Reworking the Workshop

I am currently behind on several skirt commissions, an alteration of a previous commission, and several personal projects.  The reason? My workshop has become unworkable.  In order to cut out fabric I have to clear off my cutting table.  In order to clear off my cutting table I have to find space for stuff.  In order to find space for stuff I have to shift boxes and bins and bags to other spots.  Before I can even get started I’m already exhausted by the process.

If you look closely you can see the cutting table under all that stuff. It is supposed to allow me to cut out fabric without hurting my back, but in order to use it I had to often clear it off first.
If you look closely you can see the cutting table under all that stuff. It is supposed to allow me to cut out fabric without hurting my back, but in order to use it I had to often clear it off first.

My workshop was originally the garage.  A space that has never housed a car in all the time I’ve lived here.  For years it was where we stuffed everything that didn’t fit in the house, the yard tools, and a small horde of mice and voles.  It provided an easy way into the house via the automatic garage door.  But that broke a few years ago, leaving us with an extra, unheated room where stuff got put to be forgotten.

The back of the workshop. Again, if you look to the left of the picture you'll see the conference table that was supposed to serve as a workbench. Instead it just became a junk magnet. Way in the back you can see the file cabinet that holds my patterns. Getting into it was like launching a expedition into a jungle.
The back of the workshop. Again, if you look to the left of the picture you’ll see the conference table that was supposed to serve as a workbench. Instead it just became a junk magnet. Way in the back you can see the file cabinet that holds my patterns. Getting into it was like launching a expedition into a jungle.

When we moved my sewing stuff into the garage, we cleared out a little space for me to work in.  And for a couple of years it worked, kinda.  Patterns and tools got lost.  Fabric got forgotten in various darkened corners.  The rodent problem was brought under control through traps, and my arachnophobia was went through a downgrade as I had accept Arachne’s kin had taken up shop in the work space as well.

Back of the workshop, window facing out into the backyard. This was the official sewing space. Note that several of the shelves required me to use a step stool to reach when I needed items.
Back of the workshop, window facing out into the backyard. This was the official sewing space. Note that several of the shelves required me to use a step stool to reach when I needed items.

Coming back from SLCC, though, it became more apparent that the situation just wasn’t working.  I was getting frustrated and falling behind because I didn’t want to work in that dark, crowded space.  I found myself having to use the dining table more often.  Finally, I said “Enough!” and marked off a weekend to completely overhaul the workshop.

This wardrobe does not lead to Narnia. It is where I would store bolts (and bags and boxes) of fabric. I would come across fabric that I don't remember ever buying, proving the fabric was breeding. The company up top are remnants of childhood and LARP.
This wardrobe does not lead to Narnia. It is where I would store bolts (and bags and boxes) of fabric. I would come across fabric that I don’t remember ever buying, proving the fabric was breeding. The company up top are remnants of childhood and LARP.

I knew what I wanted: more open space to move around, less flat surfaces for me to stack piles of stuff on, thus adding to the clutter problem, and everything up off the floor.   The process took three days actually, spilling over into Monday, and inspired a reorganization of our bedroom as well.  I had decided to recruit the closet system for the workshop, which left us without a place to put our clothes.  This necessitated moving the wardrobe in the workshop into the bedroom.  Stephan has manhandled this piece of furniture four times in the eight years we’ve been together.  Without his help all of this would have taken a week longer.

Back of the workshop. Check out how open everything is. I still have my window view and can pull out the cutting table when I need it and roll it away so that it doesn't become a dumping ground.
Back of the workshop now. Check out how open everything is. I still have my window view and can pull out the cutting table when I need it and roll it away so that it doesn’t become a dumping ground.

The biggest change was treating the front of the garage as a wall.  With the automatic door not working anymore, there really isn’t a reason to keep it clear.  And by moving the shelves against it, that gives me more floor space in the middle of the room.  I also stored away the conference table.  Originally, it was supposed to act as a workbench, but all it ever did was serve as a place for me to stack things.

Front of the workshop after the work. The file cabinet is reachable. I hung a rug over the garage door to help combat drafts come winter. Everything is organized and accessible.
Front of the workshop after the work. The file cabinet is reachable. I hung a rug over the garage door to help combat drafts come winter. Everything is organized and accessible.

