Sunday, June 12, 2016

patternmaking class: an update

I mentioned in my last post that I've been taking a patternmaking class. Since it's been consuming so much of my free time, I thought I'd share how that's been going. tl;dr: very well!!

I'm taking the class at Apparel Arts in Oakland, across the bay from my home in SF. I'm in their most intense class - the 2.5 year(ish) course in patternmaking and design. It meets once a week for three hours, and there's homework on top of that. I leave work early on Thursdays and usually make it home from class around 9pm, and I spend a decent chunk of my weekend doing homework (usually sewing rough muslins of the exercises I drafted in class).

There are several large units that cover specific areas of patternmaking - skirts, bodices, pants, sleeves, etc. I'm almost done with the skirts section: I've drafted 34 separate components and sewn up 26 of those, often combining a few into one skirt where it makes sense. All that's left in this unit is to design, draft, and sew two final skirts (wearable, not just out of muslin - hooray!) and take a written test.

The design portion is the part I've been the most nervous about from the beginning. I was the kid who dreamed of being an artist for years, and then switched from AP Art to AP Calc my senior year because I was too afraid of having to be creative. I've always missed that creative side of me (this blog has been a place to share the ways I let it come out a bit)... but I feel really out of practice and honestly scared to put my creative endeavors on display for the world (or even just to my classmates and teacher).

That said, I'm finally realizing it's worth pushing myself, so I'm going to try to my best to create things that I'm excited about and proud of. I've started sketching fashion ideas from time to time, reminding myself that putting something down on paper is infinitely better than waiting until I think I have the perfect idea. I also bought The Artist's Way at the recommendation of my therapist. It seems like it could be a great resource and push for me, but I'm pretty nervous about the commitment involved (for starters, having to get up 30 minutes early every. single. day. to journal for half an hour, no excuses).

I think my sketching has been paying off, as I have two skirt ideas that I'm excited to draft and try out in real fabric. It's been fun seeing my original ideas evolve into something I like way more.

Stay tuned - hopefully in a few weeks I'll have some real, self-designed, self-drafted skirts to share! In the meantime, here are some shots from class and of my homework (all taken with my phone, usually in bad incandescent lighting - sorry not sorry, I rarely have the pleasure of working in nice natural daylight!).

so much drafting in class!

some early muslins

asymmetrical skirt back. I definitely want to make something colorblocked using this seam technique someday.

drafting at home.

accordion pleats (these were fun!)

my last skirt assignment - a pencil skirt with a straight waistband, a kick pleat, and a jump pleat lining. phew!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The story of Thurlow shorts that weren't meant to be (yet)

I haven't blogged a sewing success in awhile. Partially because I really hate trying to get photos of myself in my dark, crowded home (or out in the world with strangers all around - *shudder*). But it also feels like I haven't sewn anything wearable in ages.

I started taking a patternmaking class in mid-March and it's been pretty wonderful. At first I was laughing at the absurdity of maybe sticking with it for the whole 2.5 years, but I keep finding myself really looking forward to learning to make things later in the curriculum (button-up shirts! bomber jackets! pants!!) and honestly I'm still excited to spend most of my weekends doing homework for it. So I kinda think/hope I may be able to stick it out!

But spending most of my weekend drafting patterns and sewing muslins means I have way less time than I used to to sew real, finished things that I can actually, you know, wear. And I still have a full time job (which has been extra busy lately) and a pup (who was sick this past week), and boy it's a lot. I just want a finished project to feel excited about!

So this is the story of the shorts I've spent bits and pieces of weeknights and weekends on in the last month and a half. There have been lessons and successes and mistakes, and I'm about to shelve these mostly-finished jerks indefinitely because it is just not happening right now. I have trouble just letting go of something unfinished, so this post is my closure (at least until I decide to try again).

The shorts

These are the Thurlow shorts from Sewaholic. This was my first time buying from this company, and honestly I haven't had the best experience. Certainly some of my issues were due to just not being experienced in the techniques that are glossed over in the instructions. But in general, I think I'll stick to my tried and true favorites (Deer & Doe + Tilly & the Buttons never let me down!).

I was, erm, inspired by a pair that Lauren of Lladybird posted on her blog and .... decided to straight up remake them, buying the fabric she suggested too. I've seriously been trying to buy a pair of cool-toned red shorts for years and everything I've found is more of a summery coral, so I was in love as soon as I saw them! I bought a ton of the fabric and previously made a skirt with it, which I adore.


