Thursday, October 31, 2013

New Toy To Play With

I made some t-shirts with my brand new toy, Brother 1034D, a serger.

For quite sometime now I'd been lusting for a serger because I love sewing with knits.  I basically live in kntis, as in t-shirts, all the time. After reading some postings online I stopped by a local dealer and checked out some serger prices.  As much as I feel it would be a smart thing to buy a decent one from the dealer, and the air jet self-threading of a Babylock sure was looking so good ($1000), I couldn't bring myself to swipe the credit card for $600, the cheapest model, Viking, they carry.  I have to live within my means.

I read some wonderful reviews of Brother 1034D on Amazon and at Pattern Reviews.  I felt I'd be OK with $169 after using my $20 giftcard towards the price tag of $189.  It only took 2 days for the serger to arrive. The day it arrived, it was like Christmas for me. I ran down the stairs when Santa Claus, aka UPS, came with the box, and immediately set it up.

I love, love, love this baby.  It was so much fun to play with it.  The first time threading was slightly intimidating because I didn't have the dexterity of using a pliers to thread.  But the diagram on the machine definitely was easy to follow.  After few practices, I found the threading to be simple and straight forward. Sure, it took more time and steps than a sewing machine, but the diagram really visually guides you through the steps rather effortlessly.  I sew up a t-shirt that day

The t-shirt was based on the pattern I drafted for basic t-shirt in my last mini-"collection".  I added some free-form line details first by serger than sewn with sewing machines at the right side of fabric, and that was the only part I did with sewing machine. I didn't bother to mark lines on the shirt, I just followed the visualization I had in my head.  It came out close enough, for me.  I love sewing free form, very liberating after all the cutting and pinning that I try to do as precisely I as I could.

It was so much fun to play with the machine the next day I signed up for a Craftsy class on Beginning Serger when I had an offer sitting in my email inbox for $19.99 / one class. I'd never taken a single class in sewing, or knitting.  I'm a complete self-taught in both, but I felt I could use some guidance with serging. I was very glad I did the class. The instructor, Amy Allen, was excellet at explaining things and obviously very knowledgeable on the topics. Her style of teaching is very clear, not rushed, but not tedious, a natural teacher if you ask me. I practiced some of the stitches covered in the classes. I even made the class project of bags for fun. I highly recommend the class for anyone who is new to a serger.  When I made the third bag, I accidentally pulled the zipper completely off the track (I cut the zipper to the length I wanted.)  I had to ask Paul to put it back in for me 'cause I just couldn't do it and was very frustrated after 3 minutes.  He realized it was OK to put the zipper pull back in opposite direction and that worked, phew.

I ended up making a second t-shirt with the leftover fabric, in boat neck style.  This time, entirely with the serger alone. I adapted my self-drafted pattern for t-shirt into boat-neck.  Most of the body was easy.  It did, however, took me few tries to get the neck band right.  I ended up serged the neckbands to front and back separately first, then serged the shoulders together.

I am so happy with this purchase.  So far it seems like a good machine for the price.  It's made in Taiwan, my birthplace! I have to say, Taiwan nowadays builds very solid stuff.  My Pfaff sewing machine, though it can be temperamental sometimes, cost me less than $200 about 20 years ago, it was never serviced and only been cleaned and oiled for the very first time few months ago, yet it still works, and it's also made in Taiwan.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Linger On...

... your pale blue byes

RIP, Lou Reed.
Thank you for the truly amazing gift of music you'd given us. There is no comparison to you.

Few years ago, I was playing Velvet Underground album in class.  A young student asked out loud, "What is that 70's thing you're playing?"  Before I could answered, another student, who probably spent his teenage years in the 70's" shook his head and said, "True classic, is what that is!"

"Between thoughts and expression, lies a lifetime."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I'll Remember April... and Something Else on My Needles

Finally, it took me long enough, the pattern of "I'll Remember April" is available now.
The test knit was actually done months ago, thank you Tatjana and My Anh.  But I kept sneaking in new patterns (i.e. Ginkgo Collection) in front of the queue for tech editing.  

It's funny since it had been a while I last worked with it, I'd nearly forgotten about this pattern. 

Now a pattern is up, I got something going on my needles as well.
I decided to re-knit my Inishmore, the one I knitted and completed nearly 20 years ago, and unraveled it last year due to its huge size.  

I'm reknitting it with proper gauge by moving down 1 needle size, and this time size small.  It will still be big for me, but I think I want a fashionably over-sized sweater (as oppose to simply way too large to be worn.)

