Saturday, August 12, 2017

bernina!

Guess what! I got a new sewing machine! OMGGGG.



My previous machine (which I'm holding onto in case of emergency, or in case friends want to come over and sew with me, pleaseeeeee) was a Baby Lock Grace, purchased in 2011 after I quit my first tech job and took a few months off to mentally recover. I pulled it out about once a year to mend or sew something small and otherwise never touched ituntil 2015 when I started learning to sew clothing. It's a perfectly okay machine, and it's held up like a champ through the last two years of nonstop sewing. I'd say durability and ease of use are its strong points; precise or tricky sewing, not so much. I knew I wanted to upgrade eventually now that I'm spending approximately all of my time at my machine.


bye, Baby Lock!

A couple of months ago I asked my instagram friends about what made a higher end machine worth it to them, and I got lots of great answers that convinced me upgrading would be worth it... at some point. Bernina seemed to be the clear winning brand in terms of popularity and quality across the board (with prices to go with it - oof), but I had a few responders swear by other machines that I'm sure are also great! My friend Liz let me borrow her mechanical Bernina for a few weeks (thank you Liz!), and it was a great experience. The stitch quality was amazing compared to my Baby Lock, but I missed some of the features of my computerized machine (auto button holes! auto needle down!), so I knew I wanted to invest in a computerized machine rather than a mechanical one. But I kept putting the purchase off, partially because I hate making choices like this, and also because we're still recovering from moving/settling in expenses and I didn't want to spend money until I had to.

Then a couple of weeks ago I sewed a pair of jean shorts, and the topstitching went super poorly - my machine just had trouble with the layers of denim and topstitching thread, and I had to rip out and redo my stitching so many times to get it looking good. It was an ordeal. About a week later I started sewing a self-drafted top that combines chiffon with pleather, and I realized that I just couldn't make it into something I was proud of using the machine I had on hand. So Tim suggested we go to my local Bernina dealer, and I picked one out that day (basically an "impulse buy" that I'd been thinking about and planning for for many, many months).

I honestly resisted this purchase for awhile, not just because of money, but because I was worried about using my machine as an excuse for not sewing as well as I could. There's that saying about how good photography is about the photographer, not the camera, and I think that also applies to sewing to an extenet. I didn't want to buy a fancy machine and let it make up for my shortcomings. I'm honestly really happy with the balance I struck here. For the two and a half years since I really started sewing, I've been constantly improving. The mini collection I sewed earlier this summer was honestly the first time I remember sewing anything and not feeling like I could have done a better job by the end. Which isn't to say I'm done learning, but that I at least have a couple of creations that I'm more or less happy with now :) But the jorts and the chiffon top stood out to me. I would stop, seam rip, and redo the parts that didn't go well, but I was becoming more aware that the things that went wrong were less about my sewing skill and more about my machine's limitations. Instead of just improving my skills when I redid the tricky parts, I was figuring out how to make things work despite my machine's limitations. This was a turning point for me - what could I produce if I didn't have that limiting factor?

I ended up getting the Bernina 530, which is around mid range as Berninas go. I also got a few extra feet that should help me out a ton with trickier fabrics (walking foot, omg!). I considered a nicer one in the 500-series, but it was significantly more money for things like a touchscreen and auto thread snipping, and it just wasn't worth the extra expense. I plan to use this machine for many, many years, and to make garments that I sell, so I definitely thought about whether it made sense to invest in an even nicer machine than this one. But I really think a fancier model would have made my life ever so slightly easier without really improving my output much, and I'm okay with this trade off.



I've been sewing with my Bernina for a week now, and yes it is just as fantastic as you might expect! I broke it in with the aforemorementioned chiffon top and then with a lacy, self-drafted bra, and the new machine made all of the fiddly parts go so much easier. Everything is smoother, the walking foot (something I had never purchased for my old machine) is AMAZING on trickier fabrics, and I finished the chiffon/pleather shirt and am super happy with it! The shirt honestly came together way better than I ever imagined it would. I actually have two fiddly silk projects and one in a very drapey rayon in the pipeline, and they are going to be a joy to sew compared to my old machine. Sewing is so much more fun now!


