Wednesday, August 30, 2006

American Beauty - Coat - Part IV

Three steps forward, two steps back.

At least that's how it sometimes is. I won't lie, it is frustrating, but I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that this is how anything complicated and well done is. Why do I say this? Well, sometimes things don't go as planned, so I have to work around them.

First up, the fur on the cuffs. My sample looked great. I thought I had the method just right - gather the tulle, wrap the yarn, stitch the whole mess together on a base in rows. This worked great for a 5" sample, but the cuffs are 15 1/2" around. The yarn is the major issue. I need to be able to baste or stitch is down while it's wrapped around the core for stability. The core being 1" wide is not easy to remove from the yarn once it's stitched (yes, I tried). What I really need here is a wash away stabilizer, Sulky's Solvy or Ultra Solvy. It might be a little flimsy, but if I'm careful, I can a few layers of it for the core, stitch down the center, rinse away the stabilizer and have the row of yarn that I need. I have to wait until this weekend to get it - sale coupon at Joann's. Joann's carries it on the bolt. Nobody who has ever cut it for me knows what it is or what its used for. My bonus, not many other people do, either, I'm guessing so there's always some in stock. Sometimes I use it for free motion or drafted embroidery on tulle. I can draw outlines of what I want right on the solvy in water soluble marker and can see exactly what I need to embroider.

While I'm figuring out what's up with the yarn for the cuffs, I decided to wash the silk and the velvet. I know, I know, I'm crazy, *but* this stuff is red. Bright red. Bright red coat with white lining over white dress = bleeding disaster. I was right, too, it took three washes with extra rinses. It changed the hand of the silk dupionni, but I can accept that. What I don't want is to be wearing this outfit in a fashion show, get sweaty (it can get hot under the stage lights) and end up with streaks of pink on any of it. Check out the picture of the washer - this was the first run. I still don't think all the excess dye is out, but I the last rinse of the third run was pretty clear, only slightly pink which is better than it was at the beginning. I did run two of loads with synthrapol, and all with a "dye magnet", and added vinegar to the last load. Vinegar doesn't actually set some of the new synthetic dyes, but vinegar is cheap and it doesn't hurt anything.

Meanwhile, I've been drafting the rose medallions for the appliqued lining and the trapunto on the back yoke of the outer coat. I was going to do medallions on the front of the yokes, too, but because of the collar and the narrow space, I'm pretty sure I'm nixing those. There is a point where you can go a little too far. I enjoy doing the artwork - I don't draw a whole lot and I'm completely untrained, but I can do fairly well. Plus, I avoid all copyright issues if I do my own artwork. My dad is a phenomenal artist, and he's untrained as well. I must have got a little bit of it from him. Below is a scratch sheet, where I try out ideas and see what I can come up with. During this time, I look at all sort of pictures that I can dredge up from the Net - pictures of real roses, stamps, stencils, other artist's renderings, and I go from there. My dad gave me some advice a long time ago, back in fourth grade, when I was working on a free hand map of the United States from a real map in our book, and was having trouble with the proportions. He said, "Draw what you see". I got an "A" on the map and it looked more like the real map than some of my classmate's maps. I've always gone back to that advice.

Once I get something I like, then I make what I call a "style sheet". It contains all of the elements that will make up the final composition. I can take the style sheet to work and use the copier to enlarge or reduce the components so that I can have different sizes of the exact same image. In this case, I made 5 or 6 copies ranging from 50% to 90% of the original, I just mark the percent in pencil on the back so I don't forget. I then trace off the elements as needed for the final composition onto freezer paper.

Here are some of the final medallions and corner pieces. Since they're on freezer paper, I can cut them apart and use them for the applique process. The only bad thing is that the original is destroyed. It truly is a one of a kind thing. So, as of this morning, the drafting is done!

The middle medallion is for the trapunto on the back yoke of the out coat, I even drew in the diamond grid for fun. You can just see the notations to the right of the medallion - I always note the size of the image, and what size each component was traced from.

