Thursday, October 10, 2013

You'd Think I Could Remember Memory Wire

But apparently not.

Pursuant to a previous post, I resolved my problem with wanting to wear multiple bracelets that I could put on AND take off. It's Memory Wire of course. One continuous springy length that looks like many bracelets but wears like one. Loops and loops of lovely beads that wrap on, wind off, don't get tangled and require no closure (for the clasp-challenged like me).

If you've not heard of memory wire, it is a wonderful thing. It's fine stainless steel wire that is cold forged into a spring. It returns to its original shape after being stretched so it is ideal for jewelry that sits close to your body - like chokers and bracelets and rings. It comes in a variety of diameters and finishes and looks sort of like a flaccid slinky. It's easy to use, just don't cut it with your fine jewelry grade wire snips! I speak from personal experience here. It's as hard as well, steel, and will nick the heck out of the cutting edges of your good tools.

Now that I am back at work and using a computer in front of an audience, the benefit of easy on/off is made evident on a daily basis. No more distracting scraping sounds of glass and metal with every keystroke and mouse movement I make.

New problem. These bracelets have become an addiction.

I started with one to wear to a wedding. Opalescent glass chips that went well with my cerulean blue Simpli dress. (Hurray for Canadian made.) There's something great about a lot of the same thing...

Then came a frosty orange number from a group of coordinating Japanese seed beads I've been hanging onto for years.

This one was made on oval memory wire. It thought it made sense that this would be the most comfortable shape to wear because our wrist and forearms are not really round, but in the end I still prefer the conventional circular wire.

Then came a group of three for my sister Hilary's birthday gift. Which I forgot to photograph, but one was similar to this turquoise concoction.

And with a nod to fall, an olive green one.

And an oceanic one featuring a gorgeous lampwork bead by Florida glass maker Joyce Horn.

And now I need to buy another bracelet rack.

Lost, but gradually finding my way back. I think.

OK, there is no easy way to say this, so I'll just spit it out:

Going back to work after being on sabbatical totally sucked.

Was it worth it? Completely. Even with the beginning and end transitions being so hard.

Did I learn stuff. Of course. Plenty of new skills and improvements in process and quality. But the most important things I learned were quantum lessons. You know, the hugely tiny things that change how you think. I can sum these up in 3 points:

1) Apparently I do exist outside my job - after 25 years I wasn't really sure.
2) Apparently the program can run without me, albeit due to the strong curriculum and a great group of part time folks who filled in for me.
3) And because of points 1 and 2, I will retire the minute I qualify for a full pension.

This last point came as a big surprise to me. I love my job (OK I didn't love it at all for the first month or so going back) and I really enjoy the teaching, the students and my colleagues. But I now know for sure that there are others things for me to do, and that there will be good people who will carry the torch. This has been strangely liberating. Tentative exit date: June 2017. Not that far away, thanks to my early start in this profession.

I decided to start easing myself back into the college environment in the last couple of weeks of August. Just an afternoon here, a morning there. A few hours with a bonus lunch date thrown in. And it was still pretty tough. I think that returning to work after a year away is difficult under the best of circumstances (think what post vacation days feel like and multiply by about 100) but I went back to a lot of change and upheaval. So nothing at all was really the same as when I left.

And this was another lesson to learn. I'm good with change - really - but only when I initiate it. When I have had time to consider the options, do the research and put all the plans in place, I'm all for it. Feels natural even. But when the change comes from outside, when it goes deeply against my values and knowledge, when there is loss, well then I am awful at change. But that's likely true for most people.

I felt very lost for a while. And so very busy that I had no time for making things. Or, if there was time I had no energy left. I wrote to my friend Richard Sewell (now retired from the college) this week, and told him this:
The halcyon days of making things in my little studio, listening to the CBC and looking out at the changing landscape seem far away now. Instead it's back to a windowless office, tons of marking and more prep than I would have liked. On the upside, the 'kids' are as lovely as always and I am working hard to make time for at least a weekly coffee with friends this semester.
So there is yet another lesson learned - that I need people! I have written before about this. If I am serious about leaving work in a few years, I need to be more proactive about gathering people. So far, a group of us have (mostly) managed a half hour together each week. And what a difference that is making. Additionally, due to scheduling, I have more overlap time with my part time faculty. All of whom seem to like to use my tiny office simultaneously. This is great - so much energy and sharing of ideas. And yes even lunch sometimes.

