Client Spotlight: Moira

While sewing, for me, is mostly a commercial pursuit, I have long associated it with love, not money.  I don’t mean that in the sense of I’m not getting rich as a sewist.  I mean that the first sewing I was exposed to were the stuffed animals and doll clothes my grandmother made for me and my cousins.  My mother sews clothes for my children.  My aunts sew quilts for their families.  Sewing has always been an expression of love in my family.  And though the majority of my sewing goes to items for sale, that doesn’t mean I don’t also sew for love.

The dress I made for my friend Moira is no exception.  When she approached me to make her wedding dress, I was so happy and excited to do it.  And though my entry here is listed as “client spotlight” and though Moira paid me, that doesn’t negate the love I put into making her gown.  I wouldn’t be at her nuptials in body, so my joy and well wishes for her and her beau would travel along in the dress.

Frida Esperanza by Alexander Henry
The fabric features cartoon renderings of several of Frida Kahlo’s self portraits.

Moira is an artist of the beautifully macabre.  This of course means she wasn’t looking for a white satin gown for her wedding.  What she came to me with was the idea for a 1960s cocktail dress that she could wear to other events.  We took measurements and she went on the hunt for fabric.  That fabric happened to be a cotton print by Alexander Henry called Frida Esperanza.

My first order of business was to do a tissue fitting.  Moira is a tall, curvy gal which made a couple fittings necessary to make sure everything fit perfectly.  I use the method I learned from the book Fit for Real People which involves pinning the tissue pattern together, trying it on, and marking any changes directly onto the paper.  For Moira we had to take into account that her bust apex was lower than in the pattern, widening the back and waist, and making sure the kimono cut sleeves allowed her ample movement.

After the tissue fitting I put together a muslin.  When you are altering a pattern there are so many adjustments that need to be made, a muslin is the only way to make sure you don’t miss something.  And since Moira had brought me just enough of the fabric to make the dress, I didn’t want to make a mistake that would put me in danger of running out.

Moira's Muslin
I have no clever reason for using two different colors of muslin here. I just grabbed what was closest and had enough yardage from my stash.

The muslin fitting brought to light other fit issues.  I had dropped the bust darts down, and had made the waist darts in the bodice narrower.  I had also added an inch to the center back.  Even so, there was still a large gap at the midsection.  This seems to be a common problem for those of us with larger busts.  Unless we are employing bras that also double as rigging for a sloop, the weight of larger breasts pulls them lower than those of our perkier, smaller busted sisters.  This means that the point of largest width ends up lower than patterns take into account.  By adding the extra inch to the back, I ended up with a gap that overlapped at the neck, but couldn’t close the rest of the way down.

I marked a bunch of notes right onto the fabric as Moira patiently waited, turning right and left, lifting her arms or sitting as I made my notes.  I kept telling her not to suck in, as I wanted the dress to fit her, not try to fit her body to the dress.

Now it was time to commit to cutting out the adjusted pattern from the final fabric.  Even here I had to make some more changes.  The original pattern calls for cutting the front bodice in two pieces and then sewing the center seam together.  Doing that with the print would cause a headache of trying to make sure I didn’t have Franken-Fridas on my friend’s bust.  Instead I cut the bodice on the fold.  Eliminating the center seam gave me a little extra room, too.

I dropped the back waist darts, which gave me the room I needed to make sure the fit was right, and there wasn’t going to be any tightness.  For the extra fabric at the top of the bodice, I put a box pleat in each shoulder.  This kept my center back straight.  Sometimes a tuck or a fold is just what you need to make things fit, then it becomes a design element!

I will be honest that when Moira showed up to pick up the dress I held my breath while I zipped her up into it.  I wanted so very much for the dress to fit like a hug from a friend.  And it did!  She looked so lovely twirling around in my workshop, staid Frida’s looking on in approval.

Moira Wedding Dress

And here is the bride in her dress at her wedding at a mini-golf course / wedding chapel.  I can’t express how much it meant to me that Moira asked me to make her wedding dress.  Again, I never thought I would work on bridal gowns, and I really am not.  Instead, I am adding my love for my friend to her wedding, helping to amplify the happiness of the day.

 

Client Spotlight: A.C. & Moira

You all may recall that I’ve mentioned before I don’t take on wedding dress commissions.  It’s not out of a dislike of weddings (I’ve had two of my own: one with the white dress and all the trimmings and one with just me, my love and my daughter at the justice of the peace).  I merely find that there are others who specialize in nuptial-wear and so really no need for my skills.

