Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Sewing, Part 4

So I was in Reno earlier last week and decided to check out Mill End store at Reno.  It turned out to be even larger than the one in Carson City.

I got a bit greedy and bought a bunch of fabric.  Everything was under $4/ yard, except for one with border print, a bit pricier.

I'm in love with stretchy synthetic print skirts. They are so convenient to wear to the beach or around town. They dry instantly and are wrinkle free. I'd made a few in the past with draw-strings. All based on a skirt I bought nearly 10 years ago. At Mill End, I picked up a few fabric for making that same skirt, including the one with border print. It was looking kinda nice, and I thought I'd never worked with border print, why not a bit splurge? I got nearly 2 1/2 yards For $17.

That night I had a guilt attack waking up 5 o'clock in the morning. I felt so guilty purchasing the more  expensive fabric. I promised myself that I'd sew it up that day instead of stashing it away. Sigh, I do that all the time, buying something, then feeling guilty for stashing it away, like a lot of yarn. Then I lessen my guilt by using it up right away.

Next morning I looked at the the fabric and my heart sank. The fabric was medium weight with Lycra. It looked more suitable for swimwear than a summer skirt. I obviously wasn't thinking when I was shopping. But I promised myself I'd use it up!

The problem of living up here in the mountain is that we don't have many stores other than groceries, hardware, other essentials, sporting goods, and tons of stores that sell things catered to tourists that are completely useless to us. The only fabric store in town is more a quilting store and half of the time it doesn't have what I need (though it has a huge collection of quilting fabric.) I didn't have a pattern on hand for swim wear and I wasn't about to drive down the hill just to shop for a pattern. I was also not keen on the idea of downloading pattern from internet. I'd never done it with sewing patterns, but I assumed it would take tons of paper and lots of time for assembly the pieces... I could be wrong with that impression, but I did not want the extra work.

I decided to make my own patterns...somehow that seemed easier work than assembling downloaded patterns...

I only wanted a tankini/yoga tank at first with built in bra. Digging through my piles of clean and dirty laundry, I was able to find my workout tank top from Target. I took some basic measurements from it and drew out the pattern on brown craft paper, the only paper on roll I had around. I made some adjustments and began cutting and sewing the tank.

I found out the stretch stitches on my machine that I'd never used were actually for sewing knit/stretchy material. However, after a bit fussing with it, I couldn't get it to sew stretch stitches forward. The machine kept sewing them backwards, so I ended up using narrow zig-zag stitch. It worked out perfectly. I did pull on the fabric as I sew (thank you Jen!) and that worked great for this fabric.

Everything went smoothly until binding strip. They were cut from the fabric along the stretchiest side. I've done sewing folded bias tapes before, but sewing with slick material was different. I didn't bother to stop and think. I just sew on both sides of the fold to the fabric at the same time. That was completely disastrous. Having already ripped the binding strip seams twice and l still couldn't get it right, I simply had enough with ripping seams that I decided to cut off the tank shoulder part that was sewn horribly with binding strips. I decided I would just do the shoulder straps entirely with binding strips.

I started Googling and found few great videos on YouTube of how to sew bias tapes. Duh! sew one side first, then fold over and sew the other side!  How simple was that???  Could not believe I didn't figure that out. Like I said before, sewing techniques don't seem to be that intuitive to me.  Construction, yes, but the execution, no.

It took a lot of careful pinning but I did it, and with a self-bra. The Lycra fabric had so much stretch that I'd decided I'd forego elastic and just used wide binding strips cut from the fabric for the underside of self-bra.
I was so very proud of myself.  The tank fits very well.

The next day I  thought I'd make a bikini bottom to go with the tankini. I had this crazy idea of making it reversible. Of the 4 fabrics I bought that same day, one of which was a bit lighter weight and it has 4 way stretch as well.  Being synthetic material this would work as the reversible lining. I took out my bikini bottom and drew a pattern based off that but with a more coverage and higher waist.