I'm feeling like I am (finally) finding way again. The work load is still horrific, but I've caught my breath a bit and am making some little bits of time for little pieces of me. OK, so I've only made one thing in the past 6 weeks. But it is better than nothing!

And now it is almost Thanksgiving. And I am thankful for the past year. And even thankful for the year to come too.

Now that the sabbatical is over, I suppose I should update the theme of this blog. This weekend. And I've got a couple of posts to catch up on, so stay tuned for those too. Hopefully it will not be Christmas before I have new work to share.

Monday, August 19, 2013

In Jewelry, As In Life, Pretty Isn't Always Enough

Well maybe in life looks can get you a long way. But looks alone aren't going to get these bracelets very far...

In summer I love to wear bracelets. A lot of bracelets. I'd wear them all the time actually, but they are a problem as they clatter against the desk or the surface of my MacBook Pro while I'm teaching. So I end up taking them all off in class and then I leave them all over the place and the students (kindly) chase me around the lab to give them back or leave them in a little pile by my notes.

Instead of a lot of individual bracelets, I decided to make some multi-strand bracelets. Many strings, one easy (and this is a key word) on/off step.

Oh sure, they look great.  See the subtle colours in the coordinated palettes. Wonder at the variety of shapes and sizes and the interplay of iridescent, facetted and matt finishes. Appreciate the beauty of the fit and the professional application of findings. Marvel that the beads where selected from shops in LA, Toronto, New York, Ottawa and Brampton over a number of years. Be appalled that I actually remember the origin of each of the thousands of beads in the stash... And then try, just try, to get the darn things off.

Ah usability. The heart of interaction design. It doesn't matter how attractive you make something (be it a web site, a kitchen appliance or a bracelet), if it doesn't function well for the user you have failed.

The problem here was that I didn't test drive the clasps. In action they are very easy to do up. No problem doing it one handed. But once they were on I simply could not get them off. The clasps were too stiff and the little edge you needed to grab was too small to get much purchase on. I literally had to wait for my husband to come home to get me out of them! This induced a ridiculous little bit of panic in me, sort of like reverse claustrophobia. WTF?

And it is altogether too bad 'cause they really are attractive and very well made. Yes, I could find new clasps and then re-string them, but I'm kind of feeling that this bird has flown. I've played with this particular group of beads enough for a while.

As I mentioned in a previous post about stashes, the great thing about beads is that they are fully reusable. A bead stash is pretty much self sustainable if you recycle old or failed projects. I might rework these or more likely just disassemble them for use in future projects.

Bracelets should not cause panic attacks.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Catching up and the Revised Nelson Necklace

Oh wow. I haven't posted anything here for about 8 weeks! Not that I haven't been making. And not that I haven't been thinking about posting ... the pictures were taken. But somehow it just didn't get done. Let's just blame summer time. So expect a little flurry of posts over the next while as I get caught up.

Mostly I've been making things with beads this summer. I like to be outside as much as I can vs. sitting at a sewing machine. And Mark and I are often on the road, heading out for a day or two at some fishing hole or a weekend away with friends, so beads are the most portable solution to the need to be making something all the time. I can grab a few tools and some beads from the stash, pack them in my handy little travel kit, toss it in the back of the car and head out.

Here's the thing about my extensive bead stash - sometimes (OK a lot of the time) I forget what is in there. So going looking for something often results in finding something else. That was the case for this necklace.

The lampwork focal bead was a gift from my brother-in-law Ken Predy last year*. It was made by a local glass artist in Edmonton.

It's very unusual in that this big black lentil appears to have an internal light source! No matter what lighting conditions you view it under, the red spot appears to glow. Cool. And there is triangular dichroic patch and little black bumps that bring more points of interest to the bead. This bead is about 4 cm across and the two sides are slightly different as you can see by these first two pictures.

I'd worn the bead alone as a pendant for a while, but that never seemed to fully show it off and so I'd tucked it away in the stash. Fast forward to this summer and me looking for a couple of beads to fix another piece. And there it was, glowing away all by itself. Time to turn it into something with impact.

For this piece I committed myself to only using beads from the stash - no new additions. In the design I've played with contrast and similarity.

The main part of the necklace is made from narrow oval glass beads that look like raku fired pottery. They are smooth and flat and feel like silky river stones. The raku effect mimics the dichroic glass in the focal bead and their flat finish contrasts with that bead's glossy surface.

Initially I strung just these beads with the focal, but they were too bunched together and you couldn't really appreciate their shapes. Also something was missing. So back to the stash and the discovery a precious few red Japanese Miracle Beads.

