Saturday, April 16, 2016

It's Been So Beary Long!

My smirk-y buddy.
This is me, in bear-form.

 Today's post has been a very long time in coming, and believe me, no one regrets that as much as I do.  Life has been like life always is - random patches of super busy-ness (especially before Christmas - something about that time of year almost always makes people think of giving something hand-made/sewn/embroidered - at the last minute), dotted with periods of Oh eM Gee, I think I need to find a job elsewhere because WHERE HAVE ALL MY CLIENTS GONE?
(Extra bonus points if you sang that in your head to the tune of "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?")

But things always seem to balance out the way they should.  My home can get rather messy during the peak seasons, and I go into a panic when I have large stretches of time when the work is sparse (instead of thinking, "Yay! I've got free time so I should get caught up on housework!" - do people really even think that way?  I must be missing an internal Suzy Homemaker switch or something).  I've thought about working outside the home, giving up on sewing altogether (which happened immediately after working on the most difficult bridal alteration I've ever encountered - and it's the only time in the last 40+ years of sewing that I've ever entertained the notion, if you'll pardon the seamstress pun), but even after a day or so of not sewing, I seem to navigate back to it in short order.  Must be in the DNA or something.

I've also been working all this time, bit by bit, on learning to better my photography.  I've been told (by sources that I really admire and appreciate) that my skills have vastly improved.  Part of that was due to purchasing a new-to-me camera last summer.  Part of it was due to buying a couple of how-to manuals that stressed that the main thing about learning to be a better photographer involves taking a TON of photos - then deleting most of them.  Thanks to the digital age, this isn't as painful as it sounds.  The majority of it is due to just getting my rear in gear and getting the camera out as often as possible, even for seemingly random and unexciting shoots.

Product shoots count, you know.

The writing, though - that took a back seat behind figuring out what, if anything, I was qualified to do outside the home should I be able to find work at all.  And then nursing my son back to health after he broke his foot in a motorcycle race.  And still working on sewing client jobs while trying to sort out the homemaker/employee/nursemaid thing.  Add in several recent deaths, both in the family and among friends.  In other words, Life happens.  I have missed writing - I think I just lost my mojo for awhile.  And I never really know if anyone is reading or not, other than by stalking my pathetic blog stats.  I figured that since this post so strongly related to my last post, it would be a good way to re-enter my little corner of the blogosphere.  So here is today's story:

I was approached recently by a booster parent of our high school's color guard team.  Every year, the team gets together and honors the soon-to-be graduating seniors and team captains by giving them a farewell luncheon with gifts, usually during what they call final retreat at championships.  This year, the girls had the idea to have replica outfits made for some stuffed bears to give to the seniors.  They chose the outfit they liked the best from one of the previous seasons, and asked if I could duplicate the dresses for the five bears.

It's not every day you get to practice draping skills on a stuffed animal.  But that's how the process starts.  The booster parent borrowed one of the original dresses; I then took some leftover draping scraps from my most recent foray into draping/pattern drafting (a wedding job that I might put in my next post) and proceeded to fashion the bodice for the bears.  This takes some effort and thinking - mostly trial and error - especially because the bears are so, well, squishy.  But that's actually a good thing, as my drafting mistakes are less evident because the bears have a tendency to give.  In a squishy way.

Draping the front bodice, while someone whispers sweet nothings in her ear...or gossips.  You never know with bears.

Next step: drafting patterns from the finished draping/fitting process.
Choosing the lace, fabric, and trims that would most resemble the out-of-stock original fabrics. This was the most difficult part of the process.  It can't match exactly, because it's so small scale.  But it can't be too different, either - because then it's not reminiscent enough.

The original dress (in the background) with the first draft.  This draft was a big nope - other than the color and the scale of the lace being okay - but not acceptable as is, since now I notice that the circle skirt that I cut for the bears doesn't look enough like the gathered skirt of the original. Looks more like a t-shirt or something - needs more gathering.  This becomes a problem, as the original lace was stretch lace, softer, and draped much more than the only lace in town that was the right color match - it wasn't stretch, and wouldn't softly gather the same way.  Argh.

