Sewing: Completed Long Gown

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Photo on 6-19-17 at 4.53 PM #4 2.jpgThe camera is of poor capabilities and operating at an odd angle on an uneven timer in a room recently darkened by the approach of thunderstorms. But I’ve managed to finish this gown or long coat that I wrote about in the previous entry.

I’ve already noted what I’m dismayed about.  Now that I see it on me, I can add disappointment about the shoulder lines to the list.  I can’t figure out what’s pulling incorrectly to make the left shoulder (on the right side of your picture) so lumpy. And the sleeves are weird.

But it’s done.  My mother the artist follows Elizabeth Gilbert here; her interpretation is that “done is sometimes better than almost finished but nearly perfect.”

Sewing: long gown

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Some time ago, I made this pattern, which I also wrote about here. It’s called Simplicity 203, and it’s costumes inspired by The Hobbit films on the dwarves.  I wasn’t happy with it, as you may recall; I looked like some Celtic reconstructionist Civil War general. On the losing side, no less.  So I wasn’t happy with it, and I rarely wore it, and ultimately it’s taken up room in my closet for no good reason.

Perfect reason to try again, right?? So I did. I found this green and gold metallic-feeling fabric that I really liked on sale in the 60% off pile. It had these round circles of yellow on a pale olive green background.  It was the right amount of fabric for this project, and I figured, why not?  I also found this fabric that looks like an Islamic tiled floor pattern in a different bargain bin. They stayed in my stash for a while, and then it seemed like it was time to use them.  SO, green and gold shell, islamic tile pattern lining… what could go wrong?  Plenty, unfortunately, but I’m a big believer in making your own things; even if there’s some reason the robe is optional, sometimes a little glamour is important, and you should also not neglect the making of some tools of your work.

(How do we know when it’s time to use up fabric? When the fabric we have is preventing us from buying more fabric that we like better).  Here we go…  In general, I don’t take enough time with my sewing work. But in this case, I tried to do everything right:

  • I pinned the patterns to the fabric.
  • I pinned pieces
  • I cut very carefully and I tried not to enlarge pieces as I cut them on the fly to account for my XXL size.
  • I did make some modifications to the pattern
    • I chose the sleeved version
    • I added cuffs to the sleeves
    • I used narrower tape on the front placket.
  • I followed similar directions for the lining, but
    • The pattern does not allow/isn’t designed for lining, so
    • I sort of made up a lining pattern on the fly…
    • which didn’t work too well.

The cutout process and the initial assembly went pretty well. THat’s never the hard part; the devil is always in the details of this kind of of work.  Let’s see, what went right?
I managed to get the trim on the front of the coat so that they were both aligned with the same seam, and both strips of trim were pointing the right way (the golden vines pattern crawls up the coat and not down. I almost did it the wrong way, but I fixed it before I sewed it in place.  I did figure out how to put a lining in a garment where the pattern doesn’t really call for or allow for one.  So that was a boost to my skills — modifying a garment pattern on the fly.  I also attached the sleeves and cuffs correctly, getting the front of the sleeve attached to the front of the garment’s torso, and the right end of the cuff on both left and right sides to match, for the eventual buttons.  I think I attached the mandarin collar correctly, shown in the photo below, although I have a bit of hand-sewing yet to do.
What do I still need to do?

There’s the hemming of the interior lining begun but not finished, first of all. The second thing I need to finish is the hemming of the exterior shell, which is a different length than the hem of the lining (as is often done in a long coat or gown like this.  I think that maybe the sleeves need some more of this black and gold vine-leaf trim on them, but maybe that’s overkill.  I need to finish the hand-sewing on the collar.  If  can figure out how to adjust the front placket on the left-hand side, that would be worth doing, too.

I think that’s the big stuff.

Some takeaways or lessons:

Pinning is much more important than I think it should be or want it to be. IT takes away time from the important thing, which is sewing.  On the other hand, taking those extra five or ten or twelve minutes to pin on every project, every seam, results in a higher quality garment overall. The three seams I’m least happy with are… of course… the seams that are the least beautiful.

