The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Going, going, . . .not quite gone yet.

Alas and alack, there hasn't been much posted here lately, has there? But that's because I'm working frantically at finishing up the Fancy Dress, which comes with many stories all it's own. Since her birthday is this Monday, I daresay I ought to be finished with it soon, and then perhaps I can grace the Internet with my wonderful and breathtaking presence a bit more frequently.

But don't hold your breath. I'm a bit scatter-brained, and seem to squish blogging in little cracks and crannies of the day when it's least expected. . .and often times when I'm supposed to be doing something else, besides.

However, I can tell you with great certainty the tales (and pictures) of the Fancy Dress are worth your wait. It was (is) definitely a fun project, and the results are (will be) worth many superlative adjectives that of which my befuddled brain cannot currently conjure, so you'll have to imagine your own, or make them up, or wait till you see the actual Dress before making any kind of descriptive noises.

At any rate, stay tuned!

Starving Artists

Some people on sewing boards have a tagline that goes something like this: "Asking me to mend your clothes is like asking Michelangelo to paint your kitchen." I think this is supposed to dissuade people from asking, but around here, that saying would be met with, "Don't get any paint on the stove, Mike, it's only a couple years old." To tell you the honest truth, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Michelangelo had to do utterly boring, menial work before he became rich and famous. (The phrase "starving artist" didn't just pop up out of nowhere, you know.)

As for me, there are certain mending jobs I like more than others. This one here is my most recent. This my Grandfather's jacket; it's older than I am. As you can see, the closure is unconventional for such a garment--that's part of my mending job. He's lost quite a bit of feeling in his fingers from diabetes complications, and traditional buttons and buttonholes are quite difficult for him to work. So step one of "fixing" this jacket was changing the closure to one that was easier for his fingers to work. I bought the buttons from M. J. Trims (I was happy with their service, and shipping was prompt), as well as the cord. My painter sister and I spent altogether too much time trying to decide on the right color for the cord. In the end, I think we got a pretty good color, but I only hope that I got the right kind of cord. It seems like it might be prone to snagging, and I hope that doesn't cause complications during use.

That was the easy, and also most satisfying part. Putting buttons on always is. In a few brief moments, you can change an unusable garment into a completely serviceable garment. How powerful you feel!! Hemming is boring, but not too terrible. Since I, and my entire family, is short, hemming is something get stuck with fairly often, though many of us just choose to ignore the fabric puddling up around our ankles. Mending rips and tears--while fairly easy--is by far the most futile, pointless mending job there is. Sure, I know how to patch the holes in the knees of jeans (another task I'm called upon to do fairly frequently), but it seems so silly and pointless when I take a good look at the fabric and realize it's all on the brink of disintegration. What difference does it make if I reinforce the knees, when the thighs are all begining to fray? Who cares if I re-attach a pocket coming loose when the entire rear is about to wear out?

So the second half of the repair job was less pleasant. The lining was tearing all over the place, and he wanted it mended. I realized, after looking at it a little closer, that the 'best' solution would be to entirely replace the lining. However, the same closer look showed that it had two inside welt pockets that cut into the facing. I'm not afraid of doing welt pockets, but I don't want to mess with wholes already in the facing, and in the process destroy the jacket worse than it was to begin with. Besides, if the lining was already older than I was, I'm fairly confident my mending job will last it the rest of it's life time.

This is a fairly straight-forward repair; a tear following parallel to where the sleeve meets the body. It wasn't too badly frayed. I sewed it shut using a ladder stitch, which makes it look almost identical to the pre-existing seam beside it. (My repair seam is on the left, the construction seam is on the right.) The dead give-away is that at either end of my repair seam, it opens up like a pleat--a very small pleat, but a pleat nonetheless. Other, more frustrating repairs had to be made on tears that were quite old, and had either frayed badly or stretched out of shape. I briefly entertained the thought of trying to iron things back into place, but I got scared off by the "dry clean only" tag, and I didn't know what affect the steam would have.

Here's my sad attempt to mend near the pocket. The weight and stress of things being taken out and put into the inner pockets had caused them to rip loose from the lining. They were too distorted to line up properly, hence the fact I sewed the lining to the interfacing up a the top there. You can see how the end of my seam opens into a pleat. My only consolations are that 1. It's all on the inside of the jacket, so it's not likely to be seen, and 2. The lining on the jacket is so wrinkled, hopefully no one will notice.

I did managed to repair all but a dime sized hole one the inside of one sleeve (no swamp colored silk scraps laying around, or even anything of a similar hand, so a patch is out of the question). If I was really daring, I would have discussed replacing the lining, but every time I see that welt pocket poking into the facing, I loose my nerve.

But it still reeks of futility. The fabric simply wearing out. I can stitch it together, but what's the point? Well, the point is prolonging it's functionality, which I've done. So hooray.

