Sunday, January 27, 2019

Redoing a Dress

In 1870, Mark Twain published a humorous account of repairmen working on his watch. It was funny when I read it many years ago and the moral of the story (if there was one!) has stuck with me since then;

"My Uncle William (now deceased, alas!) used to say that a good horse was, a good horse until it had run away once, and that a good watch was a good watch until the repairers got a chance at it."

You know, I was uneasy about sending my sewing machine to the repair shop a few weeks ago and when I got it back, finally, I was even more uneasy after seeing their sample sewing of the fixed machine. The tension was really off and the stitch lines puckered up the heavy weight piece of fabric the samples were sewn on. Still, I fixed the tension myself and sewed a pair of plaid flannel pajama pants for my 4 year old son and remade an old dress without much difficulty, but the sewing still felt "off" somehow. Then, the machine jammed, without warning or provocation. The same problem that made me send off the machine in the first place is back again. It's under a 90 day warranty so it is going back to the shop to be fixed again, but I am tired of it and not hopeful for a permanently good outcome. Blah.
Serpent Mound, on a very cold and icy January evening. Just a few months til the Peace Summit!
I hope they fix it. The timing seems off and the top thread will not pick up the bottom thread. I can usually fix the timing myself but I can't this time. It was an expensive machine and I do not want to give up on it!

I am in the process of testing a pdf pattern and really needed a decent sewing machine to make the sample projects. I was super lucky to find a nice old Kenmore machine at a thrift store. It's old and ungodly heavy and terribly scratched and has blue-marker guide lines drawn on it for very large seam allowances, but damn, it works. I had seen it earlier, shoved on a shelf at the back of the store with a bunch of other electronic equipment surrounding it. Fans, coffee pots, microwaves. I had a good feeling about it at that time  but I didn't buy it. It was $35. Still, the thought of that machine stuck with me. It was still there when my newly fixed machine stopped working and I decided to take a chance on it and I'm so glad I did! It chugs through many layers of fabric with no effort. It's beautiful. The stitch lines are straight and even and perfectly tensioned. I was shocked but thrilled. This old workhouse might replace my nice machine as my favorite machine ever. I love it! $35 well spent.
Yes, I know pictures from the woods have nothing to do with sewing
BUT I do wear my homesewn clothes when I'm out in the woods! 
So, this is my second project of the year for myself. It's kind of an extension of my skirt-and-kaftan project a few weeks ago. When I was dyeing the fabric for the skirt I tossed the remnants of this dress into the dye bath with it and it came out such a pretty color I decided I had to save it. A few years ago I purchased it for a few dollars and it was white and had some really lovely cotton eyelet work around the skirt hem. The whitework looked almost right for 1860's stuff so when I decided I didn't love how the dress looked on me (the style is a bit dumpy and blah) I cut off the eyelet trim to use for historic stuff. The top portion of the dress, and top part of the skirt, has been in my bin of trims since then. I forgot I had it until I came across when looking for some cotton lace recently. The bodice still had a lovely row of eyelet down the center front and the bodice tucks were pretty so. . .I decided to try to make it into something I would wear.

The dress came out a pretty greenish grey. While I did not mind a short skirt, especially for summer wear, the skirt was just a bit too short. And it looked odd with the slightly high waistline and the blousy bodice. A long skirt it had to be then, so I pulled out the fabric leftover from making my second pair of Arenite Pants last year and had just enough for a basic rectangular skirt. I sewed it into a tube, gathered it to the bodice waistband and finished the hem with a visible facing of material cut from the skirt of the dress. I decided it was good enough and worn with a blouse it works just fine for the colder weather we have been having, especially with a skirt and pants underneath for warmth.

It still looks kind of dumpy but I like it anyway - maybe because of its looser, easy fit. I like the colors together and feel like I can wear this without worrying about getting it dirty or damaging the fabric. The blue fabric wears like iron and the top fabric won't be under much strain. That was one thing that bothered me about this dress in its original, white state. It was just too delicate and impractical to wear much!

