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Sandal Making with Rachel Sees Snail Shoes

I have been absent a while on the blog (but not on the instaaagram!) because I have been working on getting a good set-up for my picture taking. I happen to be married to a talented photographer, but I hate having to rely on her to get pictures of all my makes. First it requires us to coordinate schedules and settle on a date, and then we have to plan where the shoot will take place and at what time of day, and then I have to figure out what I want to get pictures of, and usually there are so many things on the list that there is no way we can get them all in at one time so I have to prioritize, and then I have to wait on her to process all my photos, and then I have to deal with the guilt of asking her to spend several hours of her weekend helping me find my best angle (which, it turns out, does not even exist). She, of course, says she is happy to do it, which I appreciate, but I would love to have a way to do it all myself so I can work within my own time frame and schedule, etc.

A few months ago Claire taught me how to use her nice Nikon more efficiently, so I got a remote and a simple gray backdrop, set the camera up on it’s tripod and got to work snapping photos. It took a while to get the camera focused (I taped a headshot onto my dressform) but once I got the hang of it, the pictures came out pretty well. The only drawback were our selection of lenses- we needed a wider angle lens to get better images of me from head-to-toe, an expense that didn’t seem quite justified for my every-once-in-a-while blogging habit. But then I filmed an interview for my friend’s show, In Bed With Kristin, and her camera set-up involved a regular tripod with a little connector that allowed her to put her iPhone on top of it. I am sure all of you know of this ingenious little device already, but for me this was a revelation- I could use my iPhone, which takes perfectly good photos, in tandem with a remote control which would allow me to be in charge of all my photo taking needs without having to worry about focus or lights or using my dress form with a headshot taped to it as a stand-in! It’s a simple solution that I am hoping will make my blogging a bit more manageable than it has been, so wish me luck!

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In the meantime, I wanted to write about my latest foray into shoe making! The success of my last pair of flats has left me satisfied with my skill level but also excited to learn different techniques that other DIY shoemakers have adapted over the years, so when I saw that Poketo was offering a sandal making workshop in LA the day before my birthday, I couldn’t sign up fast enough- it seemed like the perfect thing to gift myself…and it was 🙂

The workshop was taught by Portland-based Rachel Corry of Rachel Sees Snail Shoes and the whole experience was fantastic- I highly recommend taking her classes if she comes to your neck of the woods. It probably helps that I came into the class with a fair amount of experience in DIY shoe making, so a lot of the steps were familiar to me, but I still learned a lot about how to make a shoe without a last, and I though Rachel was incredibly gracious, patient, and skilled. Every single shoe that came out of the class looked wonderful and wearable, and all my peers seemed very happy with what they had created.

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Rachel brought several pairs of shoes that she has made over the years, so we got to see a sizable range of designs that we could utilize in the short period of time that we had in the workshop. Normally I am ambitious in workshops and I try to challenge my skills and my creativity, but I decided to try something different this time around and choose a simple design so that I could focus on the process better. Now that I know what a good teacher Rachel is, I probably could have pushed myself a bit further and come up with something of my own design, but I was so inspired by the class and my final shoes that I know I will continue creating sandals based on her technique, and I couldn’t really ask for more than that, you know?

my inspiration shoe from Rachel’s handmade collection

The main things I learned in what I will call The Rachel Process was how to cut out slits in the insoles to allow your upper sandal straps to slide through, and how to then fit the pieces to your foot, which was a lot like fitting a garment on a body in the midst of sewing it. Since we were not using a last for these shoes (and didn’t need to since the toe was uncovered), we used a shoe anvil in tandem with wooden mallets and hammers to work on the bottom of the shoe. I used shoe nails for the first time, cleverly designed little brass tacks that, when hammered against metal, flattened into a nice little pucker on the inside of the shoe so that it wouldn’t poke your feet but would hold the bulky pieces of your straps together. I loved being able to take the shoe off and on again to check for fit, something that using a last doesn’t allow you to do, and it also gives you more freedom in adjusting the sizes.

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slit cutouts on the insole

 

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I LOVE HOLE PUNCHING LEATHER!

Rachel brought lots of pattern pieces for us to choose from to design our own shoes, and after I picked mine out, I decided to trace others so that I could take them home with me for future use. Of COURSE I realized as I was typing this blog post that I left all the patterns at her class when I left on Saturday, so I am feeling foolish for that oversight, but I feel confident that I can recreate some, if not all, of those looks through a little trial and error. The pair I chose to make has a medium sized strap over the toe and a single piece of leather cut out out into an elongated “H” which comes around the front of the ankle and then ties to close the shoe. In addition to the upper leather and the insole, we used foam rubber soling for the bottom of the shoe which is another new technique I learned about in The Rachel Process. All my previous shoes have been made with soling leather on the bottom, but I love how the rubber foam gives you a cushion-y bed underneath your feet and a little bit of height. SO cute and comfortable!

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deconstructed sandals- upper straps, inner soles, and foam rubber soles

The process of putting everything together was familiar except for using the nails; skiving, Barge’s glue, hammering thick parts flat, etc. were all a part of the process, but once the shoe has been put together, you have to trim off the excess foam rubber (which is cut larger than the sole to accommodate any extra room you might need) with a utility knife, and this takes a lot of practice to get right. I was trying to shave a little extra room off the back of my leather soles at the same time as trimming the foam, which proved to be too tricky for my untrained hands, so the heel edge of my shoe was pretty jaggedy. We didn’t have a sander in class so I worried that my shoes were just destined to look really unprofessional if you looked too closely at them, but when I got home I used my Drimmel on the edges and it shaved and smoothed down all the wonky looking areas really well. Next time I will make sure to have my sole trimmed to the exact size and shape I want so that all I have to do in the last step is cut the foam rubber, which trims away like butter.

you can see how jagged the edges were in the back before I took my Drimmel to it.

you can see how jagged the edges were at the heel before I used my Drimmel

I wish that I had used a buckle or a rivet on my shoe so that I could have some experience with those components in the workshop, but I did get to use leather stamps which I COMPLETELY fell in love with. I could stamp leather all day! So fun, so effective, so satisfying! As far as the buckles and rivets, they seem to be pretty easy to use with the right tools, so I will add them to my list of (additional) shoe supplies I need, which isn’t super long- it’s mostly leather tools that I haven’t needed before but that I would love to use in the future. I am planning a trip to a shop called Saderma here in LA that is supposed to be an excellent place to find shoe components, findings, and leather.

fitting the upper straps and marking placement before it gets glued down

fitting the upper straps and marking placement before it gets glued down

 

how the pieces will eventually come together

loose idea of the final shoe

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I am so very happy with how these shoes came out and I am beyond excited to make more using The Rachel Process. Her instagram is filled with her own beautiful makes and those of her talented students, so there is plenty of inspiration to be found there. Here are a few of my favorite photos that she posted to her account- I am dying to replicate them!

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Happy shoe-wearing, friends!

Ride, Sallie, Ride!

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It is a shame that it took me so long to blog about the Sallie Jumpsuit by closetcasefiles because it is by far one of my favorite things I have ever EVER made! The wearability of this design is the best kind of ridiculous- with options for a dress or a jumpsuit, straps or a kimono-style bodice, long or short, the possibilities give you the maker so much room to make it your own, but none of this awesomeness compares to how COMFORTABLE this garment is to wear. It’s the combination of knit material, an elasticized waist, and a body skimming, not-too-tight fit that makes Sallie feel like pajamas, but it should be illegal to wear something that feels this comfortable while looking this good.

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This jumpsuit hits me in all the right places- it makes me feel tall (I am not), it shows off my waist, and it hugs just the right parts of my hips before falling gracefully down my legs to cascade ever so gently on the tops of my shoes (yes, indeed, I am writing a love letter to this jumper). I get compliments from strangers every time I wear this jumpsuit, and I barely took it off last summer because it’s cool and breezy to wear even though it doesn’t show too much skin; my knit fabric is a soft stretch jersey from girlcharlee.

