Sunday, April 29, 2012

Afternoon With A Master

I had a special treat this weekend. I got to take off for the afternoon, drive myself to a library far, far away and meet a fabric master. 

A master who weaves, among other things, ikat.

And brocade. 

The husband found the little blurb in the newspaper, and told me about it. Whoo.
How often do I get to see fabric from other cultures made before my eyes? And ikat, no less?

So of course I went.

But the exhibition was about so much more than fabric.

This is that loom (although by now there are several more)

and this is the resilient, inspiring and incredibly talented  Bounxou Chanthraphone Daoheuang , recipient of multiple prestigious awards, including the Bush Foundation Enduring Vision Award. I'm kicking myself for not having got a better photo of this remarkable lady.

To say she weaves amazing fabric is a serious understatement.

Because those fabrics also have stories to tell.

Like her 6-feet-long ikat rendering of Lao's Pha That Luang. If you could only have been there to take in the scope of this masterpiece.

She has lived in the US for many years since leaving Laos. But while she was still living there, she farmed silkworms, and harvested the silk with which to weave. So yes, she really does make her own fabric. From scratch. With natural and chemical dyes, and in patterns right out of her own head. 

And then sews them into astounding outfits, like these wedding dresses.

I also met Bounxou's lovely daughter Laddavanh Insixiengmay, herself an accomplished artist. I loved visiting with Ladda. We talked about drafting (we do it the same way, and neither of us understands commercial patterns much), and her life and work. And her mother, of course.

It was simply delightful to hear them tell about their lives and their art. How it takes Bounxou two days to weave enough solid silk fabric to make a blouse, and how it's hard to cut into that fabric because she wove it herself. How, sometimes, she weaves just a tiny, specially-shaped piece from leftover threads for a sleeve, or a cuff. That it took tens of thousands of threads to weave that magnificent ikat rendering of the Pha That Luang. How it is difficult to put a price on her work because there is so much of themselves, their history, their culture in it. How she "feels good when she touches the silk", and how weaving has helped her focus on the good things and forget the bad things in her past. How generous and passionate she is about sharing her knowledge and skill with as many people as she can, from non-profit organizations to schools and everyone who will invite her. How Bounxou is not only her mother, but Ladda's teacher and inspiration.

Bounxou is handing down her legacy and skill to Ladda, and I was at least a teeny bit jealous that they are in the same country, weaving on the same looms, just inches away from each other, without having to resort to (like Mum and I do) a jerky skype video conference to consult on fit or pattern drafting.

But I digress. Let me show you more photos. These are the ikat frame and the ikat wheel.

Do you see these threads?

They are tie-dyed. Each thread

Tied in bunches and dyed in increasingly-darkening colors, the threads are then woven into ikat fabric. This is how ikat gets its name. Ikat means "tie" or "bind", and unlike the ubiquitous tie-dye Tshirts that use a similar technique to color different designs on whole fabric, the sequence is quite different. And far, far more time consuming and artistic.

I brought my camera with its ikat strap - so coarse and unrefined compared to the work Bounxou does. But she touched it and said, "Ah yes, ikat!" Which made me deliriously happy.

At the exhibition, Bounxou demonstrated the weaving of brocade. The green piece of fabric is a completed work that she was replicating on the loom in red and gold silk.

These white threads are, as I understand it, a sort of template for the design that will be reproduced on the actual red and gold fabric. I don't know what they are called, since I know nothing about weaving, so if anyone knows, please share in the comments, OK?

Here is a very short video of Bounxou in action.

Bounxou and Ladda are in the process of writing a book! I am sooooo pre-ordering it. And they were nice enough to let me talk about them and share photos on my blog so that you could feel like you were there that afternoon, too. Every rare now-and-again, I am lucky enough to meet people like Bounxou and Ladda, whose incredible talent and art have a depth and richness that go beyond trends and vougeness and superficial cleverness. I am awed by their skill, charmed by their humility, floored by their generosity and inspired by who they are and what they do. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Gift for Friends

Emily has reached the age when she attends a birthday party almost every weekend. Or, at any rate, that's what it feels like some months of the year. Since most of these birthday girls are from the same social group (usually schoolmates), they also get invited to each other's parties. All this translates to the challenge of giving presents at each party that are fun and yet distinct. We used to let the girls pick something out at Target, but this got quite ridiculous in that the girls simply picked something they themselves wanted. Between you and me, I think the perfect gift is a big cardboard box and a new roll of masking tape. But I know I'm going to get strange looks from the moms during gift-opening time, so I've never had the courage to do it. 

Over the years, we've sort of created our own formula for buying gifts for the girls' classmates. Here's what it looks like:
  1. A jigsaw puzzle (a good one, like the Ravensburger ones)
  2. Something to read (the current favorite book to give is George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin)
  3. Something to make

Occasionally, a friend will personally request a handmade item. For instance, one good friend of Emily's told me, "When Emily comes to my birthday party, can you make me a Rapunzel wig?" I love that the girls know me well enough to ask things like that. 