It was less than 10 degrees when Judah took these pictures for me a few days ago. So that's why I look like I'm freezing. I was! 😂 Thankfully its a bit warmer now and as February approaches I find myself very much looking forward to Spring. In another month or six weeks the first little flowers will be out. It is a happy time to see the earth come awake.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Judah's Hogwarts Robes

Our local area braced itself for "Snowmaggedon Round 2" this weekend. Yesterday I ran out to get a few groceries and the stores were packed with more people than they were a few days before Christmas. It was crazy, but I emerged safely with my milk, eggs and plenty of baking supplies - only for today to give us abundant rain, which is melting away the snow that was left from last weekend.

It's a quiet, wet, dreary kind of January day and I thought I'd take the opportunity to blog about Judah's Halloween costume since I've been re reading the Harry Potter books and am still so excited about how his costume came out!

This fall Judah turned 11 and during last year he asked for a Hogwarts costume for Halloween. He is starting to outgrow trick or treating (at least, he says he is. . .) but he is all down for dressing up in a not-too-weird outfit and walking around town with his friends. He didn't end up trick or treating a lot, but he had a good time hanging out with his buddies and came home with a little candy, at least. He really enjoyed wearing his outfit and I think it will fit again for next year. (But really, who knows? He is growing SO fast right now!)

I was so excited to make this for him since he is the perfect age for starting at Hogwarts and it's rare that he actually will wear anything I make for him, and even more rare for him to specifically request that I make anything for him. While I ended up only having to sew the robe, it was fun to pull together the various pieces and see the final look. He looked absolutely awesome, if I do say so myself!

I found Rebel's Haven to be extremely helpful in identifying the different elements that go into a Hogwarts uniform, and the variations in color and trim and style and how they change over the years. For the actual robe, I used the free Burda Style tutorial, which has the hood cut in one with the body of the robe. There is a little weirdness with the drape of the hood when it is down (I think the seam from the back neck to the point of the hood needs to be longer) but it worked well enough for a Halloween costume.

I used mystery black fabric from Wal Mart for the robe since I wanted to make this as inexpensively as possible. I lined the hood and faced the sleeves and the front opening with dark red cotton. The Gryffindor house badge was purchased on eBay, and came with the deathly hallows necklace that Judah is wearing in the pictures (all in an adorable red velvet drawstring pouch, with a few extra patches AND wizard cards!). His khakis are his modern dress pants and I bought a white button up shirt at Goodwill and a grey sweater (it's a womans sweater, but I could find no V neck grey sweaters in the mens section) and ordered a tie from eBay. The tie is kinda cheap and I had to resew it since the stitches pulled out very easily, but it looks good! Judah finished off his outfit with lace up leather dress shoes, that he despises and has not worn since. 😂

I carved his wand one warm autumn Sunday morning, sitting on the back deck with a pocket knife and a stick from one of our own trees. I ended up with insane blisters but the finished wand was ok (the next few were better). We stained the wand and put on a few clear gloss coats and it was good to go!

I made witch robes to go along with Judah's outfit because, really, who can resist the opportunity to make and wear something like that? I fully enjoyed going out as Judah's Mom. 😁 I'll have a post about my costume soon - it was so much fun to make! I love seeing Judah's enjoyment of HP and knowing he loves something that I too love so much! May we never grow too old for a little bit of magic.

Much love,


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A Project with Not Pretty Fabric

I finished my first project of 2019 a few days ago. 2019! It feels so weird to type that. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a happy start to the new year. Christmas went by in a blur and the season felt both agonizingly long yet surprisingly short. Anyway, I'm relieved the stress of the holidays is over with and we can focus on getting back to a regular routine and rhythm of life. Except, it still doesn't seem much like winter.

It's been very warm and yesterday we all went out without needing coats - it was sixty degrees! - and had a wonderful time puttering round in the woods and enjoying some fresh air and sunshine. Benjamin and Rose had an impromptu sword fight using sticks as their weapons. Little Rose gave her big brother a run for his money. 😁 I really do need to get back into the SCA. I've been away from it too long.

Anyway, my first project of the year. My sewing machine jammed right before Christmas and no matter how many YouTube videos I looked at and how many careful and frustrating hours I spent with tiny screwdrivers and soft brushes, I could NOT fix it on my own. Eventually defeat was admitted so it currently sits at a Husquvarna dealer/repair shop. In a few more days I will have my beloved machine back and I have a lot I want to sew when that happens.