And yet, I have found myself once again working on a wedding outfit commission, and like the last one, it is not your familiar white satin and lace affair.

Before we get to that commission, however, I have a long awaited (well at least for me) update on the wedding tux I made for A.C. last December.  As a refresher, A.C. is non-binary, and wanted an outfit for their wedding that was a) fitting to their tastes and style b) included some traditional wedding motifs and c) could be worn to other occasions.  I made them a white satin vest suit with lavender lapels.  Well, A.C. just sent me photos of the ceremony featuring their suit and I must say they look absolutely fantastic.  Behold the glory of wearing whatever the frak you want to your wedding:

I’m am thrilled with how the tux turned out and it made my day to get to see the pictures of the happy day.

Now, let’s turn to the next commission, another wedding outfit, for one of my dearest friends.

I’ve known Moira going on eight years.  I met her at the second convention I ever vended at.  She helped spread the word when I ran a fire sale on custom corsets to raise money to keep my house.  We’ve vended together at various events, we bounce ideas off of each other, and we are supportive of each others’ goals as artists, crafters and women.  So when Moira told me that she was getting married to her long-time partner (another wonderful person I am lucky to call my friend), and asked me if I was interested in making her wedding dress I said yes before she had even told me what she wanted.

This weekend Moira came over and we hashed out some of the details.  Before I get into a break down of what I’ll be making for her, I want to make a slight detour and mention that this is the first time I’ve had a client over since we adopted our cats*.  I learned quickly that cats will: lay down on open patterns you are trying to discuss, attack dangling tape measures when you are taking measurements, and monopolize the attention of your client if they give any indication of liking cats.

On to the dress: Moira brought in several patterns she had picked up for us to discuss.  We narrowed it down to the one she and her groom liked best: McCall’s 7086.   McCall Pattern 7086

As with A.C., Moira wants a dress that she could wear after the ceremony to other functions.  I love the idea of practical wedding wear.  (My dress from my first marriage is sitting in a box in my parents’ home.) I took measurements, set up two future appointments for a tissue fitting and a second fitting afterwards.

Then we discussed fabric.  This was honestly the best part of the whole meeting because when Moira asked if I had any advice on patterns.  “Maybe not stripes or plaids because they would be a nightmare to match with this pattern.”  Anything else? Fair game.  As long as she found a print she loved, I’d work with it.  My reasoning is that one should wear what makes one feel fabulous.  If that’s big prints?  Awesome!  And if anyone makes any noises about how the print resembles furniture, then you sit your fabulous self on that person and smother them because you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

At this point you might be wondering, “Are you going to add pockets to this dress?”  And that’s how I know you are new to this blog.  Of course I will be adding pockets to this dress.  I personally view any pattern that omits pockets to be a design flaw that should have seen the pattern sent back for redrafting.  But fashion rarely makes sense, which is why I and other sewists are here to make up for the mistakes of others.

I’ll update as work on this dress progresses.  I also have a few other commissions that are in various stages of completion which I’ll post on in the coming months.  In the meantime, I’ve got some pockets to insert.


*I realize I didn’t mention this before, but in January I had to put down Trixie. While I am not ready for another dog, the house was feeling empty without a furry presence, and so at the end of April we adopted two cats: Barley and Jake.  We got them from the Humane Haven in Bolingbrook and the house has felt in balance once again.

Client Spotlight: Matt & Shirley

Tattoos and costuming have a lot in common.  You get your first one and you think you’re done.  Next thing you know the itch for yet another coat, or hat, or patch, or whatever creeps in.  Add LARP into the mix, where you are always on the lookout for a new costume piece for an existing character, or for a brand new character, and every day is a new opportunity for another costume piece.

roach's first larp costume
My first ever LARP costume. I made a T-tunic out of an old linen and lace tablecloth. Not shown, the final product splattered with paint to look like blood.

And like tattoos, if you are lucky you find someone who you can trust to add to your collection.  It can make for a beautiful, and creative, relationship.  As a costumer/seamstress, I love those relationships.  Not only because it means regular income, but because the collaboration can take me to interesting and inventive places.

Matt and Shirley are two such clients.  I met them through LARP, and have been lucky to call them friends over the years.  When the approached me for costumes for a Byzantium based vampire LARP I did a little victory dance.  The last time I worked anywhere near the BCE was back when I first started LARP in a Constantinople by Night game.  There was a lot of room for inventive costuming just waiting to be investigated.

