Historic Sew Monthly

I don’t remember exactly when or how I first stumbled upon The Dreamstress website, run by Leimomi Oakes, but I do know it was the happiest moment in my sewing blog searching. Leimomi, a textile and fashion historian runs one of the best resources for historic costuming and textiles. There’s a glossary of terms, in case you come across something perplexing in your own studies and searches, as well as some tutorials, and even a pattern to make your own seamed stockings! Really, there are all sorts of lovelies to find on the website (which just went through a re-design and will continue to see some changes for the next six months).

One of the things that has always intrigued me about the website is the Historic Sew Fortnightly – a year-long sewing challenge that urged participants to complete a new historic project every fortnight (that’s twice a month for the historic-term challenged). It’s meant to encourage research and historical accuracy, and I am amazed by the things people have created. While I loved the idea, and dreamed about following along with the wonderful themes, I knew I’d never be able to finish something new every 14 days. Of course, if that was the case, you could always aim for half a HSM year, and only shoot for half of the themes, but that somehow felt like I would be cheating. Nevermind the outstanding demand on my free time. ūüėõ

It seemed that I would be stuck on my self-imposed sideline forever…until this year, when a few changes were made. It seems I wasn’t the only one overwhelmed by the challenge. It can get pretty time-consuming for the folks who are running it, as well, so Leimomi has cut the challenge back a bit this year and made it the Historic Sew Monthly.

Twelve challenges.

I feel a little less overwhelmed by the prospect of that number, and I think I’m going to attempt the challenge this year. Of course, January is almost up, so I’ve got to hurry up and get a jump on the first challenge. Luckily, I have a couple of small items I’ve been meaning to pull out and work on, and I might be able to pull something together in the two weeks I have left.

If you’re interested in following along, or joining the challenge yourself, I encourage you to head on over to the website and see about doing so. In case you’re curious, here are the themes for the coming year:

  • January – Foundations – make something that is the foundation of a period outfit
  • February – Color Challenge Blue – make an item that features blue, in any shade
  • March – Stashbusting – make something using only fabric, patterns, trims, and notions you already have in your stash (I’ve been trying to do this lately, anyway!)
  • April – War and Peace – the extremes of conflict and long periods of peace time both influence what people war. Make something that shows the effects of war, or of extended peace.
  • May – Practicality – Create the jeans and t-shirt get-the-house-clean-and-garden-sorted outfit of your chosen period.
  • June – Out of Your Comfort Zone – Create a garment from a time period you haven’t done before, or that uses a new skill or technique that you’ve never tried before.
  • July – Accessorize – Bring an outfit together by creating an accessory to go with your historical wardrobe.
  • August – Heirlooms and Heritage – Re-create a garment one of your ancestors wore or would have worn, or use an heirloom sewing supply to create a new heirloom to pass down to the next generation.
  • September – Color Challenge Brown – Brown has been one of the most common and popular colors throughout history. Make something brown.
  • October – Sewing secrets – Hide something in your sewing, whether its an almost invisible mend, or secret pocket, a false fastening or front, or a concealed message (such as a political or moral allegiance).
  • November – Silver Screen – Be inspired by period fashions as shown onscreen (film or TV) and recreate your favorite historical costume as a historically accurate period piece.
  • December – Re-Do – Re-do any of the previous eleven challenges.

For the purposes of the challenge, “Historic” refers to WWII-era and earlier…so nothing later than 1945 counts. I’ve been enamored of 40s fashions lately, so we’ll see how this pans out for me. Let me know if you’re following along with the challenge as well!

Bluebirds of Happiness

The past month and a half have been a tad difficult for the family. As I’ve said before, Fall is a reminder of the natural ebb and flow of life, and the way we weather seasonal changes is often symbolic of how we deal with the ups and downs of life in general.

There has been a lot of ebb and flow, here, lately.

I like to turn my hands to some crafty pursuit while I sit and weather life’s storms. It gives my hands something to do so I don’t feel completely unproductive while taking time for myself. That sounds bad, I know. If I take time for myself, it should be just that…time for myself. However, despite my love of sitting quietly, I know that – all too often – I don’t give myself the opportunity. Making sure I have a craft to work on guarantees I will find some time to relax.

