August 29, 2011

What Happens When I Go Antiquing With Mom...

I snagged a late Victorian jacket/bodice, three pairs of gloves, three hankies, some lace and 
a kitchen tool for edging ravioli.  The trio of sewing machines were an added bonus from my mother.

I brought home three new (to me, obviously) sewing machines yesterday.  My mom insisted on buying me the New Home treadle machine when I mentioned I really wanted a treadle, and who was I to say no?  As often happens when shopping with my mom, we ended up with free stuff with our purchase- the lady threw in a Jones treadle that lost its wrought iron base to an accident and a Singer hand crank in a traveling case.  The Singer just needs some light cleaning to be ready to sew, so I'm spending the next day prettying her up so I can do some work on her.  I can't wait to use it!  The other two require slightly more TLC and a part or two (the Jones needs a new base and I need to find a shuttle for the New Home and replace the belt) so it will be a short while before I get them up and running.  I now have FOUR vintage cast iron sewing machines.  My boyfriend is gonna kill me :P

August 26, 2011


I'd seen a few "how to make fabric roses" tutorials here and there on teh interwebs and thought that it looked fairly easy. Turns out it takes quite a bit of skill (and luck) to make a pretty rose! My first attempts looked like lumpy wadded up bits of scrap fabric. I tried a couple of different methods and some different fabrics and pretty much failed at them all. Sadly, I can't find the photos I took of those first horribly ugly attempts, otherwise I'd post them in all their terrible glory.

Dramatic reenactment of first attempt.

But bit by bit I figured out which things worked. I ended up combining things from a few tutorials and finally came up with a passable rose! I'll try my best to show what I did, but be forewarned that while it seems simple, doing it well involves fiddling and practicing till you find what works for you and your fabric.

Back when I dyed the bottom ruffle I also tossed in some extra silk gauze and some silk organza so I could play with both and see which worked best. My original plan was to use the gauze as I thought it might make beautifully soft roses, but it turned out it looked terrible no matter what I did! I'd guess it's too soft and flimsy to hold a good shape, although it might be fun to try doing it again using a stiffer fabric to support the gauze. That might be a good way to get pretty two-toned roses actually...

Anyways, I quickly figured out that the organza was going to work best. I cut a strip about 3" wide and 27" long and pressed it in half lengthwise. Then I turned the edges inside to meet the fold and pressed again. Basically I made double-fold bias tape, except it hadn't been cut on the bias.

Non-bias bias tape. The raw edges are all inside the fold.

I folded one end down a bit, rolled it in some to create a point at the top, then wound the strip around the folded/ rolled part a time or two to create the start of a bud. I pinched it at the bottom and sewed a couple of stitches through all the layers at the base to hold it all together.

One end folded over

The fold was rolled inwards; making it tighter at the top and looser at the bottom
gives it a conical shape with a nice point at the end. This is the beginning of the bud.

A loose wrap around or two...

... and stitch the bottom to keep it all secure

Here's where it gets a little tricky- from here on out you continue to wrap the strip loosely around your bud, but every so often you "twist" it; that is, you fold it outwards and continue wrapping. The edge that was on the top will now be on the bottom and there will be a twist that resembles the slightly curled edge of a petal. There's no rhyme or reason to when you do this; you just make those folds whenever they seem appropriate.  I also varied how loosely/tightly I wrapped it. Every so often you should pause and sew a few stitches in the bottom to keep everything together.

In the process of making the first fold.

This is after a few more wraps and folds. I'm about ready to make another fold.

I've folded the strip outwards. The edge that was on top is now on the bottom...

...and continue wrapping.

Don't forget to stitch through all layers at the bottom after every few wraps!

Clear as mud? I tried to take a video of the process, but I can't for the life of me get my camera to focus on anything close up, so after six videos of a blurry reddish blob moving about I gave up. Anyways, finishing it off- when I'd wrapped and folded to the point that the rose was looking nice and full, I folded the strip once more, this time angling the whole strip towards the bottom instead of back around the flower again. I stitched it securely, cut off the unused portion of the strip and stitched everything some more just to be sure.

