Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fleur Deconstructed Part 2

Welcome back to Mannequin Making 101! Go here if you missed the first installment. In Steps 1 and 2, we made the hollow custom-fitted canvas form. We used fabric stiffener to help it keep its circumferential dimensions. In this next part, we'll need to make the supporting structure that helps it keep its lateral and axial dimensions. 

Stage 3 - The Cardboard Skeleton
Now, while the canvas form was very stiff, it wasn't rigid like, say, fiberglass. So it would annoyingly morph into different cross-sectional shapes as it was moved, while still keeping its various girths (bust, waist, hips) constant. If you've ever made a mannequin that you hoped had your dimensions, you might have found that, upon stuffing it, it bulged or skewed in different directions so that it didn't actually resemble your body at all! 

Let's skip over the bits where I did a lot of imprecise and inaccurate guesstimations and fast forward to when I finally had the sense to make the cardboard vernier callipers:

Before I used the callipers, I used rulers and sticks and mirrors to try and estimate these dimensions. Very bad. Parallex errors galore. And they were different each time I measured them. The vernier callipers were essential to accurately measuring the linear widths of the various parts of the body. 

My waist, for instance, was 10.25" wide, and 7.75" deep (from navel to spine). This enabled me to make a cardboard cylinder that was 10.25" wide, 7.75" deep as well as being 29" around. It also enabled me to draw the hip oval that formed the base of the mannequin torso:

And then, the cardboard-making fun began!

This is the shoulder piece- with darts cut out 

to curve the ends down.

While it wasn't meant to mimic the actual body dimensions, the whole cardboard skeleton had to provide support in all the right places - the bust, the shoulders, the upper back, and the hips. Note that the central elliptical cylinder is the exact size of the waist, which is the narrowest part of the torso.

The cylinder itself was left hollow so that hardware could be introduced to stabilize the stand later.

Think Victor Frankenstein, had he dabbled in cardboard:

I didn't follow any set pattern for making this skeleton. I used common sense and simply introduced structures to fill the relevant hollow areas.

Stage 4 - Padding The Form
This stage, with its focus on precision, was time-consuming and patience-trying. The canvas form was put over the cardboard skeleton (masking tape was a better alternative to pins at this stage because of the stiffness of the canvas fabric)

and the center front opening was sewn shut.   

Then the padding began, with measurements continually taken, to check that the girths and linear dimensions of the form still matched mine. Polyfill stuffing was inserted between the cardboard skeleton and the canvas form, like some kind of puffy polyester flesh, to pad the relevant regions.

The armscye oval was measured

and ovals sewn on by hand.

A chest dart was also added (by hand) to refine the shape of the bust

As part of the testing process, real clothes (that fit well), including that old, now slightly-loose sloper muslin, were tried on this canvas torso.

Stage 5 -Sealing The Final Form
Once the form was stuffed, more Stiffy was applied. While the canvas was wet, some of the creases were smoothed out and some parts, like the areas just under the throat and along the spine, were shaped by hand.

Stage 6 - Refining The Pattern
Although it was made from the gaudy fabric muslin pattern, there were differences in the final shape of the canvas form under the effects of the Stiffy and all the cross-checking of measurements.
The muslin was sewn back together, but now with a side opening and put on the now-stuffed canvas form.

Again, the fit was checked and the changes noted with pins and ink.

The side seam was found to now slant towards the front, so it had to be repositioned.

Then this colorful muslin was removed, unpicked and used as the final pattern to cut out the outer, fancy, fabric.

The fancy outer fabric layer was then sewn up and set aside for the final assembly of the mannequin. We'll get to see everything come together in Part 3!

Don't forget: tomorrow is the deadline for the Stiffy giveaway - go here to enter if you haven't already!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fleur Deconstructed Part 1 - plus a giveaway!

Today we will deconstruct Fleur, the mannequin

First let me say that this is not a tutorial. It's merely a collection of my production notes. Lots of photos and tips but skimpy on the step-by-steps.  

Second, let me clarify that this is a custom-fit mannequin/dress form. It was made to my exact body dimensions. There was a lot of measuring that needed to happen, and be matched with, and checked, and double-checked. This was largely why it took so long to actually get done, and not because it was a hard project per se. 