When I'm a real artist, rich and famous, I will say, "Mend? Mend? I will not mend your coat. I will make you a brand new coat, that is even more beautiful than what you have ever had before, and I will make it for you in just 7 days." But until then (I can't seem to make anything in just 7 days, much less tailored jackets), I do my share of kitchen painting.

Work cut out for me

Alas, not by wonderful little elves who do all the work while you sleep. Here's the whole strip from the last picture, cut out and stacked. Shortly after cutting all of these out, my much abused, several years old, purple-handled Fiskars scissors broke. It was completely unexpected. They were still one of the sharpest pairs of scissors in the house (which just goes to show how dull most of the scissor in the house are), and the plastic handle just snapped. Bummer.

Endless work

Here's the juggling ball pattern pieces marked out and ready for cutting. This one endless strip has enough pieces for 6 balls (which means 24 pieces). I sew them together on the curved lines, and then trim them down to 1/4 seam allowances.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A Quick Thank-you. . .

. . .To my brother, who kindly picked up an invisible zipper for me when he came down this weekend. I usually get my sewing notions from the nearest little fabric shop--well, actually, I tend to think of it more as a "general store" and my Mom always thinks it's some sort of tourist-y gift shop. It has a fabric/notions section, but also tourist-y gifts, and a dry food goods section (we get all of our granola supplies from there). It's only about 8.5 miles away, so it's very convenient. Unfortunately, although they had a zipper in the perfect color, it wasn't an invisible zipper (the zipper itself isn't invisible, but the manner of installing it the garment renders it more invisible than a standard zipper). No invisible zippers at all.

The nearest JoAnn's, on the other hand, is about, according to Google Maps (haven't actually timed the trip myself, but it sounds about right), 38 minutes away. I really, really, really hate to drive 38 minutes out to pick up one stupid invisible zipper, and then drive 38 minutes home. It just does not make sense. But I really, really wanted an invisible zipper. (If you note, I really, really, really didn't want to drive out, and I only really, really wanted it.) I would have simply done without, but my brother graciously picked it up for me on the way here.

But it was the wrong color. That wasn't his fault; JoAnn's simply has a terrible stock of invisible zippers (though I could simply leave this sentence as "JoAnn's simply has a terrible stock" and it would still be just as true). I wanted a zipper whose pull tab matched the bodice of the Fancy Dress I am working on for my sister. He got a zipper that matched the skirt--a lighter shade of blue. So it still goes, but I would have be quite ticked to drive 40 minutes out of my way just to find out that I still couldn't get the zipper I wanted, and still have to drive 40 minutes home.

Is this to say that my only to choices for buying fabric are a tiny stock of quilter's cottons 8 miles away or a pathetically stocked JoAnn's 40 minutes away? No, not at all. Just about anywhere you throw a rock (provided you give it a good heave; you won't hit anything if you just give it an easy toss over the back fence) you hit a fabric store--a quilt store, which sells nothing but quilter's cottons! I am surrounded by quilting stores, which don't believe in clothing construction, do not sell zippers, and the only buttons they have are in "country" colors of rather dirty looking blues, reds, greens and yellows.

I don't have anything against quilts--I'm working on a few of them myself. And I don't have anything against quilter fabric; some of it is quite breath-taking. I do have something against supposedly "country" colors, but that's a different rant. I just wish that things weren't so one-sided. Is it any wonder I usually sing "The internet is my friend, the internet is my friend"? Some people complain that you can't buy fabric when you can't run your hands over it and observe it's drape, but when your only other option is sewing with nothing but quilter's cotton and gross buttons, the internet comes off looking blindingly good. Most on-line stores have swatching services, and it's awfully hard to find an internet store that has as bad a selection as the nearest JoAnn's.

As far as the zipper goes, I think I once heard you could change to color of the pull tab with a bit of nail polish. Unlike most girls, however, I don't have any nail polish, and certainly none in a deep royal blue. I can certainly make this work, but the perfectionist part of me is irked. It shouldn't be this difficult to find a royal blue invisible zipper that is 14" or longer. One of the ump-teen million quilt stores around here ought to switch to garment sewing and actually keep a decent selection of zippers on hand!

(But still, a thank-you to my brother, for being willing to take the time to do my shopping for me. I'm sure JoAnn's is even lower on your list of places you'd like to be than it is on mine.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Juggling. . .

I made those. I'm supposed to be making more now.

Not only can my brother hold them all, he can juggle them to boot!

It's actually rather boring to make juggling balls, which is really why I'm writing a post about it, instead of doing it. My excuse is that, if I post about it now, I can tell everyone about the The World Juggling Federation competitions airing on ESPN2 tomorrow (that is to say, April 14) at 2:30 PM. If I post about this next week, it'll be too late to tell you all to watch it.

