Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Has Sewing Changed Your Life?

Be warned that this is a rambling post.  This is sort of a response to Tilly's question, "Has sewing changed your life?"  I say sort of because I'm not really sure this is what Tilly was asking.   I've been trying to figure out where sewing fits in my life as an artist for a while now.  It has made me view art and art making in a different light.   I haven't been able to put it in exact words, but this is my attempt.

Let me start by saying I've had the urge to make stuff for as long as I can remember.  My mom jokes about how anytime she needed a pair of scissors or some scotch tape she knew where to look-- in my room.  I have an early memory of getting in big trouble because I was up at my desk cutting paper chains instead of in bed sleeping.  I must have been four or five.  I was lucky to have an artist mom and family that encouraged my desire to make stuff.  I had weaving looms, paper, art supplies, and jewelry making kits galore.  In high school, I decided to pursue art seriously.  I took every art class they offered (which was a lot at my high school).  High school art was great.  I had incredibly supportive and inspiring teachers and I feel like some of my best artworks were made during this time.

Mixed media piece done in high school.  It's a story quilt about my grandfather, inspired by Faith Ringgold.  I wasn't sewing then.  All the fabric is crudely stitched together by hand.  There's some xerox transfers and painting in there as well.

College art was a little different.  I still had great art classes and have some works I'm very proud of.  But it wasn't as accommodating as high school art.  In college, I felt the pressure to be a fine artist.  Fine art, imo, is supposed to be academic.   It's about technical skill as well as expression.  My artwork needed to be refined, polished but also conceptually slick.  That's a lot of pressure.  That's a lot to expect from every artwork and makes it really hard to get started.  There also seems to be a competitive nature to being a fine artist.   I should say that I didn't feel this kind of pressure in every class I took, but a lot of them I did.  I noticed it the most when I was studying abroad, surprisingly.  I should also point out that I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to be a serious artist.  In fact, I have the utmost respect for people who try.  But for me, I felt like some of that pressure was taking away from the fun of just making art.

Sagrada Familia Study
Oil on paper, done in grad school

Fast forward a few years and I am teaching art to five hundred elementary students every week, ages five through eleven.  It's fun.  Very fun and entertaining, but also exhausting.  Kids have that desire to just want to make art.  They don't really care whether or not it's a masterpiece.  At least not the little ones.  I can see that in my students and it is refreshing.  Two years ago, though, I was not making any sort of art at all.  Yes, I was an art teacher.  But not an artist.  I wasn't even making examples for art lessons except when I absolutely had to.   Part of it was time.  Being an art teacher requires so much time and energy.  Especially now with increased class sizes and almost no planning time.  But part of it was the pressure to be an artist.

Then sewing came along in the form of giant 16 foot tipi.   I was hooked the first time I threaded the machine for J.  All of sudden, I was making things again.  I was making things and not feeling the pressure.   I was enjoying the creative process for just what it was-- creating something.  At first, I separated sewing as a craft-- not really related to making art.  In fact, the first time I wore a handmade item out, a friend commented that I was "crafty."   I was kind of offended.  I didn't want to be crafty, I wanted to be artsy.   But over the last year I've realized that is a misunderstanding I've had about art for a long time.  It's not about having this tangible, intellectual end-product.  It's about the means that gets you there.  Process over product.

Sewing has changed my teaching style.   I focus much more on the development of an artwork than I used to.  I like to think it's made me a better art teacher.  I try to make my students aware of the higher order thinking skills they are using when they are making art.  It's all about decision-making and thinking for yourself, something kids don't do a lot of in school nowadays.  Information is not handed to you in art.  Your ability to recall that information is not what is important, but how you use it is.  The heart and soul of making art, expression, is something intangible.  There's no right or wrong in art.  I try to remember that for a child,  sometimes just the joy of making something is enough reason to do it.  Something to remind myself of, too.

And you know what?  I've started making some art again here lately.  Not anything too involved.  Mainly I draw and doodle at school.  I forgot how much I love to draw.   I take the time to make an example before I teach a lesson.   Sometimes I make something along with students.  I think it's nice for them to see me doing it, too.   I haven't started anything big like a painting (in the "academic" sense of the word), but I'm close to trying again.  I'd love to illustrate a kid's book one day.

A drawing I did of little kitty.  You remember her from this post?  I did it when the kids were doing a drawing exercise on point of view and was really tickled with it when I finished.

So, what in the world does this post have to do with the question, "Has sewing changed your life?I just sort of talked about art, didn't I?  Well, I know it's kind of all over the place but that's just where I'm at right now.  I feel like sewing is changing my life.  In the process.  I have all these dots out there right now- art making, art teaching, sewing, kid art and design- and I'm just trying to connect them all.  (I feel like furniture should be one of those dots, too.)  Maybe I'll wrangle all the dots in and figure out something really awesome to do one day, maybe not.  I'm content where I am but it's fun to think about anyway.  Fun to write about it, too.

