Wednesday, October 30, 2013

There Were Birds on Things

Thanks for the non-warning, Portland Convention Center!

When I first started teaching, I used to get really excited about going to science teacher conferences. Now that I'm older and more experienced (and more jaded?), I find them more tiresome. There are less new and surprising things to learn and see, and traipsing back and forth across the convention center and over to the surrounding hotels feels more like a chore. It's like a less interesting version of Comic-Con with really boring cosplays.

I did get really excited about this DIY gel electrophoresis box, though! Even though I don't teach AP Bio anymore, I couldn't resist a workshop that had "DIY" in the title. It's amazing what you can do with a tack box, a couple of paper clips, and a few 9V batteries! 

Thankfully, I got to end my week with an awesomely geeky day with Gretchen and her husband, who graciously showed me around their city. After a very Portland brunch (vegan and gluten-free everything! kale! but very tasty!), they let me drag them over to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to see the Sherlock Holmes exhibit. It was probably one of the most well-done, enjoyable interactive exhibits I've ever been to (and trust me, I've been to A LOT of science museums!), with adults and children alike getting into it. If you're in the area, you should check it out! Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed, so you'll just have to believe me when I say it was almost like going on the Harry Potter Studio Tour in its attention to detail. 

We also checked out several fabric stores, of course. Many thanks to all of you for your helpful suggestions! I wish I could've visited more than three, plus Powell Books, but there just wasn't time.

The Mill End fabric store was like walking into Costco or something similarly warehouse-like, except that instead of free samples of canned tuna or yogurt, it was row after row of fabric! This picture cannot accurately convey how far back it goes! They had an excellent knit selection, but I had pledged not to buy any new fabric...
Having recently studied this in textiles class, I appreciated this informative poster about the different kinds of silk.

We hopped a few blocks over to the Pendleton Woolen Mill, which had gorgeous cozy wools for what felt like high, but were actually quite normal, prices (think $60/yd on average):

I didn't take pictures of the bolts of fabric, but I did find this little display interesting -- they showed how the wool samples felt after 1, 2, or 3 washes! 
And if I thought that Mill End was overwhelming, the Fabric Depot was even more so! It also marked the first time that I've ever seen a fabric store advertised with its own brochure in those visitor information kiosks along with more run of the mill tourist destinations like whale-watching or outlet malls. A lot of it was quilting cotton, but I was still able to pick up some more obscure items like extra-wide petersham for waist facings, ban roll for waistbands, and a buttonhole cutter. If only I had had that last tool when I was making my waistcoat!

By this time I had to get to the airport, but I'm just grateful I was able to squeeze in some sewing blogger meet-up time into a work trip. Thanks for spending a day with me, Gretchen! And wouldn't you know, neither of us thought to take a picture with each other. 

Here, have a picture I took at the airport gift shop instead: the creepiest use of those bear-shaped squeeze bottles ever! The top part was all foamy and weird, like brains...

After I got back, I spent a rather hurried day finishing my final for my pants class: a perfectly fitted, perfectly constructed pair of pants. I keep telling my students not to save their lab reports until the night before they're due, and what do I do? Turn around and put off my final project until the ninth hour. I was sewing on hooks and bars right up until I left for class. Fortunately (or unfortunately, for the sake of learning not to procrastinate), they turned out spectacularly and I'm pleased as punch with them. Pictures to come!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I'm Going to Portland!

Dear readers, would any of you like to either 1) tell me where to go fabric shopping in Portland, or 2) actually meet up in Portland for fabric shopping (or just talking about fabric and sewing, I'm not particular)? I'm hoping to find something with birds on it...

Let me back up a bit -- I've got a science teacher's conference next week on Oct. 24-25, but I've got Saturday morning and early afternoon (Oct. 26) free. I've never been to Portland before, but I've done my research watched Seasons 1 & 2 of Portlandia and know that it's a crafty haven for 20-somethings who've retired...

Alternately, are any of you science teachers who are also going to this conference? Slim chance, but worth a shot.

At any rate, if you have shopping (and eating, although I'm not overly fond of pickles) recs, let me know, and if you want to hang out (pretty please? I promise I'm not an axe murderer!), shoot me an email at cationdesignsblog [at] gmail dot com.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Titanically Late Plans

Almost two years ago, when I first found out about the VPLL 1912 project, I got all excited about making an evening gown suitable for wearing on the Titanic. That was when I was at the height of my Downton Abbey phase, and Lady Mary's gorgeous dresses added to the motivation. I went so far as to thrift some pale minty-jade green chiffon drapes and buy some trims, but then life and the lack of new episodes intervened, and the fabric got stuffed into the bottom of a bin, sadly forgotten until now...