Round two: after consulting with the client, then drafting a semi-gathered skirt, the miniature dress is starting to look more like the original.  And cuter, besides.  More like a dress, less like an oversized muscle-shirt.  Much less argh.  And then on to cranking out the other four dresses, assembly fashion (that's another seamstress pun - just in case you didn't pick up on that).

One of our five finished, lovely friends, modeling the back of the dress.  The zipper was purely for show, to resemble the original dress.  Ever tried setting in five  six two-inch zippers?  Because - whoops!  - I got a frantic text the day these were all due, looking for a sixth costumed bear to round out the selection.  The girls decided to give one to the coach they'd been working with for several years, even though he had moved on prior to this season.  Nice gesture.  Just means rearranging my calendar a bit.  And diving into the leftover scraps, hoping against hope that there will be enough to duplicate one more skirt...a few more panels than the others, but with all the gathering it was ultimately unnoticeable.  (And no "argh.")

The sixth bear, happy at the top of the pyramid/bear pile, 
and finished just in the nick of time.  Fully skirted, too.

Client was very happy, and she went out and bought presentation boxes like you'd find a collectible in at the toy store.  Pretty snazzy - hope I can get a shot some day of the finished packaging!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Lovely Remembrance

I wanted so badly to post this sooner, but since this was a surprise that the client wanted to give as Christmas gifts, I couldn't until after the holidays had subsided.  Figured Super Bowl Sunday was far enough out...then Valentine's Day...then St. Patrick's Day...then Easter...

This client was referred to me via a mutual friend.  His mother had passed away about a year ago, and the family was understandably having a difficult time.  The grief counselor suggested having something made from some articles of her clothing, and commented that a bear was usually a good choice as it could be hugged as needed.  My client showed up with 6 beautiful Gund bears and a bag full of his mom's clothing in tow, in colors she had loved wearing (and pieces that held some sentiment for his dad, his siblings, and himself).

Clothing, and trimming, and bears - Oh, My!

I had to think about this for awhile, since I'm not a master pattern maker by any stretch of the imagination.  Suddenly it hit me - I have several books filled with baby patterns that I've bought over the years, and with a little tweaking, they might just fit these bears.
I started off small.  I used one of the Henley t-shirts my client brought for me, looked around Pinterest for a few ideas on bear clothes (where there is a decided plethora of frilly & silly bear clothing - and a metric TONNE of Build-A-Bear garments that leave a lot to be desired); I decided to cut the shirt down to size and draft a pattern from it. Most of the patterns I found on the internet didn't account for any kind of body shaping (especially in the neck/shoulder areas).  Shaping for a bear is hard - that meant a t-shirt had to fit over a big head and around a thick neck, which leaves little room for a shoulder area, which is proportionately smaller.  It took a little finessing, but I was pretty happy with the results.  The simple elastic waist pants took a bit of fudging, too - thankfully, baby patterns do take a padded bum into account!  Don't get me started on the big bear feet, though...

After completion, I sent this pic in a text message to the client that read:
"In the beginning, there was a t-shirt.  And the t-shirt fit.  And it was good."

He loved it.

One of the blouses, cut as close to the original seams as I could get, in order
to save as much usable fabric as possible.

Matching blouse fabric with t-shirt fabric I culled from my
remnant bins.  I buy these when I see them at my local fabric store -
they are usually less than a yard apiece, but you'd be surprised how
handy they are to have sometimes.

Matching up tops and bottoms, deciding which ones would be
more girly and which ones would be more boyish.  Some turned out
to be in-between-y.

I should totally trademark that last word.
I had so much fun planning, matching, and making these, that I couldn't help but continue the party over to the photo shoot.

I had so much fun, I ended up stripping the threads on my camera's tripod connector.  OY.

