Saturday, December 15, 2012

Eleven Months Later ...

When I first took up sewing in 2011, I bought an inexpensive, basic machine (Singer 4423) and  promised myself that if sewing was still fun and exciting for me after a year, I'd buy a better sewing machine. A couple of months ago, I found a like-new Bernina Activa for sale on Craigslist, together with a cabinet, for an amount I would have been willing to pay for the cabinet alone. It was worth driving all the way to Canyon Lake to pick it up, and what a difference it's made! The Activa runs far more smoothly than the Singer, which makes it easier to get the stitches exactly where I want them. Top stitching was truly difficult with the Singer and amazingly easy with the Activa. I haven't yet tried out the Bernina invisible zipper foot, but I've heard it makes zipper installation a breeze. I'll be trying it out soon on a pair of pants. In the photo below, I've removed the extended wooden work table so I could sew cuffs on sleeves.

I also got the Necchi BU to run.

 I didn't have to take it to a repair shop after all, I was able to fix it myself. Comparing the Necchi BU with the Bernina Activa ... the Necchi is all metal, machined to very close tolerances. It runs very smoothly even after 61 years. The Bernina is made partly of plastic, which I expect will break down over the years. Its useful life may turn out to be only 20 or 30 years. On the other hand, it runs very smoothly and quietly, and I very much like the electronic features. It does more of the work for me, so I can concentrate on patterns and fabrics and fitting. I've retired the Singer, to be used as a spare, or maybe given away to another beginner sewist some day (sewist? well ... it sounds better than sewer, which brings to mind plumbing pipes and toilets).

The last time I wrote in this blog, I was making skirts. I made a few more, including this whimsical one made from a yard of home decor fabric I found in the remnant bin at Joann's, to go with a whimsical pair of shoes from the sale bin at Anthropolgie

Then I moved on to tops and shirts and learned how to match stripes and patterns.

As always, I started out with inexpensive fabric and worked my way up to more expensive stuff. I think my favorite shirt fabric so far is cotton lawn. It's so siky-smooth and light and cool -- perfect for our San Antonio climate.  Liberty of London have some beautiful prints, and I've found they can be had for affordable prices through UK shops on Ebay. You can find them by searching on "cotton lawn fabric."  Michael's Fabrics have beautiful shirting fabrics for more formal shirts. They're running a 50% off sale at this very moment. 

This past week, I began on pants. I've put off making pants, aside from baggy, unstructured ones and stretchy lycra exercise shorts and leggings, because I've never been able to find pants that fit properly, and I figured I'd need advanced alteration skills to make anything that would look decent. I finally decided I was up to trying it and made a shell using Vogue's # 1003, a special pattern made especially for fitting. I was truly astounded to find that from the waist down, I'm a perfect size 14, except for the upper thigh, which is 1/2 inch larger than standard; and the crotch depth, which is 2 inches shorter than standard (I have a relatively short torso and very long legs). All this time, all my life, I've thought I couldn't wear pants, and now I discover it can all be fixed with a couple of simple alterations!

Concurrently with pants education, I've decided to come back to jackets. With an incredible surfeit of ambition, I attempted to make a blazer when I first started sewing. The unfortunate result can be seen here: Why Learning to Sew Is Good For Your Brain. Luckily I used very inexpensive muslin and learned quickly that I needed to master some basic sewing skills before attempting anything more difficult than Very Easy ... and also to gain a basic grasp of the characteristics of various kinds of fabric, and at least a glimmer of understanding of style, such as figure types and which colors and styles are most flattering to my figure and coloring, and to understand how 3-dimensional garments are translated to 2-dimensional patterns and vice versa, and where to buy suitable fabrics, and how various kinds of interfacing affect the shape and movement of the garment, etc, etc.

I think I can say, at this point, after almost 2 years, that I have progressed from being a total beginner to the advanced-beginner stage. And maybe I'm finally ready to attempt a fitted jacket. Not a highly tailored garment, no, but at least a fitted jacket. Vogue 2554 has a version without a collar that looks to be a good starting point, together with Vogue 8817 for shoulder pads. I plan to make the shoulders and pads a bit smaller than the pattern. I've found that it's best if I make my own shoulder pads, since my right shoulder is a bit lower than the left, and if I make my own pads, I can take this into account and make the right pad a bit thicker than the left. I was going to use some wool gabardine I got on sale from Fabric Mart, but I've just this morning read that gabardine is "unforgiving." So I think I'll use wool crepe instead. I have a couple of pieces of wool crepe, one of which is a not-very-attractive color (looked better on my monitor when I ordered it). I'll save the beautiful light-blue wool crepe for later, after I've learned from the inevitable mistakes I'm sure I'll make on My First Fitted Jacket.

In June, 2011, before I had fully realized how much I had to learn before I could expect to make a blazer suitable for any purpose other than gardening or house-painting, I bought several men's suit jackets at a thrift shop. There's a photo of one of them here: Lesson in Deconstruction.

My original intent was to alter the men's jackets to fit me. Ha ha ha ha. Yeah. They actually fit OK in the hips but were GIGANTIC in the shoulders and arm holes, and they had lots of little pockets that interrupted the fabric, so it proved to be impossibly difficult (at least for me) to alter them.

I did actually end up making a vest from one of them and even got a couple of compliments when I wore it. But one of the arm holes somehow turned out quite a bit large than the other, so I had to keep one arm down all the time. Some possibilities for a comedy skit come to mind ... I think I'll just wear it around the house from now on.

Aside from the one that became a vest, the rest of the jackets have slept quietly in a plastic box these many months. I bought 6 altogether, I think, for something like $7 each. Well, now I've found a use for them, and I suspect they'll be worth every penny I paid once I go full-force into Jacket Making Mode. They all appear to have been constructed with layers of horsehair canvas. I've gathered from reading that fashion has moved toward lighter and less structured for a while, and is now moving back in the other direction. I hate the square-looking things I've seen in fashion magazines that look as though the models are wearing cardboard boxes. But fashion aside, from the un-fitted jackets I've made, I learned that one does want some structure in a jacket, else it will look limp & wrinkly when you wear it.

Horsehair, or horsehair-wool blends are used to shape garments. The hair holds the pose the tailor sets into it with moist heat -- like curling your hair using a curling iron. But horsehair fabric is very expensive -- $20, $30, even $60 or more per yard for fabric that's wide enough to use to structure a jacket. Considering this, it looks as though the price of each thrift shop suit I bought was worth it, for the horsehair alone. (they are very old suits, probably from the 1950's, when structured men's jackets were IN; I should probably be saving them as museum pieces rather than using them for parts). 

Well, that just about catches me up to the present time. Blazers and pants. And I should probably keep at least one shirt going too. I find that I enjoy having several things in progress at any given time. That way, if I feel like doing hand sewing while talking to my husband or listening to an audio book, I can do some button holes (I like to do buttonholes by hand -- they look so much prettier than machine-made ones) or other hand sewing.  When I have a longish stretch of uninterrupted time, I can do cutting out, and so forth. Oh! Another new thing -- up until now, I've only made things for myself. I didn't feel I could make garments worthy of being gifts. But now that I've gotten moderately proficient at making shirts, I've offered to make one for my husband, and while I can't honestly say that he's terribly excited about it (he's not a clothes kind of guy), he's interested enough to consider styles and fabrics. If the jacket I made for myself turns out OK, maybe I'll try one for my husband as well. I'm not sure, though ... I may be veering off into the overly ambitious again.