Friday, July 29, 2011

The Ondine's Curse Dress

Now, I am aware that the Ondine's Curse is another name for a truly horrible genetic disease (congenital central hypoventilation syndrome), and I'm not trying to make light of the tragedy of that disorder. But truly, sometimes I feel like this nautical-inspired dress has been cursed by a vindictive water nymph. And I'm not even done with it yet! Let's make a list of all the things that have gone wrong, shall we?

  1. I accidentally hemmed two(!) of the shoulders instead of the sleeve openings. I ended up cutting the hemmed part off, thereby shortening the back. Which was fine in the except it was a really dumb mistake to make in the first place.
  2. I thought I was being smart to use some leftover-from-a-gift-wrapping grosgrain ribbon for the collar trim. Well, it turns out I was short about five inches. So I made a trip out to Yardage Town to get more, only it turns out that while they have 1/4" and 3/8" wide ribbon, this mystery leftover ribbon is 5/16" wide. Which means I just had to buy all new ribbon. So much for being green. 
  3. While laying out the bedsheet to cut out the circle skirt, I discovered two random rips, possibly from Walnut, who makes it a habit of sleeping on and digging in my fabric. I had to do some maneuvering to avoid the rips, which meant that the skirt is not actually a full circle. 
  4. I attached the white waistband piece without measuring the length of the bodice. I don't know what I was thinking, but I continued with adding the skirt and zipper without trying it all on, leading to trying on an almost finished dress with the waistband hanging around my hips. Thankfully, I'd only basted the zipper on. It wasn't difficult to fix, just time-consuming when I'd already spent too much time on the dress. Also, on second thought, I probably should have interfaced it.
  5. Changing the length of the bodice meant changing where the waistband closed, which led me to discover that at the place it closes, the white band is slightly larger on one side. Yaarrrggghh. 
  6. After giving up the waistband for lost and attaching the zipper, I found that the two sides of the top of the bodice somehow ended up half an inch off. A quarter of an inch I can deal with, but half?! I ended up taking it in at the top where the facing attached, which resulted in...
  7. The facing on one side being much longer than the other. It's on the inside, so nobody will see it, but still! 

And then after all this, I realized that the dress is actually very low-cut. Thankfully, I don't have any cleavage to speak of, so it doesn't look that risque. Also, my shoulders look huge. I guess this is what happens when I don't use a pattern and think that I'll "just whip something up." I think I've learned that I am not at the whipping up stage yet. I don't know enough about how 2D shapes translate to a 3D body to be able to accurately predict what my finished piece will look like, so I end up having to make all these little shoddy adjustments to make it work. Maybe Tim Gunn would be proud, but I'm not. Now, if I were at home, I would run to my mom and have her step in and magically fix everything with her miracle seamstress-ing skills, but I can't do that in San Diego. Well, I suppose at 27 years of age, I'm too old to have someone else swoop in and solve my problems for me. Bother.

I still need to attach a white bias strip at the bottom of the dress and hem it. Knowing how things have been going, I'll probably end up sewing the bottom of the dress closed or something equally horrendous. I've probably just jinxed myself, huh?

If you're reading about my string of mishaps and you've ever had a similar, seemingly-cursed project, please tell me about it so I can feel better :(

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blackcurrant Pastille "Dress"

When I was in elementary school, I used to hate Christmas and the end of school, but not because I was some stick-in-the-mud who hated fun. I used to be painfully shy and the twice-yearly recitals that our piano teacher required us to perform in were like torture for me. Put on pantyhose and then sit in a cold brick room, while your fingers get stiffer and stiffer, waiting for my turn to be the center of attention? No, thank you very much, you can have it back. The one bright note (no pun intended) in these recitals was they were the only time my mom would ever let me have the best candy in the world: blackcurrant pastilles, aka Frutips. Seriously, these are the best things ever. Sweet, complex, blackcurrant chewy goodness, sugar-coated for a pleasing crunchy textural contrast...mmmmm. Anyway. She would secretly pass them to my brother and I as the recital went on, keeping us mollified and enabling us to perform in a sugar-trance.

Close-up of the fabric.
Last week, when I was cleaning up in preparation for my in-laws' visit, I realized just how much random fabric I have stashed away. The problem with storing all my fabric under the bed in large plastic bags is I forget what I have. Well, I found these two knits that just went so well together, but I was thinking that I should make more I decided that I would go ahead and make a separate top and skirt, but wear them together as a "dress." The white knit of the top has a beautiful texture that totally reminds me of the sugar coat on the pastilles, and the rich purple of the chiffon knit is like the blackcurrant underneath. And, of course, this outfit would be perfectly appropriate for a piano recital (minus the lack of pantyhose).
With such disproportionately small hands, it's a wonder I can even reach an octave.

