Posted in sewing

Memories of sewing Hallowe’en costumes

For years when I was a young working mother I put away my sewing passion to focus on other things – husband, baby, household, work I loved. But once a year I’d dust off the old sewing machine and start a project. It began in August and often ended on the afternoon of October 31. It was, of course, the inevitable Hallowe’en costume sewing.

It always began on a hot day in August when I’d take my little guy’s hand and head to a local fabric store. Our search started with those massive pattern books– those long ago days when you couldn’t wait for an online sale and order a bunch at seriously reduced prices. Sometimes Ian, my little guy, would have an idea of what he wanted to be; other times, he was open to finding a surprise idea in the pages of those books. Either way, I sat him on the chair as we poured over the patterns. That was also long before I took a notion that I might like to design my own patterns. Now that would have been fun!

Anyway, we would always find something that he’d get excited about. The first year he was a little tiger, then he progressed to clowns and of course eventually a little red devil. It was Hallowe’en after all.

One year he had been mesmerized by Disney’s Fantasia so was anxious to be a wizard for his annual trick-or-treat. (I think this may have been the most prescient costume: classical music has been a large part of his adolescent and adult life – he’s eventually graduated from Canada’s National Ballet School and has danced with the National Ballet of Canada & Les Ballets de Monte Carlo in Monaco for some years!).

Anyway, he also sported a scarecrow costume the year he saw The Wizard of Oz, and of course, being a Trekkie, the last year he actually went trick-or-treating he had to have a Star Trek uniform of course.

All through the years we were able to find patterns that suited us both – he the wearer and me the maker.

The fabric selections were guided by a couple of what I consider to be basic Hallowe’en-costume-sewing-and-wearing rules.

  • The fabric has to be easy to sew.
  • The fabric has to withstand a bit of rain (I remember one year as a child myself we wore paper costumes – big mistake.)
  • The fabric has to look good when layered over the inevitable warm jacket and even sometimes winter pants. (We do live in Canada.)
  • The fabric has to be cheap. Oops, not cheap. Well-priced!

These days there is an incredible selection of costume patterns, and it seems to me more and more moms (and even some dads) are choosing to make their own costumes. There is little doubt in my mind that sewing these costumes is a lot more memorable than throwing on an inner tube and calling your child a do-nut!

For me, this process was actually a project that Ian and I could do together. Of course, I was the one cutting out the pattern and sitting at the sewing machine, but he was there all along the way, giving advice, keeping me company and showing his delight at the finished product. It was a fall ritual. I kind of miss it now. I wonder if 27 is too old to want Mom to make you a costume. I guess so! Back to couture sewing for me.

Next up: learning to manipulate darts as design features, then time to cut out my next Little French Jacket.

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Posted in Fashion Design, sewing

A knit sloper that fits to perfection! And my advice on learning to make slopers

img_1412When I finished my bodice sloper designed for woven fabrics (A bodice sloper at last!) I looked at it closely, examined my current lifestyle and considered the kinds of fabrics I love to wear. I concluded that a bodice sloper/block that will be the basis for my design ambitions (designing my own capsule wardrobe – oh, yes, that’s the plan!) has serious limitations if it’s only to be used for woven fabrics and looks like the bodice of a dress with a waist seam.

I mean, I cannot remember the last time I willingly wore a dress made from a woven fabric (with absolutely no lycra) that was designed with a sewn-in waistline and darts of one sort or another. First, I wear dresses only to weddings and funerals (and even then I’ve been known to choose a beautifully cut jacket with equally well-cut pants and pumps), on cruises (and then they have to be the kind that can withstand packing – so no wovens), and on hot summer days (linen please, with no waistline). With all of this in mind, I began to wonder what precisely I might do with the sloper.

Well, I do like what is called “stable knit” fabric. Some sewers ridicule the very idea of a stable knit, believing that a knit by definition isn’t stable. But I do recognize that some knits are more stable than others and I like the stable kind. So, I suppose I might be able to use the block to fit stable knits that might have princess seams or French darts. And I think I know how to get rid of that waist seam. God, I hope so, because I can’t see when I’m going to need it. Peplums are out of the question in my wardrobe! If I can master that, then it’s likely that I can design myself some tops and tunics – once I learn how to draft necklines and sleeves, though. So, it will have that usefulness. However, it’s best use seems to me to be as the basis for making a knit sloper, which is what I did this past week.

The Suzy Furrer Craftsy course I’ve been using to learn to fit moulages and slopers concludes with a piece on design options for slopers, and a section on using my sloper to create a knit sloper by getting rid of darts and waist shaping. It focuses on adding negative ease to the sloper meaning that the body would fill out the knit and then some. I decided that since I don’t really like my knits skin tight I would err on the side of less negative ease than she suggests. Big mistake.