Third, let me tell you upfront why this is a fabric and not a taped dress form, which is all the rage in sewing circles and which was all I seemed to find when I googled "how to make a mannequin/dressform". I did find one other useful non-ducttape, non-papertape method which interested me greatly, and to which I'll share a link at the end of the deconstruction posts. With no offence meant to the proponents of taped dress forms, here are my reasons for why I didn't choose that route:
  1. I really, really didn't want to spend an hour++ being wrapped up tightly by a "sewing buddy". 
  2. I really, really didn't want to have to wear a "bra or T-shirt I don't mind throwing away". I've already thrown those away. 
  3. I wasn't keen on the criss-cross taping between breasts that is recommended in the duct-tape method. I use a lot of princess lines and darts in my clothes and distorting the bust by compressing or pushing them apart makes a lot of difference to the apex-to-apex distance in body measurements. Even half an inch (or less) makes a world of difference in princess-seamed garments.
  4. Do the layers of tape add inches to the body measurements? Or does one compensate for the bulk by taping extra-tight? How tight? Were the natural curves (and squidgy bits) of the body distorted by the tight wrapping? I wasn't sure.
  5. How stiff is the taped form after being cut away from the person? I was pretty sure it had some sort of form memory, but does it hold its shape laterally and along its various axes? How do you tape the armscye ovals? The neck opening?
Last year when I first thought about making a dress form, I'd wanted it primarily for taking photos of clothes I'd made. I craigslisted, ebayed, googled and even went in person to stores like Lands End to ask if they had any old mannequins they would sell me. True, I'd have to pin my clothes around these one-size-fits-all dress forms, which is sort of cheating, but they were prettier photographic subjects than the blue foam and metal Dritz forms on sale at Joann Fabrics. On the other hand, those were adjustable, so I could use them for garment fittings as well, provided my body shape was similar. But it was like photographing cyborgs!!!

So I talked to my friend Jen (you've met her - she drafted with me last year) and she suggested using my basic block/sloper to sew one. Brilliant. Sometimes it takes another person to point out the glaringly obvious, doesn't it? I could make one that was precise to my measurements AND decorative. All I needed was time (har har).

Having decided that, Step 1 was obvious - sew a snug-fitting sloper-style form with shoulder princess seams. Just like those wasp-waisted fabric mannequins, except with more maternal dimensions (thanks, Emily, Jenna and Kate). Now, I am aware that, unless you are familiar with basic blocks/slopers/drafting, you might feel like giving up and reaching for the duct-tape before we even start. Wait! If you have a well-fitting commercial pattern on hand, you can start from there, too. 

On that note, let's begin.

Stage 1 - The Muslin
For more information on princess seams, see this post. 
My earlier princess seam sloper had the darts opening into the armscye, so I moved them up to the shoulder points and refined the fit the manual way - several fitting sessions in front of a mirror, pinning and scribbling all over it with a marker. This muslin had a central front opening for easy dressing and undressing.

It was a very snug fit, with a collar stand, so I couldn't afford to slouch. Notice also that the armscye is very small - the smallest possible while still being able to get my arm through it. When my husband saw this muslin, he was aghast at how ugly it was - I had to reassure him that it wasn't a real dress I was planning to leave the house in. The fabric combination is something else, isn't it? But it shows the bodice panels clearly. 

This is evidently the most crucial part of the whole mannequin-making process, at least if you want a custom-fit mannequin. I really took my time to tweak it. A reader sent in this link for princess seams (thank you, Tina!) that I'd read before and forgot all about, and I'm including it here for further reading. I don't pin my princess seams - I hand-baste them in preparation for the sewing machine, using an ancient method called "easing in". Incidentally, I use the same method for sewing set-in sleeves. Someday when I sufficiently master the necessary technology, I shall share a video tutorial. It cannot be demonstrated in still photos. But that's for another day.

Back to the muslin now. Here I will plead with you - if you are making this (or any garment, really), wear your BEST bra. Your BEST. The one you reach for when you think of wedding gowns and special occasion evening wear. Take your body measurements wearing that excellent bra. Wear your sewn masterpieces over that stupendous undergarment, not the droopy-but-comfortable-with-slack-elastic thing you wear around the house when you don't expect anyone to drop in. It makes a huge difference. Grandma (the one who was a tailor) had stories about brides who came for fittings in different (and some bad) bras. She could tell immediately, and would get very angry because their bridal gowns suddenly and mysteriously would no longer fit.

Getting off my soapbox now. Having refined the fit of this muslin, I then left it as is for several months to think of how to make it stiff. In the meantime, I experimented with it- stuffing it with old fabric and polyfill, painting on it with different things to stiffen it up etc. The outcome was absolutely vile - puffy and bloated like the dismembered torso of a drowning victim. The girls loved it, though. They kept dragging it out of the sewing cupboard where I'd hidden it in shame, and using it as the villain du jour in their pretend play. One time I found them stabbing at it with cardboard swords, trying to overpower it so they could rescue some prince.