There are so many things to love about this pattern but I think my favorite is the kimono top option. As someone who is slightly obsessed with onesies, I have made quite a few versions over the years, some vintage, some contemporary. The most common design element of all of these pull-up onesies (meaning no zippers or buttons) is that they need to have a loose fitting bodice so that it can go over your hips and butt with ease, and “loose fitting” usually means some version of spaghetti traps coupled with a blouse-y bodice. They may be skinny and tie together over the shoulder or be thick and wide enough that they are sewn onto the bodice at the front and back, but they are always straps, and the bodice is rarely fitted. Straps and flowy bodices are fine, but sometimes I want more coverage, or a slimmer fit, or just a different look than what straps can offer. Heather Lou came up with a genius design feature by creating a bodice that is fairly slim and has a bit of a sleeve to it, and it works because she put ties in the back at the neck that, when undone, allow enough room in the bodice to pull up over your hips. She gave us all of the form and all of the function with one simple solution, and yes, it has allowed me to live my BEST life every time I wear it!

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Although my favorite version of this pattern is the long jumpsuit with kimono top, I have also successfully made the maxi with straps and I have shortened the jumpsuit into a romper based on closetcasefiles’ helpful tutorial on her site. I also made one of my best friends Kelly a Sallie romper for her birthday last year and she looked SO amazing in it- this is one of those patterns that you can be confident will look great on everyone because the sizing and knit fabric is so forgiving- it was a surprise gift for her so I guesstimated her measurements based off of my own and it came out absolutely perfect.

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Oh, and how did I forget to mention POCKETS?!?!?!

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Construction for this baby was, like all of the closetcasefiles patterns, straight-forward and easy to follow. I used my serger for most of the work except for the neckline and shoulder seams, the ties in the back and the hemming. It was quick to sew like most knits are, and I really like the method of sewing the channel at the waistline for the elastic to run through. I have made this pattern four times so far, but I only have one version like the garment pictured here and it is by far my favorite, so I might be making another one like it soon to get me through this summer. I am terribly afraid of wearing this one out too much and getting the fabric all washed and worn looking so I need something else to help take up the slack, and I have the perfect fabric in mind. I’ve been talking a lot on instagram about using the konmari method to get rid of clutter and reorganize my home, and last week I tackled my craft room which was a LOT of work, but was honestly a revelation once it was all done. There is so much space in there now, visually and physically, and one of the  most important things I did was de-stash a lot of my fabric. It all fits into one bureau now instead of in various bins, boxes, and drawers and stacked in piles on my couch, which means I can see exactly what I have all at one time….which means I will buy much less fabric when I have so many pieces waiting to be sewn up into something….right?  Well that’s the goal, anyways. And it’s only been a three days but so far I am doing GREAT!

 

Red leather, yellow leather SHOES!

After Cashmerette posted a really great overview of her sandal making class on her blog, I felt inspired to join in the fun. I think it’s really exciting and motivating to see more and more people dipping their toes into the furthest corners of the DIY-osphere, and it’s also nice for me to document my own stuff so that I can see my personal growth in the arena. I have posted before about general shoe making here, but for this post I am going to do a photo heavy step-by-step show-and tell so that you can see each individual part of my process. This is not a shoe-making tutorial- it’s not meant to guide you through making your own shoes- but rather it’s meant to be a kind of visual synopsis so that you can see the steps involved chronologically and have a better understanding of what is involved in case it’s something you feel like learning more about yourself. Sometimes certain projects seem daunting when I only see it in it’s finished form, but when you see the steps laid out separately it can seem a little more manageable. One important note here is that there are a LOT of different ways to make shoes, and for the most part, none of them are inherently right or wrong; I am still figuring out my own preferences for my process from the information that I have gathered from reading books and taking classes. Ideally I would like to learn how to make shoes the old school way by hand sewing the leather pieces together, using shoe tacks, and using way less toxic cement glue, but for now I am still trying to get more familiar with lasting and understanding how leather works before I move onto sewing them by hand.

The last pair of shoes I made were a pair of brown leather ballet flats and they were the first pair that were both functional and a great fit for the shape and size of my foot. Once they were finished, I was simultaneously thrilled with how they turned out and itching to make another pair to fix all the things that I wanted to change about them.

The construction method I had been working from tells you to leave the edge of your lining as-is while lasting the shoe (meaning not to turn the edge under) and have about 5mm peeking out past the upper. Once the shoe is complete and you’re ready to take the shoe off the last, you are supposed to use a sharp knife to trim the edge of the lining off of the shoe. This, in my experience, is a TERRIBLE idea. For one thing, your knife has to be super duper super sharp to slice the edges smoothly, but you have to cut carefully so that you don’t slice into the upper of your shoe. You also end up digging into your shoe last with your knife, carving out a huge and unsightly circle around the last. I consider myself to be fairly dexterous, but on each pair of shoes I used this method on, my results were disastrous. The upper leather is butchered with tiny slices dug into it from my knife, and the lining edge underneath isn’t cut smoothly at all- it peeks out in some places, is cut down to the inside of the shoe in others, and is generally raggedy looking. For the next pair I made, I wanted to fold down the edge of my lining and sew the upper and the lining together around the mouth of the shoe so that I wouldn’t have a raw edge that needed to be cut later.

The other thing I needed to change about the shoe was my tight grip during the lasting process. Lasting means pulling and securing the lining and the upper around the shoe mold, aka last, and if you pull the leather too tight, you risk shortening the rise of your shoe. And finally, I wanted to finesse the look of my sole. In my leather working book I read about burnishing the edges of the leather so that it looks smooth and clean and it doesn’t have the rough fibers of the leather poking out anywhere, so I was excited to apply this technique to my next pair.

Now that my latest pair of shoes are done, I can see exactly what worked and didn’t. Pretty much everything I wanted to fix from my last pair was successful: the rise is perfect on these and they fit on my feet without feeling like they are going to fall off. The lining edge is sewn under and looks clean and smooth next to the upper. The soles look great with their burnished edges. I put in some small arch supports so that the shoes wouldn’t be so flat. I added a small heel made of one layer of leather and one of rubber (I might add rubber to the sole of the rest of the shoe but I wanted to wear them first to see if they were necessary. The only thing that I messed up was forgetting to skiv the seams of the shoe. With my last pair, the leather was pretty thin and didn’t create much bulk at the seams at all, but this leather was much thicker, and forgetting to thin those edges was a total oversight on my part. As a result, the seams are super bulky. I think the shoes still look great, but I wish I had paid better attention to that. My only other issue, and this is a small one, is figuring out how to keep light-colored leather looking great while turning them into shoes. The process gets a bit messy, especially with the cement glue, and once they were all finished I kept finding tiny spots of dirt and gunk on the yellow leather. I could probably treat the leather before making the shoes so that dirt and grime will wipe off easily once they are complete.

Now, onto the steps of construction (from here on out, captions will be placed below the accompanying photo)!

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I used some scrap felt material and small nails to play around with the design of the shoe before cutting out my leather. I have a few cool ideas for shoes with cut outs and interesting design features, but I want to get good at making a simple slip-on first. This style basically looks like a pair of TOM’s.

 

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Once I figured out my pattern from the felt template, I cut out the pieces from my leather. The yellow leather is for my upper (or the outer part of the shoe) and the dark blue is a lighter weight leather that I use for the lining and the inner soles. There are two pieces to the pattern aside from the insole: one U shaped for the toe area, and a longer piece which will make up the sides and back of the shoe. The pieces are sewn together on my sewing machine.

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Before sewing the two pieces of the pattern together, I used cement glue to tack them into place. It is important to let this dry before using your sewing machine to sew the pieces together, otherwise your needle will get gunky with glue.

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Cutting the inner sole shapes out of foamboard.

 

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Totally forgot to turn over one inner sole pattern piece when cutting out of my foam board so I had two left feet!

 

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I bought some gel arch inserts for my insoles to give me a little support in the shoe and they worked out very well! I just glued them onto the foam board in the proper place before I attached my lining leather .

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Lining leather is cut out in the shape of the insoles with extra room around all edges to fold over to the underside. Both surfaces must be coated in a thin layer of glue, left to dry til it’s barely tacky, then pressed together so that the cement can properly adhere.

 

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The inner curve of the insole leather gets little snips cut into it so that it can be folded smoothly around the edges.

 

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Insoles are temporarily attached to the bottom of the lasts with either tape or nails- I don’t have a preference, because sometimes tiny nail holes are left in visible places on the top of the insole, and other times the tape is hard to get off once the upper and lining has been lasted.