Friday, July 7, 2017

a personal summer collection

Earlier this week I wrote about where I am with figuring out my new career and talked about the process of designing a little 3-outfit summer collection for myself, just for fun and practice (read that here). Here's that collection! Overall I'm really happy with it: I pushed myself to go outside of my comfort zone, finished within a deadline, and I think I'll actually wear these outfits! So without further ado, more details and tons of photos of all five of the pieces I made:


Crop top & shorts



I've been thinking for awhile that I need more crop tops in my life, as well as high-waisted bottoms to go with them (I love the look of some midriff showing but don't need to go full-on belly button). I sketched out a tie-back crop top and some pretty basic shorts (see below) and stuck fairly closely to this as I drafted the patterns. I did end up hacking off the slight dropped sleeves of the top, after trying a muslin of that version on and feeling overwhelmed by the front, and I left off the front pockets of the shorts and added visible buttons.

I really love this outfit! I wore it out right after I finished sewing everything, and a boutique owner gushed over it, which was great validation :D I'm so happy with the shorts in particular - they are comfy, cool, look put-together, and they're just the right length for me. I definitely want several more pairs of these in my closet, as I really prefer shorts over skirts and dresses when it's hot out.



 




And some details:




The top is made from my pale green linen and fully lined using a sheer, light gray cotton (I used this same lining fabric throughout the collection). I lined the ties with interfaced self fabric and topstitched the edges to encourage them to keep their shape. I enclosed all the seams by keeping one side seam of the lining open, sewing the lining and outer fabric together fully, and flipping everything through at the end. I plan to topstitch this opening closed but forgot to do that during construction, oops! Also, it took me a few tries to figure out how to get into this top without help, but I discovered that I can tie the top knot with the shirt on my dress form, slip it on over my head, and tie the bottom myself. Hooray!


The shorts are nani IRO double gauze, and fully lined with the same gray cotton. They have a zipper fly and two buttons in the front, front release tucks (like a dart that's only half sewn), and darts and single welt pockets in the back. I made bottom cuffs which also serve to enclose the outer and lining edges at the leg openings.


I found these super cool shell buttons at a local fabric store. The pearly colors go nicely with the subtle hues of the double gauze, and I like the contrast of the black leaf shapes.



Welt pockets! I wasn't sure how these would turn out in something as finicky as double gauze, but I'm really happy with the end result!


I don't think I've ever owned a fully lined pair of shorts, let alone made some, but I wanted to give it a try since the gauze on its own is pretty see-though. I was worried about how this would work with the front fly, but it actually came together really well! The lining allowed me to hide the guts of the welt pockets in the inside, and all seams and dart bulk are fully enclosed. It definitely took more work than making unlined shorts, but it was totally worth it for the clean end result imo.



Above: inside the bottom leg opening.

Below: inside out, showing off that lining.





Cutout dress


The dress is made from the same double gauze as the shorts. This was the first design I came up with in the collection, as well as the inspiration for using double gauze, since it leads to a nice, airy dress but is heavy enough that the short skirt won't constantly billow up.

My biggest point of pride with this dress is my fitting of the bust. It took two or three muslins, but I eventually got the bodice to really cup my boobs and fit snugly underneath, so the whole thing feels really supportive and secure even without a bra on. For added support, I underlined the front bodice and waistband with muslin (sandwiched between the gauze and lining layers), and I used stay tape under the bust seams and along the back V to keep the fabric from stretching out over time.

The dress has a center back invisible zipper, and it's fully lined like the shorts. The bodice and waistband are all enclosed, and the skirt lining hangs free. I french-seamed the skirt (both outer fabric and lining) for a cleaner finish, and I used bias binding made from the double gauze to enclose the seams that couldn't easily be enclosed (that is, where the waist bands attach to each other inside and the back seams alongside the zipper).





Details:




Proud of this center front seam matching!


And some insides: lining, french seams, and bias binding.