Alright, enough of my scattered thoughts.  I enjoyed putting this down on (digital?) paper.  Feel free to comment.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on sewing vs. art, or just on the creative process in general.   Something I'm very interested in as an art teacher.  I still haven't totally resolved my feelings on art vs. craft, but it seems silly to totally differentiate between the two.  Also worth mentioning that I find it way harder to post pictures of my art opposed to pictures of things I've sewn :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amateur Upholstery Hour: Small Progress

Wondering about this old sofa?  Yeah.  Progress is stalled. 

We've had some unexpected expenses this summer.  My car finally went to the great big Volvo junkyard in the sky.  "Fabric buying budget" is now replaced by "car payment."  No fun.  Anyway, we did pick out the fabric we are going to use, but it is much more expensive than I originally imagined we'd spend.  So we are currently saving up for the big purchase.  I bought one yard to test it out.   It's beautiful.  All those medallions are woven (embroidered?) and the fabric is very heavy duty.  It's super nice upholstery fabric.  It's much more contemporary than I envisioned at the start, but I think we'll be happy with it for a long time.  Those star bursts are reminiscent of mid-century design, don't you think?

In the meantime, I have taken apart the the cushions and made paper patterns from the pieces.  I am going to sew up some inner cushion covers from muslin.  The feather cushions don't have an inner cover and all the raw edges are on the outside and fraying.  I figure an inner cover will help with longevity.  And it will give me an exact number for yardage to buy.  Up until this point we've been estimating.


Now for a pattern matching question.  How concerned should I be about matching the medallions around the edges of the cushions?  I'm going to use a solid cream color fabric for the cording.  I'm concerned that seeing little bits of medallions on the cording will look strange.  I know that I can match up the front edges of the cushions to the top no problem, but matching up the sides and bottom will be difficult.  Is it a big deal to make sure everything matches up?  Is is even possible to match all sides of a box cushion?  Does it matter if the medallions are matched up if there is a solid piece of cording breaking up the pattern anyway?   Just curious what you think.

So I know the initial date of completion was the end of this summer.  I think now I'm going to claim it will be done by Christmas ;)
I think we can handle that.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer of '75

I just finished saying that I didn't own anything in that shade of bright royal blue like my Parfait...  
I opened my dresser drawers and found not one, but two bright blue tops.  The other one I wore with one of my twirly skirts.  Huh.  I think I unconsciously gravitate towards certain colors from time to time.  Right now it seems to be this bright blue.

But enough about blue, let's talk about the skirt.
I know I should crop this photo, but I like the perspective of seeing through the glass table.

My first vintage pattern!  Simplicity 7112 from 1975.   I decided to sew it up because I love the double zippers and exaggerated a-line.   Normally I like to give names to the owners of things I find at the thrift store, like Milton and Geraldine's couch (update on the non-progress later).  But someone conveniently wrote their name here- this is Karen Wilson's pattern!   Karen is a much smaller lady than I, and she cut out and made up the size eight however many years ago.  I used my handy dandy skirt block to help me "grade" the pattern up a few sizes.  I ended up omitting the center front and back seam since my skirt block is cut on the fold.  In hindsight I should have adjusted where the zippers sat, moving them inward a bit, but I'm okay with where they are.  Live and learn.  I'm actually thinking about making this pattern again in denim.  I'll do a better job at "grading" it up if I do.

Linen, again.  I love to wear linen but I'm also the type of person that isn't too bothered by wrinkles.  I decided to use a brown linen I had in my stash to make it wearable with lots of different tops.  I'm already thinking about back to school clothes-- back to work three weeks from today.  I cannot believe how fast it has flown by.

I used jeans topstitching thread and battled with my sewing machine over it.   Seriously battled.  I emerged-- somewhat victorious, I think.  Don't look too closely.   Once I got the machine going, the stitches came out nice and even, but everywhere I had to start, stop and turn it looks a little messy.   I unpicked one row to fix it, but I've decided I'm not unpicking anything else.  So it stays. 

My favorite part is the covered elastic button loops I added.  I'm quite proud of them.  The pattern called for seven inch zippers which ended up being an inch too short.  I measured the pattern pieces to make sure I didn't make a mistake.  The pattern needs at least an eight inch zipper, if there is such a thing.  I thought about trimming down the waist band to make it fit, but I really didn't want to make the waist band narrow.  Then, I decided two button loops would do the trick.  I made two loops and threaded some round elastic through to add some tension.  The skirt ended up being a tiny bit too big so the elastic button loops help hold it up.  I like the way the metal buttons look, too.