 

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The upper leather and lining leather get a bit of glue around all the edges where it will be folded over and later stitched- here is where I should have remembered to skiv the leather to thin it out and make it less bulky. I think I forgot to take a picture for the next couple of steps in this process so I will just explain it. After the edges of the upper and lining have been glued under, I put the lining and the upper leather pattern pieces together so that wrong sides are facing and I sew them together around the mouth of the shoe. The bottom parts of the leather are left as-is. I also separately sew up the back seams (they are not connected here). You see the little V-shape cut out in the photo above? That gets sewn together with about 5 mm seam allowance and creates a little curve in the shoe where the heel of your foot rests.

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Next I cut out pattern pieces for my toe boxes and counters. A toe box is a piece of firm material that covers your toe area and keeps your toes from poking through the upper fabric (in case you have wildly sharp toenails or something??) and also keeps your toe shape from distorting the upper material. A counter firms up the back of the shoe so that it retains it’s shape throughout wear. Check out a pair of shoes that you have, flats or heels- you might not have noticed it before but if you feel around the shoe, you will find a firmer material in the back area and most likely the toe area, too.

I seem to be missing another important photo here! UGH! I know that in support of the maker blogger community I’m not supposed to be ablogogizing anymore, so ummm. I guess, deal with it? HA! Anyways, here is what is missing: I placed my upper and lining leather that I had sewn together in a previous step onto the last. Then I pulled JUST the lining leather around the last and onto the bottom of the shoe (the upper leather is connected to the lining leather only at the top, remember?), and then I glued the lining in place by connecting it to the bottom of the insole that I had temporarily attached to the last. I will be doing this step again with the upper leather and I have pics of it later on in this post, so just imagine that happening with the lining leather first. After the lining has been lasted, the toe area and back area where the counter will go is covered with a thin layer of glue.

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Once my lining leather is in place, it’s time to adhere the toe box and counter. These are made of a heat activated material with a sticky glue on one side (this part goes onto the lining) that I warm up in the oven just to get pliable. Then I use my heat gun to warm it up even more and finish applying it. When this material cools it hardens, so you have to work fast while also taking care not to burn your fingers on the hot material. You want to cover the toe area with the toe box and and bring all the extra material to the underside while making sure it doesn’t have creases or ridges on the top of the shoe. This part is tricky, but I am getting better at it, and you can always re-heat the material to make it soft and pliable again if you mess it up.

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Here is what the last looks like once the toe box and counter have been applied. You can see my lining leather folded around the last and glued onto the underside of the insole/foamboard, and the upper leather is unattached except at the mouth of the shoe.

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Here is one of the most important parts of shoe making, and it also happens to be the most tiresome and time-sucking! It is called skivving (I mentioned it earlier), and it essentially involves using a sharp blade to trim and thin out the bulky area of your shoes. In the above photo I am using a special tool which helps keep your fingers safe while skiving, which is nice because it’s easy to cut yourself in this step- you want a very sharp blade but you also need to use a good amount of strength to shave off the most material in thick areas. I have found that using a sanding attachment on my Dremel helps with a lot with reducing bulk, but you have to go SO slowly and carefully or you might sand off some of the leather on the sides of the shoe (which I have done. Many, many times).

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Here is a photo of one shoe that has the toe box skivved and one that doesn’t. Some of the folds of the lining leather have also been trimmed to minimize bulk.

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Once the toe box and counters have been skived down, it’s time to last the outer/upper of the shoe. Glue gets applied liberally on the inside of the outer leather and on the bottom of the shoe- this type of glue only adheres to itself, so it must be applies to everything that needs to stick together.

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Once the glue on both areas is slightly dry, you can start folding your leather onto the bottom of the shoe. The goal is to pull the leather around tightly and uniformly so that it doesn’t crease and gather in folds on the visible parts of the shoe, but you also don’t want to pull so much that the shoe loses it’s shape on the top of the last (this is how my previous pair of flats are so low around the foot- I pulled the leather too tightly). The thicker your leather is, the more difficult it is to get the toe area completely smooth- I didn’t perfect it on this pair of shoes but it’s not very visible unless you are looking at the shoes from the bottom.

yellowshoes_blog22Here is what the shoe looks like once its been fully lasted with glue, and now it’s time to skiv the crap out of it and reduce all that bulk.

yellowshoes_blog27I drew a faint line around the edge above the line of where the sole will go to show me where I couldn’t skiv past.

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The shoe bottom is now skived, and it also needs to be sanded so that the soling leather will adhere to it properly. I have traced an outline of my finished shoe onto the leather I am using for the soles (it’s 12 oz and much thicker than the lining and upper leather). I keep forgetting to cut the soles out slightly larger than the actual shoe, particularly around the toe area! DOH!

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As I mentioned, I recently read about a technique called “burnishing” that finishes the edges of your leather, and I used it on this pair of shoes and am thrilled with the results! To burnish leather, you first use a tool called a beveler to smooth the rough edges, and it worked fine, but I think my tool was slightly smaller than what I needed, so I ended up mostly using my Dremel to sand and even out the edge of the soling leather. Next I used a simple solution of mod podge and water (my book recommends something called “paper gum” which I could not find for purchase anywhere on google and which ultimately just seemed like elmer’s craft glue diluted with water) which I applied to the outside edges of the sole, and then I used a piece of canvas fabric to vigorously rub the edge of the sole with the glue solution on it. According to my book, the friction of the rubbing creates heat which binds the fibers of the leather together and then the watery glue holds it in, giving the edge a clean look. Above, you can see the burnished leather on the left and the non-burnished on the right- it makes a big difference!

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The bottom of the shoe and the inside bottom of the soling leather get coated with glue which is left to dry for at least a half hour and up to a full day, making the bond even stronger.

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To activate the glue once it has completely dried, you can heat it up with your heat gun, which is helpful because it allows you to work area by area, making sure that your sole is attaching to the shoe bottom in just the right places.

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I press the sole onto the bottom of the shoe for several seconds with as much strength as I can muster, but because I don’t have a fancy shoe press like the ones in factories, I came up with another idea.

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Not fancy, but it gets the job done! I used some clips from my woodshop to keep a tight grip on the sole and shoe as the glue dried, and I used extra bits of rubber to keep the clips from leaving marks on the leather.

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yellowshoes_blog31I wanted to see what it was like to make flats with a small heel after I saw a blog post on pinterest of a shoemaker making a stacked heel out of leather (SO COOL!), so I cut out a piece of soling leather and an accompanying piece of sole rubber to glue together and stick onto the bottom of my shoe.

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Once everything has been glued together and is completely dry, you can carefully pull your last out of the shoe and try it on! I’m not gonna lie, I always do this step way before everything is dry because the anticipation of trying the shoe on after all your hard work is just too great!

 

Here are some comparison photos of the previous flats I made and the new yellow shoes:

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You can’t really tell from these photos but the sides are much higher (and therefore better fitting) on the yellow shoes than the brown ones. You can see how sloppy the edges of the mouth look on the brown ones look compared to the yellow ones, and you can also see how bulky the seams on the yellow ones look. They are not uncomfortable at all, they just don’t look as streamlined as the seams on the brown ones- again, this is because I totally forgot to skiv the seams of the leather before I attached the pieces together at the seams.

 

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The actual sole of the yellow shoe looks great, but the toe area is a little bulky and not very smooth where I pulled it around the last.

yellowshoes_blog34You can see the detail of how much better the lining leather looks on the yellow (bottom) shoe when I folded and sewed the lining and outer leather together instead of leaving the lining leather free and cutting around it with a knife as I was instructed to do on the brown pair.

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I’m not sold on the soling rubber on the heel as of right now. I used it to protect the soling leather from getting so scuffed up, but the rubber feels kind of sticky on the ground and sometimes makes me trip a bit- not so much that I fall or anything, but something about it doesn’t feel quite right. I might see if I can pull the rubber pieces off cause I know they will feel fine without them.