Strappy tank & pants



This outfit took me the longest to settle on a concrete idea for. I knew I wanted linen pants but had a hard time figuring out what they should look like. I finally decided on semi-high waisted pants that are fairly fitted through the hips and thighs and wider through the knees and calves, with large patch pockets on the front. You can see my rough sketch below. Unfortunately, the pants were also the garment that ended up the farthest from my vision. The linen stretched out more than I had expected, so they are both far looser and far longer than my muslin version. (I actually hemmed an extra 2" off the bottom, and they still skim the ground when I wear the clogs I designed them for!)

The seams are all serged and topstitched down, and I don't have the patience to undo all of that in order to bring in the seams, nor do I think the linen would survive all of that without fraying a ton. So I'm going to try wearing these and see if they grow on me, and I might try washing + drying them to see if they'll shrink a bit.

My other bit of drama with the pants was around the closure. I had my heart set on a front fly, and I spent a day and a half trying to fit this in muslin. I could not get it to work! I have a very small waist relative to my low hips, and I wanted a high, fitted waist. This ratio meant that I could not get the pants over my hips without stressing the seams at the fly, even after lowering the bottom of the fly until it was right up in the crotch curve. I finally decided to try an invisible side zip instead, which doesn't have the limitations of a front opening (since it can just continue down the leg without hitting the crotch). It worked, and I'm actually really happy with the clean front of these. And after all that, the linen has enough give that I really didn't need to worry about anything being too snug, but I'm still glad I switched to the side zip.




The top was also a last minute design, but I'm really happy with it! I didn't really sketch the tank so much as trial-and-error it in muslin, with some very quick drafting of the front and back pieces. I wanted a longer tank with a low-V front and an even lower-U back (inspired in part by the scoop-back bras I've made). I originally just had the shorter over-the-shoulder straps, but they felt like they could easily slide off with the front and back so low. So I added the crossed straps, as well as some bra hardware to keep everything together and somewhat adjustable, and I'm really happy with the overall look. The orange cotton batiste is the least "me" fabric of the collection, and while I think I'll wear it occasionally, I'd like to make more in other colors (let's be real: black). I'd also like to experiment with built-in bra support in the future - not sure how well it would work, but it would be awesome if I figure it out, since the back is too low for a standard bra. That said, the front is lined and it's totally wearable with some pasties.



Bah - so much excess fabric on those pants! But hopefully the strap details distract from it enough.





This was actually my first time using top-stitching thread (much thicker than regular thread), and I'm pretty happy with the subtle detail it adds.


And for the shirt: the straps are just bias-binding cut from the fabric, double folded and top-stitched. I inserted some stay tape before the second fold to keep it from stretching out.


Neatly attached straps, plus rings and sliders from my bra-making supplies:



I fully lined the front, since the print fabric is very sheer, and I used a facing in the back (basically just a short lining) to give the top edges a clean finish. The linings were hemmed and attached to the self fabric at the top, and then I french seamed the sides, catching both the outer and lining fabric. (See this up close two photos down.) The front and back outer fabric is cut on the bias for a little more drape, and the lining/facing are cut on the straight grain to keep the top edges more stable. 




Bonus: the top looks great with the shorts! In fact, this is maybe my favorite outfit of the whole collection. Cohesiveness win!






Fabric details:
I believe the linen is Robert Kaufman Essex, but I bought the end of the bolt and don't see this dusty mint color online anymore. It was also from Modern Domestic
Sheer gray cotton lining and all notions from Mill End Store


Now that these are done, I'm not really sure what's next for these patterns, if anything. I definitely want to sew the shorts and the strappy tank up in other fabrics, as I love the shorts as a basic summer staple and the top as more of a wearable statement piece. I think the tank could make a fun dress in a flowy fabric, too. I may try sewing the pants again, taking the seams in quite a bit, to try to give them the fit I had originally envisioned. It's exciting being through the drafting and fitting steps and knowing making each pattern again will be so much faster the next time!

As for releasing these for wider consumption (as sewing patterns or finished garments), I haven't figured out whether I plan to do that yet. When I designed these, I explicitly focused more on designs I was excited about and less about practicality, and thus I unintentionally designed three outfits that aren't at all bra-friendly! I'm finally comfortable enough with my body that I'm cool with this, but I imagine this would limit the audience quite a bit. (I would have been very wary of going out in public without a bra just a year or two ago!) I also know that I would need to teach myself grading and/or create a standard block and redraft the patterns, since these were made specifically to fit my body.

