Faux Fur, Real Opulence

This coat was inspired by a woman named Ariana who worked on the wardrobe truck of my last job. She is one of those people who immediately comes across as VERY COOL. Tattoos, dyed hair, piercings, incredible style. She also happened to be a maker, and every time she came into my trailer we would chat about what I was working on (she wasn’t currently working on any fun personal projects because she was on set 16 hours a day but would talk dreamily about how excited she was to get back to her own stuff).

inspo coat (as you may have noticed, my coat doesn’t quite look like this LOL!)

I saw her a few times in this really terrific animal print coat that I just adored. It was a boxy style, very simple lines and no flourishes (obviously faux animal print *is* the flourish), and I fell in love with it. It worked well with the simplest outfits underneath- a black jumpsuit, jeans and a turtleneck- and, having fully embraced the fact that I once was a girl who hated animal print and now I am a woman who LOVES it, I decided to look into making something similar for myself.

With all the shops mostly closed in DTLA during quarantine (and not wanting to venture into any of them even if they were open because COVID), I had to shop online for faux fur, which seemed like a terrible idea, especially after Ariana said that most of the fur sold on etsy was of poor quality and not meant for apparel. But somehow I hit the faux fur jackpot and found a great etsy shop that delivered the most stunning 4 yards of faux fur I could have dreamed. Honestly, I was not anticipating finding something so nice at the price I paid for it, because Ariana also said that faux fur downtown ran in the $75+ price range, and the stuff I found was only $36 a yard! I also looked very carefully at the description of this fabric because there were a lot of sellers that were selling only sheets or pieces of faux fur as opposed to continuous 52″ wide yardage- if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it would be easy to spend a solid chunk of change on the wrong thing. When my box of yardage arrived in the mail, I cannot tell you how incredibly soft and silky it felt, how vibrant the colors were, how beautiful it was. I was absolutely stunned. Half the quality of this fur would have been totally acceptable at this price point! I really lucked out!

However, once it arrived, I realized that it was…maybe nicer than I even wanted? The jacket I was trying to recreate had a shorter fur length than mine does, and I didn’t take the length of the fur into account when I was researching fur because I had never shopped for it before. The inspo coat had fur that was probably 1 inch long, the kind of faux fur you see in causal fast fashion coats and accessories – really cute, not super billowy, fun to touch but without a big fuzzy silhouette. Think appropriate for a Saturday brunch with the girls as opposed to a night out at the opera.

So yes, I thought I was getting brunch when I bought this fur, but I actually received tickets to the Opera, the ballet, The Tony Awards and a Grammy’s after party, lol. This is not the first time this has happened to me! I made another coat maybe a year and a half ago that I planned to be a fun throw-over-anything belted number, but instead, the fabric I ended up using was so chic and fancy that it elevated the whole look from casual to opulent, and from there “Rich Bitch” was born (you have to follow me on instagram to have any idea of what I am talking about, haha).

So yeah, here I am with this incredibly super lux fur that wasn’t quite what I was expecting but I decided to stick with my plan anyways- if I came out with something more fancy than anticipated, who cares? Everyone thinks I am always overdressed anyways, lol. I wanted a short-ish coat (like mid thigh?) but I didn’t have anything in my pattern stash that was exactly what I wanted, and I didn’t want to buy a new pattern because I already have a TON of coat patterns. So I decided to go with By Hand London’s Juliet Coat.

I had always loved the silhouette and bookmarked it for some future car coat that I might make one day, and this seemed like a really good pairing for my lux fur. The Juliet coat is knee-length (I shortened my version a bit) with pockets, a lining, and a swingy silhouette that is enhanced by it’s shorter length. It’s a very simple coat with not a lot of details (a great make for beginners!) which I knew would match up well with my fur- I hadn’t sewn with faux fur before but I knew it was gonna be a doozy to work with, so I wanted to keep the style lines simple and uncomplicated. The Juliet coat also has an option for a notched or a shawl color. I actually think that both versions would look great in this fur but I opted for the classic notched collar- it’s hard to see the details of the collar in this tremendously plushy fur, but I still like it!

 

Sewing with fur was…a lot. It was a bit less labor intensive than sewing with sequins, but much messier because sequins just fall to the floor or on the table, while faux fur floats in the air…and into your mouth, and up your nose, and all over your hair- I actually cut most of this project out wearing one of the masks I use for COVID precautions so that my nose would stop itching and my tongue would stay clean.

I researched Tips for Sewing with Fur before I started my project and all of them worked well for me:

  • sew with a walking foot using a longer stitch length
  • cut the knit (under) side of the fabric with scissors and only make little snips into the actual knit backing fabric, don’t open the scissors wide and cut the fur on the other side. I actually didn’t heed this advice at first (which was fine because all those edges would be tucked into seams) but if your edges will be hanging down and free, this is a really important tip; if you cut the fur straight across, it looks like a bad haircut. But I actually found that, if you’re proficient with its’ use, a box cutter or razor blade is much more quick and efficient to cut out your fabric and even better at keeping the fur on the right side of the fabric intact.
  • use clips to hold fabric together (my fur ended up being easy to pin so I used both)
  • push fur in direction of grain and sew straight down the seam, tucking fur towards outside of garment
  • trim the fur sticking out of the seams with scissors or clippers to reduce bulk
  • if you have one, keep a hand vacuum at the ready to keep your workspace clean (I also kept my robo-vac running while I was cutting everything.
  • mark information on the underside of the pattern pieces; the fur hides any marks made on the back of the fabric and it makes it easier to keep track of which pieces are which since the fur makes everything kind of look the same.
  • make sure to cut in the direction of your fabric’s grain, and make smart decisions about which pieces should utilize which grain- this became important when I was making the collar and realized that having all the pieces match the same grain created weird effects since the fur is more 3D than 2D like most fabrics.

This is my impression of pooping out in the woods while wearing an animal print coat.

This was the first project I cut out directly from my fabric using my projector (although this isn’t quite true- I outlined the pattern pieces directly onto my fabric from the projector, then I turned on the lights, double checked everything and THEN started cutting).  I knew that I was taking a HUGE risk by doing this. But the end result wasn’t too bad, surprisingly. If I was cutting straight from the pattern with no adjustments, my cutting directly into the fabric would not have been a big deal, but I decided to take some length out of the shell and lining pattern pieces, and because the coat flares out and has a curved bottom edge, this invited a lot of room for mistakes where some pattern pieces didn’t quite match up. I ended up cutting my back pattern piece out shorter than my front ones, and the misjudgement was too big to ignore. Thankfully I had enough fabric to recut the back out in two pieces with an additional back center seam that is practically invisible in this fur, so it ended up being fine. I also needed to cut my collar pieces out again because on one pattern piece I forgot to orient it along the grain of the fur, and with the others, they ended up not looking right when sewn together on the proper grain of the fabric so I had to cut them out on the opposite grain. Again, everything worked out fine in the end and I had enough fabric to address all my mistakes, but I learned a good lesson in terms of working with my projector and how to pay attention to the pattern layout:  make sure the lengths of everything match before cutting out if I have done any alterations in length!

The seams of this coat are obviously very bulky, and the sewing felt slow and tedious, especially when I made a mistake. But by that same token, it’s kind of hard to see mistakes in fur this big! I am only slightly ashamed at admitting that this is one of the worst sewing jobs I have ever done, hahaha. Fortunately you can’t really see all the messy parts, they are mostly covered up on the inside, but the trickiest part of this jacket by far was sewing my slinky lining to my stable, bulky fur. I wished I had a lining fabric that was a better match for it, but I wanted to use up what was already in my stash so I just had to suffer through working with something that was “close, but not quite right”. I had to unpick so many seams of the lining after I had already stitched them because the lining got caught on top of itself under the fur, and of course removing the stitches was even more tedious because the stitches get soaked into the thick knit of the fur and are difficult to remove. The attachment of the lining at the bottom of the coat is just UGHHHH. NOT GOOD. Again, nothing that stands out if you’re looking at it from several feet away, but my lining had a decent amount of to it and seemed to grow at each seam so that by the time I was closing up the seam at the hem of the coat, I had like, 1/2″ more fabric that just got kind of gathered in there because, by this point of the coat, I WAS SO OVER IT. There is an unsightly puckering at one corner on the inside of my coat, and I am not proud of it, but weirdly, I AM still proud of this coat!

It was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of project but ultimately I pulled it off and am truly stunned at 1. how gorgeous it turned out and 2. how very few opportunities I will have to wear it before it turns hot again. But let’s be honest- this wasn’t a *fill a gap in my wardrobe* type of make, this was purely a frivolous and fun make, and with so few chances to be able to feel lighthearted and whimsical in this damn pandemic, it’s important to find little bits of joy whenever and wherever we can. While cumbersome, it sure was nice working with such soft, luxurious fabric, and I really enjoyed making this pattern for the first time! I actually think I will probably make it again at some point in the future, in a much less dramatic fabric so that you can actually appreciate the style lines and swinginess of the coat! It’s roomy on the inside so you can still wear a sweater underneath (which is how I prefer my coats to fit) and it’s also just FUN! When you put it on, you want to do twirls in it because the swinginess just CALLS to you!

The last cool thing about this coat is the button closure, which I ultimately did not utilize in the traditional way. I knew I wouldn’t want to put a buttonhole in thick fur like this cause it would look horrible, but I couldn’t think of another type of closure that would work. I didn’t think a decorative hook and loop type deal would fit with this stylewise, and neither would a big metal snap. Honestly I thought it looked good plain in the front with no closure at all, but I wanted the actual function of having a closure.

Then I had a brilliant idea- I had a stack of these super strong magnets in my craft room from when I was contemplating making some little sewing pin holders out of my pottery and glueing magnets on the bottom. I never got around to that project, but the stack of magnets was staring me right in the face. I pulled a few apart and tried to see if they would still be operational with layers of fur in between them (though strong, magnets can lose some of their strength when other materials are placed between them). It turned out that two magnets on either side still had a really great magnetism through the fur! I marked where they needed to land on the inside of my coat collar, sewed tiny pockets for the magnets to be held in, then handsewed the pockets to the inside of each collar. It works absolutely beautifully- a soft, gentle snap that holds the pieces in place and maintains the integrity of the fur on the outside of the coat.

A few people DMed me on IG “warning” me  (eyeroll) that strong magnets can wipe credit cards or damage electronics, of which I am very aware, because I, too, learned science in grade school! The facts are: the placement of the magnets of my coat would never reasonably come into contact with any of my credit cards or electronics for any length of time. If they were located near my pockets that might be an issue, but they aren’t, and, perhaps more importantly, the same size and strength magnets are sewn into the HOBO brand wallet I have been using for years. The magnets serve as a closure for the wallet instead of snaps or zips, and none of my credit cards have been damaged in all this time, nor has my phone, which is always nestled close to my wallet in my purses since those are about the only two things I leave the house with besides keys, chapstick and masks. I don’t know what strength of magnet it would take to cause the kind of damage to credit cards and cell phones we are always warned about, but it’s much higher than the individual ones I bought on etsy (maybe the stack of 10 could do some damage because they are definitely very strong when all linked together, but their strength diminishes greatly when it’s just one or two magnets pulled away from the pack). So if you think this is a great idea to try for yourself on your own project but are worried about damage from your magnets (with electronics or health or anything else!), definitely do your own research to be safe, but I think the chances of them being damaging when used like this for sewing are pretty benign.

Lastly, I just want to highlight a few of the other items in these photos- the heels are memades from a few years ago and they are still going strong- I love these shoes! So comfortable and they go with so many things! The pants are a recent make of mine, the Cass Pants from the new indie sewing brand Make, by The Fabric Store. Hopefully I will do a blog post on these at some point in the future but I will go on and tell you that the pattern is divine and one of the nicest pairs of pants I have ever made or owned- the fit was spot on and didn’t require much adjusting at all!  And finally we have a peacock blouse made from a vintage pattern that I will also be blogging about at some point in the future- it’s one of the tops from the How Many Blouses Challenge I started for myself at the beginning of the year and it’s such a winner! Belt is also memade and hat is RTW. Photos are by Claire!