Also since I last posted, I started work on quilting out the facings for the cuffs. For most of my quilted art to wear projects, I use a split layer of Hobbs Thermore Batting. The batting can actually be pulled apart into two ultra thin layers. This is nice and thin and will be a bit more drapey than a full layer. It's hard to get quilted stuff to be drapey anyway. The more stitching that's put in, the stiffer the piece gets. Below you can see the Thermore partially split.

Quilting, by definition is 3 layers of fiber held together with stitching (machine, hand or hand ties). In order to have 3 layers, but to reduce bulk and increase drape, I use tulle as my bottom layer. Practically non-existent and not really stiff, a layer of tulle is perfect bottom piece for the quilt sandwich. This also important in this coat for areas like the yokes where there are two layers of quilting back to back - resulting in 6 layers of fiber! I use this method primarily where I'm going to line or "re-back" (a word from the quilting world) the piece.

I thought a 1" diamond grid would be perfect. Sometimes I don't know if things will work out until I see a sample done and look at quilting as part of the whole project. So, I quilted out one cuff with a 1" grid. Just a little too big. The quilting needs to fit the scale of the project, and this didn't work. Ok, no problem. Let's try a 1/2" grid. A bit small, but I once did an entire dress in a 1/2" grid. You can see it at, which, yes, I need to update. For this project it was too small! Ugh. Ok. So, now I have two cuff facings, neither of which is right. Splitting the difference and doing a 3/4" grid was actually the right thing. Phew. Now I need to redo the facings because pulling out all the stitching leave holes that look bad. Not what I want to do - but it doesn't take long to restitch, and getting it right is more important.

So that's where I'm at. Today I hope to get those facings redone, and do the back yoke facing/lining, and maybe start the trapunto for the back yoke of the outer coat.

Friday, August 25, 2006

American Beauty - Coat - Part III

Fur! Fur! Fur!*

I love fur. It's lovely, luxuriant and rich looking. Wait! Put down that phone and quit dialing PETA's number. While I think fur is wonderful, I don't think the way some furs are obtained is so wonderful. Because of these mixed feelings, fur is an odd sort of thing for me. Some designers use it, some don't, but I do love this picture from the fall runway shows. It reminds me of those vintage fur stoles with the little animal heads that wrap around your neck. I can't remember the designer, but I am going to copy it some day, probably with a few less sequins.

Now, what could be more beautiful than a velvet and silk evening coat trimmed in fur? Well, I'm sure some of you have your own ideas, but I present to you my version of fur:

This is a mock up of the cuffs for the coat - the cuffs will be much wider, but you can see the effect of such a trim.

I got the idea from a book I have called The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff. Here's the original picture - these ruffles are gathered in the center and stitched in rows very close together, producing a textured surface.

Here's my version and how I did it:

First off, I got a new toy: a pinking rotary cutting. This is the perfect tool for cutting pinked strips of fabric. I was going to use many types of fabrics, with a pattern of different fabrics in different rows, but I didn't like the effect, and most weren't a good match for the reds. If this would have been a casual ensemble, I think a mix of reds would have worked, but its not. I settled on the glittery red tulle for the fabric strips.

The fabric strips were cut at 300% of the target length. My test piece was 5" wide, so the pieces were cut 1"x15".

The strips were gathered in the center and sewn to a stabilizer base. I think this is Sulky Tear Away. I might try Sulky Totally Stable, not sure yet.

I might also try a slightly wider tulle strip - this width seems to get lost with the application of the next layer. I'm thinking about 1 1/2" wide, I'll have to test it.

Next up is the yarn - this is one of those Joann's specials kind of yarn. Very fuzzy, and glittery, but has a rose pink sort of core. I'm not excited about that, but it gives extra depth and dimension, so I'm keeping it unless I find something better. The yarn is wrapped around a 1" core strip of old manila folder, marked to the 5" length, then carefully slipped off, pinned and stitched to the top of the tulle.

This is the only tricky part - making sure that the yarn is where it is supposed to be.

Once the yarn is stitched in place, the stabilizer is torn away from the back, and a unit of fur is ready for stitching to the silk base.

The units are stitched 3/8" away from each other on the silk base. I had to experiment to find the right distance apart - this stuff isn't neccessarily wide, but it is thick.

Once is it stitched down, I cut all of the loops of the yarn to produce the "hair" of the fur.

The entire unit is pressed to one side and the next one is stitched on.

