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.

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.

Geometry book: end of prep 

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I’ve been working on this hand-written book of geometry since at least 2013… maybe since 2011. There’s a total of fifty pages or leaves in it, although it’s an accordion-style Japanese album from Moleskine.  I recently started working on it again due to some recent geometry work in my life, and I’ve put in a few longish days.  The work itself is a manuscript to teach myself the material from Andrew Sutton’s book, Ruler and Compass, available from Wooden Books Press (a division of Bloomsbury).

Several years ago, it might have been early 2014, I laid out most of the remaining pages — the margins of each panel, the lines for the text, and the two or three geometry figures for each page.  For reasons passing understanding at this late juncture, I failed to lay out the last six pages of the book, or plan for the inside front cover.  The result was that I created a milestone, of sorts, in this project — the end of already-laid-out pages, six pages before the end, when I’d have to plan the remaining six pages and finish the inside front cover.

I’m now at that point.  My goal was to get here by Memorial Day weekend, and I’ve achieved that goal a bit earlier than expected.  I probably won’t be able to get back into this work until after the weekend, but I’ve made good progress.

Sewing: Viking Bag 2 

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Remember that cute viking fabric that I made into those little drawstring bags?

I found another strip of it.  But it wasn’t enough to make into a bag, unfortunately.  I was going to have to combine it with another kind of fabric? What goes with vikings, though? How do you combine viking warriors with anything else? Floral prints?

But how about a brick wall?  If I make the bag tall enough, it will look like warriors peeking over the battlements of a tower, and that conveys the image that we’re looking for — not a bag, but a tower, not a small purse but a fortress.  It becomes a thing of the imagination, as much as a physical object.

I’d rather it was a stone wall, or maybe spiked logs, like on a rough-and-ready motte and bailey castle.  That would make sense, after all.  The vikings didn’t build too much in brick (they also didn’t wear horned helmets — not very practical in warfare, really).

No matter. I found some brick fabric, and it matches pretty nicely with the vikings.  And then I found some other fabric that sort of resembled the Lord Baltimore colors in the Maryland flag… somewhat heraldic, though not TOO heraldic… not shields with lions and snakes and so on.  That would have been a seriously lucky find, though, in an American fabric store.  In general, though, we don’t really understand heraldry’s rules, so they often get used against us — in advertising, in snobbery and class warfare, and other ways, as well.  That’s not really at issue here, though.
What is at issue, for me, is how much of Makery in schools seems to be “making for the sake of making” — that students should simply be allowed to make whatever it is they want to make, full-blown from their imaginations. I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with just letting people make what they want to make, mind you — there’s benefit to that, and real results can emerge from allowing that spark of creativity.

But I think there’s a place in Making for making with a purpose.  There’s a lot to be gleaned from making a quilt to keep a baby warm, or from making a bag like a tower for holding a bottle of wine or something similarly fragile and precious, or a bag that looks like a pencil case. There’s a place for unbridled creativity. But there’s also benefit to knowing how to do something the right way.

I mean, think about it.  In a tailor’s shop 500 years ago, an apprentice would have to work on a variety of tedious projects — sharpening scissors, ironing fabric (I can’t imagine how difficult that work was before electric irons), measuring clients (and then measuring them again when the measurements proved wrong), learning to sew straight seams. They would have made a variety of things that no one would care if they were slightly off — bags with drawstrings, bags with handles, awnings for market stalls, aprons for the shopkeepers, tool rolls for traveling workmen, sacks for flour, and similar projects.  These are a vital and necessary part of the learning of any artisanal technology, be it sewing or woodworking — the cruddy projects that no one really wants to do but that are genuinely vital to the good functioning of that sort of society.

Thirty years after my own first sewing experiences in a Home Economics class in 8th or 9th grade, I find that these skills are returning to me with some rapidity.  I’m much more skilled at whipping up a bag or an apron than I used to be, in part because I’ve trained those skills to a level of complexity and skill where it’s easier to just do it.  I’ve learned a good deal of the apprentice work of this business of sewing (maybe not everything, because every so often I encounter a challenge that I have to go to a YouTube video to solve).

But that’s what the Walking Foot was about.  That’s what making potholders was about. These aren’t “stupid projects” but the foundations of the craft.  In carpentry it’s probably smoothing boards; in bookbinding it’s folding and punching pages; in fabric it’s making potholders and bags.

