Looking Better around Here, Methinks

I am one of those bloggers who cannot stop at just one theme or template. Nooo. I have to keep trying new ones, tweaking old ones.

This blog was actually my first experiment in wordpress.com but I found it limiting and have since installed WordPress on my own host. I started out using the Duster theme but didn’t like how single entry pages had no sidebars. At the same time, Duster is nice because it is very, very uncluttered. I like lots of white space and good typography and there are a lot of themes that really squash too much in too little space–and go overboard with fonts.

So I installed Canvas and gave it all the same CSS style that I used in Duster, with a few new upgrades.

I’m curious, though, about how people read blogs.

*Do you like to see lots of sidebars?

*Do you scroll through blogrolls? They’ve been around since the beginning of blogs and I wonder… these days I find blogs through comments or boards and not through blogrolls.

*Google FriendConnect: what is it for? If I subscribe to a blog in my Google Reader, that seems like enough, so signing into FriendConnect seems like a superfluous thing. Am I wrong?

*The biggest thing I’m curious about is–do you like to see the entire post on blog pages, or just a teaser/excerpt? Or do you generally read blogs in your reader first (which bypasses the whole excerpt thing anyway)?

I have another blog on which I occasionally write about design things. I wonder if it’d be useful to put some code or blogging engine tips here, specifically for sewing/fashion blogs?


Mise en Place: For the Love of Pattern Proofing

A friend of mine is a white-board kind of gal and she convinced me I needed one to organize my weekly schedule. Unfortunately, it sat in my office looking all blank and sad and dusty until last week, when I decided to “diagram” my Mise en Place project into stages for each of the eight garments.

My first stage is done! This part was all about preliminary pattern work, like tracing, proofing the patterns, cutting them out. Any major adjustments, like design or fitting changes, will come later, at least with those I’m going to test out in a muslin. My workflow went a bit like this:

I trace almost everything (unless it’s a one-size pattern, but even then I inevitably hack the pattern later and wish I had the original to compare).

Have you ever used transparent architect’s vellum paper (on the right in photo)? I love drawing on the stuff, but it’s amazing for traced patterns and is about the same weight and crispness as kraft paper. I have some cheap tissue paper for tracing but it’s so flimsy and vellum is stiffer. Granted, it’s more expensive and often quite narrow (like 18 to 30 inches wide) but I’ve managed to squeeze what I can.

I like some patterns–especially those I’ll use again–to be to be on even heavier paper. The manila/oak tag rolls used in pattern-making are the best. They are often sold in large expensive rolls but I’ve also seen this paper sold by the yard and in smaller rolls. Another less expensive option is 60# weight or heavier drawing paper by the roll, which most art stores carry, and I’ve been using to trace frequently used pieces like facings, belt loops, waistbands, etc.

Drafting any needed facings or extra pieces
Some patterns needed additional pieces. For example, this Burda piece from my shorts pattern is really two pieces in one–pocket and pocket facing, with 2 separate seamlines–and even though Burda says that I should cut four of these, I really need two of one and two of the other. So I traced and cut 2 separate patterns.

The Burda pattern also includes curved waistband pieces for front and back. Just in case, I want the option to have a slightly smaller inner waistband so that the seam rolls to the inside. (Kinda like the same idea as having a neckline facing that rolls to the inside.) So I traced off 1/16″ from the top and made separate inner patterns.

I think I’m going to have to draft some kind of facing for the Lonsdale dress. My riviera linen fabric is lovely but unfortunately feels a bit heavier than I’d hoped. The bodice of the Lonsdale is double-layered so I have to work out how to use one layer while keeping the inside neat.

Changing the seam allowances
About a year ago, I started trimming down seam allowances to 3/8″. This one pattern-tweaking task has really eased my sewing and I can’t recommend it enough. Sometimes I’ll even go down to 1/4″, depending on the seam. Unless I want a French seam, I’ve discovered that smaller seam allowances make for better sewing accuracy, and eliminate most of the need to grade, trim or clip seams after sewing (one of my least favorite tasks). I know some folks like to have the extra for fitting but I realized the 90% of the time my garments end up too big, not too small, so I gave up the idea I needed the extra fabric. I enjoy having all my paper and rulers out… and have gotten pretty fast at ruler-ing around patterns, adding or subtracting seam allowances.