Alright, that’s all you could hope to learn and more about this coat! Thanks for reading, and I hope you are all staying safe out there, taking care of yourselves and each other!

Projectors for Sewing

I love when I am done projecting a pattern and my chromecast just starts showing pretty images in the dark room. If it weren’t so hard to sew in the dark I could just watch TV on this thing while I worked, haha

I read about this phenomenon over a year ago in one of the Closet Core Patterns monthly inspo emails- there was a blog post included by a woman who was sharing her experience working with projectors in her sewing room. Essentially she (and what seemed like a growing community of others) had figured out a way to rig a projector onto the ceiling of their sewing space that projected the pattern they wanted to cut out onto a table. Among many other things, it completely eliminated the need to print at-home PDFs or copyshop patterns because you could either project the pattern lines onto your own pattern paper (if you are #TeamTrace like me) or even directly onto your fabric and either cut out from there or trace the projected lines onto your fabric and then cut the fabric out. I was of course intrigued and I devoured every word of that blog post, but I was also overwhelmed. The idea seemed to be catching on in some corners of the sewing community quickly but it was still new enough that there would be a LOT of troubleshooting to contend with. It seemed like a lot of work, a lot of physical and technological jiggering and problem-solving (which my partner Claire always says is my specialty but I disagree with, lol). Now I’m not one to shy away from hard work- I did after all build and tile our entire master bath vanity from scratch when I couldn’t find a used piece of furniture that would fit in our newly built space (don’t worry, I had my contractor’s blessing!) But I tend to be more invested in doing a lot of work when I know ahead of time how much I will benefit from it, and while using projectors for sewing seemed incredibly cool, there just weren’t enough people talking about it for me to know whether or not it would actually be something that made my sewing life easier, something that would be worthwhile.

Keep in mind that at this time, I was still waiting for a bit of a Craft Room makeover where I planned to get some cabinets installed on one wall of the basement for storage, getting rid of the awful eyesore that I had been working with for the past several years. When we first moved in I tried to install some shelving on that craft room wall but they fell apart pretty quickly and in some places were literally hanging by the thread of the screws I used, lol. So we hired an excellent, affordable cabinet maker to work on my craft room wall, while at the same time getting a recording studio built into our storage-cum-pottery studio. As much as I wanted to dive into this rabbit hole, I made myself be patient and wait for a better time.

my new cabinets, which I designed and painted myself before they were hung!

That time finally came in December of 2020 when a very generous and smart instagrammer I follow, Minimalist Machinest, started posting about how she was converting her sewing space to include a projector! She has a patreon that she set up for people interested in consuming her deep dives for all things sewing related, so I decided to join hers for a bit to learn about the ways in which she was using her projector.  I hadn’t seriously revisited the idea in a long while and I realized that in all the time that had passed from when I first read about it, sewing with projectors had become WILDLY popular! The dedicated Facebook group (that I don’t even think existed when I first read about Projectors for Sewing) has somewhere between 20 and 30,000 members, all helping each other out with resources, tips and tricks, graphs, videos…one of the members even designed an app to help people make technical changes to their PDF patterns for use with their projector- the wealth of knowledge there is staggering!

I cannot describe to you how MASSIVE this facebook group is, how much information is crammed into dozens upon dozens of pages and hashtags and posts, and it is of course very overwhelming at the beginning, but there are two great and unexpected things the group does from the get: one is making it very clear that there will be no tolerance for hateful language, inappropriate comments or posts, racism/ableism/homophobia/transphobia, etc. You even have to take a quiz before being allowed to join the group where you promise to be respectful and keep all talk focused on the subject at hand. This was a HUGE relief to me as I had deleted my facebook account in 2016 and was terrified of coming back for this group and being subjected to some typical facebook bullshit, all the stuff that had made me leave that platform in the first place (my partner Claire still has their account and let me log in and join the group through it because I couldn’t bear to start a new account myself).

The other great thing this facebook group does is include a couple of posts that are pinned at the very top of the group’s ‘Announcements’ page that basically says “If you are new, START HERE”. It is suggested that you just read and take in all the information being posted before asking questions (as everyone has asked every single question there is to be asked and the answers are already there, you just have to be patient and look for them). Whenever I read someone say “I tried to look into that Facebook group but it was too overwhelming”, I assume that they didn’t heed this one bit of advice, start here. I never even had to dive into any of the other posts in the group because the “Master Announcement Post” information was SOOO GOOD, right off the bat. It includes:

  1. Visual Quick Start – gives you all the basic information you need to know about what, how and why people use projectors for sewing, and helps you figure out if it’s the right choice for you.
  2. What to Look for in a Projector – helps you figure out what projector is the best choice for your individual space.
  3. Setup and Calibration – this one seemed like a doozy initially, but it’s actually not THAT bad, it just takes time to physically set up your projector to project accurately onto your cutting area.
  4. Top Tips for Projecting – includes information about how and when to use your projector, with which patterns, how to manipulate Acrobat Reader and a few other programs to get the most out of your set up and your patterns, etc. 
I should note here that lots of people assume that projectors today are the same kind that were used when we were in grade school, the big bulky pieces of machinery that had to be wheeled in on a rolling cart so we  could watch Science videos- those are not the kinds of personal-use projectors being made today, and certainly not the kind that the majority of sewists are using. Most modern projectors are small, portable, efficient, and pretty affordable. I found my projector using this amazing graph that someone in the group put together that mapped out all the different projectors people were using compared with their throw. The first big thing about choosing a projector is knowing how much space you have to work with. Throw refers to the distance between the lens of your projector (which will most likely be installed in the ceiling and pointing down) and the top of your cutting space, which will be a table top for most people but can also be the floor if that’s where you plan to cut your fabric out. The object here is to get the largest projection onto your cutting space as you possibly can, and of course projectors project larger images the further away they are from the thing they are being projected onto. Which becomes a problem when you are projecting downward and have only a limited space (the ceiling height) to work with, as opposed to something being projected onto a wall, in which case the projector can, within reason, be moved forwards or backwards in the room to make the projected image bigger or smaller. You want the projected image to be as big as possible so that it can project more of your pattern onto your surface. My craft room is located in my basement and thankfully I have a decent amount of ceiling height down there, but not so much that a standard projector would give me the projected image size I needed. In the case of having less throw than is ideal, you need to opt for what is called a Short Throw projector rather than a standard projector. A standard projector needs approximately 4 feet minimum to provide a decent sized image, but I had less room than that so I got a Short Throw. These tend to be a little more expensive than the standard, but still in the $200-$300 range new (less if you find a used one on eBay), although they can also get REALLY high priced, like in the $6000 range. According to this graph in the facebook group, the largest projected image someone got with the same amount of throw I had in my space was with an Optoma Lv130 projector, so that’s exactly the one I went for. It was comparatively well-priced to other Short Throws, but doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, which came to bite me in the ass later.

my view of the projector looking up from my cutting table

My projector doesn’t have any adjustable pieces on it to angle, lift or shift the projected image when it’s sitting flat on a table, which is totally fine for me, as I wouldn’t need mine flat on a table, it would be hanging from a mount in the ceiling and didn’t need to be adjusted on a flat surface. However it also doesn’t come with a remote control, which means that you have to manually turn it off and on, which does not work well for the ways I need to use it. It means that in order to calibrate the projector (changing brightness, contrast, focus and keystone and shifting it) you are required to physically touch the projector, which moves it and knocks off the calibration incrementally. However the BIGGEST issue is that I can’t turn it on remotely, I have to stand on a stool and verrrrrrrrrry gentlyyyyyyyyy press the power button so that I don’t knock it out of alignment. Someone made the suggestion that I get a smart plug for my projector, which can be turned off and on remotely through an app on your phone. It seemed like a completely brilliant idea, until I realized that smart plugs only work on appliances that have physical on/off buttons, not the kind that have electric on/off buttons, and of course my projector has the latter kind, lol. This might have been a deal breaker for me at the beginning of my foray into this subject, but now that I’ve already set everything up, it’s actually not THAT bad. I have a stool close to my cutting table and I have to climb onto it when I use the projector to press the button on (I can still turn if off through the smart plug though), then I do a quick check through Acrobat to make sure it’s properly aligned, and so far it hasn’t been knocked off (I’m just waiting for an earthquake to ruin all my hard work, though).

the chromecast is the round thing with a cord coming out the side, and the other wire is my projector’s power cord

Figuring out which projector is right for your space is the easy part- next comes installing everything. I found a cheap ceiling mount on eBay and I bought a chromecast for my projector as well. You can very easily plug your computer or phone or tablet device directly into a projector with an HDMI port, but that entails having a bunch of wires hanging down from your ceiling and connected to your device, and I just personally did not want to deal with that. Aside from being unsightly, it also seemed very limiting- I wouldn’t be able to move my computer around easily and I would be weary of knocking the cords around which would in turn knock the calibration of my projector off- I just didn’t want to go that route. I hadn’t read great reviews about projectors with wi-fi capabilities so the chromecast seemed like the smartest option for me and I am so glad I went that route. The chromecast is connected to the HDMI port of my projector and it connects wirelessly to my computer so that I can share my computer screen through the projector. Sounds easy enough, but each new gadget I added to this set up required a fair amount of trouble shooting and I spent FAR TOO LONG trying to figure out why I couldn’t get my entire screen to share through my chromecast when I first set it up. I eventually figured it out (the culprit was terrible UX design, not my own shortcomings), but man, these troubleshooting steps took such a toll on my mental health!

this image is taken during the day with light filtering in through my window’s shades- I usually use the projector once the sun has gone down to make the most out of the low light

After I got my projector mounted to the ceiling, plugged in, connected to my chromecast, and my screen shared through the projector, it was time to…dum dum dum dum…CALIBRATE! This is the trickiest part of the whole process, not because it’s difficult, but because it’s tedious. Most set-ups make this a two person job, but I was able to get it done by myself, which made it take longer I’m sure but also meant that I didn’t have to drag my partner into this mess, hahahah. The facebook group provides a downloadable PDF with a few boxes on it that measure perfectly square, and your job is to adjust your projector so that the projected boxes match up with the grid on your cutting mat (if you have one, measured taped lines on your table if you don’t) that coordinate with the measurements of the boxes in the PDF. This is of course easier said than done. It is necessary to zoom in your PDF reader to make the projected boxes the correct size, and once you are more or less in the correct zoom territory, you have to physically shift your table/cutting mat and projector, utilizing it’s keystone/focus functions to get the projected image even on your surface, so all the lines match up and there are no warped boxes or overlap. It took me a few hours spread out over a couple of days to calibrate my projector, but once I did, the hard work was done. After calibration, you just have to note which zoom number helped you achieve the correct measurements through your PDF reader, and THAT is the zoom number you will use for all future patterns. So whenever I am ready to trace out a pattern onto paper or fabric, I open the pattern in my Acrobat Reader, put the zoom at 28.3%, maneuver the program to full screen, and then start my project that is now projected onto my cutting table.

