Thursday, January 30, 2020

Back to My Roots

This past Christmas, I celebrated (okay, posted on IG stories) my sewing machine's tenth birthday. Mr. Cation got me the machine for Christmas in 2019, and the first thing I did was sew a whole slew of zippered pouches. I started out with unlined pouches, then added appliqued cats, then graduated to lined pouches and then even pouches with little "windows" that gave a hint as to the contents. It was good practice for sewing in straight lines, being precise, and thinking about how one would need to arrange right and wrong sides of outer and inner fabrics in order to get the correct sides showing and raw edges hidden, and the mass output was fine because you can always use more containers for things and they made for nice little hostess- or stocking-stuffer-type gifts. Then I discovered garment sewing and, with the exception of some forays into plushie- and quilt-making, I pretty much stopped sewing non-wearable things.

Now that I have small human beings, though, I need more zippered pouches to contain all the miscellaneous things that they "require." Requirement being a loosely applied term, though, because the other day SHB#2 "required" that I bring for her 1) a reusable ice cube, 2) two unopened packets of hot sauce, 3) a small pair of tongs, 4) a slap bracelet, and 5) an old hotel key card. Kids and their treasures of the day: you never know what piece of junk will be indispensable! At any rate, it's much easier to contain all these little things in a zippered pouch instead of in three tiny pockets or two tinier hands or one enormous diaper bag that also contains changes of clothes and washcloths and restaurant toys and water bottles and sunscreen and hats. So, more zippered pouches it was!

Coincidentally, at around the same time that I realized I was going to need more zippered pouches, C&T Publishing contacted me about trying out Kraft-Tex, a leather-like fabric that is made from mostly paper and a small amount of synthetic latex. I was intrigued, because I don't love using leather (when I do, I try to source it from thrifted items) OR pleather/vinyl (which is terrible for the environment), but there are some costume items that kind of require leather or leather-looking materials. I agreed to try out Kraft-Tex, thinking that if it worked out, I would be able to use it for the "leather" sections of the Pozu-knockoff Rey boots I'm theoretically trying to make. C&T Publishing has a color-of-the-month program for bloggers, where they send you a different color 18.5" x 28.5" sheet each month in exchange for a blog post about a project made with it. January's color is Crimson, which worked out because you know, Chinese New Year! Much red! So lucky! Very fortune! Wow!

Tiny toddler hand sneaking in to grab a pouch because this girl loves bags. She is forever running off with my make-up bag, my pattern weights bag, my pencil case, etc. 

I was able to get three zippered pouches out of my piece of red Kraft-Tex, and I learned a lot in the process. I've had some experience sewing with trickier materials, but this still felt like a pretty steep learning curve, mostly because, like leather, once the needle goes through the Kraft-Tex, the hole is permanent. The Kraft-Tex is very stiff, so while it is bendable, it's not easy, so manipulating around curves on a non-flat object was tricky. It's also quite thick, so my (admittedly cheap) machine didn't have enough power to get through multiple layers and I had to resort to using the hand wheel. Also, I still haven't been able to get the thread tension right (although that might also be because of my machine, not the material, since my machine is oh, two years overdue for a tune-up), so there's a pretty visible gap between the pieces when there's tension on the seam. All that said, I do really, really like the look and sturdiness of Kraft-Tex, and the fact that I don't need to interface it, so I want to try again after my machine's been serviced and see if I can't figure out a better way to sew with it. Anyway, here are the details!

It's hard to photograph this bright red material with an iPhone,
but hopefully you can see that it does have a nice leathery-looking texture.

Wonky hand-stitches on the bias binding, because by
that time I couldn't be bothered with keeping things
neat while sewing with pliers. 
The first pouch was Aneela Hoey's Zip-Up Tray Pouch, which I first heard about from SewBrooke. It's a tray that zips up into a nice little carrying case. I originally planned to give this to my son for putting Legos into so that he could bring them to different places to build, but since it doesn't close up all the way, tiny pieces can still fall out. I'm using it for my sewing stuff instead, since I really do like how it zips up somewhat compactly, but still allows for opening up to see all the contents without having to rummage to the bottom. In retrospect, this was a poor choice of first project for a new material, since there's a lot of tricky maneuvering to get around the corners, and the bulkiness and stiffness of the Kraft-Tex made for hideous stitching on my bias binding. It's kind of embarrassing to look at, but it's functional? I think I forgot that, just like with garment sewing, it's important to match the material to the pattern and not assume that you can force any material to work for a particular project. 