Walking the patterns
I like walking patterns along the seamlines, which tells me 1. where I’m going to have to ease, if 2. the notches match, 3. if there are any patternmaking errors. If there are, at least I don’t pull my hair out thinking it’s my fault seams are weirdly un-matching.

Notching and hole-ing
In addition to good paper, these have to be my favorite patternmaking tools, a screw punch and a notcher:

Marking darts and buttonholes is so much easier if there’s already a hole in the pattern. Just lay the pattern on the fabric, stick a chalk pencil in the hole and you’re done. No need for tailor’s tacks or wax paper shenanigans. Well, I know some like doing it that way but I tried tailor’s tacks once and I went crazy. Slightly off the subject, but have you seen this tailoring video in which a pattern is marked entirely with thread? Old-world tailoring is romantic, but I find that thread-tracing seamlines takes five times as long as just having accurate, and small seam allowances–it’s nearly impossible to miss the seamline this way.

(I use the notcher because I chalk around my patterns, and need to chalk the notches, too. I have had such terrible cutting results, especially with knits, when cutting around the actual pattern.)

So that’s about it. I could probably sit waist deep in paper and tools forever; I just love imagining how flat shapes become 3-D, even dream about it sometimes. But it’s time to move along to testing stage; both my silk tank and the Sencha blouse need muslins (with the others I’m going to fit with the method called fingers-crossed-and-hope-it-works).


Silk Tank Pattern in Need of Fitting Advice

Thanks to a little time alone at home, I’ve been able to get most of the patterns for my project traced, cut and prepped. I’m still waiting on the Sewaholic pattern, which is in the mail and will have to lag behind the others. There is just one pattern left that is causing me a little bit of head-scratching–the pattern for my white silk tank top.

Here was my initial version, back in May, in a red silk charmeuse.

The pattern started out as Kwik Sew 3795, which I chose for its a-line tent shape, but I wanted my tank to be 1. much shorter, and 2. have higher armholes.

Once sewn, I also realized I wanted a deeper “u-shape” to the neckline. It is a bit too wide for me and makes me look rather broad shouldered, which I am. While I’m at it, I may make the straps wider, but before I do either of these design changes, the fit needs to be better.

Now that I have worn my red tank about 10 times, I know it is too tight across the upper bust. It has almost no ease and is so tight that the front hemline creeps up about 1 1/2 inches higher than the back. To me this says I need more length and/or width for the bust. I’m guessing that by raising the armhole, I removed some of the necessary ease that was provided by such deep revealing armholes.

The horizontal line is where the tightness is happening, and the diagonal lines highlight actual draglines from the front being pulled up. I’m too lazy to take a better picture of me in this, but hopefully this makes sense.

Any fitting experts have some advice on this? I could just go with a bigger size, but then I would have to redraft all my armhole changes. That really isn’t a biggie, but if you have some advice on this, I’d love to hear!

Oh, and this top has no darts.


Mise en Place: the Patterns

As I wrote in my last post, I’ve created my own little summer challenge as an experiment in fun and efficiency: I’m basically working on several projects at once, but doing similar stages all at once so that I can concentrate on, learn and enjoy these tasks for longer periods of time.

The patterns include a couple of things that were originally on my summer sewing list, as well as late inspirations brought on by the heat-wave-mid-summer-Texas blues.

1. Peasant top and skirt, inspired by this Salvatore Ferragamo set. The pattern for the top is a 1970s Simplicity pattern and for the skirt a hack from a Burda mag pattern:

2. Silk charmeuse shorts (a holdout from last summer), from Burda June 2010.

3. White silk charmeuse tank, using the same pattern as my red tank.

4. Pinup Girls Linda bra (another holdout from last summer). I should mention I’ve never made a bra!

5. Hotpatterns Metropolitan Good Times Dress. This is for a friend.

6. Hotpatterns Riviera Cote D’azure Dress.

7. Colette Patterns Sencha blouse. I wasn’t particularly drawn to this blouse but have ulterior motives for at least fitting a test garment. It might serve as a Franken-piece for an ambitious fall project. More to come on that later.

8. Sewaholic Lonsdale Dress. This is the dreamiest maxi dress pattern I’ve seen in a long time, so I couldn’t resist ordering it. Alas, I don’t think I will be able to participate fully in Tasia’s sew-along as I’ll be on holiday but I may get close to wearing it this summer!


Mise en Place: a Project

Both my husband and I work at home, and pretty much make up our own schedule–which in the beginning was a beautiful and freeing thing. Little did I know how crucial it was to learn about myself and time management. We are both the sort who often come out on personality tests as extravagant starters, collectors and visionaries–i.e., classically inefficient people.

