Monday, July 13, 2015

Many wrongs make a right

I couldn't honestly say for the title of this blog post, "2 wrongs make a right" because it would give you the mistaken illusion that I only made one or two minor mistakes with this garment.

The truth: I unpicked at least a dozen seams and that's not even counting genuine problems like the thick fabric throwing out the presser foot and making a wonky seam; 4 yes 4 needles breaking before I switched to a microtex and even it got blunt half way through and needed changing; the needle getting stuck and throwing out the tension; - there were pointless mindless mistakes such as sewing the wrong sleeves into the wrong holes, sewing in pieces upside down and back to front and inside out   (repeat several times).

The waltz of mis-steps began with deciding that the fabric was not quite the right colour and deciding to dye it a cooler teal rather than the slightly warm blue it started of as.

The act of dyeing turned the lightly felted wool into thick spongey boiled wool.  Of course, I had already spend several hours tracing and altering another pattern only to realise 1) I no longer had enough fabric because it has shrunk so dramatically and 2) the new fabric was too heavy to make into a coat.

That's when I thought, if life serves you boiled wool, make a duffel coat.

I looked around at duffel coat patterns and choose this one from Ottobre  "some fresh air" wool duffel coat, Ottobre 05-2011-18  mainly because it was there and it was free.

The Ottobre duffel coat is actually just a "2 dot" pattern which means it is considered to be suitable for advanced beginners.  The original pattern is quite easy, actually. I complicated it enormously be deciding that a duffel coat was not a duffel coat without yokes (I drafted these in), that no coat worth its salt should have the lining extend to the edges (I drafted in facings) and then of course I decided it would be more flattering if I could fit it more precisely to my shape and added bust darts, and waist shaping darts front and back.

I also narrowed the shoulder line and reduced the size of the hood, which, so wide and high is only a look that the grim reaper can pull off.

Overall I'm happy with it -  I would never attempt this kind of pattern again without an industrial machine though - the fabric was too hard to handle on my domestic model.

The lining fabric is a beautiful viscose and heats up very quickly to the body. In the Ottobre version they used raincoat fabric as lining. Shiver. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Many ways to play the fool

On April fool's day I made a decision that I was going to spend a year sewing from stash.  My stash is getting large and overwhelming, and every time I enter the sewing room there are mummerings and sighings of forgotten love and unfulfilled potential.

Forward 2 months and I have purchased 25 more metres of fabric, which just goes to show that trying to go on a fabric diet is about as successful as any other restrictive regime I have ever been on.  The minute I say "can't, won't" then the perfect piece of fabric comes to tempt me, saying, "can, will, must."

What has been successful though, is making the decision to sew up any new fabric before it hits stash.   So far I have used up 3 pieces of fabric this way. The cushions for our bedroom and the raincoat, below.

Ottobre 05-2013-18 

The raincoat is actually a test garment, from cotton twill, to see if this pattern from Ottobre might be suitable as a replacement raincoat for the gore-tex raincoat that mysteriously disappeared from our house last year. True story: when we left on holiday it was on the coat rack. When we came back it was gone. How flattering is it to think someone broke in and the only thing they stole was my homemade raincoat.  Or at least that's how I like to think of it, the reality is its disappearance is a complete mystery.

I am sorry to say that this will not function as a replacement raincoat. I love the casual fun of this pattern but it won't make a very good raincoat. It's too short, the sleeves can not be set without gathering threads and these would puncture the gore-tex and it's a bit bulky overall for a stiff water proof fabric.

Since the pattern called for binding to neaten the raw edges of the facings I decided to liven it up with a pop of colour. I have been assiduously avoiding pops of colour in the decorating scheme for our house: every where you look in interior magazines you see bland and cliched rooms enlivened by a pop of colour. It has to be the cheapest trick in the book and to me it spanks of laziness, like you couldn't create interest or wit any other way than to add a bold pillow or throw.

inside: facings bound by a "pop' of lime green and the lining fabric, a vintage rayon 

Having said that, I must put up my hand and confess to one little bit of decorating shame: I purchased the art work above our bed  because I knew it would match the bedroom colour scheme. It's a nice piece and I like it very much, so not too big a crime but it just goes to show, none of us is completely immune from the easy charms of a tried and true trick.

The homemaker's triumvirate: chairs upholstered by me, curtains sewn by me, pillows sewn by me and not a pop of colour in sight.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Pillow talk

Yes it has been a while, I'm fine thanks just busy sewing curtains for Africa.

Here the curtains for the bedroom can be seen as a backdrop to the "teardrop" chair - as the fabric I used to upholster them is officially known - but in our house better known by something slightly more vulgar, due to their more than passing resemblance to female genitalia.