Fat and happy taco cats! And burger cats. 

I then made the Noodlehead Open Wide Zippered Pouch two times, thinking that less weird maneuvering would be better suited to the Kraft-Tex. Since my machine didn't like sewing through multiple layers of the material, I used a different coordinating fabric for the part that would actually be sewn to the zipper. My sister was planning to donate this sweatshirt with cute junk food cats all over it; the print is cute but the fabric is 100% polyester and feels pretty awful. I figured it would work for a non-garment application, so I fused a some light interfacing to the back to increase stability since it's a knit. I thought everything would be pretty easy since I wasn't manipulating strange shapes under the presser foot, but I realized when I flipped the pouch right-side out that my thread tension was all off, so the bottom looks pretty bad. It's still functional, but I wouldn't want to say, gift it to anyone. I made one more pouch with the same combination of fabrics but without the boxed corners on the bottom, thinking that that would reduce the obviousness of the thread tension issues, but it was only partially successful. The gaping is less noticeable, but still present, so I wouldn't quite call this a win. 

Top pouch, lined with a fruit-print quilting cotton from the stash, has been claimed by SHB#2 for holding her random treasures: a garbage truck, two magnetic pigs, pink and purple Duplo blocks, some Trader Joe's stickers, and her "phone," which is actually a random remote. The flat pouch, which I keep in my backpack, has extra utensils for if we go places that only give out disposable ones. The fold-out tray has all my essential sewing stuff for bringing to class: paper scissors, fabric scissors, pencil & eraser, fabric marker, tracing wheel, chalk, seam ripper, awl, tape (for flat pattern manipulation), hera marker, French curve, and extra bobbins. I should have a box of pins in there too, but I took it out to use. 

In the end, I do have three serviceable pouches that have already been corralled into holding things, and I love the look of the red with the cats (which vaguely remind me of the similar-colored Chinese lucky cats). It's very appropriate for a Chinese New Year set of projects, although cats are probably inappropriate for it being the Year of the Rat and all... Also, I'm feeling more motivated to actually take my machine in for its tune-up, which always seemed a little silly to me, seeing as how that costs as much as the machine itself originally did, but then I remember that I'm all for making things last as long as possible. 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

A Very Star Wars Halloween

Raising Small Human Beings is oftentimes an exercise in simultaneous frustration and amusement, and the selection of Halloween costumes is a prime example. When SHB#1 was three, he was obsessed with zebras, so he wanted to be a zebra for Halloween. That was fairly easy to make, and the fleece zebra suit I made for him got plenty of wear afterwards for pretend play. The next year, he was into construction vehicles and dinosaurs, so he alternated between wanting to be a pteranodon, a stegosaurus, or a "construction stegosaurus." I managed to convince him that a stegosaurus would have a hard time fitting a construction vest over the plates on its back, and together we settled on his being a "construction zebra" since the zebra suit still fit. I had to laugh when I saw his class picture: so many store-bought superheroes and princesses, and a lone zebra wearing a neon vest.

Here's a picture of the zebra costume, with a red cape so that he could be Superhero Zebra (4yos are nothing if not literal) for his third comic con. His stuffed zebra is also wearing a tiny red cape so that they can match! I was dressed as Dark!Rey. 

This past year, he was into the Octonauts for a good deal of it, so he went back and forth between wanting to be Tunip or Kwazii. I was despairing about finding teal or orange pants at the thrift store when he suddenly, in the last month before Halloween, got super into Star Wars, and decided he actually wanted to be Darth Vader. SHB#2 wants to do everything big brother does, so she immediately declared that she, too, would be Darth Vader (despite my best efforts to convince her that she would make an adorable Ewok). SHB#1 then decreed that we should be a Star Wars family, so I had to be Rey and Mr. Cation had to be Luke Skywalker. I can't lie; since Star Wars was one of my first fandoms I was super proud of the kids' geeky decision and secretly thrilled to have an excuse to make all these cool costumes!