There are 3 rows of fur units stitched to the sample below.

This little experiment worked out exactly as I had hoped! It is glittery, furry and will look fabulous on those wide cuffs and the collar. The only downside, is that like real fur, it sheds!

I'm still working on drafting up the roses. That needs to be done, so I can start working on the quilted yokes, and so that I can start on the appliqued lining.

Today, I have to be at school for a teacher's meeting as school starts on Monday. We're teaching block classes this year, so I only have to teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays fall semester. That will switch to Monday/Wed./Friday in the spring semester. All that really means is that I will have 3 days a week to myself this fall without the kids to sew, sew, sew!!!!!! I've got to finish my new suit for the first day of school. Top is done, skirt just needs some hand tacking, and the jacket, well, I need to finish cutting it out!

*Legal disclaimer: No animals were killed, maimed or cajolled for their fur for this project.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

American Beauty - Coat - Part II

Success, Failure, Success.

Success and failure is part of life and when working on these types of garments, both will happen. Not everything turns out right the first time, and not every idea is a winner.

For the first sucess: I've got the coat muslin finished! I tried it on and got the sleeves cuffed and turned up to the right length. Usually sleeves are too long for me, 1" to 2" seems to be the normal amount I have to adjust by. This one I adjusted by 1/2". Not surprising since this is a 30 bust pattern. I expected it to be smaller overall. The overall small fit actually fit me rather well, and will do nicely as intended for this ensemble. If I was to wear this coat as the pattern has intended - either over a blouse/sweater or suit coat, then I would definitely want at least a size larger, the 32 bust. As it is, it will be going over an evening dress, and it fits me well through the shoulders anyway, with plenty of ease and swing coat shaping.

Here is one cuff; it is basted to the coat sleeve, turned back and pinned. If I ever need to finish this garment, then I only have to remove the basting and finish it properly.

On to the failure. I'm still percolating the lining for this thing and decided to try out an idea. I was thinking of doing some sunprinting on the lining fabric, using rose leaves, petals, etc. I did a few test pieces, mainly to try out the color. Matching any color is tricky, let alone red velvet and red dupioni with hand dyed fabric. I kind of knew this wasn't going to work, but tried it anyway to at least have closure on the idea. Here's the method: use Pebeo Setacolor Transparent fabric paint (this will not change the hand of the fabric much at all, unlike other fabric paints) in a ratio of 1 part paint to 2 parts water. Dampen fabric with clean water and lay flat on work surface, I used old thin floor tiles this time as they were easy to move outside. Paint or spray solution on fabric - I use cheap foam brushes for this part. Lay what ever materials (anything from nuts and bolts to flower blooms!) you want printed on the fabric right on top of the fabric and let dry in direct sunlight or under a UV lamp. In this case, I put some asters on the fabric. I needed something small and they're in bloom now. When dry, heat set by ironing on the wrong at the hottest setting fabric can handle.

I got sunprints, not a problem. I did not get the right color. I really did not want to be mixing custom colors as the Setacolor Transparent only has 3 or 4 reds, most of which are not right anyway. Custom colors must be mixed for the whole batch and used at the same time, duplicating colors is extremely difficult. I need 4 yards or so of fabric, so this idea isn't going to work. Check the color against the velvet below. It is leaning toward a strawberry red and is too pale. At least I now know I will not be using this for lining!

Since the printing didn't work, I started to explore my other options. I actually made a list of all the things that might be suitable to make a lining: the sunprinting, stamping, stenciling, pieced fabric, appliqued roses. It's fun when the linings on an art garment are as unique as the fashion fabrics, that's why I'm going to this trouble. I could just buy yards of coordinating lining and call it quits, but a unique lining is a nice suprise and twist to the whole garment.

Any of the printing/painting methods are out - this is a sophiscated sort of ensemble and I felt that although these could be lovely, they weren't quite right. I did try the pieced fabric idea. I have Electric Quilt 5, a computer program to lay out quilt blocks and quilts - very cool. The ideas I came up with made it look like I had cut up a bed quilt and stuck it inside of a coat. Not elegant.

