Friday, May 10, 2013

A Floral Trip Down Memory Lane

Prom season.  Usually, I have a ton of dresses to work on during this time of year.  This year was an exception - the only dress I worked on was for my oldest son's girlfriend.  She inherited the dress from a cousin, who had had it redone by her mother at some point.  It wasn't the best alteration job, so most of what I needed to do was repair the work that had been done to that point, and to hem it and take it in just a smidge for her.

The saddest thing about it is that my son doesn't even get to attend her senior prom.  She's 18, but he's 21.  Too old to be an escort because he is of legal age to buy alcohol.  Never mind that my kid doesn't drink (and most likely never will).  The school has to do what it has to do to try their best to prevent tragic accidents that you read about in the papers every year.  But it was still a little sad for the two of them, since this is her senior prom.

She decided that she was just going to go with a bunch of girlfriends who also didn't have dates (a move that I heartily applaud - I wish we'd had that option when I was in high school - it sure would have beat the stigma of not being asked and not having a date...).  While doing the final fitting on her, it occurred to me that since none of these girls would have dates, that maybe none of them would have corsages.

You can't go to prom without a corsage.  You just can't.  I think there's a law about that on the books somewhere.

I asked her if her parents were buying her some flowers, and she was pretty sure they weren't.  Then I asked her if any of her girlfriends were getting flowers from their folks, and with one exception (she was takin' herself to prom, so she's buyin' herself some flowers, darnit!), none of the other girls would have corsages, either.

A brief conversation with my son later, we figured that since he'd be working while they were going out to dinner, that he might as well at least buy her and her friends some flowers.  He actually wanted to learn how to make the corsage himself (and he's not that bad with flowers, remember?), but there just wasn't enough time to teach him how, with him working all day and going to class at night.

Heck, I didn't even know if I could remember how to make a wrist corsage, much less teach someone else to do it.

Off to the local floral/decorators warehouse I went.  Wrist corsage bands, check.  Floral tape, check.  Floral wire, check.  Ribbon in colors to match all three girls' dresses, check.  Up to the register, check.  Oh, wait - they don't take checks.  Cash.

When he got home from work last night, off to the grocery store we went to check out their floral department.  I usually go to Trader Joe's to get the flowers that I put into arrangements for tables (you can hunt through my posts for anything labeled floral and you can find some examples), but last night they were just about wiped clean.  So off to Ralphs grocery store we went.  Luckily, they had a little more than T.J.'s, but still not very much.  He finally settled on some purple striped mini carnations, some white roses, and some baby's breath.  No greens available there, but my neighbor had gifted me with several cuttings of her leather fern plants years ago, so no worries.

Until I got home and realized that my husband had just that day decided that he needed to cut all the plants back, nearly to the roots.


We don't have any more ivy (too many places for rodents to hang out and party hearty), so I cut what I could from what was left.  And decided to use ribbon accents.  Lots and lots of ribbon accents.  (LOL)

Dark blue ribbon, to match the girlfriend's dress.  I only made this photo large because I was so proud of myself for actually using the macro properly.  

Dark purple and gold ribbons to match the other two girls' dresses, plus the blue one (to the upper right).
Sure hope they can tell the difference tomorrow night when they put them on. 

I love roses.  I just wish I could grow them.

And off to prom they go.

The prom this year is being held at the Queen Mary in Long Beach.  Attendees are allowed to go into the ballroom where the dance & food will be, but they also get to wander through about three floors of the Queen Mary and see some of the displays & rooms.  Hopefully, no ghosts.  If she ever gets a copy of the photos they take there, I'll post a photo of the finished dress - we didn't have time to take a shot while she was here and I like them better when they're all dolled up for the dance anyway.  :)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Do Rhomboids Dance?

Crazy.  Busy.  I can't believe I haven't posted since February - I'm sure my absence sent the blogosphere into a frantic tizzy. Just kidding! - but my disappearance was mostly due to MY being in a frantic tizzy for about 4 months.  Let's just say that my Sanity-Meter was tipping precariously toward "In-" and leave it at that.