Sometimes we pick up a craft kit from Michaels, but there are times when we put together our own, like this peg doll kit

This is another kit we've put together for this weekend's birthday party - The Royal Pegs In Their Paintable Wooden Castle.

It consists of
  • The castle, which is a birdhouse from Michaels for $10 ($6 if you use their 40% off coupon)
  • A pack of paintbrushes
  • A little palette of acrylic paint (you can buy the empty ones at Michaels for about $1 and fill them yourself)
  • A bottle of satin varnish
  • Wooden toothpicks (rounded) for painting tiny details
  • A family of wooden peg doll blanks
  • A sample princess for inspiration

These peg doll blanks can be bought in small quantities from Michaels/JoAnn/Hobby Lobby but I buy them in bulk online, as I've been doing for years, so we always have a stash to dip into.

We will also be writing a little instruction sheet, in case the new artist is unfamiliar with aryclic paints and varnish, and also to reassure parents who might be afraid of anything messier than color pencils. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Gifts for Teachers Part I

It's that time of the year again - when school draws to a close and we say goodbye to teachers and classmates. The girls have been working on gifts for their teachers and classmates, and I thought I'd share them here  a little earlier than usual. This way, if you want to use any of the ideas, you'll have time to gather supplies and execute them.

This is an idea from my pinterest board, which I got from here. I can usually think of any number of gifts for teachers, but not many that the kids can do independently. This one was perfect. 

We collected all the broken crayons in the house,

stripped off their paper casings

and began breaking them into similar-length pieces.

Then we set out black art paper (cut to fit the picture frames), drew an initial in pencil, spread white glue over the pencil lines and had the kids arrange the crayon bits in place.

They were left to dry overnight, after which the kids signed their names at the bottom

and we stuck them in shadow-box style picture frames (from Michaels, about $4 each on sale; R.P. $7). I'm still debating whether to have the kids write anything more on the artwork, or if they should write their message on the back of the frame, where they'll have enough space to say everything they want.

Part 2 of Gifts for Teachers will be a while yet - they'll be sewn by me*, and decorated by the kids.
Hopefully in a couple of days we'll be able to take photos of Gifts for Classmates.

* which means procrastination is bound to happen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Catch Me on PRP

Hi all!

Am guest-posting today on Project Run and Play. I am honored to be guest judge for this, Earth Day Challenge week. If you are unfamiliar with PRP, it's the kids' clothes version of Project Runway - designers make outfits based on weekly themes, and they are scored by judges and readers' votes. One designer goes home each Monday, until one winner remains at the end of the season. Every week, these amazing seamstresses turn out beautiful, creative outfits and take gorgeous photographs of adorable kids modeling them. And I am blown away, not only by their skill and ingenuity, but even more by their ability to sew under pressure, with deadlines, and produce garment after garment of loveliness. Remember what I'm like, sewing with deadlines? I procrastinate and make cardboard stuff, and then try spells, and drop off the surface of the blogosphere and have to be scared into thinking I'm dying just to get enough adrenaline to get to the finish line. My admiration of these resilient and talented designers knows no bounds.

This week, the designers are making outfits based on their interpretation of eco-friendly sewing. Could be an upcycling/refashioning project, or using natural fabrics, or any other form of "green"ness. You might be surprised when I tell you that, in spite of all the cardboarding that goes on at ikatbag, I've never actually refashioned a garment (that I can remember). I've poached zippers from old bags to reuse in new bags, turned old jeans into stick horses and garage sale bedlinen into princess tents and little blue houses, but I've never made a new garment out of an old one.

Why ever not? I couldn't say for sure. For one, maybe because I've always preferred working with a flat piece of fabric. It doesn't have to be new, but having pre-sewn features -like hems or button plackets- feels constraining. And sometimes even the size of the garment is a constraint because it translates to limited-size fabric pieces to work with. Constraining means thinking differently about how to lay out a pattern, or how to adapt a pattern so that it works with funny-shaped pieces of fabric, a stain, a rip, or even a print that needs to match at seams. Different thinking means time. And time I don't have a lot of. Then I've also had the tendency to avoid seam-ripping if I can. Probably laziness, but it could also be that I feel bad hacking into a garment that could,  left whole, bless a different wearer if I gave it to a thrift store. And - let's be honest - some of my old garments are made of such hideous fabric that I couldn't bring myself to reincarnate them as anything else. So a host of personal, maybe even wrong, reasons for not making upcycling old clothes a lifestyle. But never having tried it even once? No excuse for that.