Ta-Da! This was my first successful rose!

Then I made more...

...and even MORE!

I needed one for every bottom juncture of the lattice plus a few for the bertha of the bodice. I put the prettiest ones aside for the bodice; I figured they'd be closer to eye level and I wanted them to look their best. For foliage I used pinking shears to cut leaf shapes out of the green silk. I lined up each bottom lattice juncture directly over the uppermost point of the ruffles, placed the leaves at the center of each juncture and stitched all the way through the skirt. Once that was secure I centered each rose on top of each set of leaves and stitched that down as well.

All that was left to do on the skirt was finish up the closures. I put a large hook and bar on the waistband and used hook and eye tape to join the back halves of the green pointed part of the overskirt. Done!

August 25, 2011

So. Gauze. Silk gauze, to be exact. Lighter than air, softer than a kiss and absolutely beautiful.

Also? A pain in the the ass.
Let me back up. Here's the inspiration image again-

Print from the fashion magazine "De Gracieuse", found at The Memory of the Netherlands.

From the beginning I had decided that I wasn't going to copy it exactly. I knew I wanted the top to be different somehow, and I knew I wasn't a huge fan of the bows at the bottom. I liked the idea of the fabric underlay beneath the lattice, though I wasn't a fan of the ruched look of said fabric. I also wanted to change the four pouffy rows of trim at the hem. I decided to replace them with rows of floaty of gauze ruffles following a scalloped line. I also wanted the bottommost tier to be a dark peachy rose and each successive tier to be lighter, until the topmost one was pale cream. I don't ask for much, do I?

Dharma Trading Co. sells beautiful 36" wide silk gauze for dirt cheap (or rather, they did; it was $1.60 a yard at the time, now it's nearly $3.00), so I bought a bolt . After testing various ways of sewing it, I decided that it is the most horrific stuff to sew ever. The sewing machine doesn't sew it, it just eats it.  Hungrily. You can't use a tear-away stabilizer to help, because the moment you try to tear it away it will just rip the silk. I suppose I could have tried water soluble stabilizer, but I either didn't think about it or had some reason I didn't want to use it at the time. A few years ago I had great success using my serger to do a super narrow rolled hem satin stitch on the edge of some poly chiffon ruffles, but several attempts to do the same on the silk bombed. I was at my wits end. I was NOT about to hand sew that much gauze. So how to hem yards and yards of this stuff?


I already had a ten yard bolt that had hardly cost anything; I could simply cut the edges off five inches deep down the entire bolt and use the very clean looking selvage as the "hem" of each ruffle. I ordered another bolt and between the two I had four lengths of silk, each ten yards long and perfectly finished along one edge. I planned to use the middle portion of each bolt to underlay the lattice, so it wasn't going to go to waste. Success! A very careful pass through the serger bound the upper edge messily, but enough to keep it from unraveling in the dye bath. One obstacle down, more to go!

I've dyed fabric before (generally by tossing it in the washing machine and praying) but I'd never had to hit such a specific and complicated color goal, nor tackled such delicate fabric. A previous costuming attempt to dye a much more robust silk had resulted in great color, but absolutely wrecked the fabric. Hot water is generally necessary for dyeing, but most silks don't like it so well. I found a cold water dye that purported to work on silk and seemed to be approximately the color I wanted, but swatch tests gave lackluster results. I scoured Dharma for appropriate dyes; the only ones I could come up with would require hot water. I ordered two anyways.

Between these and possibly a few drops of various other dyes in my stash I miraculously got what I wanted

I wish I could recall what I did to get my final results. Honestly, it was all a blur of test swatches, emptying and refilling my giant dye pot, mixing, remixing and mixing some more. By the end of it, my hands, my sink and my counters were various shades of reddish bronze and I had this-

The top two are already dry and pressed;
the bottom three are still wet and therefore not their final colors yet.

The middle fabric in there is some silk organza I threw in on the off chance that it would be useful later. I'm glad I did that, because it turned out to be perfect for making fabric roses.