Matt and Shirley are great examples of costuming clients.  They had a good idea of what they wanted and were open to suggestions.  Matt’s costume request was simple: a sarong with a Poseidon themed border print and a cape.  He provided me with pictures of sample garments and knew what colors he wanted.  My only input was to offer up a few designs for him to pick from for the border.

The design was accomplished with fabric paint and a stencil.  I used a linen-look fabric for the sarong and cape for a period-esque look without the drawbacks (wrinkles and a high price point).  For the cloak I added a black and white key trim ribbon and chain clasp.

Stencil This
The most time consuming part of all this was cutting out the stencils. If I were to do this more often I would invest in on of those home laser cutter machines. I feel particularly proud of remembering to put down a garbage bag liner before I started painting.

I had never done stencil work before, so this gave me a valuable opportunity to pick up a new skill, and then think about other ways I could accomplish the same task.  If I had had the time and budget I would have gone with a 100% linen and used a bleach or batik technique for the design.  That said, no matter where you stand on the whole “LARP requires costuming“, (and equivalencies to tattoos aside), I advocate going with what your budget allows.  Getting the look for your character doesn’t have to cost a ton.

Shirley had a vague idea of what she wanted and with some back and forth we settled on a linen chiton with a fur capelet. This led to my favorite moment in the idea process where I mentioned I had a sheepskin in the workshop much to Matt’s disbelief*.

The chiton was, again, made from a linen-look material.  Much like Matt’s sarong and cloak I was just dealing with two long rectangles of cloth.  That was actually the most difficult part of putting the costuming together.  Dealing with yards and yards of cloth can be hard.  I ended up spending a lot of time standing in front of Kenny with fabric draped over my shoulder as I hemmed it.

The capelet was the most difficult piece to put together, mostly due to the fact that I was dealing not with a cut of cloth, but an entire piece that had ragged and awkward edges.  I spent a lot of time with it hung on Mildred, adjusting it this way and that to find the best drape.  The fastenings came from thrifted belts and metal hardware procured from Textile Discount Outlet.

Since neither of these costumes included pockets, and I am a proponent of hands-free gaming, I made up simple drawstring pouches for both out of left over fabric.  At the very least they would be able to store their character sheets out of the way when they weren’t throwing chops.

My other philosophy when it comes to LARP costuming, is that you have a better RP experience when your costuming is comfortable and fits.  I think these two pieces hit both those marks, if I am to judge from the pictures Matt sent me of Shirley in her outfit.

A Fierce and Wise Woman
Shirley in her completed costume. I love how fierce she looks.

*Over the years various and sundry items have materialized in the workshop.  I suspect the house gnomes secret them there.  In this case, however, a friend and client had gifted me the sheepskin after a thrifting trip.

Customer Review: Square Holder

I got a request from my friend and accountant Michael from PRM, Limited to make a holder for his Square reader.  I was already familiar with the device.  I use it myself at conventions.  It didn’t take long to put together and I delivered a prototype for him to test out.

And then I completely forgot about it, until a couple of weeks ago when Michael reminded me about it.  He sent me pictures of the holder and even wrote up a little review.  With the way things have been going lately, I appreciate reading that a little thing I put together has not only served it’s purpose and lasted, but that it has been helpful.

Michael writes:

“About 4 years ago my company started using Square to take credit cards and I asked Raechel at Idiorhythmic Design if she had a key chain type item that held the reader. I knew I was going to be on the go all the time and I wanted something to keep the reader easily accessible and safe. She didn’t but she designed a prototype for me and sent it over. After 4 years of heavy abuse in my pocket, car, and just general life the holder has held up fairly well. Obviously any fabric item is going to break down under that kind of life eventually and as the pictures show the edges have eventually frayed and shown the interior material used to give it strength. The button clasp is still in excellent condition and clasps firmly with no issues. The blue loop for attaching it to my key ring is still super solid and in great shape. The reader has a jack that allows it to plug into the phone and even after 4 years for rubbing against the interior seams they are still in pretty good shape and are only now beginning to show strain from the wear and tear.

“Overall this was a fantastic prototype with 4 years of testing put into it and I can say that if she decides to make them a more permanent item on her store I will be the first to buy a new one. I hope later generations come with fun fabric designs on the outside, but the plain brown used was a also a good choice in a professional setting.”

Thank you, Michael, for putting that thing through the gauntlet and letting me know how it held up.

