Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Transferring To Paper

Are you following along with my sloper misadventures? If so, here's the next chapter- the one in which we transfer the muslin to paper. Note that the usual sequence is to draft the sloper from measurements directly onto paper and sew a muslin from that.  Then I'd simply note the changes (usually very few) on the worn muslin and make those same changes to the paper pattern. Very easy and fast. However, since I am making my sloper this time by adjusting an old muslin, I must now turn the muslin into a paper pattern. So infuriatingly backwards! However, it may actually be the natural sequence for many people because
  • they use commercial patterns and (if they can be bothered to) make a muslin, wear it, make adjustments to it and then transfer it to paper, or
  • they make their own patterns by tracing around a "well-fitted" favorite garment, either in part or the whole. 

So... I thought you might like to see how I do this transferring thing myself. 

We begin with unpicking. Yucky. And slightly depressing, given how hard one has worked to sew up the muslin in the first place. Which reminds me that I must share three important tips with you: 
  1. Always sew your sloper with longer-than-usual stitches if you intend to take it apart at any point. 
  2. Before taking it apart, press all the seams and darts well. This, along with the next tip, will help distinguish the final, correct seam and dart lines from the countless earlier versions that were eventually voted out. 
  3. After pressing the seams and darts, draw directly on the RS of the seams with a marker (you can see the light blue marker lines on my unpicked sleeve in the next photo). When you've unpicked the muslin, you will be glad you marked those seam lines, especially if you hadn't done a thorough job of pressing earlier. 
Now that you've unpicked the muslin, you will need to trace or otherwise transfer the seam lines onto paper. Some people use tracing paper, laid on top of the fabric pieces. I use brown kraft paper because it's sturdy and has those useful vertical lines on it for alignment purposes. However, it's also opaque, so tracing is out of the question. I lay the garment part (in this case, the sleeve) on the paper and pin the reference lines (in this case, the center line of the sleeve - not shown in picture) to the paper to keep it from moving about. If the seam allowances, having been pressed earlier, can be tucked or folded away neatly, I can trace the stitching lines easily around their folded outline. However, sometimes it is easier to poke the stitching line with a pin. In the photo below, I used several different pins to demonstrate the process but in reality I just took a single pin and punched it repeatedly through the fabric-and-paper along the stitching line,

so that, when the fabric is removed, the stitching line is left as a series of perforations

which can then be easily drawn over in pencil or ink.

Q: Why not just trace around the edge of the fabric? That way you can include the seam allowances in your paper pattern!
A: Two reasons. One, I don't include seam allowances in my patterns or blocks -they are distracting. Two, sometimes after adjusting a sloper, the seam allowances are no longer uniform: if I'd taken in a seam, the SA will now be wider and if I'd let out a seam, the SA would now be narrower. 

This next bit is how I do the seamlines (or stitching lines) around darted areas.

First, I cut out the block/sloper/pattern/whatever with a lot of allowance around the regions of the darts. Next, I tape the darts closed and draw the seamlines continuously over them (in the photo below, these are the blue lines in the armscye region and side seam).

Then I cut along the seamlines, removing the excess borders and allowances, 

and reopen the darts. All the pointy zigzag bits will look otherwordly but they are correct. Just like with this sleeve, remember? When the fabric has been laid and cut out and the darts sewn up in the garment, the seamlines will be continuous and smooth, just as they are in the photo above. Incidentally, there is another method that doesn't involve folding and messing up the paper - we do it by measuring the legs of the dart and keeping them the same length, as if they were radii of a circle, and then adjusting the seamlines to meet those new equal-length legs. But this folding method is more visually obvious and far less mathematical, so I picked that to show you. 

Finally, we notch the dart points,

like so,

so they can be marked on the fabric during the layout.

Voila! Foundation block done!

The next thing to do is move the darts (again!) to make a princess seam block. In the process, I can merge the french dart and armscye dart into one so that I have only two front bodice darts overall, instead of three. So boring, right? I feel like drafting foundation blocks ranks up there with cleaning toilets - nothing to show for after, sucks while actually in progress but necessary for improved general quality of life in the long run. At least that's what I tell myself to keep going!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mother Makes A Yes-Frills Dress

because the small daughter picked out the fabric and asked nicely.