Another way of saying this is, don’t just assume that the entities are going to sit there and let you do to them as you please; bind them in place first.

The second is to learn to identify which patterns can take a lining and which ones can’t.  This pattern isn’t really designed well for this stiff brocade-like fabric, and I’m not a skilled lining-designer.  Usually linings are a mirror image of the exterior of the garment, sewn into place in reverse, and the two fabrics sit well against one another. Part of the lining of this garment, though, is made of the same fabric as the shell, and that was integral to the pattern.  Many of my errors seemed to arise from that challenge of matching one fabric with the other in the inner workings of the garment.

Ultimately, though, this garment fails the same tests I applied to the first trial of this pattern: I don’t think I look good in it.  It’s big, it’s clunky, it’s shapeless, and frankly too hot to wear this close to midsummer. The shell fabric doesn’t breathe at all.  Next time, I think, in cotton or something looser… and maybe I won’t bother with a lining.

IMG_5374.JPGAlas, when I put on the finished garment, I feel rather like a Romulan from the third season of Star Trek The Next Generation.  Some part of me is amused, though, to think about some variant of the future where the raiment of priests and magicians is based on the available costume patterns inspired by movies and TV shows.

It also makes me wonder about the availability of good patterns for men’s clothes and costumes? Many of them are clunky to assemble, poorly conceived in finishing details,  often don’t hang right in larger sizes.  I know the principles of how to make patterns, but I haven’t actually made one of my own.  I might have to change that.

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Shirt-making notes 2

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This is a continuation of my effort to document some of the errors and challenges I faced while making a particular pattern. The first part of it is here.

I recalled that I had tried making this shirt before.  But I was wrong; it’s a different pattern in that first effort. This is the first time I’ve tried making this shirt; I’m not sure that I like it any better than that one, I admit.  But that’s not why I tried making a shirt.

Buttons and trim

One of the challenges of any shirt pattern is that the key details — buttons and buttonholes, trim on the collar — all come at the end. Any mistake is glaring and obvious. You can ruin the work of two days (or a few hours, for a real professional) just by getting a buttonhole wrong. Fortunately for me, I’ve already made three significant mistakes. I don’t care if I get some details wrong at this point — I want to know the other mistakes I’m likely to make.

I finish the body of the shirt: front, back, two sleeves, placket, two cuffs (three pieces each). Now it’s all detail work.

The first photo shows the trim around the neckline and the two buttons on the cuffs. Last step: two buttonholes.

A buttonhole on a shirt is a date with death. You can’t do it until the very end; it’s a one-time activity; once it’s cut, there’s no going back.

Shirt body complete

I get the first buttonhole done.  It looks like it’s the right size. It measures correctly. Is it, though? There’s something I’ve forgotten but I can’t remember. Something about the height of the button being relevant. I don’t look it up. Button holes already frighten me. I have to face this fear. The garment is already somewhat damaged. One more mistake isn’t going to kill it.

Cut a button hole with a seam ripper. They’re more precise than a blaster, a weapon for a more elegant age. It takes several cuts with the tiny blade in the bottom of the seam ripper to open the hole.

Wrong

It takes a couple of seconds of fiddling to get the button to fit. This is not ideal; it shoild be a smooth thing, not fussy. I will heed advice, but mostly I need more practice.

Some of it is having the right tool to mark the fabric.  I only have white chalk to mark my lines on fabric; against the pale blue background, the white tailor’s chalk is largely invisible in the light of my studio.  I can’t really see what I’m doing.  I’m also, probably, rushing.

Button in hole

The first button fits the hole quite well although accidentally… It’s a little tight and I should lengthen the next button hole.  The process of putting in the button hole stretches the cuff a little.  I hear a tearing sound.  Is that fabric, or interfacing between the two layers of fabric inside the cuff.  No obvious tears, so probably interfacing.  Is the integrity of the shirt damaged? No more than it was before, I suspect. And the shirt’s integrity is already damaged in a couple of places; the gathers around the sleeves and cuffs for one; the placement of the interior placket for another.