Dried, pressed and waiting to be ruffled

The only problem is that I ended up needing to heat the water to set the dye, so the gauze ended up with a bit of a crepe-like texture that I wasn't super thrilled about. OTOH, it's going around the hem; if anyone wants to get down on their hands and knees to critique the texture of the fabric I'll stomp 'em.  Or possibly let my ginormous hoopskirt eat them and spit out their bones, whichever pleases me most at that moment.  The gauze is still soft and super floaty so it serves its purpose.

I ran gathering stitches along the top edges of each length of gauze and began sewing them to the skirt. I lightly drew a chalk line where I wanted each tier, pinned each ruffle upside down along that line, stitched about 1/4" in from the edge then let the ruffle fall down to hang over the stitches I'd just made. The bottom ruffle runs straight around the base, while the remaining three follow a scalloping pattern so that they reveal more of the dark base ruffle where they swoop upwards. The peak of each scallop falls directly below the bottom juncture of each lattice strip.

Three of the four ruffle tiers

All four of the finished ruffles. (I tried to edit this pic to get rid of
the yellow, but then it kept loading sideways. Damn computers.)

After the ruffles were on I trimmed and neatly finished the bottom edges of the lattice strips.  I thought long and hard about doing the gauze underlay I'd planned.  Ok, I really only thought about it for a few seconds and then said HELL NO.  The gauze was too much of a pain in the ass to use and the silk strips were so difficult to sew through.  Besides, the cream silk of the skirt has such a pretty luster that it would be a tragedy to cover it. That decision made, there were just a few things left to do on the skirt at this point- closures, a placket and some roses to replace the bows in the inspiration image. So next up, handmade fabric roses!

August 23, 2011

Corsets, Leather and... Lasers?

You read that correctly!  LASERS.  I have the great luck to have access through my work to lasers that cut and etch a variety of materials, including fabric and leather.  While I love making corsets that are closely based on historical versions, I also like to make ones with modern fashion fabrics, details and shapes, so I am super excited to explore the possibilities of manipulating my materials with such a cool piece of technology.  And what project is most fitting for my very first laser aided corset design?  A steampunk corset, of course.  

Therefore I will be etching this lovely leather-

With this image of a giant squid attacking a ship-

Denys de Montfort's "Poulpe Colossal" etching, thankfully 
in the public domain and therefore available for me to use

This project is going to be a challenge for me.  I've never sewn leather before, so I'll be learning a lot as I go.  Tips welcome!  I am planning to use the laser to etch the design into my material and cut the pieces for me (after all, cutting everything out is one of the sucky parts of sewing). Prepping my pattern to send to the laser will involve a fair bit of computer wrangling to get it all right.  Even once I've got my files properly set up I'll still have to run several tests to determine the proper settings for etching the squid in.  Too little speed and power will leave me with a faint image, too much will burn right through the leather.  I've got a limited amount of material to work with, so I'm going to have to be totally confident everything is correct when I run the final job. 

But before I can even think about playing with lasers, I have to get my basics ready.  I'll be using a pattern I drafted for myself over a year ago using one of the free corset drafting tutorials at Foundations Revealed.  Here's what the corset I originally made from that pattern looks like-

 The only shot I have is an in progress one, but you can see the intended shape.

The corset has a 24" waist and is drafted with the expectation that the wearer will lace it with a 2" gap in the back, bringing the total waist measurement to 26".   It isn't meant to be a tightlacing corset so it doesn't have very drastic curves.  This makes it perfect for my purposes.  Gentler curves will be easier for me to work with in leather, especially given the fact that I've never sewn this material before. I also need to make the front flatter to give me a good canvas for my image; it would be much harder to rework the pattern successfully if it was super curvy. 

One thing I noticed about the first corset I made off this pattern was that I had miscalculated and it was too tight in the hip.  A year later it's even tighter!  I think two extra inches will do a lot of good.  That's a lot, but the squish from the waist has to go somewhere!  I added an inch to my pattern (because the pattern only shows one half of the corset, you only add half of the total amount you want to increase by).  Since I want to keep the front as smooth as possible I split that inch evenly between the back panels, then redrew the bottom edge so that it will all line up when sewn together.  