The HSF challenge this fortnight is green, and this painting that The Dreamstress posted reminded me about the minty-jade-green chiffon that I had stashed away. While I don't think I'll be able to finish a whole evening gown before the deadline next week, I figured I might as well make some more concrete plans (and release them to teh interwebs for some tenuous public accountability).

Ignore the 43" x 62". It was the dimension of some sheet or other from another project. Can you tell my 1912 sketch was straight off the Sense and Sensibility pattern?

I was torn for a while on what year to aim for. I think the 1916 dresses look so fun and flouncy, but in my heart I knew I wanted the sleeker early-teens look.

I tried more sketches. Obviously I have yet to take the Fashion Illustration course at the college. 

Frustrated by my attempts to draw my vision, I just pulled out my fabrics and trims and started draping things on Cecily.

Attempt #1: so many pins holding everything in place! The chiffon looks blue in all these pictures, but in real life it's more like this green.
Attempt #2: this was several hours later, hence the change in lighting. Not sure if I prefer the crossover bodice or not. 
Closer-up of the beaded ribbon (purchased here). Also, I stole the sash from my Gatsby dress

I'm afraid a real evening gown of the era would have a lot more bling...errr, trims and beading and lace, but mine is the poor (wo)man's version, so a couple of beaded ribbons will have to do. Now that I've kind of settled on a year, I "just" need to make a structured underdress, drape and sew the overdress, and figure out where to hide all the layers of closures...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Historical Sew Fortnightly: A Very Late Separate

A good two months after the deadline for HSF #16, I finally finished my separate: a waistcoat to go along with my pirate outfit. In my defense, I was busy packing and moving my life across the state and then starting a school year. I did start working on it a month after the due date, going so far as to cut out and sew together the front and back pieces, but then I got stalled by 1) finding the right lining, 2) finding the right buttons 3) hand-sewing the eyelets for the back lacing, 4) figuring out what to do for trim, and 5) hand-sewing all the buttons on. While I'm no longer afraid of say, hand-sewing hems and lining and such, something about little round things (eyelets and buttons!) makes me want to procrastinate forever. It took me a month to get around to eyelets, and another month to find, color, and sew on the buttons. Even though it took way longer than it should have, I'm still pretty pleased with the result!

Cecily is much bustier than I am, so it doesn't hang on her quite the same way. 
After much hemming and hawing, I finally settled on using the last of my bright fuschia cotton sateen to line the front of the waistcoat. I had just barely enough! The back is plain black linen, unlined.

Oops, it needs ironing...but you can see the oversized pocket flap and twill tape trim. 

And now, buttoned up...

Originally the buttons had cheap-looking clear plastic rhinestone centers, but I used a Sharpie to color them in to match the lining and the red bits of the brocade. I settled for using a very close zigzag stitch as my only "trim" since the brocade was busy enough. 

Back view. Note how the front pieces extend over the top of the shoulder, as they should in this time period.
A close-up of my eyelets. Yes, I know, I went to all the trouble of making hand-worked eyelets in silk thread, then used polyester ribbon to lace it. 

Side view.
The Challenge: Make a separate that can be used to mix and match with existing wardrobe pieces to make different outfits...yeah, so this waistcoat really only goes with one outfit, but considering that Leimomi was the one to suggest making the waistcoat for the separates challenge, I'll give myself a pass there. 
Fabric: One and a third yards of 100% polyester brocade from Joann's for the front, one yard of 100% linen for the back, one and a third yards of cotton sateen with some lycra in it for the lining. As I said above, I had only barely enough to make the pattern fit! I've never used up a fabric so thoroughly before!
Notions: Black twill tape for the pocket trim, black bias tape to finish the armholes, black ribbon for the back lacing, and lots of plastic "gold" buttons. While I would have loved metal buttons, I couldn't find any I liked in my price range and the appropriate size. I finally settled on these buttons with the rhinestone center, but the lightness was too stark a contrast with the dark brocade, so I ended up Sharpie-ing them red to match the lining. 
Pattern: Simplicity 4923 again, which is surprisingly accurate in terms of shapes of pattern pieces...I did modify it a bit to make the back pieces smaller and to make it lace in the back. I mostly used this pattern made from an extant piece to inform my changes. When I was cutting and sewing the pocket flaps, I totally goofed and cut them the same size as the coat's pocket flaps; they were way too big, but I didn't feel like redoing them. Go big or go home, right? 
Year: Early 1700s...ish.
How historically accurate is it? Ummm...maybe 10% at best? It's more historically inspired, but I did do a lot of research on early 1700s waistcoats to get a similar shape and look
Hours to complete: I'd guess twenty hours spread out over a couple months. 
First worn: Not yet...still getting all my things together for a (hopefully) epic photoshoot!
Total cost: $25 or thereabouts. I broke my stashbusting pledge to get the brocade, but at least I used up the rest of the fuschia sateen!