What next? A second button hole, of course. I’m going to try to get this one exactly right. I get it wrong of course. Instead of a nice narrow rectangle it’s more of a triangular shape. I meant to do that. Right? Right. But the button fits. Not well, maybe, but it fits.The next challenge is hemming the bottom edge. I discover that I have a hemming foot in a case of feet for my low-shank sewing machine, and I try it out. It works — not perfectly, and some of it will require practice. But it works.

In the end, I have a serviceable shirt.  It’s roomy inside this shirt, and it’s long.  Three inches extra would probably have been enough, but now I can belt it like a Anglo-Saxon nobleman, although it’s unlikely that an Anglo-Saxon nobleman would have had a shirt of pima cotton with a 400-thread count, or trim as lovely as this.

Photo on 6-11-17 at 3.32 PM.jpg

man and shirt — with a bit of gathered cuff poking out

So, a summary of mistakes:

  1. The gathering at shoulders and across the front has to be right.
  2. Reinforce the yoke shoulder seam; reinforce the place where the gathers attach to the yoke.
  3. Pin the cuffs, sew the outside, then sew the inside.
  4. Trim and finishing after.
  5. Maybe do buttons and buttonholes before attaching cuffs? Tricky.
  6. Get the point of the trim correct.

All in all, a successful first effort at this pattern.  I look forward to trying it again, the next time I find myself in possession of a top sheet that can be sliced and shredded in six different ways to make a shirt.

 

Notes from a shirt-making 

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I started with a pattern, and a queen sized sheet. Getting all of the pieces out of this particular she was a bit of a challenge. It involved folding and refolding the fabric in several different directions to get the sleeves, the front,  and the back. The yoke of the shirt also gave me some trouble.My initial layout, shown here, did not work.

As I said there was quite a lot of folding and bending of the sheet in order to get all of the parts in the right size. One of the yoke pieces was a little bit off.

After the folding and bending, came the cutting and then the ironing.  It’s a used sheet, not particularly bad you understand; it’s just the top sheet where the bottom sheet had become unusable — the elastic all stretched and ripped, and a couple of the corner seams popped.  The top sheet is still fine.

Ironing a high-quality cotton sheet is a bit of an exercise.  You want it to have some water in it, but not so much water in places that you have to hold the iron on some areas to dry them out, while the rest of the shirt scorches. You want to convert the water on the shirt into steam, to even out the wrinkles.

Then comes the business of reading the pattern, comparing it with the photograph of the shirt assembled by a professional, and wondering “what the heck did I get myself into, here?”

The pattern calls for sewing the arms to the front and the back of the shirt, and then gathering the whole shirt under the two pieces that form a vague oval called a ‘yoke’.  It’s a real yoke… I mean, JOKE, because I can either see the dots that are supposed to line up, or I can see that the gathers are evenly distributed… but not both. It’s the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in action — I can see how fast the sewing has to go (before the gathering threads break or the pseudo-pleats are misaligned or the pins slip), or I can get everything properly positioned, but not at the same time.  This shirt is annoying.

The pattern does not always match the image. Clearly someone knew how to take some shortcuts. How is it that the seams of the reinforcing yoke around the neck-hole of the shirt do not show on the front of pattern D (upper left)?

How is it that the seams of the shoulders are perfectly aligned on the the model’s shoulders, but not on mine? Why does the left sleeve hang differently than the right?

I’m working through this pattern, by the way, Simplicity 3915 size A.  There are many things I like about this shirt and pattern, but assembling it is not one of them.

There was a saying in my father’s line of work, that there are four stages to any business deal:

  1. enthusiasm for the clever, e.g., “what a great deal you’ve put together, let’s do it!”
  2. search for the guilty: “who the heck got us into this deal?”
  3. punishment of the innocent: “Find out who got us into this deal, and fire them!”
  4. promotion of the uninvolved: “We owe Jeff a huge round of thanks for the success of this deal, and we’re pleased to announce we’ve made him a partner.” “why is Jeff getting promoted?” “shhhhh, they’ll hear you.”