These are amazing beads that have a coloured core with a silvered coating and then many layers of lacquer on top. When light passes through the layers and is reflected they actually seem to glow. When they were first introduced years ago they were really expensive. I don't see them in the bead shops much anymore, but they are readily available online and are very affordable. They are not the same quality as these original ones however and seem to have a graininess to the inner bead.

A couple of shiny black glass disks and glass seed beads (all from the stash) round out the supplies.

Here's the finished Nelson Necklace. Impact achieved I think!

Thanks Ken!

* View from 2012 birthday breakfast by the harbour at the Prestige Lakeside Resort in Nelson BC. Hence the "Nelson Necklace". I had steel cut oats with fresh berries and maple syrup that morning.

It was a truly great trip for Mark, Hilary, Ken and me. Sometimes we forget that Canada is so beautiful.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Heading to the Mother Ship

Here I am in New York City. It's a lovely morning and I'm up early and on my way to Alt Summit NYC ( - a conference on blogging and marketing. The event is hosted by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which means that I am heading to the mother ship in a few minutes.

Not entirely sure what to expect, except that there will likely be 198 young women, maybe one man and me in the audience. And if Martha Stewart should pop by (as she did at last year's summit), for a brief moment I won't be the oldest person in the room.

I'll let you know how it goes and what I learn in a later post.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Desert Inspiration

My trip to the southwest earlier this month was great! And so inspiring in many ways.

Right off the plane, Sheila and I went to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. I've never been to Arizona in May and so I was surprised by the amount of blossom everywhere. And the cactus were in bloom too. By the way, there is a very nice new restaurant there called Gertrudes. Lunch there was a terrific way to start off our holiday.

Just at the entrance to the Gardens was this display of cactus, succulents and other plants in big pots. I saw similar things everywhere we went. Made me want a little version of this at home!

Desert Botanical Garden Phoenix
Of course, some climate variation had to be considered! Succulents (vs Cacti) seemed to be the way to go, seeing as they tolerate extreme heat and cold, and grow through times of both drought and moisture. Which sort of sums up the annual weather picture around here!

So, I rounded up some pots, dug a few 'hens and chicks' (various kinds of Sempervivum for those of you who like to know these things) out of the garden, picked up a couple of other prime specimens at my local nursery and got to work.

The only thing you really need to remember when making a planter like this is good drainage. Both the big ceramic bowls that I used have drainage holes in the bottom, and I added a thick layer of brick chips and stones. A light soil is also a good idea (although these things grow in just about anything I think). So either use special cactus soil, or mix some sand into regular potting soil. I also picked up these pot stands at Dollarama for extra drainage. And thank goodness! We've had 50-60 cm of rain over the last 24 hours!

Check out the big guy in this planter. It's almost 20 cm across. And just to its left, one of the green varietals is already sending up a bloom. These start to look very alien, very quickly.

The plants will spread so the bowls will be well filled by the end of the summer and may even need separating. 

By the way, these plants are hardy to about -30C. So I'll be able to overwinter them.

OK, so it's not the Botanical Gardens, but with a big pot of portulaca and maybe a couple of geraniums I'll have a pretty (and heat resistant) display on my hot and sunny upper deck this summer. Come on over for a drink soon!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tassel Time

The other day I was rummaging in a box for something else and found a length of 12" white flapper fringe, some green and blue ombre dyed fringe and a 9 inch long incomplete tassel that I had completely forgotten about. I seem to remember buying the fringe at Designer Fabric Outlet in Toronto and making the green tassel sometime in the last century.

I love tassels. OK, you can get on with all the jokes that come to mind. I'll wait.

Better now? Good. As I was saying, I love tassels. I love their silky strings and the way they move. I have used them as decorations on things as diverse as gifts and window blinds and I routinely use them as pendants for necklaces. I like them hanging from door handles and cupboard knobs. If I had drapes with tie backs, I'd probably use them there too. I have a shoe box full of small ones, just waiting for their call to duty.

And I like making tassels. Especially big luxurious ones. You can make these from any kind or yarn or fibre really, but my favourite material is fringe trim - the swingy stuff we all associate with 1920's dresses. This can be hard to find, but it comes in a range of colours and lengths and it seems to dye well for me.

With this in mind, I thought that I should get on and use some of this newly rediscovered trim.

Making a tassel from fringe trim:

All you need to make a tassel from this kind of fringe is a needle and thread, something to use as the hanging loop and maybe a tassel cap of some kind.

