Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Smidgen of Saturday School

Gosh, I'd forgotten how much I absolutely LOVE learning. We had our second textiles class a couple days ago and I'm just eating up all the information; I've already read waaaay ahead in our textbook because it's so fascinating, not to mention doing extra research on the details that the textbook doesn't include.

We've been learning about the different categories of natural textiles: cellulosic fibers (plant-based, like cotton and linen) and protein fibers (animal-based, like wool and silk). I find it so interesting how the chemical structure of these macromolecules can affect all the fabric qualities that I already know about from sewing, like strength, abrasion resistance, elasticity, resilience, and lustre. I'm just sad that our professor isn't actually a chemistry person, because I want to know more about the stuff that she and our textbook just gloss over, like the polymers' side chain interactions and the importance of hydrogen bonding! I really think that if I were to redo my undergrad, I'd want to change my major from bio/psych to fiber science. Doesn't this blurb from Cornell sound so fascinating? Oh, whoops, excuse me, my nerd is showing.

Because I don't have any sewing to show, I thought I'd share my notes from class instead:

In order to keep from being bored in class (like most teachers, I'm a terrible student -- easily bored and distracted and always thinking about how I could teach something better), I ended up illustrating my notes. Actually, when I was bored in undergrad, I used to take notes in Elvish (i.e. transliterating by using the Quenya alphabet), but that ended up being a problem when I tried to look back at my notes a few years later, but had forgotten my Elvish.

We talked about how the orientation of the fibrils can affect the strength, elasticity, and wickability of various fibers. Also, wool requires a combination of water, heat, and agitation to compact the amorphous fibers (hence the tendency of wool sweaters to shrink in the wash) if you were to soak a sheep, get it very warm, and then roll it around a lot, its coat would shrink? 
Besides talking about where cellulosic fibers can originate on a plant, we also talked about their general properties. Natural cellulosic fibers wrinkle easily, are denser than protein fibers, absorb moisture readily (which means they're comfortable in hot weather and conduct electricity well, so less static cling, but can also be susceptible to mildew), have poor elasticity so high-stress area tend to stretch out (think knees and butts), have decent UV resistance, and burn quickly. They are moth-resistant but can attract silverfish, especially when heavily starched. 
We also discussed the process of making linen from flax -- it's pretty intense! Even today, there's no decent "quick" substitute for retting, which means linen will probably stay a luxury fiber. 

If you're interested in following along with me in my studies, these websites do a decent job of teaching the same information that I've been learning about cellulosic fibers. What say you, am I a nerd or am I a nerd? Would you ever want to learn about the chemistry of fibers? I'm already brainstorming about how I can add in a unit of fiber science for my chem class after the AP exam is over...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Sew Weekly Reunion: My Slytherin Bolero

As I mentioned in my last post, I was in a bit of a sewing rut because of my long break from my machine, so I was ever so grateful for TSWR's guidelines and deadline pushing me to get my act together. I do best when I have some loose parameters (and a semi-firm deadline) -- I know, so INTJ of me -- so I hied me over to the stash to locate a suitably colored fabric. I actually had a length of bottomweight twill in emerald that would've been perfect, but I had had it pegged for a pencil skirt. So? What's wrong with that, you ask? Well, to ease myself back into sewing, I wanted to make something less intensive than a garment that needed to be perfectly fitted to my butt, you know? Even though I already have a pretty good pattern, I decide I wasn't mentally ready yet (have you noticed that lack of mental readiness has been a theme for me lately?), so I decided to make...

...a fitted cropped jacket-y thing in a difficult fabric, with lots of little fiddly details. Tell me how this is supposed to be easier than a simple skirt again? In my defense, I wasn't in love with this "Deep Lichen Green" corduroy fabric, so I figured I'd just quickly slap something together and not care too much if it didn't turn out perfectly. I had just barely a yard of this fabric, and it was a weirdly-shaped piece to boot, so a bolero (or pencil skirt...but let's not go there) was the only pattern I could think of that would fit. It was an untested pattern, too, so I ended up making lots of changes on the fly; I figured it would be a wearable muslin of sorts.