Once again I ran into problem with sewing binding strip. You'd think I'd learned from making the tank. No, I was again not doing it right because this time I had to add 3/8" elastic to it when I sew the first folded side. It turned out so ugly that I had to toss the whole thing. I could only comfort myself at least it wasn't a lot of fabric wasted.

After few hours of walking away from the defeat I began brewing in my head how I could do it right. I realized that I should machine baste the elastic onto the binding strip first, then proceed to sew the binding like before with the tank. The basting did the trick! It worked out really well after I recut the fabric and re-sew the bikini bottom. The entire process didn't go too fast because I took my sweet time pinning and sewing so to avoid more ripping seam.  My patience paid off.

I was so thrilled with how the reversible bottom came out.

I still had at least another yard of fabric left, so I decided to make a bikini top. Believe it or not, I actually had a pair of bra cups around. I was planning on a slip for a dress I knitted, but never got around to it. I based the pattern on a bikini top I had, that and the shape of the cups. I did some refining shapes, measurements. I always dislike how halter top pulled on the neck but unfortunately that was all I have around. Non-halter bikinis that are decent looking and cost more less than $25 seemed hard to find.  And uni-boob look in sports bra style was not what I look for in bikinis either. So I made my bikini top in regular bra style. First, I drew the pattern to cut in one piece where the fold line was at the back. It looked like this:

It too was made reversible with lining fabric. I made darts and cut the cups to fit the shape.
2" binding strips folded into quarters were sewn onto edge A first, then B, then C then 4" binding strip with 1/2" Elastic to D.

Love the result. I actually think I may like the print on the reverse/lining side even more...

The skirt that used the same fabric as the lining completed the set. It was the same shallow A-Line, drawstring skirt, knee length, as all other ones I'd sewn previously. I made the simple pattern with drawstring encased in waistband, super quick project. I didn't even bother to hem bottom since the fabric does not fray.

I'm so pleased with myself of this set, especially after the last frustrating dress. Not that they were super easy for me to sew, but through the struggles, I learned a lot. The fabrics were easy to work with, and the seams looked fine with zig zag stitches. Best of all, these pieces fit very well!!! The great thing of sewing with knits (good knits, not the frustrating kind) - they are more forgiving when it comes to fitting.

I actually went for a swim in the lake earlier today to test out the swimwear. They worked! OK, the bikini top can use slightly more coverage for my own liking. It's more coverage than most store-bought bikinis, but I still prefer full coverage. The fabric, as expected, loosened so very slightly when wet, but no wardrobe malfunction to worry about. The bikini bottom was absolutely perfect because there was elastic with all binding strips whereas the tank and bikini top didn't have elastic on the shoulder straps. Though they both worked for swimming, but my most ideal fit would be even a wee bit tighter. I wouldn't want the tankini to be any tighter because it can also work as a yoga style tank top, and for that it's absolutely perfect fit.  In fact, I wore the tank top and the skirt to get a bite in town first before heading to the beach. I love it, a great combo for walking around. Since I still have enough fabric left to make another bikini top, good thing it doesn't take a whole lot of yardage, I may one day make another one with full cup coverage with elastic to shoulder straps.

I cannot believe I don't have much summer time left. I'm having such a blast learning how to sew. I learned a lot with sewing these swimwear pieces. I realized how much I love making my own patterns. I'll be looking into getting a book on making patterns for myself. I love thinking about how to construct something, even though the actual execution of sewing technique is still frustrating at times.

This morning, I was secretly dreaming sewing another mini "collection" this fall.  I hope one day I'll be able to make clothes that are beyond the most basic styles.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Most Frustrating Sewing Project

This dress was a real test to my patience. OK, the culprit was really my lack of skill.  But I thought if I persevere I'd learn something. Now that the dress is finished, the only thing I learned was not to use that fabric again.

The pattern was New Look 6674. Very cute. The posts on patternreview.com seemed to agree the sizing was rather generous.  After studying the finished measurements on the envelope, I went for size 10 especially that I'm using a stretchy material. It was a good decision. Much thanks to the reviewers.