Starting with your hanging loop - which can be a bit of cording or even a string from the fringe itself - wrap a bit of the bound top edge of the fringe around it and make a few stitches to secure. Then simply wrap and stitch, wrap and stitch until you have a tassel of the desired diameter. Keep the top flat or domed, depending on how you plan on finishing the tassel.

Sewing a tassel
If you are going to be inserting the tassel into a cap, then make it just a tiny bit bigger than the cap opening, so that you get a really snug fit.

Caps can be anything from large bead caps (as I used here), to recycled and altered tops from bottles.

Finishing with a cap
Another tassel style is to give it a big 'head" as you see in the picture at the top of this page. To make this kind of tassel, simply sew the hanging loop pointing downward, then when done, reverse the tassel over itself and tie the length of it under the now enclosed top. For more volume you can always use a big wood or plastic bead inside.


I like long tassels with an ombre dye effect.  If you want to dye the fringe, you can do it before or after making the tassel. I've tried it both ways, but after seems to be a bit easier in terms of management of the material in the dye bath.

The green trim was already dyed, so for the white tassels I mixed up a cup of purple dye and and rigged up a hanger from my kitchen faucet in the deep side of the sink. The trick to ombre dying is simply taking the time to progressively remove the item from the dye. If you want to match the ombre across a number of items, be sure to keep track of the minutes for each step.

As these white and purple tassels were dyeing I felt that the top edge of the colour was a bit too defined, so I used a paint brush and plain water to soften the edge during the dye process.
Ombre Dip Dyed
Once dry, you'll likely want to iron the trim to return it to it's original silky smoothness. You can see what it looks like before and after steaming below.

Steam iron to smooth threads


Your tassel might need a little hair cut at this point. After sewing, dyeing, drying and steaming, it always seems that a few of the ends get ragged. Just give the bottom of it a trim with very sharp scissors. But take this in small steps! If you've ever trimmed your own bangs, you'll know why.

Finally, decorate your tassel. Add dangles to the fall, beads to the hanging cord, or a nice tie if you are not using a cap. The tie can be a simple or fancy as you want. Think ribbon, cording, another piece of fringe (shorter, maybe a different colour?), etc. On the green and purple tassel at the top of the page I used strands of metallic glass bugle beads that echo the colours of the threads. For the white/purple tassels I played on a theme of pearls.

Decorative Details
Now, the only thing left to do is make up the other length of blue/green.

And find a use for them all, so they don't just disappear back into a box!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Arizona Dreaming

The past weeks of sewing have made a nice little dent in the fabric stash and swelled the contents of my closet. This week I decided it was time to have a go at the bead stash. I'm heading to Sedona for a holiday soon and Arizona is on my mind.

Turquoise, red and silver always says South West to me. As you can see, I have a healthy stock of appropriate stones to pick from. And this picture was taken post-necklace.

Arizona Dreaming 2 Necklace
The necklace is actually a set of two that can be worn together. The two outside strands are joined together at about collar bone level. The inside strand is a separate piece that can be worn alone. I guess it could even be turned into a wrap bracelet if needed.

Arizona Dreaming 2 Necklace detail

Bead Specs: 

  • The antique looking 'silver' bird - and I do use that term loosely - is part of a pair of earrings that I bought on sale at Forever XX1. 
  • The sterling silver pendant with red and turquoise stones was an ebay steal for just a couple of dollars last summer. Sometimes you get lucky. 
  • The concho-esque square beads came from Michaels specifically for this necklace. 
  • The big chunks of 'coral' are fairly heavy - some kind of stone dyed to look like antique coral. They give a good effect.
  • The rest of the bits are from any number of bead store purchases over the years and across the continent. Some people collect postcards or shot glasses to remember their travels. I buy beads.  Wonder what I'll come back with this time!

I suppose this necklace should be called Arizona Dreaming II. It seems I'm quite inspired by my trips to the desert. Here's the original Arizona Dreaming necklace from 2010.

Arizona Dreaming Necklace
This first one features a great pewter pendant from the airport gift shop - of all places! It shows images drawn from regional Native American pictographs.

This necklace is my little homage to the monumental pictographic shaman sculptures of Bill Worrell, which I admired last time I was in Sedona.

The piece includes 4"long bone beads, silvery nuggets and smooth and carved black stone ovals.

Will there be an Arizona Dreaming III? We will have to wait and see. But if history is any indicator, I'd say yes!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Pastel Flower Printed Shirt

What do you do when it is a cold and windy April day with an ice storm in the weather forecast and all you really want to do is get started on the gardening? Sulking is high on my list, followed by getting started on something sunny and summery.