Since shorts and pants are tricky to fit (so many dimensions!) I made a muslin. Two actually! The first was far too big, so on the second I went down a size and made some other tweaks (hacked off some length, added a bit to the tight front crotch). I tried these one and thought "yup, looks good to me!". But I think the lack of fly and different fabric from my final pair threw me off and I was wrong... More on that later.

I finished muslin #2 only a week after starting. Not bad, considering I only had so much time to work on these!


Learning things

There were a ton of new skills I picked up while making these. The first one - welt pockets. I started going by the pretty sparse instructions and got a bit lost, but Lladybird's sewalong got me right back on track (and I managed to hide what was a minor mistake and make what I think are pretty damn good welt pockets!). Look!!

Zipper drama

(So much zipper drama.)

I got started on the first couple of steps for the zipper fly and then... panic. I needed a 4 inch zipper and wanted to go with metal. Turns out they don't really sell those at most places. I googled and the internet made it sound easy to remove teeth with pliers, but I was getting ready for my trip at this point and decided to wait to fight this zipper battle.

I got back and eventually decided to face my fears. I did some more googling, took a pair of needle-nosed pliers to the zipper, and... nothing. I literally could not remove a single tooth, and I was worried I would destroy the zipper tape if I tried any more aggressively. I finally found something that suggested another tool (a side cutter), so I ordered one of these on amazon and put my shorts on hold again.

The side cutters came and I went for it. It was awkward and a bit messy but things were going ok! Until - I managed to let my zipper pull get too high and it fell off its tracks. The only way to get it back on was to remove the bottom stopper and pull it up from the base. In doing so, I broke the bottom piece in two and had a bit of a meltdown for a few minutes. IIRC this was a weeknight after a loooong day at work. Not the best time to try this.

I managed to channel my frustration into an instagram post (ha), and it was actually the best. My friend tagged her friend who is a real fashion designer, and she left me comments across a few posts with way more tips. I was excited to try again! But my zipper was already broken beyond repair so I had to wait.

I was able to make it to the fabric store a few days later and bought 3 more zippers (basically everything they had in metal+black under 10"). I tried again, this time being careful with the pull so it didn't come off again, and being extra patient and careful when removing the teeth. Using a combination of my side cutter and pliers, I made a beautiful 4" zipper! Hooray for successes! After this, the fly was pretty straightforward (although again, the sewalong helped clear up some of the more vague instructions). Another new skill!


I'm still wondering how so many people have made these shorts/pants and there isn't more on the internet about shortening a stubborn metal zipper! But it's possible a polyester zipper, which is easier to shorten and to find in 4" length, is better here anyway. Whoops.

Waistband confusion

On a roll again! Time for the waistband - I know how to make these! I interfaced, sewing the facing to the outside waistband, topstitched and pressed, and attached one side. Then I got to the other side, which goes under the other side of the waistband at the front fly and has a little triangle point where they overlap. And... my waistband was far too short in the front, even though the center back and all notches matched up just right. I spent an evening trying to figure out what I could have done wrong, then scouring the sewalong and googling. I finally realized I'm not the only one with this problem. Even the sewalong host had run into this and just chalked it up to her own error!

I tried to figure out what was wrong here. As a commenter pointed out, the waistband pieces are the only ones that don't mention included seam allowances on the pattern. I at one point convinced myself that the waistband was probably missing seam allowance all around. But - adding a seam allowance at the center back would completely throw off the notches matching from that direction. So I'm just confused. I emailed Sewaholic support a week ago asking if they can clarify and... no response :( I'm pretty convinced this is an error or oversight in some way (since I'm far from the only one who has had this issue), and I'm frustrated that I haven't heard anything back.

I decided to hack it myself by just adding some length right at the front. I measured how much longer it would need to be and ended up adding an extra 1 1/8" between the frontmost notch and the front point. (Which is eerily close to adding 5/8" seam allowances x 2....) I made an entire new left waistband (main fabric, facing, 2x interfacing and assembly) then attached it to my shorts. Time to baste up the back and check the fit!