I may have mentioned this before, but this is my younger son's senior year of high school.  Originally, he was planning to participate in the marching band in the fall, and then instead of doing percussion in the spring, he wanted to take a break from the constant rehearsals and competitions and move over into the Wind Ensemble instead. Things didn't work out that way, though, so we just got finished grinding through another spring competition season, which culminated in an incredibly jam-packed trip to Dayton, Ohio for the WGI Percussion World Championships.  Which meant mom was plenty busy measuring for drumline uniforms & measuring for custom drum covers, followed by plenty of pattern drafting, manufacture, and repair work thrown in for good measure.  Add in driving to competitions (some of them were nearly 100 miles away, one way), providing meals on the run, a sudden (and most welcome) upswing in client orders, one custom wedding anniversary dress, another VW bus refashion, sewing for charitable needs, and one of the most unusual costume requests I've gotten in awhile, and you have one very busy seamstress.  (Disclaimer:  You are not permitted to ask about housework.  Just sayin'...)

Obvs, I can't write about all of it at once (or you'll fall asleep at your desk or wherever you happen to be picking up my sudden reappearance in BlogLand), so I'll keep it to one topic for this post - and bring you up to speed a bit at a time.

Because I know all 9 of you have been fretting worriedly about my sudden drop off the edge of the Web map.  (Here there be monsters - right?)

The percussion ensemble up at the high school was bumped up into the World Class category recently, which is saying a LOT - these are very talented, very dedicated kids that take their percussion work very, very seriously.  And their spring show provided an insight into just how dedicated these students are - the theme was derived from the last 10 miles of railroad track that was hand laid in preparation for setting the Golden Spike at Promontory Point, UT in 1869 (an amazing and - to date - unparalleled track-laying feat that you can read about here), creating the first transcontinental railroad.  The indoor percussion show required a costume that would be reminiscent of the "coolie" type clothing that a lot of the chinamen wore during the track laying - but something ephemeral and slightly ghost-like as well.

Front Ensemble members with their instructor, after World Championships.
The drummers and the cymbal players out on the floor mat were required to hit the floor - literally, as well as figuratively - and often on their knees with a bit of a twisting motion.  You can probably guess what was coming down the pike, since these uniforms were made of a cotton muslin that was thinner than Osnaberg.  Most of the time at a competition is spent NOT competing, but rehearsing parts of the show, over and over, usually in an outside lot.  Without the floor mat.  Loosely translated, this means that these kids are now on their knees, twisting & grinding the fabric into asphalt.

And yes, they were all wearing knee pads under the costumes.  That helped to keep them from getting injured, but didn't keep the fabric of the pants from shredding.  It would have been nice to have ordered the costumes with that in mind (reinforced knees, anyone?), but sometimes at the beginning of a season you don't always know what all is going to get thrown into the show at a later date.  

By the end of the season, nearly the entire drumline had patched up knees that looked like this:

Dude, this knee isn't going ANYWHERE now.  Well, unless you count the one bass drum player whose knee ripped RIGHT NEXT TO all the stitching you see here.  The day after I had just repaired it.  Sigh.

Luckily, the thread immediately picked up the dirt & grime from the asphalt they were practicing on, resulting in a patch job that more or less resembled the spray paint that had been applied to the costumes in the first place - even with the newer "color," it all still blended in with the overall aesthetic.  Works for me.

We almost decided to just leave the holes in the pants, figuring that the students would look more and more like the original coolies that had worked almost non-stop on that historical day.  You know, they wouldn't have had a seamstress standing by back then to repair their it would have made historical sense NOT to repair the knees.  The only problem with doing so would have been that all of their kneepads would have shown through the huge holes in the knees - and they weren't all wearing the same color pads.  Black or buff would have posed no problem, but some of them had bright blue ones - that would have been a distracting jolt of color out there.  When you're in World Class, sometimes competition scores come down to the hundredths of a point difference (yeah, sort of like Olympics scores), and that's when the visual effects scores can make or break your ranking.

To make the repair job blend in and last as long as possible, I ended up fusing two layers of tight-weave muslin fabric together.  Then I applied more fusible web to the outer edges of the resulting patches (or used fabric glue - it depended on the shape and size of the original tear) and adhered it to the wrong side of the pants material.  After turning it right-side out again, I used the darning/mending stitch on my Viking machine - a thing of beauty, once you get the hang of it.  For some reason, the programmers opted to have the darning stitch sew a continual 14-row darning patch, after which you can reset the machine to start where the last group of stitches left off. Only each row in that 14-row group moved diagonally up and over a few stitches.  Which meant that you ended up with a rhomboid of stitches (yeah, sorry - hopefully that term's not dredging up nightmares of high school Geometry tests - you can look it up here) - and that makes it a little hard to match up the next group of stitches, especially if your tear isn't as symmetrical as the programmers seemed to think it should be.  If you look closely at that repair photo, you can see about a dozen rhomboids dancing across the knee.