In a few weeks, my office will be holding a volunteer potluck, to thank all the folks who have given of their time and talents this past year. For those who have put in more time, or helped with an ongoing project, we’ve been putting together some thank-you gifts. The idea was that they would be personal, handmade or thoughtfully-purchased items that had a connection to the task that individual volunteer had been associated with. In theory, the people supervising the volunteer was supposed to come up with the idea and item. Because of the sometimes dysfunctional nature of working at a non-profit, that didn’t always happen. Which meant Casey (the Volunteer Coordinator) and I (her fellow crafting buddy) had to brainstorm some ideas.

Which is why, for the past week, I’ve been working on these adorable little things.

Making Eastern Bluebirds

Making Eastern Bluebirds

I found the pattern over at the Downeast Thunder Farm website. The original pattern shows two main colors (blue and cream), with brown/black for the beak and eye. I loved the pattern, but felt it needed a bit of orange, to make sure folks knew it was an Eastern Bluebird. I added a little orange bib to the pattern, and set out cutting and sewing little pieces of felt together. The original versions appeared to be fairly flat, as I assume they are meant to be tree ornaments. I filled mine with a little bit of rice, to make them into cute little hand warmers. You can pop them into the microwave for about 30 seconds, and they’ll keep your hands warm!

IMG_20131113_115050_614I worked on the birds at Robert’s, as well as at church last Sunday, and everyone has fallen in love with them. They are absolutely adorable…a wonderful testament to Susan’s design. If you happen to be looking for a cute project involving birds, I highly recommend her patterns. I already plan to try my hand at several other ones.

This was the perfect project to cheer me up, get me working on something, and get me thinking about this year’s Homemade Christmas.

The perils of blogging (or, “Meg’s a creepy creeper”)

When I started blogging (two years ago! Still can’t believe it!), I hunted around a bit for other, similar blogs. I was looking for writings out in the great wide world of the interwebs that dealt with costumes and sewing and all the other manner of sub-topics I like to write about here. The idea being, looking at what other people wrote might offer jumping off points for my own entries and, if I found a particularly helpful site or blog post elsewhere, I could post a link to it here, thus expanding other people’s readership.

Now, a couple of the blogs I follow already have links from this page. You can see them over there in the Blogroll to the right. Some blogs, however, are not run through WordPress. The few that I read that are based in Blogger are not listed in the same place. This is a failing on my part, and I’m looking into other ways to remedy this.

One of the blogs I really enjoy is “Music, Corsets and Star Wars,” written by Amber Mendenhall. I am in complete awe of this young woman. She currently lives in Ohio (YES! Ohio rocks!) and is in school for historic costume and American history. Oh yeah…and she designs awesome Star Wars amigurumi. She’s even starting to publish her own patterns for people to use. Read the blog, check out the stuff she makes…she’s just all-around awesome.

In a recent post, she mentioned that she’s going to be working at Colonial Williamsburg during the summer.

Williamsburg is about a four-hour drive away.

I will admit that it is more than a little creepy and stalker-esque that I am thinking of traveling down to Williamsburg at some point during the summer, just to go to the shop and tell her “I read your blog, and I think you’re awesome!”

I know, I know. I’m really weird. I’m kind of worried about freaking her out.

But then, the other part of me – the one that decided one day that I would start a blog about what I love to do in my own spare time – thinks that she might get a kick out of it. I mean, I’d be all kinds of excited if someone spotted me at a convention somewhere and said “I read your blog.” They could even follow it up with the comment “I think it’s absolute codswallop!” I’d just smile, nod, and respond “But you do read it.” Obviously, I want people to get some sort of enjoyment out of reading this thing, but ultimately, my main joy comes just from doing it for myself.

Well, and for¬†Maggie, but that’s not so much “joy” as “self-preservation,” as I hear about it when I go too long without writing a new entry.

