This is sewing too!

white lace blouse, from Goodwill, back view

There is “sewing”, where one raises silk worms, spins the yarn, weave the cloth, drafts the pattern, and sews the garment. Then there is “sewing”, where one buys a ready-made garment and then alters it to get the custom-made perfect fit or customize it to add one’s own touches.

I do a lot of the former type of sewing, though not quite that hardcore. I also do a lot of the latter type of sewing. Specifically, I love buying stuff at greatly discounted prices from thrift shops and then alter or customize them to be my own.

An example is this white cotton lace blouse that I got from Goodwill for a song. It’s a size S and fits me OK, but I wanted a better fit so I added shaping, using front and back darts as well as some re-shaping of the side seams. I love the result and have gotten many compliments on it.
Of course, the compliments are that much sweeter when I tell people that I got it at Goodwill!

white lace blouse, from Goodwill, front view white lace blouse, from Goodwill, side view

Hitting a pin :)

I’ve stirred a hornet’s nest written before about how I leave pins in a seam and sew over them. My position is that since I use very fine pins, the chance of the needle hitting a pin is reduced to almost nothing. However, as lottery winners will attest, a probability, no matter how small, is still non-zero. The same is true with hitting a pin when using very fine pins. The probability is much smaller, but is still non-zero.

Which is to say, I have hit pins, multiple times. However, the difference from using “regular weight” pins is when I hit a pin, there is hardly any damage done because the pin is so fine. The pin would get bent neatly where it’s hit, and nothing else happens:

Hitting the pin feels only a little sharper than, say, sewing over thick sequins. The machine’s timing does not get messed up. Granted, my machine is 40+ years old and weighs 30 lbs and most components are metal, but I am pretty confident that newer, lighter weight machines would fare just as well hitting such a pin.

Duplicating my fav denim shorts

There are multiple methodologies to divest a feline of its epidermis. That’s my pointdexter version of “There are many ways to skin a cat.”

I had made shorts using patterns generated by Dress Shop App before. They turned out great, but truth to tell, I was aiming to reproduce my favorite pair of denim shorts:
my fav denim shorts red denim shorts, side viewssible and duplicate its shape to produce the pattern. For complex areas such as the underarm or the crotch, the duplication is done in smaller sections at a time.

I pin the shorts on top of a sheet of paper, on top of a sheet of 1/4″ foam core board. If the fabric has obvious grain line or print, use that to ensure squareness when possible.
duplicating denim shorts
Repeatedly sticking a pin through the garment yields a perforated outline of the garment on the paper.

I think I came very close to an exact duplicate. There are only two tiny fit issues that I will fix in the next iteration. First issue is that there is a tiny bit of looseness at the top center back; the center back piece needs to slope a bit more. Second issue is the side of the legs: they stick out a tiny bit. Fortunately, I could fix those issues in the first pair that I made with simple alterations.

I used a 100% cotton red denim, probably 11 or 12 ozs, from Jo-Ann Fabrics. I added white flat piping at the lower edge of the yoke. The piping is of Kona Cottons, an 100% quilting cotton from Jo-Ann, in Kona White. I had a YKK zipper with white zipper tape and red zipper teeth and pull which matches the shorts perfectly, so I decided to showcase it as a design element.

I make the shorts suitable for wear to clubs and concerts, where I don’t want to bring a purse, I added a “cell phone pocket” at the front left in the waistband. It’s basically a single welt pocket. I also added another welted pocket with a flap at front right of the waistband, for ID and credit card and cash and car key:
red denim shorts, close-up front view

finished shorts, view of inside front, showing pocket bags

finished shorts, front view, showing pockets

Here are the steps in constructing the welted pocket with flap:

steps in constructing welted pocket with flap steps in constructing welted pocket with flap steps in constructing welted pocket with flap steps in constructing welted pocket with flap steps in constructing welted pocket with flap

Finished single welt phone pocket:
steps in constructing welted pocket with flap
The phone pocket being where it is, at the body-to-limb junction, makes it impossible to sit down if I have a phone in the pocket. Next time, I think I’ll position the call phone pocket around the back…

And here’s the result. I have gotten many compliments for this pair of shorts. I suppose the piping adds a lot of “pop” to the shorts.

red denim shorts, 3/4 front view

red denim shorts, front view

red denim shorts, 3/4 back view

Tips on taping together Dress Shop App PDF patterns

road warrior costume: completed

I have been using Dress Shop a lot lately and I have discovered a few things that make the taping-together process a lot quicker for me.