I'd been mulling over an idea for a white cotton tunic or shirt with watercolour-like painting on it. Considering that my painting skills are even worse than my drawing skills, this seemed like an overly ambitious undertaking. But what the heck.

I had a good length of a nicely textured crinkle cotton in the stash to use and drafting the pattern and sewing the shirt was easy. But I was unsure about how to get the painting effect while still leaving the fabric with a soft hand and natural texture. I tried out a number of things and I decided on 2 options - very thinned out Colour Vie or watercolour pencil crayons.

Watercolour pencil crayon on wet cotton
Yes, pencil crayons. I had no expectation that these would work, but have a look at the sample at right. I scribbled on damp fabric and then went in with a wet brush for some more blending. Once dry I pressed the sample with a hot iron in hopes of heat setting the colour. This was about 90% successful. I am really quite amazed by this. Would it be colourfast on all fabrics, or with all brands of watercolour pencil crayons? Might be worth a try. I did nt go this route on the shirt due to the size of the painting area. Would have been a lot of scribbling...

Colour Vie was the best solution. I've mentioned this product before, but it really worth noting again. Love this stuff.  It is non-toxic, uses intensely pigmented colour, cleans up with water and is completely colourfast when heat set. You can use it in so many applications including stamping, screening and direct painting. And most importantly for this project, it can be thinned from it's usual yogurt-like thickness by adding a bit of table salt. This is kind of magical! A little sprinkle and you have a very liquid version that leaves the fabric hand pretty much intact.

I spent the better part of a morning doing some samples and getting the colours right. The hardest part was getting the colours sufficiently pastel, due to the intensity of the colouring system. In the end, I had 5 colours that worked really well together.

The next decision was how I was going to apply the colour. My initial concept was for something that would look like watercolour with a lot of blending but it turns out that the fabric really wasn't amenable to this -  it was too absorbent. The paint went on and stayed where I put it. Even when I worked on wet fabric, there just wasn't much 'flow' happening. This was a bit disappointing, but eventually I worked out that I could stamp the fabric and use the transparency of the paint to achieve a bit of blending. I could live with that.

I cut the stamps from cheap foam rollers for good colour coverage and was ready to start. I wanted the painting to go across seams which meant I had to paint on the finished (or at least semi-completed) shirt. To do this I covered my dress form with plastic and put the shirt on it with inflated plastic bags in the sleeves. This allowed me to paint/stamp in the round. The effect of this was great consistency of coverage over the whole shirt.

Making the first mark onto the pristine whiteness of the shirt was hard (deep breath!) but when the purple flowers looked so good, I was rolling.

Stamp, stamp, stamp. La di dah di dah.

Oh crap.

Do you remember what the sketch looked like? Well, if you did you are one ahead of me. I was having so much fun that I totally forgot that I wanted flowers over the shoulders and down the sides but only part way onto the bodice. I'd been working all the way around. Sigh. This is a more than a bit typical of me. Oh well, nothing to do but keep on going.

Once I had the coverage I wanted, I let the shirt dry and then ironed it (long and hot) to set the colour. This also had the effect of totally removing any texture from the fabric, so I followed up with a quick spritz of water and a few minutes in the dryer to make the texture pop back up. This will be a no-iron garment!

To finish up, I added multi-coloured buttons all down the front (again, diverging from my original sketch), all the while blessing the button hole and button sewing features of my sewing machine.

Done! Does it look like my original sketch? Not a bit. Whatever.

Now all I need is some summer weather and my gardening hat. And maybe a pair of pale pink or purple capris.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

My Four Points Dress

Last year there was some activity online around a pattern from Vogue (1312) which featured prominent angular structures in the skirt. Several bloggers offered up their own versions of this construction which came to be known as the tablecloth skirt or  'garment formerly known as tablecloth' although it really doesn't have much to do with tablecloths at all.  At the time I thought it looked fun so I bookmarked it for later.

3 of the 4 points showing here
Now it's later, and with the teasing glimpse of warmer weather over the Easter weekend, I thought I'd see about making something like this myself. I thought I'd go for a dress with a fitted bodice, short sleeves and pockets.  I had 3 metres of inky blue (photos are lightened for detail) light-weight linen that I'd bought on sale which would be perfect for this project, which I call the Four Points Dress.

Note: no tablecloths were harmed in the making of this dress!

