06 December 2012

The Battle of Unrealistic Expectations

It is Thursday and this is the most prepared I've been for a show in ages, probably ever. This is my 14th year of Christmas holiday shows; some I was just a vendor, many I organised and ran. This one I am just selling my own wares. Of course I had unreasonable expectations about what I could accomplish for this show; given that it was the only one I am doing this season. Given these unrealistic expectations, I am still okay with not crossing every item off my ridiculous list.

Today I finally finished one of the set of 7 corsets that will comprise the first line of corsets that I have been working on for a year and a half. This one was cut out a year ago, and I have been trying to work on it and her sisters in between other obligations that I have been desperately trying (or avoiding) to end their obligation that hangs over me like a dark cloud. It has been such a slow process that I have wondered if I could ever finish just one. And today I did. The others will follow sooner or later; they are all in various stages of started but not done. I need to remember that I chose corsetry because it is intricate, has a lot of steps and pieces, and is difficult and complicated. They are like paintings. I can tweak and fuss over them, but I need to be careful not to overwork them. Knowing when something is finished is an art unto itself.

I keep telling myself that this will be my last craft show. I don't know if this is really true, I say it every year. My business is evolving in this slow change that I have no idea where it will end up. I know I am not quitting. These things I have started will be finished in their own time, and me trying to push it won't make it happen any faster. When I started with the corsets, I wanted to make museum pieces. They are slow and fussy, and require thousands of tiny stitches.

So if you are around Portland this weekend, come see me at Crafty Wonderland. I will be there with all my finished pretty things.

02 November 2012

Birthday Dress

Most years I make myself a New Year's Eve dress; mainly as a consolation and armour for having to go out on an evening that everyone is out and staying home feels like a worse idea than being out. This year's occasion is my 40th birthday, which seems to warrant a fancy dress more than NYE. I am not freaked out about my age, as most seem to assume when I tell them that I am about to turn 40. The last few years it isn't so much the number that freaks me out, but birthdays in general. Like holidays where there is too much pressure to have a great time, I don't like the attention.

Forever, my way of dealing with not liking the attention is overdressing. It is what led me into dressmaking in the first place. I have never been able to blend in, so I decided trying to blend in is a waste of time. I always feel better when I am dressed in whatever it is I want to be wearing; be it a particular colour, an odd combination of eras, my fox fur collar... Whatever feels right to me. It isn't ever khaki pants or baggy T-shirts or cheap throw aways or brand logos or ill-fitting anything. This has led me to making the pieces that I could never find or never afford.

I will say upfront that this dress cost under $50. to make. It is nothing I would ever make for a client. There is a particular freedom in making something for ones self. I can fit at the drop of a hat without a schedule of waiting to get to the next step. I can not worry about the underpinnings being exactly perfectly straight. I can leave in my alterations that no one will ever see from the outside. I can forgo the extra hour(s) of finely looking over each piece to make sure there isn't one single Piper hair on the piece ever. I can experiment freely without worrying about wasting fabric or time or losing money. I don't have to answer to ANYONE.

The Inspiration

I wanted a very structured cocktail dress with a substantial skirt, but huge knocking over tables skirt. I turned to my Dior book for inspiration. Half circle will do nicely. I debated over strapless or strappy or almost cap; which won, because it is fall after all.

Six Yards of Hand Dyed Silk Duchesse

A few months back I found on super clearance a bolt of silk duchesse for $2. a yard. Silk duchesse normally retails for between $40. - $60. a yard. This was just too good to pass up. It had bits of tape on it, but I didn't care, it could be dyed. 2 boxes of Rit dye later it was a lovely aquamarine blue. The only issue is that there were some uneven spots and tiny stains. Not a big deal, I knew this dress would need surface decoration anyway. I like asymmetry, so why not let the fabric be the guide?

Here is the motif. I used this over a decade ago on a wedding dress. Pale gold 3-cut aurora borealis finished glass beads I've had in my stash forever, and aurora borealis Swarovski crystals also out of my stash. Strangely I rarely use this colour for flowers, but I had a whole jar of them.


This fabric has some drape; it is normally a little stiffer, but the sizing went out of it from washing and dying. No matter. I underlined the bodice with permanent press muslin (a mix of poly/cotton) which is stiffer than cotton muslin, and the skirt has an additional layer of stiff tulle and 3" horsehair braid around the hem to give it a solid shape.

I carefully went over the whole dress and pinned every spot and stain (all of them very tiny) and began sewing stars over each one. Here (see above) the skirt is attached, and the beading is just beginning.