This is a shot of the projector working in my craft room in the evening with the overhead lights turned out. It shows up more brightly of course and you can see the boxes of the PDF sort of matching up with the grid of my cutting mat (I staged this photo for this blog post so if the grid doesn’t equate with the boxes it’s because I’ve moved my table around since I used the projector last)

There are lots of cool things you can do with your pattern at this point (most of which I haven’t even researched or attempted to be honest)- the standard is to open your PDF file to a website like sedja.com which allows you to manipulate your pattern for optimum use. Adding some extra room around the pattern let’s you move it around your computer screen without running out of room- hard to explain unless you’re doing it on your own computer with your pattern projected to your surface. There are also ways to stitch separate PDF files together all into one, get rid of edges and gaps in tiled patterns, etc. Eventually I will have to figure out how to do that stuff, but for now I am absolutely enjoying the sheer ease of eliminating a big chunk of paper products from my sewing practice, and only a week and a half in, all the labor and research seems to have been absolutely worth it.

this is an example of tracing a PDF onto pattern paper, which I can manipulate and then cut out

Here are the main pros and cons I have experienced with my new set up- I’m sure these will change over time- maybe it will be cool to revisit them in the future and see what has changed and what hasn’t.
Projector Pros:
  • I don’t have to get indie patterns printed anymore!!!! I would use tiled PDFs occasionally if I needed something in a hurry or if the pattern was small (less than 15 pages taped together), but generally I am not a fan of tiled PDFs because they are cumbersome, they take too much time to put together, they are difficult to store, and they require a lot of paper and ink to be printed at home. Most of the time, if the option was available and if it was a pattern I really liked, I would get them printed as a copyshop file, which could get very expensive. Depending on the size of the pattern, my local copyshop charged between $15 and $20 a pop. When possible I would use one of the discount architectural prints services online which was much more affordable, but they require a minimum order for prints so I would have to wait til I had several patterns I needed printed, which sometimes took months and would keep me from actually making the things I had planned on the schedule I wanted (I usually just broke down and got them printed locally for more money).
  • I find myself buying more patterns now, which could be considered a con to some, haha. But I would rather spend my money supporting the art of pattern designers I love than on paying to get a pattern printed up. Now patterns that I would see in passing and think ‘oh that might be cute, but do I really want to spend $14 on the pattern and another $20 on printing it up for something I am not 100% sure about?’ are more likely to actually get purchased and used quickly- it’s not easy to forget about a pattern you’ve purchased when it’s immediately available and you don’t have to wait to print it up.
  • I don’t have to worry about physically storing my copyshop files anymore! Before my projector, I was on the brink of doing both a cull of patterns to get rid of all the ones that I wasn’t likely to be sewing anytime in the future, and buying another bin to start storing future copyshop prints. My bin already took up a lot of space and was becoming an eyesore for me since they just didn’t get used very often. It was a constant reminder of how wasteful they were.

    my unsightly bin of copyshop patterns, barf!

  • I was on the fence about cutting directly into my fabric from my projector at first and therefore wasn’t sure if a projector made sense for me, (I have since done it and it was totally fine and not that big a deal, even though it wasn’t a perfect result, lol) but I realized that even if I didn’t cut each project directly out of my fabric from my projection, I would still massively benefit from not having to print copyshop files because again, I am #teamtrace and could still eliminate the need for the printed pattern by tracing the pieces onto my drafting paper from the projection. It’s quick, easy and still saves a substantial amount of $ and paper.
  • I actually haven’t tried this yet but I am so looking forward to it: I won’t have to use a tracing wheel to place my darts on my fabric anymore!!!!! This is one of those random tedious sewing things that I hate doing more than others. It’s just so fiddly and takes so much time and not all fabric responds well to chalked paper and tracing wheels but the only other alternative has been making tailor’s tacks, which I hate even more. Now I can just place my fabric under the projected image of the pattern piece and draw the dart on properly with my fabric pen, no flimsy paper and double layers of fabric to contend with!

Projector Cons:

  • After finally getting my cabinets installed in the craft room, painting them and organizing the whole area so that it looks really tidy and nice, I now have (what feels to me) like a huge eyesore hanging from my ceiling. All those necessary cords to make the projector fully operational thankfully aren’t hanging down in the middle of the room, but they still aren’t very sightly, running across the ceiling and then down the wall to plug into the nearest outlet. I have some white cord-wrapping that I might use at some point to get rid of some of the visual clutter but so far it hasn’t been a big enough issue for me to address it properly.
  • If your goal is to cut directly into your fabric without tracing your pattern pieces out, this set-up seems most ideal (read: less work) for straight sized sewists than sewists who need to make lots of adjustments to their pattern pieces (FBAs, SBAs, FBAs, etc) which require a lot of pattern manipulation that you would have to do in a computer program first.
  • There might be a way to do this in some app, but otherwise you are limited to the layout of your PDF pattern pieces and have to either manually adjust the rotation so that you are cutting your pattern pieces out properly on your fabric (making sure grainline of each piece is situated in the right direction) or move your fabric around to adhere to the direction of the fabric grainline (I have to do this with pattern pieces on the crosswise grain, as there is no way rotate the PDF incrementally, you can only go clockwise or counter clockwise at 90 degree angles).
  • The biggest con is that this set-up might not work for people with visibility issues, as the projected image on your table top is not going to be super clear and defined- most patterns you won’t be able to read the projected words on, which is pretty standard in the community from what I’ve read, and you also need to work in a dark room in order for the projected lines to show up on your paper or fabric brightly. This is also where the biggest request from Projectors for Sewing comes into play- having a special projector file from indie sewing designers makes our projects run so much more smoothly. PDFs that come with separated layers are also a godsend as you can just uncheck the layers you dont want and work with one set of lines to trace from, as opposed to squinting to figure out which line is your size in the midst of a fairly blurry image in front of you. Being on the lowest or highest end of the size spectrum here is definitely an advantage as it’s always easiest to pick out the first or the last set of lines in a nested pattern, but having only one line appear is obviously the most helpful. There are ways to try and get your projector image to show up as brightly and clearly as possible, like changing the colors of the PDF file on your computer to show up more vividly (having a black background with bright yellow lines was helpful on one project but the lines barely showed up in that color scheme on another designer’s pattern). You can also adjust the brightness and contrast settings on your projector. I’ve also found that lighter colored fabric has great visibility when I am cutting directly into it, and that when tracing onto paper, sticking another layer of paper underneath it to make it look more opaque helps the lines show up more clearly (I have a green cutting mat which makes anything transparent on top of it take on it’s green hue).

    The projected lines show up on certain colors of fabric fairly well. This is a textured peach silk.

  • You can’t map out a cutting layout with PDF files (although I haven’t used the suggested cutting lay out from a pattern in YEARS, so this won’t be an issue for people like me).
  • I have to manually turn my projector on by climbing on top of a stool and carefully pressing the button when I am ready to use it. Not a deal breaker, but definitely a hassle.
  • I’m not sure how you use A0 tiled patterns to work in your Acrobat Reader. There is a way to trim off the margins so that all the pieces connect, and there is a way to piece together a continuous row of pages in Acrobat, but not more than one row, so it only works if you have a pattern with pieces that adhere to those rigid constraints. There might be more information on how to accomplish this, but I haven’t found it (and I also haven’t looked very hard- I’m sure I will try and figure it out once I am ready to project an A0 file).

And that’s it, folks! So far I’ve used my projector for two projects- for the first one I just traced the pattern pieces onto my drafting paper because I didn’t have the fabric I needed for the project yet. It was quick and easy and fun and a great first project with the projector since I didn’t have to pay attention to any of the details required when you cut directly into the fabric. The next project I made WAS directly onto the fabric and let’s just say…I learned a lot! Thankfully I didn’t completely screw it up, but it was definitely an ambitious project for only my second time working with the projector, hahah!  You can read more about that experience when I share the details of my faux fur coat in the future.

Til then, thanks for reading, and keep wearing your mask!!!!

Sherlock Holmie

 

I was so intrigued when I came across Vogue 9288 a couple years ago that I feverishly hunted it down online (I *think* this was a pattern I couldn’t find in my size on etsy or ebay so I ended up buying it from an IG follower who had it in their stash), and waited to come across the perfect fabric for it. That day came when my friend Mimi destashed some of her fabric onto me and I received several yards of this perfectly-autumn-orange boucle that kind of looked like muppet fur and definitely looked fun and interesting. It took me a while to get around to finally cutting the project out as I was waiting for LA to get cold enough (sigh…I’m still waiting!) but by the time I did, I had made a HUGE mistake- I missed tracing and cutting out one essential pattern piece for the cape, the front center panel that each side of the cape buttons onto! So I had cut out all my pieces from fabric thinking I had PLENTY of room and not being frugal with the placement at all! Of course, by the time I realized what I had done, it was too late- there was not enough fabric left to squeeze that front panel from, not even enough to try and Frankenstein something together (although I’m sure I could have made it work with more thoughtful pattern placement). I searched EVERYWHERE for a remnant of this fabric- the fabric Mimi had originally purchased it from was out, so then I made inquests on instagram for anyone who might know where to find it, googling “orange boucle” fabric and scouring all the results. I found myself on European fabric store websites translating the pages to English, thinking I might have found it, but alas it just was not meant to be.

I banished the pattern to the back of my filing cabinet because seeing it brought me too much grief- what a waste of all that pretty fabric due to a shitty mistake on my part! But eventually enough time passed that I found myself re-inspired to cut out the pattern once again. This time the inspiration came from a beautiful (and also very autumnal!) wool I was gifted from The Fabric Store. It’s a classic plaid made of brown, tan and orange hues and it’s not-too-beefy for our mild LA winters.

As soon as I saw it, I was both excited to use it and annoyed with myself for always finding a way to make yet another coat or jacket even though I live in a part of the country that gets the least use out of them. Whatever- you’re supposed to dress for the climate you want, not the climate you have, right? Ha! I knew my vision for this cape was way different than the original one I had planned in the orange boucle, but I also realized that this is exactly where my tastes are today- classic, chic, and simple (she types, as a pile of animal print faux fur sits in her craft room waiting to be turned into a swing coat LOOOL).

Anyways, this time I made sure to trace the missing piece from the pattern that I had somehow forgotten about last time, and I cut everything out from this beautiful Japanese Glen Check wool. I figured that the plaid was busy enough that my non-pattern matching wouldn’t be super noticeable, but I’ve also learned after years of sewing that the less attention I pay to pattern matching, the better it comes out. I swear I have been meticulous about trying to get lines to match up before to absolutely no avail, while other projects seem to magically match up at the side seams. This cape is not perfectly pattern matched, but considering it was not a priority for me, it didn’t come out too badly!

This Vogue Easy Pattern was actually pretty easy (a lot of them are more appropriate for intermediate sewists, which I personally don’t mind, but I know can be a little stressful if you’re a beginner and feeling like the project is too advanced for your skillset- though I have to keep reminding myself that “Very Easy” doesn’t necessarily translate to “Beginner”), and suitable for a relatively quick sew, seeing that this pattern isn’t very fitted, so won’t require too many tweaks or adjustments. Mostly you just want to make sure the shoulders suit your frame well, that you have enough room in the front if you have a large bust, and that the length is right for you (I shortened mine just a bit as I am petite and I didn’t want to be completely dwarfed by a big wall of plaid when I wore this thing). The construction is very straightforward- it consists of two main pieces: the front center panel and the back cape, which attaches to the front panel on the sides with buttons. You can also make a belt that doesn’t actually attach to the cape but just ties around your body and holds the front panel in place. You can absolutely make and wear this cape without the belt and it’s super cute, but on me it was a bit shapeless so I love wearing it with the belt. You could also do well to sew a couple of belt loops on the front panel to hold it in place; depending on what you wear underneath it, the belt might want to drift around a bit so I might add them to mine just to make the belt feel a little more stable.

The one thing I did to elevate this simple make was to make bound buttonholes instead of regular ones, because the buttonholes are the main closures to get in and out of the cape and therefore will have a lot of stress put on them. Bound buttonholes are generally much stronger in terms of stability in a bulky fabric like wool, but I also don’t like how my machine makes buttonholes on thick fabrics- they just look a bit unkempt and unprofessional, so whenever I work with thick wool fabrics I opt for bound buttonholes (you can also get nice buttonholes professionally sewn in at a shop but I have no idea where to get that done in LA during COVID). And because I made bound buttonholes, the underside of the fabric was much thicker and took up more space than regular buttonholes, so I decided to face the whole top part of the underside of the front panel instead of just relying on the thin facings that were at the edges. It was a very smart idea and it also makes the whole panel a little bit warmer since it’s got two layers in the front (not that it will matter much here in LA, but who knows where the future will take me and my cute cape!)