  1. Use the thinnest (and cheapest) printer paper possible. Thinner paper makes it easier to see the registration marks when one sheet is on top of another. I use Office Depot-brand 20-lbs paper.
  2. Work on a light color surface with one-inch grid. The light color surface makes it easier to see the registration marks when one sheet is on top of another. I work atop my cutting mat. (Of course, it’d be even better if the work surface can somehow be lit from below.)
  3. The cutting mat’s grid makes it easy to line up the pieces quickly: the registration marks for Dress Shop are exactly 3″ apart and are near the sheets’ edges. I can align the registration marks to the grid, making lining things up easy and quick.

(BTW, Dress Shop seems to generate about the same number of sheets per pattern as, say, patterns, and from the sounds of it, Style Arc. This shirtdress, for instance, were 30 sheets: front (10 sheets), back (10 sheets), sleeve (6 sheets), and collar (4 pieces).)

One interesting alternate method is to trace the pattern, piece by piece, onto tissue paper. This method has the advantage of producing one-piece pattern pieces of tissue paper, which makes storage easier. However, I’m not yet convinced that this method is quicker than the paper-and-tape method. I might try it one day and see.

So, all that said, the assembly process is quite straight forward. Here is what I did for the top of my costume for the Austin Carnaval. There are only a few rules to keep in mind:

First, make sure to align registration marks and paper edges to the grid. Use pattern weights to keep the page from shifting.
taping up Dress Shop pattern: sheet 1

Follow the same rules for subsequent pages, also additionally aligning the pattern’s cutting lines and registration marks:
taping up Dress Shop pattern: sheets 1 and 2

As you add additional sheets lengthwise, remember that the registration marks are 3″ inches from each other:
taping up Dress Shop pattern: sheets 1, 2, and 3

And voilà, all done:
taping up Dress Shop pattern: sheets 1, 2, 3, and 4

Singer Fashion Mate’s pedal fix!

Singer sewing machine pedal contact springs, fixed

Do you ever wonder what’s the average age of sewing machines of all serious sewists out there? Maybe when you’re trying to justify that Husqvarna Super Automated sewing machine, the one with the built-in kitchen sink and waste disposal?

My Singer Fashion Mate Model 248 is almost 40 years old. It weights like it’s 40 years old as well, about thirty pounds worth of metal and plastic. As expected, some parts in it are beginning to show wear and tear. It’s not so different from its owner. The difference is that the broken or worn parts on the Singer can be fixed for about $24. On me, $24 would only fix my eyebrows.

A few years ago, I begun to notice the pedal behaving differently. It seems to have develop an intermittent on/off behavior where it’d either not do anything at all or it’d make the machine scream at full throttle. A quick disassembly revealed worn and burnt contact springs. Contact springs are thin flexible copper leaves, the pressure on which would result in varying levels of electrical power to the machine’s motor.

Years of duty left the contact springs either charred or broken. Being the thrifty resourceful type, I decided that, copper is copper, and I would use a few copper pennies to fix the broken contact springs:
Singer sewing machine foot pedal, lower springs, making contact

Singer sewing machine foot pedal, lower springs, before

Singer sewing machine foot pedal, before, close-up

The result was actually very serviceable and lasted for several more years:
Singer sewing machine foot pedal, before

Then I found a place on the Web that sells replacement contact springs. Alleluia! (That’s religious-speak for “About damn time!”) One of the new contact springs is a precise drop-in replacement:
Singer sewing machine pedal upper contact spring Singer sewing machine pedal upper contact spring

But, one of them has a hole in the wrong place (a problem I’m happy to say I don’t have). A little time and some judicious application electric drill and round rat tail file and all was good:
Singer sewing machine pedal lower contact spring

And voilà, good as new:
Singer sewing machine pedal contact springs, fixed

A better mouse trap: an improvement on how to cut a continuous bias strips!

cutting bias strip, step 3: sew ends and cut to separate strips

How often do you hear of a better mouse trap? Probably about as often hearing of a better wheel. That’s not square. Or does not rotate around a single axis. However, I guarantee you that you will get your money’s worth with this new and improved method of cutting bias strips! I am so confident I am offering a guaranteed 100% refund if not satisfied. Oh wait, this is free. Never mind!