Anyway…I’m seriously thinking about being a creepy blog-stalker this summer.

And do check out her blog. It really is pretty cool.

A Good Head on My Shoulders

Kowl’s¬†head is coming along well. I have now finished the foam-sculpting part of the project, and have moved on to covering it and adding the features. I’ve kind of explained how I made the head, though I know I could’ve done a much better job. A friend of mine (hey Liz!) has asked about resources and links for tutorials and advice regarding the making of character heads. She must be psychic…that’s what I was planning on talking about in this post anyway! I apologize in advance – some of these pictures are duplicates from an earlier post.¬†

One of the major references I used for the head.

As with any costume, the first step with making a character head is planning and research. If you’re trying to recreate the head of a character from a show/movie/comic/etc., then the first step is to gather as many visual references as possible. I suggest putting together a nice file on your computer, making sure to get shots of the proposed head from different angles and perspectives. At the very least, you should have a shot of the front, the side, and the back to work from. I also like to make a rough sketch of my own of the head. I’ve found this makes the proportions of the head and facial features more memorable. I’ll also usually try sketching a couple of different ways of constructing the head, working bones-out — I’ll sketch how I figure I’ll create the base of the head (the part of the construction that will closely cocoon my own noggin), and then add the different layers that I think will go on top of that.¬†

Next, consider the needs of the costume in order to determine what type of materials you will need. I’ve made heads out of all sorts of stuff – cardboard, fiberglass, styrofoam, upholstery foam, plaster gauze, etc. There are so many wonderful things out there that can be utilized for costume and prop creation. One of the things I’ve seen used in the construction¬†of several character heads is plastic canvas. It’s lightweight, cheap, fairly easy to manipulate…all excellent aspects¬†for costume-making supplies.¬†¬†I suggest taking a stroll through your neighborhood fabric store, hardware store, and thrift shop. You never know where you’ll discover great building material.¬†

Think about the very specific needs of your costume. Is this something that you’re only going to be wearing for about 30 minutes at a time, in a well-lit area, with attendants to help you? Are you going to be using it on a stage with weird lighting? Will you be walking around in a parade or a convention, where you might come across people who like to hit costume-head-wearing individuals? All of these factor into the practical build of your character head. The logistics behind where, when and for how long you’ll be wearing your costume head will all impact the materials you’ll want to use and how you might want to think about going about building the thing.¬†

In regards to the Kowl head, I know it’s something I’m going to be wearing for at least 7 hours. In all honesty, I’ll most likely be wearing the Kowl costume for close to 15 hours. Not all of that time will be spent inside the head. I’ll need to take it off to eat, go to the bathroom, get a little fresh air. The way I’ve planned the head I should be able to talk in it just fine. The design should allow for movement of the lower jaw, so it’ll look like Kowl is actually talking. So far, Kowl’s head is remarkably comfy. There are a few places here and there that need to be covered with additional foam or other padding. These are the places where some of the “bones” of the head meet.¬†

Unlike the Potter Puppet Pals head that I made, the majority of the weight of Kowl’s head rests on my actual head. With Harry, most of the weight rested on my shoulders. This caused a few problems, as the press of the weight on my shoulders aggravated the muscles in my shoulders (lots of tension, after wearing that head for hours) and would cause my arms to go numb from time to time. For an idea of what this felt like, try carrying a small child around on your shoulders for a few hours. Eventually you’ll have the same problems. Another issue I had with Harry’s head came from the overall balance. Because it didn’t sit snugly on my head (there was at least 6 inches between the top of my head and the inside of the top of Harry’s head) I had much less control over the movement of it. I couldn’t move my head too fast, or lean forward or backward too far. If I did, Harry’s head would topple off my head and bounce on the ground. Luckily, the wire hangers and cardboard I had used to build the head were able to hold together. I think the quilt batting and fiberfill I used in the rest of Harry’s construction helped to absorb some of the shock.¬†