The Underdress

At the same time I began making the underdress. I debated whether it would be a free standing piece or sewn into the dress. I fretted about this for days before starting it. Not that it matters as long as the dress has the desired shape on the outside, but what would any project be if I didn't spend copious amounts of time fretting over the logistics of its construction? In the end it was a free standing piece. Gently corseted with 10 yards of tulle fuller in the back to match the skirt (that I was adamant that it DIDN'T peek out from the hem), 6 steel bones (went in for light structure), waist tape and hook & eye tape closure. It gives a nice smooth line to the dress, and proper fullness to the skirt without completely taking away all of the drape. And I rustle when I walk.

The dress is almost done, save for a few more stars to add the skirt. The New Year's Eve party is tomorrow. I will be spending the evening at the bar down the street totally overdressed sipping cocktails with friends on the last night of my thirties.

18 September 2012

Sewing Hearts Over the Holes

When I have posted this line periodically over the years, it has often been mistaken for metaphor; when in fact, I am actually sewing hearts over holes. I finished my bed quilt in 1997; it is a simple squares quilt made from 1930's reproduction prints in bubblegum colours. The first holes appeared about six years ago. Seven hearts over seven holes. (Shown above when you could still see the squares.) Things wear out, and more holes kept appearing. Then the binding wore out, but instead of replacing it, I patched it. At first, I tried to stick to reproduction prints of the same era, but gave up on that, because there were just too any awesome prints. I began collecting quarter yard pieces to make new hearts; retiring fabrics as I didn't want to populate the quilt with any one fabric too heavily. The hearts overlapped, and holes keep appearing. It is the endless project that I can't stop working on. The worst is when I am sick in bed, and can see the tufts of broken threads at eye level.

This last spring the patches of the binding were worn through, and it was time to replace it. I dreaded doing this, because it would involve taking the whole binding off, along with the bits of hearts that overlapped onto it.

Once I decided to commit to taking the binding off, I knew that I would have to be without my quilt, so I chose a week of hot days. I know quilting in the heat doesn't sound very much fun, but those hot days I am not generally productive, as silk and heat do not mix!

Before I could bind the quilt, I had to cover all the holes where the binding would overlap. Turns out, there were starting to be holes on the back too.

For a long time I knew that rebinding was inevitable, I decided that I wanted a red binding. The awesome owner of Cool Cottons talked me back into doing a bias binding (I had almost decided that it wouldn't matter, because this would be a work in progress forever). I have taken this quilt in a few times over the years to pick fabrics for it. It is almost like a history of her shop! I have gotten fabric from all over for this quilt: leftovers from my days at evil Daisy Kingdom, Josephine's (where I have been shopping since I was a small child), Bolt to name a few. Friends have sent me paquets of scraps to add to it too. I end up at Cool Cottons the most, because it is the closest to my house.

Piper helped all along the way.

Of course I will be working on this forever. Every few weeks, I get out the newest stack of calico and start cutting out hearts.

I will post some variation of this literal line to twitter or elsewhere online, as I pin hearts over new holes to heal the wounds this well-loved quilt endures.

That is, if Piper will let me. It is after all, her quilt too.

12 September 2012

What I did Last Summer

This summer was a bit unusual for me, as most summers are spent with desperate wedding deadlines. I have been in the process of retiring from weddings for the last several years trying to stop. This summer I didn't take any custom dresses or major alteration/restyling/restoration projects save for a couple of accessory orders. I spent my summer tying up loose ends; finishing left over custom projects (some have been languishing for years for various reasons), doing some sewing for myself, and of course designing corsets! Here is some of my summer in review:

This is the quilt I started before it's intended owner was born, she is now 8.

Sometimes my fabric hoarding pays off; I had pieces of the original fabric left over to let out two of my favourite sundresses.

I dyed my hair pink.

I actually had time to make a few things for myself:

Firecracker sundress.

Just the hem with my cute sandals (this was after my broken toe finally healed!).

Half circle skirt made out of a bit of fabric I bought on a whim.

I wrote a tutorial on twitter for a friend on how to make a sack dress for the extreme heat. I drew the schematic on the back of an envelope with a dull red pencil.

The sack dress itself with a sash in case you need to leave the house (this is just before I took a trip to the river on a 99+ degree day).

For the seventh summer, I hosted the pre-school for crows outside my kitchen window.

And I met a new bird friend, a Stellar's Jay (and his mate not shown) are regular visitors now, along with some very messy chickadees who like to dump out the feeder to get all the sunflower seeds.

I knitted a shawl and Piper helped (Piper always helps).

I also did a major repair on my hearts quilt, but that deserves its own post. I am ready for fall, well, almost, I have a ton of sewing to do. Luckily, here in PDX it is summer until at least mid-October.

