Sunday, July 31, 2011

Coat Practice

While sewing bear* clothes this fortnight, I thought I would practice my coat-making skills. This was a very dry run for actual coat making in the fall (assuming I actually make coats and am not waylaid by, say, Halloween costume making). 

Not all of the bear-coat features will be replicated in the future child-coats, of course. For one, I'm not planning to add a hood to the girls' pea coats. Still, bears look particularly dandy in hooded coats, so I practised drafting a hood for the fun of it.

Also practised lining it.

And also practised false back slits (aka pleats) and back embellishments. And fake cuffs. And fake hems. And fake welt pockets.

Not to mention fake button plackets.

It was interesting drafting a sloper (or pattern or whatever you want to call it) for a neckless body. You sort of have to imagine there are actual contours under all the fur and then assign an arbitrary shoulder line. 

Slightly related - did you read this article on Sew Mama Sew on using Math in sewing? Another reason to encourage your kids to not zone out/start texting under the table in Geometry, eh? 

*Her name, incidentally, is Icingcakes FluffFluffs Bearaby, so named by Jenna. The rest of us just call her Bearaby.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Easiest Hairband Evah

This morning, the girls were beading at the kitchen table. Our bead box is filled with, well, beads, but also with the different string-type materials upon which to thread those beads - elastic strings, plastic beading cord, regular string, chenille stems etc. While playing with these, Emily made these very easy headbands.

You'll need chenille stems

and some elastic string. Ours was about 1/8" thick- the same size as the kind used to tie shoes in pairs in department stores like Target.

Tie a good dead knot around a chenille stem, about an inch from one end.

Fold down the tip of the chenille stem, and twist to hide the sharp wire end.

Repeat for the other end of the chenille stem, testing it around the wearer's head for size.



Make more.

Wear more.

Want more summer hair aids? You might like thisthis and this.

Instead of Crafting

Thought you all might like a random people portrait since there hasn't been a craft photo here in yonks.  Also realized there hasn't actually been a photo of me on this blog, apart from the rare side-view-of-screwed-up-face shots of me modeling the even rarer garment I've sewn. Here we are, then - Mae, Desmond, LiEr (holding Kate), Jenna and Emily. Dave (husband) is the photographer.

Sewing-wise, I've made one pyjama skirt and one princess dress for Jenna's bear, from the fabric we bought in fabric heaven. I've also patched a fabric hole in my linen shorts and altered the waistbands of Emily's two store-bought skirts. Cardboard-wise, Emily had me make her a cardboard TV-cum-computer i.e. a cardboard box with a window on one side (TV) and a whiteboard stuck onto its backside (computer screen). To up the tech factor, I cut a slit in the side for a disc drive. Whoo. Emily made a mouse, a remote, an Atari-style joystick and a keyboard ("Hey, Mum! The keyboard is so long that I can fit the entire alphabet in one row!") The girls spent the afternoon drawing TV screens on printer paper to slot into the window, and labeling cardboard disc DVDs. And then I got out my glue gun and stuck the sole of my flip flop back on, where it'd fallen off at the neighborhood block party two months ago. Utility sewing. Utility mending. Utility cardboarding. I laughed when I considered how this compares with my usual manic level of sewing/crafting. You know, I could get used to this.  

So yes, we're having a blast, but I miss you guys. 

P.S. No, I didn't sew all those hats. Only Emily's. Mum is wearing my Wallaroo, and Jenna's and Kate's are Hanna Anderssons.

P.P.S. Yes, of course cardboarding is a real word. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

My Favorite Fabric Stores

look like this -

and not just because Dad and Mum are in it.

Dad, Mum, the girls and I went fabric shopping yesterday. This first stop was Rochford Supply Inc, which is a marine upholstery store. It's not exactly the place to go if you're leaning towards home dec, apparel fabric or quilting cotton. I always feel right at home in it because it's stocked with all my favorite fabrics - robust nylon packcloth, cordura, polyester canvas in various deniers (the measure of weave), webbing, buckles of all kinds, vinyl, foam and other related padding materials and neoprene. Yes, neoprene, in any color you want, albeit thinnish. Also grosgrain binding (not ribbon) and vinyl and other bindings, some of which are cut on the bias to navigate curves. In large rolls. Isn't that wonderful? Did you know you could buy bias tape in materials other than the cotton/satin/fleece single-fold/double-fold sort you find in packets in sewing shops?

Amazingly, I didn't buy anything here (haven't depleted my stash yet), but Dad happily stocked up on the fabric he needed to sew his bowcases when he gets back to Singapore. Lovely.

Then we drove to SR Harris, the fabric warehouse where all the fabric is always 50% off.

For you quilting folks , I took a photo of one of its many cotton aisles. Designer stuff and non-designer stuff.

I didn't linger in the cotton section though. I moseyed over to the knits.

You pick the bolts you want, drag them into your cart, head to the cutting tables, measure and cut your own fabric, label the yardage and price (that's the before-the-50%-taken-off-at-the-register price), 

and return the bolts to where you found them. Good stuff. I bought those two pink (yes, I probably was mad) knits, along with these print knits, which I thought were sooooo pretty.