I’ve had the chance to work in the workshop for the past few days and I have to admit that it is awesome.  I can reach what I need without having to drag out a step stool.  The cutting table can be pulled out whenever I need it.  I’ve got all my current commissions and projects hung up where I can find them easily.  And I’m not moving bins or bags out of the way to get at what I need.

A bookshelf provides a home for books, cross stitch supplies, and my minions. The luggage feels especially comfortable.
A bookshelf provides a home for books, cross stitch supplies, and my minions. The luggage feels especially comfortable.

It wasn’t easy.  I spent several days very sore from the work.  But I am very pleased with the changes.  It feels like a real workshop now, rather than one shoved into the only space available.

Client Spotlight: A.C.

As a rule I don’t do wedding attire: either sewing dresses or alterations.  I’ve made an exception in the past because the bride wasn’t looking for your typical wedding gown.  But, there are many sewists that specialize in weddings, and I’d rather leave the bridezilla wrangling to them.  However, when A.C. approached me with a wedding request I immediately agreed.

A.C. is non-binary and wanted to wear a suit for their wedding.  The idea and outfit were too unique to pass up.  I’ve also heard from several trans people about how hard it is to find sewists willing to work with them, which was another reason to say yes to the (non)dress.

We met on a Wednesday for A.C. to hand off the fabric and to discuss the details.  Thanks to the kids being in school I had time to make sure that the house was tidy.  A.C. brought Irish Breakfast Tea and I had my Pandora Celtic station on in the background.  With the exception of Trixie being a brat and insisting she get attention, the meeting was as close to my ideal as possible.  We’d discussed the suit before, so this was more of a chance to make those informal conversations concrete.

McCall's 7952 Vest and Pants Pattern
The pattern in question. Check out how fierce the one in white is.

The pattern A.C. provided is an out of print McCall’s vest and pants pattern.  They decided on a white matte satin material, with a shiny, very light satin for the collar contrast.  A.C. wants to have an outfit that is special for the wedding, but also one they can wear later, to other occasions.  I’m a big fan of this idea.  I did the whole dropping a few hundred on a wedding dress that has sat in storage since the big day, and I regret it.

Despite the “non-traditional” aspect of their wedding ensemble, there was a lot of discussion of the usual nuptial trappings.  One of the things we talked about was making a pocket square from the contrast material for A.C.’s groom to wear.  Before they left, I had measurements, the pattern, and materials; and I had scheduled the work for the month of October.

We also chatted about their work on a Pearl cosplay.

Ultimately, this is what I like: making clothes for people who can’t find what they want off the rack.  The work is never boring, challenging sometimes, but never boring.  I’ll post an update later this month with pictures of the finished outfit.

Geeky Skirts with Pockets

Sometimes you get an idea that is so obvious you wonder why you didn’t think of it before.  They’re the kind of ideas that when you tell people they say, “Holy shit, yeah! That’s a great idea!” I don’t think these moments of inspiration really pop up out of the blue.  They might seem that way because the inspirational components are so buried in the background they’re forgotten.

I don’t want to overlook the inspirations for these skirts, so I am going to first give a shout out to the three fairy godmothers of this project.

Justine, a real life mermaid, sparked the idea by asking me about making her some skirts.  Nothing fancy, no bustles or flounces, just some comfy circle skirts.

Shortly afterwards Moira, an artist of Victorian morbidity, mentioned seeing skirts with pockets at an event where she was vending.  They weren’t fandom or SF/Fantasy specific, just simple A-line skirts with pockets.  Women were buying them up in armfuls.

Finally comes Jennifer, a savvy lady who has run vending halls for various events.  While I was at Anime Midwest a couple of weeks ago, I lamented to her about how there was all this awesome, licensed fabric that I wanted to use but I couldn’t because of the fine print on the selvages.  I felt it was unethical to make projects to sell from licensed fabric when the companies wouldn’t get compensation.  And it always bothered me that it seemed so many others didn’t have those same qualms.

