Thursday, April 27, 2017

When Garment People Make A Cushion

Hello, friends!
Boy, have I missed you guys.

I am happy to say that our house remodeling project is mostly done and we have a kitchen again! It is indeed, as everyone who's ever remodeled their home (or parts thereof) has said, "It's all worth it."

Yes, The After is always glorious. 

The During, however, was . . . shall we say, an adventure?

I've learned that remodeling, no matter how efficiently performed, and particularly when it involves the kitchen, is disruptive in ways one can never imagine beforehand. Not being able to cook, for instance, is only a tiny, superficial part of it. I felt more the loss of my creative space. Not the physical aspect of it, although my sewing room became the dining room for many strange but wonderful weeks together as a family in culinary limbo. I mean the abstract space - that open, undistracted, uncluttered, unpreoccupied state of mind in which to imagine, create, dream, and simply be excited about making something new.

I've missed that so much. Particularly because my home is, in a sense, my studio. And not just as a place to execute artistic work. Every room in it is a source of idea and inspiration because of the people who live in it and throw their clothes and toys around in it and cause it to malfunction in ways that beg fixing and improving and making over. In the old days, I'd walk around and pick up a bunny, or trip over a plastic cupcake, or shudder at a hideous unmatching accent pillow and some idea will knit itself together in my mind, and you guys might see the manifest outcome in a blog post not long after. Where do you get your ideas? I've often been asked. Short answer: The Everyplace - that literal common ground where life happens to real people. 

I've missed working, too. And blogging. And all the in-between tasks related to sewing and design and delivering it to the internet at large. I've even missed the mind-numbing administrative record keeping that comes with the job. 

Then I had to remind myself that, creatively bereft or not, being a Mom, and running the (weird and very alien) house was work, too, and important work at that, especially when everything else felt like entropy around us. Oh, the stories we'll tell of the memories we made of the weeks we spent living in untraditional rooms in the house that Jack  - I mean, the remodeling company - built. 

But it is done. And I am slowly coming back to life.

One of my rewards to myself for moving everything back into the new living spaces was sewing a cushion for our new bench. I was very excited. I made multiple trips to multiple fabric stores for fabric samples. I measured and re-measured and drafted my pattern and incorporated the compressive effect of high-density foam under a negative woven-fabric stretch factor, and felt oh-so-methodical and scientifically precise.

And then I looked at my first draft.

And wanted to cry.

Do you not see? Here, I will zoom in. I am not afraid to share uberfails,

nor dissect them in excruciating detail, so that we may all learn how not to fit a cushion.

Behold: the edge that juts out too far over the bench.

Here is the other corner, in case that first one didn't convince you. And behold also: the entire cushion was too long for the bench, in spite of being made to the exact interior measurement of that space. Do you see the wrinkles?   

Finally, behold the cushion profile as it fits (and here I am taking liberties with the semantics of that term as it clearly does not fit) into the space under the window frame. While the cushion is of uniform thickness throughout (because the foam is), the space into which it must fit isn't, and I never even thought to measure the sill-bench spacing under the window to verify that it was, indeed, constant (it wasn't). 

Let's backtrack a bit to Cushion-Making 101 so we remember how to make a cushion. 

First, the insert for a cushion such as this should be foam rather than, say, polyfill stuffing. And the foam should preferably be of the high-density kind so that when one lowers one's considerable bulk onto the cushion, one does not immediately and uncomfortably sink to the hard surface underneath.

Second, one must lay on at least the top surface of the foam, a layer of batting, so that the fabric has some padding to reduce the likelihood of The Sagging Cover effect. You are familiar with this phenomenon, yes? You make a cushion cover to the exact external dimensions of the foam insert, but when put over the foam, the cover has hollow corners and spacious seams and wrinkles all over, as if carelessly made too large. So then you unpick everything and take in the seams, and overcompensate so as to "stretch" the cover snugly over the foam, but then you find that the crisp edges and corners of the foam insert are now squished and the entire cushion, rather than the sleek rectangular prism it was meant to be, now looks like an indistinct blimp.