The biggest issue I had with Harry’s head, though, was visibility. I had great difficulty seeing when I was wearing the head. Although I had used a gauzey material to cover the head, and cut away the batting in front of my eyes, it was still next-to-impossible to see outside of myself. When I had to move around, I usually wound up lifting the head a little and glancing out of the opening at the bottom of the head.¬†

These were all issues that I considered when planning Kowl’s head. I wanted to make sure the proportions of the head were accurate to the character while making sure it was small enough to give me better control over the movements. I also wanted to make the “footprint” of the head was as small as possible – meaning it needed to be able to fit easily in the car for trips to conventions. The size of the PPP heads meant some creative packing when we went to Polaris and Dragon*Con.¬†

As I mentioned, I used wire to build the bones of Kowl’s head. Most of the time, the wire I use for construction is scavenged from the collection of wire hangers my family has collected over the years. This time I only used two hangers. The rest of the wire I used came from a spool of thick floral wire I bought at A.C. Moore. It’s covered with stuff that kind of looks a bit like raffia. You’ll need a good pair of wire cutters if you use the thick floral wire. I’ve yet to be able to cut through wire hangers. Those I just bend into the size and shape I need and fold the excess back on itself.¬†

The top of the wire cage fits my head nicely!

I created the top half of the “bone cap” for the head first, making sure I built it slightly larger than my head.¬†Using small sections of 1/2″ upholstery foam – I used the green kind, since I was going to cover it with fabric anyway – I proceeded to cover the bones of the head. I originally started using high temp glue sticks. That’s a bad idea, for a number of reasons. One, it melts the foam a little more. Not a whole bunch, but a bit. The biggest reason I switched to low-temp, though, was because I kept burning my fingers horribly. When you apply the glue to the foam you need to pinch the two pieces together to make sure it forms a good seal. Foam, being the porous stuff it is, tends to let the hot glue seep through and burn your hands. And then it takes forever to cool, meaning you’re left standing there, holding things together with burnt fingers while the glue sets. Do yourself a favor and start off with the low-temp glue first.¬†

At the moment, Kowl looks more like a bug than a koala-owl.

After the bones were covered with the first layer of foam, I was able to start the actual sculpt. This is where you add in the details like brow ridges, noses, lips, etc. In the case of Kowl, I needed to build up the center of the top of his head and add the little ridge that would end right above the top half of the beak. I also needed to create some nice big brow ridges and shape the side of the head a bit more. I worked in small sections again, adding bits here and there and shaping the foam with a pair of scissors. Remember to refer to the reference pictures while doing this. And remember that some of the shape will change a bit when you cover the head with fabric or fur or whatever you’ll be using.¬†

I suggest trying on the head regularly while you’re building it. Obviously, wait for the hot glue¬†

back of head

¬†to dry. You don’t want to get hot glue on your face or head. However, you also don’t want to spend hours building the head only to find out it has somehow changed shape and no longer fits easily on your head. I realized, after I’d already built most of the head, that the thing was going to sit on my noggin a bit differently than I’d originally planned. I ended up having to add an extra piece on the back of the head to cover my neck.¬†

Here you can see the additional pieces I added to the brow ridges.

After I finished the foam sculpt level of the head it was time to start covering the thing with fabric. I’m using felt for the majority of the costume, rather than fake fur. It was easeir to match the color with the stuff I found in the store and, even though felt can get warm, it’s much more breathable than fake fur is. I know from experience. The smaller size of Kowl’s head means I won’t be able to fit a small battery-operated fan inside, as I could with Harry. That was the other reason for choosing felt over fake fur. Every little bit of breathability will help.¬†

Using hot glue, I started affixing the felt to the head. I had to cut slits in the sides of the 

I know those look like antennae, but they're not.