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A well-fitting knit sloper? I think not!

 

The first attempt at the sloper resulted in a sloppy mess. I had bought some cheap (and it has to be said supremely ugly) knit fabric at the moving sale at Fabricland in Toronto. It’s not my favourite store in which to buy fabrics since they tend to stock so many less expensive synthetics and I like natural fabrics or at least blends. But they do have a terrific selection of notions and threads all of which are currently on sale, and very cheap remnants. But I digress.

My husband often tells me that I tend to buy my clothes too large, seeming to have an inflated notion of how big I am. He was entirely correct in the case of fitting my knit sloper. Since I had only this piece of fabric in which to make up the proto-type before putting the final sloper on poster board, I went back to the drawing board and re-drafted the sloper from the beginning using the instructor’s directions this time, and tweaking a bit based on my own observation of shoulder slope issues (yet again). Then I unpicked the first sloper and hoped I could re-cut the same fabric smaller. It seemed to work.

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Seam ripper at the ready! (It is a hideous colour, n’est ce pas?)

 

When I whipped up the second sloper I was delighted with the fit. All that was left was to put the sloper on poster board. As I hung the it in the closet with the woven one, I realized just how much I had learned about the process of fitting and pattern-making. After so many years of slavish devotion to commercial patterns and continual moaning about fit issues, I believe that I have the basis to move forward to better fitted garments – both from commercial patterns and ones I plan to create!

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My six best pieces of advice for learning to make slopers/blocks:

  1. If you’re taking an online course, using a textbook, or following someone’s online tutorial, watch, listen to or read the entire process before starting anything. Get an idea of the overall process.
  2. Assemble the equipment you’ll need: a flexible ruler, a curve, tape, fabric shears and scissors to cut fabric, a good pencil (and eraser), a roll of pattern paper (lots of it), a bolt of muslin or other cheap, plain fabric. I noticed that many of the students taking my course used left-over quilting material etc. with patterns on it. It’s difficult to see details of problems/issues and how to fix.
  3. Prepare yourself mentally for doing it again and again until you get it right.
  4. Keep your eraser and seam-ripper handy and use them often.
  5. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. If you can’t do this, the process will soon drive you crazy. The process can be very meditative.
  6. When you’re finished, take stock of all of the elements of fit and pattern-making that you now know that you didn’t before you started. You’ve come a long way, baby!

youve-come-a-long-way

 

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion Design, sewing

A bodice sloper at last! Could fashion design be next?

IMG_1439.JPGIt’s been months in the making. I’ve spent hours measuring and drawing, cutting and pinning, sewing and seam-ripping. But I’ve finally finished the sloper – and it fits me!

When last I recorded my progress, I had redrafted the sloper incorporating changes to solve problems that seemed to have emerged sometime between moulage and sloper. I then whipped it up on muslin and ta-da! It fit me! I was anxious to move forward in drafting the final sloper on poster board for posterity (and future pattern drafting), but held myself back until I received feedback from my online instructor, Suzy Furrer. When I got the go ahead from her, I ambled down to Staples and picked up some poster board – and a set of erasable coloured pencils, an item I’d been wishing for throughout the drafting process. Then I set to work creating that clean, poster-board copy to hang in a closet!

The process of creating the final sloper is really easy once the thing actually fits. All I had to do was trace the outline onto poster board, then use a tracing wheel and tracing paper to get the various lines (waist, bust, high and low hip etc.) and the darts onto the poster. The instructor refers to “tag” as the kind of heavy paper that the fashion industry uses for these pattern blocks, but tag seems a difficult item to find.

I had been concerned that poster board might actually be too light for this final product, but it seems that when you search for definitions of tag, that this tag is thinner than poster board. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the accurate word is tagboard and they define it as “…strong cardboard used especially for making shipping tags.”[1] When I think about shipping tags, I think of quite flimsy cardboard, and when I went into a craft supply store, they didn’t have any such material. Anyway, poster board seems to be a reasonably good medium for the sloper so that’s what I chose.

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Once I had the sloper traced out, I firmed up all my lines, and as instructed, I cut it out in preparation for “notching” and “awl punching.” The notching is done along the edges at every point where I will need to add a line to a future pattern. For example, I need notches at both ends of the waist line so that I’ll be able to join them up on a pattern traced from this block. As for the darts, well, I’ll need those awl punches at the dart points (or any important point on the interior of the pattern) so that I can join up the ends of the darts with the points.

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My pattern notcher and awl.

 

I ordered my notcher from Ebay months ago. It had to come from China (the only way to get one at such a cheap price!), and the awl from Amazon. When I look at my awl and compare it with those used by sewers and designers, although it was advertised as for this purpose, I really think it’s more for punching leather and using n a wood-working shop, but it does the trick!