So for now, this has been a fun exercise, a learning experience, and a great way to fill in the gaps in my summer wardrobe in just a couple of weeks. Living in foggy San Francisco for so many years means I have a lot of spring/fall layering pieces, but almost nothing suitable for the more extreme seasons that we have up here in the pacific northwest! I'm so happy to have real seasons again, but my closet isn't ready :)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

an update: life, career, + a personal project

life


As thrilled as I am to be in Portland and pursuing clothing design instead of tech, the last 10 months have been intense! Back in September, my full-time courseload overlapped with my last week at work. Prior to quitting I hadn't taken a week off from work in nine months. I got a little breather this past December, but we were stressed about closing on our house and planning the move, and then it was back to classes until literally a couple of days before we moved in April. I knew I couldn't complete the certificate program at my school, but I wanted to learn as much as possible. So I spent all of my otherwise free time getting ahead in the patternmaking program, and it paid off: I got to the last unit of the curriculum and got help fitting my pants sloper just a couple of days before we packed up the moving truck.

The first couple of months after moving were full of contractors coming in and out of our house most weekdays, getting mostly unpacked, and trying to stay ahead of all of the tasks that come with first time homeownership and moving to a new state. And then I was in a minor but annoying car accident (everyone is fine, but our car was in the shop for three weeks), followed immediately by a couple of our best friends from California coming to visit. Through all of that, I tried to find the time to sew some things for fun. I drafted and sewed a pair of paper bag waist shorts that, in hindsight, I don't think are my style, as well as an oversized flannel button-up shirt that I will certainly wear all the time in chillier weather. I also sewed a few bras using patterns from Cloth Habit, trying to get the fit right before I try designing and drafting my own. As we transitioned into summer, it finally felt like life was settling down and I could start to find a routine again. But what does that even mean for me now?


self-drafted flannel button-up, worn with my latest Harriet bra (shown in full but not modeled here)

career


I'm incredibly lucky that Tim's income combined with our lower cost of living here in Portland means that there isn't immediate financial pressure for me to get a job. But I want to have a career again, and I'm beginning to get impatient for that feeling of earning my own income and producing something that matters to people other than myself, so I'm thinking hard about what I want to do from here. I know I love taking a piece of clothing from an idea/sketch to a physical object, through the drafting and fitting steps and on to sewing it up in final fabric. But I need to narrow that focus more. Do I want to design clothing and have it batch produced at a local manufacturer? Do I want to create one-off, bespoke pieces myself? What type of clothing do I want to create? Since I sewed my first bra at sewing camp last October, I've had a fascination with the fitting and construction challenges of lingerie. I'd also love the opportunity to create undergarments that really help women to feel badass and beautiful as they are. But in some ways doing lingerie feels like starting over, since I know how to draft other clothing (skirts, tops, pants, dresses). The world of lingerie and swimwear is a different beast, and I'm afraid to start the learning curve over when I'm just beginning to feel comfortable with my abilities in these other areas. But when I type it, it seems like a pretty silly reason to avoid doing something I'm excited about, and I know my education at Apparel Arts will be super useful even if I do specialize in something outside of the core patternmaking curriculum.

a summer clothing collection


A day or two after our SF friends left in mid-June, I was thinking through all of this and found myself feeling really overwhelmed and defeated. I was in a bad place for a day or two, and Tim gave me an assignment to pull me out of it: make a cohesive summer collection, in the vein of Project Runway or the final project that I would have done had I stuck around to finish the program at Apparel Arts. We decided on a slightly smaller scale (five pieces of clothing, for three full outfits) and a tight timeline (two weeks, from inception to completion). I also have plans to make a swimsuit as a sixth piece, but I'm giving myself a more lenient deadline for that since I've never sewn or drafted swimwear at all before.