It's not you, you know. It's the foam-fabric interaction. It does not manifest with soft pillow forms, which are shapeshifters and can meld into corners with ease. It's when working with fixed-shape foam inserts that all hell breaks loose. 

Batting is the key. 

Now, some fabric comes already padded on the wrong side. Some upholstery fabric, for instance, is felt- or flannel-backed (and now we know why). But most fabric, even home-dec fabric, does not. And when working with quilting-cotton and other lighter-weight fabric, this effect is even more pronounced. So we line the WS of the fabric cover pieces with a layer of batting. Or glue the batting to the foam surfaces themselves, if you prefer (I personally do not prefer).

Third, one must take into account the added thickness of that batting and - if present - piping, and correspondingly reduce either the dimensions of the foam insert, or the fabric cover pieces, or both. I, in my reckless enthusiasm, did not.

Fourth, one must realize that foam is heinously sticky and that trying to insert it between layers of fabric will require acrobatics and vast amounts of patience. And if the foam will be inserted between layers of batting-lined fabric, it will feel like everything has been spitefully velcroed to everything else just to test the limits to that patience. Having a very generous zippered opening helps. I, sadly, had a marginal level of patience at best, and was not at all happy to extract the foam from Cushion Cover Version 1, and then wrestle it back again into Cushion Cover Version 2. I also did not have a generous zippered opening. I thought I could get by with a token zipper along the short middle section of the back edge. "How cunningly discreet!" was how I rationalized away all common sense. 

Oh, the things we learn in hindsight.

Let us skip over the copious seam-ripping and splicing-of-piping-and-gusset and acrobatics and behold Version 2.

Not perfect, but so much better. 

Its dimensions look like it was made by someone with actual number sense! See Before-After photos below.

                                     Before                                        After

Thought I'd share my upholstery misadventures today because they reminded me so much of how I draft and sew garments. Cushion Version 1 is like a person wearing a garment in the wrong size (or a poor draft thereof). We say, "Oh, nice dress," simply because the alternative is that person walking around starkers, but it's painfully clear that the garment does not fit. Those of us who don't imagine there could be a Version 2 will settle for Version 1 and will probably not be particularly dissatisfied. Until we see Version 2, which is then almost a relief to look at after having seen Version 1. 

So now I have a be-cushion-ed bay window bench. The kids like that they no longer have to snuggle on the hard wood while they read. Emily sits here and plays her ukulele sometimes while I'm preparing dinner. It's a good place to be.

This is not the final accent pillow, incidentally. This is only my placeholder ikat pillow so the kids have something to lean against while I decide on accent fabric for the real pillows. But that's another story!

Changing the subject altogether, here is a random photo: 

Sometime during the remodeling, we went to Singapore. I hope to share some photos of that at some point, when I feel like I've hit normal again. Here is one measly photo in the meantime: a stack of satin ribbons that the girls bought in Singapore for this year's kids' craft fair. After the success of last year's, they've decided they're going to do ribbon wands again, this time in more rainbow hues. Haberdashery is so much cheaper (and varied) in Singapore so they went shopping and snagged all these colors. I love that they're planning ahead for their summer projects!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Harry Potter Party: Printables

We hope you enjoyed following along with Emily's Harry Potter party posts! We're all done now, and all that remains is to explain the printables to which I alluded throughout the earlier posts.

If you remember, Emily began her research several months before the party, in the spring of last year and, throughout the summer, painstakingly conceptualized and hand-made all the various party elements, including the decorations and artwork. She intended to consolidate her work into a digital file that could be purchased by anyone who wanted to host a similar party and use her labels, posters and templates. However, there are licenses involved with all commercial entities, and we are unfortunately unable to distribute anything specific to the Harry Potter franchise. So no spell books, wand labels, Diagon Alley poster art, or anything identifiable as Harry Potter or belonging to the fantasy world created by JK Rowling.

We have, however, put together a 21-page e-file of what we are able to distribute.

Here is the cover page detailing what is in this pdf file, which of these come with instructions, and what format (photos, text, tutorial, etc.)

Please note that some of the projects come with full-size templates and some, because of size constraints, do not. Those must then be drafted yourself (with instructions included on how to do this). Here are some sample pages of the different projects - one with pictorial instructions, one with a full-size template and the other with written construction instructions.