I cut for version C but cut version A for the skirt section because of my general preference of A-line skirt vs fuller skirt.

Size and pattern was no problem, at least not much. But the fabric! I nearly pulled all my hair out from working with it. It was some kind of synthetic knit, with tiny ribbing. When I sew knits, I know I can never get really good, even tension, but they're usually workable, at least for my not very high sewing standard. With this fabric, I adjusted the tension few times on both the bobbin and the thread, but the thread kept getting caught at the bottom or skipped catching. Even after I changed to ballpoint needle as I read about sewing knits, the holes were still really ugly after ripping seams which I did a lot with this dress. In fact, all the seams were UGLY with big holes, ripped or not. Worst of all, I could never finish one entire seam without something went wrong. It was the most frustrating sewing I'd ever done.

Admittedly I'm really just at beginner's level of sewing, but it shouldn't be this torturous, should it? I know knits are suppose to be a bit trickier, but not like this.

I guess one thing I sort of have is tenacity. Once I began the project, I was very determined to see (or sew) it through. It took 5 long days when it shouldn't have.

The pattern wasn't super beginner friendly either. OK, maybe it could've been a breeze had I not been feeling so frustrated the entire time, I don't know. Having contrast color bands meant having to switch out threads few times.

Sewing the facing on the wrong side of the waist band was NOT fun at all. So much pinning with this slippery fabric. Also for the waist band on the right side I had to stitch very carefully into "the ditch made by earlier seam." Wow, that was new to me. It scared the heck out of me reading that. I knew with darker thread of the contrast color, any slightly off track stitch would show on the lighter fabric of the skirt. Fortunately no deviation from the straight line, except, the freaking thread was caught at the bottom / skipped / broke THREE times for that one seam, that one seam I was nervous about!!!

I probably should take a sewing class of some sort. I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to technical stuff.  I love figuring things out on my own, and I do "wing it" a lot. I'm a self-taught knitter and sew-er. But there is a limit to it when certain things just don't seem as intuitive to me, such as sewing. Things looked OK or barely OK on the right side but the WS screamed "homemade by ubber novice." Oh, well, it's wearable (I think... I read that with knits I should use zig-zag instead of straight line sewing, but the seams were soooo ugly, even worse than the straight line, I reverted back to straight lines.)

Live and learn. Somehow I just didn't even feel like I'd gained any understanding or technical skills with this one.

BUT! crazy but true, I actually love the dress in the end! I seriously do! It will be a great beach dress too without looking too beachy.

I kept thinking about the difference between knitting and sewing. I totally agree with Jen (aka, fer1kntis who does beautiful knitting designs and sewing work - fernknits.com) who commented earlier about preferring knitting over sewing. Knitting is more relaxing for me simply because I don't have to think of next step every 5 minutes.  I can sit down and watch netflix for coupla hours and do endless St st. Sewing is not relaxing, at least not for this somewhat technically challenged beginner.

And as promised last week, I did sew up a hybrid of skirt 1 & 2 (New Look 6843 and New Look 6106.) I re-drafted the pattern, mostly re-drew the angle of flare on skirt 2 based on skirt 1. The size also ended up in between the two versions, which was just perfect. How much do I like it?  I totally LOVE it.  It is my favorite hand-sewn skirt so far. It was, thankfully, easy sewing. Woven cotton, no problem at all. Fabric was a fun design that I got for $3/yard from Mill End a while back, and used 1 1/2 yard.  I'm so going to make more from this pattern.

No, still not much knitting here. It has been very hot. I thought I was going to pass out from the heat on Sunday when the temperature went above 90. I sat around the house and couldn't do anything. I didn't want to leave the house either because the summer traffic on weekend just gets my blood boiling even more. We don't have AC in our house since we normally don't need one at all. The average summer here is at very pleasant 70's and sometimes 80's and very dry. I had the fan going and that was usually good enough, but not on Sunday. No clue how I survived 4 years of living in DC. Today is much cooler with threatening thunderstorms... maybe I'll do some knitting, or just sewing...