To make the top, I sketched out a t-shirt shape, then thought that I should make it a bit more finished than I usually make knit tops. Rather than leaving the edges raw, I drew and cut a yoke. I've never done one before, but I think it turned out okay...just don't look too closely at my wonky topstitching! Thankfully, the knit's texture is pretty forgiving. The skirt is just a rectangle folded in half and gathered to a black elastic waistband. Although I've gotten better with sewing on elastic, I still find it exceedingly tricky to keep a straight line. Good thing it's hidden by a belt :\

Unfortunately, it was pretty overcast today, hence the especially bad pictures.
Fabric: 7/8 yard of poly-cotton knit on top, 1.5 yard unknown fiber content chiffon knit on bottom
Cost: ~$5 for both pieces together
Time: One afternoon!
Things I would've done differently: Drafted looser sleeves and a tighter curve on the top. Used more fabric for the skirt. Unfortunately, it was a remnant from a store in Tucson, so I couldn't go out and get more. 
Things I've learned: I don't like yokes.Trying to attach two oppositely curved pieces together seems like an unnecessary pain. Maybe I'll be scared enough to go give facings another try.
Things I already knew: I suck at sewing straight while trying to keep elastic stretched. Also, I am in love with my black belts that go with everything.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Late Sew Weekly: Chase This Light Paper Bag Skirt

And here I am, with my second Sew Weekly challenge ever, late again! Two weeks ago, the challenge was to sew something inspired by a memorable album cover. I don't know how particularly groundbreaking it is, but I personally LOVE Jimmy Eat World's Chase This Light album. When my sister gave me a copy, I listened to nothing else in my car for at least a month. And that's including hour-long-each-way drives to home and back each weekend and one trip to Sacramento. Sadly, until this challenge, I didn't even know what the album cover looked like, but I was super excited once I saw the beautiful peacock feather.

So. Blah.
As I mentioned before, I've just been getting into this whole feather trend, but haven't found any really appropriate fabric. Well, for this project, I had the perfect refashion in mind. I've had this linen/rayon blend empire-waist sundress from a thrift store ($2!) for a year, but it never looked very flattering. The cut of the dress made it just sort of hang on me, making me look shapeless; the tan linen color just looked blah next to me face...but I loved the fabric's suggestion of a peacock feather pattern. What to do? Obviously, keep the bottom border and turn it into a skirt!

Oops, I forgot to iron it.
I used Adventures in Dressmaking's paper-bag waist skirt tutorial as a refresher to make sure I knew what I was doing, then went ahead and cut off the bodice. I turned down the top a couple inches, sewed my two lines, put in the elastic, and done! I love fast refashions. After looking at it a little more, though, I decided I wanted to add some detail to it that would bring to mind the fabulous gold tones of the album cover. I used some gold thread to outline one of the "feathers" on the skirt, and even though you can't really see it from far away, it makes me happy to know it's there!
 So, check off another Sew Weekly challenge! I suppose I will eventually go back and tackle the famous Grace Kelly Rear Window dress, but I'm more eager to do a nautical-inspired dress, especially since I just picked up some navy blue bedsheets at the thrift store! We'll see if I actually finish it on time, though, since I'm already in the middle of another project.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Team Fortress 2 Sniper Vest

Besides Comic-Con, I've also been busy the last week with my in-laws in town. My husband's parents and younger sister live in the outskirts of Philly, so we don't get to see them too often. Since Pennsylvania isn't exactly known for lots of Asian things, we've spent the last several days going to every Asian thing possible -- Japanese markets, Ranch 99, and Vietnamese markets, as well as eating pho, ramen, Thai food, dim sum, wonton mein, and 粥. I think the only thing we missed out on was Korean food, and that's only because KBBQ is too 熱氣. Anyway, while my husband was at work and my parents-in-law were going nuts over Walnut (he's so cute; how could they not?), Ashley and I worked on a sewing project! Having seen my Bellatrix costume, she had asked me before they arrived if I could help her with a Team Fortress 2 Sniper cosplay. She wanted the vest, and, being a teacher, I would much rather teach someone how to do something than just do it for them. (This is my concession to The Selfish Seamstress' tips for selfish seamstressing.)