Knitting this definitely made me remember my respect for Alice Starmore as a designer.  It has a fairly complex stitch design that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed after the ribbing.  However, 6 rows into stitch pattern, the sequence became intuitive.  It's still by no means easy, mindless knitting, but I am enjoying it.  

It's fairly slow going. I have a feeling I may start another project on the side to break the rhythm a bit. I'm not one that has many projects going at the same time because I feel like I can loose track of what I'm doing too easily.  I also dislike picking up an project and spending 3-5 minutes trying to figure out where I was. But somehow the slowness of it makes me want to do something else.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

From Echo to Aloha

My new pattern is up!  It's called "From Echo to Aloha" 
The knitting and pattern were actually done months ago, like in April or May... I think.  I can't even remember. But it sat in the queue for tech editing and testing during summer.

I wanted a two color cowl but not stripes, not stranded, and not... well, I wanted cable twist, I went with the idea of 2 sections linked together with loops.

Initially one cowl was enough, but I kinda got carried away. Because the cowl was fairly quick knit, I got curious with different color possibilities. I ended up dyeing all the yarns for all all 4 cowls. The yardage was short enough for easy dyeing process.

Red and yellow definitely is not my normal color combo, but I was surprised at how much I ended up not minding it.  I do wish the minty green that goes with the purple is slightly more saturated.

The name came at last minute.  It refers to the hike from Echo Lake to Aloha Lake in Desolation Wilderness here at Tahoe.  It was the very last hiking/camping trip we did with Cody few years ago. Half of the trail was rocky, and Cody trudged along like a good little trooper even at the old age of 13.  However, if we were to go at his pace we'd take days and days to get to the place, so half of the time Paul carried him in his homemade carrier, a sheet tied in front like a sling.  Cody tolerated that even though he'd much prefer walking and stopping every 30 seconds to sniff a bush for 5 minutes. That was just the way he rolled, totally obsessed with sniffing other dogs' smell on his walks.

I just thought of the linking together like us together. Each cowl was named after the 4 lakes along the hike, beginning at Echo Lake, then Tamarack Lake, then Lake of the Woods, and finally Aloha Lake.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Collecting My Wits and My Calm

I realized I had not posted any finished project for over a month.  I'd actually been knitting and sewing a lot. But drama at work was robbing me the motivation to take photos and write about the progress.  So here, I now have quite a few things to share... a small collection, like I'd dreamed of making earlier in the summer.

Back in September I started a sweater.  All I wanted was a simple cardigan with rounded collars.  I went through my stash and decided upon Classic Elite Portland Tweed in Rosewater, a dusty pink.  I wasn't particularly enamored with the yarn or the color.  It wasn't bad, something I bought over internet, but it was not too exciting either.  I designed the sweater so it's worked top-down in one piece with raglan sleeves and built in shallow pockets and a pleat on the back. Also, I added on the sleeves and pocket some very simple cables. The sewn on collars were knitted separately.  I actually knitted the collars twice to get it right. The buttonholes were simply single crochet loops as after thought.

I liked it. Nothing earth shattering, but comfy. I thought it was rather sweet looking.

In the mean time, everything at work got more confusing. Sitting in one place doing mindless knitting didn't help.

Fortunately I was able to find distraction in sewing.  I'm really a novice at sewing, so when I do it, I have to concentrate 100%. This time I got ambitious, I thought I'd make my own sewing patterns.

Yes, and to completely take my mind off things, I decided to draft my own pattern of...drum roll please.... pants.  Trousers with pockets to go with the sweater.

I checked out "Make Your Own Patterns" by Rene Bergh from local library. I read through parts of it and decided I'd give it a try. I drafted a trouser pattern following the steps in the chapter. It was very mathematical and straight forward, it took me half a day to draw the patterns. With the new coupon from Joann's I bought some muslin and did a sample. It turned out fine. That was when I realized I must have fairly "average" figure that there wasn't much fit issue.

Instead of the plaid fabric I really wanted to go with the sweater, first I sew a pair with a plain brown-ish grey suiting fabric from my stash as a test run. Since the part of the book I followed did not have pockets, I thought the easiest placement would be at the side seams.  I slimmed down the legs a bit from the books math, and made a few minor changes to for better fit.  I'm very proud to announce that the trouser ended up fitting me well.