The applique idea is the most workable one for the moment. I can do a large medallion in the center of the back of roses and leaves and a ribbon (to tie in the idea of the bow on the back of the dress - no pun intended!). Small medallions will be on the inside of the sleeves, and I can do corners for the lower edge of the fronts. The rest of the area will be quilted out in a diamond grid of 1" squares, in the red Sulky Holoshimmer on the white dupioni background. I can make this look elegant, and I need to get the white fabric for the dress, anyway. I've got two different colors of red dupioni for the roses already and I'll just need to get some green.

I actually like the idea, and am settled on it my mind. Sometimes I'll percolate stuff and just never settle, but when the right thing comes along - I know it. The applique is the right thing. Now I need to get with the drafting of the roses/medallions. Success, finally!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

American Beauty - Coat - Part I

For the sake of keeping this simple, I am going to do a series on the coat, another on the dress and another for the finishing touches - shoes, jewlery, etc.

I showed you the coat pattern in the last post, but I'd like to show a few details of the pattern bag. I find all sorts of little things fascinating, not just the picture on the bag or the pieces. I find even the instruction sheets to be interesting, even though they're similar in many ways to what we have today. That's another discussion for another time. This pattern has the "Gold Seal Guaranteed Perfect" on it. I've sewn quite a bit of this coat at this point, and I'd have to say there are no drafting errors yet. All the pieces match properly, and seem to be graded correctly for the size.

Tsk, tsk, tsk. Someone did not do their job one Friday night, either that or this is a deadstock pattern that was never sold and just passed along. Take note of those instructions on the flap.

This is one of those patterns that comes already cut out, but not printed. No printed piece number, notches, grainlines, nothing. There are a bunch of holes and notches, though that make up all the usual markings - grainline, match points, center fronts/backs, the darts, and the actual pattern piece number. If you look closely in the picture below, you'll see a number 4, I think that's the sleeve piece. The instruction sheet in the section that shows all the pattern pieces is pretty detailed as to what all the holes are for.

Although I liked the pattern as is, there are a few modifications that I'm going to make. First, the collar, it needs to completely roll on the back to the neck seamline and needs to be a bit larger over all. So, I traced the pattern piece onto freezer paper and added the amount I thought I might need. In the picture below, you can see the smaller old line and the new line I drew in, plus the dart. I actually taped in another section later, as I wanted it to be bit bigger. Since I'm making a muslin, I can do this - if it's too big, I'll trim it later and then take out the amount I trimmed it by. This is sort of trial and error, but I won't know until I put it on and see how it looks. I was thinking of making the yoke bigger, but the more I think about that, the more I don't think I'm going to do that. I would have to change both yoke pieces, the front, back and sleeve pieces, too. I think it's fine the way it is and the pattern did sew up nicely. The coat will be lengthened, too, but it's easy to figure out how long I want it and extend the current seam lines longer.

This is that collar/yoke piece cut out, with the neck dart sewn. Flat it doesn't look like much, but on the dress form it's better. It's much better with both sides, done, too. And even better when attached to the body!
I haven't got the cuffs attached yet. They're ready, but not done. I'm going to change those too, no curve and the seam goes underneath where the underarm seam is. The embellishment for the cuffs will work better this way. They are cut as per the pattern for this coat.

About the muslin fabric: I am using a wool, in a light coating weight that a friend gave me - she gave me two rolls. The taupe color I'm using for this (and still have some left), as it's not really my color. It looks fine on me, I'm just not crazy about it, so it's great for the muslin. Since the final version is going to be in velvet and parts of it quilted dupionni, this mimics the weight pretty well. I have a roll of dark charcoal/black that's really nice that I'm going to make up in another vintage pattern shortie coat later this fall. Maybe I'll put some thinsulate in it, I have some in the stash somewhere. I have the facings cut out for the neck, but no linings cut. I really don't intend to finish this one, unless I sell it or something. It's not my color and I would never wear it. I did sew it up nicely, so who knows? I'd need to find lining fabric anyway.

Today, we'll see about those cuffs and it's sunny here in New England so I'm hoping to do an experiment for the lining for the final coat.