Two of my favorites - especially the salmon colored one.
("PSST - I've got a secret to tell you!")

This was made extra special by taking advantage of the pocket placement on the front of
the original blouse, which then became the back pockets on this pair of overalls.

Okay, I'm beginning to sense a pattern, here.


You can't tell that this is my favorite of the group.

Not.  At.  All.

("...99, 100!   Ready or not, here I come!")
Of course, then the ridiculous fashion photographer wannabe in me took over...had to make sure I got their good side, you know.

Sigh.  Still my favorite.  

Mr. Casual

His close-up.
Then, the prop-master in me got all fired up again.

I wuv my kitteh.

Hands down the hardest outfit of all - lots of detail work, but
it was totally worth it.
Believe it or not, this is a straw hat we found at some dollar store, and
it's been sitting on top of a glass frog lamp my husband bought me years ago
as a gift.

The frog didn't seem to mind lending it out.


Another Henley and pants combo.
This one reminded me of my own mom for some reason.

And here we are, back to the starting point again.  

The Henley crew.

Family portrait.  

I ended up sending all of these photos to the client.  In addition to presenting a bear to each of his siblings, his father, and himself, he made a little documentary about the bear project which included photos of the clothes, the bears, the presentation, and pictures of each recipient with his or her bear.  In the photos he took of his siblings and his dad holding the bears, you can see some of the photos of his mom in the background - and in one or two, she was photographed wearing some of these garments in life.

One of the most poignant and rewarding projects I've ever been asked to help with.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why Can't I Be Different From Everyone Else?

Cruising through my reading list this evening, after almost a week of being unable to access it (thanks, Blogger), I came upon two posts that were written by two sewing bloggers.  One I've admired for a long time (Sarai from Coletterie, and one I've just recently discovered (Jody Pearl from Sew Outside The Lines).  Both of them touched on things I've been mulling over myself in the last year while on hiatus from writing my own blog.  Primarily, the questions/considerations center around 1) why do I sew? and 2) what is my focus, or what should it be?

Sarai recently did a series on her blog about streamlining your wardrobe by considering what your style is, or what you would LIKE it to be, and outlined steps you can take to get there.  From the comments she got during and after the series, it sounded like a lot of us are floundering when it comes to our personal style, so I'm no exception.  But I end up sewing so little for myself because I have had to take in so much sewing for others, just to help make ends meet.  So, I end up lurking around local thrift shops, scouring for duds that I can spruce up, remake, refashion, tailor, or use for parts & fabric.  And those pile up around me also, since I'm pretty tired by the end of my sewing day (4 hours most days, six if I can really push myself - check out the National Fibromyalgia Association website for details about why - it's too much to explain here).  It's not that I ever run out of ideas - anyone who's haunted my Pinterest board about refashioning knows that, LOL - I just run out of steam.  What little steam I have, I have to devote to the sewing that brings in income.  Sigh.

I love helping out by taking in sewing, but I've given some really serious thought to backing off from that, because I miss - I REALLY miss - sewing for the creative outlet that it brings, whether that's sewing from scratch, or remaking something to make it my own (refashioning).  I believe in reusing and repurposing things, and have done that for years.  What I didn't realize is that those concepts are part of a broader philosophical notion known as wabi sabi.  My favorite quotes from Wikipedia about it:  "If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi."  (Juniper, Andrew, 2003.  Wabi Sabi:  The Japanese Art of Impermanence.)  And, "Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realitites:  nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."  (Powell, Richard, 2004.  Wabi Sabi Simple.)  

Those last three notions really sang to me.  Nothing lasts.  Nothing is finished.  And nothing is perfect.  Really sums up both why I love to sew for myself or create something of my own to offer the rest of the world, and why I love refashioning.  And why I'd love to pursue both of those as an expression of myself (and hopefully, result in unique goods and/or clothing that others would be keen to purchase).

