Sunday, May 5, 2019

That Thing About Life and Lemons...

All the pleated pieces awaiting final assembly
The wet pleating process is awesome.  The skirt & sleeves dried exactly perfect.  They’re crispy & they change color in light like the original designer described the real dress.  My original bodice was awful. Patterning for smocking is very different from patterning to get a tailored fit, so the yoke looked stupid & broke up the line of the dress.  I fussed with the original pieces & it looked horrible no matter what I did to it, so I revised the design, got out some draping fabric & spent a couple hours draping & basting on myself in a mirror trying to get the fit & look I needed.  Draping is something you do on someone else or on a dressform that matches the measurements & shape exactly, so doing it on yourself is difficult & frustrating. It takes a certain level of skill & a special level of crazy.  I finally got what I wanted, cut it out, made it up in the real fabric, wet it & pleated it.
While it was drying I started working with the wig & headpiece.  After trying to force the whole thing to sit properly on my head with all the extra weight of my own hair, I realized there was no way with the tight fit of the dress I would be able to dress myself.  I can’t even hope to get the wig on myself once I’m in in the dress (it’s nearly impossible NOT in the dress). Also, I can’t drive in the wig assembly so I’d have to get dressed and have my hair fixed after I got to work.  There’s no way I’ll be able to wear it at work tomorrow.  I need a dresser with mad wig skilz and at least an hour of help to get me into my clothes.  So at 3PM I did a hard stop.  How do you blog crushing disappointment?   There is no way I can make this work alone, even though I had enough time to finish the dress.  Sometimes, life just sucks that way.  I’ve put a little over 8 hours into the dress. It needs ~3 more to finish. But not tonight. Tonight I just need to rage at the universe for tasks that take 2 people.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Peacock Dress at Last!

Some wins & some fails but definite progress. I got all of the dress cutting done just in time to leave for an event, because it took me a while to think through the patterning & experiment with the smocking machine. The smocking did not go well.  I tried multiple times to smock fabric for the cuffs but every time I got to about the halfway point a needle would slip & they whole piece would go wonky.  The taffeta is not forgiving; one try & it goes to trash because there are holes from the needles & pinch marks from the feed gears. It takes time to rethread all those needles.  I have plenty of fabric but I don’t have time to fuss with it.  I cut out the whole dress as if I wasn’t going to smock anything & if I have time tomorrow I can try again & substitute the bits if they work.
Smocking the cuffs

Sleeve pleats drying

I bet you’ve never seen anyone pleat a dress this way. The taffeta has some sizing in it, so it’s holding the pleats nicely.  I wasn’t sure how it would look but the swatch test came out well.  I put a plastic dropcloth over the dressform wearing the hoops.  The skirt was mostly assembled, then soaked in cold water & wrung out carefully so that there are lots of vertical wrinkles.  It's draped over the hoops dripping out in the garage. Voila! Fortuny pleating. I won’t know what it really looks like until it dries overnight. The sleeves are also pleated & laid out flat to dry. Now it’s nearly midnight & I have one more day to pull this project together.

Amidala's Coat, Part 3 & Done

Hello Saturday 😊

The coat is finished and the deadline clock is ticking.  I’m starting to think I should call this the cooking-while-sewing blog.  I’ve just finished getting the potluck stuff for today’s Cinco de Mayo gather all done & cleaned up, and all the things I need to take across town is loaded in the car. Now I have only a few hours left for working & tomorrow will be last minute insanity. (Yes, I know, I’m taking time blogging too, but I promised!)

Final time on the coat: 19.25 hours.  I had to check the numbers twice because that is way over what I expected. I opted to use the trim (that had to be put on anyway) to finish the edges & that took a lot more time than doing it fully lined. I serged the inside edge of the canvas to the coat hems & stitched them down flat. That made the edges very stiff.  Not lining also added way too much bulk at some seams, especially around the armholes where there ended up being 6 layers of the wool on a clipped curve because of the facings. Due to the amount of handling to get all the trim on, most of the edges stretched some as well.  This is a jacquard upholstery fabric and so the weave is not as stable as something plain-wove. I didn’t take the extra time to stabilize all the edges because I was trying to get this done fast.  Lastly, not lining it makes it look cheap. Some decisions you just regret in the end.  When you’re putting together something new that didn’t come with instructions, there is a lot of debugging (how do the pieces go together, what order to assemble in, getting the scale of details right).  The second one you rarely make has the benefit of all the knowledge you absorbed on the first one.  I have friends who do a complete mockup first to learn how to put something together & fix any fit issues. If I didn’t have to go to work every day, I might do that too.  