The two more common methods are to cut single strips and piece them together, and the “tube” method, where you cut a piece of fabric on the bias of a width of several bias strips’ worth, mark cutting lines, join the ends offsetting by one strip and press the seam open, then cut the resulting tube on the cutting lines to yield one long continuous bias strip.

I use the tube method myself. I do dislike having to make the final cut by hand with scissors because it’s slow and not as accurate as it could be. My friends from a local meet-up, Susan and… Susan, came up with an improvement to the mouse trap that is the tube method. They would partially cut the strips before joining the ends so that after joining the ends, the number and distance of cuts are greatly reduced.

Here are the steps.

First cut the parallelogram, as you normally would with the tube method:
cutting bias strip, step 1: cut trapezoid

Then partially cut on the cutting lines:
cutting bias strip, step 2: cut most of the straight cuts

After joining and pressing the ends, finish the cuts by hand with scissors:
cutting bias strip, step 3: sew ends and cut to separate strips

Outfit for Eeyore’s Birthday Party!

gold outfit for Eeyore's Birthday Party 2017

After twenty years in Austin, this year I finally made it to Eeyore’s Birthday Party, the 54th one, in fact.

Eeyore’s Birthday Party is just another one of those things that Keep Austin Weird. Eeyore’s Birthday Party started way back in the hippie era. Someone decided that Eeyore, the perennially sad donkey from Winnie The Pooh books, needed a bit of cheering up so a birthday party ensued and it has happened every year since. It’s basically a huge communal picnic where the proceeds from food and beverage sales go to benefit some twenty local non-profit organizations.

People just came and hung out. Impromptu drum circles and juggling and hackey sacking tribes formed. There was live music throughout the day. Reggae played on the P.A. in between bands. There was a costume contest, sack races, egg toss competition. People hung out with friends and family. Some, OK, many, consumed the wacky weed in its various forms. At times, the air seemed to consist mostly of pot smoke.

Everybody is encouraged to be in costume, though in many many instances, “costume” would consist mostly of body paint. It’s one of those events where if one is wearing any fabric at all, one is probably overdressed.

Always one to overdress, I went with a gold colored theme: a “Gathered Halter Shell” pattern (Dress Shop Pro), crop-top length, and an “A-Line Skirt” pattern (Dress Shop Quick Start, Deluxe, and Pro), micro-mini length, no front darts and no back darts, with a 25 degrees skirt flare.

I went with a gold color theme because I had made a gold lamé cowboy hat as part of a costume for an event last year and wanted to use it as the “anchor piece” for my outfit.

The halter top was another “wearable prototype” to further refine my Dress Shop measurements set. I used a gold metallic lamé knit. I went with a knit because I was in a rush and did not want to have to deal with a closure, and because a knit would be forgiving enough to compensate for any unforeseen fit issues as well as being more comfortable to wear. I used some remnant gold fabric for the top’s neck band as well as for the skirt’s waistband, to make the outfit look a bit more cohesive.

The skirt is from a semi-sheer gold metallic crinkly, crisp, lightweight polyester. In retrospect, I probably should have sprung for a better quality fabric that is more fluid. The crisp nature of the fabric made the A-line skirt behave in a slightly less than ideal manner, mainly that the A line would be pretty just that, an A line. The skirt resembled a funnel! I even tried adding a double thickness of 1/16″ polyster rope to the hem to give it some weight, but that did not help much. In spite of that issue, the skirt was still very wearable and good looking enough to garner multiple compliments during the day. So many people want to take their picture with me that I lost count.

gold outfit for Eeyore's Birthday Party 2017 gold outfit for Eyore's Birthday Party 2017 gold outfit for Eeyore's Birthday Party 2017

Apple Gingerbread Cake

apple gingerbread cake
One of my baking projects over the last holiday was an apple gingerbread cake.