So I set myself a challenge, in the spirit of PRP - find an old garment and turn it into something new. There were some rules (I made them up): it could not look like patchwork, it could not have huge amounts of new fabric grafted onto it, and it could not take me longer than a normal, sewn-from-virgin-fabric garment. AND it had to be completely wearable, not some fancy schmancy dinner outfit that I'd eventually have to auction off (or give to Goodwill) because it was so beautifully impractical.

I found the garment:
I'd go as far as to say it was a maternity shirt and nursing top i.e. I bought it several sizes larger from the regular clothes rack when I was pregnant with Kate.

And it became this:

And Kate loves it. 

So in a strange way, it's come full circle - I first wore it with Kate inside me, and now she wears it outside me. 

See how I did it here on Project Run and Play, and go vote for the designers this week!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Robe Dresses

Last week I made two beach robe dresses for Jenna and Kate. The girls have resumed swimming lessons and while they still use their bathrobes, those sometimes flap open at awkward moments, like enroute to the car, in chilly weather. So I thought I'd make them some robe dresses, with hoods to cover their wet hair, that are easy to pull on and off.

I used stretch terry, rather than regular terrycloth because this is a dress that will go over their heads. I found stretch terry at Mill End Textiles, our local chain store. I looked for it in Joann but didn't see it there. I also saw some on but because I didn't get to touch theirs, I can't vouch for its quality. Even the stretch terry from Mill End came in different qualities - the pink was thinner and more stretchy than the chartreuse, for instance. After a run through the washer, though, they both fluffed up nicely.

Before we begin the tutorial, lets talk a bit about slopers

I made Kate's robe first. Now, Kate's most recent sloper was done two years ago. Since then, she's obviously grown and I've continued to use it, adding ease and adjusting the shape as I cut out new outfits for her, like last year's Halloween costume. This year, I thought I'd be clever and use Jenna's sloper for Kate and made an A-line robe pattern from it. I rationalized it thus -
  1. Jenna's sloper was made when Jenna was Kate's current age.
  2. Jenna and Kate share the same genes, being from the same family and all.
  3. This is a loose robe. The fit can't be all that bad, right? Especially since Kate is the same size as Jenna's sloper?
Hrmph. See for yourself.

This is Kate wearing Jenna's sloper-made-into-a-robe.

And this is Jenna, wearing the same Jenna's-sloper-made-into-a-robe, even though the sloper is 2 years out of date.

Do you see it? 

How it still looks great on Jenna, particularly in the area of the shoulders, chest and armscye? And how it doesn't look great on Kate, particularly in the area of the shoulders, chest and armscye? How it looks so square-shouldered on Kate, even though it's her "age" size, but looks perfect on Jenna's, even though it's 2 years too small? Just wanted to share these photos to show how truly customized a sloper is to its wearer. Even if it's too small/tight, a sloper it truly fits the shape of the wearer, and is not as transferable as it seems.

Anyway, I decided that if I were to share the pattern for this robe with you guys, that unversatile shoulder is not going to look good on a lot of your kids, unless their shoulders are exactly like Jenna's. So I turned the set-in-sleeve pattern

into a raglan sleeve pattern, which embraces all shoulders and postures. 


Here is the pattern to download:

All the pattern pieces are full-size. However, the front and back body pieces are incomplete (to save paper)- you will have to extrapolate the side seams and center front and center back lines to get the length you want. Just follow the slope of those lines and draw them as long as you need. 

This is in a size 5-6 (Jenna's size) but you should be able to adjust it up or down easily. In anticipation of your questions:
  • By adjusting the length of the sleeve and the width of the chest, you'll be able to make this pattern fit a variety of sizes of children. You might also want to make the sleeve narrower or wider for differently-sized children. But no, I am not going to show you how. That's part of learning to sew independently, and the practice is good for you.
  • No, I am not going to email you the pattern in smaller or bigger sizes, even if you write to me privately. 

  • 1 to 1.25 yards of stretch terry (54" width). If you are adapting this to a smaller or larger size, you can estimate the yardage with the help of this tutorial.
  • About 0.5' yard swimsuit lycra or cotton knit/french terry for lining.
  • 1 button

Other common-sense things to remember:
  • Transfer the sewing points from the pattern to the fabric, if you need to.
  • Mark on the fabric (including the sleeve) the front and back pieces or portions of pieces.
  • Add your own seam allowances to every single pattern piece, where necessary.
  • Finish and notch/snip your seam allowances, where necessary - I will be omitting this reminder from the instructions below.