Only problem was, once I sewed up the shell and attempts at a matching lining from stash fabrics pretty much relegated me to black, I realized that this would be perfect for a Slytherin House look if I also used silver buttons. Suddenly I found myself caring quite a bit about making it as perfect as possible. It was too late to interface the front (especially since I don't know which box the nice interfacing is in, plus corduroy has a plush surface anyway) or put in shoulder epaulettes, and I neglected to grade the very bulky seam allowances, but ahh, such is life?

In the spirit of honesty, allow me to say that the design was totally stolen from inspired by this bolero from Black Mirror Design. I didn't have enough fabric to make the neck ruffle into box pleats, nor go all the way around; I settled for knife pleats and made it go as far as I could. I think I like it better that way, since it looks less busy. I also opted not to do the back tab since I got lazy don't want a button bothering me every time I lean back.

Fabric: About one yard of mystery-content corduroy, not too heavy...gifted, and therefore free, from the stash of a friend who was moving out of the country. It was pretty wrinkled from being packed and moved up the state, but I was scared of ironing the fabric and crushing the pile, so I ended up steaming the whole thing for half an hour before I started cutting it out. The lining is leftover black sheet from this dress.
Notions: Four metal buttons with a very tiny rampant lion in the middle of the coat of even though it's Slytherin colors, it's very subtly showing support for Gryffindor? Maybe it's femme-Snape's bolero, since, you know, he was all about his house, but ultimately supported Harry in his fight against Voldemort.  

Pantone Challenge colors: Deep Lichen Green. Okay, maybe it's a bit lighter than that, but just turn down the brightness of your monitor and it'll be fine! I didn't want to buy new fabric for this challenge, so sue me. Actually, these pictures make it look more Emerald than it really is.
Pattern: Simplicity 9091 

Year: 1999...yikes!
Time to complete: Something like fifteen hours? The actual sewing was very easy; the majority of the time was taken up with trying to fit the shoulder/neck area (I ended up cutting off that weird extension that the pattern called for and subbing in the ruffle instead) and trying to figure out how to bag the lining. I sewed the sleeve ends together wrong several times before figuring it out.
First worn: Just for's too warm for outerwear still, even if this is fairly light-weight corduroy.
Wear again? Presumably?
Will you make it again? Probably not, since I don't need many boleros in my life. They've always struck me as a fairly impractical garment, since they leave your torso all cold.
Total cost: Only $3 for the buttons! Since both fabrics were stash/free, it was a very economical make. Especially when you consider that the bolero I was knocking off costs over $180!
Final thoughts: I love that my favorite makes usually start out on whims, usually as wearable muslins that snowball into something more. Even though you can't really tell from my expression in the photos (it was the end of a long day, and I wasn't even sure I'd make it back home in time to catch the last bit of sunlight), I really like this bolero, since it hits that perfect sweet spot of not-your-everyday-garment-but-not-too-costumey-to-wear-when-it's-not-Halloween. Mr. Cation's reaction: "What era is it from? It looks French." Before I could protest that French is not an era, and that this was supposed to be a modern pattern, he pronounced it way more wearable than any of my superhero dresses, so I'll take that.

I know this isn't a refashion or a UFO, but this is the only thing I think I can manage for the month of August. I've got a wedding coming up this weekend, and I need to decide fairly quickly if I want to whip up something new, or just go with an old dress. Andrea has already expressed the sentiments that I'm sure many of us feel, so you understand my desire for new and shiny, but at the same time I've already got lots of special occasion dresses that don't get half as many outings as they deserve. #firstworldsewingproblems, am I right or am I right?

Anyway, thanks to the setting sun, we got some artsy-ish photos, you know, like the kind they have in Vogue or Harper's Bazaar. Those photos always do such an awful job of actually showing the garments they're purportedly advertising; models are inevitably hunched up or standing behind distressed furniture or what have maybe these are too normal.

The cat hair on my tank top kind of ruins the whole look. 

Also, my hair is at that weird not-short-not-long stage that I hate. 

And then there are the outtake photos, where I don't know what I was trying to do at the time...

Derp-face while contemplating my wrist tabs and buttons. Maybe I'm wondering if the buttons are too obvious about my support of Harry Potter? Does He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named stoop to examining his Death Eaters' outfits for clues about where their true loyalties lie? 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I'm Back!