I'm pleased as punch seeing how nicely it goes with the pirate coat (which does need a bit of ironing after being packed away in a box, though)!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Saturday School Strikes Again!

Some people spend their Friday evenings going out and being social* and having a life; I spend my Friday night scanning and studying my textiles class notes. Now that we're past all the natural fibers and on to the man-made materials, I find myself intrigued by all the possibilities of polymer science. Oh to be a high school senior applying to college again! I would totally rethink things. In the meantime (and in the absence of a viable professional student career option), I'll have to content myself with this class.

There was much more about lyocell, but I didn't illustrate it. Lyocell, or Tencel (TM), is actually so similar to rayon that the FTC didn't even recognize it as a separate fiber until the 1990s. According to our prof, due to things about patents, it's only been manufactured by one company in the US, which makes it very expensive, but the patent should be expiring soon, so hopefully we can look for cheaper lyocell soon? The sample she showed us really were wonderfully soft and buttery! The part I appreciated most, though, was that lyocell is made in an environmentally friendly manner, where the extrusion process is done in an enclosed system, meaning less pollutants in the environment, plus ease of reclaiming the chemicals for reuse. StephC of wrote about it last year, so you can check out her blurb for more information about sewing with it. 

I've seen bamboo rayon camis at Walmart (of all places!) and they definitely feel lovely, but haven't seen much in plain fabric form. [EDIT: News flash! If you haven't seen Amy's blog post about sewing with bamboo rayon jersey, go check it out! It looks deliciously soft in her pictures.]
I think my favorite doodle is the "scavenger in the wash" one. I've definitely experienced this with my formerly white nylon slips, which are now a dingy gray after being washed with our dark blue towels too many times. Fortunately for a past project of mine, this quality means that nylon is also the only artificial fiber that can be successfully tea-dyed, due to its unique chemical structure. Nylon is also known as polyamide, i.e. a hydrocarbon chain that has a bunch of amide functional groups hanging off of it. Amide groups are basic, while tea is acidic, which means that the tea molecules will bond nicely to the nylon in an acid-base neutralization reaction. For more information, take a look at Dharma Trading's helpful page about acid dyes.  

I know a lot of seamstresses are natural-fiber snobs, but honestly, I'm not one of them. Polyester has come a long way since the leisure suits of the 70s, and our prof showed us some very nice ones that beautifully mimic a number of natural fibers. Due to advances in fiber spinning/extrusion, it's possible to actually make breathable synthetic fabrics by manipulating the dope solution and the fiber cross-sections.  

Acrylic sweaters are the norm at places like Ross, while wool and cashmere are more of a Nordstrom price range. Since California really doesn't get much of a winter, I'm okay with that. Just make sure not to over-iron your acrylic, or else it'll get all flat and limp. 

I'd never heard of modacrylic or olefin, so I was on the edge of my seat for this part of the lecture! I know, I know, some people get excited about Thor 2 coming out (oh wait, that's me too), but I get excited about learning new things! I was especially pleased to be able to put a name to olefin, since I've encountered it in so many places (those priority mail bags! those couch underside covers! those onion net bags!) but never knew what it was. Also, it's totally obvious that I have no idea what snowboarding gear looks like. 

I had no idea how they made those metallic strips that one finds in cheap Halloween costumes, but now I know! 

We also talked about viscose/HWM rayon and acetate/triacetate, but I didn't illustrate those bits because I was in a sleepy pocket and it was all I could do to keep my eyes open. Ah, the realities of a three-hour long night class at the end of a long workday! But hey, if my mom could do it, so can I.

*Even if I were to go out and socialize, it would probably end up being like this or this.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Returning to My Roots

Best sheet ever, y/y?
It's got representative animals for all the continents!

The Sew Weekly Reunion was good for getting my sewing again after moving, but after I finished my bolero I just couldn't seem to get myself started on another project. Even though I had lots of things on my HSF backlog, and a lot of stash to choose from, I could not for the life of me get motivated. It got even worse when I forced myself to sew a simple dress, but then didn't like it when I finished (I'll get around to taking pictures of it later, after it's had some time to sit in the magical closet of time and forgetfulness...maybe that will change my opinion of it?) and found myself in an even worse stew/rut/funk/state of inertia than ever. Finally, I figured I needed to get back to my roots and make another 1) sheet dress, with 2) a fitted bodice, and 3) a flared skirt, from 4) TNT patterns.

This photo has a slight ombre effect and weird lighting overall (not to mention a stupendously boring background of closet doors) because our new apartment complex is very...shall we say, utilitarian...and has no decent backgrounds for taking photos. You guys, I'm talking dumpsters and chain link fences everywhere, none of that landscaped birds-of-paradise nonsense, plus Mr. Cation was at work, so this was just quick photos from when I got dressed this morning.  
Oh my gosh, my calves look ridiculous.  
I am really liking that pleat synchronicity on the skirt and at the neckline!