Wahhhhhh. I tried them on and... so tight! A giant wedgie! Whyyy!? I can hardly fit my hands in the pockets, the zipper bulges, and there are lines all around the crotch. And oh dear god, the butt. Looking back at my muslin photo, I can see some of the front issues. But it is way exaggerated in the final shorts. And since I thought I was good to go, I finished seam allowances as I went and don't have much room to take the seams out. (I tried. It wasn't enough to help.) I can put them on but they are pretty uncomfortable and ride up in the butt enough that I deem them unwearable. sigh. After a month and a half of working on these, it's very frustrating to have to start over.

butt shot ^ sorrynotsorry.

I did recently buy The Perfect Fit, although I haven't even opened it yet. I think it'll help me modify these so I can start another pair (and surely those will go more quickly, with so many lessons learned!). But honestly I don't have the patience for another go at these shorts right now.

Maybe I'll find a friend who is just a little smaller than me and would wear a pair of red shorts and finish these up (eventually). All that's left is attaching the inside of the waistband, adding belt loops, hemming and cuffing (they'll lose several inches of length), and adding a button and hook & eye. And hopefully someday I'll finally fulfill my own red shorts dreams :)

But for now I'm off to sew some summer-y Deer & Doe patterns I've been eyeing for awhile (seriously - I have a big backlog after spending so long on these). And I have to say I'm not really sad to say goodbye to working on these shorts for awhile.

Bye, Thurlows.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

My own weekend retreat

I'm a firm believer in at least occasionally taking trips all by yourself. Even if - especially if - you have a partner/signifiant other/spouse/whatever who you usually live with and travel with. There is something incredibly refreshing about leaving behind all of your normal chores, responsibilities, work, having space to do what you want to do when the mood strikes you. Plus the space to be yourself - a reminder of who you are without your other half around. My favorite vacation ever was the solo portion of my time in Paris two years ago. I'm dying to bring Tim back with me someday, but I don't think that trip would have been what it was if I'd had another person with me.

Back in February I went on a Wildbride retreat. It was literally life-changing for me (I wrote more on that over here on the Wildbride blog). But I knew as time passed it would become easier to fall into old habits that I don't really want in my life. It's helpful to step back and recenter. I unfortunately can't force a Wildbride reunion every few months, but I also don't need to be around other people for a lot of the introspection I'd like to do. Thus: my very own Wildbride-inspired solo retreat in the Sierra foothills, with just a corgi to keep me company.

In some ways it was very different from my Wildbride experience, and less life-changing (which really wasn't a surprise). I had to spend more time making sure Tumbles was happy and exercised (corgis need a lot of attention!). I got to make my own agenda, shift things around as I pleased, spend plenty of time reading and writing and sitting with my thoughts. I also got way more alone time, of course, which was good for thinking through things but also took away the incredible, inspiring mutual support that was at the heart of Wildbride.

But in some ways it was similar, mostly because I planned it to be. Time in nature, surrounded by forest and water. Lots of journaling and thinking about life from a more distant vantage point. A lot less time on the internet (but still some time to catch up with Tim and snapchat when I could get a signal - I'm not perfect at this alone thing!). Hearty, home-cooked food, tasty coffee and wine, a cozy cottage. And making dream boards, which is maybe my new favorite way to kind of reset and align myself in the direction I want to be going in life.

It was hot the weekend we were there (80F - definitely above my comfort level). But I wanted to spend time outside, for my sake and for Tumbles. I managed to find info on nearby swimming holes online, but it was pretty vague - a bridge that wasn't on Google maps and that didn't have clear directions online, some extra directions from there involving markers along the road and a hard to find pull-off. Plus, there was no phone reception anywhere near where I was staying - just some hit or miss wifi in the cottage, and I was totally disconnected once I left the property.

In the name of adventure, I decided to try it out, a bit scared that Tumbles and I would end up lost and stranded, unable to find our way back or call for assistance. I found a point on Google maps that looked like the intersection of a highway and a river that I wanted and set navigation. (Side note: bless offline Google maps, which made it so much easier to navigate both ways without phone service!) Miraculously, I'd guessed correctly and found the spot after a beautiful 30 minute drive! I went to a few different spots along the same creek, most of which had other people there on a hot Sunday. The next day we ventured back, and my favorite spot was now deserted. I took the opportunity to climb out to a rock, strip off my swimsuit, and slip into the water naked. Such a freeing experience, being naked in nature, all alone (except for Tumbles, who is never far from my side). It was wonderful, being in the sun, surrounded by water and rocks and trees, no other people around.