Both kids already had black pants, and finding black turtlenecks at the thrift store was easy, so then it was just a matter of figuring out how to make Darth Vader's iconic chest plate, belt and cape. I thought about trying to applique all the pieces onto the turtlenecks, but that sounded like waaaaay too much work, plus I wanted them to be able wear the tops for regular, non-costume things. In the end, I decided to cut all the little buttons and "lights" out of tape and put them on black felt that I had leftover from a school costuming project. Gray duct tape worked for most of the details, and for the red and green bits I just used Sharpie to color over masking tape. After I showed the completed chest box to SHB#2, though, she immediately tried to take off all the "stickers," and I realized I would need to find a way to make them more durable to survive kid handling. I bought some iron-on vinyl and put that over the chest box and belt pieces and it worked perfectly; the tape seemed to really meld into the felt and it was easy to stitch it onto some scraps of black fabric and ribbon in order to allow it to all be tied on. The capes were just half circles cut from stash black jersey knit and sewn on with some elastic to gather the top and allow for easy slipping on over the kids' large heads.

Finished costume, a little worse for wear after being stuffed into a backpack, but still holding up fine! 

On Halloween, with their matching lightsabers. SHB#2 absolutely refused to wear a DV mask. 

Since SHB#1 hadn't specified which version of Luke he wanted Mr. Cation to be, I went with the easiest to put together, the ANH Tatooine Luke. I borrowed a gi top from a friend, and then it was just a matter of wearing his own khaki-colored linen pants and a dark brown leather belt with the buckle turned to the back. I also wrapped some strips of brown linen around his calves to mimic Luke's puttees.

Rey was the last costume to come together, even though I've been working on her the longest. I was originally planning on making her Resistance outfit to Rebel Legion standards, but stalled when I realized how difficult it was going to be to thrift the right fabrics. I'm committed to making my costuming greener where I can, and if that means not being screen accurate, then so be it. Costumes already get so few wears, I'd rather not add to their environmental burden by buying new fabrics for each one. Anyway, a year ago I thrifted some long brown pants; I cut off the bottoms and used those to make the kneepads. The shirt is made from a tea-dyed large white polo shirt, and the belt and wrist cuff were purchased from a seller in the Rey FB group. I found a very 80s grey wool herringbone coat at the thrift store for $10 that I initially thought might work for Rebel Legion approval, but upon closer examination, I realized that it was actually black and white herringbone, which together looked gray from far away. At this point I was too disappointed to continue work on Rey, so I stuffed everything into a garbage bag for a year.

From (a galaxy) far far away, it reads as gray, but up close it's pretty obviously black and white ;__;

A year in a naughty bag gave me time to get over the sting of disappointment, and when I pulled the coat back out, I felt okay about making the vest to complete our family costume. Thankfully, I still had the pattern pieces that I'd drafted and the mockup vest, so after what felt like miles of seam ripping to take apart the coat, I managed to get the pattern pieces to mostly fit.

From my Instastory. See the welt pocket I had to work around on those top pieces?

I ended up using a bunch of the scraps to practice the closed blanket stitch that's used on the edges of Rey's vest.
Why I chose to put in the time for that tedious that detail for a non-RL-approvable vest is beyond me. 

I did have to fudge a little by sewing some buttonholes closed, but it worked out in the end. I lined the inside of the vest with gray cotton flannel, which, with the interfacing that was already fused to the wool, made the vest stiff and heavy enough. I did reinforce the center front edges of the collar with some ironed and stretched horsehair braid, a technique I learned from my evening gown class with Lynda Maynard. After that, it was just a matter of adding the hand-sewn closed blanket stitch to all the edges. That took forever, and I only finished it just before we had to leave for trick or treating!

See that buttonhole I had to sew up right next to the side seam? Also I probably should've done something about the bulk at the shoulder from all the layers of wool+flannel+batting+turned seam allowances, but at that point I no longer cared. 

Look at all that time I spent carefully doing all that ladder-stitching by hand!
Gray flannel lining and wool held together by closed blanket stitches, and also all the whipstitched edges on the shirt.
So. Much. Hand. Sewing.

And here we all are! 

During trick or treating, it was so fun to hear people react to SHB#1's costume -- "Aww, a tiny Darth Vader!" -- and then to hear the even more excited reaction when they saw SHB#2 come up to the doorway right afterward -- "OMG AN EVEN TINIER DARTH VADER!!!" -- because obviously the smaller something is, the cuter, right? Only a couple people realized I was Rey, and not just somebody with somewhat odd clothing choices, but Halloween is really about the kid costumes. I would like to finish making my knock-off Po-Zu Rey boots at some point in the future, but in the meantime I'm just glad I finished this vest so that I could remove at least one UFO from my costume list and make my son happy at the same time.

Then again, maybe his happy face is due to the fact that he just ate a piece of his trick or treating loot.