Because I can't leave well enough alone (and also because I fell in love with this dress' pleated neckline), I decided to fiddle with the bodice of one of my favorite patterns, McCall's 5845 (now sadly OOP). I traced it up and started slashing and spreading to get what I hoped would be some nice neckline pleats. I got a bit carried way with how awesome I was at dart/pattern manipulation and arrogantly sewed it up without checking for fit (normally I sew up new patterns in lining fabric, modify after fitting, and then cut the altered pattern in fashion fabric, so as to avoid making an actual muslin).

You can see the places where I transferred out the bust and waist darts, and the subsequent huge neckline that I took in with pleats. 
Completed bodice: no darts, just pleats at the neckline! I'm still kind of amazed at how nicely it fits.

Imagine my chagrin (and near re-descent back into Sewing Funkland) when I finally tried on my completed dress (yes, that's right, lining and zipper inserted and pleats edge-stitched down and seams pinked/bound and everything...I only had the hem left to do) and it totally didn't fit at all! Due partly to my manipulations and the subsequent new shape of the bodice, and due partly to forgetting how tightly the original pattern fit, the bodice was too tight at the waist, the pleats at the neckline were slightly mismatched, the back neckline gaped like no other, and the shoulders were comically huge (akin to these Tang dancers). I hated it and wanted to throw it into the corner for Walnut to sit on. How could my vision have turned out so badly? 

After a day's sulk, I sucked it up and ripped out my zipper, my pleat edgestitching, and the shoulder seams. I cut out strips of fabric to patch into the waist, took a couple inches out of the top of the center back seam (resulting in an severely off-grain seam where the zipper is, but oh well), and took in the shoulders and hand-sewed the lining back down. Thank goodness that all that historical sewing has cured me of any fear of hand sewing! A couple of years ago this dress would have been scrapped because I couldn't be bothered to do "that much" hand-sewing, even though in reality it only took a couple episodes of Adventure Time.

Florida and most of the Great Lakes fell victim to my lack of muslin-ing. And lest you think it's not that bad...
Check out the little triangles at the waist where I had to piece in bits for the waist!
More hideous pattern matching: check out my North Amasian landmass on the center back skirt seam! Yes, those are foxes running from Eastern Europe into Canada, and getting beheaded in the process. Also note the smooth transition from Mexico into the Indian subcontinent. 
I never know whether to iron the pleats all the way down the skirt or not. 

Pattern: McCall's 5845 bodice with modifications (besides replacing the front darts with neckline pleats, I also made the back neckline much higher, and widened/lowered the armscye), with the New Look 6723 skirt (but pleated instead of gathered).
Fabric: 2/3 of a 100% twin flat sheet (the last fun one I acquired before my Stashbusting Pledge), plus a bit of muslin (washed, of course) for the bodice lining.
Notions: A cream-colored zip harvested from this dress (which had already been cut up so that I could use the skirt fabric in my hobbit bodice), seam binding
Hours used: Somewhere around 12? But spread out over a few weeks, since I've been so busy with school (both teaching and attending!). It's never taken me that long to make such a simple dress!
Will you make it again? If I did pleats again, I'd want to lower the neckline a bit more so as to look more like my inspiration dress. I think this would make a nice LBD pattern...hmmm, that *is* the first Project Sewn Season 2 theme...
Total cost: $3 for the sheet, but I didn't use all of it (this is beginning to become a problem, since this type of dress always leaves 1/3 of a sheet, or about a yard and change, which is not enough to make anything else, but also too much to throw away).
Final thoughts: I'm so glad I took the time to save it, because now I really like this dress! Even better, Mr. Cation likes it -- he like maps and doesn't think this print looks anywhere near as loud as my other sheet dresses. Now I just need to figure out how I can work this into my curriculum; since I don't teach earth science or geography or even ecology, there's no obvious Ms. Frizzle connection. But! I realized that this dress could also be an advertisement for Another Sewing Scientist's "Map the Sewintists" endeavor. If you haven't already seen the incredible map, go check it out -- you might discover that there are people nearby who could help you with fitting! Incidentally, I can't for the life of me figure out how to move my pin from TCOCC to the Bay, so if you're wondering why I'm in the wrong city...

If I had done a better job of including every part of all the continents, I suppose I could've turned this into a "where have I traveled to" map for myself by embroidering little x's for all my trips...

I originally wanted to have this dress count as Falling for Cotton, but somehow I missed the "vintage pattern" part of the challenge description. While it certainly looks vaguely retro (kind of like Simplicity 5940?), it's not truly a vintage pattern, even if it is 100% cotton. Ah well, you can't do all the challenges!