Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February Blues Finished or Alabama me - part 3

With February just about over, it is appropriate that I have finally (finally!) finished my February Blues project. And it has been a long time coming.

I'll cut to the chase. Here it is, an Alabama Chanin inspired skirt.

This is a self drafted 4 panel A-line boot length skirt made in French Terry for winter warmth. The surface design was stencilled onto the same fabric, cut out, arranged and painstakingly hand stitched in place. And that's where all the wintery days of the past month have gone. The hem is finished with dyed-to-match cotton lace - that I did not crochet myself.

This work is very different for me. Not only is it far more labour intensive that most of my projects, it is also by far the most decorative work I have ever done. I don't usually even wear patterns, but the idea for this outfit popped into my head pretty much fully formed. So what could I do but make it? I had to get it out of my head somehow.

I am pleased with the finished skirt, which looks much better on me than on Judy here, but it's hard to take full length pictures of oneself! The photos have been tricky to take due the fabric absorbing so much light and the stencilled areas reflecting light, and of course my own lack of photography skills. I've done my best with the ol' point and shoot.

The colour in this next image is a bit brighter than in real life, but the detail shows better.

The Prep:

First I made the skirt. No big deal there, although I did learn a very efficient way to make a smooth, un-gathered, properly fitting elastic waist from Pamela's Patterns. Nice.

I wanted the applique to go over the seams and across 3 panels so this meant that it had to be constructed first. In the long run, this made the stitching process a bit more arduous because I was having to handle the whole bulk of the skirt at any time. Apparently the design was the boss of me!
For the applique, I was working on a stencil design but then discovered some great reusable peel and stick stencils at my local Dollarama. Go figure. I bought a couple of packages that I thought would work well together and played around with them a bit. Once I had decided on roses and filagree, I mixed up a jar of denim blue fabric paint and stencilled a whole bunch of motifs. I used a dry brush technique so that the texture of the fabric would still show through and post-it notes to mask out parts of the stencil when I only wanted to use part of the design.

I cut  out all these motifs roughly so that I could start laying them out. I played around with the arrangement of these elements for a while, and then went back and stencilled some more.

And again.

And a fourth time.

It has became obvious to me that in this type of work more is actually better. I think I could have covered the whole surface - if I didn't have any kind of life at all.

Once everything was pretty much laid out, then I pinned the bits like crazy, stocked up on button thread (as recommended) and started stitching. And stitching. And... well, you know. I whined about all that in my last post.

The Stitching:

At this point I'd like to take a minute to thank a few things that have made the stitching of this skirt possible. First, thank you to my Ott Lights, without which I would never have been able to stitch black thread on black fabric in dark days of February. Secondly, my sincere thanks to CBC Radio One for endless hours of great information, entertainment, education and company. I couldn't have done it without you.

OK, back to the work. I think the stitching might have been a bit more difficult than the samples shown in the book due to the weight of the fabric. Most of the Alabama pieces are done in cotton jersey which is thin and soft. The French Terry I used was much heavier - as appropriate for a winter weight garment. And the applique process meant that I was stitching through 2 layers of this.

Here are a few tips for gearing up, in case you are thinking of tackling something similar:

  • Pre-thread a half a dozen or so needles. You'll be glad you did.
  • Use short sharp needles with quite short lengths of thread.
  • Condition the thread to prevent knotting and twisting. I just put a little hand cream on and ran my fingers along the threads a couple of times - this made a huge difference.
  • Work at a table with a chair adjusted to the right height, rather than working in your lap. Much less tiring.
  • Wear 'cheater's if you need to. I used my computer glasses which have mid range magnification. 
  • Use small, very sharp, pointed scissors to finish the appliques.
Once the motifs were stitched, I trimmed around them closely, cutting out all the counter spaces that I could. This did two things: it sharpened the outlines of the motifs and created more surface texture. I'll just finish up here with a few close-ups of the work.

For reference, this rose motif is just under 3" across.

Phew, I'm glad it's done! Despite my protestations to the contrary I really enjoyed the work. Something definitely Zen-like in the making of this. I'll be trying some more work in this style ... later.

Next up? Not sure really. But fast and fun would be great. And bright colours too. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Where Have I Been?

Well, that's a darn good question. The answer is nowhere (more's the pity), but that doesn't really explain the 3+ weeks since my last post does it?

I've got lots of excuses, such as being busy with the needs of family and friends, wintery weather and school stuff. And all of these things are true. But what it really comes down to 3 things:
  1. The fact that I am very poor at compartmentalizing
  2. The re-realization that I really am a bit of an instant gratification kind of girl when it comes to making things
  3. The February Blahs
Let me start by talking about the compartmentalization issue. I wish, oh how I wish, that I was one of those people who when faced with a problem or difficult situation can deal with it to the extent possible at the time, and then firmly put it out of their minds and get on with other things until it is time to deal with it again. This is something I have never been very good at. Instead life, and especially work stuff hangs around in my head for way too long, keeping me awake for nights and taking up time and energy that could be used for better things - like ending world hunger, balancing the global economy, or (gasp) getting on with my creative work. 

Wait a minute. Back up 3 paragraphs. What do you mean school stuff? Aren't you on sabbatical? Why yes indeed I am. Thanks for reminding me about that. See what I mean about having trouble compartmentalizing?
The sturm und drang of the world seems to drive some people to great heights of creativity. But not so much for me. Mostly it is a huge impediment to my creative output. And the irony of it all is that the only thing that makes me feel better at such times is doing something creative! It's a vicious cycle.

Of course none of this is news to me and so you'd think I'd know better by now. Ha. Perhaps I need to make some kind of sign to remind me - something along the lines of Get Over It and Make Something. Or get a prominent tattoo.

I have been working very hard to keep on with the making, although I don't have too much to show from the past few weeks.  Aside from some small bits and pieces, I'm currently working on a project that is taking a long time to complete. A long, long time. In fact, I think this is one of the most laborious projects I have ever done. It falls into the category of slow sewing, which is much slower and much more work than slow cooking and may not render up such yummy results, although I am hopeful. 

The slowness comes from the fact that this is a big piece of hand sewing, and there is a limit to how many hours I can stitch with black thread on deep blue motifs on black fabric. Sunny days are better than dull ones for this and thus sleepless nights are completely useless. Unfortunately. Otherwise I would have finished this at least a week ago.

Slow sewing (and slow cooking for that matter) is not my usual style at all. Actually anything with the word "slow" in it is a bit foreign to me. But I think I'm starting to 'get' it. Another lesson worth learning.

And of course, all this has been made somehow worse simply by it being February. And a real Ontario February it is - unlike many of past years. Lots of snow, plenty of cold and weeks and weeks of winter still to come. I wonder if folks who live in more temperate climes experience anything like the February Blahs?

So to wrap up this contemplative/whiney post, here's a sneak peak of the big project in process. I'll post the final product just as soon as I can!