We went to Yardage Town and bought dark brown and tan cotton broadcloth, as well as two packages of light gray extra-wide bias tape and a package of heavy duty snaps. We began by drawing a pattern based off of a button-up shirt that she had -- easy, since there were no sleeves involved. I love how fast it is to make patterns for relatively shapeless, loose-fitting costumes. No darts and the construction is so simple! The pocket she sketched based on the character drawing, and then the collar was a simple rectangle the length of the neckline.
Notice the use of the back of wrapping paper and a can of garbanzo beans. This is nothing if not a professional operation.
Measuring out bias tape strips.
The other beautiful thing about making somebody else's clothing is that you can tell them to do the tedious parts themselves. I didn't have to do any of the pattern tracing or fabric cutting, and all those endless seams on bias! it's your vest! Although, I can see how tricky it must be for parents, trying to make sure that children learn how to do something themselves while resisting the urge to step in and just do it since it will be faster and better managed. Anyway, for having only used a sewing machine a couple times before a long time ago, Ashley did an excellent job with all the topstitching in a straight line on a relatively narrow piece of bias tape. She also put in the pocket snaps herself and attached the collar (straight edge to a curved edge? what a pro!). All I had to do was give directions about what order to sew/iron pieces and then sew the bias tape around the armholes. After three days of sporadic work, we have a vest! And I must say, I think it looks pretty good! She even wore it right away to church; it looks that much like a real vest.

And to think she'd never really sewed before! Amazing!
As a teacher, one of my favorite things is seeing a student learn and succeed and then feel proud of a finished product. As a seamstress (dare I call myself that?), one of my favorite things is thinking through a project and successfully planning how to put a piece of clothing together from scratch. All in all, even though it wasn't sewing for me (me! me! me! See, I'm practicing my Selfish Seamstress mantras), it was a fun and fulfilling project and I'm happy to enable others to sew.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Comic-Con 2011

Lego Harry Potter display! My world, in miniature!
COOOOOOOONNNNN!!! Haha, that looks like I yelled a shortened form of raccoon, not a lengthened form of Con. 

Everyone remembers their first Con. I know I always will, because I just went yesterday for the first time ever. It was really everything wonderful, intense, over-stimulating, and crowded that I thought it would be. For a moment (well, several moment), I felt like I was back in Mong Kok in Hong Kong with all the pushing and shoving and turning around only to find that you almost kissed a stranger. But it was lovely to see all the other fans of various obscure animes and independent artists. The level of dedication of some of the other cosplayers made me slightly embarrassed about my Bellatrix costume. I think I definitely need to make another corset, this time with proper boning and everything. That said, my husband and I have decided that we're going to go next year as a steampunk couple! What is it about steampunk that gets guys actually excited about dressing up? Is it the gears, or the giant gadgets, or the guns? I think it's the guns.

Two of my childhood fandoms in one!
Sadly, we didn't actually get into any panels. This is what happens when all we want to do is see the cast of the Big Bang Theory, but there are already 9,000 people in line. However, we had lots of fun just wandering the exhibition hall floor and seeing all the cool things for sale (I got a sexy d20 t-shirt, a new frosted teal d20, a new set of gold-plated miniature dice, and a Slytherin patch for my cape). And, of course, taking pictures with other cosplayers!

Stormtroopers are hardcore. Wearing that outfit all day can't be easy.

With Kaylee and Jayne!
I found a Severus Snape!
I took pictures with some of the displays as well.
A Lego Captain Jack Sparrow!
Can I take a Tardis to Diagon Alley?

As I was wandering the floor, I also came across the movie costume replica booth, where I found another, real-er, version of my costume. It was really too bad that I had to go with the knee-length skirt for Con, but I didn't want to spend the whole day worrying about people stepping on my skirt. People still recognized me as Bellatrix, though, so I got my fair share of people stopping me to ask for pictures. It's so fun feeling like a mini-celebrity, albeit a C- or D-list one, like the kind that might end up on celebrity apprentice. 

After a whole day of wearing my Bellatrix costume, I think I'm definitely ready to retire it. The wig is kind of annoying and scratchy after a while, and the corset makes it hard to sit on the floor. But it was definitely a fun experience to make and wear! Now I need to get ready for my next cosplay project: The Hunger Games movie!
May the odds be ever in your favor!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Steps in Clothing Skills

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I went to North Park to have dinner with another couple. We got there a little early and my husband, much to his regret, pointed out that there was what looked like a thrift/antique store across the street. This led to his sitting gingerly on a rickety chair under a taxidermied deer head for half an hour while I browsed the collections of furniture, knick-knacks, and dustballs. It was all worth it, though, when I emerged triumphant with possibly the most hilarious home-ec book ever: Steps in Clothing Skills, by Lucille Dunn, Annetta Bailey, and Wanda Vansickle, copyright 1970. As I've been reading through this textbook, I have seriously been laughing out loud at some of the things it says. I'm not sure what age this book is intended for (middle school?), but the advice ranges from actually kind of useful (I learned some things from the sewing section) to obvious (you really need to be told to use shampoo to clean your hair?) to laughable. Check out this intriguing table of contents:

Let's look at the first section: "Personality -- Plus!" A lot of it is grooming tips.