I like making bound buttonholes, but ten of them is…A LOT. VERY MUCH A LOT. I think it took me a whole day and a half just to complete them, but of course now that it’s all over, I am SO glad that I spent all that extra time on them. They look so nice! And they set my buttons off so well! Speaking of buttons, I found these (and about 6 other sets that I immediately fell in love with) from a vintage button shop on etsy based in Canada. They have the most incredible vintage buttons- none of that plastic crap that Joanns sells, these are all beautifully designed metal pieces with the most lovely details. There were so many that I liked, I’m pretty impressed that I limited myself to just to the 6 sets I got, but I rarely come across buttons that make me stop in my tracks so this seemed like a smart investment. I bought two sets to pair with this cape in hopes that one of them would work, and these lionheads were the clear winners (the other art-deco set I got in the correct size have a great design but were too bright gold for the colors of the cape- the dark, muted antique metal of the lions ended up being PERFECT). I’m just crazy about how well the buttons work- they feel ornamental and extravagant paired with a fabric that feels a bit utilitarian and unfussy. A little too much paired with a little too little, ending up in “just right” Goldilocks territory!

This Vogue cape comes in size XS-to XXL which fits chests/busts from 29.5″ to 48″.

Thanks as always to Claire for the pictures!

 

Crazing and Shivering

Welp, this has officially been the worst couple of weeks I can recall having in quite a long time, and it’s probably not a coincidence that the downward spiral began exactly when Mars went into retrograde, lol. I don’t follow astrology much at all, other than the monthly Chani Nicholas horoscope that shows up in my email inbox which I don’t even read regularly. But sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the way life is life-ing that I have to consult with my tarot reader friend who then gets me up to speed: “yep, everything sucks, for pretty much everybody, pretty much everywhere, so struggle through it, it ends mid-November” (not a direct quote).

a shot of my workspace in the Pot Studio. I need lots more storage down here and more table space would be great too, but I am very thankful for this set up we have created using stuff we already had in the garage/house.

It’s been both big things and little things. My best buddy got an unexpected, very unwanted medical diagnosis that I remain optimistic about but still feel devastated by. My partner has been experiencing unparallelled stress and anxiety that has manifested itself physically and emotionally in ways that I feel powerless to rectify. My brother’s mom passed away suddenly and the hospital may have some responsibility in not giving her the care that she needed because she had no health insurance. I accidentally washed my face with sunscreen. Twice in one week I used the wrong side of the salt shaker to ruin a meal, mistakenly using the “pour” side instead of the “shake” one; four tablespoons of salt into a freshly made pot of kale and white bean soup one day, two tablespoons onto my just-heated tupperware of leftovers on another. Then earlier this week, I realized that the last big batch of pottery I had completed and was finally ready to sell on etsy was ruined because of an issue called “crazing”, where the glaze essentially does not fit onto the claybody it has been applied to, so the glaze shrinks smaller than the ceramic underneath and creates (an admittedly pretty) cracked effect. Crazing is a technique that is often used on purpose, but only for decorative ceramics. For domestic pottery, crazing renders the piece unusable because it isn’t food safe- bacteria can get into the cracks of the glaze, tiny as they are, and create an environment of bad news for bodies. Some people insist that crazing was present in the majority of ceramics made throughout the ages and is not that big a deal but…our ancestors weren’t exactly THRIVING back in the day, with their short life expectancy and ignorance about food-born illnesses. I’d rather be safe than sorry, particularly when selling wares to others. So it’s back to the pottery wheel for me.

This is one of the more obviously crazed pieces, where the crazing shows up even when it’s dry. It was briefly a drinking cup but now its relegated to being a pot for claire to put plants in.

Given what the rest of my life has been looking like lately, I am actually not too devastated by the news that I have to essentially build my merchandise stock back up from scratch- this feels like small potatoes compared to everything else. I think it’s also because I am still so deep in the process of learning that everytime I pull a completed piece out of the kiln, I already have between one and eighteen things I know I want to do or change for the next time I make it, so at least now I have the opportunity to implement those changes and have my offerings look even better than before. Next time I wanna make this part bigger, next time I should attach this when they are still a little wet, next time I want to pull my handles separately so they are all uniform, next time, next time, next time. Normally I don’t mind the “next time” thinking because it reminds me that I am learning and experimenting and still being challenged in my creative pursuits, which I love. But it can be really overwhelming when you’re in the middle of a learning curve while simultaneously trying to capitalize on the stuff that you do know how to do. It just feels like a lot. But as I said in an earlier post, ceramics have given me something to focus on and immerse myself in, which has been an absolute blessing during this pandemic. It has kept me (mostly) sane, grounded and engrossed, and allowed me to obsess over something I actually have control over, something that brings me joy, unlike all the things happening in the world in which I feel a mere stunned observer.

This pot is made of the same clay and has no crazing- totally smooth and non- crackly both inside and out- it’s safe!

So even though the crazing was so disappointing to learn about, I feel like I have the information necessary to move forward from it. Here’s a simple breakdown of the crazing issue for anyone who is interested (there is lots more detail to the information I am providing so please only consider it a brief overview):  Clay is generally divided into low, mid and high fire ranges, which coordinate with the temperatures at which the clay vitrifies (vitrify= becomes it’s strongest self and can effectively hold water without being porous anymore): low fire clay gets fired at a lower temp, mid fire is higher than that that and high fire is of course the highest. More specifically, the clay is referred to by it’s “cone” number, which is essentially the effect of time + heat on the clay. When you fire clay, depending on what kind of clay you are using, the clay will shrink a certain percentage which is why when you make stuff with raw clay you have to account for the size you want it to end up after firing, not the size of what you have actually made.

Now in addition to the variables with claybodies, you add even more when you add glaze to the equation. Glaze is a combination of clay ingredients + water + glass, and when heated to a certain temperature (glaze is categorized by cone numbers as well), it melts and then hardens to form the glossy, brightly colored finish you find on most modern ceramics. An important thing to note is that, like most substances on this earth, glaze also changes when heated and cooled, expanding and shrinking in tandem with the temperature it’s withstanding.

In my little “pot studio” I have been working with cone 5 clay and working with glazes between cone 06  (lowfire range) and 5 (midfire range). And here is where my Learning Success™ lies: sometimes if you put a lowfire range glaze on a mid or high fire clay body and only fire it to the low range of the glaze, the clay hasn’t fully vitrified and/or shrunk down to it’s smallest self, so essentially the glaze is firing smaller than the body of the clay. When the piece cools the glaze shrinks more rapidly than the clay underneath does, which causes the glaze to crack and create the “crazing” effect as seen above. All the pieces that I have fired to mid range have come out perfectly with no crazing at all, but most of the pieces that I fired to low range (to accommodate the low fire glaze I painted them with) have come out crazed, though I didn’t know it at the time. For my pieces, the crazing wasn’t evident until they were rinsed with water, and then all of a sudden I could see this crackle effect all over! I didn’t even know it was “bad” initially- I thought it was just something happening with my glaze application or the brands of glaze I was using. Thankfully I did some research after seeing it happen on so many pieces and was able to alter my process before I started selling them. Although I have so enjoyed learning at my own pace and in my own space, this is the price of learning without a ton of professional guidance along the way. Trial and error is my preference, but it does not come without its’ downsides!

This is the mishima design that I have developed over the past couple months and I love it so much. Unfortunately these aren’t safe but I will absolutely be making a new and improved batch soon.

Anyways, to remedy the crazing issue on my future work, I ordered a new lowfire clay body to try out which should work better with the low fire glazes I have in my studio, and I also ordered a midfire clear glaze to use with the midfire clays I already have (the clear glaze is important for the mugs I make with mishima decoration seen above). Ideally I prefer firing my kiln in the low range because it uses less energy, but the actual midfire glaze effects are some of my favorites. Their finish has this antiqued look to it and the colors look a little vintage and worn, which I love. But many of my speckled glazes are low fire and I LOVE the speckled glazes, so I want to get as much use out of them (and everything else I currently have in my studio) as I continue to hone in on my style and design preferences.

edit: A lot of people on IG wrote me asking whether or not I could save the crazed pieces by reglazing them, so I guess I didn’t clarify the details of this well enough. I put a low fire glaze onto a high fire claybody and fired it at a low fire temperature to accomodate the glaze. The lowfire glaze cannot withstand a higher temperature (otherwise I would have been firing at that temp all along). So reglazing the pieces with high fire glaze wouldn’t rectify the fact that there is low fire glaze underneath, which will have a bad reaction to being fired at a higher temp and will likely ruin the entire piece in a new way, not to mention the fact that putting a new glaze on top of an unstable (crazed) glaze would probably make the new glaze malfunction as well. So no, there is no fool proof way (that I am aware of) to save a crazed piece of pottery that would keep its’ original condition intact. Apparently you CAN reglaze non-crazed pottery if there is an issue with the glaze or color or something, but I personally haven’t done it to great success- my pieces either came out with more issues or didn’t fix the issue that made me reglaze it in the first place. Also, some ceramics are totally fine at first and then can develop crazing over the years, so if you’re uncomfortable eating off of non-food safe ware, just relegate the pieces to decoration or get rid of it. 

if you look closely at the far right side of the bowl in this picture, you can see a little shadow inside the lines… that is where the underglaze has bubbled and lifted up off the claybody during the bisque fire. SHIVER.

Another issue I have been faced with trying to remedy is something called “shivering”, which is peripherally related to crazing. I’ve been experimenting with a decorating technique called sgraffito, where you cover greenware (unfired clay) with something called underglaze, which is a product that behaves a bit different than regular glaze. Once the underglaze has dried, you can remove the underglaze and some of the leatherhard clay underneath with a tool to create images and decoration on the piece. Once the clay is bone dry, you bisque fire it and the underglaze, muted and matte, is permanently attached to the clay body. Next I cover the piece in clear glaze which allows the underglaze color to pop a bit and makes the whole piece glossy and water tight. Similar to mishima, I love this technique so much because it allows me to essentially draw on the ceramics in a way that gives the piece texture and visual and tactile interest, but for some reason a lot of my bisqued pieces end up with the underglaze flaking off in small chunks, even though it’s supposed to be firmly adhered to the claybody. Apparently a potential cause of this is that the underglaze is firing and shrinking at a different rate than the claybody, but there can also be issues with the chemical makeup of the underglaze (which I will be the first to tell you is absolutely over my head- I use pre-made commercial glazes so I’m not mixing the ingredients up and adjusting the recipe myself). When I read up on shivering, the easiest ways suggested to remedy it were using fewer layers of underglaze on the claybody and diluting it with water to lessen its’ strength. I also read that it tends to happen on very round pieces as opposed to flatter pieces, which made sense as my mugs and bowls were all affected the most. So hopefully I can test out these fixes soon and see if it makes any difference.

A close up of sgraffito on a mug. These haven’t been bisque fired yet, so not sure if they will shiver. Instead of leaving the lines “raw”, I’m going to try slip trailing darker underglaze into them to see what kind of effect it creates.

It’s been so interesting committing to selling handmade things while also experimenting and learning and testing and inspecting and studying the process of making ceramics. It’s like both things, the manufacturing and the learning, are on the same highway traveling at the same speed, but they started in different places, and they are struggling to stay in line with each other. I have so many ideas in my head of what I want to make and offer that it’s hard for me to keep up with them all, but I am also learning so much that it sometimes feels like there isn’t room for all my ideas. As soon as I make something for the first time, I very quickly figure out how I want to make it even better the next time, and then I get so caught up in “next time” thinking that the piece I made, which was perfectly lovely and nice, suddenly feels obsolete.

People on IG love these toast plates so much, which I am so grateful for! Previously I have been handbuilding them from slab and molding them into a slightly upturned plate shape on the edges, but next I want to try the “poof” technique, where you use foam and a piece of wood to create a recess in a piece of clay. Hard to explain so I will take a video of it if it’s successful and share what the process looks like.