This shirt makes me feel all four of these stages at once.  I’m finding that I’m enjoying the cleverness of the design, angry that I got myself into this mess, eager to quit, and hopeful that the final shirt will not be quite as terrible as I believe… on someone else.

I am glad that I added four inches to to the lower hem of this shirt, front and back, because it would be way too short without those four extra inches.

This photo shows the assembly of the sleeves to the front and back of the shirt in a messy, ugly way. I don’t even think they’re attached yet, actually in this photo — and it’s already an ugly shirt.  Too boxy.  Maybe it will improve.  Somehow I doubt it, at least at this point in the process.

The Industrial Revolution made it possible to produce hundreds of thousands of yards of thread, and thousands of yards of cloth, at a time.  It was an extraordinary achievement.  Instead of having one or two new garments a year, it was now possible to have four, or five new garments a year.  Or ten, or twenty.  Gordon’s meditation on visiting the home of Permaculture in Australia reminds me that clothing in a permaculture world is likely going to look rather different than it does today, because the clothing options that we have right now are not really permacultural.  Clothing may wind up looking a lot more ninth or tenth century AD than 21st century AD, at least in part because some of it will be assembled out of local materials by local people — and this particular design is entirely too annoying and fussy to be an efficient way of constructing clothes.  Square and triangles, not elaborate curves and fussy bits of folding and gathering and pleating, are a lot easier to structure. Hmmm.

The next photo shows a different stage in the construction.  At this point, I’m assembling the gathers (a form of pseudo-pleating) and pinning them to the yoke. This will be the most difficult sewing operation of the assembly of the shirt — trying to lay out the gathers evenly around four pieces of fabric so that they can be pinned to a pair of pieces of fabric which hare themselves sewn together into a dome shape.  SURPRISE! I got this wrong.

I won’t know that I got this wrong until the shirt is another six or eight steps down the line — one of which is a completely irreversible cut into the largest and most-irreplaceable piece of fabric.  This is, like, the perfect example of a bad design.  You can’t really make a beautiful garment if you can’t check the sizing a few times during the initial steps — and if the design requires you to wait until certain things are irreversible to try it on, maybe the design should be reconsidered.

Also, the sleeves are huge.
Someone suggests that I replace the cuffs (which will require both a button hole and a button, and — you guessed it, more gathering to create those lovely pseudo-pleats) with elastic and leave it at that. It would save me hours of fussing.  I know that one of the key rules of design is this: Always build the complete prototype so you know where the mistakes are...

One of the mistakes is making the cuffs, and then trying to assemble them.  I managed to get one of them done before I ran out of thread.  Aiee.  I didn’t find more thread right away, but I AM trying to use thread all of the same color so it doesn’t stand out too much against the shirt.

There’s problems with the sewing machine. The tension, probably the upper tension, isn’t quite right.  It’s a little too loose.  My efforts at adjustment are not working quite right, and they’re making things worse.  This shirt may survive a few hundred wearings, or it may come apart the first three or four times it’s worn.  Poor design, and poor tailoring on my part.

Still, progress.  A few important notes:

  • a single queen-sized bed sheet contains the makings of a very nice shirt in one of several patterns (most of which are easier than this.
  • a recycled bed sheet makes a good work shirt or ‘formal’ shirt, probably in a less fussy pattern than this.
  • This holds true for a (pretty large) man’s shirt, so you might get 1-3 women or children’s shirt’s out of the same cloth area.
  • Flannel sheets would produce warmer clothes; silk or satin for inner layers/fancier wear.
  • Solid colors would work better than patterns (harder to match patterns when there’s so much folding and working from different sides of the sheet to begin with.