Sarai had a checklist on her post, offered as thinking prompts, that I have copied and put above my desk to help me pursue exactly WHAT I want to be saying, both to myself and to the world:
  • Who am I?
  • What am I like?
  • How do I want others to see me?
  • How can I express myself in a way that feels true and creative?
  • Why can't I be different from everyone else?
  • Why do I have to take myself so seriously?
I will be devoting some serious thinking time to pursue what my goals are for developing my personal style and the style I would like to present to others.  In the meantime, I stole some time out of my work schedule to remake a top from the Assistance League (the AL).

Here's to being different from everyone else!  :)

I started with an XL knit top  (on my larger dress form) that I snagged when the AL was having their 50% off sale.  Beautiful fabric, and I loved the colors. I try to look for things that have enough fabric or working room in them to remake.  If I can't fit a pattern into the top as it is, often I will cut it up to use in a color blocked shirt. The other thing to keep in mind when you go thrift-store-hopping:  check the condition of the garment very carefully.  Make sure there is no pilling, stretched out areas, discoloration, fading, stains, or holes.  Unless you either want to incorporate that into your look, or you know you can cut around it or over dye it.
 Check out the Reigning Queen of Over Dyeing.
I've folded the top in half at the center front, matching side seams, and now
I've pinned the pattern I'm using to the top, placing the pattern on the center fold and matching the armhole area as much as possible.  When you decide to use a pattern for
your refashion, you need to audition it a bit on the garment, deciding how best to use the existing garment's seams, hems, neckline finish, etc, keeping your finished garment idea in mind.
Sometimes the garment itself dictates what you can do with it.
It's okay.  There are no refashioning police.

Here's a closeup of the pattern up around the neck area.  My shoulders were still
joined, so I have pinned it beyond the seam approximately the distance of the seam width (5/8"), placing it from the center front fold, and not worrying about the neckline - I'm going to leave that as is.

Here is a very blurry closeup of the shoulder/neckline area. I've already cut around the new armhole, being careful not to cut into the sleeve or the sleeve seam allowance. It just barely fit into that area, amazingly. 

Cutting up the sides - I was able to trim out about 4 to 4.5" of excess fabric on each side.  I like this pattern because it is shaped on the sides, where some are just straight up and down from the bust line to the hem.  You can see that the armscye just fits around the existing sleeve curve, right at the seamline.  
And...nothing is perfect.  (Remember my new mantra?)  Here's where you can make an executive decision.  Mine was to use the existing hem, so I didn't worry too much about where to place the lower edge of the pattern.  I was aiming to keep the upper neck/shoulder area as intact as possible instead. 

Now that the front was cut, I folded the back in half, matching the shoulders and the side seams.  Again, I pinned the shoulder of the pattern 5/8" beyond the top's shoulder seam, since I wouldn't be needing the seam allowance, and placed the center back line on the fold of the garment.

Ah.  Here is a better closeup photo - you can see the shoulder edge of the pattern pinned beyond the existing seam.  I continued cutting the sides and the sleeves, leaving me with a front/back which was already finished at the neckline and the lower hems.  All I have to do now I cut the sleeves, set them back in, and finish up.

See?  It's like magic.  Now I won't have to do so much work to have an all new shirt.
Here was what was left after cutting the side seams from the front & back, and the sleeve cap area.  

This dangling part was just about all that went unused - so now I don't have anywhere near the waste I would have, had I purchased fabric to cut this pattern from.   Not bad. 
I had to determine what I needed to use from my pattern, and how it fit into the existing sleeve.  I cut the armhole of the bodice out using the pattern, so I should cut the sleeve cap from the same pattern so they fit together.  If I tried to use the existing sleeve cap as is, you can see there would have been a real fitting issue.

Cutting the sleeve cap to match the cut
armscye of the bodice.
Still had plenty of room left at the
lower edge of the sleeve, and the
pattern length was a bit short,
as it's meant to be a 3/4 sleeve.
 So I used the existing hem and that
left it a wrist-length sleeve.
I know, I know.  I'm a petite person
living in an average-sized pattern world.