Step 1
Cut out the following pieces

In stretch terry
  • 1 front piece (on the fold)
  • 1 back piece (on the fold)
  • 2 sleeves (in mirror image)
  • 2 hood pieces (in mirror image) -remember to cut the pattern on the line that says "outer hood" - it will be wider than the lining hood pattern.
  • 1 pocket (on the fold)
  • 1 facing piece (not included in pattern, use common sense)

In lining fabric
  • 1 pocket (on the fold)
  • 2 hood pieces (in mirror image) - remember to cut the pattern on the line that says "lining", which is different from the outer hood pattern. The lining hood pieces are narrower than the outer hood pieces.
  • 2 strips about 1.25" wide, on the bias, for binding the pocket openings.
  • 2 strips for sleeve cuff (optional), about 3" wide.

Step 2
Make narrow tube of stretch terry for the button loop. Mine was a little narrower than 0.25" wide (finished width), and long enough to go around the button, plus seam allowance. Set aside.

Step 3
Finish (e.g. serge) edges of the facing and pin, RS together, to front piece, midlines aligned.

Step 4
Sew around the midline, to make the front neck slit, as you would a typical faced neck opening. Mine was about 0.25" apart (between the two lines of stitching). Stop sewing about 0.75" from the edge of the neckline, to prepare to insert the button loop. Cut along the midline to open the slit. Insert the button loop facing away from this slit opening, and exactly as far down from the neckline as your neckline seam allowance. This is so that when the hood is sewn on later, the button loop will be exactly at the top of the slit opening. Finish sewing the slit opening, turn right side out, edge-stitch around the opening, and top-stitch to secure the facing to the front piece.

Step 5
Make the kangaroo pocket 

and sew it onto the front piece. 

You might find this tutorial useful. For help with binding the curved openings with the lining knit fabric, try this tutorial.

Step 6
Attach the sleeves to the front and back pieces. This tutorial may help with assembling raglan-sleeve garments. We will not sew up the sleeves or side seams yet, so that we can continue working with the flat garment while attaching the hood.

Step 7
Sew the back seam of the outer hood pieces to make an outer hood.
Repeat for the lining pieces, but leave an opening along the back seam (where it is straightest) of 5-6" long, for turning out later. Backstitch!!!

Step 8
Turn the hood lining RS out and stuff it into the outer hood. Sew around the edge (of the hood ensemble) that will frame the face. You will notice that the outer hood is wider than the hood lining - this is correct. The extra width will allow the stretch terry to make a folded hem over the lining later.

You will now have two hoods (let's call it a double hood for now) sewn together at their "face opening" edges.

Step 9
Line up the back seam of just the hood lining with the centre back of the neckline, so the RS of the hood lining is against the WS of the back neckline. 

Pin the entire lower edge of the hood lining around the neckline, finishing at the edge of the neck slit opening from Step 4. You will find that near the slit opening, the hood lining is a bit "short" and that you are pinning a bit of the outer hood to get all the way to the slit opening itself. This is correct - the outer hood will fold over the lining to make a hem to frame the face.

Using a smaller seam allowance than actual (My actual seam allowance was 0.5" for the neckline, so I used 0.25" here), sew around the neckline to attach the hood lining. This is a holding/positioning line of stitches for the actual seam in Step 10, and the narrower seam allowance will allow this stitching line to be hidden later in Step 10.

Step 10
Turn the entire garment inside out through the neck opening, and then stuff the entire garment into the double hood. You will now have a huge lump of fabric inside the double hood.

Align the back seam of the outer hood with the same center back of the neckline, 

mirroring what you did with the hood lining in Step 9, except that
  • the RS of the outer hood is against the RS of the neckline and
  • the neckline is sandwiched between the hood lining (already attached in Step 9) and the outer hood (about to be attached).

Pin and sew the outer hood to the neckline, as you did with the hood lining in Step 9. These will be a lumpy, cumbersome next few minutes, but bear with it, and trust me. At the infamous neck slit opening, you will notice that the outer hood has already folded over the lining layer.

Step 11
This part is magic (if you did it right, I mean; otherwise it will be curseworthy). Turn the entire garment out through that hole you left in the hood lining. You will have a perfect, perfect hood attached to a beautiful neckline with no exposed seam allowances (apart from the raglan seams), 

and a magical folded hem framing the face opening of the hood.

Step 12
Hand-stitch up the opening in the hood lining. Use the ladder stitch. Don't be lazy and machine-sew it closed, OK? After all the trouble you took to make an elegant hood-neckline seam, don't compromise with crude machine stitching here.

Step 13
Top -stitch around the bottom edge of the hood, to secure all the layers together near the neckline. Also top-stitch the folded hem around the face opening.

Step 14
Sew up the side seams and sleeves, and make the sleeve cuffs. You can make a simple folded hem, or a lined cuff

for some extra color 

Step 15
Finish the bottom hem of the dress.

Step 16
Sew on the button.


A reminder: I am happy to have you link to this tutorial, pin it, and tell others about it. For that, I thank you in advance. But it is NOT OK to copy this tutorial onto your site, or translate it, without my permission.