¬†felt as I laid it overtop the head, to fit the felt around the wires I’ve attached to hang the ears on later. Again, the key here is small sections. Don’t try to cover the whole head all in one fell swoop. Work on the head section by section. It’s easier to manipulate the fabric in smaller steps than all at once. I went ahead and covered the center of the foam with hot glue and smoothed the felt down overtop. Then I moved on to the eye ridges. As I glued the felt to the head, I’d occasionally come to places where I needed to cut out small sections of felt, so the fabric would lay flat. This is inevitable when you cover a rounded object with a flat piece of fabric.¬†

I put some more hot glue about 1/8″ from the edge of where these “seams” were going to meet. Then I used a hand needle and some varigated thread to stitch the edges together. I used a baseball stitch to join the edges, so named because, well, it resembles the stitches on a baseball. Upon reflection, I kind of wish I had just glued the edges down. I think the seams would have blended together better than they do at the moment. The current plan is to go back and sort of distress the seams, pulling the fibers of the felt up around the stitches, to hide where the edges come together. I’ll let you know how successfull that is.¬†

Next step...eyebrows!

The main part of the head has been covered now. I went out to the store briefly today and picked up material to do the eyebrows and eye rings, as well as cover Kowl’s beak. So far I’ve only got the top half of the beak cut out and glued together. The bottom half will be a bit trickier. I did get the material to cover the beak, though. I went ahead and pinned the eyes to the head, to see what they’d look like on the face. These are actually smaller than the eyes I had originally cut out and readied. The eyes are supposed to be pretty big, but the ones I’d cut out first were simply TOO big. These fit on the head much better and appear to be proportionate. I tried the head on carefully (had to avoid the pins) and was pleased to discover that I can see quite well through these eyes. This is the first large head I’ve made that I can see out of. I can see pretty well out of the Blink Angel mask but, again, that’s a mask. It’s not an entire head.

I might work on the details tomorrow, but that depends on how I feel. This will be the last post for the rest of the week, as¬†I’m leaving for Ohio on Wednesday (I think) and won’t be back until Sunday.

I will, however, leave you with some resources for creating character heads. There are some wonderful tutorial videos out there on youtube and I recommend checking them out. The best resources for building large heads actually come from the fursuit community. Don’t snicker and judge, kids. There’s many levels to the fursuit community – not just what we’ve all seen on CSI and the like – and everyone’s entitled to¬†a community they feel comfortable in. These folks have excellent construction techniques we can all learn from. I wish my stuff was half as good as the stuff I’ve seen out there.¬†

At any rate, here are some links you might want to check out before building your own character head. And, as always, remember to utilize your own sense of creativity when it comes to solving problems with a costume build. The solution you come up with might just revolutionize the process for others. 

How to make a Fursuit Head Base using foam 

The Costumer’s Manifesto¬†

How to create an affordable mascot head 

Making an animal mascot head (fursuit)

Root Beer and Fluffy Dresses

It’s bleh out today. Cold, rainy, gray. Everyone and their mother seems to be out at the store or just driving aimlessly out on the roads and people are bananas!

The day started early with a call from my sister, who happened to be at work. The original plan for today – as long as the weather stayed at the “light mist” level and not “healthy rain” or “torrential downpour” – was to bundle everyone’s kids in layers of ren-festy clothing, throw them in the car and head out to Celtic Weekend at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. My sis had already been at work for a while and was a much better judge of what the weather was likely to do for the rest of the day. She decided she was going to bail on the festival for this weekend and I let her know we’d probably do the same. I’d already spent the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival in an increasingly cold and soggy costume and had no desire for a repeat. The day was rearranged to allow for making root beer.

That’s right…making root beer.

Maggie used to make it growing up. When I went to Alaska with her on a vacation I got to try some of their homemade root beer. The taste comes as a bit of a shock after growing up with stuff like A&W and Barq’s. Of course, that’s probably just the yeast.

We had purchased a whole bunch of bottles from Ikea before – the kind with the snap on cap with a little plastic gasket – but hadn’t quite gotten enough. Maggie had scrounged a few more from her grandparents but we still needed about 8 more. That naturally meant another trip to Ikea.

We made it there and back in about three hours. It’s not all that far but, as I mentioned before, people around here are bananas in inclement weather. We needed to swing by the grocery store to pick up the makings for the root beer: 5 lbs of sugar, one small envelope of yeast, and a bottle of root beer extract/flavoring. You tend add all this to 5 gallons of water, stir, bottle, cure and store (the bottles have to lay on their side in a warm place for the first two days, then you put them upright for ten days).

