Sunday, August 29, 2010

Workroom Session #3 pt. 2: Fitting the mockup

I had invited my mother over to help out, as she has adequate sewing skills to help with the fitting process.  We started by pinning the garment onto my body.  As predicted, there were some fitting issues.  They were not the ones I expected.  First, the length really did need to be added.  I will be keeping the inch all the way around, as well as adding a little additional length to the center front and center back.  Second, the overall fit was too large at the top, and too small across the bottom of the back.

Workroom Session 3: Making a mockup

I worked for several hours today on my corset.  The first portion of the task was to transfer the pattern to fabric, which would then be cut out and sewn.  For a regular garment, muslin is the norm; however, I opted to use unbleached cotton drill (similar to duck cloth, but with a twill weave) as a finished corset is generally a fairly sturdy garment.

I started out by laying the pieces out on the doubled fabric to get an idea of how much I would need; I cut that section of fabric off of my stock and pressed out the wrinkles.
The pattern pieces laid out on canvas drill

Center back
Pieces with seam allowance added
Then I traced the pieces using a regular old #2 pencil.  I then had to add seam allowances with a grid ruler and curve, since my graded pattern did not have allowances.  Since I predicted a need for additional length, I added a full inch at the top and the bottom.  I used half inch seam allowances on the seams, and included a 2" allowance at the center back, with 1" representing the opening between the lacing.

I then had to flip over each cut piece and copy out the pattern markings onto the other side, so that I would have a fully marked right and left side.

Left and right pieces

Completed, I finally had a whole garment to be stitched!  At last, actual sewing to be done.  Actually stitching the seams together on the Mercury took about 20 minutes, including futzing about with the machine.

Since I've been having serious difficulty getting my photos into this post, I am going to split it to make it a little less picture-heavy.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Workroom Sessions #2 & #2.5: Pattern grading - slash and spread

I worked on Wednesday, as planned, but got wildly distracted between work sections, so only got in three of five planned pomodoros.  I needed to make up those two missed timer sessions to be on track, so I did so tonight.  I finished my pattern grade, and wow, hard to tell if the pictures are useful.  Only one of them is actually bad.

At last entry, I had finished copying the commercial pattern, and had cut it out sans seam allowances.  Now, I needed to enlarge the pattern by a certain amount to fit, as I am somewhat larger than the biggest size on the pattern.  Somewhere in a previous post I discussed how much the pattern needed to be changed.  I had to enlarge each side of four seams by 5/8" at the bust, 7/"8 at the waist, and a scant 1/2" at the hip.  This is a bit of an issue, since this particular pattern doesn't have a waistline indicated on the original, and the bottom edge of the garment is well above the place where you would take a hip measurement.  I also know that I'm likely to need more length, as my -ahem- voluptuous figure will need more fabric to cover my larger bust, hips, and seat.  I also know that some of the seam lengths may not match up exactly any more.  Those little details... well, they'll get worked out at the first fitting.  That'll be tomorrow afternoon.

In the meantime, let us return to stretching the pattern pieces to accommodate my measurements.  I used slash and spread, and did it in a very rudimentary fashion.  If the garment had things like... oh, armholes or a neckline, I might have had to take a little more time and effort.  But since it doesn't, it was actually relatively easy to grade up.  I experimented a bit with fancy cutting of the pattern (you'll see this below) but for the most part found I could just as easily work by simply splitting the pattern up the middle and moving each half over the specified amounts at the specified places.

For each piece, I started out by drawing some landmarks on both the underlying pattern paper and on the copied pattern piece.  I often use the grainline vertically and any notches as horizontal marker points, although this isn't set in stone as sometimes the notches were pretty close together.  This isn't the best picture, since I had not yet placed, horizontal guidelines, but you get the idea:

Next, the pattern piece is cut vertically.  Some folks also like to make fancy horizontal cuts so that the edge can just be kind of bent out to where it needs to be.  I only did that on this one piece, and found it to be a fail with this particular pattern because the side seams just got weird and bumpy.  I did, however, take a picture to demonstrate the concept:

left half has horizontal cuts to allow side to flex

detail showing how slashes allow pattern to be reshaped

With the pattern made flexy by cutting *almost* to the edge, in theory you can just pull the whole edge to the new widths needed and blend any curves that need it.  With this particular pattern, I had better luck just spreading the pattern parts, and, using my trusty grid ruler at the centerline, moving it out and marking key points.  Then I redrew the new seams with a French curve.  Have a look at a couple of the pieces:
Last time you may recall a picture of the copied pieces laid side by side.  You could see some pretty dramatic negative space in the curve of the waist.  The new grade reduces that quite a bit, as I'm pretty thick in the middle; some of the new side seams are all but straight.  I am not shocked.
The complete graded pattern, laid out in order
I will trace this new pattern directly onto canvas drill in pencil, and then add 1" allowances at the top and center front, 1/2" allowances at the seams, and a 2" allowance at the center back marked in inches to allow for the 2" gap between the edges on the finished corset.  This will get its vertical seams sewn and will be fitted with the seam allowances to the outside.  Any change (and I predict many) will be drawn right onto the muslin, and then transferred onto the pattern.  My mother's coming over tomorrow at 3 to help, as it is virtually impossible to do a good job fitting yourself.  She's not an expert seamstress, but she knows enough to lend a hand here.

I expect a second fitting will be needed before I feel ready to order steel bones or cut a garment out of expensive coutil.  I also MUST finish the foundation garments before I can reasonably expect to fit the fashion garments, so this project must move on at a decent pace.

I am also planning to get in some drawing time this weekend.  I intend to draw a minimum of five designs with the fabric I have on hand or can obtain relatively cheaply.  I have a mind to use the beautiful purple boucle and matching plum pinstripe I have been hoarding, but also have a nice piece of navy wool, and a ton of leftover green suiting.  I could also easily use black and red, though I find the combo to be a little cliche these days, as black bottomweight can be had for a song and I have some very nice accent materials on hand, including some red on black pin.  Additionally, I have  considered doing a piece in denim (again, inexpensive) and caramel; this would probably be the most apt to adapt for the SteamCon II "Weird Weird West" theme.  I'll have to start drawing and see what I come up with.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Workroom Session #1 - copying a pattern

I had five Pomodoros worth of time to work with tonight.  (Read the previous post if you're already lost!)  The first was used for organization - I reviewed the time management technique, made an activity inventory and a to-do list for this evening's remaining time.  Three more were used to work on the pattern copy, and the last to update the ol' blog.

I promised procedural documentation as I move along, so you will get that.  Let me start you out with a look at the tools on hand for copying and then grading the pattern.  This is by no means a comprehensive set of pattern drafting tools, but it's actually more than I wound up using:

Tools for making a copy of a pattern
At the bottom is a good old fashioned yardstick.  The next row  contains a 24" flexible steel ruler, a hip curve, a drafting square, a french curve (it's a little tough to see as it's clear), a dressmaker's curve (broken - I've busted several over the years), a 15" grid ruler, and a Dritz ruler.  the top row is double-tipped Sharpies, a mechanical pencil, an eraser, drafting tape, and (left handed) scissors.  Those little grey things above the drafting tape are pattern weights, made by hand by my grandmother out of old-fashioned flour sacking, bird shot, and red sewing thread.  A bit homely, but extremely effective, and they were my Grandma's.  The paper I'll be drafting onto is brown packing paper, sold in 36" x 15' rolls for $1.50 at the local Pack 'N' Ship.

The sharp-eyed amongst you might have noticed that my scissors are labeled "fabric" and are clearly going to be used to cut some pretty rough paper!  Don't fear, gentle readers - where my inexpensive red handled, "true left" Fiskars were once my fabric shears, I now own a very nice set of 8" true left Gingher shears.