Monday, August 21, 2006

American Beauty - Introduction

I promised another in detail large production and here it is: American Beauty. This is more of an art to wear type project, and will probably take me 4 to 6 months to complete. During this time, I will of course be sewing other stuff, too, regular clothes, clothes for my daughter and any alterations that come my way.

American Beauty will consist of a formal evening coat and a tea length evening gown. I really have wanted to make something really fantastic using a lot of techniques from the quilting and art to wear world, but also using vintage patterns. I think this will work. Now, this did not start out to be this outfit - these things take time to percolate. Percolating can take anywhere from hours to months. This has been percolating since April. I always get great ideas at quilt/art to wear shows, and the American Quilt Society National Fashion Show in Paducah, KY was no exception. Although I was in the competition (modeling for these shows is a blast!) on the amatuer level, I got to see and examine all the garments (the pro level, too!) right up close. They are gorgeous and inspirational. I always learn something or get ideas to improve my own work. Originally, this ensemble was to be a duster length coat, slim top and straight legged pants in burgundy, with a fall leaf type of theme. For some reason while researching fabrics and techniques things started to change. This is what happens while percolating - ideas change shape and form, sometimes based on creative ability, sometimes on fabric or embellishment availability. During this time, I also start gathering supplies - bits and pieces here and there from my stash of stuff or bought a bit at a time.

At any rate, here are some details about each piece and what I hope to do:

Coat: Red velvet and red dupionni silk. I have both at this point - the red dupionni I first bought at Martin's was not quite a match for the velvet, so I ordered up more swatches from Denver Fabrics and found the right thing. The velvet is to be crushed to give it texture and the dupionni will be used for the cuffs, collar, yoke and facings and will be quilted to a split layer of Hobbs Thermore batting. I'm hoping to do trapunto roses on the yokes and 1" diamond grid around it. I've got Sulky Holoshimmer in red, which will look fantastic under stage lights. I also hope to do some beading or Swarovski crystals, too, just not sure until I see the quilting done. The collar and cuffs will have a fabric manipulation treatment, too, but more on that later. I also need to come up with a button of some sort - probably handmade of some kind. The lining - I have no clue yet!!!! I'm thinking something pieced of all kinds of red rose fabrics, or using a vintage tablecloth cut creatively or doing some sunprinting with real roses, or ?????? The pattern is a New York Pattern, no date, but I'm guessing anywhere from late 40's through the 50's. I get a lot of patterns via eBay, and many that I liked, I got outbid on, but this one works for my purposes. I wanted a swing coat, wide cuffs, yoke, turnback collar and button. I'm going to do a few modifications, but more about the pattern in another post.

Dress: While trolling through eBay one day, I came upon 6 yards or so of sheer material with flocked red roses (yes, that's where the name American Beauty comes from - the red roses!). That changed a lot of my direction on this project. The dress will be white with the sheer overlay, and will be princess seamed, but all the seams will be entre-deux strap seams embellished with red beads. I think the inset (you'll see in a minute what I mean) will be red dupionni and it will have an attached sash in red dupionni (quilted to match the yokes), too, but attached starting at the side seams. I'm short waisted and having it all the way around my middle won't work with the inset. I also want to do some fabric roses or something for the sash at center back for more interest. Not sure yet. I got a vintage petticoat pattern coming, too and found real crinoline languishing in a corner at Joann's (not too many people will be rushing to buy it!). Here's the pattern I really, really, really wanted, but when the auction got up to $86.00, I had to call it quits.

Now you see what I mean about the inset? I did find a similar pattern with princess seams front and back that I can modify to look like Vogue Couturier 191. I have the long white gloves, too! They were my mother's that she wore to prom in 1965, with my dad. I have the prom dress, too, BTW. They were high school sweethearts, dating from the time they met when she was in 9th grade and my dad in 10th. I found pointy red, patent leather shoes the other day, too, for $20.00, and I'll make jewlery as usual. Probably conservative drop earrings and another choker - white pearls and red Swarovski crystals!

So those are my plans. Rather ambitious, huh? You must think I'm nuts. You should already know the truth on that one. The ensemble will be completed, but will it be as described? Who knows. Things can really change as I work on a garment. I am open to that - I've learned to be flexible, and to accept that what I envision may not work out and that a "mistake" might actually turn out to be a "design feature"!