Things I’d do differently: Line it.  Use something lightweight for the trim. Use a slightly lighter weight & finer wool so it would felt on the prewash and so the finished garment isn’t so heavy. Skip the serger entirely & pink the seams.

Things that really worked: Using good wool fabric instead of velvet. I can’t guess how much added time there would have been using a pile fabric with a loose-wove backing. It would have been much bulkier and the shortcuts I took would have failed miserably.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Amidala's Coat, Part 2

After yesterday’s machine adventures I have a lot of time to make up. Thankfully, today went smoothly with only minor adjustments; had to debug the collar, but it’s ready for the trim & finishing.  Now that I’ve cut the points in & pinned everything, I wish I was taller!  Just taking a quick break to get a couple photos & back to work. Sewing time (so far) 8 hours including pinning, trimming & pressing in edges.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Guts--Another Best-laid Plans Kinda Day

Machine guts took over my morning. I decided last night that I’d get up early & focusfocusfocus on making the coat today. Got up at o-dark-thirty, set up a serger—and spent 2 hours fussing with it trying to get the adjustments right before I decided to switch sergers. 
Temperamental critters are sergers. Folks don’t seem to know what to do with them so they dump ‘em at garage sales after a frustrating adjusting experience. I bring one home occasionally as a project. Current inventory is 4 so you'd think at least one would be plug & play! Sergers are great if you know how to use them. I got my first one brand new (first-gen home Singer) in the early ‘80s and it’s been my workhorse all these years, but it’s become impossible to get good replacement parts for the things that are worn out and I’m always looking for a similar one for parts.  I can coax it to work but the cutting blade is useless. My backup is a low-end Brother that I got in trade & that is the one I was fussing with earlier. It’s more of a beginner machine & is usually forgiving.  Last year’s garage sale finds included a lovely Janome that the original owner failed to oil out of the box & is seized up. [side note, this is common because they ship them pretty dry & the manuals all say oil before use. Nobody reads manuals.]  I’m determined to make it work because I’d never spend that kind of money on myself & it feels like a treat. #4 I paid $5 for at a garage sale over the holidays and that is the Huskylock I have just spent a couple hours cleaning and oiling because I was tired of fighting the adjustments on the Brother.  This one is new to me & I’m happy to report it’s now fully functional.  Of course, part of the process was to soak the poor dry guts in oil & let it sit a while, so I’ve fussed around much of the morning cleaning the aquarium & starting a pot of ribs for dinner while I waited for the oil to do its work.  I expect the one I started with would like an oil & clean now too, and that might magically help with the adjustments. It's a mixed blessing to be able to repair my own machines.
Now I’m blogging & having lunch while I try to get back into the project frame of mind I had 6 hours ago.  The sun has come out, and I need to mow the lawn, and my kitchen smells of ribs, aquarium, and WD-40, which is kinda weird. 
Huskylock guts, nice & clean. It really needs sewing machine oil, but the spray tube on WD-40 is good for getting into tight spots.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Amidala's Coat, Part 1

Nothing is constant but change.  This week’s adventure: the coat!

Abandon the dyed velvet
You may remember that I didn’t have much of the velvet (about 3.5 yds) & wasn’t sure how much piecing I’d be able to do.  In the spirit of using what I had, the default was going to be to do the under layer in black wool.  Lucky me—I took a little trek to the Pendleton mill on sale day & scored 7 yards of an interesting textured jacquard that at $3.99/yd was a reasonable sub. I wasn’t happy with that velvet anyway, after all the effort to dye it, so it was nice to find a cheap alternative. The new wool is rusty copper & black. No peacock blue, but the black at least gives a similar effect and the copper isn’t too far off some of the internet photos of the original.
New wool jacquard
Patterning this wasn’t complicated because I had a couple good bought patterns to start from. From a Civil War era coat I got a front, back & collar. From the latest in caped suit jackets I got the ¾ cape. I tend to cut freehand with some basic measurements once I have the shape I want. I laid the pieces out on the fabric & it was pretty obvious that no-way was there going to be enough velvet for all the sections even with complex piecing, so that went upstairs & I rolled out the new copper stuff.  I do love Pendleton! Once the pattern pieces were laid out I checked/fixed measurements & re-drew the shapes on the fabric in the correct sizes. I’ll fine tune the point shapes when I have it partly sewn & on a dressform. I have 2 fronts, a back, a cape front & side, and 2 collars cut out.  That took the whole 7 yards with just a little scrap that I will use for armhole facings. The canvas strips that I’d dyed with the original blue for piping went into the vat to become brown.  The sewing machine is ready to go with brown thread & I just need to decide if I’m going to line it all, or serge the seams so it’s a quick job.  The original has piped edges. The fabric is heavy, so I’ll have to see what happens when there’s a hem and piping, or a binding—the bulk might be awful & too stiff and I might abandon that. That’s for another night. For now I’m happy to get the blog caught up. Honestly it takes longer to make the blog layout work than it does to create the thing!  