I didn't take a photo of attaching the sleeve cap to the bodice, but after I serged them, there was a jog between the sleeve cap and the armscye in the upper bodice area on each sleeve.  That was due to having to pivot the pattern just slightly to get it to fit into the shoulder & neckline area.  I opted to serge along the sleeve (in the upper part of the picture) and then taper from that jog toward the side seam allowance (in the lower part of the photo), cutting off a small triangle.  I may have lost a bit of width in the upper bodice, but since the fabric is knit it wasn't as critical.

BEFORE                                                   AFTER
And here you have it - a shirt that looks brand new, with lovely commercially finished hems and neckline, but tapered and fit to my measurements.  Alternately, I could have just taken the top in all the way from the sleeve hem down the side to the lower bodice hem, but when you do that the shoulder seam ends up falling off the shoulder into the upper bicep area.  Not too flattering - and in a light colored shirt like this, really obvious.

Not too sure about this bringing on a serene melancholy, but it definitely fit the spiritual longing part.  It may not last, it was definitely not finished in it's original state, and it certainly isn't perfect.  But because I don't want to take myself so seriously anymore (I have to create a garment from scratch!  I have to do everything, from start to finish!  And it has to be perfectly sewn!), it fulfilled a need to have a result that feels true and creative, and better reflects the philosophy of wabi sabi.   

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bonus Points for Not Skipping to the Next Blog!

It's incredible how much time has elapsed since my last post.  Apologies to any of you who have been lurking around the edges, hoping to see something new and exciting coming out of this quarter.  So much has happened between then and now, and for awhile it seemed like all my reasons for wanting to do a crafting/sewing blog in the first place went out the window.  I decided I needed to stop posting work from my production clients online, in order to preserve their right to get their items out to the public first, before anyone else sees the idea on my site and jumps the gun.  That left work from what I call my independent clients, but I figured people get bored with too many of the same type of posts (altering, tailoring, hemming, repairing, and repeat), so I sort of lost steam for a long time. My client base has steadily grown as well, so when I did have time to post, I was usually too tired to photograph and upload.  I've really been wanting to get back to writing and having a reason to practice my photography again, so - ready or not, here I am!

There's no way to get you caught up on so much - your eyes would be rolling back into your head around the 15th paragraph or so anyway - so what say we start fresh?

One of the things I love to do for clients is embroidery.  For years, I've been using a Viking Husqvarna Designer SE.  There are plenty of things that this machine can do that makes it worth keeping, but unfortunately, embroidery wasn't one of them.  Oh, I had high hopes in the beginning.  It seems, though, that I appear to have purchased a bit of a lemon.  Either that, or my repair gurus aren't being very truthful about other SE's coming in for the same repairs, over and over.  I have read several other blogs and reviews that mention some of the same issues I have, so I'm not going to sit here and dis Viking.  I do know that I'll never buy another one, though.  The biggest issue with the SE is that between the constant (and unpredictable) tension problem and the absolutely USELESS thread cutter (imagine a little gnome yanking your fabric through the throatplate, whacking repeatedly with a machete in the approximate area of where the thread should have been and shredding it nine ways to Sunday, all the while making horrid mechanical retching sounds), embroidering on this machine is just a nightmare.  I have ruined several onesies for my biggest production client, and it was getting embarassing to have to keep calling to ask for yet another shirt to replace the one the machine just ate.  The shirts ended up so holey, the pope was considering them for canonization.

My husband got really tired of hearing me cussing and fuming about the SE, but we both knew there was no way I was going to trade up to a Diamond because we could think of several other things we could do with that kind of money.  Like invest in another car, let's say.  I started haunting Craigslist, hoping that I could find a better quality machine - and lo and behold, my patience (or lack thereof) finally paid off - I found a gently used Brother PR620 being sold by a couple of college students.  They were majoring in marketing & branding, and had bought the machine to use for projects and embroidery orders for the marketing company one of them worked part time for.  It was in great condition and came with a boatload of extras, so my husband was good with helping with the financing.  Not keen on it, mind you - he's semi-retired now so big expenses like this one are kind of nerve-wracking at this point.  Since he is semi-retired, though, and because we have another son in college now, I really needed to pick up more work - and this machine promised results that were both higher quality and speedier than anything I'd been able to embroider before.