Poor maligned Diana.
Yes, that's exactly what I will do. Cut up perfectly good soap with a pirate knife in order to make inferior shampoo.
I actually should practice this. I fidget way too much when I sit.
A bumpy 'sump'n'?! Seriously, who writes like that? But I do love how straightforward this is: "I need to start regular bathing today."

The next few pictures about posture and carriage cracked me up. If I were a student reading this, I don't know if I'd be able to take it seriously.
Yes, I will practice walking with this ridiculous textbook on top of my head.
"When you smile, you help make others feel happy." Or creeped out, depending on which smile you use.
That girl is standing remarkably calmly for having a giant fish so close to her.

They do have some useful tips about behavior and conduct, though. Some of my students could stand to learn a few things.
I wish my students would throw away their lazy ways.

I wonder what the illustrator thought when he/she got assigned to draw several pictures of different dogs on the phone. Click on the picture to see it in all its glorious detail.

And that's just the first chapter! But really, there are actually some useful things in here about various fabric types, how to properly press your clothing, and getting started sewing. They even have directions for making basics like tote bags and skirts. And best of all, these campy drawings to accompany all of it! I'll be posting more hilarity in the upcoming weeks in between sewing projects.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Anthropologie Knock-Off: the Backswept Dress

UPDATE: I posted more detailed instructions on how to make this over at BurdaStyle.

Renamed the "Nothing But Blue Skies Dress"
Sad confession time: one of the highlights of the end of each month is getting the new Anthropologie catalog. I seriously look forward to it, then get nervous when it doesn't arrive, and then finally go to Shayna's place and read through hers since I can't wait. Unfortunately, most of the dresses I covet are in the $200+ range, which makes it pretty much impossible to even think about buying them. Partly because a science teacher's salary isn't so large, and partly because my mom's voice in the back of my head won't let me spend that much on a single article of clothing. Good thing I've got a sewing machine!

Two months ago, I fell in love with the Backswept Dress, and ever since then my brain hasn't been able to let go of it. I told myself that I wasn't a huge fan of the seafoam green/orange combination on the fabric, and dry-clean only silk is way too impractical (see above statement about a science teacher's salary, along with the fact that there's no way I would ever wear something like this for students to see my back). My brain came back with the brilliant retort that I don't even like working with silk, so why not keep the design elements and reinterpret it as a fun, casual, wear-to-the-beach sort of frock? Also, as I've mentioned before, I don't have any vineyards to stroll through.

To get the whole bright beachy look, I decided to use a thrifted bedsheet from the Disney Pixar Toy Story movie. How do I know it's from Disney? It's got little Disney logos under some of the clouds :\ I really tried my darndest to not let any of them in, but due to the fact that it's only a twin fitted sheet, and it was a very full skirt, I had to keep one. In the middle of the front. Sigh.

Since the sheet is a poly-cotton blend, I figure it will hold up to the ravages of sun and sand much better than silk. It also made the dress a lot easier to work with, especially considering that I was making up the pattern as I went. I took a bodice pattern from my stash that was fairly similar to the original (fitted, shoulders that hang over the side, crew neck) and redid the back to get the tie-look. I tried to put the ties where my bra strap should be, but I was a little bit off. Oh well. Since I am allergic to facings, I used white bias binding to do the neckline and armholes. This is possibly my best topstitching job yet!
I kept the armscye and eliminated the dart, redrew diagonal lines to get the triangular pieces of the back, and then extended the center back into a tie.
I made a facing for the tie, sewed it right sides together, then flipped it inside out.
For the skirt, I wanted the pockets on the sides, but I didn't want to go overboard on ties, so I kept them as simple gathered pockets. To make the actual skirt, I ended up sketching a vaguely curved rectangle, then cutting off the two ends, sewing the pockets on, and then reattaching them. This more or less (probably less) imitated the look of the original dress without the pleat business. I inserted elastic into the back of the dress, just like the original, then attached it to my bodice. Can I just say that making a dress without a zipper is AMAZING? I love it! I'm going to need to work this idea into more items.
The pocket was a roughly trapezoidal shape that I gathered across the top.