That little diversion aside, I was actually there for fleece for the girls' coats

This was polartec windpro somethingy fleece, which retails at $20 a yard. We paid $10 a yard, which works out to $10 per coat for the girls. 

I photographed it (left) together with the same amount of the thickest fleece I could find at Joann (right), which I'd bought last year to sew the same coats. I lost the motivation quite soon after, largely because the fabric wasn't inspiring me. I'm glad I waited because this polartec fleece is delicious. Each layer of polartec is - I kid you not - a quarter inch thick and smooooooooooth like suede.

The girls picked their own fabrics for doll dresses and mermaid tails and school clothes.

Love those little mermaids. Kate wants to me to make her a mermaid tail with all those mermaids on them. I love how literal a three-year-old's mind is.

Here are Grandma and the girls keeping themselves busy at the button barrels.

See those transparent storage tubs in the background? Full of zippers/notions/ribbons/trims. All sorts of zippers - by the yard, in bulk, separating, non-separating, metal coil, plastic coil, whatever. There's also leather- whole hides hung to the ceiling, scraps by the pound and everything in between. Very exciting store, to say the least. I love coming here, but I only indulge myself once every two or three years, since - ahem - I don't really need any more fabric, and I have too many children with me to make this a sane, let alone regular, experience.

So a good day shopping. Not sure who was more pleased- Dad or me, with our respective finds. While we were fabric-hunting yesterday, it occurred to me that one of the many reasons I feel at home in Minnesota is that I now know exactly where to go to find the different kinds of fabric and supplies I need for my various hobbies. I've never been able to do the online shopping thing because I'm such a tactile person. Even with three small kids, I'd much rather drive us all out as one frightening entity to track down obscure fabric and hardware sources all over the city. I love talking to the business owners and learning about the language of the industry, or about the different materials and (extremely useful) alternatives and viable substitutes. I've been to the traditional batik factories in Malaysia and I'd love to visit the equivalent fabric and haberdashery industries here in the US someday. Wouldn't it be incredible if we could peep into the silk factories of China and sit with the weavers in Java or Uzbekistan and learn to make ikat? 

Well, that's my fabric fantasty. What's yours?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

This Coat

You know this coat?
Image Source: Land's End

It's fleece. Not wool. Backed with regular light fusible interfacing. Saw it in person the other day. Mum was with me in the store, so we turned it inside out and studied the construction and investigated the interfacing. It's a classic style - so it's straightforward. I am going to make this for the girls this winter fall. Or maybe just the single-breasted variation, so I can do some slant welt pockets instead of these inseam ones. The one in the store wasn't lined (why???) but when I make them, they will be.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fabric Shopping With Dad

Before I tell you about that, I have to show you photos of the Chinese suits I don't have to sew for Chinese New Year next February/March, thanks to Mum and Dad buying these for the girls. Hurrah! I love this thick, solid brocade paired with the very subtle prints in the facings.

I'm still planning on making some for the girls, in some modern fabric versions as well as this traditional brocade, but Mum and Dad have bought me time with these, so I can wait another year.

Today Dad wanted to go fabric shopping at JoAnn's so off we went - Mum, Dad, the girls and me. Dad was there to check out nylon packcloth and foam padding for the bowcases he's making back in Singapore. Loaded him up with specialized sewing needles (denim, top-stitching) which are hard to find back home. In the midst of our animated discussions on zippers, bindings, the denier factor of nylon packcloth and methods of lining and padding bags, it suddenly occurred to me that it would be fun to tell you about our afternoon. I'd often gone fabric shopping with Mum while I was still living in Singapore but I'd forgotten that I did that with Dad, too. We didn't buy garment fabric so much as trawled the streets of Chinatown, trying to track down the old suppliers of 600D and 1000D packcloth. Very funny.

I also bought neoprene:

Let me tell you, I shall never buy this online again. I bought a yard of that raspberry-black neoprene from JoAnn for $10 a yard, and paid 5 times that for about half the amount online. Hate online fabric shopping.

Dad was quite excited about the neoprene and we had more animated discussions on what to make with it (pouches for tools, for instance). Not the same kinds of things as I would make with it (insulated lunch bags and little waistbags for the girls) but good to brainstorm and expand my horizons a bit. I think filial piety compels me to share my new neoprene stash with him, especially after years of dipping into his stashes of bag hardware as a teenager and young adult. 

Dad wants to hit the other fabric hotspots around here over the next few weeks, so more fabric shopping for us. Must remember to bring a huge arsenal of snacks for the girls - today I didn't, and they were not their usual well-behaved selves. 

Mum and I have been dissecting my drafting books after the kids are in bed, randomly jumping from topic to topic and whipping out the brown kraft paper rolls to experiment. On a whim, we drew up a raglan sleeve block/sloper the other night. I'd done raglan sleeves before but never from a sloper and I wanted to visualize how one adapted a basic body block into a raglan sleeve block. We read the books and then surrendered and had Mum do her "draft by feel" thing with the color pencils. Then we got sleepy and went to bed. If I find cheap and ugly knit fabric in some fabric store soon, I'll make a muslin and see how that turns out.