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Sewing Continues

I'm definitely in the groove of sewing this summer.
After the dresses I made 2 weeks ago, I made another shirt and two skirts. Talk about instant gratifications, especially comparing to knitting!

For the shirt I used New Look pattern 6407, and I made version E.

I don't know what I was thinking. I cut the pattern in size 10. I figured the finished bust measurements sounded right. WRONG! Being so used to thinking sizes in terms of knits, it didn't occur to me that zero ease has no give with woven fabric.

After sewing up, I realized it was way, way too tight, no room for buttons, yikes.  To remedy that, before I sew on the sleeves, I ripped the side-seams and added 1 1/2" strips between the front and the back.  The result?  I'm so proud of myself, these strips worked out perfectly. I had to re-cut the sleeves to add the extra 1 1/2" width simply by extending the 2 ends.  Next time, I'll stick with size 14.

The fabric was cotton.  I bought it at Mills End in Carson City.  I visited Mills End years ago and I'd totally forgotten that place until I started sewing up a storm this summer.  I went there coupla weeks ago and found a bunch of lovely prints in cotton, rayon, all ranged $3 - $5 per yard. This shirt was about $5 worth of fabric.

Yeepee.  I love bargains. I love the idea of being able to find inexpensive materials to make things. It is perhaps more out of necessity than anything. I love looking at expensive yarns and expensive fabric just as much as anyone else.  But the thrill of being able to make a shirt for $5 + $1.5 zipper + $1.5 buttons is only comparable to making a sweater under $30.

Oh and by the way I bought a few patterns when Joann had a sale of $1 for any Butterick patterns earlier this week.  I could feel my heart beating faster when I saw that at the store, and I only wanted a zipper, but I walked out of there with 4 patterns in addition to the zipper.

I actually made skirt #1 before I made the shirt.  It was really easy sewing. The only part where I took a deep breath first was putting in the zipper.  But I'm getting better at it.
The pattern for skirt #1 was New Look 6843, and I made version D.

Size 14 came out perfectly.  No alterations or mods. Simple A-line skirt.
Fabric was cotton with lycra that I bought years ago at Berkeley.  The fabric store was like Mills End filled with discount fabrics. The store located at where Straw into Gold used to be on San Pablo Ave. Print of the fabric was in Japanese style, really cute. The fabric unfortunately didn't soften up much as I'd hoped after washing.

I really, really love the shape of the skirt, not too flared out and the length came out perfect.  It was exactly the kind of skirt I like.

Then there was skirt #2.  The pattern was New Look 6106.  Yes, I seemed to have better luck with New Look patterns as far as sizing goes.  If I choose the right size, they tend to fit better on me than some other brands.

Size 14 came out really good, a bit looser than skirt #1.  Initially I felt size 12 might've been a better fit, but next morning when I tried it on.  It felt fine.
This one was way cute with pockets!!!  I love pockets in skirts.

Fabric was this wonderfully crazy print cotton with very slight stretch. I got it from Mills End for $4 a yard and I used about 1  1/4 yard. Score!

Did I mention pockets? Did I mention how much I love the pockets?
The pattern was very easy even with the pockets, and instruction for lapped zipper was very clear.

The skirt shape ended up a bit too triangular for my liking so I made a little mod by taking in 1" at each side of either side-seam and connect that with hip area right below pockets. So the circumference of the hem ended up 4" smaller.

I still feel like the skirt is a bit fuller than what I'd really prefer (like skirt #1.)   But it's a cute skirt nonetheless.

Next week I am gonna try combining skirt #1 shape with the pockets and yoke of skirt #2 to make my perfect skirt.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Taking Another Chance On Love

Yay! a new pattern is up.  It always makes me a bit giddy when a pattern is up and running.

Taking A Chance On Love is now available, much thanks to Chris, aka Doodle for her help with testing, and to Judy, aka judyka for tech editing.