Do rhomboids dance?

The Sewing Assistant SO does not care if rhomboids dance. 

Patchwork on the knees held up through World Championships - thankfully - because it would have been a bit difficult to get my sewing machine through TSA...although I will admit to packing a patchwork repair kit, complete with a travel iron, on board the semi before it drove off to Dayton.  Just in case.

Next Post:  How many calculations go into making a whole set of custom drum covers?  Or, Why I Suddenly Needed To Renew My Painkiller Prescription.  (Hint: it has something to do with headaches.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Time To Get Cracking!

Dear whomever is in charge of determining how many viruses a person gets in the space of about 6 weeks:


Thank you.

So where did we leave off?  Oh, yeah.  Neko (AKA The Sewing Assistant) was about to launch into my dog blanket project...literally.

Operation Blankets of Love is an organization that collects blankets, towels, pet beds, collars, leashes, clothes (for dogs), food dishes, grooming supplies, etc for shelters, rescue groups, wildlife & farm sanctuaries.  They are also a partner service provider for The American Red Cross.  The amount of items that they collect and distribute for animals in need is pretty impressive.  If you'd like more info, their website is:

Last year I helped a Girl Scout with her service project for her gold award.  After she was done, she donated the rest of the fleece material to me (since she was going to the Czech Republic for a year)...I cut it up into lots and lots and lots of little squares, thinking I'd piece them together to make patchwork blankets.

What was I thinking?

Well, things slowed down over the holidays and for the past 6 weeks or so (other than catching all these darn viruses, anyway), so I decided it was time to start finishing my stock of UFOs.  The blanket project is the largest and most obvious UFO in my stash - it is literally taking over about half of my living room.  (Remember this?)  I've sent the smallest ones over to the young lady's mom to work on, but I still have the medium pieced ones here, as well as a huge lawn & leaf bag full of larger sized cuts.  I tried piecing the first one together but the seams from the combined fleece parts were too bulky for my taste.  I still wanted more than just the one layer for protection (some of these dogs have nothing but cement to sleep on).  So I decided that just zig-zagging them down to the base piece would be better - especially since it meant that the overall blanket would be flatter and have less bulk, but still have a couple of layers.

That was going amazingly well, unless you count how slow it is to get multiple layers of fleece through your feed dogs.  Once I started the zigzag (using my walking foot) it went faster, but it was still slow going.  It didn't help that Neko decided that he had to do Quality Control on each and every blanket.

Sometimes while I was still working on them.

Ummm....Neko?  I can't turn the corner with you on the blanket.

Neko?  NEKO?  Hello?  

"You can't move the WHAT?"


Okay, now he's scaring me.  (LOL)
Quality Control on Soft Substances.  It's what he lives for.

Hmm, maybe it was time to switch gears and let him have that blanket (pins and all - did you notice that? - he's really dedicated to his job) and do something else for awhile...

My younger son is in his first relationship, and Valentine's Day was looming with no idea what to do for or give to his girlfriend.  I made a few suggestions but he still wasn't sure.  With only hours to go, I finally recommended just giving her flowers (plus a vase that she could use again) and calling it a day.  We bought the flowers at Trader Joe's - they usually have a pretty decent selection without the ridiculous prices - and bought the vase at the nearby Dollar Tree, along with some plain M&Ms to tuck into the arrangement.

Oh, yeah - the glittery hearts were part of a bunch of "silk" flowers we bought at the Dollar Tree.
The flowers went immediately into the Goodwill pile.  


Thumbs up!  Must be an okay gift!

These roses were just amazing.  They looked like they'd been
set on fire.  Appropriate, since his girlfriend is in percussion with him
and the band's fall show (if you've been following the blog) was FIRE.
She was very pleased with it, and the entire thing probably cost around $15 to make, not including the Oasis that I already had stashed away (for last minute panic-gifts such as this).  I saw on one of the local channels that you could order a dozen roses ON SPECIAL! for "only" $75.

Valentine's Day is such a racket.

My older son knew exactly what to do for his girlfriend.  He "borrowed" my colored pencils, found a picture online of a couple of baby ducklings and drew a picture of them on a small chalkboard thing that my husband had saved from an illustration job he worked on years ago.  It came out really nicely - and she loved it.

I did have to go down the hall to get my pencils back, though.