I’m not sure what the rush is, why I can’t just sit back and enjoy the process of learning (which you know I love!) instead of doing that while also trying to sell things at the same time, but I blame COVID-19. In truth, I think it’s partly due to the enthusiasm of my instagram followers, who have been so supportive and excited to consume whatever I end up sharing in my etsy shop, and of course partly due to the unwanted stasis that the pandemic has brought to us. My life changed abruptly from being super busy with work, flying between 2 and 6 times a month to and from Vancouver, to suddenly not even needing (or wanting, for safety’s sake) to leave the house for more than a grocery run. So I think focusing on selling the ceramic items I’ve made has afforded me some forward momentum in my life to keep me engaged and feeling productive and creative.

I call this mug “Bow Down, Stitches”, which obviously has a sewing theme. It didn’t turn out well when I made this design with some of the lighter colored underglazes but it works beautifully with this coral color, and this is one of the only sgraffito mugs I made that didn’t shiver!

Now a lot can be said about the concept of “productivity” and the “capitalist inside of all of us” which makes us feel like we must force ourselves to work and be fruitful and busy all the time in order to be “valuable”, and I totally appreciate the conversations that have been springing up around this topic. But I also know my habits well and can recognize that I am not pushing myself to do something I don’t feel like doing, but rather I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone, a small, but important difference. And quite honestly, something that my brain really needs these days. Worst case scenario for me is that I spend a lot of energy on the physical and mental work of developing a line of products to share on etsy and then I realize I just don’t enjoy the process at all. Thankfully the stakes for that are not very high, and if it does happen, the fix is easy: I just won’t sell publicly anymore, and I will save my makes for bestowing upon my friends and family.

These are incense holders and small bowls!

Thanks to Claire for most of these pics, and thanks, as always, for your encouragement, readership, support, and enthusiasm. It’s very inspiring and I do hope to be able to offer some fun ceramics products in the near future!

 

Theirs and Hers: Plieades Dress and Gosling Shirt with Fabric Godmother Fabric

When Fabric Godmother reached out to me about collaborating on a blog post featuring their new line of vintage inspired fabric, I was prepared to say no because I was busy with ceramics and hadn’t felt very inspired to sew of late. But as soon as I clicked on the link showing all the fabrics they had to offer, I immediately changed my mind. They have prints and apparel fabrics that I just don’t come across very often online, and these were matches made in heaven. The fabric looked soft and drapey on my computer screen but it turned out they were even softer and drapier in real life, with that “loved and worn” texture that cotton gets after it’s been washed a bunch of times), and the print felt bold and extravagant and fun. It took a while to settle on a print, but eventually I chose the leopard- I love the color scheme with the bright yellows and lime greens, and because it’s on a black background I think it allows the colors to pop even more vividly!

 

To be honest, I think the fabric totally saved this dress because the pattern wasn’t my favorite. Initially I was looking to make a cute, flowy and fancy jumpsuit (most likely the tulip sleeved Burda I took a stab at a a couple years ago but chose the wrong fabric for), but once the fabric arrived and I saw how soft and cozy and pretty it was, I realized I wanted to make something I would wear more frequently, not a special occasion outfit. So I searched around for an interesting silhouette that I didn’t already have in my pattern stash, and someone on IG recommended the Plieades dress by French Poetry to me.

I loved the silhouette and the lantern sleeves- they had a little bit of drama but didn’t seem like they would get in the way of actually doing things, and it felt romantic and flirty but easy to wear. There are actually two versions of the Plieades dress available, the original dress1, which I used, and then a sort of expanded version of the design, dress2, with a button band on the front and a few more options for sleeves, collar and design details.

In the pictures, the dress looks like it’s pretty fitted through the bust and waist and then kind of expands out in the hips thanks to the gathered waistline, which is the look I was going for. Unfortunately the pattern doesn’t include finished garment measurements so all I had to go on were the line drawings and modeled photos. Sadly, the instructions were pretty poor, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt here- it’s a French pattern company and I imagine that someone had to translate the instructions, so I can only hope that the ones in French are much better than the English ones. But even so… in my opinion $14 is a lot of money to spend on a pattern that doesn’t have adequate instructions, even if it had to be translated. The discrepancy, if there is any, should be reflected in the price at the very least. But I would rather just have reliable instructions in the first place!

Right off the bat, the illustrations didn’t match the instructions- you aren’t told to ever gather the shoulder seams and stabilize them but the pictures show that this is what is supposed to be done. The instructions also provide an “Option 1” for the neckline, but there are no other options listed in the remaining pages. The most egregious omission was not describing exactly how to sew the neck facing and get it to lie flat. The front of the bodice is designed to have a delicate V neckline, but they tell you just to sew in the interfaced neck facing and they don’t explain at all how you should change to a shorter stitch length as you get close to the point of the V, pivot the fabric at the apex to sew the rest of the seam on the other side, then clip into the seam allowance so that the facing can flip in to the inside and lay properly.

Honestly this is all super basic stuff, and nothing tripped me up since I knew from experience what I was supposed to be doing, but for a beginning sewist? They would be pretty lost and I don’t think their garment would look as polished at the end as they might want it to. The Plieades dress is such a simple design that could be achievable by an accomplished beginner- it uses gathers, straight seams, a facing, and an invisible zip in the back- nothing too tricky at all. But with sub par instructions, I would not recommend this pattern to someone who didn’t know full well what they were doing.

My other big issue with this pattern is the fit- thankfully I didn’t grade up between sizes in the bust and waist as the measurements suggested I should, but I was smart enough to measure the waist width myself and holy cow there were several extra inches of ease in there! I figured I was just miscalculating something, or that the way the dress would hit on the body would accomodate all that seemingly extra room, but nope- once the main parts of the dress were constructed and I tried it on, I was swimming in it! I’m not sure why the styled photos make it look so much more fitted than it actually is, but I made a size 4 (the sizing only includes 2 to a 16) and easily could have gone down a size and probably taken it in even more, which is just very unexpected. I am only about 1 inch away from being able to pull this dress over my head with the zipper closed, that’s how big it is, and I kind of wish I had realized that early on- I probably could have made some adjustment where I could ommit the zipper entirely!

I’m not mad at the actual fit of the dress- it’s reminiscent of a 90’s babydoll dress with a waistline that is very loose and starts right under the bust, and it’s in turn very comfortable and easy to wear. But I would love to have known that this was what the dress was supposed to look like from the very beginning. The sleeves are my favorite part- I’ve never made a lantern sleeve before and I love how bouncy and flouncy it is, how it gives such a simple silhouette so much detail and is so easy to wear (again, coming from someone who is usually very “dramatic sleeve” averse). The hem is actually super short, which was a surprise to me. I’m 5’3″ and used to shortening hems, not having to lengthen them. I had just enough room to fold a narrow hem at the bottom and I am comfortable with where it lands on me, but I would have preferred to have more fabric to play with so I could make a deeper hem or change the length a bit if I needed to.

Because I ended up making a short summery dress out of this fabric instead of a jumpsuit, I had more fabric leftover than intended, so I decided to finally, FINALLY convince Claire to let me make them a matching shirt, lol. Thankfully they agreed, but only after looking at and feeling the fabric and deciding that it passed their test of comfort and aesthetics!

For their garment I used the Gosling shirt pattern from Sew Sew Def, and I graded between sizes to accommodate Claire’s narrower shoulders and hips- that’s kind of the opposite of how most men’s patterns are drafted but the grading worked great and it actually fits them better than any of the RTW button downs currently in their closet. This fabric gives the shirt major Aloha vibes which I like a lot- and there are some really cute details on the pattern that don’t show up with this print because it’s so busy, but I will definitely be making it again. I love the Sew Sew Def patterns because they have all been uncomplicated and very well drafted, and I love every one of the completed garments I’ve made from them. Plus they are so reasonably priced!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to our neighbor Ana for the couple’s shots! Green slides made by me, and animal print oxfords are RTW. Thanks for the beautiful fabric, Fabric Godmother! Every time Claire wears this shirt they say it’s the best thing they own!

Color Blocked Blanca Flightsuit

Yall know I love a jumpsuit. LOVE! A! JUMPSUIT! But my favorites have been ones that I’ve tweaked and hacked between as many as 4 different patterns, so when Closet Core came out with the Blanca Jumpsuit pattern, I was over the moon! I knew the chances of it fitting me pretty closely right out the envelope was strong, and I was excited to be able to make some small tweaks to one pattern as opposed to big tweaks to four (I don’t even think I could recreate the jumpsuits I have made in the past since so many adjustments were made to them in different ways- I try to keep up with them during construction and write them all down but I inevitably get so overwhelmed with all the things needed to tweak the fit that I usually abandon my note-taking duties to focus on the actual garment.

 

Anyways, the Blanca Flight Suit has some lovely details, as to be expected from a Closet Core pattern, but they are easy to adapt to one’s own needs. It has a relaxed fit in the bodice, a much slimmer fit in the hip and thighs, and a straight leg that can be either cropped, full length, or tapered in with little tabs and snaps (think authentic flight suit details). There are some different pocket options for the front bodice and options for the sleeves as well. I’m normally not a “zipper straight down the front” kind of person and I usually alter my boilersuits to give them a button placket down the front but, maybe because the zipper has a facing, I really like the way it looks a lot. Which is funny because I have read that a couple people don’t like the facing (think of it a little like a fly shield but for the whole jumpsuit instead of just the zipper area on a pair of pants), but I think it makes the jumpsuit look really polished and professionally made. It’s totally a personal choice and I’m pretty sure it’s easy to omit the zipper facing if it’s not your thing, but for me it’s the only reason the zipper down the front doesn’t bother me.

I decided to make the simplest, least adorned version of the jumpsuit for my first version so I could get a feel for the shape and fit and figure out what changes I might want to make for a future make (think wearable muslin with emphasis on the “wearable” part). As I have been doing lots of color and print blocking lately, I had a pretty zany idea for how I wanted to use color in this make. I’ve done the right side vs. left side before but I hadn’t ever done a front vs. back color block, so in my next order of gifted fabric from The Fabric Store, I rifled through their marvelous assortment of linens and chose a deep burnt orange to pair with a light sky blue- sky blue is of course not in my color palette, but I love the way an orange and blue combination looks and I figured if I wore the blue on the back of the jumpsuit, it wouldn’t do any of the things to my face that pastels normally do (wash it out, make me look grey, etc).

I didn’t make too many changes for my first version- I graded out at the hips to accomodate my measurements but kept everything else pretty much the same; short sleeves, cropped length, non-zippered chest pockets. The instructions were clear and easy to follow and the whole thing came together pretty fast, considering I was color blocking and having to pay extra attention to how I was cutting the fabric and which pieces were being used where. The back bodice has this interesting pleat thing going on that creates a little visual interest and allows the wearer room in the back body without it being too full in the shoulders, which I liked a lot.

Once the majority of the garment was sewn, I tried it on and was pretty pleased with it- it came out absolutely wearable, but it’s also just REALLY FUN, because I look like business in the front and a party in the back, which pleases me to no end. However I definitely had some issues with the way the waist was sitting on me, so I made a quick and dirty fix to make it work for this version that was already nearly complete. I have a swayback and a smaller waist size compared to hip size and the waist area on this jumpsuit was so big it was literally hanging down over my butt. The flight suit is supposed to have a loose fit in the bodice and a bit of extra length in the back so that you can sit, stand, and move around with ease without the jumpsuit digging into your nether regions, but this is the opposite issue I have with a swayback, where I need to take out length in the back to accommodate the smaller distance between my hip and my waistline. But the waistline was also just way too roomy for my liking, so roomy that even with a belt on, there was so much fabric that it bunched up and gaped everywhere.

 

I knew I needed to figure out a way to take out the excess ease in the waist so I opted to slide some elastic just in the back waistline piece to see how it looked and it was a great fix. I didn’t make it super tight, I wanted to keep in line with the loose fit of the jumpsuit, but using elastic allowed the extra fabric to be eased in without looking lumpy and bumpy.

