Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Whoa - It's Only Mid-January and I've Already Learned Something

A couple of things I've never attempted before (neither sober nor otherwise):  pattern drafting, and pattern grading.  For a very good reason.  Classes in flat pattern making are getting harder and harder to find at the local colleges - there used to be two nearby Community Colleges that had the class, then it went to every Spring when they downsized, and now I can't seem to ever find it listed.  Sigh.  Taking a computer-aided drafting class is all well and good if you can afford the software on your own - and that can run anywhere from $500 to over a grand, depending on what you want to do with it.

I don't know about you, but I don't currently have that kind of money floating around, just waiting to be frittered away on more software.

So over the years I've collected pattern-drafting books, both new and used (and the really technical ones?  You can pay around $200 for them sometimes.).  One came with a test version of the software, but it doesn't allow you to change the pattern styling, it only allows you to use the four or five patterns and type in your size to make that garment for yourself.  You can't save anything.  And the garments are ugly.  Most of the other books teach you how to alter a pattern to your liking - not quite what I'm after, but it's a start.  Unfortunately, some of these are so lightweight when it comes to explaining exactly what you're supposed to do that they are all but useless.

I keep hoping that I'll eventually have enough time to study all of these books, test out their advice, and see if I can figure out for myself exactly how one goes about drafting a pattern for a garment one would like to make, as well as grading it (for my non-sewing peeps, that means drafting multiples of the garment in different sizes).  But it's a daunting task.

Enter my pregnant client.  She is miserable right now, and since this is her second child, of course her body remembered EXACTLY how to expand at light speed.  So nothing fits.  She emailed me in desperation, hoping that I could whip out some roomy garments for her to wear before she had to start raiding her husband's closet (and we all remember how trendy that looks, right?).  Only her favorite pattern that she gave me was for her pre-pregnancy size and wouldn't fit her anymore.  And is no longer available.  ANYWHERE.

Sigh.  I got to work on some of the other garments we talked about, but that one dress kept coming back up to haunt me, along with another one that she really, really likes (The Soiree Dress from the Hatch Collection).  I so wanted to give her something other than just plain, boxy, oversized t-shirts to wear.  But these two dresses scared me half to death.  I didn't want to botch the process and waste the fabric she'd already bought.  But it kept me up at night - I just couldn't stand it and decided that I had nothing to lose.  I went to the local fabric store and bought inexpensive knit material to attempt the Soiree style (figuring that if I botched it, I was only out about $12).  I spent days and days and days (and sleepless nights) working things out in my head.  I cut out a couple of test swatches to see if I could figure out how to do that fabulous draping, or something similar.  I blew up the photos from the web site to see if I could figure out the construction.  No luck there, since they were too low resolution to be of any help.
Here is their version, in silks.
Now you can understand my freaking-outedness.

I was about to give up when a sewing friend happened to come over to pick something up (completely non-sewing related) and I snagged her for a quick look-see.  She ruminated about it, took a look at the pattern I'd drafted, looked at the sample, and picked up the fabric panel I'd cut out and started draping it on me.  She looked at the one on the internet (even though we couldn't do an extreme closeup, darn it) and agreed that I was on the right track.  That gave me what I needed to get over my fear of failure.  So after sewing it up and trimming off the excess at the bottom, here's what I came up with:

Here is my version, waiting for hems.
And for someone with legs.
Not bad for my very first drafting effort from scratch.
Don't bug me right now about the lack of finesse.

And I just happened to catch the First Sewing
Assistant, Retired, there in the background.

About five seconds before the Current Sewing Assistant
went diving through the skirt.

I'll let you know how that one goes over (thankfully, not literally) - I'm just glad I was able to get that shaping & draping without jumping off a bridge somewhere. (My eternal thanks, Laura!)

As for the other dress, I was crushed when I got home from my client's house to find that the pattern was never going to fit her in her current state - we both looked, online and in stores, and no one has that pattern anymore. In ANY size.  (Curse you, Butterick - it's a cute pattern, too....)  I kept taking it out of the envelope and staring at it in a mild panic, and then setting it aside.

The Sewing Assistant decided to go to work on grading it himself, using his own particular method:

Yeah.  It's a real easy pattern, until you try grading it yourself.
Look at all those lovely, interlocking, self-lining pieces.
Along with more of that side draping.
That needs to be expanded to accommodate pregnancy.
(Cue mad screaming and running for the hills here.)

After letting the Sewing Assistant take a stab at it (literally), I kept thinking, and thinking, and thinking.....I'd read articles on how patterns are graded commercially and what parts of the pattern can be expanded, while others areas need to be increased only infinitesemally infinitismally MICROSCOPICALLY.  Threads published a really good article on it not too long ago.  I sure wish I could find that particular magazine.  (Want a matching headache?  Here's part of the article: http://www.threadsmagazine.com/item/4368/making-sense-of-pattern-grading/page/all)



And finally, I just DID.  This was after I talked her into letting me draft a very simple caftan, similar to the styles you can find in any department store right now.  I just couldn't admit defeat.  So I took out my rulers & my drafting pencils and got to it.  I looked very carefully at the pattern pieces and where the existing sizes were drawn out bigger (and how much bigger), where they stayed the same or moved very little, found some points of reference (like corners and pattern markers), and drew a straight line out along the existing points to where I thought the next size would be and marked a new point on the pattern paper I'd taped onto the old one.  I followed each pattern piece around and continued drawing out new points, connecting them by following the contours of the existing pattern piece.  In some places I just eyeballed it - I couldn't tell by how much it should be increased (there was no continuity between sizes in those places).  I cut out the new pattern pieces and then the fabric (shudder, shudder, shudder....that she brought home from NYC).  

