Friday, October 30, 2009

H1N1 Doesn't Strike Back

So everybody in our house has been ill. Really ill. Horribly awfully help-we-all-have-the-black-death ill... and none of us even had swine flu. Does this seem fair?? I mean, we're all hacking up lungs and feverish and whatnot and we still have the potential TO HAVE IT ALL AGAIN if we get H1N1. This is Not Right! I protest! Someone should DO something about... well... something.

Hmmph. So what with having some sort of bronchitis or pneumonia or the plague or whatever and a lovely variety of other highly stressful situations cropping up all month, I have done zero blogging, reviewing or sewing for several weeks. Well, I made a simple sundress as part of The Big One's Halloween costume. That just about did me in.

Hey, here's a picture of it from this morning (it was Parade-the-kindergarten-and-first-grade-kids-around-the-school-like-prisoners-of-war-in-Halloween-costumes Day at school today). The Big One is, if you can't tell, A Cat. This is like a dream come true for her. I thought she would pass out from sheer joy.

She is a really weird kid.

Sorry for the bad photo, I used our new teeny tiny video camera. Did I mention that this week our computer was also completely hacked by a virus and I had to wipe the whole thing and reload the OS? Yay. So I haven't reloaded my Photoshop software yet and I couldn't fix the photo either. Oh, the trials of modern life.

Anyway, TLo was, as you may have guessed, A Princess. Who carries a magic wand. She would probably have gone for the Princess-Who-Carries-A-Magic-Wand-AND-Has-Fairy-Wings look, except that I cleverly hid the wings last night before she remembered that she owns them. I'm a mean mom like that. I did not make that costume either.

Just to keep up the pretense of writing about sewing, the sundress I used for the cat costume was Ottobre 3-2009-18.

My devious plan was to use "real" articles of clothing and purchase a $5.00 ear and tail set from Walmart. Mission accomplished! Even though the tiger-print is a bit over the top, The Big One can certainly wear it this summer. In fact, I'm sure she'll be thrilled.

I've made this dress three times now, once with an adjustment to the width of the front and back pieces to allow for more fullness and add some pleating detail to the front. It's a very simple dress design and it tends to look a little Susie Homemaker to me, but the girls adore wearing it so I can't really complain, as it takes all of an hour to cut out and sew together.

Anyway, I'm hoping tomorrow or Sunday I will be able to get back on track for "Polo: The Most Popular Mediocre Shirt...EVER!" if I can get organized. I'm also in the middle of trying to design a new work wardrobe, as I will (possibly) soon have a new job and I own (literally) not one office-appropriate piece of clothing. Yay. I dread sewing clothes for myself, so this should be horrifying.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Polo. It means “chicken”, right?

OK. So I just read this post (well, I had to, it's really really hard to write a post without actually reading it). Apparently I have a little too much to say about polo shirts. I surpise even myself. I'm afraid I'm going to be one of those people. You know, people who stand around at parties or soccer games and drone on and on and on and on and on... about model trains or low-carb diets or collecting pygmy elephants or whatever. It seems I'm like that with polo shirts. This is really weird, since as a general rule I detest polo shirts. This post is just the first, well second, of many many things I have to say about, yes, polo shirts.

Good grief.

I started out on the Polo Shirt quest with Kwik Sew 3226.

Unfortunately, I seem to be incapable of remembering that I usually really dislike KS patterns. They're sort of like frozen packages of diet chinese food: They seem like a good idea, but when I get them out of the package I'm always disappointed with the reality.

This KS pattern was like that. I chose it because I'd never made a polo shirt before and I had the suspicion that the placket would be tricky... too tricky to try to make one from BWOF or even Ottobre without picture instructions, even though I have several issues of both magazines with polo-like shirts. So I bought the Kwik Sew, because one thing I will say for them: they usually have excellent illustrations and instructions.

Unfortunately, they also seem to almost never make anything the way it's normally made. Case in point: this pattern doesn't do a 'typical' polo/rugby placket. It has this weird facing thingy that, when completed, forms a sort of floppy interior mess. I am of the opinion that needlessly excessive facings are pure evil. This one is a prime example.

Of course, I'd already cut out all the other pieces before I realized how awful the Floppy Facing would be. And of course, this shirt was part of my "let's see how many unwanted adult shirts we can use up for school uniforms" plan as well. Which is to say, I had a very limited quantity of fabric to work with (i.e. one 2XL-sized shirt's worth).