Yes, I could have made the pattern a month ago then shopped for fabric, and maybe even found something.  Or I may have loved the velvet enough to just go with using 2 fabrics.  I wanted that blue backing!  I could have re-designed the coat to have a single layer. I saw online one cosplayer did the coat in bright pink. It’s all random. 

Patterning & cutting: 4 hours

Amidala's Headgear

Wire frame, not much bigger than a commercial hairband
Another story of things taking longer than planned.  The headgear is taking forever! I’ve been working on the wig & headpiece in 30-minute bursts for over a week.  Mostly it’s been about glue & paint drying but the learning process has been interesting.  I knew I needed to cover the headpiece with leather or vinyl, but I wasn’t sure how bulky it would need to be.  Getting it to curve right was the biggest challenge so I approached it like a hat—bend & wrap heavy gauge floral wire into the shape then cover it with buckram to stabilize the shape, then cover that with vinyl.  The leather I had was just too stiff to work into complex curves so I used the much lighter weight vinyl.  I fussed with floral wire a couple hours including the medallion shape, then excluding it.  Some of you will recognize the end shape—the Ah-HA moment was when I realized I was making a French hood with the frame turned backward.  I should have guessed that before I started, with all the online info about the designer’s inspiration being Tudor.
Laying on the wet buckram
Ready for leather
Once I had the frame made the buckram had to be wet & wrapped, then that dried overnight.  Then another layer because the thin vinyl showed the structure & I wanted it to look smooth.  By the time I’d put a couple layers of buckram on & let them dry, then glued on the vinyl, the weekend was over & the thing was much bulkier than I wanted. 
During the drying breaks, I used aviation snips to cut up the plastic baskets. The design was a great match but the plastic was so stiff that it was going to be awkward to work with & would take a lot of stitching or structure to keep in place, which would show. It needed to follow the curve of the head even with the headband & hair bag under it so I decided to try heat to slump it into more of a head shape. I did some experiments with the heat gun (too much heat at a focal point, also melted the styrofoam head) and in the end what worked best was to set the plastic pieces on a stainless steel bowl in the oven on a lower temp & pull out the bowl as soon as the plastic drooped, being careful not to disturb the plastic until it cooled. I did that a few times in stages so that the thinner pieces didn’t just melt into blobs. Then the pieces of plastic had to be painted, then sewn together, then painted a couple more coats mostly to hide the thread. The whole assembly was glued to black vinyl & when it dried the edges were trimmed. Then all that was glued to the headband.  Downside of the vinyl: it was backed with white fuzzy stuff, so you could see all the edges. I blacked those out with a sharpie.

Repurposing dollar store desk organizer baskets
Pretty darn close!

The dyed sweater was cut into 2 long slightly rounded rectangles with the inside one slightly smaller than the outside.  I sewed up the edges to make a bag then pinned it to the wig & cut the lower  bag opening  edges & stuffed curls in until it looked right. The outside piece being bigger hides the stitching.  I strung beads & sewed them into the wig backing. 

Now that I know what it looks like I’d probably build the assembly on a headband & use the kind of leather you can soak & mold, cut the band & medallion in one piece, soak & shape it like a mask, then spray it black. Getting the scale right was the tough part—I kept expecting the sides to be bigger. The little curve insets at the wide ends were about the width of a pencil.  It’s not as close to the original as I’d hoped for, but will pass the 10-foot rule nicely.  You can see I need some fine tuning to get the bag sewn into the wig at just the right spot, and to get the beads to stay on top of the hair, but it’s almost done. If I have time at the end I may iron out those front curls & fix the bangs.  The last step will be to glue on the blue beads for decoration (so they don’t come off in handling).
I failed to keep up with the time, but a good guess would be ~10 hours of actual work spread out over a week so far.
It doesn't look like it took a week!