The sugar and yeast were no problem. It was the root beer flavoring that was the big problem. No one seems to carry it. I’m surprised, really, as¬†I used to be able to find it everywhere. I made root beer cookies for Christmas two years ago and had no problem tracking some down then. Now, however…we checked several Safeways, a Giant, Harris Teeter, and Shopper’s Food Warehouse. None of them had it. We finally managed to find some out at Fran’s Cake and Candy Supply – but it wasn’t really what we were looking for.

Luckily I still had half a bottle of the other stuff left over from my cookiepalooza that time. We added the new bottle to the remains of the old and used that. The bottling went pretty quickly, between Maggie and I ladling and funneling it into bottles and Maggie’s little brother ferrying the empty ones in to us and the full ones out to the table. We sealed all the bottles, loaded them back into Maggie’s car (good luck finding a warm, out of the way place to cure them in my house!) and we parted ways.

A part of me knows that I should be downstairs, either working on my thesis or sewing the mock-up of my Halloween costume (I don’t want to cut the pattern out of the good stuff until I know the pattern I’ve chosen will work). The only problem is…even with the heat on it’s freezing downstairs. I’m wearing none-to-stylish jammies at the moment: long hot pepper pants, a shirt with weird sleeves – I’m not even sure how they’re supposed to be classified – and thick, multi-color-striped knitted socks. Not something I’d answer the door in but they’re doing their best to keep me warm.

Enchanted is playing in the other room. It’s not necessarily my favorite movie ever but it’s a fun rainy evening watch. And for a costumer it’s tons of fun. I was able to catch the movie right at the beginning, where Giselle is wearing the huge fluffy wedding dress. I remember seeing the movie for the first time and thinking “ooooooooo….I want that!”

Giselle's Wedding Dress

Giselle’s Wedding Dress

That’s actually a pretty interesting response from me, too. I don’t wear too many dresses in my daily life. When I do it’s mainly for church or the occasional outing with friends, a la Girls Night Out or Non-Romantic Relationships Day (aka Valentine’s Day). Most of the film dresses I fall in love with tend to be on the 1950s/60s end of the spectrum – just a little bit of fluff – or the ones from costume dramas like Elizabeth. I’m not usually the one to desire something big and fluffy. The only thing on my list at the moment that fits that is the Kaylee dress from the Shindig episode of Firefly. Other than that, most of the stuff skews more to the cute (Toad and Po), utilitarian (Night Watch and Hogwarts cloaks) or characters who are closer to my body type and personal style (Velma and Molly Weasley).

The fluffy wedding dress category is usually something covered by Maggie or Angelica’s costume choices and abilities. In fact, Angelica’s done a Belle dress and Maggie’s gone through a Halloween dressed as a Southern Belle. Granted I made that last costume but I wasn’t the one dressing in it.

I decided to hop online and do a couple of searches for the wedding dress from the movie. Of course, when I typed in “Enchanted wedding dress” to Google I mainly came up with screencaps or links to places where people mentioned the other dresses in the movie.

One of the links wasn’t even about said wedding dress. Instead, it was about a pattern the woman had recently created for a 50s inspired dress with lots of tulle underneath. She simply refers to it as “The Enchanted Dress” for want of an actual name.

Although it wasn’t what I was originally looking for I found myself delving deeper into the blog. I’ve gone ahead and volunteered to be a pattern tester but I don’t know that she’s going to take me up on it. From what I can gather she’s based in Brisbane, Australia and I’m sure she’d much rather have people test the patterns who live closer to her. We’ll see. Regardless of how that endeavor turns out, here’s the link to her blog:

Bettsy Kingston: The Enchanted Dress

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Just another summer workday

I work in a student-centered office. We’re basically here to serve them (to a certain extent…I’m not their maid, and I’ve told some of them as much in the past) with a variety of programs. However, since most students tend to skip off to wherever they call home or travel to vacation spots over the summer, the campus is very much dead when June rolls around. Since my building houses mostly various University Life offices – said offices serving the same almost non-existent student population – my building is remarkably quiet most of the summer. Well, for June, at least. July signals the beginning of the STEP summer program. After July 5th I can expect things to get pretty raucous around here.