This past year I wanted to make some radical changes in my schedule, and as a writer I wanted to include more blogging (which I never really did in earnest before), both at this blog and others that I’ve started. I quizzed some of my business-owner or otherwise brilliant managerial friends to give me some clues on how they manage their days. Several of these people also work from home. I was very overwhelmed by the both the diversity and number of varying tasks they did daily, including communications (email and phone).

I like to work for very long, concentrated periods of time on one particular thing and am a horrible multi-tasker. I also like to work on things until I “feel” like I am done, not when the clock or other instructions say I’m done. (One case in point is that I even like to write longer blog entries, rather than lots of short ones, but I’m still learning my own best practices here.) I’ve often struggled with this hyper-intuitive and rather tunnel-vision way of working, especially when I was in professional environments. And so lately I’ve been thinking about how to make peace with this aspect of myself and create my own “efficiency model”!

In a recent post at Frabjous Couture, Marina mentioned the importance of “mise en place”, a chef term that means proper prep of both ingredients and tools, having them all ready and “in place” before cooking. I learned that skill well as a former restaurant cook way back in the day–it’s all about time management.

A little bell went off in my head about trying this approach in my sewing–and not just for an individual project, but doing it on a larger scale. What if I had multiple projects ready to go?

Instead of cutting one pattern, fitting, cutting fabric, and sewing, I could work on multiple patterns, get them all prepared and fitted, then move on to fabric cutting of all these patterns, etc. There is some geek in me that would like to sit down at my machine with five (or six or eight) very ready-to-go, neat piles of cut fabric and required notions.

Is that ambitious? Maybe. I’m not on a deadline, thank goodness.

I’d get to concentrate on one particular task for an extended period to time, then move on to the next. I learn much, much better this way. The problem with working on small little tidbits is that one never gets on a roll before moving on to a different type of task or way of thinking.

Clearly I won’t be able to show a finished garment for quite some time (I’m on a holiday in August), but there will be some test garments, and little stories about the projects in between. I’ve divided my work into seven different stages and will return here to post about them. So let the Project Mise en Place begin!


If the Riviera Were a Dress

Hey y’all, how’s your summer going? Mine’s all kinds of hot. I’ve just gotten back from an extended trip to my old hometown of Cincinnati, and as I was flying over those blue mountains of Kentucky, I was shocked at the stark contrast between the deep forested greens and the sort of sandy-colored, yellow-lit landscapes of Texas. The midwest was almost as hot as Texas but at least my eyes felt better.

Several years ago my husband and I spent an anniversary walking the Camino de Santiago, an ancient religious pilgrimage trail that extends from Barcelona to the coast of Spain. While hiking through small villages whose dusty natural landscapes resembled the hilly outskirts of Austin, I kept noticing the widespread use of a very cool blues painted into architecture and everyday items from doorknobs to dinner plates. They range from the more lavender-toned blues to the very deep cobalt blues that are more a southern Spanish Moroccan influence.

Blue Door - Spain

These blues were very welcome to the eyes in the middle of those extreme heated and white-lit Spanish afternoons. I finally understood that whole traditional Mediterranean blue and yellow palette. It’s about relief!

I wondered why Texans don’t use more blue in their buildings. The light here is very white and direct and like Spain, reflects off the white limestone landscaping. New Mexico’s architecture uses healing colors so well, and its celebratory pueblo colors are very reminiscent of some of those tiny Spanish villages.

{Credit: Taos, New Mexico}

Even the gardens here tend toward the hot in summer–what few native flowers are in bloom right now are very hot reds and yellows. Interesting…

So I’ve been taking a bit of time off of sewing but also rethinking all my project ideas. I got sidetracked by seeing the new Sewaholic dress pattern on Tasia’s site.

Isn’t it lovely? I really wanted to sew a maxi this summer, but couldn’t find a pattern I liked, and I like this one, just released today. It’s not an empire-waisted maxi (yay!) and I love the neckline. Since I don’t have 5 yards of anything to make this I have to (poor me) buy some new fabric and after a bit of searching I found this appropriately named “Riviera blue” linen/rayon fabric at marcytilton.com.

Now if the Riviera (or northern Spain, or Provence) were a dress, this would be it. I need to set aside all my coral fabrics for the time being to cool my eyes off.