I thought I'd be true to the era and add some lace hem tape again.  The length I'm not so sure about.  It's longer than on the envelope cover, no doubt because I sized the skirt to sit lower on my waist.  I was going to shorten it but I decided to leave it.  It hits just below the knee.  I don't have any skirts that length so I figured this would give me some variety.  And definitely work appropriate.

Ready or not...

Practicing my teacher scowl...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Electric Blue

We all know that things don't always go our way in the sewing room.
Sometimes, however, they do ;)

I'm very happy to say that I was in the groove when I made this electric blue linen Parfait.  Thank goodness.  The back-fitting, muslin-making adventure I've been on recently has been a little discouraging.  This dress came together easy.  Tired from all the adjusting I've done on my Vogue dress, I just made a straight size eight and crossed my fingers.   The eight is the right waist size, though the bust is too big. I didn't worry too much about the hip size, which is a little bit too small.

It fits. Hooray!

Fits well enough for a summery sundress anyway.  The bust is a bit big but it seems like a minor flaw in comparison.   I'll definitely be able to wear it with a tee underneath.  I figure I can wear it to work that way.  No back/shoulder fit issues because it doesn't cover my upper back.  The wide straps are wonderful.  I love the silhouette.  I've seen this dress made up so many times throughout sewing blogiverse and I've loved it every time.   I've always thought it was a really flattering cut on everyone.  Steph's blueberry parfait made me immediately order the pattern last summer though I've just gotten around to making it.  I loved kbenco's three versions.  And recently paunnet's striped version convinced me to finally make it up.  Don't you love all the inspiration that comes out of sewing blogland?  It's nice when you feel like you're stuck in a sewing rut. 

Not much else to say about it except it's a great pattern.  I highly recommend it.   Quick and successful- I needed this.  In fact, things were so serendipitous during the making of this dress that my bobbin ran out as I finished the last seam.  Ha.

Wishing you the same this week!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Brownilocks And The Three Broad Back Alterations

One day, Brownilocks was frolicking merrily through the forest... 
Well, she was attempting to frolic but the narrow back bodice of Vogue 9668 rendered her arms useless. No waving them about gaily in the air or bending over to pick up fragrant wildflowers. 
Anyway, Brownilocks was walking through the woods and happened upon three colorful scrap broadcloth muslins dangling from the trees. Brownilocks eyed the first muslin and thought, "Hmmm... this may just be what I need."

Fit For Real People broad back adjustment
Spread 1" through underarm and shoulder and added 1" shoulder dart
Lowered back neckline 3"
She tried on the first muslin, but alas, it was still too small.  Brownilocks found that she had a tiny bit more room for frolicking, but still not enough under the arms.  There was also quite a bit of extra fabric at the top of the shoulders.  Brownilocks also realized that some dummy didn't cut the back waistband on the bias which explained the extra wrinkling there.

Then she spied the second muslin dangling brightly in the trees.  Brownilocks whispered, "This has to be it.  Has to be." 
 Shoulder and underarm piece is pivoted 1" instead of spread, no shoulder dart needed
Some width left at side seam while back dart was made a tiny bit bigger
Back neckline lowered 5/8"
Dummy made sure to cut back waistband on bias

She tried on muslin number two and was very excited at first.  Brownilocks could reach for the stars with no trouble.  But when weird little folds began to appear at the center back seam, she realized that this muslin may just be too big.

Brownilocks ripped down muslin number three and muttered, "This better be it, dammit."

Underarm seam extended 5/8" tapering down to nothing
5/8" also added to sleeve edges
Back neckline lowered 1" and just barely widened by redrawing the curve out a little (technical explanation, I know)

"Well, this one may be just right!" Brownilocks exclaimed.  Her arms moved forward excitedly and up with no issue.   While there is a tiny bit of wrinkling at the back, it didn't appear to be too much.  "This may just be the answer," thought Brownilocks.

"But then, why does the back neckline still not sit flat?" thought Brownilocks. "And what sort of alteration do I need to fix that? And how come the bodice still slides up a bit when I put my arms up the in air....?"

In the distance, Brownilocks heard the evil-pattern-sizing-witch cackling from behind a tree.  Out of nowhere, beautiful fairy seamstress Carolyn floated to the ground and sang "Don't go down the rocky path of over-fitting!  Perhaps you should make a size bigger...."

What?  So there's no fairy seamstress or wicked pattern-sizing-witch in Goldilocks and the Three Bears?

Well, this is my story and I can write it however I want. 