*haphazard swishing with a feather duster*

Oh hello there, it's been a while, hasn't it? Usually when a female blogger with a steady significant other takes a long-ish break from blogging, I begin wondering if it's because she's pregnant, and then I resign myself to lots of baby clothing posts, but just in case you're wondering, that's not my situation! Rather than finding myself in the family way, I've found myself in an...academic...way? School started and hit me like a ton of bricks this year, especially since, for the first time in almost a decade, I am not only a teacher, but a student as well! But more about that later.

I really wanted to make a quick blog post earlier explaining what was going on, but I had no energy to write and I really didn't want to be one of those bloggers that just posts five times in a row, but each post just says sorry I'm such a bad blogger I promise I'll have more to say soon! So I waited until I had more wherewithal to actually write something of substance. In the meantime, my last few weeks have been absolutely packed to the brim with:

  • Well, speaking of packed, there's been lots of packing and unpacking; we finally moved to our new apartment in Castro Valley! It's so nice to have our own space again! Especially since my sewing stuff is in a fantastically large room! Mr. Cation and I decided to make the guest bedroom our bedroom, and use the master bedroom as a joint office/sewing room, so now we can work on things in the same room and there's lots of space on the floor for me to actually spread and cut things out. No more scrambling to put things away and checking the living room floor for stray pins when guests come over!
  • Before we moved out of my parents' place, I mended/altered things for my family. My dad had a couple of button-down shirts whose sleeves were too long, and my sister had a dress that was too big. I also fixed a lot of my own hooks and eyes and buttons that had popped off, or dresses whose necks needed fixing to prevent gaposis, and those sorts of things that one never gets around to when there are shiny new projects to sew!
  • Teaching and prepping and other miscellaneous school duties: besides my three AP classes, I've also taken over a lot of the science department head's duties since the previous one retired and nobody's been selected as a replacement. Ordering the year's supplies, mentoring the new teacher, and general curriculum overhauling, you know, NBD. And of course there's readjusting to standing and talking in a projecting sort of voice all day. I'm sad that the vagaries of block scheduling mean that I no longer have one whole day free for sewing/picture-taking like last year. 
  • I've spent a good deal of time sorting through my fabric and figuring out what I want to make next. Ever since I started sewing three years ago, I've never taken such a long break from sewing! Besides the bits of mending and altering here and there, I haven't made anything new for over a I had a bit of sewasaurus' block. I still have my half-finished blazer, but I left off at a tricky place and I don't feel like going back and trying to figure it out just yet. And I know what I want to make for my next HSF project, but since the deadline passed already I'm having trouble finding the necessary motivation. Thank goodness for the Sew Weekly Reunion's helpful guidelines and deadline, or I might still be hemming and hawing! Not literal hemming, though. 
  • As for being a student again, I've got semi-exciting news: I've decided to go back to school and get my Theater Costuming certificate! After last summer's blogger meet-up at Canada College, I started dreaming and saving for their Fashion Department's classes. I don't know how long it will take me to complete all the courses, but I'm super excited even though I've only had one class so far. I really love learning (if I could be a professional student I totally would!), but to be honest, I'm a little scared that I've forgotten how to be a good student. I showed up for the first day of class without my textbook, reader, or even a binder or notebook...if I were my own student, I would've given me a stern talking to about being prepared for class! Thank goodness for breaks, so I was able to run out and buy my materials, but let's just say that it's going to be an adjustment, having to study for tests instead of just writing and grading them. 

We learned about fiber cross-sections and how they can affect light reflection, and therefore the general sheen or lustre of the resulting textile, among other things. Our instructor warned us that students have complained in the past that her textiles class was too much like a science class, but I was secretly thinking "what's wrong with that?" At any rate, I was just eating up all the information; I can tell I'm going to like this class!
[picture source]

Here's what I haven't been doing, though -- learning about my new serger! I'm so incredibly grateful for all of you who took the time to give me helpful advice, but I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't felt mentally ready to tackle all the learning I feel like it requires. I even chose to entirely line my next project so that I don't have to think about finishing any seams...I know, so sad, right? Still, at least I'm sewing again; my latest project just needs some buttons and then I'll be ready to reunite with all the good folks over at The Sew Weekly!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Husband Is Actually a Hobbit