Our little Kate is in an I Want To Wear My Sisters' Clothes phase. She borrows Jenna's dresses and believes her sisters have better clothes than she does. She also has extremely particular requirements for whatever goes on her body e.g.

  • There cannot be yokes, because the seam between the yoke and the skirt is scratchy and tight.
  • The sleeves cannot be tight. 
  • The sleeves cannot be fancy.
  • The dress cannot be too tight and cannot be too loose.
  • The dress cannot be puffy in the wrong places.
  • The fabric must be soft.
  • There cannot be scratchy seams, tags, embellishments etc.

I sympathize to an extent because as a child, I was made to wear scratchy, cottony, lacy (i.e. scratchy) dresses, with matching lacy (i.e. scratchy) cuff socks and hard, patent-leather Mary Janes. My friends used to tell me I looked like a present, all wrapped up. Bah. 

So now that I have my own children, I try not to make them look like wrapped gifts. And sometimes I let them pick fabric out at the store to be turned into dresses when I have the time. Which isn't often, I'll admit. I've discovered a wonderful rule-of-thumb that has done wonders for my sewing-for-children: if I don't want them to choose wrong fabrics for dresses, I must only let them browse the apparel fabric aisles. This conveniently rules out the fabrics that they adore because they are colorful (i.e. quilting cotton) but which they NEVER wear once they are actually made into dresses because they are too stiff, or fabrics that are pretty and sparkly (i.e. the special occasion satins, sheers and tulle) but which are only ever useful for Halloween costumes. Now, your children may be different from mine and may love their cotton dresses, so don't let me dissuade you from shopping in whichever aisles bring you success. My children, however, have tricked me so often with their fabric choices that I cannot afford to let my guard down.

Suspicious and unyielding as I am with fabric types, I am also very generous once my girls are correctly installed in the appropriate aisles. And by "generous", I mean "am okay with pink." Last month, in an attempt to cope with the neverending winter, we went summer fabric shopping at SR Harris, our lovely local fabric warehouse. Frantically ushering them past the home-dec and designer cotton aisles, while muttering, "Don't look! Not good cloth." I led them to the knit section and declared that they could pick stuff out for clothes. Unsurprisingly, everyone picked the gaudiest and most sparkly fabrics there were and asked for party dresses. Kate, especially, was very enthusiastic, citing the My Sisters Have Nicer Dresses claim to help in her bargaining. Some skillful expectation-management later, during which I discreetly tossed out a bolt of black powernet embossed with metallic rainbow letters and disco stars, Kate settled on this rose-pink frilled fabric, which finally became her dress yesterday.       

Very straightforward: it's an A-Line tank dress with bound armscyes. Textured fabrics are so wonderfully rich that I usually pick very simple styles and clean lines when I sew with them. That said, working with the fabric itself was a bit of an exercise in patience not only because the frills had to be matched at the seams like stripes but also because they were so fluid. I actually basted them down just to keep them from folding over themselves and getting cut badly.

Famous last words. The front neckline still lost a frill (note to self: do not perform layouts on finicky fabrics when half-asleep) and I had to manually graft one back on. 

This fabric had to be lined, incidentally. I found an unmatching darker rose-red sparkly knit at a different store last weekend and made the dress reversible. I mean, if I'm going to line it, it might as well be a second dress, right? Works with bags, at any rate. And this way, Kate will now have two dresses. 

Reversible meant doing a proper bias-bound armscye with the ends of the bias tape pre-connected rather than hideously overlapped or sewn into a seam.

It's a heavy dress, with those two layers of knit. Not floaty like cotton, but drapey and soft. And for that reason, I decided to use regular cotton bias tape instead of binding the armscyes with knit like I often do with my knit dresses. This way the straps don't stretch over time and sag the necklines. 

It may not look it (because the fabric drapes so well), but I actually made it in Jenna's size because I didn't want any complaints of "too tight" and other such nonsense. Now, Kate doesn't look like a wrapped gift, but there is an air of pinata-ness about this dress that amuses me. Overall, I think it's pretty and I'm actually tempted to make one for myself just like it, but maybe in ocean tones. Anything to channel summer!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mini Kiwi Crate

This weekend, a new sample Kiwi crate arrived in the mail for the girls to test out and review. It was the limited-edition Felt Flowers mini crate, just in time for Mother's Day!