“You can use that fabric for projects you sell,” she told me.  After some research I realized that she was right.  The fine print on the selvages was unenforceable by the companies.  But more importantly, the companies got their licensing fees in the first sale of the fabric.  After that First Sale of Doctrine kicks in.  Never have I been so happy to be so wrong.

So skirts + pockets + licensed fabric = geeky clothes for Salt Lake Comic Con.  If it hadn’t been for these three friends I wouldn’t have spent the last four weeks experimenting until I came up with this:

Geeky Skirt with Pockets Star Trek Sigils Edition

I started off with dirndl skirts (rectangles gathered to a wide waistband).  But those really only look good on kids and teens.  I played around with a simple A-line panel pattern which came out looking much more grown up.

I have drafted six sizes from small to 3XL (fitting waists from 22″-59″).  Each one features two interior side pockets and a wide elastic waistband.  I’m spending the next few weeks making up as many as I can for SLCC.  I’ve got an album of what I’ve made so far and the fabrics used over at the Idiorhythmic Designs FB page.  Check it out.

When I’m back from SLCC, I’ll put together a tutorial on how to make one to your own measurements and post it here.

Wouldn’t You Love To Love Her?

It started with a late night Facebook post:

"I'm thinking of making a series of bustles all named after Stevie Nicks songs."

I was half joking, half serious.  My friends, however, were way serious.  People immediately started suggesting and calling dibs on songs.  Their enthusiasm was contagious and I responded with how I saw the various songs translated into fabric, lace and trim.

Today I sketched out the ideas.  Up until now I’ve been making bustles from fabric I have sitting around the workshop.  I throw the scraps together and then document the result.  Plotting out a bustle from scratch, without having limitations in place of existing fabric, was a bit daunting.

Fortunately, I had caffeine and an extensive Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac music collection to see me through the drafting process.

I present to you those bustles.  Right now they only exist on paper, but if anyone wants to commission one I’m ready to bring them to three dimensional life.

Landslide

Landslide Bustle Draft

This one is pretty self explanatory: blue and white satin with drapes and a pleated jabot.

Gold Dust Woman

Gold Dust Woman Bustle DraftThe Green Fairy is a *%#@! Tattered Bustle

Okay, don’t let the sketch fool you, this bustle really would look cool.  I’m taking a page from another bustle I made: The Green Fairy is a *%#@! Tattered Bustle.  I think the tattered, layered look fits the song.  The gold netting would give it even more “foof” and an even messier look.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Bustle Draft

I bought myself some fancy watercolor pencils last weekend and was really excited to use them on these drafts.  They’re awesome.  However, they’re not really useful when I’m drawing just black or white bustles.  This song has always had a raven feel for me so I want to incorporate that into the bustle.  I have black crushed taffeta listed because I like the texture of it, but I might instead go with a two toned black and green taffeta instead.  I spent some time on research into feather trim this afternoon.  Raven feathers are a no go, of course, so cock feathers are probably the way to go.

Stand Back

Stand Back Bustle Draft

Because this is such a strong song, I want to do something different with this bustle.  I features a drape, which I’ve used before, but also a short bustled “skirt”.  And due to it’s link to Prince, it has a purple and black palette.  As you can see from the swatches, it’ll be a bit difficult to match the two purples, so I might just stick with the two toned taffeta on the top. and drop the damask flocked taffeta.  Both the drape and the bustle will be edged with black lace.

Edge of Seventeen

Edge of Seventeen Bustle Draft

White Swiss dot cotton (along with the canvas flounces) would help keep a floof in the bustle.  The bow would either be out of the same cotton or satin.  The feather trim would probably be more cock feathers.

Tusk

Tusk Bustle Draft

I need the stiffest netting I can find for this bustle.  Gold studs will be set in throughout the flounces.  This will be an angry, dramatic bustle.

The Chain

The Chain Bustle DraftThe chains on the bustled short skirt might be a bit on the nose, but I can’t help it.

Dreams

Dreams Bustle Draft

I got really good at drawing cascading flounces while I worked on these.

Seven Wonders

Seven Wonders Bustle Draft

It’s going to be tricky to find the right kind of lace for this.  I thought of going with rainbow hues, but I don’t want it to come off as twee.