Yule Cross Stitch

Tis the season to park your butt on the couch and watch all the traditional holiday movies: Die Hard, Scrooged, Hogfather, etc.  Why not put some of that time to use by stitching a small ornament or festive wall hanging?  I’ve put together a short gallery of cross stitch samplers that is certain to make your nights merry and bright, at least until the eggnog kicks in.

Client Spotlight: Chris Gerrib

Chris Gerrib is an author I met a few years back at a convention.  He contacted me in February of 2015 about a commission for a writing cruise he was going on.  There was going to be a Regency ball one night and he wanted to go in costume.  He was looking for a naval frock coat with epaulets.

Naval Frock Coats
Providing pictures and research helps your costumer get as close as possible to what you want, with the least amount of back and forth. Be a good client. Be like Chris.

Chris is the kind of client I love.  He provided me with pictures, research and was clear on what he wanted.  After some back and forth we had a plan.  For the frock coat I used the 1795-1820 Men’s Tailcoat Pattern from Rocking Horse Farms. For the pants, Chris picked up a pair of painter’s pants.  And for the cravat I used a Burda Style pattern I already had on hand.

As with any costuming project there were alterations and changes that had to be made for fit and personal preference.

The painter’s pants were a cheap alternative to making trouser’s from scratch.  All they required was removing the tool loop on the outside and hemming. However, going with them meant forgoing the high waist that is period appropriate. With the lower waist line, a good portion of the his shirt would be visible.  We discussed a couple of options to cover the gap, like making a waist sash, a solution that was used by some at the time.  Eventually we settled on lowering the front of the frock coat.  This required extra time and fiddling with the pattern, but it kept his costume pieces to a minimum and kept the lines clean.

Chris Gerrib Frock Coat Front
Frock coat front showing off the floofy cravat.
Chris Gerrib Frock Coat Back View
Back view of the coat. Check out that trim!

I used a suiting blend for the coat.  Wool would have been the historically appropriate, but as the cruise was going to be in the Caribbean we nixed the wool for the sake of avoiding heatstroke.  Going with a suiting also reduced material costs, and gave us more options to work with.  It took a couple of fittings to get the redrafted front right.  It wasn’t just a matter of lengthening the entire pattern, only the front needed adjustment.  But getting it to align with the side pieces and the tail at the back required some work.

Chris Gerrib epaulet construction detail
Binder clips are one of the most useful non-sewing tool out there.

I used this tutorial for the epaulets.  The base was chipboard cut from a notebook.  I covered the chipboard with white cotton, and then used gold fabric paint to cover the entire thing before adding the trim.  At first, I used snaps and hooks and eyes to attach them to the coat. This proved problematic in real world conditions, however.  It was hard to attach them by oneself, and they would come loose when Chris walked around.  He brought them back later for me to replace the fastenings with Velcro.

I used plain white cotton for the cravat.

All in all Chris was pleased with the final costume.  It hit all the points he wanted: appropriate for the event, comfortable, and flexible enough that he could use it for other events (there was talk about altering the buttons and epaulets for a steampunk look). He received many compliments on the outfit.  What do you think?

Chris Gerrib in full naval frock coat attire
Very dashing, indeed!

Looking to fill your Kindle with science fiction? Check out Chris’ novels on Amazon.com.*

The Mars Run by Chris GerribThe Night Watch by Chris GerribPirates of Mars by Chris Gerrib


*These aren’t affiliate links. I just like to support friends’ work.

Client Spotlight: Jon Pessin

Jon Pessin is a self described “Balloonatic & Licensed Goof-Off“.  He entertains at children’s parties and came to me needing a new party look.

Because this was a costume for work it had to allow for maximum movement (there’s a lot of arm movement when manipulating balloons), be practical (pockets for supplies), but need not be historically accurate.

Simplicity 4923
It can’t be easy to be a pattern model.

For Pessin’s purposes he decided the Simplicity 4923 would work perfectly.  We discussed the pattern and made a few tweaks (no collar on the shirt, adding patch pockets to the coat for supplies).

With yardage and material notes in hand, I hit the local JoAnn Fabrics store.  This is the fun part of the job.  Even when faced with varying shades of gold and forest green.  Sending pictures to Pessin we chatted back and forth about the choice for coat fabric.  It was proving difficult to convey the choices color and pattern wise, through cellphone camera pictures.

Eventually, he went to his nearby JoAnn Fabrics and sent me a picture of what he wanted, which matched one of the ones I had already photographed.  Being able to also feel the fabric in question helped.  Fashion is so much more than the colors of the fabric.  The texture, how it drapes, even how it smells all need to be taken into consideration when you are making an outfit.