Now things are picking up again work-wise, and I have several really interesting jobs coming up:  an anniversary/wedding vow renewal custom dress; drum covers for the Percussion unit (they are two competitions into their season already); costuming for next year's fall show (shh, didn't hear that and I can't tell you anything more about it until closer to the season, darn it); another VW revamp (I am STILL waiting for the last guy to send me photos of his!); and - hopefully - some of my "own thing" and maybe even some refashioning.  I miss doing that.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Getting M'lady Dressed

Whoa.  Where on earth did January get to?

I left the day after Christmas to go out to Tennessee to visit my parents, fully anticipating doing some crafting with my mom, the Craftmeister herself.  About all the crafting we did, though, was shopping and sorting - it rained nearly every day I was there and was really cold (in the 30's & 40's), so we really didn't get out that much, come to think of it.  I did help her sort and cull her stash of papercrafting supplies.

Loosely translated, that meant I helped her go through her 5 drawer bin storage of stickers of every make & size you can imagine.  I tried to make categories that would make sense to her after I left, since I wouldn't be there to help her find something she knew she had, but could never remember what drawer it was in.  Alas, even my herculean efforts went for naught, because she had seen a set of floral stickers while we were sorting that she wanted to use for her Christmas thank you notes, only they weren't in the "Floral" drawer.  So she ended up calling me to try to figure out where they were.  I remembered that particular set, because they were semi-holographic (which I would never use myself - I think they are a bit on the gaudy side, but hey, that's just me), and told her I was SURE I had put them into the Floral drawer.  Which could barely close.  Which meant she had to pull tons of stickers out of that drawer looking for this set.  And still couldn't find them.  Argh.  Turns out they were in the Butterfly stash.  Apparently, I'd seen the butterflies on them and figured she'd want them with the rest of the butterflies, and not the floral.  Whoops.

I also finished a kit that my mom had stashed in her "crap room" from eons ago - it was a scarf that used bulky yarn and you were supposed to weave it into a long piece of netting.  I'd never seen anything like that, and she thought because I mentioned it, I would want to have it.  I said no, I really had no use for any more scarves (I have tons that I've hand knit for myself and never wear), but I'd be more than happy to do it up for her so she could donate it or give it as a gift.  It actually didn't look too bad once it was done, but I still didn't want it, LOL.

The only other "crafting" I got up to while I was there was photographing the nutty birds that were coming up to the bird feeders on the back deck, and doing some of my freezer cooking for my folks, so they would have some fun things to pull out and cook after I'd left.  That was my Christmas gift to them.  Trust me, I wasn't being cheap - they have so much stuff they are trying to get rid of, the last thing they needed was more, well, STUFF.  So I thought I'd leave them with about a dozen or so home-cooked meals.  My dad and I went upstairs and copied all the recipes so that they would have instructions for everything that had gone into the freezer.  True to form, he called me about two days after I got home, wondering what he was supposed to do with the Lemon Chicken.  Seems the instructions that we'd copied (twice, on that particular one) had gone missing out of the stack that they'd carefully clipped together so they wouldn't go missing.

Once I got back, I thought I'd start going through my own crafting and sewing supplies and start culling things I know I don't need, won't use, need to go elsewhere...which doesn't exactly make for interesting blog reading.  Somewhere along the way I picked up that nasty stomach bug that's been making the rounds and then everything ground to a screeching halt.


So now that I'm up and running again, getting more client calls, I decided that I'm going to just keep working on the de-stashing/finishing UFOs project a little at a time until I get it done.  This year.  This year, I'm going to get it done.

Some of the de-stashing and project-finishing includes working on a job that my neighbor asked me to do, oh, months ago.  (Yes.  I'm cringing as I'm reading this.)  You might remember my neighbor - she's the one with the amazing collection of antiques that I blogged about here.  She brought over an antique boudoir lamp that her mother had handmade, probably back in the 30's or 40's.  It had a shade frame that sheltered a small bulb unit.  Over the frame sat a porcelain lady - or half of her, anyway.  The shade was actually meant to be her skirt.  Her mother had hand pleated, hand stitched, hand gathered, etc the fabric around the bust of the doll, in essence sewing the skirt onto the torso.  Which meant that to be washed, it had to be unpicked completely (very delicate operation, let me tell you), then very carefully hand washed (I left that part to my neighbor.  I was scared out of my mind.), then resewn to the torso of the doll.  She washed the fabric the best she could, then returned it to me to sew onto the doll's torso again.  I was still scared out of my mind, so it sat protected in a bag in my living room for months.  I used the mental excuse that I wanted to be able to devote time to it completely, not between client jobs, so it had to wait until I had time.