Also, this is the first machine I've purchased that was bigger than me.

The proof.  

So far, I haven't had a single issue with it, other than a bit of a learning curve.  It's a six-needle machine, which means that I don't have to sit and change threads for every color.  It's a SMART machine, which means that I don't usually have to babysit it, finger poised over the STOP button, waiting for that gnome to start cranking out those horrible sounds.  When it detects an issue, whether it's an incorrectly cut thread (are you listening, Viking?), a knot, missing bobbin thread, tension differences, or misalignment, it STOPS and notifies you there is a problem.  So I can actually sit at another machine, or go to my cutting table, and get other work done while it's merrily embroidering away.  My PC links up to it beautifully.  I never, ever could get my software - my VIKING software, mind you - to do the same with the SE.  I don't mind walking from one desk to the other with a flash drive, but...really?

First time I was actually able to introduce the Brother to my laptop was just this past week, when I had a rush job (not quite an overnight job, but only just) for a local high school's sports banquet.  (Friends from FVHS, if you're reading this, I make my apologies now.  It was for Edison.  Don't hate me - they were desperate, and willing to pay cash.)  With dozens of blankets needing every athlete's initials, and only a day and a half to get this done from digitizing to final finishing, I didn't have time to keep popping back and forth between the laptop and the machine with the flash drive.  Too many files loaded onto the flash drive, and it takes too long to sort through them on the onboard  touch screen.  Link the PC to the Brother, though, and BAM - all the files were transferred over to the Brother in mere seconds, and they were all there to use one after the other.  Sorted, alphabetized, and ready to rumble.


Heavy fleece blankets.

The Brother is a champ.  I've never been so excited to turn a machine on before.  It has a narrow center arm (the "bed"), which keeps me from having to sit and hold a onesie inside-out, stretched beyond capacity, hoping that I'm not going to get my fingers caught in the needle of the flatbed unit on the SE while trying to maneuver the fabric so IT doesn't get caught and sewn over.  Now I can just hoop the onesie and slip it over the center arm.  No more jockeying for position.  It stitches fleece, heavy beach towels, thin cotton knits, heavy canvas aprons, hats, tote bags, jackets, you name it, all with the greatest of ease.  (That's a seamstress joke.)  I've nicknamed it The Beast.  Actually, it could be Beauty (or Belle) as well, it does such lovely things.  

Felt patches for the scooter repair/custom build shop where my son works.
Aprons, both heavy duty...
(Note: I did NOT do the Steelers logo.  It was already on the apron.)

...and a lighter weight.
And yes, I know. Those photography skills.  I'm working on 'em.
A onesie and a matching Minky blanket.  Like Buttah!
Heavy duty beach blanket, a keepsake for a client taking her daughter, her daughter's best friend, and her god-daughter to the Bahamas.  Unfortunately, they were not able to fit me into a carry-on, even though I asked pretty-please.  (Rats.)

CAPS!  I CAN DO CAPS NOW!  (And hats, too.)

Suffice to say, this is hands-down one of the BEST investments I've ever made in terms of becoming more professional with my sewing services.  

Unless you count the coverstitch machine I just bought a couple of months ago...but that's a story for another day.  

And for those of you who follow the Sewing Assistant's progress, he's still here, fat and sassy. 

Not very good at Selfies, though.

 I've been taking in so much more work now, though, he's had to hire an Assistant's Assistant.  He's still in training.
Didn't need much, really.  As soon as he was able to jump, he was up and on all of my clients' garments...
...and in every open bag he can find.
Meet Perry.  Affectionately known as Pee-Wee.
The Sewing Assistant's Assistant.