What are the foundations of your craft?  When did you feel like you went from being an apprentice to being a journeyman or journey woman? When did you become a master of your art form?

Wood: trestles

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On Sunday I borrowed a friend’s woodworking shop to produce a couple of trestles for a table. They sort of look like sawhorses, but they’re not. They’re intended for lighter duty than that. I still have to produce the top of the table, which will have two bars or cleats on the bottom to help lock the table and the trestle together.

These are based on a medieval design produced by the St. Thomas Guild, a medieval reconstruction group in the Netherlands. They are pretty modern, though. I’m trying to decide if I want to add in the fancy carving and tracery work to them. I know how to do that work, I just don’t know if it will be worth it in DIY shop pine.

Some things to think about —

  • Adding a second board across the bottom for stability would help these trestles be less wobbly.
  • Adding a wedged mortise to the top cross-board would also make them less wobbly
  • Adding a cut-out to make the triangles more like a pair of legs would add stability, as well.
  • The table-top will have to have two cleats or bars on them, to slot into spaces at the top of each trestle.
  • Adding some pegs to the bottom of the table top; or to the top board, that slot into the table top, would also improve stability, generally.

There’s a lot of things to think about.

In general, though, I like this idea.  The trestle table has some serious advantages for me, in that I can take the table up or down as needed, and have the flat surface or not as I need.

Additionally, in reviewing the St. Thomas Guild website, I see that I can design this table top to do many things that may help it be quite portable or adjustable.

Table Top DesignMy initial thinking resembles something like this — a kind of construction known as “frame and panel” (which I’d like to learn), with four types of members:

  1. Dark green outer frames, with one groove and three mortises.
  2. Internal ribs, with a tenon on each end and a groove on each side (purple)
  3. four panels (mottled blue) with a tongue carved all the way around them.
  4. Two internal frames, with three slots and a groove (light green)
  5. Four outer frames (yellow) with tenons on each end and a groove on one side.

The blue panels thus fit into the groove on each side.  A quartet of hinges join the two inner frames to one another, so the table can fold flat and store more easily;  or be arranged to provide a wide or narrow table as needed.

I may have to rebuild the trestles to accommodate the larger table surface. But my understanding is that panel and frame construction is fairly lightweight, and this might do quite well for my general needs.

Dimensions of the surface still need to be worked out.

 

Quilts: finished

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Two quilts finished in three-ish half-days. The top one is the penguins from earlier, the bottom one in pink is the owls quilt.  Both are already spoken for, you can’t buy them.

Really, it’s three quilts but I’m having my doubts about the arrangement of materials for the third quilt. I think I could get the third done if I could get some feedback on whether or not people think it’s a good layout.

Here’s the third quilt. Tentatively, anyway.  I’m worried that the dark blue of the starry swirls doesn’t really match the green or the blue of the top of the quilt; and that the baby-blue trim doesn’t match either.  I suppose I could tie it all together with some thread of the right color… but it still makes me a little nervous.


What do you think? Leave me a comment.

What I Do: Vision Statement #makered

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My friend Stephanie challenged me to write a marketing plan for my business (Watermountain Studios), in sonnets.  I don’t know that I can write a marketing plan in sonnets, but I can write two that qualify as a vision statement, I suppose.

The human hand used to shape all our needs
and make all our wants from creche to casket;
the old factory is now choked with weeds,
and we mock those who can make a basket.
Robots build cars, machines sew our raiment
and the sweat of slaves dapples our plastic toys…
our children sit idle, workshops vacant —
we test to exhaustion both girls and boys.
Yet numbers and letters can still be learned
through artisan’s arts of loom, forge, and press.
By hand and eye’s labor are truth discerned
and concrete order made from abstract mess.
Children learn best when their hands learn to make,
for artistry helps our minds to awake.

To start a MakerSpace right now is hard:
we sold off the shop tools and burned the scrap,
put abstract thought on every student’s card,
and put computers in each student’s lap.
We tested for phonics and random facts,
and jumped for joy at every new reform —
yet abstraction has been a kind of trap
to make a man who thinks instead of acts.
Ask me — I’ll guide you through these thickets,
to where your students thrive with tools in hand
making theater props, posters and tickets,
costumes, the stage — instruments for a band.
When children make, they become more adept
at fixing the world that broke while we slept.

 

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