In addition to the extra room in the waistline, it also lands really low for my body. I had actually seen What Katie Sews discuss this issue in her own IG stories so I kept it in mind but didn’t want to alter my own pieces til after I had made it as drafted and could see how it fit for myself. Turns out I had the same issue- it might just be a preference thing, but I like that most of my garment waistlines hit high on me, so I will probably bring this waistline up between a 1/2″ and 1″ on my next version. I will also make a swayback adjustment and take out a little length in the back bodice at center while adding a little length to the back pants at center- hopefully that will fix the issue and make it look nicer. You can kind of see how low the waistband is on me at the back- I placed the pockets at the appropriate marks and I think they hit in the right spot, but look how close the tops of the pockets are to the waistband- there isn’t much room between the two areas which I will hopefully be able to fix my raising the waistline.

Looking at the finished garment, I wished I had made the full length of pant legs instead of cropping them, but that’s an easy fix on the next version, too. For these pictures I wore the colorblocked belt I made (which was unfinished in this photoshoot- I was still waiting for my belt rings to arrive in the mail, lol), but although the rings eventually arrived, I’ve been wearing it without the belt. This is a style preference that I have to work out for myself, but for some reason the utilitarian elements of the jumpsuit just aren’t vibing with a belt for me, whether it’s tied, made with buckles or made with rings. It’s the center front zipper that distracts me from it- a belt just looks too busy on top of the zipper (again, this is just my own taste talking- I’ve seen lots of cute versions with belts and I think they all look great). Thankfully the elastic keeps the waistline in place so I can get away with not wearing a belt, but for future versions, I probably just won’t even make one.

 

I’ve been racking my brain to figure out what I want to make my next version out of. Although I think the linen is easy and breezy to wear, I think I prefer this jumpsuit in a much more structured fabric, especially because the design is so utilitarian. I have a lightweight canary yellow wool suiting in my stash that this would look so cute with, but I also just got a gorgeous earth toned twill from Blackbird Fabrics that would be an amazing match with this pattern come fall/winter, so…maybe one of each? HA!

The Blanca Flight Suit was a joy to make and it’s even more fun to wear (although I admittedly haven’t had a ton of opportunities to don it, seeing as how the temps have regularly been in the 100’s the past couple of weeks). Here’s to hoping for a nice cool down sooner than later!

 

 

Eggs/Animal Highlands Wrap Dress

Making this dress has been on my mind for over a year, and, par for the course for some of my most favorite makes, I was inspired by a dress I found on pinterest! It’s by designer Mara Hoffman (who has a really lovely eye for modern prints, color and style and knows exactly how to put them all together).

Mara Hoffman Amrita Dress Penny Dot from Alison Sudol's Exclusive Sustainable Fashion Guide for The Frontlash. Check out the rest of her feminine and stylish picks on our site.

I feel like this dress absolutely speaks for itself, but let me see if I can articulate just why it resonated with me so much. I love the large print of the polka dots, I love the sort of disparate color choices that somehow work so well together, I love how dynamic the colors look on the model’s skin, I love the easy, relaxed fit of the dress and how it doesn’t look boxy even though it isn’t body-huggingly tight. I LOVE the buttons down the side, and the extended sleeves are so cute to me! Now, having said all that, I didn’t actually end up implementing every single one of these design elements into my version, but I’m still crazy about what I ended up with, and excited to try out some other versions in the future!

I have several wrap dress patterns in my stash already but I chose the Highlands Wrap Dress by Allie Olsen because it was so close to my inspo dress and seemed to require the least amount of hacking. I wanted a narrow, yet loose-fitting skirt (as opposed to a circle or dirndl skirt), a wrap top that wasn’t too revealing, and sleeves proportionate to the rest of the dress without too much drama- the Highlands Wrap totally fit the bill.

It wasn’t until I actually bought the pattern, printed it out and looked over the instructions that I realized the back waist of the dress was gathered and had an elastic band (it’s hard to see this detail in the photos of the finished garments and the main line drawings of the pattern on the site only show the front views (you can only vaguely see the back views of the line drawings in smaller resolution on the pattern’s page). I knew that this design feature was likely going to present a problem for me since gathered waists coupled with slim fitting skirts do not drape well on my body at all- with such a large difference between my waist and hip circumference, a gathered waist like that hugs my hips and thigh creates tons of extra, bunchy fabric at the small of my back and I hate the way it looks and feels.

I made a muslin to see how I could address this issue and modify the back skirt to give me a more fitted, yet still comfortable garment, and I was thrilled to see that, except for the back skirt which I already knew needed adjusting, the dress fit everywhere else really nicely.

The sleeves were beautiful and fit my shoulders perfectly, the wrap in the front wasn’t too low or loose and therefore didn’t need a snap installed to keep it closed, and most delightfully, I discovered that it is designed with a button on either side of the wrap skirt to hold it in place, instead of having a hole for the tie to slide through and keep it closed. Having the skirt held in place with hidden buttons instead of a belt is SO BRILLIANT; it means that the tie won’t get loose throughout the day as I breathe and my body gets warm, and it won’t need to be tied more tightly; the dress feels really secure when it’s closed (it helps that it’s long!) and runs much less risk of exposing my bits and bobs if I’m ever caught in a strong wind, haha!

Once I knew that the dress was well suited for me in the front and sides and sleeves, I got to work fixing the back skirt. I had already graded from a 2 in the bust/waist to a 4 in the hips, so the measurements for my curves were accurate, but I needed to pinch out the excess fabric in the waist since I was eliminating the gathering ease/elastic at the back waist. I omitted the back waistband pattern pieces and raised the rise of the skirt to accommodate the missing length. Initially I tried to pinch out the excess fabric in two darts but I didn’t like the way they were laying- because there was so much extra material to take up, the darts had to be very wide and short, and they were causing a pucker on my buttcheek that I couldn’t seem to get rid of (part of this issue is because, in addition to a smaller waist/larger hip area, I also have a swayback). Then I remembered that in my favorite pencil skirt, there are four darts in the back skirt which allow the darts to be skinnier and therefore lay over my butt more smoothly without pulling or gaping anywhere. I pulled out the pattern pieces for my favorite pencil skirt and used them to loosely redraw the darts in my skirt. The skirt of my dress was of course a bit wider than the pencil skirt pattern pieces because it is drafted to have a looser, more relaxed fit than a fitted pencil skirt, but, amazingly, the darts still translated well onto the wrap dress and the silhouette from all angles is SPOT on. It took me approximately two toiles and then lots of extra adjusting on the third one, but it was all worth it cause the dress fits exactly the way I hoped it would!

Although one of my favorite things about the inspo dress were the buttons down the side, I ended up eliminating them for my own version- I wasn’t entirely sure how well the dress would lay and I didn’t want to hack too much of it during the first make and then end up having something that was just a little wonky in too many places. Now that the dress is complete I realize that I could omit the ties and use buttons instead and it would lay like a dream. One of the reasons I was too nervous to try the buttons out on this dress is because, aside from reworking the back of the skirt and eliminating the waistband and elastic, I also had to pay close attention to the fabric details since I was print blocking it and…it required so much of my brain space!!! Hahaha! It seems like it would be totally easy, and it’s certainly not complicated per se, but you just have to pay really close attention that you are cutting the correct side of the pattern on the correct side of the fabric, adding seam allowances for pieces that are supposed to be cut on the fold, making sure the facings are cut on the proper side and in the right direction…it was a lot! Instead of cutting out everything in advance, I cut out the main pieces first and then cut the remaining parts out as I went along so I would make sure that I didn’t cut anything upside down or wrong side up. I messed up just a couple of the facing pieces but for the most part I got everything right the first try and didn’t waste a lot of fabric (I was even able to cut out a mask and an Ogden Cami from my prized animal print fabric)!

Speaking of the fabric…how spectacular are these prints, both alone and together? They are printed tencel twills from Blackbird Fabrics, and I cannot rave enough about how perfect the fabric choice is for this garment. For this dress to lay beautifully, in my opinion it needs to have a bit of drape since the skirt is long and a bit of flow looks nice with it, but it also needs to be stable enough to maintain it’s striking silhouette on the body, which this tencel does beautifully. These prints are from the same designer and were released at the same time so imagining them together wasn’t difficult at all. I wanted to choose prints that were bold enough to stand on their own but that also worked well together, and these fit the bill perfectly. The orange-y brown in the fried egg fabric (yes, I think they look like sunny side up eggs, lol) isn’t quite the same color as the orangey brown of the animal print, but they are definitely siblings, and the black in each print helps pull them together. Even though black isn’t in my color palette, there is enough earth tone in the pops of egg yolk and the background of the animal print for me to pull it off, but honestly, even if I couldn’t “pull it off” I would still wear this dress. It’s just so cool!

Again, I cannot stress enough how pleased I am with how this came out. It was a long time in the making but it was well worth every single decision to get there, and if I come across another set of beautifully contrasting prints like these in the future, I might be inspired to make another dress just like it!

 

 

Arden Pants

Funny enough, I made several versions of the Arden shorts hack from Helen’s blog, Helen’s Closet, before I ever made the pants. Maybe because Los Angeles is in the depths of summer heat right now and shorts seemed smarter, or maybe because I wasn’t sure if the pants version would fit into my wardrobe, but the truth is that I was wrong on both counts! In the right fabric, these pants are an excellent summer staple in hot weather because they can keep me cool by protecting my skin from the beating summer sun, and they have also proven to be an excellent addition to my wardrobe!

First off, I am gaga for this fabric! I LOVE a polka dot the way other people love a stripe, but I don’t come across spotted fabric very often (and when I do, you best believe that I snatch it up)! This red and white spotted viscose crepe was gifted from The Fabric Store, and you know it must be special because I don’t even like the color red for myself, but I am learning to have a better appreciation for orange-y reds that are in my palette. My initial plan was to make a super cute vintage 70’s style dress out of the fabric, but unfortunately I didn’t have near enough for that project, so it hung out on the edge of my sewing table for a while til I came up with a plan B.

By this point I had made four pairs of Arden shorts, two for Claire and two for myself. I used a super cute roller skate printed cotton from Josephine’s Dry Goods for one of my own pair that look like little kid’s swimming trunks (they are so adorable!), and for my other pair I used a cut of burnt orange 3-ply silk that I bought on the east coast last Christmas. Even though it’s a simple pattern, the silk makes them look luxurious and expensive, and they are also super comfortable. I worried I was “wasting” my nice silk on such a simple garment as unadorned shorts, but because I had such a small cut of silk to begin with, I didn’t have a ton of options for what to make with it- it was most likely going to be an Ogden cami, of which I have a few already, so turning them into shorts instead has actually made them more wearable!

Because those silk shorts came out so beautifully, a version of the pants in an unexpected fabric like my spotted viscose crepe seemed like it would most likely be a good pairing, too. I have a thing for flowy, silky pants, but I prefer them to be fitted- I’m not really a fan of palazzo style pants on myself, and most pants using lightweight flowy fabric seem to be paired with skirt-like designs so I rarely make them. There is one occasion where I tried to meld a fitted pant with a flowy material, and it was only moderately successful. I paired the Sasha trousers from Closet Core Patterns (which calls for a bottom weight knit with a little bit of stretch) with a drapey, woven rayon, and because I knew the fabric wasn’t quite stable enough for the pattern and that it would probably bag out during wear, I put some elastic in the back waistband to keep them snug. I was actually crazy about the result- I loved the look of the slightly tapered legs and the feel of the of the flowy fabric around them which felt breezy but not voluminous. However, the butt bags out so much after sitting down for a few minutes that I have to wear them with a long shirt on top so that people don’t think that I pooped my pants. And I also tore a big hole in the crotch area after kneeling down to put air in my tires at a gas station, lol- the woven fabric simply isn’t strong enough to hold up to a fitted pants design, so any extra stress applied to one particular area can make it rip like a piece of paper. I was able to mend the crotch area and get more good wear out of the pants, but let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson and understand that there is a reason we don’t make fitted pants out of thin woven textiles!