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A pattern hook – I’d never heard of them before!

Storing these slopers seems to require some kind of special equipment as well. The instructor – as well as everyone else who teaches this or writes about slopers & blocks – punches a large hole in them and hangs them on a “pattern hook.” When I looked at trying to order a pattern hook or two or three, they seemed inordinately expensive. (In this photo I found online, it is actually upside down.) Several sewing bloggers have posted pieces on how to make them, and then there’s my husband who likes to browse Canadian Tire. (If you aren’t a Canadian and have no idea what Canadian Tire is, you might enjoy an online browse. Don’t be fooled by their name: they are not just a tire store although they used to be in years gone by. They’re our everything store!). Anyway, he found a pack of boot hooks by a company called Neatfreak (readily available online as well) for $12.99 CDN. They were ideal!

 

I did not have to get a large hole punch for a pattern hook; rather I was able to clip the front and back of the sloper together and hang them in the empty closet in the den. They will be joined next week by a knit sloper (my next project) and future slopers for pants!

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And here it is! The finished product at last!

 

Yay! I’m on to the course on dart manipulation in my first step toward designing something!

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tagboard

Posted in Couture Sewing, sewing

My quest for the perfectly fitting bodice sloper (block) continues!

You know how there are times when someone says something and it sticks with you while everything else just seems to slip away? Well, the instructor I’m following on the Craftsy online platform’s “Patternmaking Basics: The Bodice Sloper” class said something that stuck with me – only now it seems that for me it’s not true.suzys class

After she had finished showing us how to draft our personal sloper from our perfectly fitting moulage, she said that she usually doesn’t even make mock-up muslin of the sloper since she knows that if the moulage fits perfectly, then the sloper will as well.

I hung onto that thought as I worked through her drafting instructions, and when I had finished the sloper pattern, I looked at it and thought, “You had better sew one up just to see.” So, that’s what I did. I was so certain that it would be right that I picked a blue sateen fabric rather than muslin then cut it out and made it up with front and back vents, an invisible zipper and bias-finished armholes and neckline. I had some silly notion that I might actually be able to wear it. Well, that didn’t go so well.

When I tried on the blue-sateen fit garment, it most certainly was not simply my moulage with wearing ease – a term I have now learned to differentiate from design ease.[1] And it was clearly not a garment that I would wear in public! It had ease galore in the high hip (an odd bit of excess curvature), but worse, it now had those upper body wrinkles again that I had worked so hard to get rid of (successfully) in the moulage. Good lord! What a mess.

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OMG! Just look at those wrinkles! If I used a sloper like this, every single piece I design in future will look the same!

 

I figured that I knew how to fix the hip issue, but the cross front issue was tricky. So, I posted photos – as embarrassing as they were – in a question to Suzy Furrer the instructor, crossed my fingers that it might be an easy fix, and waited, hoping for the best.

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Suzy’s very articulate and helpful response.

She did seem a bit perplexed herself, but suggested that I unpick the shoulders, try it on again and see if redoing them on a different angle might help. I sighed, looked at my overly optimistically applied bias binding (and finished seam allowances no less) and started clipping and unpicking. When I tried the thing on again, and asked my trusty assistant (my husband) to clip the shoulder seams together for me, it was clear that we had a problem. At the end of shoulder there was a one-half inch gape that when pinned in place showed the need for a significant change in the shoulder slope.

 

Now, I don’t know about you, but whenever I buy clothes, especially tailored tops and jackets my preferred style, I often find that they don’t fit as well as I’d like across the shoulders. I’ve noticed through my life that although I have very good posture (40 years of yoga will do that!), but my shoulders themselves are sloped. It made perfect sense that any bodice block I’d create would have to emulate that. What I couldn’t figure out is why the moulage seemed to fit so well. But it does occur to me now that as you move through the drafting process there are many opportunities for error even though you may try hard to be precise and accurate.

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This is how much more sloped I had to make the shoulder!

 

Anyway, I set to work completely redrafting the sloper with the shoulder change, but I knew that this alone would give me another problem: If I lowered the shoulder without doing anything to the under arm, and thus the bust line which in the case of a sloper follows the underarm, I would have a serious armhole problem. So, I lowered the armhole and consequently the bust line a half-inch as well.

I now have a new sloper draft and have copied it and cut it into a new pattern. Later today I’ll cut it out and sew it together – in cheap muslin! Geesh, I hope it fits this time. I’m dying to get on with a bit of dart manipulation on the next leg of the journey to designing a few pieces from scratch.

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Sloper #2 pattern ready to try out!

 

 

[1] Craftsy has a really good blog post on the different kinds of ease at https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2015/04/ease-in-sewing/