In the end, I found two useful rugby placket tutorials online: one here, apparently from Timmel Fabrics, although mysteriously you can't actually go to the Timmel Fabrics website. The other one is from Dawn at Two On Two Off. They both basically say the same thing, although Timmel's is more verbally descriptive and Dawn's has really good photos. Feeling more secure with a few pictures behind me, I scrapped the Floppy Facing and scrounged up enough remaining fabric to make a 'real' placket.

I can't say I did a very good job, but it was a place to start. The buttonholes are particularly disastrous, but I think that's mostly because I had the wrong needle in my machine and didn't realize until too late.

In any case, I plodded on. This first shirt was the result. I'll say right now that it's pretty dismal all things considered, but it was more of an experiment than an attempt at a perfected piece. I ended up changing the collar to a peter pan collar that I drafted myself, since I actually used an "old" (and, as far as I can tell, never worn) long-sleeved t-shirt I got from my mom. It didn't have a collar that I could cannibalize so I made this one instead.

No, those are not dust spots from my camera. The Big One has worn this shirt at least three times, which means it's basically destroyed from mysterious irrevocable spots. She is Very Messy.

I also gathered the cuffs of the sleeves with elastic, because the original pattern produced gargantuan sleeves... way too humongous for The Big One's little stick arms. The gathering had the added advantage of being more girlie.

I also thought I'd try out the decorative stitching on my sewing machine with a wing-needle, just to see what would happen. Nothing much, apparently. This was probably not the best fabric to try it on.

Since making this, my further efforts in the Polo Shirt quest have been better, especially since I completely changed my base pattern. All in all, I'm chalking this first one up to a learning experience. I learned:

A) how much fabric is provided for by a 2XL shirt (it will create an entire size 5 polo shirt or dress)

B) Kwik Sew patterns are just not for me. Maybe I'll remember that before I purchase another one. But probably not.

And C) despite owning approximately two thousand sewing reference books, not one -one- has any sort of instruction on how to sew a rugby/polo placket. And my multitude of sleeve placket instructions just don't quite cut it.

Clearly I have to purchase a few more books. It's for the children.

Monday, October 12, 2009

And The People Rejoiced...

The Great Uniform Interregnum has been ended! Long live the Great Uniform!

Or whatever.

Actually, I think the Great Uniform SWAP and the Hannah Andersson SWAP will have to form a power-sharing coalition. By consolidating their votes they can maintain complete control of the Sewing Room, sweeping aside the flimsy arguments of the I-Desperately-Need-A-New-Purse Party and the What-The-Hell-Am-I-Going-To-Wear-This-Winter Party. The Uni-Andersson Coalition will triumph in Sewing Room politics. And so, Citizens of the Sewing World, we move on to the order of the day. Which is: Polo.

Polo was invented about a billion years ago by some people in Persia who had way too much time on their hands. (Of course, it's my hypothesis that anyone who plays- let alone invents- any kind of sport has way too much time on their hands.)

Polo, like most sports, is a war game. In fact, I think it was originally played using the severed heads of vanquished foes or something like that. In any case, it's all about blood-thirsty battle and hacking your enemies into gorey pieces until they lie sobbing on the ground in a state of utter humiliation and/or death. This, of course, makes it the logical inspiration for elementary-school uniforms.

99% of the school uniforms in this town, indeed the entire country, involve some form of a polo. Sure, the school says you can wear a blouse or a "shirt", but does anyone actually dare to do such a thing? No. The Polo Syndicate clearly has a hold on the uniform market.

OK, so polo shirts are "basic" and "standard" and so (apparently) make good uniforms. I get that. They can also be easily purchased from various places in Hell-- I mean The Mall-- for a few nickles and a handful of beans. I'm sure there are sweatshops in Kenya or Hong Kong or Saskatoon filled with busy, consumption-ridden children creating the endless acres of polo shirts that fill our shops. I decided to save the children and make my own shirts.

I'm just that kind of person. I expect my Humanitarian Of The Year Award at any moment.

You know, I think I'll break this post up into multiple posts. I have a surprisingly large volume of things to say about polo shirts and the making thereof. Which is crazy, since I've only completed five. But I've been through several patterns and variations, so I think in the interest of having something to do over the next week (because I'm soooo short of things to do), and to keep this post from being longer than Gone With The Wind, I'll break it down.

And so, Citizens of the Sewing World, today I will simply leave you with this:

Ralph Lauren polo dress. Size 5. $47.50.

My polo dress. Size 5. I used an old shirt of my husband's... so whatever a slightly worn two-year-old shirt from WalMart is worth. Seriously. What, about five bucks?


Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Cutest Ruffle-Skirt.... EVER!

Ok, this would be have been a funnier title if you had had some sort of familiarity with our CD collection.