No more excuses.  This is the year, remember?

Here is the frame of the lamp, with the underskirt billowing up over the doll's head (a la Marilyn Monroe?):

The Big Reveal
 Clever, no?  My neighbor's mom was nothing if not ingenious.  She hand-wrapped the frame with satin ribbon, to protect the underskirt from catching on the bare wire.  Brilliant, really, when you think about it.  It also keeps the wire from rusting onto the underskirt.  (Did I mention she was ingenious?  Just wait - there's more...)

Anyone who has relatives who lived through the Great Depression (the first one, not the most recent one - side-stepping any politics here, thank you very much) knows that women had to make do back then, and most of them carried the idea of making things to last forward for, like, ever.  So when a pillowcase or a set of sheets became stained or torn, you could still cut it apart and use it again.  For an underskirt for a doll lamp, for instance.

Okay, history lesson done for today.  Time to hand-stitch & hand-gather this underskirt back onto the doll torso.  The doll's torso is maybe about 3 inches in circumference (must be that diet, darn her).  The underskirt?  Probably about 4 or 5 FEET around.  I kid you not.  Lots.  Of.  STITCHES.  With a healthy dose of OMG while pulling the antique fabric into a gather. (Did I mention I was nervous scared out of my wits?)

Gathered back onto the torso.

Full, dreamy, flowy underskirt.  

Now for the REALLY scary part.  The overskirt and the bodice were made from some really lightweight, woven fabric that was probably part of a crinoline or fancy semi-sheer curtains or something.  I'm making up stories for all of this stuff because I have no idea what it was before it became a lamp.  My neighbor doesn't know, either, other than that her mother thrifted all the fabric, and designed and hand-stitched the entire ensemble.

Scary fabric.  Hand hemmed, hand-stitched.  Fraying.  Delicate.
(Did I mention scary?)

 Dude.  Once false move and this thing would have shredded.  Every time I pierced it with the needle & thread, I was having a miniature heart attack.  This is why:

The bottom of the fabric was shredding every time I touched it to adjust.
This isn't going to make it through another spring cleaning, that's for sure.

 I hand stitched both the underskirt and the overskirt - there was no way in Hades I was going to even attempt to run either of these through my sewing machine.  I did this in the afternoon, to maximize the amount of light I could work by, because I didn't want to take any chances.  After making gathering stitches nearly all the way around the skirts, I had to lift them over the doll's torso and then complete the stitching - basically, stitching them onto the doll permanently.  I imagine she could have put buttons or something like that into the fabric to make it easier on and off, but that's not what she chose to do.  With all those gathers, I can't even imagine how on earth she would have been able to get buttons & buttonholes into the fabric anyway.  She could have put a casing into the waist and used cord to gather it, but that would have been just as much work and wouldn't have resulted in the nice soft pleats.  My respect for this woman just went up a couple more notches, actually.

M'lady with her overskirt, gathered & hand stitched closed.
Time to get 'er into her bodice.

 Bodice time.  I want you to take a look - a very close look (you can click on the photo to bring it up in a new window, full size) - at the amount of detailing that this woman put into this dress.  The bodice piece is hand ruched (you can still see her original stitching), and the upper part (the off-shoulder part - I'm no expert in period costuming so I have no idea what this is called) is ALSO hand ruched, hand couched with gold cord, and has little, tiny, ribbon roses hand sewn to it.

I.  Am.  In.  AWE.

And this was all done BY HAND.

 Bam.  I am humbled by my neighbor's ancestors once again.

M'lady, completely dressed once more.
Her handmaiden may need some counseling, though.

I was mentally kicking myself because I hadn't photographed her BEFORE I started the project, so I couldn't remember how my neighbor's mom had finished the bodice/waist area - both the top of the two skirts and the lower edge of the bodice were unfinished, but there was no stitching like they had been sewn together, and there were no more pieces (like a waist wrap or anything), so I wasn't sure how to finish it off.  I decided that since the porcelain doll had blue ribbons in her hair, that I would use some satin ribbon that was almost the right proportion to the dress, and tie it in a bow and leave it trailing like you might see in the Regency era.  (OK, if that's not accurate, please feel free to comment and educate me - like I said, I'm no expert in period costuming.)

I think M'lady was pleased.
I know my neighbor was.

Sorry, I didn't think to photograph her plugged in.  It just didn't seem - well - appropriate to light her up.

Next time:  Neko's blanket project goes to the dogs.