The original one was made with Isager Alpaca 2, and for the second one I used some yarn I dyed with acid dye in reddish-orange.  The color is totally bright and gorgeous.

This time I made size large and I did not block it too aggressively.  It's the largest shawl I've ever made, and I rather like it. The shawl was done weeks ago but I never posted it.  So here it is.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

My Art and My Knitting

Ink, gouache, pastel on paper.
92" x 30"

A while back I mentioned that I've been busy working on paintings for a group show. 
Finally, the show is up.

After the show was hung, I had some thoughts of my art and my knitting.....

I've been a painter way longer than being a knitter. Rightly or wrongly, it's my identity. There is certain snobbery in the art world that has long made me feel like I'm working my way towards the bottom. First after grad school, instead of living in New York or L.A, I moved to Nevada, and up in the mountains.  
Instead of pursuing gallery shows, grants, or full-time teaching gig, I ended up not actively looking to show and teaching part-time at a community college. These moves basically tossed any "career" out the window for the rest of my life. Now I'm painting "knitting," a craft, and not as installations.  Yes, if I am doing instillation with the knits (which I may experiment someday for my own curiosity), I may pass as more innovative, but I'm not. I'm painting, a medium that is currently not ultra vogue. Third, I'm not well-connected, at all, and I don't bother. I'm sort of a recluse. At work, people think I'm fun and all, but really, I love nothing more than being left alone to paint or knit with some good music, an audio book or a British detective show in the background.  I only hang out with people I like and I don't do that too often. 

These are choices I made in life. Few years back I was frustrated with myself.  Now I'm at peace and I love the way I live.  Few years back I also began knitting again. I knitted for a year after college, but soon stopped because I felt being a "serious" artist" I had to give up on many things in life and just concentrate on making art. Ever since I got back to knitting, I became obsessed.  After some resistance, the subject-matter of knitting finally made its way into my art. I started to paint a lot more once that happened.  I don't really get too attached to many things in life.  The whole concept of develop a theme that means a lot to me, never felt right. I had my themes and they all felt as if I was taking on something too broad and too loosely.  But once using knitting, specifically lace for now, I felt it.  I felt the connection was something I'm growing with as I begin to explore knitting lace more for the art I do.  

Coupla years ago I went into a gallery with a friend. He introduced me to the director and said, "she is a knitter."  I was taken aback by the fact that instead of introducing me as an artist, he said "She is a knitter."  It stung and it stuck with me.

I'm glad and even proud to be a knitter. But the whole situation was uncomfortable. It wouldn't be different than going to a professional meeting and being introduced by one's cooking skill than by one's practice. It's fine to be brought up in a conversation, but it's condescending to be introduced as "oh, she cooks a lot" rather than "she is a pediatrician."  It made me realize how deep snobbery is in the art world. In art world, an artist is being judged even by the hobby she has, at least among artist friends/circles. There are "interests" that just scream not cool. 

This kept coming back to me. And in the end it revealed my own snobbery, that I too don't consider knitting the same thing as painting. I admit, I still don't. It's still hard to equate something I just pick up and self taught few techniques to something I studied for years and feeling all the ups and downs over the constant criticisms I faced as art student, and the thrill of visiting museums, galleries, spending hours reading articles and books written about art, and hours at the library poring over art books, and the hours of working in the studio. 

My thoughts that go into designing a sweater is very different than my thoughts that go into making art. It's not necessarily less of a thing, it's just not the same thing.

But I wanted to find a way to merge the two parts that I love so much in my life.  For the first time, I felt I'd found my ideas for a body of work. I'm not out to prove anything or trying to legitimize my knitting as serious. I don't need to prove myself to others who have the right to be think of things by the way they were indoctrinated and not too curious in ideas beyond that. While I may not feel knitting is the same as painting, it's is still serious to me, it is still just as worthwhile doing to me, it is still just as important in my life now. With these paintings, I'm not making revelations to others. I'm only trying to figure out things for myself, and paint things and ideas that I find deeply interesting. 