Having recently finished drafting a well fitting sleeveless top pattern, I figured it would not be much work to draft a sleeved version. I knew I needed to lower the armholes slightly, and I thought I'd have to draft the sleeve. There are any number of tutorials on how to draft a sleeve and I read several because drafting a sleeve is not really a simple thing. It requires a shape something like a segment of a sine wave, with a convex curve at the cap transitioning into concave curves towards the underarm seam.

If you've ever seen the pattern piece for a sleeve, it is hard to image that this shape will actually fit together with the oval arm opening, but it does. To add to the complexity, the curves for the front and back of the sleeve are slightly different (the front is a bit deeper to accommodate the way our shoulders and arms move). These curves are based on a series of body and pattern measurements.

Just as I was about to tackle this arcane bit of drafting, I thought to check if any of the commercial patterns in my stash had a sleeve that would work with the top. And wonder of wonders I found one that only took a few minutes to refine to a clean fit. I know, I know, it would have been a good thing for me to learn to do. But I was impatient to get going.

Thus the bodice went together very well. (I love sewing with linen. It just does what you want it to do.) I had made it just short of waist length and it looked good! The self bias binding around the neck was smooth and invisible. The top stitching was even and straight. The sleeves were set in cleanly. Nice work.

Then it was on to tackle the skirt. This is a very simple thing - and in a minute you'll see why it has been called the table cloth skirt. Essentially it is a square of fabric with 4 panels attached to the sides and then to each other, plus a hole cut in the middle for the waist. It's a bit nuts to think about cutting a hole smack in the middle of this construction, but that's what you do.

Here's the basic tablecloth skirt pattern:
The size of the square and the side panels defines the length and the volume of the skirt. The distance from the edge of the hole to the bottom of the side panel approximately equals the length of the skirt. And if the side panel that is much wider than it is deep you'll get a more irregular hem line. This is an important characteristic that I didn't realize until after I'd finished the dress. I decided on a 34" square with 22" x 34" side panels, plus a hem allowance which put the points at about knee length and made the tea length hem more or less even.

The sewing went very easily - thanks to a tip I picked up to leave the last 1/2" of each seam open to make it easier to bring the 3 points together at each intersection. I sewed by machine first and then serged the seams to finish them.

The next step was to cut the hole for the waist. I measured the bottom edge of the bodice to get the circumference for the hole, and then got all lazy and used an online circle calculator to work out the radius seeing as my geometry education is long behind me. This made it easy to make a little paper pattern, fold the skirt in quarters and cut the right sized hole. Easy, but still a bit scary.

I ran a line of stitching around the hole, with a long stitch length, in case I needed to do any easing. This was a good idea in the long run, although I didn't need it - initially.

The skirt and the bodice went together like a dream, although it was beginning to be a lot of fabric to manage by the sewing machine. This should have been a sign of trouble to come - like going to the mall on a miserable rainy or snowy day and getting a really good parking space. You just know this means that you'll not find a thing that you are a looking for.

I tried the dress on. The shoulders and bust fit perfectly, but where the skirt joined the party the dress was huge! I mean big enough for me and a small friend to wear at the same time. Ack.

Here's where I'd made my error: I used the tank top pattern to make the bodice, but I didn't think about the width difference between a hip length tank and a midriff length top. For a long top, the width has to taper out from the underarms towards the hem to accommodate your hips. But when the top stops above the waist, it can be much more fitted. In my case I realized I needed to take out inches of width - a big handful of the dress. O. M. G.

I can just hear you thinking "It's no big deal Gil. Stop being so dramatic and just take in the side seams of the bodice!" Hah. Not so fast. Sure it would be easy to make the bodice smaller, but I had this big hole in the middle of my skirt, and you just can't cut a hole smaller.

Back dart and pleat details
So, I unpicked the skirt - which would become a recurring theme of the day - and put two big darts in the back of the bodice to make it fit a bit closer the body. Nice. Then I used the line of stitching I'd put around the circle at the start to gather the skirt and sewed it back onto the bodice.

And tried it on again. This time it fit much better, but the skirt, due to the rather extreme amount of gathering stood out around me like a tutu. As in too too much volume.

So I unpicked the skirt. Again. I really needed the hole in the skirt to be smaller so I took out all the gathers, pressed everything smooth again and then laid the circle back in the hole and zig zagged the edges together. And after a little return visit to the circle calculator, cut the new, smaller hole out of the skirt. This worked, but it was not pretty. Not pretty at all. I'd have to find a way to cover the patched area, but due to my rather rectangular figure, a wide belt or sash was not going to be possible.