However, there is another option if you’re a silky, fitted-pants lover like myself! You can get away with pairing a drapey, woven, non-bottom weight fabric with a slim fitting pants pattern if the pants are drafted with an elastic waist! The extra fabric necessary for the elastic waist means there is excess fabric around the hip, thigh and crotch area, which translates into a garment that is able to handle more stress in those spots. Most of the finished Arden pants I have seen floating around the community have been made in cottons and linens, and they obviously look great because you can’t go wrong with those fabrics, but I am really partial to the look of a flowy fabric in this pattern- it’s unexpected, the ease of wear is tremendous, and they look really fancy even though they feel like I’m wearing pajama bottoms.

The construction of these pants is very straightforward and the pocket design is a real winner for me- they are deep, wide, and they lay flat! In-seam pockets on pants and skirts (where they are just attached to/open up at the side seam) tend to stick out and look really bulky on me because my waist and hips are the curviest part of my body and the pockets just don’t want to lay flat around them. But an angled or curved pocket with a facing works great for my figure (note: straight angled pockets only tend to work on me with garments that have a loose fit in the hips- pants, skirts or dresses with a very slim fit across my hips make the pockets gape EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. no matter what sewing tricks I apply). The pockets for the Arden pants have an angle and a facing and they fit me beautifully. The waist is also relatively high and hits right at my waistline which is my preferred fit for pretty much all bottoms. There are a few options for added details on these pants, like top stitching the seams and using back pockets (I omitted the pockets on my shorts because I didn’t have enough fabric but they still look super cute), but overall it’s a very simple and quick pattern to put together. Each of my versions took only a few hours a piece, and the most time consuming part was topstitching the elastic waistband.

Although I have very little red in my closet, these pants still work well with the rest of my wardrobe- the polka dots go great with stripes and other small- patterned fabrics, but come Christmas I am going to be an absolute vision when I wear these pants with my green hand knitted sweater, lol! This baby blue sweater knit in the photos (the top is made from a pattern from one of Gertie’s books, I think the Vintage Casual one) has a color that I think looks really exceptional with browns, oranges and reds, and it’s the only reason I have kept it in my closet. Blue is not anywhere in my color palette and I’m not crazy about wearing it close to my face, but I have found a way to keep it in my closet’s rotation by involving it in color combos that I’m really drawn to, and red and baby blue is one of them. I’ve actually had this shirt for several years and it’s nearing the end of its life because it’s starting to get pilly and the armpits are getting that gross, brownish hue, but I’m gonna try and squeeze just a bit more life out of it while I can!

Highly recommend the Arden Pants, and thank you for the pattern, Helen! Also thanks to Claire for the photos!

 

 

Flowery and Romantic; A Departure

Lol, this blog title. I was struggling so I just went over the top.

There is little in life these days that allows for spontaneity, and I’m a rule follower by nature- I’m an avid mask wearer when in public or in spaces shared with others, I rarely leave the house except to go to the grocery store/drugstore/ post office, and I DON’T eat out al fresco or otherwise because I am unconvinced that it’s safe (I have gotten some fries from the McDonald’s drive thru a couple of times though, lol). All that is to offer an explanation of why I made this dress, which is sooooo far outside my normal wardrobe style. It’s frilly, it’s ruffly, it’s got sleeve drama, and it’s off the shoulder.

 

It would be rare for me to choose any one of those details for a make, much less all of them in the same one! But alas, desperate quarantines call for desperate measures, and every time I saw this pattern pop up in my feed or across my computer screen, I thought, “this would be such a fun dress to wear”. I think it just reminds me of those carefree pre-pandemic days when I would get dressed up and meet friends for brunch or head out for a stroll in a new neighborhood with Claire, totally overdressed and feeling like a million bucks. A dress like this feels so over the top when all you’re doing is driving to pick up your groceries curbside at Sprout’s, but there are so few opportunities to feel (safely and smartly) frivolous these days, so I bit the bullet and made something totally out of the norm for my taste and style. Although I don’t plan on making this a habit, I think it came out great and I really enjoyed sewing it!

Although I have issues with how the pattern was styled on the pattern envelope (I love a casual shoe with a more dressed-up kind of outfit, but to me, the chunky sneakers just don’t look right with the proportions of the dress), I was drawn to how overly romantic and flowy McCalls 8108 looked without going into maxi dress territory. Of course The Fabric Store had the most perfect floral fabric for this pattern, a crepe viscose (which I was gifted) that I also think would be a perfect match for a 90’s inspired Shelby romper. The tiny flowers are pink and white on a green background, so I figured I could get away with it color palette-wise, and the drape is certainly ideal for this pattern. It’s flowy and lightweight so it doesn’t make the ruffle on the bottom look too heavy for the breeziness of the garment (which is another issue I had with the way they styled the garment on the pattern envelope- the textile they chose looks stiff and a bit voluminous, which could certainly be an intentional decision, but I’m not into it so much- I much prefer it in a less crisp, flowy fabric).

This garment came together fairly quickly and I didn’t need to make any size adjustments to it, probably because it was mostly like making a bustier without the bells and whistles. I sized down to an 8 as per usual with Big 4 patterns, and lined my bodice with a dupioni silk from my stash to give it a bit more stability and weight. I also used steel boning at the seams because on it’s own, the bodice seemed a little…flimsy. I don’t have big boobs, but something about the view I chose, the one with the detached sleeves that just kind of connect under the arms, coupled with the weight of that ruffle, made me think I should include as much support as possible. And this is a note to anyone thinking of making this pattern- I would consider a muslin or at least a double-check of the measurements against your body to make sure the bodice isn’t too short/shallow for your tastes- if I made this again I think I might add just the teeniest amount of additional length…this one works fine on me, but I wouldn’t go to the club in this and attempt dancing very hard, lol.

I could probably get away with wearing this without the boning but I would be constantly worried the dress was going to slip down. Since the bodice is so short (it ends right under the bust), I can’t really rely on  waist shaping to help hold it up, which is how I usually have success with strapless garments, so taking the extra time to sew channels for boning was well worth it, and also reminds me that I have a strapless, boned bodice jumpsuit in my roster of imaginary makes that I might as well get around to soon- I love a well-fitted strapless sweetheart bodice!

I kind of stopped paying attention to the instructions for this dress early on because I have made enough paneled strapless bodices to know my preferred way of construction. But because of this, I’m not entirely sure that I put the sleeves on in the right place, or attached them the proper way. I just used a double strand of thread to hand tack the sleeves to the bodice under the arm where I felt like it would allow me the most movement, and it seems to work well. My biggest issue with this dress is that I don’t particularly like elastic wrapped around my bicep- it feels very restrictive even if it isn’t technically too tight (but you kind of need it to be relatively firm so that the sleeves don’t look limp around your arm- the fitted elastic also helps to hold the bodice up just a bit).

The ruffle at the bottom was pieced together in three parts. Unfortunately did not have enough room to cut them from my fabric in the proper direction, but because the flowers are so small I don’t think it’s very noticeable…and if it is, it can be a considered a style choice, right? Right!

Pretty straightforward make in these very UN-straightforward times, but I’m making it work as best I can. I hope all of you are taking good care of yourself, staying as safe as you possibly can, and keeping optimistic whenever possible; we won’t come out the other side of this if we aren’t staying both vigilant and hopeful! I’m sending you all love and well wishes for good health, good thoughts, and good making!

P.S. Shoes are memade slides I completed a couple years ago I think? Time seems to have lost all meaning these day, maybe I made them last year! I love them but the leather is looking so dingy! I’m crazy about the shape of the peep toe looks on these so I’ll probably try and recreate it in another pair of flat slides soon as soon as I get some shoe-making mojo back! Thanks for the photos, Claire!

 

 

 

Life these days…

It just occurred to me while I was writing another post that I have been pretty bad at updating this blog with anything else I do aside from sewing, which is a terrible misstep for me- this blog is about being TryCurious and trying all kinds of different things in the realm of making, which I absolutely do on a regular basis, but I just forget to share it here! Although to be fair, I do a GREAT job of sharing all my different interests on my instagram account. So this post will just be a little catch up of some other things I have been spending my days immersed in during quarantine.

Of course, work is pretty much at a standstill for me since not many auditions are happening due to the fact that very few projects are currently in production. Every time a new production gets started, they have to shut it down because people start immediately getting sick. So I have been able to sink my teeth into some other interests over the past few months, mainly selling prints of my illustrations in my etsy shop and getting back into ceramics.

I felt inspired months ago to start drawing illustrations that depicted different aspects of a maker’s life. I got to thinking about how so many of us makers create beautiful, often functional artwork which gets lumped under the heading of “craft” (I have no problem being considered a crafter but I think we should also consider getting comfortable also naming ourselves as artists), and how so many of us live in homes with walls adorned with all kinds of lovely artwork and photographs and paintings that depict our aesthetic, but don’t necessarily depict us, the work we do, the art we create.

“Stockinette” illustration available at the LA yarn store The Little Knittery

With this jolt of inspiration I have been focused on creating an ongoing series of maker-inspired artwork, which I have printed on 11×17 poster paper and started selling in my etsy shop. Initially I only had two prints available and they sold out in about 3 days, which was a wonderful surprise!

I have since been selling these prints to fabric and yarn shops across north america and I even have a couple shops in the UK carrying them! Thanks to the following shops for supporting this black indie artist!

If you’re interested in purchasing now, the stores above are carrying “Stockinette”, “Machine Dream”, “Sew Good” and “Sew Close” (some of the shops are offering the illustrations for purchase online). I am carrying a selection of these prints in addition “Patron Saint” in my own etsy shop which you can find here! You can have a look at the Maker Illustrations below:

Stockinette

Machine Dream

 

Sew Close

Sew Good

and the most recent addition, a personal fav…

Patron Saint

This last one was inspired by an instagram post I made recently where Claire called me the “Patron Saint of Pants Down”, to which I was tickled and honored to no end. Most of us who have sewn dresses or skirts for ourselves know the habit of dropping trou and shuffling to the mirror to assess how the fit of something is coming along, so it feels like an almost universal experience for a particular kind of sewist. I wish I had this on a candle!

https://www.instagram.com/p/CDIHjfOnNip/

You can find my etsy shop here, and since I have a tendency to sell out quickly I would suggest favoriting the shop so you’ll know when there are more items available. You can also follow me on instagram if you don’t already- I keep it updated regularly and always share when new items come into the shop!

As you can see from my last several posts, I’m still enjoying sewing, but I’ve decreased my output a lot during the last couple months of quarantine. I started having little glimpses of an existential crisis when I spent as much time on sewing projects as I normally did. Namely I just kept thinking “why? what is it all for?” It feels a bit more difficult to get lost in a sewing project these days when I start wondering when I will actually ever have an opportunity to wear the garments I’ve made (if the projected advice from medical professionals is any indication, it won’t be ’til several months into 2021). I’ve definitely been more interested in making casual and comfortable clothing that I can wear around the house and feel cute in as I am not a ‘PJs all day’ kind of person, but I also don’t have a lot of wardrobe needs to meet, so the sewing is just…slower. I’m excited to make a couple of those Elizabeth Suzann patterns that were made available recently to the sewing community, and I also promised my dad some masks that say “Good Trouble” on them (I finally broke down and got a used Cricut Joy to cut out the letters, lol), so although I’m not as busy with sewing as I normally am, I’m still inspired! I am actually not mad about the decrease in sewing at at all, because it’s given me so much room for my newfound obsession…CERAMICS!!!!

tiny cup with wax resist and speckled glaze

Anyone following this blog for several years might remember the post I made when I took my first pottery classes with Claire a few years ago and joined a local pottery studio. My time there was spent pretty much exclusively throwing on the wheel, which I took to fairly quickly. I loved the teacher at the studio and had a really great time familiarizing myself with the process- every single one of my christmas gifts that year was a not-always-functional but made-with-lots-of-love piece of pottery that I made, hahaha. But eventually I started working again and ended my time at that studio. Some days I missed it, but I always had sewing to fill in the gaps so I didn’t spend much time reminiscing about it. Then at the beginning of quarantine in March of this year, my sweet and extremely generous friend Stephanie asked me if I wanted to take her potter’s wheel off her hands. She had gotten into pottery for a while but had moved on to other hobbies and didn’t want the equipment taking up space in her storage area. I hadn’t really considered getting back into pottery, but I was happy to take the wheel- I figured that quarantine would give me plenty of time to get back into the groove if and when I felt inspired to dive back in.