 And here, as a little palate cleanser, some new cushion covers to dress the bed. The fabric for the front cushion and the back cushion was purchased from an op shop in Nelson for a few bucks. The cushion inners were rescued out of our neighbour's skip.  I could see why they threw them out - polyester fill breaks down over time causing the pillows to take on a dimpled effect reminiscent of cellulite. I'm guessing that when they looked at their couches they didn't want to be reminded of the fact, as indeed do none of us when it comes to contemplating anything dimpled.

To make the curtains, I used a method I found on you-tube. I am not a believer. They have you sew the curtains and lining together down the sides. I cannot even begin to tell you how many problems that has caused me. OK maybe I can. The lining is thermadrape and sticks to the feed dog or the foot and sometimes both - causing the lining to be gently - but unmistakably - gathered into the outer fabric. From there it pulls up against the outer fabric, causing it to jump at the corners.  Also, the thermadape is stiff and unwoven, the outer fabric is drapey and loosely woven and they drop at different rates, further causing the fabrics to be pulling against each other. There is a silent war going on below my window sill.

Lessons have been learned.

Monday, January 5, 2015

How hard is it to sew your own curtains?

This is the question I posed myself.  Being a fairly experienced sewer, I suspected the answer would be - straight forward, but not without its challenges.

Conclusion number one:

What curtain sewing is not - sewing miles and miles of boring straight seams. It's actually not that easy.

Conclusion number two:

What curtain sewing is: very precise work. As I found when I sewed the seams sometimes with the lining on the top side, sometimes underneath. The thermadrape lining tended to stick to the feed-dogs causing itself to gather in to the outer fabric. Well the curtains just won't hang that straight if the lining is pulling them off grain.

There's loving hands at home and then there's just bloody awful. I could not leave the edges looking that wonky. So there was the gentle sound of unpicking and resewing to be heard in our house this afternoon. But no swearing, either I am now too accepting of "what is" or more likely, simply expecting large amounts of resewing to be part of the creative deal - like Karl Largerfeld and his frequent liaisons with a ginormous rubbish bin, nothing ever goes that smoothly.

These curtains are for my son's bedroom. They are a beautiful burnt orange linen/viscose fabric from Nicks where I got them for $10 per metre. I lined them with blackout lining because he's still young enough to think dawn is the time to get up, but with the idea that when he's a teenager and won't get out of bed before midday I can whip them out and the sunrise will blaze him out of bed.

I can't show you more exciting pictures yet of his room because it is still under going transformation - and that transformation will be slow, because the cost of the renovation has cauterized our spending capacity.  

I must say I did enjoy the challenge of forced thriftiness as I channelled my late father this week by rescuing two perfectly good cushions from the skip down the road. Polyester fill, not my favourite, they will break down, but not yet, and until then I can make the cushions to bring together the orange of the curtains and the bright green of the walls.

I have been reading design books to get ideas about how to decorate our house.  Check out this quote from Farrow and Ball, Living with Colour: 

Fans of Farrow and Ball come in all shapes and sizes - Jo Berryman is a particularly glamourous version. Young, extremely pretty and formerly married to the bassist of a super group, she has worked her way through fashion styling on magazines....

Did you stop dead in your tracks at that?  I quickly checked the publication date. 2010. Yes that's right. In 2010, a successful business woman is first defined by her level of attractiveness and then by her (ex)husband's job.

So much for progress.

At least my curtains are coming along.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cushion cameos

Well, I am now firmly ensconced in home made crafting heaven. While I am waiting for the curtain rails to be installed, I am making cushions.

I like pillows made from old blankets, but I very much wanted to avoid the stereotypical bird (fantail, pukeko, duck in flight) motifs adopted by so many New Zealand crafters.

I made these pillows to counterpoint this trend. What I particularly love about them is that the signs of middle age have been well preserved in these cameos of myself and the manservant: the sagging chins, the thin scalp, the outline of reading glasses, even the uneven zig-zaging under the chin looks a little like whiskers.

And the thrift involved is stupendous. All three pillows are recycled, the grey fabric is scraps, the thread leftover from other projects, the blanket a stained one abandoned at the Sally's which I carefully cut around, and even the fabric stabilizer to hold the cameo's taught on the fabric was purchased at Hospice. Satisfaction.

I have other crafting cliches I plan to refresh:  several Word Art projects in mind that are keeping me very amused but buntings, I believe, are beyond redemption. A feel a challenge coming on!

A word please about cushions. Cushions should have a zipper so  you can remove and wash as required. My pet hate is reading some lifestyle magazine that says, "just make yourself some quick and cool cushions by sewing round 3 sides on a machine and slip stitching the fourth side close. " No please, don't do that, really. 