I sewed the gathered top to a bias strip made from the same fabric.

Pocket attached to the side panel of the skirt.
Love the lovely pockets!

Also, I have not hemmed the skirt yet. So all of these pictures are showing the not-quite finished product, because I was too impatient to hem it before trying it on and parading around the apartment.

Cost: $1.50(!) for the sheet, then another couple bucks for the bias binding and elastic.
Pattern: Bodice front from McCall's 5845, back modified and skirt self-drafted.
Time required: Several hours, but it went fast! I only spent two days on this dress, and normally it takes me a week.
Final verdict: I am so glad I found the perfect "pattern" to go with this sheet -- I think clouds be a little overwhelming on a more formal dress. As it is, my husband said it looks a little like I'm wearing a dress with popcorn all over it :\ Whatever. I love my new dress and I think it's so much more suitable (at least for my life) than the original.
Can you tell I am so excited about this dress? Also, note that Walnut is less than enthused, grumping it up in the hallway.
The problem with using fitted twin sheets as a source of fabric is you really don't have much left. This is all that remains.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fake-torial for a Fake Corset

I call this a fake-torial because I'm not sure that anyone would want to follow these directions to make my cobbled-together-leather-pieces-masquerading-as-a-corset. But hey, even then, it's good to keep track of one's thought processes, right? One day I will make a real corset and look back at this and laugh.
My "pattern" pieces: not to scale.

Directions to make my Bellatrix costume underbust fake corset: 
(fake because its only corset-like aspect is lacing and grommets; click on any of the pictures to see a larger version)

1. Get a pair of leather pants, or some other source of leather from the thrift store (skirts, large men's jackets, tote bags, etc.) I recommend thrifting your leather to reduce the number of animals killed for their hides, to promote less waste/reusing/recycling/reducing the number of tanning chemical released into the environment, and simply because it's cheaper than buying new. Alternately, you could use synthetic pleather, but I don't know what working with it is like. The pants I used were a lovely buttery soft texture which made it a pleasure to work with (aside from the grandma smell).

2. Decide how tall you want your corset to be and draw a vertical line on a large piece of wrapping paper ($1/roll at Target!). Figure out your underbust, waist, and hip measurement and draw them so that the vertical line bisects each line. Sketch curved lines to connect the lines, making a shape that roughly approximates your body shape. See my diagram below.

3. Cut out your paper pattern and use it to cut out four pieces of leather: front right, front left, back right, back left. Sew a bunch of zig-zag stitch lines all over the pieces to approximate Bellatrix's patched-together look.

4. Fold over the straight side of your back pattern pieces and stitch in order to make a thicker section for attaching the grommets. Wonder why the leather isn't feeding through the sewing machine properly, then realize it's because it's slightly sticky. Sandwich with tissue paper, then run it through again to great success.

5. Tear off the tissue paper. Pick off the little bits that are still stuck to the seams.

6. Sew the side-seams for your pattern pieces. Hold up the pieces to your body, only to realize that for some reason the front pieces don't meet properly. Realize that it's because you forgot to put in seam allowances. Draw and cut out a trapezoidal piece (see above "pattern" piece) to fill in the gap. Remove the napping cat, who has taken advantage of your temporary absence from the sewing desk chair.
"But I'm too cute to disturb!"
7. Sew the trapezoidal piece in between the front pieces.
All the pieces together.
Close-up of the trapezoidal piece.

View of the inside.

8. Put grommets into the back pieces, about 1 inch apart. Curse the thickness of the leather that defies your hole puncher's best efforts. Realize that it's not the hole puncher's fault, as it was meant for paper. Cut 3 yards of ribbon and lace up the back following this helpful tutorial.
Trying to take pictures of black things and still capturing the detail is ridiculous.
8. Squeeze into the corset and have your husband tighten the laces and tie them into a bow. Done!

9. After you come back from the HPDH2 midnight showing, realize that you should harvest the rest of the leather from the pants, resulting in this:
Hmm...what can I make with all the leftover leather scraps?
Disclaimer: I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to making real corsets. I am aware that a real corset should have boning, probably a lining, and a busk in front. This is just my make-it-up-as-you-go process that works well enough for costuming purposes. Most of what I do falls under this category, in fact. That said, I loved the process of trying to imagine what I wanted to make, trying to translate 3D shapes into a 2D pattern, trouble-shooting, and coming up with a decent product. I think that's my favorite part of sewing, actually.