I even took a few photos to kind of capture the Wildbride spirit, although my tripod doesn't come close to Liz's skills. I feel like the idea still comes through, though. Femininity. Nature. Strength and confidence.

It wasn't all beautiful and easy. I got hit with loneliness on Sunday evening at sundown, when I still had over a full day left. I was tempted to leave the next day, but fortunately it passed and Monday was a great day, and I was able to enjoy the solitude again. Earlier on Sunday, after hiking around, I began finding ticks on Tumbles. Over several hours (and with an unplanned bath with human shampoo), I found sixteen ticks on her. *shudder* And on Tuesday morning, as I was packing the car to leave, she rolled around in something unimaginably disgusting on the ground and had to get another bath before we could head out. I think those things mostly served to make the transition back to city life just a little easier :)

I'm hoping to do these little weekend retreats every few months. It's nice to have a chance to reset, be alone with my thoughts and nature, contemplate my life and goals and priorities. I'd like to mix it up - maybe somewhere next to the beach this summer, a snowy cabin in the winter. Perhaps another trip back to the redwoods sometime, since the Wildbride location was so gorgeous! And in the meantime, I have some great memories and new intentions to hold on to until it's time to plan the next one.

PS. The cottage I stayed in was an Airbnb, and it was seriously the best Airbnb experience I've had. So cozy, such sweet, welcoming hosts, and fresh milk + bread to boot. Find the cottage here.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sewn: Black Belladone Dress

I wanted to make it through my Love at First Stitch book before starting any other patterns, partially to keep things simple (one thing at a time!) and also to pick up as many skills as I could before jumping into the world of sewing patterns meant for not-total-beginners. I'm glad I did things in that order, but it was also really exciting to finish and have the whole world of sewing patterns open to me!

I got excited and bought 4 patterns at once (only two of which I've made so far - eep), and I got started with the Belladone from Deer & Doe. My coworker Kiran has made at least one, possibly a few versions of this dress, and I knew it was the first thing I wanted to sew. I love the fitted-but-not-tight A-line silhouette, and the back cutout is cute and interesting without making for complicated bra situations like some open backs can.

I've been really into wearing lots of black lately, so I decided to go with cheap black cotton for a wearable toile. I cut out my size and basted the dress together - long, loose stitches and no seam finishing. Miraculously, the pattern fit almost perfectly with no modifications! (This was in sharp contrast to my Tilly and the Buttons patterns, which almost always have way more ease than I want and require lots of contouring through the waist and back). So I took the whole thing apart and sewed it again, this time with normal stitches and nice, serged seams.

I'm super happy with this dress, with a few small exceptions. One, I am just not a fan of bias tape for finishing sleeves and necklines. Hopefully I'll get better with practice, but I seem to always end up with puckering in some spots and the edges don't lie as flat as with facings or a full bodice lining. Unfortunately the cutout back makes a full lining really tricky. Two, since I did use a cheap fabric, it's not as soft or smooth as I would really like, and it wrinkles easily. This kind of sounds like an excuse to buy a nicer black fabric and make another, though.

I really do love so many things about this dress though. I love the shape and the fit. It's flattering but still loose enough to be comfortable. There are pockets (which I made bigger to comfortably hold my giant phone). And honestly it's just a nice, classic cut and color. I usually pair it with black tights on work days when I want to look put together but don't really feel like figuring out an outfit.


The back. You can see a lot of the puckering around the binding tape here (the binding tape is all on the inside, so you're just seeing stitch outlines, not the tape itself). Ugh, binding tape! I've since had better luck (with another pattern) using self bias tape, that is, cut from the fabric instead of storebought. That may be a thing to try on a future Belladone!

And after making two Belladones I realized I assembled the upper back pieces wrong on both (see above photo). The upper shoulder pieces are supposed to be on top! I think it would look slightly nicer the correct way, but it's not bad enough to take apart and resew. Ah well!

Things I learned: How to follow more minimal instructions (these were still pretty comprehensive, but I had to google things like sewing in binding tape. My previous patterns from the book were very hand-hold-y); using binding tape to finish a bodice; adding a hem facing piece instead of just hemming the bottom.

I have since sewn 2 more of these, so stay tuned for much more Belladone.