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I have worn my new leather shoes several times since I finished them and I absolutely adore them- the color is amazing, they are comfortable and I like having a simple design style like a TOM’s shoe without having to actually wear TOM’s. As you can see, there are a lot of steps involves in making shoes, but they don’t actually take that long- you can definitely start and finish a pair in a day with the exception of the glue-drying time. The trickiest part of shoe making is gathering all the various tools and materials that you will need, and for shoes like the kind I make, finding the last is the hardest part of the battle. You need a different last for each size of shoe you make and for each style, in addition to whether or not you want a flat or a heel, and if you want a heel, you need a different last for each heel height. Because different companies have different sizing in their lasts (in the same way that trying an 8.5 size shoe in one brand might feel totally different in another brand), my best method of finding a good last is going by measurement in inches from toe to heel. I have had the most success finding vintage lasts on eBay, but there are specific companies that sell new lasts online, and etsy also has shops that sell plastic and wood lasts. I don’t have a preference between plastic and wood myself- I have used both and they yielded great results, although I suppose that wood lasts are more aesthetically pleasing.

Some additional resources for you to check out:

This is the book that got me started on this journey a couple of years ago! It is an excellent book with great illustrations, articulate instructions, and info on making your own lasts and shoes out of found materials. It is super informative and all the information I have gathered from classes and courses in the past couple of years has had similar methods to what Loomis writes about in her book.

I CAN MAKE SHOES is an online source I have relied on, and they also offer classes in-person in certain areas (I think they are located in the UK). They have some great materials for purchase in their shop and their shoe making kits are a great starting point for people who are interested in dipping their toes in the shoe-making waters without having to fully commit to buying all the supplies and tools necessary.

Prescott & McKay is another good source for taking classes in shoe-making, and although they are based in the UK, they come to the states and offer satellite sources several times a year. I took their one-day shoe making course, and although I thought it was fun and helpful, I think that their 2+ day seminars are probably better. One day just doesn’t seem to be enough time to learn all the complicated bits and pieces of shoe making from scratch while also paying attention to design. I think this course would have been amazing if they had given us less freedom in designing the shoe and instead focused more on functionality- I would much rather have had less choice in how my resulting shoe looked as long as it ended up being wearable, which it wasn’t, because we didn’t have enough time to learn about strap placement and buckles, etc.

Shoedo is an online store that sells various shoe components that are normally difficult to find if you are not buying wholesale, and I am so excited to have stumbled across them. I bought my foam board, several pairs of heels and some lasts from this site, in addition to other bits and pieces that I needed to stock up on.

This of course is just a tiny little snippet of all the resources available to amateur shoemakers- etsy, craigslist and eBay have lots of more options on where to buy the components you need, and there are a surprising number of blogs out there by bespoke shoe makers who write about their process and share tutorials on how to do what they do. Although I have learned a lot in the past couple of years, I am excited to continue my journey of learning even more. As I wrote at the beginning of this post, I am super excited to learn how to handsew leather shoes as opposed to just gluing the pieces together, and I am also looking forward to taking a leather sandal making class this Spring that is coming to Los Angeles. The method they teach doesn’t involve using a last and is instead based on the measurements of your individual foot. I can’t wait to see how that works! Hopefully it will be successful enough that I can share everything about it here on the blog, so stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tim Gunning It

Results are in= stabilo markers > colored pencils. Also I am DYING to make this @namedclothing Kielo wrap dress again…

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@trycuriousblog) on

I made an absolutely beautiful Kielo Wrap Dress a while back and blogged about it here, and, as seen in my 2016 New Year post, another version of the dress was added to my To-Make list. I loved how Named Clothing used a simple striped fabric to create a bold look with the design, so I thought I would take some inspiration from their blog and make a replica. I chose a medium-weight super soft striped knit jersey from organiccottonplus.com in an earthtone shade, and I even used my new croquis book by Gertie to sketch out the idea of the dress. The additional sleeve pattern hack that Named provided on their blog and accompanying instructions were definitely lacking, but I figured it out like a champ and managed to complete the dress, from start to finish, in one day.

Here was the result.

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I don’t even know where to start with everything that looks terrible about this dress, and if I am totally honest, I am still not sure exactly what went wrong. I know it’s not the pattern, because I made the dress before to much success. So I am blaming it on my fabric choice. Why is my fabric choice so wrong, you ask? I don’t know. Sometimes the universe provides you with questions but no answers. Honestly it’s probably a whole combination of weird reasons, and I could sit here and speculate forever about it, but I wont. I’ll just focus on what is terrible instead of trying to figure out why it’s terrible. Here we go.

Reasons This Dress Is Terrible:

-It looks huge on me. And I don’t know why. This dress is actually a smaller size than the original one I made!

-It doesn’t retain it’s shape or any of the design features. As you can see in the Named Clothing blog photo below, the folds on the sides look crisp and defined and the wrap holds it’s shape.

Not so with my version. Mine looks like a three-day old soggy burrito wrap.

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-Also do you see how uneven my darts are? I have no idea why they were in separate places and in different lengths; you would think I had never sewn a dart before in my life! This fabric was posessed I tell you.

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-When I tried to hem the sleeves, the bottom of the dress, and the neckline, my fabric went berserk on me and stretched out to twice it’s size like this.turrible2blog

I did everything I could to keep this from happening. I switched from a twin needle to a single needle. I switched from ironing the folds of the seam allowance to simply pinning them down, just in case my iron was inadvertently stretching the fabric out. I steamed the hems to see if they would shrink back to their initial lengths. I used my walking foot to keep the knit fabric from getting stretched out under my needle. Nothing really seemed to do the trick.

Simply put, this fabric and design, for whatever reason, did not go well together. Which was a shame, because I had been dreaming about this dress for MONTHS! Every time I walked by this fabric draped over my couch in the craft room, I would wipe a bit of drool off my face and think to myself, I am gonna look SO DAMN FLY when this is finished!

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As you can see from the pitiful look on my face, I don’t feel fly at all. I even tried to pair it with different shoes, hoping with all my heart that it wasn’t the DRESS that was a mess, that it just needed to be styled in the perfect way (as you can see, no styling could fix this thing). I contemplated cutting off the ties and having it be one of those baggy sack dresses that tall girls in NYC always seem to get away with looking chic in. But I was only fooling myself. This dress needed either a dramatic makeover or it needed to go in the Butthole Bin. I hated the thought of wasting this beautiful fabric on a pattern that it was just not meant to be paired with, so after laughing with Claire for a VERY long time and taking these horror movie-like photos (I look like a fashion forward version of that girl in The Ring, right?), I took the dress off and plotted what I could possibly do to save it.

I am now pleased to present to you one of my most successful Tim Gunnings to date!

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OK, so as I mentioned, the major issues with the dress were…well, the whole thing. It was too big, with too much material to make the cute wrap-tie feature work, and all the hems were wonky. To start, I carefully took out the stitching for the awful baggy neckline and I tried to apply a length of seam binding instead, hoping it would shrink up the stretched-out opening. That ended up looking even worse than when it was just folded over and sewed down. Because I had serged the neck binding, I considered it too much work to unpick all those stitches, since I wasn’t even positive that I could save the dress, so I cut the binding off, leaving the neck opening even WIDER. As a last resort, I slowly and ever so carefully sewed a tiny 1/4 inch hem around the neck, using my walking foot and a single needle and barely touching the material as it went through the feed dogs. The end result is…passable. Not perfect, but a far cry better than what I had started out with. The boat neck is so wide that I can’t wear the dress with a regular bra cause the straps will show, so I have to wear a strapless bra underneath instead. Not pleased about that, but it’s better than having to throw the whole thing away. The sleeve hems were thankfully a much easier  fix- I cut out some fabric for bands a bit smaller than the sleeve opening, and they were inserted without any problem; they actually ended up looking really cute. Lastly I cut off the bottom of the dress because it was several inches too long, and I carefully sewed a very small hem with my walking foot; it turned out much less wavy than before.

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Now for the actual body of the dress. This wasn’t too tricky since it is a knit fabric and pretty forgiving. I fixed the funky darts on the front so that they were a bit more even, I cut the wrap and ties off the sides, then I put the dress on my dressform and pinned the sides in so that they hugged the curves of the form instead of sagging around it. I reattached the ties right under the arms as the original design calls for and then I serged the seams from bottom to top. There were a couple of small adjustments I made to keep the side seams even and flattering around my hips, but other than that, this was probably the easiest thing to fix.