With fabric decided upon and materials gathered it was time to sew, sew, sew.  The outfit came together pretty easily.  The only real drudgery was sewing all the darn buttonholes.  (I also had to plunder three different stores to get the forty-five buttons needed.)

Things I learned with this project: don’t wait till the last minute to attach buttons. It is far more enjoyable to sit in the evening watching Ripper Street and hand sewing, rather than trying to do it all in one go the day it is due.  I won’t be making that mistake again!

Fortunately, Pessin is an understanding client.  And his glee showed on his face when he came to pick up his new costume.

Jon Pessin Balloonatic & Professional Goof-Off
Arr!

A few months after I delivered the outfit, we hit a snag.  Being a robust gentleman, Pessin needed a little extra ease in his clothes.  While I had built in what I thought would work, trying on a vest in the workshop is a different beast than wearing it to work.  All which led to a few buttons popping off where there was strain.

Pessin brought the vest back and I went to work.  First I reattached the buttons, this time watching new episodes of Black Mirror as I worked.  Then I added a panel to the back of the vest.

Historically, back lacing was used to give a custom fit to clothing.  However, I decided adding lacing would end up being more of a nuisance with the possibility of slipping laces and the requirement of an extra set of hands to adjust the fit.  Instead, I decided to add a back panel to the bottom portion, giving him an extra fit that could be adjusted just with the tie already present.

I ran into an obstacle in that I couldn’t find a matching lining fabric, so I went with something close that coordinated.  And then I turned to the sewist’s magic bag of tricks.  There is one universal truth: a fancy trim will turn any alteration born of necessity into a matter of design.  The result was something that was very pirate-y indeed.

 

Client Spotlight: A.C. – Pockets!

(You can read the first part of this spotlight here.)

The first obstacle I ran into with this commission came as I gave the pattern my first thorough read through. Like so many women’s fashions, there were no pockets provided.  This is a topic I feel passionately about.  Your typical wedding dress can possibly, maybe be excuses for not having pockets.  the assumption being that the wearer will have attendants to hold keys, wallet, makeup, what have you.  This outfit, however, is meant to be worn on other occasions, so pockets are necessary.

Fortunately, I’ve had experience the last few months with adding pockets to normally pocket free patterns.  Other than that alteration, the construction of the outfit for the fitting was straight forward.  The top is an unlined vest and the pants were much easier than I had anticipated.  The newly reorganized workshop helped immensely.

Having room to maneuver also made the fitting a more pleasant experience.

A.C. has a very slender build, meaning a need for some alteration to the bust to eliminate a gap at the armpit and taking in where the vest hits the hips a bit to reduce the flare.  The pants, however, could stay a little loose to accommodate the pockets.

Marking the hem was a little tricky as the fabric didn’t want to cooperate, but we got it figured out.  And that was that.  For a wedding outfit, this has been one of the easiest going projects I’ve done in a long while.

Next time I’ll have pictures of the finished outfit.

Book Research: 1949 Singer Sewing Manual

Advice from a 1949 Singer Sewing Manual
Text: Prepare yourself mentally for sewing. Thing about what you are going to do. . .never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadaisically. Good results are difficult when indifference predominates. Never try to sew with a sink full of dirty dishes or beds unmade. When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first so your mind is free to enjoy your sewing. . .When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible. Put on a clean dress. Keep a little bag full of French chalk near your sewing machine to dust your fingers at intervals. Have your hair in order, powder and lipstick put on . . .[If] you are constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband will come home and you will not look neatly put together, you will not enjoy your sewing as you should.
Outdated, patriarchal claptrap aside I’ve always loved the above advice from the 1949 Singer Sewing Manual, not only because it is solid, but because it points out that sewing is serious business.  It also works, in many ways, as advice for ritual work.

When you are working a ritual, casting a spell, praying, collecting herbs, or what have you, there is a process of preparation, steps we follow to align their will with their goal.  We mentally prepare ourselves.  We gather our materials. We cleanse ourselves and consecrate our work space.  We make sure we won’t be interrupted.  Readying ourselves for magic and readying ourselves for sewing follow the same steps.

I mention this because I’m currently working on a book.  The subject matter is paganism and sewing.  I’ve got a good portion of it already written, and the goal is to finish it before the year is out.  The timing for November is just coincidence, this isn’t a NaNoWriMo project.

I’ll be posting bits and bobs of research over the next few weeks, along with more on sewing, cross stitch and whatever else strikes my fancy.  I hope you’ll find it as interesting as I do.