I'm hooked about exploring painting, something I love because it's still such a mystery to me and will always remain so, through knitting, something I personally find more readily to be understood because the construction is much more structured.    

Here are some of the pieces I have in the show. They were all done withing the last year.  


Oil on Canvases
each painting is 36" x 60"

ink on panels
20" x 30"

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sewing Dresses For the Summer

In the past few years I"d knitted one dress every summer. Well, I'm still not yet in the groove of summer knitting, yet I'm getting impatient of just sitting there and knit wool. I dusted off my sewing machine and made coupla dresses.

First one was inspired by an episode in George Gently that I watched in marathon via Netflix while knitting "Undecided."  If you have not seen the show, it's first off a very good series of British detective show, my favorite, and the setting is in the 60s.  In the episode of Season 4: Goodbye China, I spotted a beautiful dress that is green and silky material, and of course in the 60s style. I really, really wanted that dress. When I was shopping for pattern and fabric, I decided to go with linen/rayon blend.

The pattern I ended  up using was New Look 6824.  I made some modifications.
The pre-planned mods were:

  • changed pencil skirt to A line.
  • changed dart on skirt to pleats on the side. 

The mods after sewn up were:

  • lowering neckline.
  • recut neck band to shorter length.
  • made pleats to the otherwise sticking out too much, space age looking sleeves. 
Of course it's not exactly looking like the one in the show, the one in the show had no neckband nor sleeves, but otherwise, similar 60s style.
Being total self-taught with sewing, I'm not a good seamstress at all, but I did take my time.  The one thing that could be better was hemming the armhole area. I need to learn how to do a better job of hemming there.  But I'm so proud that I did the invisible zipper right.  I did have to rip and redo that part, simply because I mis-judged and placed the zipper too low without extending it onto the neck band. 

I really like this pattern, the only thing that absolutely needed alteration for me were the neck area and the sleeves. The neckline was a bit high for good proportion, and the neckband was too tall, together the dress looked a bit like I'm in a star-trek show or something. This version of sleeves sticked out too much that the dress would fit right in an 80's music video. Otherwise, the fit was perfect.  

I LOVE the fit.  I really do. I cut the body in size 12, and the skirt in size 18.  The reason for larger skirt size was only because the pleats I wanted at the side required more width for folding than the darts in the pattern. Otherwise I think the same size skirt would've been fine. I did not have to alter anything else for fit. The dress turned out fitting but not tight at all, just the way I wanted.


Then I decided to make another dress. This time a quicker sew. I bought this synthetic knit fabric a while back when Joann's had a sale. I couldn't resist the print. And I knew I wanted to make a dress with it some day.

The pattern was Simplicity 3506. Since the fabric was was knit, I didn't use zippers.  I still cut the back into 2 pieces as per pattern, which I could've cut in one, but I didn't have enough fabric for cutting 2 large pieces on fold.  

It was an easy and quick sew. I did it in one evening. Everything was done exactly as the pattern, except for no hemming (gasp!) I shortened the dress pattern by 3" based on reading the finished dress measurements.  It turned out to be not the wisest move. I ended up loving the length of pre-hemming. Fortunately for me, the material was non-fraying at all. I kinda liked it un-hemmed (so scandalous), a lighter swing at the bottom. I had the same problem as previous dress, I did a rather poor job on armhole hemming.  Well, at least it was not really visible.  

When I finished it late at night, I wasn't completely sold on the dress, even with the dart at the back and slight waist shaping at sides, the dress still looked boxy. I added a sash/belt, and liked it better.  But next morning, when I tried it on in much brighter day light, I ended up really liking it a lot, mostly due to the material and the print. I like how light and summery it feels. Even if it's synthetic material.  It's so easy to wear and super comfortable, totally up my alley as far as a dress goes.  

I'm hoping to get more sewing done.  They are like instant gratifications compared to knitting.