Making juggling balls is tedious, and sometimes a bit brutal. The tedious part is the nature of the juggling balls; the brutal part is the nature of the fabric. I'm making them out of this fabric at Denver Fabrics, which is a heavy duty vinyl. I made a dozen balls out of cheap vinyl, with no knit backing (just a fused fuzz), and the balls all discinegrated within a few weeks of heavy use. Drat. Then I bought a swatch of a much more expensive, but thin and supple vinyl. Although it sewed up nice, it ripped just as easily as the cheap vinyl. So I picked this fabric out, for it's "superior tear strength". As far as that goes, so far so good.

The bad news is that it's miserable to sew with. It's very thick, which means it's very difficult to sew the final seam. With all the bulk of many folded layers to one side, it causes the machine to skip stitches, unless you go through many contortions to prevent that, and even then it still sometimes skips.

After thusly sewing 4 pieces of vinyl together, I have to turn it right side out, which requires a bit of stretching of the vinyl, which requires a bit of hand strength. Then I stuff them; I used lentils. Most commercial and/or other crazy people making their own tend to use millet, which is rounder and lighter. However, the boys like a slightly heavy ball, and lentils are cheap, easy to find, and durable. I used to just stuff them pleasantly firm, but within 2 minutes of handing them off for use, I would get complaints that they were to "soft" or "squishy", and when I snatched them back I would, indeed, find them soft. The superior hand strength of boys quickly renders them limp. So now I have to stuff them till they are hard enough that David could use them to take out a couple of giants. Then, after they have been thoroughly abused, they soften up to "pleasantly firm."

Next comes the really fun part-- stitching the stuffing hole closed by hand. Handstitching by itself isn't brutal, but since I've stuffed them so full, I now have to force the opening closed with one hand while I stitch it closed with the other hand. I cannot pull the thread to close the hole, because that puts too much stress on the fabric, which can make the stitches rip out. As it is, I need to double stitch the opening shut, to keep the stitches from ripping out.

Doing this all once is all right. Doing this nine times in a row causes severe hand cramping, as my hand strength really isn't all that great. And, cutting out 36 completely identical pieces, sewing them all together in a completely identical way, is really utterly boring. I am not in the slightest bit surprised that Michael Ferguson got repetitive stress from making so many juggling balls (so my brother tells me). In fact, I'm impressed he put up with it for 20 years and 40,000 balls.

Fergies are six panel balls, and mine are an inferior 4 panel. Some day I'm going to figure out how to make a six panel juggling ball. The drafting of a 4 panel pattern was quite mathematical, but I can't quite wrap my mind around how to approach, mathematically, a 6-panel pattern.

My pattern makes a juggling ball a bit on the small side (though, be warned, if you are making your own, any fabric you use will stretch, so you will have to make a ball "smaller" than what you want your finished size to be). This is so that small hands can use them--see, even I can fit five into my tiny hand! Juggle five, no, but arrange and stack five, yes. I can juggle four, but so can my 9 year old brother, so big deal. (I wouldn't have to hold the juggling balls like this, though, unless I was juggling 9. For juggling five, it would be three in one hand and two in the other.)

Although these balls do seem to be extremely durable (at least so far, I suppose I shouldn't speak to early), I don't care to get any more of it for juggling ball purposes. The next fabric I'd try would be this patent leather lycra, which I think is the same type (or at least very similar) to what Dube uses for it's "Squosh Beanbag" balls. If nothing else, I hope it wouldn't be so hard on the hands, and I wouldn't have so many problems with skipped stitches. (Though, of course, I would need to use the right needle for it, I think a stretch needle.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Welt pockets and my first pictures (hope they work!)

When Ann Steeves wrote in her recent Threads article "Is it any wonder that we sewers avoid welt pockets like they're plutonium?", I knew I was going to have to try out welt pockets--and soon! With a description like that, how could they not be fun? Of course, since her article was all about how to make welt-pocket construction fool-proof, making welt pockets was actually pretty easy and straight forward, though at least it was still more fun then hemming pants. (Which was another thing I had to do--and soon.) So here are my welt pockets, my first two welt pockets I've ever done.

Unfortunately for the vest, I couldn't do any fittings, as it was a birthday present, and little boys want birthday presents to be a surprise. All while I was making it, I kept thinking that it looked too wide, and I repeatedly measured it and found it to be all right. Of course, my instincts were right--sort of. It wasn't too wide, but it looked funny because it was much too short! Oh, well. My brother seems to be quite happy with it anyway, judging from how often I see him wearing it. Sometimes he wears it with his newly acquired cowboy hat, and sometimes with his matching, equally gaudy, cape I gave him last year. What can I say? Yellow is his favorite color, and of course, anything that glitters is gold in the eyes of kids.