Righty ho, more cushions, then squabs, then back to curtains!  I also had a lampshade project in the works because I bought some beautifully ugly ceramic lamp bases on Trademe - but the person sending them to me did not pack the box tight, and instead the lamps were allowed to bang into each other, all the way up the country. They arrived a shattered mess: the loss of money is one thing but finding just the right lamp base only to have it destroyed by lack of packaging is heart breaking.

My kingdom for a stack of crushed up newspaper and a fragile sticker!

I deliberately arranged the silhouettes so me and the manservant would face junior. At this stage of our lives, it's like we are having a conversation with him. When he hits adolescence,  it'll be like he's answering us back. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Balancing masculine and feminine elements in home design

Hello everyone, I mean hello Miss Smith since you are the only person reading my blog.  Here are the chairs I was telling you about last night.

I have a very interesting home dec book out of the library at the moment called "Home Chic" by India Mahdavi. She has a whole chapter devoted to the idea that furnishings and fabrics have a masculine or feminine energy.  Squares, rectangles, solid shapes, greens and blues belong to the masculine aesthetic whereas reds, oranges, fabrics, circular shapes belong to the feminine. An interesting home, she contends, has a balance of masculine and feminine, ratioed at about 2:1 to either of the genders.

My design aesthetic is mainly masculine by her definition since I like clean lines in natural shades. By default these are usually neutrals and greys in basic rectangle or square shapes.

I came across the fabric to recover these chairs while looking for some fabric in which to make some new lampshades for our hallway. You might remember our conversation as I showed the website to you while you were on holiday in Auckland.

me: hey I've got to show you the coolest fabric (pass I-pad to you)
you: (audible gasp) you CANNOT use it in the hallway. Your poor guests! They won't know where to look!

And so I book marked the site until a suitable re upholstery job came my way. Almost on cue I found these wicker cane rimu chairs in Hospice in a hideous faux french tapestry and knew instantly I had my project.

The chairs are in pretty good condition, the foam less so, but replacing the sprung foam was more than I wanted to spend on this simple restoration project. Have you sewn home dec before? I know you did your curtains, but these kind of jobs are more fiddly than they look, especially with piping involved, everything has to be rather precise.

But anyway, here they are, all done. I liked your idea of balancing out the female energy with some cacti,  and found some gorgeous crocheted ones in an African craft collective shop today but they were over a hundred dollars so I didn't bring them home with me. I'll keep looking.

At the moment I've ramped up the feminine energy with your hand knitted flowers, perhaps I might be lucky and find another pair of torpedo lights on Tradme to balance it out with some masculine details. But I will have to work on the manservant first as he described these retro lights as "truly revolting" which did not encourage me to bid.

The upper cushion was much easier to construct than the bottom as it had little tucks in the corner allowing the machine to move gently round the corner. The bottom cushions had a gusset, which was tricky and required precision. 

  I am so proud of the matching for the zipper on the back of the cushion. The rest of my matching did not go so well but we have to celebrate our successes, don't we?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The humble knit blazer

All Zen on the building site

Today's photos are courtesy of our building site, formerly known as our back yard. There is no work today because the engineer has to come back with the new calculations for the footings, which is what happens if you try to excavate into volcanic lava flow and find that the massive boulders you remove are too deep for your foundations.  I suppose I should be stressing about the cost of all these delays and re-engineering works but whenever I am tempted to go down that line of thought, I just think to myself, "first world problems."  Of course it is easier to take a broader perspective when you are not paying for it - and since I contribute precisely zero to the house hold economy my zen like attitude is perhaps slightly less admirable.

It's funny though I have start to think of the cost of things in terms of renovation fit outs. This re-engineering work will cost us a new toilet and half a hand basin.

In times of huge expenditure and expensive footings, isn't it nice to be able to return to a hobby that over the course of a year costs me less than a heated towel rail?

 Let us turn our thoughts to more comforting and reassuring pursuits  - that of the hobby seamstress. Here is my experiment with Ottobre 02-2014-10 the humble knit blazer.  I purchased a 3 metre length of felted wool merino from the Fabric store at a huge discount because of a fault that ran every couple of metres down the centre of the fabric. It is thick and warm and cozy, and it is just like wearing a snuggly wool blanket. That is on the plus side. On the minus side, the semi fitted style and heavy fabric add quite a bit of bulk to the figure, which is why I have nicknamed this jacket, "the ten pounder."

I used snap domes instead of button holes. I didn't like my chances with the sewing machine - the fabric is very thick.

It's quite handy for the school run when I need something to stave off the early morning autumn chill and its casual look makes for a good jeans and jersey combo.

I love the whole idea of the knit jacket but this is not true love, it is not, if you will,  a Vittoria and Albert quarried quartz freestanding bath.

The zipper  is a humble black 10 cm jean zipper.