Sometimes, a disaster

Disaster comes from the Latin word for “bad star”. Sometimes a bad star is necessary before you can make a good star.

And this meets the definition of a bad star.  As I’ve said before, maybe I should give up sewing on Tuesdays. Or on the other hand, maybe it’s the day for learning a new pattern.

This is the Dr. Strange-inspired costume available from McCalls, M7676.  I’m sure they can’t call it a Dr. Strange pattern, but I can see the resemblance and call a spade a spade (or a sorcerer supreme, as the case may be.

The pattern has a lot going on: creases and folds along the front and lower right, a lining, and six pieces (mostly doubled up) to make thirteen parts. Magical, right?

I have made an utter mess of it.  Yikes.

Still, there’s a lot of learning about three-D objects encoded in this mess.  Let’s see if I can articulate them.  First, what did I do right?

  • Faced with a choice between making my first example in cheap fabric ($2.99 a yard, discounted to $1.50 with coupons), or high-end linen ($19.95 a yard), I chose the cheap stuff.
  • I made a prototype, to make sure I understood how the design worked.
    • The model is wrong, but —
    • I understand the design and assembly process now.
  • I followed the directions even when they appeared crazy:
    • I learned a couple of new pattern-marks and assembly tricks
    • which will save me time on future projects
    • which will help me (eventually) to design my own patterns
  • I learned to crease, score, fold and pleat fabric:
    • New tools in the arsenal of knowledge never hurt anyone.
    • I learned to love my scoring/marking tool.
  • I learned to just do it even when I wasn’t sure about something.
  • I fixed several small mistakes patiently
    • while letting some big ones slide
  • I assembled the shell of the garment correctly — go me!

What mistakes did I make?

Nearly all of them were in the lining.  Part of the reason why I chose this garment is that it uses considerably less fabric than another garment I’m supposed to make soon, which has a lining. All of the most-confusing mistakes I’ve ever made in sewing, involve linings. They’re tricky to get right, and making these mistakes results in a product that doesn’t look right, and can’t be made right.  So this is an important thing to fix in my knowledge:

How did I make mistakes in the lining?

First off, I mistook the front panels of the lining for the back. Once I made that error, all kinds of things flowed from that. I couldn’t get pieces to fit against one another properly; curves didn’t match one another.  Part of the way that this pattern works is that the pleats on the front are held ‘taut’ by the presence of the lining behind them. If the lining isn’t there, the pleats don’t stay stuck.  With too much fabric behind them, the pleats push out into weird, baggy shapes.

The second error is that the lining is assembled and then put inside-down on top of the shoulders of the shell.  The neck and front are then assembled first, then the sleeves. The lining is then pushed through the shoulders, and turned.  It winds up inside the coat, the sleeves look finished, and everything is hunky-dory.  You can then sew down the sides of the coat, and everything looks finished on the outside, even if there are messy bits inside.

The third error was fabric choice.  Not every fabric performs the same way.  They have a weight to them, a heft, a rippling quality to them. The fabric I chose for my prototype might be good for some things, but not this purpose. Why not?

One of them has to do with folds. As you may recall from the movie, still shots of the character from the movie, or from the pattern cover itself, the chest and lower-right fall of the outer part of the costume have six layers of pleats.  Assembling these pleats with fabric that will not take a crease at all is …. challenging.

Another “mistake” that I made was to use different color fabrics for my first time through, and different-colored thread. I was hoping to create a multi-colored purple-and-blue robe or outer gown that I thought would look pretty cool if it came out correctly.  It didn’t come out correctly, though, and part of that challenge lay in the way that the pieces are supposed to fit together, but don’t — especially if the fabric doesn’t fold or behave the way it should in the pattern.

This must seem discouraging.  On the one hand, it’s $6-ish of fabric wasted and an unwearable garment that no one would really want to be photographed in.

On the other hand, though, it’s eight hours of learning that I could not have gotten in any other way.  No one could have explained this to me over the phone or in an email.  I could have learned it with a pro tailor watching over my shoulder and correcting my errors before I made them — but I would have had to pay an extra $20-30 for their time and attention to get this right.  And on the other hand, I think I now know most of what I need to know to get this correct the next time I make this pattern.

So, success.  Not ideal success, to be sure, but achievement, nonetheless.

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