And just about died when it all came together and fit perfectly.  Well, almost.  And that wasn't from the inexpert grading, it was actually a sewing bobble I can't believe I did.  

You can't see me now, but I'm doing The Happy Dance.  Alternating with the Duck and Cover Dance, since I imagine someone else is going to ask me to repeat this miracle performance, and I'm not quite sure I'll be able to.  But crisis averted for this client, for the time being.  

I just hope she doesn't get too much bigger in the next couple of months.....

Friday, January 13, 2012

Crafty Cat and Crafty Hats

Wow.  Where on earth is January going so fast?  You'd think someone somewhere sped up the cosmic clock or something, the rate it's going.  I'm still geeking out about how quickly 2011 disappeared, apparently while I was off looking in another direction.  In a state of total bemusement, most likely.

Not as much as usual to show for the first (nearly) two weeks of the new year - but I haven't been totally idle, mind you.  Just not swamped.  I'm luxuriating in that sensation, I can tell you.  I'm sure more work is coming down the pike faster than I can say "I'm sure more work is coming down the pike..."  While I've had some breathing room from client orders, I decided the time was right to work on some sewing for charity - and to start a new "tradition" for the Sewing Assistant, who, try as I might, simply refuses to stay fired.  Looks like he has tenure.  So, while he remains (permanently) in my employ - following no one's rules but his own, of course - he might as well dress the part, don't you think?  I was chatting with one of my clients last week about a project we will be working on and we were both laughing about how neither of us currently wears things to represent what we do - which is silly, actually, since I do so much sewing for other people.  I should really be wearing my own work.  What better way to advertise my skills than that?  Somehow, it always seems to be selfish or idle, since I'm not getting paid for it.  Yet, the reason I wanted to sew like this in the first place was to continue my lifelong pursuit of creating things with my hands, and making a statement about myself in the process.  So that is this year's goal (not resolution - GOAL - I have found that when I attach the former word to my plans, they go directly out the window) - to start WEARING MY WORK.  Literally.  And I'm planning to have some fun with it along the way.  Whether it speaks about my identity remains to be seen, but it should definitely speak about my abilities, at any rate.

So since I have made plans for making things for myself to help represent me, my work, my abilities, and my craftiness/artfulness, I figure the Sewing Assistant should reap the same benefits.  And boy, does he like to strut his stuff.  I've been making him interchangeable collar covers every couple of weeks since right before Christmas, and I've never seen a cat look for so much attention due to what he's wearing before.  It's pretty humorous to watch him preen in front of anyone who notices the new collar cover - you'd think he was posing for the cover of Cat Fancy or something.


Neko wearing his Christmas striped collar cover, while simultaneously
attempting to un-decorate the tree my son and his girlfriend had
just finished trimming.  What you can't see here is the ornament
he just knocked off the tree onto the floor, shortly before he
jumped down to play soccer with it.
And yes, that is his handiwork you see there on the back of the couch cover.  Yes, indeed.  Scratching posts be damned.

I didn't get a photo of the second collar cover, which we all decided needed to be changed after the New Year.  I made that one out of a lovely blue background with white frosty trees.  Plus glitter.  Lots of glitter. I thought it would make all the teenage/twenty-something guys who come and go around here (quite a few of them on motorcycles) groan and roll their eyes.  Strangely enough, that hasn't been the case.  And now as soon as they come in the door, they are all asking, "Where's Neko?  What's he wearing today?"

Sounds like a serious Sewing Challenge to me.

The third collar cover to make its appearance so far this year:
Leopard Velboa.
Fuzzy, Big Cat-ish, and Stylin'.  He's loving it so far.
And loving my sewing chair, as you can see here.  He keeps stealing it....

Thankfully, most of these are from either the remnant bins or the flat-fold (i.e. CHEAP) sections of the local fabric stores I've been known to haunt.  So when he trashes one (like the pretty blue one I didn't have a chance to photograph), I don't worry about it too much.  He provides such a nice contrast to any color or print I can put on him, I predict that this is going to be the start of quite the wardrobe.  Maybe I'll need to hire a stylist for him....

I probably should hire one for myself, while I'm at it.  My friend whose daughter is working on her Girl Scout Gold Award wanted to take a photo of me with the huge sack of fleece hats I made for the project.  (About 38 or so of them, actually.)  Of course, I couldn't just stand there and hold them.  I absolutely had to wear one.  I chose the one that made me think of Winnie the Pooh for some reason.....

Her camera was acting up, so we had to suffice with
a cell phone shot, which is why I look very disproportionate.
Yeah, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

I had wanted more of the red to show up, because this hat just
screamed POOH!, but it doesn't show here as much as I had wanted.
Most likely due to the giant hair clip I had holding my hair in a bun
in the back - it kept pulling the hat to the back so you couldn't see the red.

It's awesome to work with a young designer - she's been making these hats herself, to wear to night practice during marching season, to give as gifts, etc. for quite some time now.  Her designs are clever, colorful, and a whole lot of fun to see & wear.  She's making this batch (somewhere in the neighborhood of about 100, I believe) to give to kids in the hospital, especially to chemo patients.  I can't wait to hear how well they are all received.  I can't imagine ANYONE stifling a smile or an outright fit-o-giggles when they start modeling these.

Any time you can bring a spot of joy into someone's life, no matter how briefly, is well worth it.  Which is why I always accept projects like this - helps me keep my head on straight by helping me put things into a greater perspective.  And I can never fault the time spent doing that.