Greco Roman

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I promised pictures of the garments that I made for people going to the Pennsic War. Here they are, minus some faces.

First up, though nearly last-made, is a fighter’s tunic, meant to go over armor and keep the more plastic bits of the armor from showing to the assembled crowd. Simply a large rectangular bloc of fabric, adorned with strips of trim, hemmed, and a neck T-hole cut through the middle. Should work fine over the armor, and only a few hours’ work. There was enough fabric left that we could probably make something small out of it, a few bags perhaps, possibly some other things. We’ll see.  The neck-hole is a T-shaped slot lined with more of this pale brown trim. I did the machine stitching with a paler purple-red color that the fighter can pass off as “the last thread from our house in Carthage before the sack of the city at the end of the Third Punic War.”

It’s good to have a story.

The second things I’m showing off, but the first made, was a Roman senatorial toga, two broad purple stripes of a different cloth than the main body of the white toga. This was for a different client.  Underneath the toga is a tunica cerulea, a sky-blue tunic.  AT the time of the fitting of the garment, I hadn’t yet hemmed the neckline.  Both garments are essentially linen.  Both should be very, very nice after a few washings.

The footwear needs some work, of course.  But that’s how these things usually go.

In essence, this toga is a sari.  It’s the width of the fabric, selvedge edge to selvedge edge, hemmed on all four sides, with the purple ends attached as a result of two folds in the fabric to make a broad double-seam in the middle.  Saris are woven completely from end to end, so this isn’t a sari. But in terms of length, it seems about the same.  In terms of width, it seems about the same.  And it’s a pretty plausible re-construction of a toga, as near as I can tell.  Which makes more sense than some of the other constructions I’ve seen, that appear to require looms dozens of yards wide.
I don’t know if the third garment is historical or not, but it’s basically a wraparound skirt or short kilt with a strip of trim on three sides.  Wrap it around you, left over right, belt at the waist, fold the upper part over the belt, voila! Working clothes on a hot day when you feel like being shirtless.  It seemed the best use for a broad strip of fabric left over from a chiton, at least for the guy whose fabric it was.

So… those are some of the projects I’ve worked on and finished this weekend and early week.  I wonder what’s next?

In the meantime, back to quilting.

“Greco-Roman” outfit 

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Be Hellenistic, not fatalistic. 


A friend of mine is going to the annual convention of the Society for Creative Anachronism, otherwise known as the Pennsic War. He needed some garb. The group he travels with are classicists, so a simple Roman-era tunic and a long rectangular himation or peplos — really a simplified toga — are all he needs. I figured out a way to cut two tunics, one sleeved and one sleeveless, from the fabric he brought me. This is the sleeved one. 

I’ll have to wait until his fitting this evening for photos of the pseudo/proto-toga. It’s simply impossible to photograph in a way that makes it look like something other than a long rectangle of cloth with stripes at the ends. Wrapped around a person it’ll look quite different, I believe. 

I have a new sewing machine. I did these projects with the old sewing machine because I’m at a critical stage in quilting two crib-sized quilts, and all my spare thread is wound onto bobbins of the old machine. But if I took down and store the old machine, I’d never finish those quilts. 

But… after this weekend, and this project for my friend, I got most of the quilting done. So I’m ready to store my old machine as of today. I have some time this afternoon, so I’m going to use the new machine to put some decorative stitching on the two tunics and the proto-toga. 

Sewing: cut the pattern

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For a while now, this blog has concentrated on sewing as a specific form of creativity.  It’s a challenging one, because it involves converting flat, two-dimension surfaces into three-dimensional objects that can be worn.  When first starting out sewing, it’s a good idea to concentrate on smaller projects, of course. But sometimes, we have to take a leap.

So I’m going to work through a specific pattern, for a men’s costume, a sort of 18th century pastiche Pirates of the Caribbean coat, matching(-ish) pants, a shirt, and a vest.  I don’t know that I’m going to build the whole pattern, actually.  But I’m going to try to work through the whole pattern, and all of its instructions.

Why?

Well, sewing is complicated. It’s a skill that takes a good amount of time to learn to do reasonably well. It takes a good deal of time to master its vagaries.  It presents a range of challenges that are different from those of most materials — after all, when you cut wood or metal or plastic, it does have a tendency to retain that particular shape, for better or worse.  Fabric doesn’t.

But more than that — this set consists of a jacket, a vest, a pair of pants, and a shirt.  That’s a complicated amount of design work — and a lot of steps.  It’s at least four types of fabric, too — something stiffer, heavier, that can bear being sat upon, for the pants.  Something lighter and more breathable for the shirt.  Something thought-provoking or unusual or brocaded for the vest.  Something a little heavier for the coat.  Layers, in other words.

But first things first:  Cut out the pattern pieces.  This took me most of the morning.

One particular issue to be aware of. Some pattern pieces are cut “On the Fold.” These are marked by a long line with arrows at either end.  The fabric is folded so that half of the fabric is on either side; the pattern piece is pinned to the fabric so that the fold and the arrows line up, and only cut after you confirm that there’s enough fabric for a fabric piece that’s twice as wide as the pattern piece.  The fold helps create the necessary symmetry in the garment.  It is useful, as a reminder, to leave some extra tissue paper on the side of pattern pieces with the fold marking.

This is what I mean when I say that sewing teaches 2d to 3d thinking quite well.  Student make this mistake: they cut half the piece they need, because they don’t know that the “fold markers” matter. This has to be explicitly taught — and a student may still forget until he has to do it; or until she can’t make the garment that she wants.  Later on we’ll talk about conservation of fabric, but that’s a lesson for another time.