We are making this file available for sale through my Patterns For Sale page (click on that link or look for it in the menu bar right underneath my blog banner) for $5. 

Alternatively, you can also click on this Add To Cart button below to buy the file. 

Add to Cart

Because this is Emily's party and she is responsible for the ideas and conceptualization of the resulting projects, all the proceeds from the sale of this e-file go to her. Thank you for supporting her work!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Taupe and Gold

Hello, everyone!

The Harry Potter Party Posts are all finished and I am owing you guys a pdf file of printables. Which is all ready and scanned. But I do not currently have access to my files and other regular computer stuff so I am going to wait until I am before putting it up for sale. This way, if anything goes awry with the download process or the transaction process or there is some glaring typo I missed, I'll actually be able to fix it right away.

In the meantime, I will share a random project not related to parties or Harry Potter. 

Have you heard it said, "Less is more"?

I will add: "Especially with bags."

See - I've been craving what I generally call a Goes With Everything kind of bag. You know the kind: works with church outfits and supermarket runs and dropping kids off at school; big enough to hold your tea mug and a spare sweater when at the mall but not so humongous that it looks as if you've packed all your kids' beach towels and a year's supply of diapers. 

I own many different bags. Not because I like the variety, but because I keep making and buying new bags in my fervent search for a single candidate that might possibly transcend most social occasions and color schemes. Occasionally I will find one remotely suitable, and proceed to use it to death, until it's stained and ripped and the zipper jams and even I can't tell what color it is anymore. Or until I've realized my needs have inexplicably changed and I no longer need something so big, or so colorful, or so waterproof or so. . . whatever.

Anyway, last week, I made a new bag.

My ongoing craving might be an omnicouture impossibility but my (current) specific weakness is grey and brown and plain and non-fabric-looking, hence this taupe suede and chocolate strap ensemble. I haven't had the time to go shopping for leather of the right thickness to cut into straps, so for the time being, it's vinyl. 

Yes, it's completely featureless. The suede, however, dresses it up, I think. Isn't it interesting how the kind of fabric (not the print) defines a bag? I've always been partial to solid fabrics with extraverted textures. 

I will admit that I was tempted to applique a big accent detail on the front like I did with this bag, but eventually decided not to take the time to. Maybe for the next iteration - I have a milk chocolate suede that I could try that out in - I'll do some floral thing with saddle-stitching. Hm.

I do still like subtle print, though. So I always funkify the lining. 

See? Mildly distracting on the inside, but calm and easy-going on the outside.  

Incidentally, this bag has an invisible snap that you er. . . can't see, to hold the mouth shut. And the base seam is driving me nuts in these photos because I didn't want to get my ironing board out in the middle of all the home remodeling and press it open, and now I'm paying the price for it.

Just to see if I could turn this same design into something conventionally dressy, I made another bag in Jessica Jones' In Theory barkcloth (golden retro gorgeousness).

Instead of a hand-made strap, I used an actual belt. Amazing time-saver.

And put in one of those turn-lock flap closures to complement the brown strap (and the brown base, which you probably can't see in the photos).

And I'm trying out a new way to make a faux-welt pocket on the inside. Much easier than regular welt pockets because you don't have to do the crazy interface-the-welt-window thing.

Here you go: one fancy, one plain. 

When I have some time, I am going to make a few more variations on this design - a grommet-knot rouleau strap, for instance. And I must do one with those shiny screw-in grommets. So many possibilities. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Harry Potter Party: Ollivander's and the Science behind the Magic

This is the last of our Harry Potter party posts! I counted: 20, including this one. Twenty!

This one is less of a tutorial than a series of links to resources Emily used to re-create the "magical" effects of Ollivander's Wand Shop.

For your convenience, here is the Wand Shop video from our original party post:

Let's start with her MakeyMakey set, which I bought her some years ago. She's had a lot of fun with it, largely because it's such an open-ended tool for turning everyday objects into working circuits that do crazy things. Like turning a banana into a computer keypad. Yes, really. If you're not familiar with MakeyMakey, it's essentially a circuit board that makes it easy to connect anything that will conduct electricity (e.g. fruit, your own body, etc.) to a computer and/or the internet. 