Meanwhile, I had another, older machine I could use. It belongs to my childrens grandmother and I have been keeping it for her until she needs it again. I pulled it out and fiddled with it enough to sort of fix the tension issues. I was going crazy from not having something to work on. Handsewing has been really painful lately, due to some (hopefully temporary) nerve issues from where I had my IV back in November. I decided I was going to use that older machine to make a simple project to get me by, creatively, until my good machine was repaired.

Since the stitching was still less than ideal I didn't want to use any super nice fabric. I had a long length of a brightly colored, large floral cotton or cotton blend that my kids 4-H group leader gave me awhile ago. It had been in her garage sale and not sold, and had been rained on, so parts of it were holey and spotted when I got it. She wasn't sure if it was salvageable but I was determined to at least try. A few hot washings and dryings later, it seemed ok. The large floral pattern seemed to tell me it wanted to be curtains for the girls room, but then I found some pretty sequiny curtains for them instead, so the fabric still sat unused. It seemed absolutely perfect for a quick project sewn with not-so-great seams. If the project failed, I wouldn't be out anything but some time.

I really don't know exactly what this fabric is. It is lightweight but feels cool, smooth and heavy when lifted. It has a great drape. It feels a little rayony, but certainly isn't all rayon. Maybe it's a blend? I don't know. I do know that any off grain areas stretch out REALLY badly. I learned this the hard way when making a fleece cloak for Anne earlier in December and used this material to line it with. The lining stretched out so bad! So for my project I wanted all simple shapes, that could be tore across the width. I tore out all the pieces for a 4 tiered skirt, with each tier 1.5 x larger than the one above it. This resulted in a hem about 170". Now, a tiered skirt is a simple project but this one drove me insane. It was SO frustrating to gather all the tiers, pin and sew the wiggly fabric with a machine with not-great tension and then remove the gathering stitches - I about gave up. I wondered if the seams between the tiers would be strong enough to hold the weight of the skirt below it. I will probably go back and hand top stitch each seam with a coordinating, strong poly thread. Finally the skirt was done and I finished the waist with a simple elastic band.

I still had a lot of fabric left so I thought well why not make a top? A kaftan top is just a giant rectangle or square with faced slits for the neckline and belt openings, so perfect for this fabric. I quickly sewed the top, but the finished outfit just. . .was not pretty.
Bad quality phone pic!
Pink and purple and turquoise and bright yellow are all very well, but all together in that big print looked a bit too much for my tastes. As a beach cover up? Sure. But I don't want or need clothes like that, especially this time of year. I was about to give up on this again when I thought well, why not try to over dye it? I never know what kind of color I'll end up with when I overdye, but with a project like this it was worth a shot!

Late at night I used a box of color remover and anxiously watched my skirt and top swish in the washing machine for a half hour. Finally the water spun out and I was really pleased with how much color was gone! The large floral motifs and leaves were still yellow and green but so much better than before!

I then dyed the skirt with a full bottle of dark green and half a bottle of brown, and again, anxiously watched and stirred and checked it as it chugged in the washer. The color came out more blue-green than I had imagined, but I loved it! I finally had a pretty tiered skirt! The design of the print still showed through, but subtly and I was very happy with the effect.

The top was dyed with the remaining brown dye and came out exactly as I had hoped. And together, the top and skirt looked natural and nice and definitely more to my tastes than the pink and purple it had previously been!

I had the opportunity to wear my new clothes yesterday and I really liked wearing both pieces. I had pants and a shirt on underneath too, not knowing quite how cold or muddy it would be (it was not cold, but it was definitely muddy!). One nice thing about unfitted garments is that you can layer up as needed and no one will know! I find I'm really preferring these loose styles, which is kind of weird considering now that my babies are growing up I don't need loose fitting clothes for the figure changes that pregnancy and breastfeeding bring (and I am very happy for that! 😂). It is interesting to see how my tastes have changed over the years - growth and change is a good thing! Always forward, always progressing. Life is not static and we should not be, either.