I cut out the original pattern pieces in the largest size, as I will need to size the whole thing up significantly.  The original tissues look like this:

Tissue pattern to be copied
I cut a section of paper off the roll and taped it to the table top.  I drew a couple of vertical lines to place the tissues' grain lines on.  Working one at a time, I traced each piece quickly in pencil, then used curves and straight edges to mark them out in Sharpie, transferring any pattern markings as well.  A second pass with a pencil and ruler marked in where the standard 5/8" seam allowances would be; these too were marked in in fine tip pen, and the pattern marks were transferred into the new line as the seam allowances will be cut off.  The copied pieces look a LOT more like production patterns:
All six pattern pices copied
Closer view of one piece

Closer view of another piece

I had one piece all the way done and another started when I began tonight.  The remainder took about an hour with no interruptions, but I was a little amazed at how tough it was getting to stand over the table and do the work.  I'm out of shape and out of practice!

Finally, I cut out the pieces; in doing, I also removed the seam allowance that is included in every commercial pattern tissue.  I haven't the foggiest idea why the pattern companies have settled on a 5/8" allowance.  It is, in fact, a rather awkward width to work with.  Even as a novice I would have appreciated a less bulky, floppy, and well.... odd width.  1/2" would be a huge improvement, and when I redraw my pattern I will add 1/4" allowances.  I don't need any extra as I am a skilled machine operator and the fit will be perfected ahead of time.

I took one additional step.  I laid out the tissues with the copies on top, just to make sure I hadn't gone totally off or done something stupid:

Left half (back)
Right half (front)

As an additional check, I laid all the pieces edge to edge, as they would be sewn:
the complete copied pattern

You'll notice that two of the pieces are upside down - that is because the pattern tissue is reversed to the other pieces, and I did not think to copy it so that it would be right side up in sequence with the other parts.  The piece labeled #19 is on the table, but it is underneath #18 as it is a reinforcement for the center back, where the corset will be laced.

Tomorrow night I will slash and spread the pieces to grade them to my measurements.  This is a pretty big grade (3-4 sizes) and so I don't expect the fit to be perfect; I will be making a dummy to correct any problems.  I am not planning to lengthen the pattern anywhere during the first fit, but I do expect length to be an issue, as well as fit at  the bottom edge since the length is not at the same point on the body that are measured for size benchmarks.  That's okay!  That's why at least one and more likely two pattern mockups will be made.

That's all for tonight - more to follow!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hang On Little Tomato: the Pomodoro Technique

Okay.  So.  Wacky graphics aside, allow me to introduce you to the Pomodoro Technique.  I know, this might seem esoteric, geeky, or irrelevant in light of the context - but it is a time management technique that matches up to my current practice and I hope to use to wring more value out of the workroom hours I have set aside.

I was chatting with my brother and very casually mentioned that I had set a timer at home with the intent to work for half an hour on a little housework project.  He exclaimed, "you have successfully used a unit of time called the Pomodoro!" and gave a two- or three-sentence rundown of the concept.  I promptly came home and looked it up on the InterTubes.

Some years back, a student was trying to figure out how to manage his time, made up his mind on a reasonable time and set a kitchen timer for that length of time.  His timer happened to be shaped like a cheery red tomato - or a pomodoro in Italian, as he also happened to be in Rome.  Since that time, Mr. Francesco Ferillo refined the idea and has developed a time-management system that is elegantly simple and effective, based on the idea of time-boxing and distraction management.  Since the publication of his book in 2006, the technique has garnered some serious attention amongst geeks and lifehackers, especially those who are wary and weary of other systems that are ponderously complex (and can eat up a significant amount of time and attention in and of themselves).

The book is worth a read - and it's available for free under Creative Commons license.  If you don't feel like bothering with the 40 page book, the one page "cheat sheet" PDF is well worth a look and describes the basic principles better than I have or could in this post.

I have long understood the value of time-boxing and have even used a timer, as I mentioned earlier.  I like the minimalist system and the ideas of distraction management and avoiding time-related anxiety.  I have already set out blocks of time that are Pomodoro-friendly, so it's a natural fit to try using the technique to squeeze the most value out of my 100 hours of workroom time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

New cards have arrived!

Well, I ordered new business cards a few days ago... and expected them a week out from now.  I paid a few bucks since I didn't like any of the free designs at Vistaprint this time around, and it was totally worth it:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Steam Justice League

A friend IM'ed me the link to this and I *had* to share.  (She found it on, for the record.)