Which sounds vague, so here's the example of the Ollivander's Wand Shop Sound Effects setup. The nuts and bolts are straightforward: there is a circuit board and a bunch of connecting wires. Emily created a kind of effects board from a piece of cardboard and aluminum foil,

on which each sound effect she wanted to create had its own terminal (a patch of aluminum foil) that was connected via a wire

to another terminal on the MakeyMakey circuit board, which then gets plugged into a computer that accesses the sound effects.

Then she used Scratch, which is a simple coding software that she learned to use in school, to write a program on that computer for her MakeyMakey setup. Here is the link to her code.

To work this thingamabob, you'd essentially have to make a complete circuit, using that computer (ours was a laptop), all those wires, and your body.  

Here is a short video Emily made to instruct the party volunteer helpers on how to work her setup. 

Summary: Apparently, there is no such thing as magic; magic is really Science. And Science is supreme (but not as supreme as cardboard, obviously).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Harry Potter Party: Wand Boxes

In keeping with the wand-shop style of presentation during her Harry Potter party, Emily made some boxes for her wands.

Her specifications were particular: they had to be black, they had to be narrow and flat, and they had to have lids and be lined with some kind of velvety fabric.

We experimented not just with sizes but also the methods of making these boxes, bearing in mind that they had to be simple to construct, including the cutting-out, as we would be mass-producing over a dozen of them (which, if you consider that a lid was like a second box, would mean over two dozen in total.) 

This was the simplest and most efficient version of the flat template, before folding. In theory, it could be sized to fit within a single letter-size or A4 sheet of cardstock, but Emily's wands, with their beaded pommels, were too long for a box made from a letter-size sheet, so we traced ours in multiples on black poster board to accommodate their longer lengths.

Because scoring, folding and gluing 30 boxes soon became unexciting, Emily extended the process over a leisurely few days.

Here is a box and lid. The lid is the same width as the box but slightly longer, so that it would fit just right without either loosely falling off or squishing the box underneath.

Emily then measured and cut rectangles of red velour and glued them to the inside of the box.

Next, she matched the wands with their labels, and set them in the boxes

Then she hand-drew fancy random numbers on paper rectangles and glued them onto the ends.

Very fancy numbering, I must add. I was very impressed.

Finally, she improvised an organizational display using our old cardboard greengrocer cubbies. Incidentally, we've tried to throw away this greengrocer shop countless times, with limited success. The kids were eventually persuaded to let go of the shop front, being an utter space-hogger in their playroom, but they begged to save the cubbies. I am so glad we did, because they have used these cubbies for so many scenarios in their pretend play. 

Here are the shelves of Ollivander's wand shop. It almost looks like we should have made a hundred wand boxes and not just fifteen.

The sign was an internet image capture, I believe, which Emily traced over with a black pen to create this effect.

You'll probably be able to hack our wand box just by looking at the flat template in the third photo, and size it to your own needs. However, if you'd prefer to use ours, we will make it available in the downloadable file at the end of all the posts. We sized that to fit a single letter-size paper so it will hold wands up to 9" long, and included photo instructions and folding lines.

If working with cardstock isn't your thing, here is a faster alternative: a wand sheath (or pocket) in felt. We used felt because it was thick and no-fray, but feel free to use any other fabric, finishing the edges and interfacing for stability as you need to. 

Emily first made these for last summer's craft fair, at which she sold her first batch of wands, and you can find the original tutorial in that post here. I am also reposting those photos here for your convenience. The actual dimensions of the felt piece used depends on the length and thickness of your wand. 

Cut a long strip of felt, roughly twice the length of the wand. The width of the felt should be sufficient to create a pocket for your wand that's not too loose so the wand does not slip out on its own. Start with 1.25" or 1.5", and adjust it for more slender (less embellished) or thicker (more embellished) wands.

Fold in half and serge both sides together, sealing the edges in the process.

We didn't fold ours exactly end-to-end; we left the front layer shorter than the back layer 

so the wand could peek out at the top of the sheath.

Took literally minutes to make!

We have just one more post and then we'll wrap up this party series and share the downloadable template file!