My husband used to be in the habit of buying compilation CDs. I really found this weird when we first met... in the US this wasn't a very common way to sell CDs (at least not to people who didn't spend all their time purchasing things from RonCo off the TV). However, in New Zealand (and based on the number of CDs my husband has from before NZ, apparently the UK too) they're everywhere. Lots and lots of compilation CDs.

"Hard Rock Guitar Songs"
"Pop Music Wedding Songs"
"Crappy Love Songs From The 1980's That Will Make You Wish You Were Never Born (Or At Least Not During The 1980's)"

So anyway, we have this series of CDs from New Zealand called "The Best (insert your type of music or song here).... EVER!" Trust me. This is something of a hyperbolic statement.

Saying that, this really is a cute ruffle-skirt. I've been eyeing it ever since it came out, which was over three years ago (this gives you some idea of the pace of my sewing strategy).

This is BWOF 6-2006 #140. The original pattern calls for a ribbing waistband and batiste ruffles. I decided to go with knit for the ruffles because TLo had two tiered knit summer skirts that she adored but outgrew. My devious plan was to replace the old skirts with something similar in order to ensure that she might actually wear the stupid things. So far, the plan has worked since she seems to really like these two skirts.

This was the first one, made with a heavy white interlock at the waistband (I didn't have any ribbing and couldn't be bothered to try to locate any) and a nice medium-weight interlock print for the tiers.

This really was as easy to sew as BWOF claimed in their little blurb. You cut a rectangle for the waistband, seam it into a tube, fold in half and viola, a waistband. You cut the ruffles as you would normally (i.e. curved strips in two widths), baste together at the top, attach the waist band and serge the whole thing together. You're done! Instant (almost) skirt! Oh, well you do need to finish the hems of the ruffles, which I did with a rolled lettuce hem on my serger. Very very quick to make.

Here's the second version.

This one I added a little more detail, for a few reasons. First was that the fabric was somewhat similar in color to the first skirt. Second (and more importantly) was that I thought the first might be just a shade too short to last long. I had planned on just cutting the tiers a little longer. Except that the fabric I wanted to use only juuuuust fit the pattern as-is. Hmmm... what to do? I really wanted to use up that half-yard of fabric, since I purchased it three years ago to make a baby shirt... uh... for the now five-year-old.

Oh how I miss the days when a half-yard of fabric could make almost anything.

I didn't want to add any bulk to the main body of the skirt by adding an entire third layer of another fabric, becuse the teal knit was really beefy. In the end I decided to add another little ruffle layer to the hem of the bottom tier. To do this, I roll-hemmed a strip of seersucker fabric and gathered it to fit the length of the hem. The strip was measured to be about 1.5" below the hem of the knit ruffle and extend about 1" above the hem. That way I had enough room to attach the strip and still do a rolled hem on the knit ruffle. I used a cover-stitch to attach the strip so the raw seam was covered on the wrong side.

It came out pretty well, although this fabric tends to flip up where it's lettuce-edged.

I don't mind since the wrong side is white and goes with the white hem strip and waistband. Or in any case, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Well, at least she's happy with it...

Today we're continuing on with the Great Uniform Interregnum (because I've been crazy busy this week and trying to get The Little One clothed decently ala The Hannah Andersson SWAP. Also, I'm still sick of uniforms.) This weekend I completed a dress, two pairs of leggings and two skirts, plus cut out five more pairs of leggings that just need to be put together.

Oh how I do love leggings! They're cute! They have one pattern piece! They take twenty minutes to sew together! Will the wonders never stop?? They also have the added advantage of being the perfect bottom-wear for the Little One, who could give JLo a run for her money in the derierre department. I finally get why JLo wears so much lycra. (There's still no excuse for sparkly gold spandex pants- under any circumstance- but I do have great sympathy for the fitting issues involved with the Big Booty and now understand how the magic of lycra can absolve a multitude of fitting sins.)

My plan is to give TLo (Ha! I just realized that works!) a completely, or almost completely, mix-and-match wardrobe. In reality it probably will turn out to be a little more mix than match because, well, frankly, I'm just not that organized. But this summer I let TLo pick out her own fabric (yes. be afraid.) and it is basically coordinated. Mostly by dint of it all being pink.

Really pink.

Very very pink.

And flowery. Really very flowery.

The dress I chose for the SWAP was this Ottobre pattern:

Ottobre 3-2008 pattern #12 (Strawberry Tunic)

I was hoping to knock-off this dress:

Hannah Andersson Tunic Dress

This is what I ended up with:

Well hey. It's actually lavender, not pink. It is flowery, though.

It's very large on TLo. But I'm tired of making clothes for her that she can't wear three weeks later, so everything's just going to have to be a little large for a while. I'm going to make at least two more (maybe a teensy tiny little bit smaller).