Not now, though. Some days it’s actually possible to go through an entire shift without seeing a single soul in the hallway that leads to my office. Sometimes I like those days. It’s nice to get a break from having to deal with people.

Most of the time, though, I just sit at the front desk, bored out of my skull. I usually have a book with me so I’ll usually end up reading for a while. Or surfing the internet. I actually do a lot of my costume research while I’m at work during the summer. Sometimes I remember to bring something to work on. Those are the most interesting days – surfing the web or reading both engage your brain (at least, the way I surf) but I tend to get restless at the desk. I feel the need to be doing something.

Today that “something” entailed downloading and tracing a free pattern from burdastyle.com – actually traced it on the computer…the computer screen, that is. I used the screen as a kind of make-shift lightbox. I then proceeded to piece together the pages and cut out a pattern for a high-waisted eight piece skirt. (www.burdastyle.com/patterns/show/3965) It’s similar in some ways to the pants I made for my steampunk costume. The pants ended up not working out as well as I would have liked, so I’ve decided to make up a skirt and see how I like the new look.

And yes, in case it wasn’t exactly clear in that last paragraph, I was paid to sit in the middle of my office’s lobby floor and piece a hand-traced skirt pattern together with Scotch tape. Loads and loads of Scotch tape.

Some people steal office supplies, I create random clothing & craft-related chaos.

This is my first time really utilizing the Burda Style website. I discovered it a couple months ago (there was an ad for it in Threads Magazine. One of the incredibly interesting things about it is the wide selection of FREE patterns you can find. The site is basically an online gathering place for people who love to sew. In addition to “How-To” advice and a section that showcases contributors’ creations, there is a whole section of the site devoted to the patterns created by your fellow community members. The patterns range from simple hand puppets to complicated gowns requiring knowledge of and experience with advanced couture techniques. Each pattern is rated, both by the person who drafted it (saying whether they think it is an easy-to-construct pattern or not) and by other community members who have used it.

Most of the patterns here are free (both copyright-free and price-wise) and available for printing at home. That’s where I ran into my problem, though. The pdf file shows the lines for the pattern going to the very edge of the paper, but it doesn’t print out this way. Hence the tracing from the computer screen. I’m not sure whether the pattern came out the right size, but I intend to make a muslin in the coming week.

Regardless of how this pattern turns out, I encourage you to take a look around the Burda Style website. You do need to register, but registration is free and fairly easy. It’s also a good idea to write down what your measurements are in centimeters, instead of the usual inches that Americans go by. In case you’ve ever looked inside the Burda catalog at your local fabric and pattern supplier, you might have noticed that Burda uses the metric system for their measurements. That’s because Burda is a European-based pattern company.

It’s just about time for me to clock out here at the front desk. My pattern is neatly taped and not so neatly folded (the roll of tape holding the various pages together makes it feel much like laminated paper), waiting to be tucked into my bag and taken home.

I’m way too happy about goofing off this way at work.

Sewing Resources, or how I learned to properly sew a zipper into a pair of pants

I hate sewing zippers. I mean hate with the big letters. HATE HATE HATE. It’s not that I don’t like zippers in general. I do. I’m very much a jeans and sneakers kind of gal, so zippers feature very heavily into my daily life. They make getting in and out of clothes so much easier. If you want a fairly close-fitting garment that doesn’t require the skills of Houdini to get on and off, you need a zipper. I have to say, I love that feeling when you slip on a dress and it’s all breezy and wobbly (yes, I’m using “wobbly” as a positive, technical term here), and there’s no real definition to the garment. Then zip up and voila! A whole different look. And all because of a zipper. Even the way zippers are constructed is kind of interesting to me. They don’t work like those zip-loc bags. If you press the two sides together they don’t all of a sudden interlock. If you were a caveman and someone handed you a zipper, you probably would never think that those teeth could ever come together.