Here's what came in it:

I loooooooove that all those felt petals were already cut out and ready to be turned into flowers!

However, a conundrum presented itself: 

How might I contribute the "medium" level adult facilitation if this kit was for making a secret gift for me? Of course we could have chosen either of the Grandmas as recipient or had the husband get involved but I thought I'd set the girls a challenge instead: they had to make the flowers all by themselves, with Emily (8 years old, going on 18) as art director and anyone who needed help could ask her for it.

And off they went!

Within the hour, they'd made their flowers, 

decorated the little cardboard vase that accompanied them

and crowned me victorious awardee of the prize. Hurrah!

I love my vase of flowers. And I love that I got to do my own thing while the girls were independently making it for me. As with the previous sample crate we reviewed, the materials were of high quality, beautifully packaged and an absolute delight to work with. Thank you again, Kiwi crate, for my new favorite table centerpiece and the fun the girls had this past weekend!

You can buy the Felt Flowers mini crate and other mini crates here. And did you know Kiwi crates make great part favors, too? If you are planning to start a subscription, here is a discount code you can use that's valid till May 12:

Note (and I forgot to mention this in the earlier Kiwi crate post because I'm new to this product review thing and am still learning): this was a free sample generously offered by Kiwi crate to us for review. The views and opinions in this post are my own.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sloper Version 2.0

So, Operation 10 Chocolate Bars has begun. It is not the funnest process in the world. It takes a long time to fit a foundation block (aka sloper). And - although not to deter you from making your own because it will be totally worth the effort-, the whole thing is fraught with problems. 

Problem #1: When to do it. A person must not attempt any kind of cerebral-ish sewing when the children are conscious or when meals need to be cooked. All it takes is a break in concentration to get a snack for someone and the sleeve cap will get sewn to the armpit (yes, it happened). This means drafting at night. And sometimes when a person is on a roll, a person will forget to go to bed. Now, assuming that, finally, a person can be alone to concentrate, there is 

Problem #2: how to measure yourself. I can't. And the people I trust to measure me accurately (because they know what to look for) are all in Singapore. So, as much as I'd wanted to draft my new blocks from scratch measurements, I couldn't. I had to resort to adjusting my old muslin. Which brings us to 

Problem #3: Old muslins must be first unpicked. And since unpicking is my absolute favorite thing in the world to do (see guest post by my obnoxious seam rippers for commentary on all the ways I'd rather use them than for unpicking), it's no wonder I've put this off for 3 years. But, well, I unpicked. I had to unearth some very old CDs to play on loop-repeat in order to get through the task, but it got done. 

Then came Problem #4: How to ensure all the alterations were symmetrical on left-and-right-sides without a paper pattern (i.e. paper version of this block). I did the best I could, drawing all over myself with marker and poking myself with pins and so on. And when these symmetrical alterations involved shifting darts, it got particularly exciting. Now, as the sloper came together and became increasingly well-fitted, it got harder to get in and out of. And herein lay 

Problem #5: The sloper is like a skirted catsuit made of unyielding quilting cotton. This translates to some funky acrobatics in the bathroom at 1 am, wondering if one's marriage vows of "for better or for worse" includes the husband being woken up from blissful slumber at some ungodly hour by the clearly unbalanced wife lurking in the darkness in an unflattering skin-tight outfit, hissing, "I'm stuck. Can't reach the zipper. Help." 

Hugely entertaining, I know, so long as it isn't happening in your household, let me assure you. And so let's just skip over Problems #6,7,8,9 and 10: taking photos of yourself in the mirror to check the back, without raising your arms; trying to pin back darts while completely stationary so as not to shift the waist position, etc. etc. and get to the part where I emerged, victorious (and I didn't wake the husband afterall). First, a reminder of what Version 1.0 looked like, from way back in 2010.
Even back then, this was not a snug sloper. Mum and I drafted it "comfortable" with the understanding that I was still sporting the post-natal bulges and chunkiness from having had three children in five years and would look better in garments that weren't overly fitted. In that 2010 version, the neckline was too open, the shoulders were overwide, the hips hung loose, the armscyes and sleeve caps were ease-fests
and the upper chest area was so roomy that, when a scoop-neck dress was made from this sloper in that same year, it required neckline darts to prevent gaping:
However, the dart points were correct and the shoulder slopes were accurate
even if the shoulder seams themselves lay too far back.