initial plans

This project was exactly what I needed! I immediately felt so energized and excited to have a goal again. I got to work on rough sketches and came up with a pair of shorts, a crop top, a pair of pants, another top, and a summery dress. Then it was time to pick fabric. I limited myself to three different fabrics (plus one more for lining), rather than a different one for each article of clothing. I decided to use a double gauze, a medium weight linen, and a sheer cotton, and then I went fabric shopping and found fabrics in those categories that worked well with each other. I'm normally not a pastel person - give me all black everything and I'm happy, and if I want to go nuts with color I'll choose a dark solid. But I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, so I got an ethereal nani IRO double gauze with shades of light mint and lavender, a pale green linen to match, and then (even further from my norm!), a bright orange cotton batiste with a leaf pattern. The pastel veins of the leaves tie it back to the other two, and I think it all works nicely together! Once I had my fabrics, it was easier to plan specific details for each piece, so I began planning them more concretely. I worked my way through drafting, sewing muslins, fitting, and iterating over the next few days, one piece at a time.



The drafting and fitting process took about nine days, and there were definitely a couple of days in there when I told Tim there was absolutely no way I would finish this entire thing by the deadline. But then one day I had a pile of muslins that fit well, and five paper patterns that were ready to go with seam allowances and cutting instructions, and it was time to buy zippers, buttons, and my lining fabric so I could start sewing the final pieces. At this point I was so eager to finish that I was giving up my nights and weekend to sew. Each final garment felt like it took a long time, but looking back, each took less than a day. Considering that I fully lined most of them and was very careful in my construction, I'm really amazed that I finished all five pieces in about four days (finishing a full day ahead of my two week deadline!). I also felt great about how they turned out. This was one of the first times ever that I sewed something and didn't think "well, that part isn't great but I'll fix it the next time I make this pattern...".

This project was seriously great for my confidence. I struggle a lot with feeling creative--this is the reason I moved away from artistic pursuits and focused on math and computers when I was a teenager! I get stuck and feel like I can't possibly come up with anything interesting ever again. And then, of course, I step away and something comes to me and everything feels okay again. The shorts, crop top, and dress were pretty solid in my mind from the first day (you can see the early renditions in the sketches above, compared to the final products below). But the pants and longer tank didn't solidify until I'd muslined the other three and had to just make a decision in order to move forward. (Interestingly, that top is now one of my favorite pieces, and the pants are probably my least favorite of the bunch.)

This process certainly helped me to feel better about my creative abilities and especially my capacity to work under a deadline, but it also made me feel confident in my technical skills. Without teachers to rely on for fitting help or construction advice, I had to figure it all out myself, and that's really empowering. It feels like magic to have an idea, sketch it out, and then watch that slowly transform into a paper pattern, then a muslin (or several), and finally a real, tangible article of clothing that was just an idea a few days before. It's seriously kind of surreal, and looking between the sketches and the final photos still just blows my mind a little. It's also amazing being able to construct a full garment without a single written instruction, just knowing when to insert stay tape into a seam for stability, or install a zipper, or understitch the lining to keep it from showing on the outside.

Here are some peeks at what I made! I'm working on another post with better photos and way more details, so keep an eye out for that soon. (Edit: read it here!)






As I'm sure you can tell, I'm really proud of this collection. I really like the clothes I made and I think I'll really wear them this summer, and I'm excited to make a few more of the shorts and strappy tank in different fabrics. I really pushed myself in terms of deadline and going outside of my style comfort zone, and I'm so happy that I proved I'm able to fit and construct clothing without someone to walk me through it. But this is only the beginning! Here's to pushing myself more.

ok, what now?


So, now I'm back to thinking about what's next. In the short term, I'm taking a few days to catch up on everything I neglected for the past two weeks and to work on some house projects that I've been wanting to do since we moved in. (The most pressing: making my bedroom closet usable so my clothes can finally be put away!) And then I think I'll work on drafting that swimsuit and some bras, and hopefully practice making clothes for some friends. As confident as I feel about creating things for me, I still have no experience drafting or fitting for anyone else, and that is critical to me starting a business doing this stuff! So I'll spend some time getting more comfortable with all of that and see what sticks I guess?