Oh, and I found out that I have another sewing aunt who drafted her patterns directly onto fabric when sewing clothes. She'd take a person's measurements, draw the pattern right onto the fabric itself and cut it out. Without a paper pattern. 

"What- you mean like a shapeless, dartless dress with a gathered waist, sort?" I asked.
"No," said Mum. "Like uniforms, you know, for hotel staff. Tailored coats and jackets and things like that. She was very good."

This dear aunt has since passed on, but while she was alive, she also used to do amazing machine embroidery. And her husband - my uncle - is a tailor, which was a fact I'd known but forgotten till Mum mentioned it again. Suddenly felt very self-conscious that I was making chickens and pantyhose potatoes and morphable totes and spending entire years working on strange rubbishy things like mannequins. So frivolous in comparison to the other people in my family who are actual seamstresses.

Anyway, Mum and I think we might work on those Chinese frog buttons together - she remembers them better than I do. We might do a tutorial and share it here! 

Monday, July 11, 2011

I'm Slacking Off Again

Hello everyone!

Just wanted to pop back in here to say that I'm going to be slacking off again for the next few weeks because Mum and Dad are here!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, these are that illustrious seamstress and chef extraordinaire Mum and that crafty retired-art-teacher/archery coach/DIY carpenter/leather-top-stitching, sewing-machine-sharing Dad that I've sometimes mentioned on this blog. They flew in from Singapore this afternoon and, like the master of efficiency that I am, I misread their flight times (thought it was 355pm) and almost left them stranded at the airport (they touched down at 1255pm). You'd think that, having taught Physics to teenagers, I'd at least have some number-recognition skills. Had to cancel one zoo camp session and one gymnastics class to get us all to the airport and home without losing anyone.

They came bearing gifts - fabulous art supplies and Chinese outfits for the kids (Yes! I don't need to sew them Chinese New Year suits next year!). And, like all good mothers, Mum brought me fabric and haberdashery. But, like all excellent mothers, she brought me FOOD. Dad brought me replacement blades for my NT cutter, so I can continue cardboarding for the next 30 years. Auntie Laura sent me an assignment (she also sent jewellery but I cannot write about that here without frothing at the mouth, so I'll wait till I can take photos) - she needs to mass-produce a particular stuffed animal for a charitable cause so can I look at the sample she's provided and create its paper pattern (without cheating by unpicking the sample to use the pieces of fabric)? Interestingly, this is the second assignment like this I've been given in the last two months, and I'm thinking I might have found a new career path, if ever I tire of cardboarding - you send me photos/samples of things you covet and I'll design the sewing paper pattern for you. Unless it has the unmistakeable aura of the 1980s about it, I mean. We must, after all, be considerate to the general population. 

But back to the point of this post. We have a lot of catching up to do, Mum, Dad and us, so you might not see a lot of me here over the next month or so. We might do crafts and sewing, because all that is in our blood. Might I finally attempt a dress shirt for the husband because Mum is here to draft together with? Hm. But mostly we're going to be daughters and granddaughters and parents and grandparents and just hang out. And I'll poke my head in here from time to time just so you know I haven't gone and died from overeating Mum's cooking or something. 

P.S. Haven't forgotten that I'm supposed to be deconstructing Fleur. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like you to meet Fleur.

She's me.  

I'm her.

She's my doppleganger in fabric.

She has princess seams. Of course she does.

I put them in everything, remember? A bad habit I've had since I was a teenager.

And, for the first time ever, I've seen the back of my own shoulders

and the... uh... cross-section of my hips.

And yes, it is very weird to see my own body in print fabric.

Ah, Fleur. You were a loooooooong time in the making. 

So, given that she's a clone of me, I interviewed her for my own job.
Turns out she has a pathetic resume.
"Can you cook?"
"No arms, ma'am."
"Can you do the groceries?"
"No legs, ma'am"
"Laundry? Give kids baths? Chauffeur? Vacuum? Think up new crafts?"
"No, ma'am."
"Well, what then can you do, you useless fool?"
"I can dress up, ma'am."

Well, phooey. I have to share clothes. But at least now I get to take the photos.

Remember that princess seam dress?

I have to say she wears it well...... for someone without arms.

And that denim skirt?

Well now I can get 43, 598 photo angles on it.

And here's a skirt I never showed you before, because I never got round to doing the photos. It's brown linen with ribbon embroidery. 

The camisole is store-bought, but it occurred to me that I can drape jersey outers (I'm thinking sleeveless mock turtlenecks!) on Fleur to change her look if I get bored of ebony scrolls on white.

So now you've met Fleur. She's gone to live in my sewing room where she'll be (literally) watching my back.

Isn't she useful after all? She is, quite definitely, the most useful thing I've made.

I'll deconstruct her for you in the next post(s)

and we can have a good laugh together at all the funny bits - it's always slightly bizarre to stitch yourself up.

But first, here's the website that inspired me.
It had me thinking, "I need one in my size. In exactly my size. I think I'll make one."  

And so I did:)