Unfortunately, I still have no real conclusion to this story.  I'm afraid that this multiple muslin-ing deal is just not my cup of tea.   But, that's not to say that I think making a muslin is a bad idea.  I've seen others do a wonderful job of tweaking a pattern to fit perfectly by making a muslin first.   This process is really out of the ordinary for me.  I don't want to say I'm lazy, but- well, I'm lazy.  And I'm not a very linear person.   Out of all three muslins, I do prefer the feel of number three, but it's still not perfect.  And I'm tired of making muslins.  I feel like there are too many factors involved to really know if it is a good solution.  I changed how I did the back neckline each time.   I also changed the width that I spread the underarm piece.  I wasn't very good at controlling variables.

I haven't decided what to with the original dress yet.  I think it's just going in the closet to marinate for a while.   I'm contemplating making a whole new dress with the third broad back alteration just to see if it truly is a possible solution.  I also have the sneaking suspicion that Carolyn is  right about needing a larger size.  Maybe I'll cut a size bigger instead.  Regardless, I'm not unhappy that I did go through the process of making multiple muslins because I do think I added a few more tricks to my sewing bag.   The idea of making a dart wider and sewing up center back seams and pinning from the side when trying on a muslin are genius. But again, I don't think all these alterations are really what I want to spend my time on.  Self drafted bodice sloper, here I come!

THANK YOU all so much for your wonderful suggestions!  I can't tell you how grateful I am for all the  kind words and wise advice that I received on my last post, or any post for that matter.  I really, truly appreciate it all.  I've learned so much since I started this blog.  Can you believe it's been a year already?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Doctor Said I Need A Backiotomy

 Ten points if you can name the movie.

Well, it looks nice on my dress form...
...but once again, it doesn't fit my back.  I need help, sewing buddies.  This is a recurring issue I have with commercial patterns.  I can't tell you how many dresses I've made and either had to scrap or have never worn because of fit issues through the back.  It hasn't happened on every dress, but generally fitted, woven dresses that cover the whole back and shoulders.  Neck darts seem to help, like in my Simplicity 3833, but they don't take care of the whole problem.  I'm hoping someone out there in sewing blogland has some advice me.  I'd like to finally figure out a solution.   This is Vogue 9668, by the way, in a really awesome batik.  I had high hopes for this dress.

And yes, I did make a muslin of the bodice, just so you know.  I did not, however, put a zipper in my muslin.  Does anyone do that?  Baste a zipper in?  I tried on the initial muslin and everything looked great.  In fact, the front bodice does fit perfectly.  I should have had J pin the back where the zipper would be, but I was by myself.  I basically just pinned the top of the back and tried to reach around and hold the back closed while judging whether or not it fit.  I even tried on the dress several times before I finished it and didn't see any issues.  Looked fine to me.  Then I put in the 22 inch invisible zipper.

My dress form doesn't have to move so it's hard to see what the problems are.  The main issue is not enough width across the back at the bottom of the armscye.  I can put the dress on it looks like it fits just fine, but the minute I try to move my arms forward I have an incredible hulk moment where I feel like I'm going to rip it right up the back.  Also, when I lift my arms up the whole dress shifts up and wants to stay up even when I put my arms down.  I tried to take pictures of all this, but you really can't tell whats going on from photos.

The other issue is too much width (height?) in the upper back across the shoulders.  The back is really tight across the middle and then at the top of my shoulders (and back of the neck) there is way too much fabric.  I have basted in a neck dart in the picture below which made a huge difference.  I pinched out the fullness on both sides, though I think it's skewed a little too far forward.  There is also a lot of fabric that sits up at the back of my neck.  I obviously need to lower the back neckline.

According to Fit For Real People, I have a broad back.  The alteration they recommend is below.  The problem I have with this alteration is that it also widens the shoulders, which I do not need.  I do not have broad shoulders. 
  I've made up an adjusted pattern piece below but I'm not convinced it will work. 


In addition to the shoulder dart, I think I'll also need a neck dart.  Is this normal?  Do you ever have to adjust something so drastically to fit?  Do people actually do these major alterations on a regular basis?  Is it worth it?  Am I related to the hunchback of Notre Dame?

I'm wondering if there is an adjustment where only the lower armscye is extended and nothing changes about the shoulder.  I feel like that might help.  Is that common, to have to lengthen the lower armscye?  Would that take care of the incredible hulk moment?  If I did that, I'd have to draft a new sleeve as well.  Yuck.   Or maybe I'm cutting the wrong size.  Do I need a bigger size back piece and then just adjust the shoulder with a dart and lowering the neckline?  I'm at a loss my friends.

Ok, sorry for the needy post.  I'm hoping someone has a similar issue and has some advice.  I'm going to try out this adjusted piece and see if it works, but not before taking a break from this dress for a little bit.  I leave you with a gratuitous kitty picture.