The idea appealed to me: apples sautéed in butter, molasses, served with heavy cream. How could I go wrong? Famous last words, as it turned out. To be sure, the result was delicious, but it was nowhere near as pretty as it could have been due to just one simple oversight. Or to put it another way, as I said to a software engineer colleague one time, “That’s a bug.” He replied, “Well, it’s not optimal.” I’ve been using “not optimal” to describe my screw-ups ever since.

Anyway, the error in my execution of the apple gingerbread cake recipe was very simple error: when I layered the sautéed apple slices into the mold, forming what would subsequently be the top of the cake, I didn’t push down the apple slices down into the caramel hard enough and the result was some air pockets under the apple slices. When I poured the batter on top of the apple slices, some of the batter seeped down beneath the slices and as a result, ruined the top of the cake. You can probably see in the pic above bits of cake oozing and seeping past the apple slices.

Now that didn’t affect the way the cake tasted. It was delicious. Unfortunately, I believe that one eats with all of one’s senses, and if what one is eating is beautiful, that would only add to the experience. I guess it’s one mistake I will not make again any time soon.

Austin Carnaval costume

You may have seen from an earlier post on making the mohawk headpiece for my Austin Carnaval costume. I found this braided metallic mesh tubing at Jo-Ann Fabrics:
braided mesh tubings at Jo-Ann

…and decided to add fringes to the back of the mohawk:
adding fringes of metallic woven tubing adding fringes of metallic woven tubing

Beyond that, it was on to making the rest of my “Road Warrior in White” costume:

I made a fingerless glove, with straps made from fold-over elastic.
I also made a small purse to carry my phone and keys and credit cards.
glove, with straps made from fold-over elastic close-up of glove and purse for road warrior costume

And of course, apocalypse would not look the same without huge “football shoulder pads”. Here’s the back view of shoulder pads, on dress form:
shoulder pads on dress form
…and with chains added:
shoulder pads with chain trim

And voilà! Here are my posed “studio” pics of completed costume:
road warrior costume: completed road warrior costume: completed road warrior costume: completed road warrior costume: completed

And here are my Carnaval “action” pics:

Performance by the Austin Samba School’s troupes:
performance by the Austin Samba School's troupes

Samba dance troupe
Samba dance troupe

With masked purple woman
with masked purple woman

With couple in red/yellow
with couple in red/yellow

With people who made their own costume
with people who made their own costume

With “cowboy” couple

With woman in purple/green costume with fascinator
with woman in purple/green costume with fascinator

With couple also all in white
with couple also all in white

With “firemen” and woman in red; pouch has been moved to front

With other “road warriors”
with other

With yet another hot celebrant
with yet another hot celebrant

With yet another woman in red
with another woman in red

With a whole bunch of “insects”!
with a whole bunch of

One “occupational hazard” of getting up close and personal with other people to take pics with them is that you end up wearing their glitters! 🙂
occupational hazard, OPG: other people's glitter :)

Clever way to correlate fabric to pattern

using fabric strip to secure roll of pattern pieces
As you may know, I started using Dress Shop to generate patterns. Dress Shop generates a PDF file which is printed out on a normal printer on 8.5″ x 11″ paper. I would then tape the pages together to form the pattern. One artifact of printing patterns this way is that they are too sturdy to fold easily, even when printed on the lightest weight printer paper. As a result, I store patterns by rolling them up, which means I need to secure the rolled up patterns to keep them from unfurling. A simple rubber band will do, obviously, but I came up with a better mouse trap: I use a strip of fabric remnant, left over from cutting of the garment, to secure the pattern roll.

This way, I tie, literally and figuratively, the fabric to the pattern. The fabric remnant tells me what garment I made with the pattern and also, what the pattern is without needing to look for description or name printe don the pattern, or worse, having to unroll the pattern.

For instance, the picture above is of a Dress Shop shirt dress pattern that I made with a white/black/red plaid cotton flannel:
white/black/red tartan shirtdress, front view, with white boots and white hosiery