And this is where chance stepped in and helped me. In my frustration, I returned to the gallery page of people's skirts  - and wasn't there a nice example of a similar dress there now. On this dress the sewist had raised the waist to empire length and put the skirt under a deep pleat at the bottom of the bodice. This would solve my problem very well. Thank you rivergum!

A peek under the pleat - yikes!
So I unpicked the skirt for a third time. Then re-measured the length of the bodice and turned under a deep hem - about 2" - and top stitched the very bottom edge. I then stitched the skirt to bodice at the top edge of the band.

Of course, it wasn't quite that straight forward. In the process of all the stitching and unpicking the skirt hole had stretched a bit and so I had to do some gathering. Not much, but more than I would have really liked. In the end you wouldn't know that I'd had some issues with the skirt - unless you were to peek under the pleat. (Don't.)

Phew. That was a lot more work that I had really planned, but I was pretty pleased with the dress.  Moving the waist up meant that the points also moved up, so they went from being just at the knee to mid thigh which did change the where the visual weight of the dress is. Thus, it is a bit more voluminous than I had envisioned, but it moves so nicely and pops on over my head in way that you just know will be very appealing on a hot day.

Imagine this is a hot breezy day in July, not the actual cold blustery day in April!
With the bottom hemmed (by machine as it is almost 4 yards!) and everything ironed I headed downstairs to show Mark what I had made. I was hoping for a compliment but I would have been satisfied with a distracted "very nice" if I had interrupted a fishing show, or even an astute observation that I had not yet added the pockets. But I was not prepared for laughter. Yes, he laughed. After all I'd been through.

I angrily retreated to the girl cave and left the offending garment to hang in disgrace for a couple of days. Then I tried it on again. And you know what? I still like it! Sure it's a bit costume-y and a bit of a radical silhouette. But after a winter of black jeans and turtlenecks, it is a breath of fresh air. I think it looks good and it feels great, so I'll be wearing it come summer.

In public even.

Ha ha ha.

Monday, March 25, 2013

H&M Dress Refashion

It must be the official (not to say in any way actual) first day of Spring last week that made me have a bit of a tidy up of my closet. That or I was avoiding doing something else, which is when I usually find myself getting all organized. For example, at peak marking times I get the overwhelming urge to do things like alphabetize my sock drawer.

All I did was re-group everything in the closet by length and then by colour which makes it much faster to find something to wear in the morning. (Really Gil? How exactly do you sort an all black winter wardrobe by colour?)

As usual I found some items I hadn't worn for a while. Some were nice surprises, some were headed for the charity bag, others I still had hope for. One of these last items was this (cough) black H&M dress.

When I really stopped to think about it, I realized I have only worn this dress once - about 4 years ago in LA. I'd needed something that could pass as a LBD for an alumni event, but seeing as I rarely wear dresses I didn't want to spend too much. Hence the cheap H&M purchase.

So why did I only wear the dress once? Well, the cross over neckline reveals more cleavage than I am comfortable wearing public and the length cut right across my pudgy knees. It was either too long or not long enough. Either way it was not right.

So why had I kept it? Simply because it actually fit well otherwise, I really like the empire styling and the material is a soft heavy rayon and spandex jersey. And I am such a sucker for rayon jersey. Seemed like this would be a good item for a refashion session!

My plan:

I have a 'girls' trip to Arizona planned for May - can't wait. I'm thinking that an easy to wear, easy to pack knit maxi dress would be a good travel item for this vacation. You know, for swanning down for drinks on the terrace. And due to the simple skirt of this dress, it would be easy to add more length. Colour blocked clothing is in, so I could add some colour to the dress and I could also do something about the cleavage revealage.

I headed out to Fabric Land to find some compatible fabric. I couldn't match the weight of the existing fabric (of course) but they did have a good range of colours of a lighter jersey and it was on sale for 6 bucks. That's always good. I decided that the skirt extension could be a double layer to give the right weight and opacity. A couple of metres would do the job. I was torn between an intense blue and this coffee colour. Glad I chose the brown.

Here's how you can do it too: 

This is a pretty simple refashion that you could could do with a t-shirt dress or tunic from your own closet.

1) Fold the dress in half and trace the skirt onto paper to establish the angle and length needed for the extension - a quick paper pattern. Remember to add seam allowances on the top and sides and hem allowance on the bottom.