So that was 2010. I'm not sure what happened since then, but it doesn't fit at all now. It wasn't just a matter of taking in the ease in various places - even the darts themselves had to be shifted and reshaped and the side seams unpicked and repositioned to accommodate for that. Want to see the full list? Here:
  • Shoulder seams unpicked and moved to the front
  • Shoulder point moved in
  • Waist dart moved outwards 
  • French dart point moved
  • Armscye dart inserted
  • Waistline moved down to accommodate for new armscye dart
  • Side seams unpicked and repositioned to accommodate for new waistline and waist dart positions
  • Back darts changed to accommodate for relocated side seams
  • Hips taken in to accommodate for waist dart changes
  • Armsyce taken in all around and redrawn to accommodate new armscye dart
  • Sleeve (2 versions) cap redrawn, taken in at seam
  • Neckline raised and narrowed
Obviously, it would've been much faster to have drafted a new sloper from scratch but, as I said in Problem #2, I couldn't measure myself. The outcome is, ironically, not very beautiful. And by that, I don't mean the fit is bad. In fact, the fit is vastly improved in the 2013 version. However, because slopers are supposed to be very snug to the point of being impractical, the muslin doesn't look as flattering as the looser, 2010 version. Which makes sense - the 2010 (with some alterations) would've made quite a nice dress for actual wearing because of all the ease, compared to this scary-snug 2013 one. But as a sloper (meant for making other sewing patterns), it was not good. Everything I ever made from it had to have ease removed from everywhere. 

Anyway, so now we have Version 2.0 - the one with the narrower shoulders, higher neckline (which still needs to be smaller for mandarin collars, etc.), better shoulder slopes, correct bust fit, and so on. 

I want to show you the sleeves. I did two sleeves. This first one was drawn by formula. I used the one in our tutorial

It's a pretty sleeve, with a nice fit at the armscye and (see very first photo) very sleek and aligned from the side view. But only 70% comfortable when I raise my arm. This is the same draft that I used for that princess seamed dress 
but when adjusted for this new sloper, the sleeve cap wasn't ideal. I think it is less to do with the formula than the bulkiness of my biceps and shoulders (and no, it isn't muscle). Anyway, this is  Sleeve Number 2, which was drafted free-hand, the way Mum taught me. No formula, just what-looks-right as far as shapes go.   

Better, you think? Personally, I think I should go with sleeve #2, even if it doesn't look quite as sleek. I need to send these pictures to Jen to ask her. Why aren't you my neighbor, Jen? Like when we were kids?

Here are photos I took of the sleeve blocks, for your analytical pleasure. The red block is Sleeve #1 (formula). The brown block is Sleeve #2 (free hand).

Two interesting observations - may be useful for those of you who complain about commercial sleeve patterns fitting badly or who, like me, don't have skinny arms. First, notice the red sleeve block has a higher sleeve cap. 

This sleeve cap is too high for my particular armscye and shoulder shape- the fabric peaks in a fold at the shoulder.

And look - check out the model's sleeve cap.

Here, I'll zoom in:

I saw this pattern in JoAnn some years back and couldn't believe they were actually selling this. So I took a photo. Without even looking at the patterns inside the packet, a person can tell that the shape of the sleeve pattern is going to be wrong for this armscye. And it's not a style element, incidentally - look at the sketches next to the photo on the packet - these are regular set-in sleeves without puffed sleeve caps or anything like that. But what really boggles the mind is how no one told the model to not raise her arm for the photo. I mean, that's not a good advertisement! If she had let her arm hang at her side, nobody would be the wiser, right? I can't get over it. 

Second, the brown sleeve has a wider bicep area,  

which means that while the overall sleeve might not look quite as sleek near the armpit, it is a lot more comfortable when the arm is raised. Especially for us folks who don't have skinny shoulders. 

Using red block                       Using brown block

And now I need to combine those three bust darts into a single princess seam for Sloper Version 2.1. I might just do two slopers - one with the seam originating from the armscye like this dress 

and the other from the shoulder, like with Fleur.

Off to feed the children now!  Have a lovely weekend, all, and stay warm, because look what our neighborhood is like today:

Pretty, huh? For January. Not almost-May. Mutter.