After this first pair, I got more confident to use the plaid for the pants to match the sweater.  I made few more changes so the legs are tighter and tapered.  Also, I changed the placement of pockets to be more towards center from the side seams. I was able to sew the whole pants on my day off. I took my time. Breaks were necessary at every 20 or 30 minutes. And it was also interrupted by friend's phone call.  She asked, "what are you doing?" I said, "sewing... pants... in plaid." She giggled.  I know, crazy, who would wear plaid pants now that we're not in the 90's any more?

After a bit chatting, I got back to sewing.  I even matched the plaids very, very carefully so the two sides match, and so do the fronts  matching to the back at side seams.  The pants looked so great, except... when it's on me.  I think it takes certain body type to wear pale color plaid pants, the type that is the tall and slender, that type that is not me.  What was I thinking??? It still didn't stop me from being very proud of the work, the matching prints stuff.

After trying on the pants with the sweater, I decided the legs needed to be a lot shorter. One flaw, the material was much stretchier and slightly softer than the brown trouser, so the waist did feel slightly looser even after I took in 2 more inches.  I think I'll have to add belt loops onto the pants for the real perfect fit.

Then I thought the original brown trouser needed a boxier sweater to pair with.  The idea of having a mini collection of knitting and sewing designs prompted me to incorporate cables onto the second sweater.  OK, so the collection was going with cables as one element.  The second sweater was made slightly over-sized. plain grey, very neutral looking, not feminine like the first cardigan.  Since the combination of the pullover and the trouser was rather understated, I put the cables somewhat off center to add a but more fun.  Additionally, horizontal textured stripes were added to contrast the vertical cable column and echo the grids of plaid.

The yarn was Debbie Bliss Fez. Love, love, love the yarn. I seriously love every second of knitting it and wearing it. It's soft but not limp. I have another sweater lot in fuchsia, but I'm still kicking myself for not getting more of it when it was on sale at Elann.  It's one of the few yarns I can see myself knitting every sweater with it.

Although not a stand-out piece, the sweater turned out nice.  It completed the neutral look I wanted for the trouser.  I kinda wish it's even looser for a bit more fashionable look. It was knitted bottom-up in round, and separated at underarm.  Set-in sleeves were knitted in round and sewn to body at finishing stage.

The brown and grey were so neutral, it made me dream of making a coat with a beautiful magenta/fuchsia fabric I had stashed for a year.  It was found at Joann's bargain pile.  After the purchase, I made a pair of pants with a pattern guaranteed for perfect fit. Well, perfect fit it wasn't. I threw the pants away. After following the direction of finding my exact size and fit according to the envelope and the instruction, I was too disgusted that the pants turned out way too unflattering and baggy. It looked like 4 size larger than what I needed.  But I loved the fabric so much I went back and bought more right after that. I never got around to make the pants again, now they'd be perfect for a coat.  That is, if I can do it right.   


I followed the instruction for making a top from the same book, and gave up after 20 minutes. I'm sure it would've worked if I followed it through, but it was getting too tedious. Paul wasn't around to help me with a bunch of measurements that was called for. I thought, heck, with all the designing of sweaters for myself in the past few years, I know most of the measurements of a top I'd like. Combining that with a coat I made few years ago from a sewing pattern, I was able to come up with sets of numbers that I thought would work for a coat, shoulder width, armhole circumference, armhole height, etc.

I also happened to come upon one episode of  "It's Sew Easy" on Amazon Prime on how to adapt sleeve patterns (Season 1, episode 7 - episode#107, "Patterns".) I figured it can't be too different from drafting one completely from scratch.  I even went crazy and decided I wanted princess seam.  So the book talked about to draft princess seam, that helped.  But it didn't really talk about how to add seam allowance.  I must admit I was not a careful reader, so I could've easily skipped that part. I thought about it in my head, I supposed if I really wanted a smooth drafting process, I could just draft out exact size, then cut pieces and add seam allowances by taping or re-drafting.  But I was a bit lazy.

I drafted so the 2 parts of princess seam would be right next to each other on paper with seam allowances included. This did create a problem when I was sewing up the muslin.  I realized I had to be very careful as to where to begin sewing, so the edges of the 2 parts of the princess seam would form a continuous contour. After few trial and error, I was able to draft that out more accurately.

Then the curve of the collars at the neck edge was more challenging than I expected. It took me 3 tries to get the right shape and size. I realized a straight edge across the neck edge was not going to cut it.  It had to be the same curve as neck line on the body, just like the waist band on pants.