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And there you have it; I Tim Gunned it! I made it work! If I could do the re-design all over again, I probably would have moved the ties down just a bit so they were more at waist level instead of right under the bust, and I would also bring in the side seams just a teensy bit more so that it is a little less roomy overall. But even as-is I am happy with this garment! I managed to wear it to some Behind The Scenes footage for our movie Suicide Kale (did I tell y’all about the movie I produced with my friends? This topic is waiting to be turned into a blog post titled TryCurious gets BEHIND the camera, but until then, you can find out more about the film here)! Thankfully the dress held up well and I felt great in it! Maybe I am not at the caliber of SO DAMN FLY that I was initially opting for when I envisioned this dress, but I am pretty close to it, and honestly, saving a #sewingfail from the garbage can kind of increases the intellectual FLY factor when you lay it all out on the table, right?

I recently wrote a two-part article for one of my favorite sites, autostraddle.com, about sewing. There is probably nothing new in it for you seasoned sewists out there, but for beginners and people who think they might be interested in getting started with sewing but have never done it before, you might find some valuable information! You can check out Part I which is all about sewing machines here, and Part II, about fabric, patterns, resources and inspiration, right here!

Desmond Rolltop Backpack vs. Retro Rucksack

I took a break from the endless fitting and adjusting of Ginger jeans-making to work on a relatively quick and satisfying project for some instant gratification: behold the Retro Rucksack!

1.3_blogIn my last post I talked about how this is a pattern I would never have made without seeing this version of the bag first. I love the fabric choices Cut Cut Sew used- the colors are simple and sophisticated, the waxed canvas is super cool looking, and the Pendleton wool gives the bag a dose of sturdiness and a nice texture. I was inspired to make a near-exact replica of her lovely version, but thick wool isn’t a smart material to use in Los Angeles with the weather here generally being on the warmer side of mild. So instead, I copied her use of waxed canvas, a material I had not worked with before, and traded the Pendleton wool for a grid-designed medium weight canvas from Miss Matabi. I absolutely love the way the waxed canvas feels, looks and operates- it has the visual effect of well-worn leather without being finicky to sew with (although I do think this bag would look amazing in leather, too- maybe next time!)

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The whole reason I was inspired to make this bag is because I made THREE of the Desmond Rolltop Backpacks for gifts this past Christmas, and I was all too pleased with how they came out. But although I love the design, the finished product is a bit bigger than the everyday-use/over-the-shoulder bag I was looking to add to my own wardrobe. The Retro Rucksack pattern seemed to blend a lot of the elements I liked about the Desmond with something a little…well, daintier, for lack of a better word. After having made both of these bags (numerous times, even), I have to say that I am more impressed overall with the Desmond Pack because of it’s excellent instructions (and accompanying sew-along posted on Taylor Tailor’s blog) and its’ super-smart design. Sewing together square edges for boxes while using thick fabric is  known to be a tricky maneuver, but the Desmond uses a design that is easy to sew and makes the seams on the bottom of the bag look crisp and clean. Not so much with the Retro Rucksack though- you basically have to sew a rectangle onto a curved edge once you get to constructing the exterior of the pack, and because there are so many thick layers, there isn’t a good way to ease the fabric into the seam. It took me about 30 minutes to get the seams for the bottom of the bag sewn relatively straight and wrinkle free, and they are still far from perfect. I am sure there are all kind of tricks to sewing sharp seams with curved edges, but I personally prefer patterns that take these matters into account with the design.

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I also like how the Desmond pattern stresses the importance of sewing multiple lines of stitching over areas of heavy use. I ended up using a lot of the techniques I learned for the Desmond pack in making the Retro Rucksack, but despite some of the less-than-clear instructions, I am super happy with how the rucksack turned out and I think it’s a good pattern. I wanted my bag to be lightweight, small and portable, like the canvas grocery store tote I had been carrying around with me for months, and that has most definitely been achieved.

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I decided to nix the zipper for better accessibility to the inside of the bag (and also to eliminate a bit of weight and bulk), but I wish I had added a looped strap in the top of the bag to hang it on a hook. The side pockets successfully accommodate an iPhone and there are good sized pockets on the inside of the bag, too (although I accidentally put my lining in backwards so the zipper pocket touches the front of the bag instead of the back of it- NBD, but I will be sure NOT do that next time).

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I used some random (stained) linen in my stash for the lining that had been given to me years ago, and the tea-colored stains give the inside of the bag an aged, vintage look, although I hope that the old fabric holds up to consistent use. Thankfully, replacing the lining in the future wont be too much of a hassle because the lining and exterior are only connected at the top seam of the bag (and then I can re-insert the lining with the zipper pocket on the correct side!)

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The Desmond Rolltop Backpack construction was a little more involved than the Retro Rucksack, but it is absolutely worth all the extra work that goes into it. I love the detail of the webbing sewn onto the straps, the use of the hooks and D-rings (I used some of the same ones I bought from Taylor Tailor’s shop on my Rucksack), and the extended outer zipper pocket on the front of the bag.

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For Claire’s bag (shown in this post), I used a herringbone upholstery fabric for the exterior and a plain un-dyed canvas for the lining. The first time I made the Desmond bag I made a crucial mistake in the placement of the band on the top of the bag that holds all the straps in- somehow, some way (I swear I wasn’t drinking), I sewed that whole section like, four inches below its’ intended placement. So when I tried the bag on to admire my work, you can imagine my horror when I saw how short it was and realized I had messed up the placement and I needed to redo everything. And there is A LOT OF STITCHING there because that’s where most of the weight for the bag is held, so the straps need to be sewn down with many rows of stitching in several different places. It took me forever to rip all the stitches out. FOREVER, I tell you! But you better believe I never made that mistake again! Each of the three Desmond bags I have made have been well received- this will definitely be a staple in my pattern stash- I think the design is pretty flawless and there are so many cool ways you can personalize the design elements, with color blocking, using denim topstitching thread, and even incorporating leather.

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Thanks to Claire for these awesome pictures! You make my work look so good 🙂

Below are a couple of snapshots of the Desmonds in the wild:

@bishilarious gets gifted #desmondbackpack number 2!!! And it's looks great on her! Merry Xmas, Binty!

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@trycuriousblog) on

Brittani with her Desmond pack made of duck canvas fabric for the exterior and steel grey webbing!

https://www.instagram.com/p/-fWqdVxF_S/?taken-by=trycuriousblog

This cute blue version was gifted to my friend Lawrence- I don’t have any pics of the bag except for this one close up. It was modeled after Taylor Tailor’s bag on his blog- made of extra denim I had in my stash and used with the reverse as the right side.

Claire used this bag as a carry-on when we were traveling over the Christmas holidays and it was STUFFED TO THE BRIM. I was so nervous that the seams were gonna rip, but this bag is much sturdier than I even gave it credit for.

Happy bag making, friends!

 

TryCuriousity and DIYing Your XMas

Hi, folks! There has been a really long hiatus from this here blog because 1) Claire and I haven’t made time to plan out photoshoots and 2) I have been neck-deep in Christmas present making for the past three months so I don’t have that many makes to share in the first place.

I have this fairly complicated relationship with the Christmas holidays, as detailed in this article I wrote for Autostraddle, but to sum it up for you, I hate the pressure of the holidays to consume, consume, consume and spend, spend, spend. Because I am not a religious person I wont resort to complaining about the true meaning of christmas or anything (since I don’t really have much of a connection to that), but I do have a real distaste for the idea that Christmas seems to boil down to adding more things and stuff to our lives and the lives of the people we love. To combat this disconnection and try to promote more meaningful gift giving for myself, I started DIYing the bulk of my Christmas gifts a couple of years ago, and I have to admit that it has been a real game changer. It has made me more excited about the gift giving process (and the holidays in general), it has given me lots of time to sit and think merry thoughts about the recipients of my gifts as I make them, and it has made me cherish the relationships with my friends and family in a way that clicking “add to cart” on amazon just doesn’t.
However, DIYing Christmas does NOT come without it’s cons. Making the bulk of my gifts is particularly tricky for me because about 90% of my friends and family member’s birthdays fall in the months of October, November, December and January, which I also tend to celebrate by handmaking gifts, so the tendency to get overworked and overwhelmed during this season is tremendous. By the time December rolls around, I am usually stressed, kicking myself for biting off way more than I can chew, and feeling more than a little antsy to get back to making things for myself. But is all seems to be worth it when I get a text from someone saying how much they loved the package of homemade bath and beauty products that I sent them, or when I see someone open a gift that was made specifically with them in mind and their face lights up with excitement and gratitude (I’m looking at you, Lawrence!)