When I went to trace out the skirt it became obvious that it was massively asymmetrical. Yup, there is a reason that clothes are so cheap at places like H&M! So I ended up opening the whole side seam on one side and recutting the skirt to be symmetrical. Ripping out several feet of black on black overlook stitching on drapey stretchy jersey is not my idea of fun.

2) Cut off the existing skirt hem and open the lower side seams about 4 inches.

I actually cut off a bit more than just the hem to get the right proportions of black and brown. You'll have to judge this based on your height and the length you have to work with.

3) Sew the new skirt pieces to the front and back of the existing skirt, and then sew up the side seams .

I used my serger for this - but jersey doesn't fray, so you could just use a stretch stitch or very narrow zigzag on a regular sewing machine.

4) Make an inset for the deep neckline.

I made a rectangular piece 'cause it was easier than working out the correct triangle needed! I top-stitched the upper edge of the double layer to give it some structure.

5) Pin the insert in place while wearing the dress to make sure it is in a flattering position. Sew the insert in place, then trim away the excess fabric.

I basted the insert in place before sewing by machine due to the multiple layers of fabric in the cross over area. This is something I hate doing, but it was all too much and too slippery to manage well with pins. The ease with which it went through the sewing machine made it worth while. In this case I also needed to stitch the entire cross over closed, since it gaped. (Another great moment in H&M clothing.) When I wore it originally I'd had to pin it closed.

6) Hem the dress. Or because it won't fray and jersey edges roll so nicely, you could just cut it cleanly off at the length you want. I'll go this latter route because I am lazy and because I know the double layers of fabric will give me some considerable grief otherwise.

Ta-Da! My finished dress is a bit regency in style. I glammed it up with some bronze and black beads at the waist. It needed something and this did the trick. Because I want this to be washable, the beads had to be removable. These are strung from a black ring through which the ties can be threaded.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Tale of Two Tops

It was the best of times, it was the worst... no wait, it actually was the best of times in terms of sewing.

This week I have been working to draft up a couple of properly fitting top patterns for woven fabric. The first one I did is a hip length tank with darts and neckline options and the second is a long tunic with slightly dropped shoulders, boat neck and deep side slits.

I selected a grape coloured cotton linen blend from the recently reorganized stash for the muslins. Mostly I chose it because it was the right weight and I had a lot of it, likely 3 metres or more. And I remember paying very little for it at an end of season sale last year - or the year before! I figured I'd get two muslins and maybe one finished top out of it and wasting some of the fabric would not break my heart.

Surprisingly (to me at least) I must have done a pretty good job on the pattern drafting because both the muslins were about 90% successful right off the sewing machine! The tank top just needed the arm holes cut a bit deeper - easy to do on the partially constructed garment. The tunic could have used deeper armholes too, but you can't cut into empty space! I made the change to the pattern for next time, but the rest of the sample was so good I didn't want to just trash it. So I added slits to the shoulder seam to give the arm area a bit more room. It's not bad.

With these changes making the tops fit well, it was worth putting in the time to do the facings/bindings and hems. Hmm. Now I had 2 plain purple linen tops. And I didn't even know I needed one! Here was an embellishment opportunity it I ever saw one. I decided to use a couple of stencils that I have been hanging on to for a while.

The Tunic:

I've made this pattern so that the back and the front are the same, so I continued the theme with the stencilling - essentially this is a reversible top. I can wear it plain side forward with any long jacket covering the design on the back or design forward with white pants or skirt. Crisp!

I'm a bit bustier than my mannequin here and I actually have arms, so I have to admit that it looks slightly better on her than on me. Deeper armholes next time will make all the difference.

The stencil for this is one of a number of Frank Lloyd Wright designs than Mark and I picked up at the gift shop at Taliesin West in Phoenix several years ago. I used a spray-on temporary adhesive on the back of the stencil so it laid flat and a small foam roller for even coverage in the large cut out areas. The edges came out clear and sharp, but I had to touch up a few spots into the white areas where the fabric paint was a bit thinner. I did this with a fairly dry brush.

The Tank:

This is very summery top, so I thought I'd do something with some hot colours. The stencil here is one I've had for years but never used. Having stencilled the front of the first top, I decided to do the back of this one. Small brushes were the tool for this job - working the paint well into the tiny details and then adding some additional shading afterwards.

Painting the fish was so much fun and it looked so good when I was done that I did it all over again on the lower front. Then I made myself stop.

I think this design could easily have some embroidery and or beading added. I'm still thinking about that.

So, it was a successful week in sewing. The only problem is that it is still firmly winter here! Will it ever be linen weather again?

In winter, summer is only a myth.