It's no secret that I'm a huge LOTR fan -- my dorm room sophomore year was practically wall-papered with LOTR posters, pictures, articles, and calendars, and Elaine and I made it a point to reread the trilogy every year and see each movie when it came out at midnight -- and I always thought I would marry somebody who was an equally ardent fan. I mean, geeky guys are always complaining about finding geeky girls who share their interests, right? I thought finding a geek to marry would be pretty easy. When I met Mr. Cation and found out he was a scientist, it was after a long dating dry spell, so I was pretty psyched that he was normal and into me, and I didn't look too hard at his geek credentials. After all, he had the requisite trilogy on his bookcase and that was good enough for me. It wasn't until after we'd gotten married (and after I'd fallen in love with so many other things about him) that I discovered that he'd never actually read that lovely thick tome, and he'd "only" seen each movie once. In fact, it wasn't until last year's movie came out that he even realized where the line "What has it got in its pocketses?" came from; for the previous five years of our relationship, he thought I just really really liked talking about pocket contents.

Of course, Mr. Cation is wonderful in so many other ways, it doesn't really matter that he doesn't love Tolkien as much as I do. And then yesterday, I discovered that he actually is a hobbit at heart, and here's proof:

Wait, is that really...

Yup, it's what it looks like! I've been talking about wanting a serger for oh, the last year, especially as I was sewing more knits and less wovens (I love seam binding on my woven stuff, but that solution works less well on stretchy fabrics). Well, Mr. Cation got a fantastic Amazon coupon code on his birthday last week, and instead of using it on himself, he bought me a serger. If you've read the chapter "Concerning Hobbits," you know that hobbits love giving other people gifts on their birthday (usually of the useless junk type, aka mathom, but still!), and of course they love eating good food. So I'm feeling incredibly lucky to have a husband who not only loves cooking, but also gives generously. Not reading Tolkien is a pretty minor fault compared to all that (and more!).

Walnut has never even tried watching a LOTR movie, but I love him anyway. 

I haven't opened up the box yet, partly because Walnut likes hanging out on top of it, but mostly because we're moving across the bay on'll give me plenty of time to dream and learn about serger ownership and usage. Sergerers (i.e. people who use sergers, since people who serge is just...sergers), do you have any sage advice for a first-time serger user? If you've got my model, the Brother 1034D, do you have any tips for this specific machine?

Or any tips for getting the cat off the box? ;)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Aww Shucks, It's August Already

Stashbusters, my abject apologies for dropping the ball on the July Dress Challenge! I took an unintended blog vacation, only this time, I didn't get to sew up a storm and produce a fabulous pirate coat. I've been busy spending time with family (after five years in SoCal, my parents are excited that we're back for good, and Mr. Cation's family is also visiting from the East Coast), trying to get Walnut reintroduced to Fenxi and Gummy, and bringing my faithful Brother (machine, not actual relative) into the shop for a tune-up.

Look, Walnut, it's your uncle Gummy!
Walnut's stranger danger alarm goes off, while Gummy wonders what's wrong with his nephew. 

Oh, and all this while trying to get my classroom prepped for a new school year! It's been a bit of a headache since I'm moving into a new lab space, which means cleaning out the old chemical storage room and sorting through boxes and boxes of lab supplies. I've been on my feet for eight hours a day, washing glassware and toting books to my new office, which means that I'm too tired to sew after the hour-long commute back into the city. I can't wait until we actually move to our new apartment and I can save over an hour a day for sewing...much better use of time than sitting in traffic, don't you think?

This was how the previous chem teacher labeled everything from sodium hydroxide to talc.  Not the abbreviation I would've chosen, but pretty amusing nonetheless. 

In between the busyness of a new school year and a new home, I did have time to briefly check out Stone Mountain and Daughter...while it's no replacement for the LA Fabric District, I have to say, it's pretty dang awesome. In the hour I spent poking around, I already imagined oh, thirty new projects. Good thing I've got my stashbusting pledge to hold me back. I'm also looking forward to checking out Lacis and possibly taking some lace-making classes. I do love the Bay Area for its many artisan craft-learning opportunities!

Anyway, enough with my excuses -- it's time for you to show off the dresses you've made with stash fabric! I can't wait to see what kinds of fabulousness you've been up to!

As for August stashbusting, if you haven't seen EmSewCrazy's blog post about the UFO/refashioning theme, go check it out now. And as always, if you don't have anything in the stash that fits, go ahead and sew something else from your stash; the goal is to use stash fabric in any way possible! For myself, I've got a half-started blazer made from stash fabric that's been stalled since before we went to Italy, so I should probably get on that...