 

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Video: Circle Center

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Once you finish a book on geometry, everyone wants help. 🙂

I wound up making this short video on how to find the center of a circle for my dad.  It’s not ideal; I need a better set-up for making videos at my desk.  But the essence of it are these steps:

  1. On a given circle, find three points about 1/3 of the way around the circle, A, B, and C.
  2. Arc the distance AB center A, and BA center B, so the arcs overlap one another at two points, D and E.  Draw a line between D and E — the center will be on that line.
  3. Arc the distance AC center A, and CA center C, so the arcs overlap one another at points F and G.  Draw the line between D and E — the center has to be on that line.
  4. Point O is the place where lines DE and FG cross. That’s the center of the circle.

I hope this helps!

Geometry: finished

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Some of the geometry book I'm working on...

Eight pages of geometry

​​​The geometry book is finished.

I’ve been working on this project on and off since 2013. It’s a Japanese Album moleskine, sometimes called an accordion-fold book, of about 50 leaves or panels.  At this point, both sides of every sheet of paper in the book are inked with 111 geometry problems in both diagram and text.  (technically, there’s space for about three more on the inside of the front cover).

I began this project when I came to the realization that geometry was part of the underpinnings of good design work — that if you could see the key elements of the geometry underlying a project or a design, that the quality of your work would improve because you understood how different relationships were managed between various parts of the project.  Because ultimately, geometry is about relationships.

More than that, this project has been about self-discipline.  I started the book at one scale, then shifted to a tighter scale after about fifteen panels.  Then I stopped for a good long while, somehow afraid that I’d ‘ruined’ it by the change in scale.  Then, I picked it up again, and worked all the way to the end of one side of the book, and about seven panels into the other side. There was another long pause, maybe as long as a year.  About six weeks ago, I picked the project up again.  I couldn’t find the right marker pens that I’d used to start the book. I shifted to different pens (Prismacolor was the first brand, at 0.5mm; Staedtler triplus fineliners the second, at 0.3mm). I got better results, especially on the more complex constructions, with the new tools.

And this morning, I finished.  I woke up early, and I came downstairs. I finished the page on ellipses that I began yesterday, and then began work on the page on spirals.  The spirals page went far more easily than I expected.  It was simple to turn from that to the final page, which is in part about the Golden Section, and the process of laying out multiple proportions.  I thought that page was going to be difficult, too, but it wasn’t.

And then I was done.

It doesn’t actually feel like it’s done; that may take a little while to sink in. But the project (except for maybe some unusual problem not covered by the earlier work, that can go on the inside front cover), is now complete.

​​More than any other project I’ve done, though, I feel like this is the one that lets me say, “I am an artist and a designer.”

Hello.  My name is Andrew Watt. I’m an artist and a designer.

Yarn: Untangling

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skein is a unit of yarn, in which an elaborate amount of yarn (often 100-200 yards) is first looped around an object (usually a yarn-swift) numerous times, until there are several dozen loops or spirals of yarn around the arms.  This is then twisted around several times, and then twisted around itself several times, before being tucked into a compact shape that fits easily onto the shelf of a yarn shop. Skeins do not as a general rule, roll or run away from the knitter.IMG_5287.JPG

If you are not careful, though, they easily become a tangled mess. Like this one did.

The only solution is patience, and time.  If you don’t want to give up the yarn, then you have to sit patiently, picking apart the knots and tangles.  This can take a long time; some people don’t believe it’s worth the trouble.  Some people would rather take scissors to the whole thing and churn out two piles of yarn:

  • “bits long enough to work with”
  • “string too short to save”

I belong to the third category of yarn-workers, which demands patience and time while the skein is brought to a new category of order, the yarn ball.

IMG_5288.JPG The yarn sometimes loses a good deal of the sheen and luster that attracted you to it in the yarn store as you do this patient work of untangling. Your partner will roll eyes at you as you do this work, and even tut-tut at you as you nearly scream in frustration at it.  But sooner or later — given enough time, and enough patience — all of the knots and tangles will be removed, and you will have a yarn ball.

It is imperative that all skeins be turned into yarn balls before you start knitting with them.  Under no circumstances should you attempt to knit from a skein, not even “for a few stitches” or “for a few lines of purl” or what-have-you.  ALWAYS take the time to untwist the skein before you knit with it.  Your patience will thank you.

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