A More Pinteresting Life: Shoulder Wrap

Ben has been in preschool for a month now and I’ve been making good use of my couple of hours of alone time every other day.*  That mostly means working on commissions, but I have started going through all those sewing projects I pinned and giving some a try.  Some have turned out awesome.  Some have been … less so.  I’m going to document my hits and misses here, starting with a hit.

I have an ungodly amount of fabric sitting in cupboards, on shelves and stuffed into grocery bags.  Some is destined for projects.  Some are scraps from projects.  And some are pieces that I am not quite sure where they came from or what they were meant for.  (I suspect these pieces were born from clandestine trysts engaged by bolts of fabric in dark corners of the workshop.)  I tend to look upon these random pieces of fabric as just waiting for the right project to come along.

Which brings me to the several lengths of purple velvet corduroy I had sitting in a bin.  Like some creature from a Piers Anthony novel, it is a chimerical creature combining the textures of velvet and corduroy into a confused tactile amalgam.  I’ve made a couple of dice bags from it, but otherwise just left it in the bin.  Then, late one night, I pinned a tutorial for an oblong oval wrap.  It looked simple enough, I liked the button-hole loop to keep it closed (no fussing with stuff draped over your arms) and I have a lovely brocade that might work for it.

When I headed into the workshop to try my hand at the tutorial, I decided to start first with a mockup.  I’ve already had a couple of Pinterest fails and I didn’t want to ruin a length of fabric on something that I was translating (both from Portuguese to English and from centimeters to inches).  So, out came the chimera fabric.  It was the right weight and it was already cut into strips close to the right size.

First thing was to draft the pattern.  The directions on the webpage are laid out pretty clearly.  I converted the measurements to an oblong 62″ in length and 12″ in width.  I cut out a piece of pattern paper the right length and width and then set about working on the curve at the end.

This is where I screwed things up.  I had converted everything from centimeters to inches (rounding down and up haphazardly because I like to live life on the edge, and I prefer even numbers in my sewing).  What I forgot to convert was the 5 centimeters for the curve.  Instead I marked the corner of my pattern paper 5 inches down and across.  Then I used a plate to draw the curve.  I folded the pattern in half length-wise and cut out the curve to complete one end of the pattern.  Then I folded it in half width-wise to cut out the curve on the other end.**

So, just to make things more confusing I then marked the button-hole opening converting the 6 centimeters noted on the tutorial to 2 ½”.  (Seriously, it shouldn’t be a wonder that I have Pinterest fails.)  Below are pictures that might make my ramblings above make more sense.

Now I had a pattern, I cut out my fabric and sewed them together.  Clip the curves, turn it inside out and press and then top-stitch around all the edges and I was done.  Even though I had completely fudged up the curved edges it looked pretty good.

Now came the tricky part: the button-hole.  I have a button-hole foot for Kenny, but the longest it goes is 1 ¼” inch.  Undeterred by not having the proper equipment, I forged on.  I used the zigzag foot and button-hole setting and it worked, pretty well, actually!  All that was left was to open the button-hole and try this purple-y, velvety monstrosity on.

This is where reality and Pinterest collide.  Go back and check out the model in the pin.  She’s got some very narrow shoulders going on.  I … do not.  Once I pulled the free end through the closure, it looked like I was wearing a handkerchief.  I ended up putting it on Mildred just so I could get some decent pictures.  Mildred’s shoulder measurement is 39″ and the wrap looks almost like the one in the picture.  My shoulder measurements are a good ten inches larger than Mildred’s and I’ve got some serious boobage going on.  This doesn’t equate to a fail in my mind, just something to take into consideration when redrafting the pattern for me.

Finished wrap

Finished wrap
Like a majestic purple unicorn!

All in all, though, I count this as a success.  The finished project looks very much like the picture, in shape if not in hue.  I’m confident I can tweak this pattern a bit more so it fits better.  And the pattern is pretty forgiving, able to deal with conversion screw-ups and still look good.  This, along with a matching bag, will look good over a corset/skirt combo, I think.


*The first week I enjoyed being able to go to the bathroom without an audience.  It. Was. Glorious!

**You could just cut out one end, cut the length half of what you need and cut the fabric on the fold and save some paper.