Coming soon: Workroom hours

My workroom happens to be my living room, but that is immaterial.  I am, however, setting aside some work hours to make sure that I have enough time for the SteamCon projects.  Beginning next week, I have blocked out 8 to 10:30 PM Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 11 AM to 4 PM on Saturdays until Halloween.  This is about ten hours a week for ten weeks, or 100 hours of scheduled work time.  If I feel I am in need of more time, I may add some hours on Sundays as well.

I lost a little time to the heat (the lights and machines make my sewing area hot even on cool days) and have some stuff going on this weekend - but then it's second star on the right then straight on 'til morning!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Grading a pattern

I give it a B-.

I kid, of course.  I am just starting the process of grading out a commercial pattern to my size.  I've selected a histrorical pattern from one of the major pattern companies but must increase it in size by a good amount as I am a rather stout girl.  The pattern is Simplicty 9769 from the Fashion Historian series; in hindsight, I kind of wish I had selected Simplicity 2890 as it is a gored corset, and is available up to a size 24.  I'd still need to grade it, but not nearly so much.

For those of you who aren't experts.... grading a store bought pattern is kind of a pain in the bustle.  The steps:

1.  Determine how many inches you need to add by comparing your measurements to the body measurements on the pattern.  Usually they give just a few measurements - bust, waist, hip, back length.  Divide the difference in each measurement in half, as most patterns are bilateral (if you are using a pattern that is not the same on the left and right side, ignore this).

My measurements compared to the pattern's for its largest size:
Bust:  52" measured - 42" on pattern = 10" total increase needed, halved = 5"
Waist :  47" measured - 34" on pattern = 13" total increase needed, halved = 6.5"
Hip:  51" measured - 44" on pattern = 7" total increase needed, halved = 3.5"

2.  Determine how many seams are available to increase.  On this pattern, there are four seams that can be let out (and if needed a little can also be added to the center front and center back).  Each side of the seam will be increased, so I will be adding 1/8 of the necessary amount to each seam.  For me, this means I will be adding 5/8" at the bust, 7/8" at the waist, and a little less than 1/2" at the hip on every edge except the center front and center back.

3.  Make a copy of the pattern pieces as they appear on the tissue.  Include any pertinent pattern markings, including grain line, notches, bust points, etc etc.  Mark in the 5/8" seam allowances, and transfer in any pattern markings along the edge of the pattern.  Be sure to clearly label the pieces.

4.  Measure out from the pattern edges (NOT the seam allowances!) the amounts determined in Step 2.  Redraw the edges.  Use curve templates, it will make your work much easier!  .

One method used to redraw the edges of a pattern is slash-and-spread.  For this, you would make a copy of the pattern without seam allowances, cut each piece vertically (and horizontally if the lengths are also being altered) and simply physically move the edges of the patterns to the new location and retrace.  I will demonstrate this method, as I am taking photos of my workflow.

 5.  Add on new seam allowances (I generally opt for 1/2" instead of 5/8").  Cut and sew a mockup; grading won't guarantee a perfect fit, so do at least one fitting to make any necessary adjustments.  Once you are happy with the pattern fit, sew per the pattern's instructions.

This will take me all weekend.  I am taking pictures, and will either edit the photos into this post as I go or create a new post.

Splitting off

I'm starting some new projects, so I thought it wise to move to a distinct, new blog.  And nothing personal against the lovely people at LJ, but I'm looking to move to a more... ahem... up to date and intuitive blog site.

I have just a few posts in my last journal that are pertinent, so I will paraphrase them for you now:

Recently several of my friends and I have decided we want to go to SteamCon, and make stuff for it.  I am already equipped with some decent costuming skills, so we are planning to sew some Victorianesque garb and have a great time in the doing.  In preparation for this, I managed to purchase an industrial sewing machine for a very good price. It is now up and running in my living room, and today I will be starting the process of fitting myself for a corset.

Self-fitting is tough, but I do hope that my background in fashion design and sewing will see me through.  Expect pictures of the process.