I don’t intend for this blog post to be a pity party- I know exactly what I am getting into when I commit to making Xmas gifts each year and no one is to blame for the hard parts of that decision except myself! Instead, I wanted to share a new venture I embarked on at the end of the summer which ultimately contributed a huge part to my DIY gift giving: POTTERY!

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speckles_blogClaire suggested we learn pottery together because LACC was offering classes that took place at a studio in our neighborhood. I had never taken pottery before, aside from hand building clay pieces in my high school art class. My trycuriosity got the better of me so we decided to sign up, and it should come as no surprise that I was pretty much immediately hooked. Our teacher, Torros, is just LOVELY.

This is a terrible picture of me/ excellent picture of my beloved pottery teacher Torros!

A photo posted by Jasika Nicole (@trycuriousblog) on

He is the kind of teacher who offers advice when you need it, but who otherwise let’s you experiment and learn and grow at your own pace. I love having that kind of freedom in my art classes. With some artforms, like painting, I seem to have a very rigid idea of what constitutes as “good”, and I am very hard on myself when what I create doesn’t seem to match up to those ideals. But with pottery, I have had such a different experience. Maybe because I started out with low expectations of what I was capable of- I had never worked at a wheel before, and for all I knew I would be terrible at it. And if I was terrible at it, I wanted to be okay with that and still enjoy the process. So I just followed Torros’ simple instructions and figured a lot out on my own. When I made something that fell apart, I scraped it off my wheel and started over. And when I worked on a piece that didn’t seem to be turning out the way I had hoped it would, I wouldn’t give up on it. I would keep my hands on the clay until it morphed into something unexpected and cool or until it had been worked so much that it had no more life left in it. Working this way was SO much fun and it made the end results so exciting because I rarely started making any pieces with a prediction of how they would turn out.

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This is my favorite piece and the only one that I made sure didn’t get given away as a gift. Technically it’s supposed to be a sauce bowl (see the spout?), but I’m sure there are even more ways that I can use it. The result of the glaze was a huge surprise and delight.

My happy-go-lucky attitude with pottery was working wonders for my own creative fulfillment, but apparently it was not appreciated by everyone. One day I was at the wheel working on something that started out going in one direction, but along the way it lost steam and needed coaxing to be brought back to life. I slowed my wheel down and started carefully re-shaping the lip of my piece, which had folded over and needed to be cut off. It was working itself into a delicate opening and looked like the ripple of a wave, and I was enjoying the process of turning a mishap into a thing of beauty when I heard a man’s voice across the room yell out “Torros! Help this girl! She doesn’t know what she’s doing!” Surely this man wasn’t talking about me, I thought to myself, but still I slowed my pedal and lifted my hands to look up and see what was happening. The man was staring straight at me. He said “You need help! Torros, you gotta help her out!” I was immediately offended and I snapped back “This is actually EXACTLY what I want to be making right now, I don’t need anyone’s help, I am very happy with this!” Thankfully Torros glanced over at my work and backed me up. “She knows what she is doing, she is just fine. It is going to be very nice,” he said to the man, who in turn just kind of grunted and went back to making his beautiful, perfectly shaped containers with lids.

I couldn’t believe the gall he had! It’s one thing to privately dislike someone’s art- everyone is entitled to their opinion and I am certainly not interested in impressing him or anyone else by my participation in class. But to publicly declare that someone doesn’t know what they are doing when they try their hand at making art? I would never have the audacity to tell a fellow student in an art class that they didn’t know what they were doing, no matter how little I liked the work that they were creating. This is STILL boggling my mind. And believe it or not, I happen to have an actual time lapse video of the piece I was making right before he tried to call me out (see below)

https://www.instagram.com/p/-A3PQ1RF97/?taken-by=trycuriousblog

Despite this asshole’s unwarranted commentary, I proceeded to make about 20 finished pieces of pottery, and I am not sure that I could be more happy with how they turned out. This was such a unique experience for me, such a departure from the way I usually go about learning a new technique in a class setting, which is usually filled with a bit more self-criticism and bit less lightheartedness. All but two of these pieces I have decided to keep for myself, so this is a spoiler for any of you that got gifted a piece of hand made pottery and haven’t opened or received your gifts yet!

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Here is a layperson’s rundown of the pottery making process:

  1. Get some clay.
  2. Put it on your wheel.
  3. Center the clay, which means spinning your wheel very fast and using pressure from your hands to make sure the clay is completely even and centered on your wheel.
  4. Form it into something you find beautiful, then cut/slide it off the wheel.
  5. Let it get a little dry but not all the way.
  6. Trim your piece, which means leveling off the top and bottom with tools to get them even, and smoothing the edges and sides. If you are making a mug, attach your handles.
  7. Let it dry completely.
  8. Fire it up in the kiln.
  9. Sand down any rough edges.
  10. Wax the bottom. Glaze it.
  11. Fire it up in the kiln one mo ‘gin.
  12. Sand the bottom so it doesn’t scratch the surfaces you set it upon.
  13. ENJOY YOUR CREATION!

The glaze part of the process is definitely the most fascinating, impressive and bizarre part for me. It’s kind of a mixed bag in that you don’t ever really know what it is you’re going to end up with. The colors of the glaze don’t necessarily match up with what the final effect will be, and when certain glazes touch each other, they create new colors and textures that you can’t always predict. For the glazing part, I just kind of give in to the universe and keep my fingers crossed that it comes out looking okay, which so far has worked in my favor. Most of my pieces have three different glazes on them, and some of the glazes really elevate the entire piece of work.

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This is Claire’s favorite. I used wax, which you coat the bottom of your pieces in so that they don’t get glaze on them and then get stuck to the bottom of the kiln, to create a leopard effect on the top piece of the jar. Everywhere the wax is, the glaze wont stick to, so the dotted parts are just unglazed, fired clay peeking through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there you have it! I am so excited to have the basic skills of working on a pottery wheel in my toolbox. In the new year I plan on making a 4 piece table setting for our home! Seems a little ambitious, I know, but I have faith that I can make it happen over time; the possibility of eating off of beautiful me-made plates and bowls is just too amazing to not attempt 🙂

Thanks to Claire for all the amazing non-instagram photos of the pottery!

To all, I hope your holidays, if you celebrate them, were bright and merry as can be! And happy new year!!!

Your pieces shrink a lot when they are fired so my perfectly normal sized mugs came out quite a bit smaller than I intended- next time I make them I will have to form them into giants!

Your pieces shrink a lot when they are fired so my perfectly normal sized mugs came out quite a bit smaller than I intended- next time I make them I will have to form them into giants!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Design*Sponge Feature!

An Actor and an Analysts Home- Design*Sponge

I feel REALLY lucky to have found my way into the Design*Sponge circle in the past few months. I am thrilled to announce that I will be in Grace Bonney’s new book In The Company of Women, coming out in Fall 2016. The book is comprised of interviews with a diverse group of women who are photographed in their “workspaces”, whether on sets, in lecture rooms or in offices. Grace and her team photographed me both in my craft room and in my garage, where I do most of my furniture and upholstery work (and also a lot of my shoe making since the garage offers more ventilation for toxic cement glue fumes). I wore my mint green ladybug dress since it was my most recent completed sewing project, and I had SUCH a great time; Grace is funny and thoughtful, she has a great laugh and she is and easy to be around- one of those people that makes you immediately feel comfortable no matter where you are or what you’re doing. I felt like I could hang out with her for hours. I cannot wait til the book comes out (I would be purchasing this thing even if I wasn’t in it- the caliber of women Grace interviews is really fantastic!) and I will definitely share it here on the blog when it’s ready for pre-order.