The pattern with extra room added in the hip.  CF is to your left, CB to the right.  
This is my master version; there's no seam allowances yet and I'll have to 
trace the pattern on another sheet of paper so the pieces don't overlap.

 Close up of the changes.  The pencil lines show the original pattern lines; the pen shows the new pattern pieces.  

As I mentioned, I want to keep the front of the corset flat to have a smooth, uninterrupted surface for my image.  To that end I won't be using a busk.  The center front won't even have a seam; I'll just make a solid front pattern piece by mirroring panel one across from itself.  I had planned to have the etching cross the side front seams, but to do that I would have to match a flat image along two curved pieces and account for the loss of some of the image along the seamline due to the thickness of the leather.  I'm crazy, but not quite that crazy yet.  The other option was to make up the corset, then put it in the laser; I'm not confident that the etching would turn out consistent across all panels that way due to the corset not being perfectly flat. 

To make it easier on myself I decided to contain the etching to just the front piece and do it at the same time I cut the pieces out.  In order to do that I'll have to make the front bigger; the image will end up being about 5 1/2" wide and that won't fit on the current pattern.  I adjusted it by taking 1" out of the side front piece and adding it into the front, then redrawing my top and bottom lines.

 The revised-yet-again pattern.  I went over the lines of the two new pieces with a pink pen 
in an attempt to make them more visible for you, but you can hardly see the pink.  
The original pieces still show through the tracing paper.

Now that I have my basic paper version of my pattern, I have to find some way to get it on the computer in a laser readable form.  I also have to add in things like balance marks and such.  Hopefully I'll have some progress to show you soon.  In the meantime, I'll gladly take any tips you have on working with leather!


August 22, 2011

The Lattice Gown, Part 1

Past time to start one of these, so here goes nothing!

Here's a gown I made over the course of a month this last spring. It is possibly the single most complicated and awesome thing I have ever sew, hands down. Before I completely forget how I went about making this, I figured I'd do a few posts on it. Since this project was a few months ago I'll apologize in advance if there's things I end up leaving out by accident!

I've been calling this the lattice gown. Others have called it the pie dress, the ice cream sundae dress or the pineapple dress (one of these days I'm totally remaking this in greens, golds and browns, AND with fabric made of pineapples!). Anyways, this is the image that inspired it-

Print from the fashion magazine De Gracieuse, found at The Memory of the Netherdands.

First off, I decided I wanted my hoop to be bigger. Now my hoop is already nearly 150" as is, but I figured that this dress was already a crazy endeavor so I might as well go whole hog and make it as absurdly over the top as possible. I made a simple petticoat of three or four panels of fabric gathered at the waist, with two deep flounces made of yards and yards of stiff netting.


That done, I turned to materials. The dress reminds me of an upside down flower; the bodice makes up the stem/leaves, the little peplum-ish thing at the top of the skirt looks like those little green bits at the base of a flower (called the sepal apparently) while the rest of the skirt resembles the petals of some exotic bloom. In keeping with the flower concept I decided my color scheme would be green, cream and rose. I really had my heart set on a nice dusky rose. But since I really wanted to do the entire gown in silk (going whole hog here, remember), I had to settle for what Triad had on hand when I went shopping. Thus I ended up with two yards of light green silk dupioni, five of cream silk dupioni and three of a peach/gold changeable silk taffeta. I also ordered a ton of silk gauze from Dharma Trading Co; that gauze is a whole freakin' post on its own, believe me.

Unfortunately, when I was at the store I had badly underestimated how much of the cream I'd need. I have NO IDEA how I thought I was going to get away with so little fabric, especially considering that I'd super-sized my hoop. Really, I know better. I just had a stupid moment. Reluctantly, I decided to go ahead and make the skirt as large as possible with what I had and see how it looked. I cut the cream fabric into three equal sections, then sewed them together selvage edge to selvage edge to form a large ring of fabric, leaving an 8" opening at the top of one seam so I could get in and out of the skirt. I decided to use tiny knife pleats to get all that fabric into the waistband. I knew the tiny pleats would just be hidden under the overskirt, but they please me so.