I forged on with making this pattern, I was having such a blast and completely wasn't thinking about the mess at work for the entire weekend.  I redrafted, taped the collars a few times.  After 2 muslin samples of patterns, I was finally confident to sew up the coat using this beautiful fabric. I didn't put in pockets as I had hoped, because at that point, my mind couldn't handle any more calculations of inches in increments of 1/8.

I changed my mind about the waist band. It was originally designed to be laid straight around the waist. I ended up having this idea of diagonal up at the center front, and glad I changed my mind.  It gave a little slender looking lines.

The lining was a little more work than I thought.  I didn't sew the waist band as a separate part. Instead I connected the top to bottom with extra length that equaled to the waist band. That took a bit extra drafting. Also, since I made the main fabric center front folded over for the button band, the center front lining had to be recalculated and re-drafted, as well as everything else due to inside neck band was in main fabric.

When I went to Mills' End for the lining fabric, I decided on a not lining-specifc fabric that's gingham in print. I liked the tiny gingham print because it's grids, like the plaid.  The material was polyester.  It was on sale for $1 per yard.  I asked for 3 yards just to be on the safe side, the clerk threw in the extra bolt's end, 1 whole yard, in for free.  4 yards of it for $3, not bad at all.

What to do with the yardage left?  Well, a simple dress.  But before I made that dress, I envisioned a bulky, hooded, vest with it.  I made the vest first.  First, I made some swatches for cables and settled on 2 cable stitches I liked based on look and proportion. I wanted a puffy cable instead of rope-like cables so the vest can kinda look like a down jacket.  The Vest was made bottom-up, 3 day knitting, gotta love bulky yarn.  I used Shulana Cortina that I bought from Elann months ago.  I really had fun knitting this vest, I did have to rest my wrist regularly for working with such bulky yarn.

This ensemble was quick and easy.  The dress was originally slightly fancier in design with curved collars etc, but major fail due to impatience and lack of planning, so I just scratched that and sew up a simple v-neck dress with separate bodice and skirt pieces sewn together.

Finally, I wanted one more outfit to complete the collection.  So far the collection is of pink, grey, and plaid/gingham which means vertical and horizontal lines.  Looking at the fabric I had on hand, a light grey t-shirt jersey material, and leftover fabric from the brownish grey trouser would go well.  I quickly drafted a t-shirt pattern using my own measurements and lesson learned from making armholes with coat.  All the schematic drawings I did for sweater patterns really helped me with knowing what I needed to do.  The drafting was actually done in very short time because I was counting on the knit fabric being forgiving.  My T-shirt came out perfect, exactly what I wanted.  I added vertical elements to the front by folding the front vertically and sewn straight down. I decided to go for a less "finished" look for the t-shirt by sewing the entire shirt with color of thread for the coat instead of the matching grey.  I love it.  it's a bit more "rebel," and less refined, not to mention less stress in sewing.

The skirt was just simple A-line skirt from the good old A-line skirt pattern I drafted this summer.  I didn't have enough fabric for pockets, so no pockets, hence easy sewing.  I added the vertical lines using the same contrasting color threads by using one of the stretch stitches on the machine for thicker lines. It was very satisfying to be totally free form.

I probably love the coat the most simply because it took the most time and it felt like the biggest challenge I overcame. Paul likes the t-shirt the most though.

I'm absolutely thrilled that I finished the entire mini-collection using everything from stash except for the $3 gingham fabric for lining and dress.  I even had all the zippers needed in stash.  I did have to shop for buttons, and I always hated shopping for buttons.  

It was a much needed process for me, designing every piece and making my own patterns for all of them. First of  all, I learned so much from making my own sewing patterns. Designing sweater patterns in the past really did help me here, I knew exactly what shoulder width and armhole width I like, so it took away guessing game.  Some basic understanding of set-in sleeves shapes helped as well. Everything ended up fitting way better than cutting from bought patterns. I know I can always adapt patterns, but somehow drafting from scratch seemed easier because I knew exactly where and how I should calculate things instead of figuring out someone else' math.  I find it the same as designing sweaters, it's often easier to start everything from scratch on my own, than to redo a lot of calculations. 

Then, there was the entire immersion and all-consuming process that has been saving my sanity for the past 7 or 8 weeks.  I worked on them whenever I'm not at work. It only left me little time to get upset about the mess.

The fact that I got to make every single decision in the process, how wide the sleeves, what steps to construct, making every cable stitch without referring to other sources (but I'm sure they existed somewhere already since they're super simple,)  how big buttons to sew on, how big collars to put on, etc., really gave me back little sense of control in life and making my own decisions about things. That was sorely needed.