In the meantime, I am also happy to share (even though I am like a week late- sorry!) a tour of our home  on the Design*Sponge website: An Actor and an Anaylist’s Home. It was a lot of work putting this together because my friends and I were filming an indie feature (#SuicideKale) at our house at the same time we were trying to keep everything super clean and tidy for the photos. FYI I do not recommend doing two projects like this at the same time. BUT! The photos came out great thanks to Claire and I am so pleased with the lovely feature that D*S put together! Design*Sponge has long been a source of inspiration for me, particularly when I was bored and rained-in for 4 years in Vancouver, living in a furnished home and obsessing over all the fun DIY projects I would tackle when we finally moved back to the states and lived in our own place. Having our home featured on such an incredible site is basically a dream come true for me, and I am very grateful to D*S for the opportunity!

The ‘Assault Free’ Bodysuit: Nettie by ClosetCaseFiles

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I made a version of this Nettie bodysuit by Closet Case Files when it came out over a year ago. I had just started to get into sewing with knits at the time, so every completed project felt like a success. And I was thrilled with the fact that such a great pattern existed in the face of the entity that is American Apparel. People always talk about the good things this company has done over the years, namely employing Americans/immigrants in US-based garment factories with liveable wages and benefits, and that is undeniably awesome. But I always felt like the good the company did in terms of it’s ethical labor practices was vastly overshadowed by the countless cases of abuse, harassment and assault that so many people who worked within and for the company had to face. I used to read JANE magazine religiously when it was still in print and I remember seeing this amazing/disturbing piece of journalism by JANE contributor Claudine Ko and reeling from anger and shock. That was the first I had ever heard of the awful antics of AA founder Dov Charney, but it would not be the last; since then there have been tons of think pieces and essays and anonymous accounts of the habitual sexual misconduct within the company, not to mention the fat-phobia and body shaming that American Apparel not-so-secretly promotes.

All of this is to say that Heather’s Nettie didn’t just feel like another awesome pattern to add to my stash- it felt like a warcry. I had been empowered with the tools to make a garment that seemed to belong almost exclusively to a company I hated (American Apparel is known for their knit tees, leotards and gold lamé leggings), effectively shooting a figurative bird at their poor business ethics and misogynistic practices. Currently, American Apparel seems to be threatened with financial ruin, and the rumor is that they will be closed by year’s end. I hate that it happened this way. I would much rather the company had shut down the bad behavior as soon as it was discovered so that it could focus on being a great example in the global fashion market. But, alas, that is not what happened. The good news is that AA showed the world that it was possible to create a successful international clothing brand made on American soil; hopefully other companies will follow (some of) their footsteps in the future. The other good news is that, thanks to Heather, I don’t have to rely on any of those future companies to provide me with a great fitting bodysuit!

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Speaking of the bodysuit…I ran into a little problem with it when I made my first version. The pattern gives you the option to line the front with a shelf bra so that if you make the low back or scoop neck version, you don’t have to worry about wearing a regular bra with it, which would most likely peek out. But when I inserted my shelf bra in my bodysuit, it did this weird puckering thing at the point where the bottom of the “bra” met the side seams. Because the bottom of the shelf bra has a length of elastic sewn onto it, it was pulling the side seams taught, and it was very noticeable when I was wearing it. I realized too late that this was because I had graded the bodysuit to a smaller size in the waist, so the dimensions of my shelf bra were off and causing the elastic to make the sides pucker. I intended to immediately make another version to fix the issue, but I procrastinated, and it wasn’t til much later when the 2015 Sew Independent contest was announced that I found my opportunity.

posing

I made my most recent version of the Nettie bodysuit in a jeresy rayon fabric that was a mistaken online purchase (I thought I was buying supplex for activewear, but the fabric was too soft and pretty to return). This time I fixed my issue with the shelf bra by ommitting the elastic all together, which worked out beautifully- I have a small chest so I don’t need much (if any) support at all, and the fabric of the shelf bra lays down fine without the elastic. All other aspects of the construction were exactly the same as before, and I am SO pleased with it. Now that I have figured out my shelf bra issue, I just want to make this again and again and again cause this bodysuit goes with EVERYTHING.

back_view

In these photos I paired my Nettie bodysuit with a circle skirt I made with instructions from Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing and fabric from The Fabric Store. And right before the pics were taken I had just finished an appointment with my acupuncturist so I have cupping marks all over my back that look pretty weird and perhaps even unsightly. It usually takes several days or even weeks before these bruises fully disappear so I took my pictures sooner rather than later before they got darker; thankfully you can’t see the REALLY dark red ones on the sides of my neck. Apologies to any squeamish people out there, and in case you haven’t experienced the process before, the cupping doesn’t hurt at all- for me they are the equivalent of giant dry hickies 😉

 

Quilting! Inspired by Quilting!

Like most of my creative endeavors, quilting is not something that I officially learned how to do. I was living in Vancouver and feeling miserable and bored because of the endless rain when somehow or another Claire and I stumbled upon a little fabric shop called Spool of Thread. It was bright and warm inside, the staff was friendly, and they had bolts and bolts of the cheeriest, prettiest fabric ever. At the time, the bulk of their fabric was quilting cotton (though I think they might have expanded their inventory to include more apparel fabric in the past few years) and just standing in the store felt inspiring. One of my co-stars and his wife were expecting their second child during our production, so I thought that this would be a good excuse to try my hand at quilt making. I looked online for patterns and found some remarkably cool projects, but they all seemed too complicated for what I was interested in doing. I appreciate ambitious designs, but I was more interested in the simpler quilts that had less pieces and less fussiness about them (or maybe I was just lazy and wasn’t interested in following those perplexing patterns). Whatever my reasoning, I figured that I only needed one important piece of information- what a quilt is made of. That was easy to figure out online: a quilt is one layer of batting sandwiched between two layers of fabric, with one of those fabric layers usually comprised of patch worked fabric. And the “quilting” action referred to sewing those three layers together, either by hand or by machine, using a variety of different methods and machine feet.

Education= COMPLETE.

firstquiltswatchesI headed back to Spool of Thread and bought small yardages of several floral prints, all in the same color family with a (surprise!) vintage aesthetic. I also bought my first rotary cutter and a small self-healing cutting mat cut because I read somewhere that those were helpful items to have for a quilter. I laid out all my fabric on the dining room table of our rented house and just started cutting out large rectangles and squares of fabric. I had drawn a very basic template of the design for the fabric pieces, and when I was happy with it, I sewed it all together. Easy peasy!

 

first_quilt

firstquilt_laidout

firstquiltpatterns

I was intrigued by the freehand sewing feet that some quilters used to achieve the pretty curvy flowy quilted look on their blankets, so I bought one and I LOVED IT! I was really sore after my stints of quilting with that foot because you have to grip the blanket with both hands firmly and guide it through the machine in whatever swirly pattern you are creating, but it was so worth it- the final look was so professional and the swirls I created looked just like my lines of drawing.

The final step of my quilt making process involved sewing bias tape onto the edges, and I learned from the Colette sewing book that you could make your own bias tape with a special bias tape making tool and a little bit of regular fabric. So I went out and bought it (this tool has become one of my absolute favorite sewing tools) and made yards and yards of my own bias tape, and then I sewed it onto the edges of the quilt. My bias tape application was REALLY raggedy at the time- I have since learned of a much cleaner, smoother way to sew bias tape which involves machine stitching it on one side and hand stitching it on the other- and I am not a perfectionist, so I don’t mind barely noticeable mistakes in my makes.

hand sewing bias tape to second side of quilt.

hand sewing bias tape to second side of quilt.

I was so amazed with the look of the final quilt that I wanted to keep it for myself (true sign of a great gift, no?)  and my very next project was a quilt for us to keep.

personal_on_table

 

personal_closeup

 

personal quilt

In the years since, I have made several quilts as gifts for our friends having babies, and the quality has gotten better with each one. My designs have gotten more ambitious, too, although I still don’t follow patterns. I no longer draw out quilt designs beforehand, either- now I just choose arbitrary measurements for my squares/rectangles, cut out lots and lots of pieces in those sizes, and then start laying them out together in a pattern that looks good to me, adding more fabric if needed as I go. It probably takes longer than knowing exactly how many blocks I will need to cut from the beginning, but it also feels like an adventure, waiting to see how the piece will unfold as I add each piece of fabric.