Of course, if you were a caveman you probably wouldn’t be sitting there playing with zippers in the first place. I really don’t know why I decided to use cavemen for this example. Let’s just forget I said that. The point is, to some extent, zippers are kind of a magical thing.

They are also incredibly hard to sew. They were for me, anyway. By this point, I’ve done a number of projects that call for zippers, so I’ve had a lot of practice. Well, a lot of practice at getting them wrong.

You’d think “zippers…straightforward enough, right? Sew one side to one half of the garmet, and repeat on the other side.” You’d have to be a complete dunce to not be able to do it – especially since all the zippers have instructions inside the package on how to sew them. Well, call me a dunce, then. I apparently can’t follow the (not entirely clear) directions included in the package.

Don’t get me wrong. I could at least put them in the garment. You could zip them up and wear the skirt, dress, pair of pants…whatever. But to me – with my ocd tendencies – the problem was always obvious. Try as I might, I could never get both sides of the zipper to line up completely even. When you looked at it, one side was consistently higher than the other. Usually only by a millimeter or two but, to my eyes, that’s enough. My zippers also have a tendency to kind of take a gentle curve off to one side or another. It’s like they have really bad posture. And, of course, if the zipper going down the back of your dress isn’t straight, it’s going to alter the fit of said dress and basically make you look like a fool.

So, where is all this going, you might ask. Well, I’m proud to announce that, after years of sewing zippers that ended up looking a bit wonky, I have now managed to sew two zippers in a row that came out even and avoid looking like the flashing neon signs of the sewing world, pointing out shoddy construction! The first was on a flouncy, girly skirt I made for myself (it’s got a rather bright Hawaiian-like print, and I absolutely love it!). Part of it is machine sewn, part is hand-sewn. And, before you question whether hand-sewing is easier than machine sewing, I’ll tell you – in the case of a zipper, it’s not. The print is just one that mixes a lot of color, so I wanted to do smaller stitches where the thread wouldn’t be as visible.

The second zipper was on my steampunk pants. Quite honestly, I was dreading putting in the zipper. I was worried it was going to be the worst part of the pants. I read and re-read the instructions included in the pattern and even looked up techniques and suggestions online. I didn’t bother looking at the directions included in the zipper package again. With the pattern directions and online suggestions to guide me, I managed to sew my first lapped zipper on the machine, and have the whole thing come out straight and even. (The problem with the pants turned out to be the enormous fit around the lower leg…I need to bring them in big-time).

The point of this post is simply this: Use the resources available to you. There are so many places out there where you can find help with techniques. The sewing community is really helpful and sharing. It’s not like the biology and med students at Ohio State, who would steal each others textbooks from the library (True story. My father went there and students from the two schools used a lot of the same books and, rather than share, they would steal the books so they could only be used by specific students). Sewing enthusiasts like to share their wealth of knowledge. So many of us have problems with certain techniques that, when we finally have that “AHA!” moment and a technique finally falls in place, we want to share it with everyone we can.

One of the sewing resources I frequently turn to is Threads Magazine. I don’t remember when I was first introduced to them but I know that I’ve learned a great deal from them by now. Every issue tries to incorporate at least one special sewing technique – some of them are basic, some of them are more advanced. The folks who publish Threads also publish a magazine called Sew Simple. I’ve looked through a couple of issues and I recognize some of the articles as ones that have previously been in Threads, though perhaps with some of the language and images made easier to follow. Both are good resources.

I’ve got a couple of sites I visit when I’m doing research for a costume or need help with a technique. Most of them are already listed off to the side. The Renaissance Tailor is a perfect example of this kind of site. It’s got the best tutorial on how to do hand-sewn eyelets – a mainstay of my costuming now.

I’d also suggest getting out and reading some of the sewing blogs that are out there. I subscribe to the Sewing Divas, as well as a couple of others (Newman’s Needle, CoutreMode, etc). Most of them are above my current level, but they are also good for inspiration.