Twee little knife pleats. They reverse direction at CF and CB.

I eyeballed each pleat, pinned the everloving snot out of it all and ran a basting stitch across the top. Then I stuck it on my dressform to see how it looked. It managed to barely fit over the gianormous hoop, squishing the poofiness around the bottom of the petticoat down so much that the overall shape was greatly changed. Normally I wouldn't be ok with this, but I didn't have time or money to get more of the cream silk and the bottom was going to be covered with other stuff anyway. It's still crazy poofy, just not epically so anymore.

The only photographic evidence. It actually didn't look quite so horrible in person.
Plus it's unhemmed here, so it looks a bit odd 'round the bottom, what with the fabric sloping back in.

At this point I'd usually sew a waistband on, but I wanted the under and overskirts to be attached to the same waistband, so I started to figure out the bit that looks like the sepal on a flower (sepals? whatever). I decided to have twelve "points". My hoops are elliptical (they're a highly bastardized version of Simplicity 9764) so the points would have to be longer at the back to look right. I ended up using lengths of yarn to divide the skirt into equal sections, then draping a mock up of each individual point.

This was a stupid way to do this BTW.

It wasn't the brightest way to go about it. Were I to do it over (and I will. PINEAPPLE DRESS FTW!), I'd drape a short little fitted skirt, divide it into sections, draw the points on then cut it up and use it as the pattern. Either way, I ended up with six pattern pieces that fit around half of the skirt like so-

The green silk is flatlined to silk organza to give it some body. I put together the six pieces for the other side and sewed both sections together at the front (leaving the back open to get in and out of the skirt). I decided to line this with the same green silk in case the underneath showed while moving, so I cut and sewed together twelve more points, matched them up right sides in with the top layer and sewed all around the bottom edges.

I... I just don't know what happened here

I clipped the seams at the very end of the points, turned it all and used a knitting needle to poke out the ends. After pressing the bejesus out of it, I pinned it to the underskirt.

I popped a waistband on the sucker and moved on. I figured the lattice strips needed to be cut on the bias so they would gently curve over the roundness of the skirt. Luckily, I had a ton of cheap 1" wide single fold bias tape lying around, so I cut it into strips and got to work mocking up the woven lattice.

But first, a dance break.

What? I had just gotten my Uniquely You at that point. Oh fine then.

Starting to weave the lattice.

I pinned two bias strips to each point, then set about weaving them into each other prettily, pinning each juncture in place as I went around. While I wove I gently tugged each of the strips into a slight upward curve in order to get them to hug the shape of the skirt. And around and around and around I went, adjusting, repinning, adjusting some more, repinning, repeat. Once I was happy with the placement, I moved on to making the real lattice.

Using pinking shears I cut twenty-four 1 3/4" bias strips out of the peach/gold changeable silk taffeta, then sewed each of them up with an itty-bitty seam allowance. I didn't bother to turn them inside out; I just centered the seam at the back of each strip and pressed it open. I then gently stretched the strip along one edge to make it curve (yay bias!) and pressed some more to set the curve. Repeat twenty-three times. Resist urge to toss iron and strips across room.

The beginnings of insanity, right here

I pinned each of these in place over the mock lattice, weaving them under and over.

You cannot tell me that this right here doesn't remind you of a pineapple.

I carefully removed the guide strips, trimmed the top junctures of the lattice and tucked them under the points, then set about invisibly hand sewing each of those junctures.

BTW, did I mention there's over a hundred of those junctures? No? THERE'S OVER A HUNDRED OF THOSE FRICKEN JUNCTURES.

Ahem. What I mean to say is that I got a little frustrated by all the finicky hand sewing (and that silk was insanely difficult to poke a needle through) and busted out the heat n' bond. It seems like such a cop out considering the lengths I went through to make this thing, but there you have it. Half of those joins are basically glued together. I'm a little disappointed, but I can live with myself.

Let's just keep that whole glue thing between us, k?

I'll save the rest for future posts so as not to drone on forever! Tomorrow I'll switch it up and show you what I'm working on currently- a mash up of historical fashion and modern technology!