In our next edition: the cutest ruffle skirts. Ever!

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Brief Interlude

Today, Gentle Reader (I like to maintain the fantasy that I have Readers), today we will have a short break, an intermission, a pause, a hiatus, an idyll if you will.

Yes, I own a thesaurus. What's it to you?

Where was I? Oh yes, we are proceeding with what I will henceforth call The Great Uniform Interregnum. Otherwise known as "I'm going to write about something else because I'm a little bit tired of uniforms and also I made a dress for my younger daughter (The Little One) and it was a total disaster, but I realized that I have a tip to share with everyone about coverstitch binder feet". Or something like that.

Binder Feet. They suck.

Oooo, that should have been the title of this post. Too late. However, it's a totally true statement. Binder feet do suck, with a suckiness that knows no bounds. There is little in the sewing world I loathe more than binder feet. I base this hatred on cold, hard experience.

I just did a mental reckoning and I have no less than five binder feet, not a one of which works properly. (A wise reader such as yourself might, at this point, be wondering why I continued to buy binder feet after the first two -or even four- didn't work. This, Gentle Reader, is a damned good question.)

I have two binder foot attachments for my sewing machine (which is a Brother, in case you're wondering) and three, count them THREE, for my coverstitch machine (which is a Janome). Fortunately, being the Queen of Cheap, I bought generic feet for my coverstitch machine on eBay, so instead of the hundreds of dollars I could have spent on brand-name feet I only spent about $45 on all three feet total. I guess wasting $45 is better than wasting $450.

(And before you accuse me of being merely inept with binder feet, Gentle Reader, I would like to state for the record that I am, under normal circumstances, a mechanically-inclined type of person. I deal with recalcitrant industrial printing equipment all day, for Pete's sake, and that doesn't cause nearly half the trouble as those evil little binder feet cause.)

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I have completely (completely) given up using any of these stinking feet. Er... no pun intended. Instead, I do a what-seems-like-it-should-take-longer-than-using-a-binder-foot-but-isn't-when-you-factor-in-time-wasted-on-evil-binder-foot-setup process that is multi-stepped but works perfectly every time.

I thought I'd share.

Step Being the First:

Cut out your binding strip as you usually would. You can do this technique using either a raw-finish or clean-finish strip. My example shows a clean finish.

Step Being the Second:

Your seam width should be wherever the fold of the strip is meant to be (in other words, if you intend to do a clean-finish binding and your finished width is 1/2" -you have a 2" strip- set your seam width to 1/2"). Using a BASTING STITCH, attach the strip to the garment, right sides together. You will be removing all basting stitches when completed.

Step Being the Third:

Press the strip towards the seam allowance, so that the right side of the strip is showing.

Turn over the entire garment so that the right side is on the table. Now fold the raw edge of the strip into the center to meet the center of the strip. Press heavily.

Step Being the Fourth:

Fold the strip again so that the edge of the garment is wrapped (in otherwords, it looks like binding).

At this point, the fabric I'm using will determine if or how much I pin the strip in place. In this case I pinned all the way around the entire edge because I was using jersey knit as my binding and it tended to curl a lot. In other cases I might skip the pinning.

Step Being the Fifth:

Using a basting stitch, stitch through all layers down the middle of the binding strip. Be sure to stitch in a place where your final stitching won't overlap, so it's easy to remove the basting.

Remove the pins. You should now have a completely bound edge basted in place.

Step Being the Last:

Once everything's in place and tacked down, you can take it over to the coverstitch machine (or if you're using a double or single needle on your sewing machine) and stitch it down permanently. The nice thing is you don't really have to adjust anything, you just line up the presser foot so the stitches run down the center of the binding.

When the permanent stitches are in, be sure to remove BOTH basted seams. This will release the edge of the binding so it looks "normal".

(this is a slightly bad example, as my coverstitch machine chose this moment to start skipping stitches)

In conclusion: The only difference between a garment using the traditional binder foot and a garment using this method will be the utter lack of eye-popping, face-reddening, blood-pressure-raising stress on the creator of the second garment. Yes, it does require several more steps than the binder foot method and on paper looks like it will take much more time. This idea fails to take into consideration all the facts, however. You can write it as an equation:

T + F(n) = R

R is the result, where T is time spent, F is frustration trying to get $#*@!* thing to work and n is the incremental increase of F relative to the increase of T, caused by having to adjust and readjust and re-readjust and generally mess with the binder foot eighty times to get it to work correctly.

Using this equation, there is just no rational excuse to use a binder foot. The math says it all.