When you buy a pattern for a garment or any sewing project, chances are that it arrives in several sheets of tissue paper, each of which can contain two to eleven pieces of the overall pattern. These have to be cut up into their individual pieces.  Garments for small individuals use the S pattern; garments for big fellows like me use the XL pattern.  When cutting out pattern pieces, it’s important to save all the possible pattern lines. Just because you’re a size M doesn’t mean that you should cut out the M line, and lose some of the S and all of the L and XL size.  You might want to make the garment again in a different size for someone else, and then you’d have to guess.

Then read the instructions.  All the instructions.  Based on this, you’re going to choose which piece of the pattern you’re ready to try making first.  Based on my reading, I’m going to try to make the pants — breeches, really — because all the other projects look a little intimidating.

Then sort the pattern pieces into rough categories.  The categories for this project:

  • Cravat (always wanted a cravat)
  • Vest
  • Coat
  • Pants
  • Shirt

This means that when you go to assemble the pattern, you’ll be able to draw out the parts easily that go with your specific project: you don’t have to hunt and dig and unfold all 27 parts to the pattern to find the three pieces you want.

Then you’re going to put away all the pattern pieces for the sub-projects you’re NOT doing right now.  Don’t cut out the parts for a vest, a coat, a pair of pants, and a shirt, and then leave them sitting around. Do them one at a time, to be the sort of amateur tailor most likely to succeed.

Once you know which pieces you need, you’re going to turn your iron on very low, and without using water or steam, you’re going to iron all of the wrinkles and folds out of the pattern pieces you have.  The results are better when you do that.

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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Tricorne

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Suppose it’s the case that you’re going to a dress-up party tonight for Halloween season, and you’re playing a pirate.

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But you don’t have a hat.  And it’s becoming an issue that you don’t have a hat to go with the rest of your costume.  You need a hat.
How do you solve that problem?

Well, you could go to a Halloween Spirit store, and buy one.  But the chances are pretty good that whatever hat you find isn’t going to be as good as the rest of your costume.  You have a shirt that was professionally made, and a pirate coat-thing you made yourself, and a pair of pants, and a pair of boots, that are all wonderfully pirate-like… But you don’t have a hat, and any sort of hat you buy elsewhere is going to be cruddy or crummy or expensive.  What do you do?

You look through your collection of spells sewing patterns.  You find the hat pattern that’s part of Butterick 3072.  And you make one in a few hours.

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Bend the wire cleverly hidden in the brim…

It’s not a particularly difficult pattern. I did mess up a little bit on the inside, of course; the red lining is supposed to be attached in a slightly different order than I actually did it, and the result is a lining that isn’t quite as clean or clever as I’d like. But this is not a durable, heavy-duty hat for the rain — it’s a costume piece. And like any costume piece, it’s a relatively simple pattern that can be modified and adapted — a wider brim, a stiffer interior hat-band, a pointier crown… none of these things are impossible to add or modify from the original pattern.

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Tricorne hat!

There’s some debate about which coat to wear it with. I think it’s a better match for the “poet’s coat” I finished up recently that goes with this bag that I had to repair; my girlfriend thinks its a better match for the Scarlet Doublet.

No matter.  I can build a hat.  And if I can sew a hat, there’s a pretty good chance that I can sew anything at all.

There is, if you will, an underlying logic.  Further up in this post, I crossed out the word ‘spell’ because I think there’s a relevance here.  The average pattern in a pattern package that you buy from the fabric store is a set of guidelines; there are recommended fabrics, trim, and  materials — but those are essentially guidelines.  Those patterns have a grammar, if you will, of language to help you understand what it is that you’re doing. There’s an underlying order and methodology; alter the methodology, and you alter the results; stick with the methodology, and you’ll get exactly what the pattern-maker intended for you to get.  But each time you go through this process — each time you make a hat or a coat or a cheese or a tool chest or a book or a bookshelf — you’ll discover that you have a new set of tools for solving problems and building and creating things: food, clothing, furniture, even houses.   This touches on what I said to Will Richardson — that a school’s purpose is to teach measurement, in part so that the questions of what to make, and how to make it, become easier and simpler as we grow older. 

That teaching, that knowledge of how, is never undone.  It stays with us forever, this side of dementia or death.  The underlying thought processes remain eternal, and grow deeper with each project completed.  Even if the first hat is slightly too small… you know how to make it again.

Sewing: Tudor Doublet

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I joked on Gordon’s post about divination recently that I’d finally had a weird sync with him, because I was making a “broidered coat of scarlet, blue, and gold.” But I was doing so.  I’d decided, on the advice of several seamstresses and tailors I know, to go ahead with a project that I’d already done and didn’t like.  That project didn’t turn out well, but my friend Jen commented that muslin was the wrong kind of fabric for this project, and that I hadn’t put in a lining, and those were probably the reasons that it didn’t hang right.  She’s probably not wrong. More

Magic: Neglect Not The Robe

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A fellow magician contacted me today, and asked whether he (she? they? I’m not clear on pronouns) could simply buy some fabric, and take it to a tailor to have a magical robe professionally made.  And the answer is “yes, you can do that.” But if you’re serious about making your magical practice real and meaningful in ways that you couldn’t have imagined, I would ask that you not do that.

Make your robe, don’t have it made for you.

Now, to be sure, there are many parts of making a magical robe which are inconvenient or difficult.  If you don’t know how to sew, or don’t have a sewing machine, for example, you have a skill-set that you must learn before you can do anything else; or an expensive and complicated machine to buy, which then requires training to learn to use properly.  At the least, you must purchase a great deal of fabric, and then figure out how to cut and shape it to be sort-of vaguely robe-like.

But there are three reasons why you should make your robe.  And then, at the end, I’m going to point you to some resources on how to make your robe, and provide some pointers. More

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