as above, back in 2006. Annette Thomson shown, and Margaret Thomson as Lady Bracknell :) Yes, they are mother and daughter also!

Those were the days...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why I love making wedding dresses...

Once upon a time I made wedding dresses for a living. It was hard work - the money was bad and it was stressful. And yet, there were moments that made it worthwhile.
When I read this challenge on Haley's blog to write a 500 word story using body language, I immediately thought about those days, and I got writing. Here's my short story.

Her eyes lit up for the first time since she entered my shop. A smile slowly spread across her features and she reached to stroke the bolt of silk. I draped a generous swathe of the glowing fabric around her body. She preened in the mirror, turning this way and that, chin up, running a hand down her body to enjoy the fabric following her curves.
I love this moment of magic. It doesn’t always come – the confident ones, the ones accustomed to seeing their beauty in others’ eyes, not so much with them. But the ones like this luscious redhead hiding her charms in baggy clothes; for them it happens every time. Only 15 minutes ago she sidled into the shop clutching a page ripped from a magazine, which she handed over, her ring finger sporting a shiny new emerald engagement ring. Emeralds for a redhead, I thought, this one’s man knows her better than she does. I don’t really know that of course, but I get caught up in the magic too.
The dress pictured on the magazine page is predictably hideous. I remain unsurprised when she explains that her mother thought this was a good style of wedding dress for her.
“Why?” I ask. It’s a good question, and after the usual hesitation (no one expects that question) she says, “because the magazine said it would be flattering to my size”. I raise a single eyebrow. “Really? The magazine thinks that baggy white polyester and cheap lace is flattering? An interesting viewpoint.”
She smiles in spite of herself. “Yeah, well, it was her idea. I don’t really like it though. But I don’t know what to wear, whatever I’m going to look like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic anyway.” Ah, self-deprecating humour.
“Well, for a start, white isn’t really good for that complexion. And hiding those curves is a jailable offence. ..” and so on, until she is laughing in spite of herself. “So, let’s start again shall we, like you’re going to be the most beautiful bride in the world…”
And then I fetch the ivory silk, the one with just a blush of pinkness.
And when she sees herself in my mirror, she sees her beauty with her own sparkling eyes, and the magic begins.
I love my job.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cupcake frenzy!

Three lots in two weeks. I like to make them in colours that suit the person they are for and this first lot were for a friend at work who loves red and white:
Great photo isn't it! I work with a guy called Rowan who is an ace photographer and he commandeered the camera. I love this angle! And I've learnt something too.
 Having not seen at this point the photos Rowan took, I was still taking bad ones. These were for a 6 year old's birthday party. Pink is my friend!! So is glitter! :)
Ready to be delivered. This is a tray from the cupcake carrier-it has inset spots for the cakes and it stops them falling over in transit - very handy!
 And finally, one giant, gluten free cupcake birthday cake. A tip for anyone who tries this - make sure the buttercream icing is really firm - my first try it all slid off!
Here is a better idea of it size. My two favouritest little blondies - Zoe who was turning 9 and Peter her little brother. (my niece and nephew). :) 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Another Hat tutorial

This hat is very similar in construction to the red hat  I made in February, but I think it has come out as a very different hat and shows how a simple construction technique can be very versatile.
Amy and Rebecca in an excerpt from The Boston Marriage, in Edwardian costumes borrowed from a local amdram and given a quick do-over by moi. I wanted to give Amy a big wide brimmed Edwardian picture hat, but in theatre such hats cast shadows on the face, so I went with the style above instead. I altered Amy's rose madder jacket that had a peter pan collar by folding back the fronts and adding a Karrickmacross antique lace collar I was given. Naturally it came off straight after the show and went back in my stash!
 I used a silk jacquard chosen for its colour match to the suit and also its yumminess. It only took about .6m. Same as the red hat, I used heavy vilene and visofix to stick the fabric to both sides of the brim. Brim is wider at the back, another theatre thing.
 The brim, trimmed.
 I cut a long strip for the crown and played with it until I liked the size and shape. This one is toooo high.
Trimmed down to the right height. This is only about 3 inches deep. a little crown can go a long way. Stitched together with big rough tacking stitches.
I joined some offcuts to make a long, straight cut strip
 Wrapping the strip around the crown, I then slipstitched it in place. Make it fairly taut so it stays in place by itself.
 Next is the lid - a bit of math needed to work out the circumference as it needs so be oval not round. I used the visofix to stick the fabric to the vilene again...
 And then press under the cut edges. One 'lid,' done.

 Rim bound as was the red hat (I didn't take photos this time as I had to sew it on in reverse, this was the beginning of the end of my poor sewing machine!) Also as per red hat, I snipped the brim and folded the tabs up into the crown. Lid is slipstiched to the crown, brim is stitched to crown with tacking (basting stitches) that catch the tabs, then sewn again by hand for strength. For a project with a longer shelf life I would now line the brim to hide all the workings but not worth it for this.
 The untrimmed hat. As you can see it is a bit 'literal' - all straight ups and downs. This is why the next bit is so important to give it character.
I cut a wide strip on the bias longer than the crown and pinned a folded edge of it to the bottom of the crown as shown. Looks a bit odd!
Working around, I then pinned the other folded edge to the top edge of the crown.
Fiddling around with it I got soft ruching underway, pinning them into place the sewing them down, by hand of course, roughly, down the back. This is a fiddly job but a good DVD and good company made it fun!
 Drawing the loose end across, I folded it under, ruched it up and overcast it also. The top and bottom edges of this added fabric I tacked into place with big stitches. nothing needs fine stitching, in fact it doesn't really work.
To hide the stitching and to spruce it up, I added a flourish of lace. I was only using what I had - with more time and budget it would have got flowers as well!
So there you go. One hat, passably Edwardian. What else is possible from a simple straight up and down brimmed fabric hat? :)