Stage 2 - The Canvas Form
This is the actual body of the mannequin, but without the funky print. I used canvas because it was already a naturally stiff fabric. I took apart the muslin, used the pieces for a pattern, and made an identical canvas form, also with a front opening.
Wearing the same, BEST bra, I donned this canvas garment, pinned it shut in front, stood tall as if I was in deportment class and brought out my secret weapon:

Did I always know about Stiffy? Obviously not, or I wouldn't have spent those months miserably experimenting. Or maybe I did, but its.. made me blush just to mention it to other people. No - seriously, I heard about it from Katie, the brilliant, brilliant author of matsutakeblog. Have you seen her electrified fox lamp? Genius has a new name. When I saw it, it purred to me, "Mannequin". 

So I painted the canvas form over myself, and yelled for the husband to get the back bits I couldn't reach. I used the Stiffy undiluted and really soaked the fabric with it. If you are worried about your best bra becoming all stiff, do like I did and wrap some clingfilm over it, bandeau-style.  Then he and I took turns to use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process. We were done in about 20 minutes, all in, and I removed the pins, wiggled out of the form and stuck it on a cardboard support to dry further overnight:

That cardboard support underneath is just a cylinder with a hanger stuck on top. Notice how the canvas form stands up all by itself - that Stiffy is the bomb! Note also that this is not a perfect process in that there were creases in the waist area and the neck because canvas, especially when Stiffyfied, just doesn't drape well. The pretty outer fabric layer, however, will later cure all that to a very satisfactory extent. 

Again, I let it sit under my sewing table for the next few months while I contemplated the next stage: the cardboard skeleton.

Who would've thought it was that easy to make a custom form? Are you smacking your (duct-taped) forehead and wishing you, too, had a bottle of Stiffy? Then you will love this giveaway! Three readers will each receive a bottle of Plaid's Stiffy Fabric Stiffener so they can make their own custom-fit fabric body armor! Just leave a comment to this post by midnight of Thursday Sep 1, along with an accessible email address and I will pick three commentors on Friday! Note that because of postal regulations regarding liquids, this giveaway is only open to US readers

A huge thank you to the very fabulous Amy of Mod Podge Rocks  for making this Stiffy giveaway possible, and spreading some Plaid love! Check out other Stiffy projects on Mod Podge Rocks for what to do with the leftover Stiffy (how many times can I write the word "Stiffy"  in this paragraph without feeling my face burn?)

And check back again soon for Part 2: The Cardboard Skeleton!!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sun Prints

Here's a craft that you might have seen around blogland. I thought it looked like a lot of fun, and Sciencey, so I bought some of the paper

and promptly forgot about it for more than a year. Rediscovered the packet a week ago, and panicked upon reading the gentle reminder on the back: "Best used within six months after purchase." 

So this week we decided it was now or never. I'm happy to say that, despite my slowness to act, the paper remained viable and produced delightful results. 

Here's a behind-the-scenes commentary:

Instead of using the recommended individual pieces of corrugated cardboard (as if I would sacrifice my precious cardboard for lowly backing material), we lay the sheets on a cork board. Its non-slip surface was very helpful for keeping the sheets in place and we could lay multiple sheets on it simultaneously.

We also exposed the sheets to the sun indoors (i.e. no wind), in a bright shaft of light. When we removed the leaves, there lay the imprints of their shadows.

The sheets were dipped in water for a minute or so

and dried.

We had lots of fun picking objects to print! 
We used buttons, giant press-studs, stencils and leaves.

We also used pasta and stencils that we'd cut out ourselves.

We discovered that the images turn out sharpest when made with very flat objects. Thickish objects like the buttons and the pasta wheels cast oblique shadows. Perhaps the results might have been different had we carried out this experiment activity at noon, when the sun would've been directly above us. 

Here is a close-up to show you how sharp the edges were when we did use flat objects:

We liked this activity so much that we're going to buy more paper and maybe even use it at Emily's party!

Wish you could do this on fabric? You can! See Jess's experiments here and here with Inkodye on howaboutorange!

Friday, August 26, 2011

I Am Done Hoarding

So, three hours after we brought home the Giant Cardboard Box, it's gone.

In its place is a neat, flat stack. 
What does it look like to you?

Let me zoom out a little bit.

Still no idea?

Maybe a different angle?


Yes, I made pizza boxes (are there no limits to her madness?). But not for pizzas. And not because I wanted to. None of the pizza places I called was able to sell me clean, unused pizza boxes so I had to make my own (the alternative was to eat more than a dozen pizzas). This was a single box I got because the LC guy took pity on me and threw in a free size S with my order of actual pizza. Thank you, LC guy! 

So what's with the title of this post? Jenny, you're only half right - I didn't say I was on a cardboard diet (heaven forbid), but I DID say I was slimming my hoard. So my new rule is, "Thou shalt USE the cardboard thou bringeth home* and not storeth it up in thine closet."** 

* or "that thine UPS man bringest thee"
** This rule does not apply to fabric.