When I went to Stephanie’s house to pick it up (all of us donning masks, even at that early stage!), I was thrilled to see that not only was she gifting me her wheel, but also a chair designed especially for wheel-throwing, a bunch of plastic bats, bags of clay, trimming and modeling tools, small ware boards, banding wheels- literally everything you would need to get started in building up a tiny but efficient home ceramics studio. I suddenly felt super excited to get back into this hobby, and I set everything up in the storage room beneath our garage, which has actually been a usable space the entire time we’ve lived here but we haven’t really known what to do with it.

perfect sized cup for a margarita, turns out. Wax resist and speckled glazes.

In the months since receiving all of Stephanie’s old pottery equipment and tools, I have carved out yet another making space in our home that brings me more delight than I ever imagined (much like my craft room where I do all of my sewing and shoemaking). And I have discovered something so important about my making process- turns out, I FLOURISH in an environment created and curated for my own needs! I’m always excited to take a class and learn from an experienced and knowledgeable teacher, and I think there is a lot of good that comes from sharing a space with other students who are also learning a process at the same pace that you are…but I see now that I am able to tap into my most inspired, most imaginative, most productive self when I am alone in my own space. Spoken like the true introvert that I am, hahaha!

After a few months of learning and experimenting and reacquainting myself with the craft of pottery, I have noticed such a marked difference between my experiences making ceramics at my local pottery studio and making them in the quiet safety of my own home. I was proud of the pieces that I created while a member of the studio, because learning something puts you in a state of vulnerability; to effectively create anything when you feel exposed to the opinions and criticisms of others is an absolute feat. But looking back, I did feel a bit disconnected from the pieces I made. I was pleased with the technical aspects of what I had done but…they just didn’t feel like me. They weren’t pieces that I would have been drawn to if I saw them on a shelf in a gift shop. They weren’t pieces that looked like I had made them. After years of making clothes and drawing illustrations and cooking meals and writing stories, I can easily recognize my own style, and I get so much joy when others recognize it, too. But the pottery I made in the studio didn’t seem to be imbued with my style at all, and maybe that’s why I never kept up the practice- I was struggling to find myself in it.

Part of that comes from the fact that I hate unsolicited advice and criticism, whether online or in person. A lot of people assume it’s because I am uncomfortable with criticism and just get defensive. But I have been acting professionally since my late teens. I went to college for theatre, art, music and dance. My career requires that I regularly perform in front of strangers and then wait for them to tell me whether they think I am good enough to get paid for it; I am all too familiar with the criticism and evaluation that comes from others weighing in on my work. And that’s why making has become such a nurturing, safe space for me! Creating art, the kind of art that is for ourselves, for our own self care, for our own enjoyment– that should never be tainted by the opinions of others (unless of course you are asking for it, which is the difference between solicited and unsolicited advice).

an attempt at creating a watercolor effect with glaze on a small tumblr

The advent of social media has only perpetuated the tendency for strangers to weigh in on the work of others, and it happens ALL THE TIME with sewing- someone shares a beautiful garment that they have worked hard on in an instagram post and comments pour in from virtual strangers along the lines of “are you gonna fix the hem?” or “this looks so much better than the last thing you made!” or “you should work on getting a better fit in the shoulders” or “I think this would have looked better in linen”, and so on and so on. Are these strangers’ opinions valid? Absolutely! But do they need to be shared with anyone else? HELL. TO. THE. NO. I have gotten pretty good at setting boundaries on my instagram- anyone leaving a comment or sending me a DM that criticizes, offers advice I never asked for, or otherwise projects their negative personal perspectives into my space (this includes anti-fat or sexually objectifying comments) gets an immediate “you don’t get to say this to me, and this is why…” response. Most people are receptive to it, but every once in a while people get defensive, and then I just block them. The joys of social media are few and far between some days, but being able to block assholes is one of the most pleasurable things it has brought me. I only wish I could block people like that in real life!

unglazed pieces ready to be fired

Unfortunately we live in a white supremacist world ruled by patriarchy norms, so I get mansplained and whitesplained all the time. I am not always able to defend myself against it in everyday situations, like at work, so I will be damned if I let it fly in my curated spaces on social media. I remember once when I was at the pottery studio working on something, a man who was a member of the studio came to up to me (we had never spoken before) and told me that I was “doing it wrong”. I was enraged but didn’t say anything because I don’t like trying to have conversations with men who so boldly interfere with other’s personal space (and yes, I consider art that I am creating my “personal space”). I don’t remember specifically what I was working on, but I know I was experimenting with a new technique and trying out something weird and interesting. I was attempting to see if the technique would work, which is generally how I learn best- I don’t like to be told a million rules that might reflect on the teacher’s preferences and process rather than the craft itself. I prefer to learn by trial and error. I get a better understanding of why something won’t work by doing it myself and understanding the consequences rather than someone just telling me “don’t do it this way” and offering no context. I am able to find so much more nuance and space for experimentation by understanding firsthand the why’s of a situation rather just having them told to me, but unfortunately classroom settings are not always the most inclusive, supportive spaces for experimentation, especially if you are sensitive to the prying eyes of others (raises hand).

To be clear, I love talking about process and method and approach with others whose work I admire- it’s just another way for me to learn! But telling someone they are “doing it wrong” does not leave space for conversation or even education. It does not invite a dialogue. It does not create a safe space for people to explore in their making process. You know what does invite dialogue? Curiosity. Questions. Inquisitiveness. “Oh, what do you plan to make with that?” or “How are you gonna do this part?” or simply “what are you working on?” are all ways to start a conversation and share information that are much more preferable to a statement like “you shouldn’t do it that way”.

progress of an inauthentic mishima-type process, where you cover a leather hard project in wax, carve out a design in the piece, then cover the lines in underglaze. The wax keeps the underglaze from adhering to anything but the raw clay, and then, once it is bisque-fired, the wax will burn off, leaving colored indented lines. You can then glaze the piece like normal and give it a final fire.

All this is to say that being able to create in my own time has allowed my imagination to prosper! The things I am creating are strange and beautiful, but most importantly, they feel like me! I’m still in a process of learning the do’s and don’t of ceramics (because there are a lot of technical elements to account for after a piece of clay has been manipulated, as well as safety precautions, which I take very seriously). But the growth of my own ability, style, and methodology seems to be keeping pace with my learning curve, and I am having so much fun! I want to be clear that I don’t think there is one specific way that everyone will thrive in. We all have different preferences and tastes and all our brains work and respond to things differently- there is no such thing as a “right way”. But I do think that figuring out your own ideal set up is important in the life of a maker. Maybe you are the most inspired when it’s noisy and busy and music is playing and people are all around you working on the same thing. Maybe you like to be in a quiet room at the end of the day with a little fan whirring and a work lamp lighting your space. Maybe you like to have an on-going stream of true crime shows squeaking out of your laptop with a glass of wine close by and a baby napping in the corner. You might not be able to replicate this ideal space every time you are able to make. But knowing what to strive for makes a big difference, and allows you to anticipate what you might be able to accomplish when you have all or none of your preferred parameters in place.

As for my own ceramics practice, I’ve effectively created an ideal space to work in (although Claire is growing plants on the other side of the room, which is a visual distraction for me whenever I walk in- thankfully my work spaces are turned away from that area, haha). I’m bordering on obsessed, where I’m devouring books about handbuilding and wheel throwing and going to sleep dreaming about projects I want to try and waking up excited to put my visions into practice. I felt like this when I came back to sewing 7 years ago, thinking about it all the time, consumed by everything I wanted to learn and do and try; it feels a little like falling in love. I don’t have this same relationship to sewing any more, which isn’t a complaint. Falling in love isn’t a sustainable place for my creative mind to exist in long term, and after years of learning about sewing and fit adjustments and fabric and patterns and color palettes and curating my closet, I’m experienced enough that I don’t consider myself to be falling anymore- I’ve landed! And I LOVE being on solid ground with my sewing practice! I’m still inspired and motivated and I still find challenges in the craft, but I feel secure, encouraged, confident with it all these years later.

small thrown dish with handbuilt flower

I would love to get to that place with my ceramics, but I have to say, I am truly thrilled by the journey of falling. I’m sure there are lots of factors involved that have set the stage for this inspired time in my life (can’t work professionally, can’t socialize in the ways I’m used to, can’t safely leave the house, can’t go on trips- I feel like I’m on sabbatical in my own home) but so far I have been able to utilize the parameters I have been given to my own benefit, and I feel EXTREMELY GRATEFUL. Everyone’s experience of this pandemic is different, and there are lots of people out there who aren’t finding any “joy” in our current circumstances, which is completely understandable. My own moods and motivation have a tendency to swing all over the place, so I just try and meet myself wherever I’m at with patience and compassion. Sometimes it’s really hard, and other times it’s easy. Life in a nutshell.

I’m thinking of doing a more detailed series here about my ceramics journey because, even though I do love wheel throwing, I have found so much delight in handbuilding, which I have been learning about from books and online classes that I have been taking from a local pottery studio called POT LA. This is not the studio I belonged to before, and I wonder how different my experiences would have been learning in an environment curated by the WOC owners of POT LA, a studio that is working to educate, support and amplify the queer and POC community, but I digress. One of the many great things about POT LA is that, with their doors closed for the pandemic, they have been offering paid online courses that anyone anywhere can take. So even if you don’t live in LA, if you can supply your own clay tools (which are fairly easy to find or repurpose), you can learn and create from the comfort of your own home. Lots of local studios will allow you to fire and glaze pieces in their kiln for a small fee, so you can probably do a little research and learn more about what’s available to you in your own city.

I that feel that handbuilding is more accessible to more people, and I think the stunning pieces that you can create just with your hands often get overlooked by the glamour of working on a wheel. In the handbuilding book I am reading right now, each section is divided into projects that build upon the previous techniques shared, so I think I might go through and work on making all of them, to both build up my own skillset and share how vast the world of handbuilding can be, and how your hands can create something that looks just as professional and elegant as what you can make on a wheel.

And piggy-backing on my earlier mention of kilns- as you can probably tell by this post, I have two! My first one, I called it Baby Kiln  because it’s so small, is maybe 6 inches across and 6 inches deep. It’s a used dental kiln, meant for making dentures and veneers out of porcelain, and Claire surprised me with it for my birthday in April because I was getting so deep into pottery and feeling frustrated by the prospect of having to rely on someone else’s kiln to finish my pieces. It took me like, almost two months to finally use it because I wanted to educate myself and learn as much as I could about the process. Once I finally got comfortable with it and had success with firing , I realized quickly that if I ever wanted to try and do some small batch productions of ceramic pieces, the tiny kiln would be far too limiting for my needs. It could hold one mug or one medium sized bowl at a time- anything larger than that was a no-go. So I scoured online classified for weeks and finally found an affordable used CRESS kiln on craigslist that has about triple the space of Baby Kiln. I call this one Mother Kiln and I have had two successful firings in her so far! Thanks to my instagram friend Bob who generously donated his knowledge from his experience as a ceramicist and gave me loads of information to help me be successful in my first firings!

This post has been more musing than anything else, but it felt overdue. I love talking about making here! Thanks for reading, and following along on all the different paths our maker journeys can take us down!