Levi_pieces

Looking back, there were definitely some weird choices I made in the construction of my first few quilts because I didn’t know any better, but none of them were “mistakes” per se; as long as your finished item functions as intended, there is no such thing as a mistake, right? I have learned over the years to make smarter quilting decisions, like using 1/4″ seam allowance instead of 5/8″. As mentioned, my bias tape application has evolved considerably, and I have also played around with my quilting technique; once I used a regular straight stitch to sew lines straight across a blanket in small increments, and it gave it this stiff, mat-like quality that I really liked.

cloesup_greys

Greys_folded

Most recently I used the “handquilt stitch” function on my Bernina to give my brother’s new baby’s quilt some old-school dimension, and it came out beautifully. To work that stitch you have to play around with the tension a bit so that the bobbin thread (which is the color that you will see on the blanket) comes through to the other side, but the clear thread that you thread through the machine is essentially invisible on the top of the quilt. It’s a little tricky because the tension has to be really tight which ends up breaking your thread a lot, so it’s time consuming, but it is still faster than free hand quilting and certainly requires a lot less muscle.

Levi_purple_back Levi_laid_out

Jess_Levi

Jess_Levi_closeupWhen I first learned to sew I always thought that quilting was a boring project to take on- you don’t get to wear it, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of creativity involved in it. This, like so many thoughts I had in my twenties, turned out to be wrong wrong wrong. Making quilts for people has been one of the most satisfying gifts to create because I know that it will never go out of style, and if I have designed it nicely enough, it will stay with the baby for always. A couple of times I have made baby blankets with juvenile fabrics, which came out really sweet (because who doesn’t love those light pastels?!) but now I try to use more mature fabrics in the hopes that they will be designs the baby can grow up with.

Bree_laidout

Bree’s mature baby blanket

I got really lucky with my most recent quilt I made for my brother’s baby. Claire and I stumbled upon an estate sale two blocks away from my house, and the occupant of the home had been an avid quilter with boxes and boxes of folded quilting cotton in one of her spare bedrooms. The sign said “$5 for whatever fabric you can fit in a plastic bag” so Claire and I went to town, choosing anything that fit in with a green and blue theme. When I got home I added pieces from my own stash to the mix, trying to choose fabric that had been used in some of the clothing I had made in the past. I’ve got the button down shirt I made for my brother Nick in there, the octopus fabric I used from Claire’s favorite button down, and the ladybug cotton I used for a vintage dress I made for myself a few months ago.

Declan2

Declan’s Big Boy Quilt

Sometimes when I am in a sewing rut and I don’t feel inspired to make anything on my To-Do list, quilting is the best remedy. It allows me to be creative without having to engage any complicated techniques, and there is something really straightforward and therapeutic about the process, especially when it comes to the actual quilting. A quilt, from start to finish, takes a little bit of time depending on the size of your project, but by the time I am finished with one I usually feel rejuvenated and ready to tackle more advanced  stuff. Ultimately, my favorite thing about making a quilt as a gift is how much I think about the recipient through every step of the process. I think about fun memories of my time with the parents and about what wonderful families they will make; I think about what the baby will look like, and I imagine them at different stages of their life with their blanket in tow. What if these quilts survived long enough to make it to the baby’s adulthood? What if they were displayed like wall hangings in their first apartments, or better yet, folded up into the crib’s of their own babies in a few decades? AHHH, THE POSSIBILITIES!!!

 

 

Side Boob DON’T into a Maxi DO

I don’t want to bore anyone with my tales of woe regarding Burda Patterns, because I know it’s not a solitary camp of one. I’ve read your blog posts about your love/hate relationship with them; I relate to how easily you fell for their dazzle and glam and gorgeous designs, and how disappointed you were when you read the instructions and realized that they were severely lacking…that they were missing some steps…that they might have even been missing some pattern pieces (true story). I have vowed off and on over the past few years to never buy another Burda pattern again, yet I have a collection of at least 20 unmade Burda PDFs in a folder on my computer, just waiting for me to feel weak and desperate enough to take another plunge into that dark abyss. Despite my issues with Burda, I find them to be a source of endless inspiration, and I have seen far too many beautiful makes by seamsters way more patient than I to write them off completely. But they get a lot of side-eye from me. So. Much. Side. Eye.

A few years ago when I was getting into sewing a lot and I hadn’t yet discovered that Burda patterns were an accurate depiction of my own personal hell, I  chose a gorgeous long dress pattern with a beautiful open back and lovely cap sleeves called the Open Back Dress 03/2013 #111.

Open Back Dress 03/2013 #111

The look was feminine and flirty and romantic, or at least that’s how the styling for the model was on the accompanying photo. When I pieced together my 100 sheets of printed paper and finally got to cutting the pattern out, I noticed that the skirt pattern required about half a mile of material at the waistline which was supposed to be gathered. I was worried that all this fabric would create unnecessary bulk at my waist and swallow me up, so I cut the skirt pattern down to half  it’s size in a gradual A-Line, and I felt proud of myself for catching this design flaw. This should have been a red flag right here, but instead of examining all the other parts of the dress to make sure they would work for me, I just kept going.

Finished dress. Note the angle of the camera so you DON'T see the side boobage.

gaping

Construction was a nightmare: when I finally sewed all the bodice pieces together and tried it on, it gaped at the sides, but also needed way more coverage for all the side boob that I was showing (and I don’t even have that much boob in the first place). The front of the bodice seemed to float away from my body instead of laying down properly against my bust and I thought that carefully sewing bra cups into it would give it some shape but it didn’t at all- it just made it feel bulky.

side boob

The bodice was so ill fitting that it pulled the skirt up in the back at the waist, so the bottom of my skirt drifted up higher behind me than in front. I was so excited about actually finishing this garment that I was in denial about how poor the fit was, and I even wore it out a few times. It was quite an ordeal though- in order to get the bodice to stay put I had to line my whole torso with stay tape so that the dress wouldn’t shift around and expose anything.

why ride up

I guess the design of the dress was dramatic enough that no one really noticed how wrong it was on me (I still got plenty of compliments) but I was never comfortable in it, and once summer was over, it went into storage and I forgot about it…until this year, when I begrudgingly hung it back up in my closet when it got warm again. I don’t know anyone else with my exact body size and shape, otherwise I would have given it away. My other options were to trash it or donate it, and I didn’t want to do either. Even though the fit left much to be desired, I really loved the fabric. I wanted a large print to balance out the length, and I found this sort of interesting cotton floral fabric at The Fabric Store that met my criteria, but it wasn’t bowling me over…until I turned the fabric over and saw that it had this hazy, worn, vintage look to the underside of it. This was one of the first times I thought outside of the box in terms of design choices on a garment, so saying goodbye to it felt weirdly sad.

fabric detailJust a few days ago, as I pushed this dress to the side of my closet for the umpteenth time and cursed it for taking up so much space, I had a thought- the bodice was awful, yes, but the skirt? The skirt was actually pretty great- it was the perfect maxi length to wear with flats, it was easy to wear and comfortable, and the fabric, as I said, was really cool. I decided that I would NOT throw the dress into my goodwill pile where it would most likely get sent to the dump anyways, and instead I would lop off the bodice and add a waistband and a button.

2.4

Perfection!

Speaking of dumps, the bodice of this dress has NOT been thrown in the garbage yet, because I have not given up on this Burda design. I am keeping it in hopes of redrafting the bodice pattern into something that will actually work on my frame. All it needs is for the front piece to be extended on the sides to cover up that side boob and for the back bottom pieces of the bodice to be cut longer so that they follow the natural waistline instead of riding up. By the way, I am not a stark opponent of the side boob; like most design elements, side boob has it’s time and place. Like at a red carpet event with styled hair and lipstick and heels. But side boob does not (for me at least), belong on a dress meant to be worn to picnics and flea markets.

 

2.3For all my criticism of the fashion industry, I know am not blameless in the act of being wasteful and greedy for fashion’s sake. I still spend time and money on making things that are virtually unwearable, and if I can’t gift those end results to anyone, into the garbage they will go. This happens less often the better I get at sewing, but some things are simply un-salvageable, and I REALLY hate throwing yards of fabric into the garbage. It felt really great to take this dress, a garment that I was sure I would eventually throw away, and instead recycle it into another wearable version of itself. I would love to be able to do this with every single one of my failed makes, but that’s not realistic. I can at least attempt to salvage my disasters, though; if only a handful of them turn out as successfully as this one did, I could count myself lucky.

Viva la refashion!