06 September 2012

as long as i am sewing

It has been forever since I have written, but don't think I haven't thought about it. It gets harder and harder as the last post glides slowly into the past, and the guilt becomes more overwhelming. I make promises to myself that I will start, and post regularly, and plan ahead, and take photos.. I am very good on twitter, instagram, and even practicing my french every day at duolingo, but totally bad here. I am sure I have said it all before whenever I come back in a manic burst after a long hiatus, post here a few times and disappear again.

I have spent most of the summer catching up on old commissions that have been languishing, knitting, trying desperately to get my house in order, and on my corsetry project. This summer I have been trying to clear my slate so that I am free to do whatever; which might seem counter intuitive to being laser focused. The realisation I came to when doing these things is it doesn't so much matter what I am doing as long as I am sewing. I have done a wide variety of projects which I may or may not post, but right now I am looking towards fall.

Fall will bring me to my 40th birthday, and while I am not much for planning for my birthday save for making dinner reservations a couple of days before, this year (yesterday, actually) I decided that I need a new dress. Usually, I make myself a new dress for New Year's Eve, but a birthday is a real new year, and I need a dress. I haven't decided what exactly, except that it will be cocktail fancy, heavily underpinned, and possibly have some handwork on it. So starting now is a very good idea; especially since I still have to make a zillion flowers and corsets before holiday.

If you want to know what really excites me, it is underpinnings. These two images are examples of couture underpinnings that create the structure of a dress. The first one is Dior from this month's Vogue magazine and is a part of the dress. The second is 1957 Jaques Fath from my V&A Underwear Fashion in Detail book and is free standing, but likely made to go under a specific dress. Both are open on my bed for today's inspiration.

True couture. I love it. It is difficult, picky, and slightly imperfect underneath to give the appearance of perfection on the outside in the exact shape the designer intended. It takes almost forever like everything I feel is worth doing.

07 March 2012

Sew Along Aftermath; Intimidation and Inspiration

The sew along of the 1911 corset has had some interesting effects on me. First off it was really good for me to do something different and challenging just for the heck of it. I cannot recommend it enough. If your life is feeling a bit stale or you are stuck in a rut, go find something to do that challenges you. Better yet, find something that is different than anything that you normally do, and try it. That thing you have always wanted to do, but have been putting off; why? Make something just for the sake of making something. It is worth the time, I promise.

My fascination with corsetry of late is born out of desire for a challenge. I have to admit there is a lot to be intimidated about in the world of corsetry. So many people told me how impossible it is to make corsets, and just about every intimidating and discouraging thing about making them that could be said. You know what is impossible? Bespoke wedding gowns. I've made dozens of them. I don't know why I took it to heart that somehow corsets would be harder. They are not. They only deal with a small section of the body. They are adjustable! I haven't taken on custom clients, but I bet they won't be trying to squeeze in all the design elements of every single thing they've ever liked into it either. I have the advantage of this mysterious craft that isn't particularly mainstream or a practically familiar part of everyday existence.

Intimidation is cured by doing. If there is something you want to do, but feel intimidated by, try it! You can make it easier by not telling anyone what you are doing. Try and succeed, Yay! Try and fail, you learned something, and can try again until you get it right. It takes time to learn new skills. New skills keep your work fresh.

Most of the modern corsets out there are the same basic victorian style. It made me think that that is the only way to design them. That is until I have spent some time delving into history. Oh all of the different shapes! Different shapes, different lines, different pattern pieces. Innovation. I was reminded of my designer's mind that is constantly trying to figure out the best way to do things: the best fit, the most flattering lines, where to draw the eye. This applies to corsetry too. I am really liking the edwardian style that covers & smooths the hips. I printed out the 1905 and the 1907 Savoye patents today. Let's see where this goes. This sew along has inspired me to try some new shapes. So much of what is out there is the standard victorian style, and since I hadn't worked with anything else, I didn't stray far from it.

I am starting to feel less and less inclined to make up a line, as to feel comfortable working with a variety of designs and present them as a painter would present paintings: you have to wait for the right one to come along. I am not so sure how that will work for me, but the idea of trying to choose one style doesn't feel right to me. And a big reminder not to listen to peoples' doubts about my competency as a seamstress, or straying from tradition. What tradition? We get used to things being one way without exploring why or whether they need to be that way. So onward. As my stack of in progress corsets graduates to finished pieces, I will post some of their photos.

05 March 2012

1911 Corset Sew Along: The Finished Corset

I broke five needles flossing this corset, but it is finished. Well, almost finished. There are garters to attach to this. Garter that I had the worst time finding one piece of hardware for. But now that I have it, I am on the fence as to whether to use it or whether I want to add garters at all! Generally this type of corset doesn't have removable garters. In the sew along we were given instructions for covered garters; which I was all set to make, but now I am not so sure. Since this corset is so clean lined, I hesitate to add such a foofy thing. Plain garters are period correct too. What do you think?

Otherwise this corset is done. I decided to lace it with silver ribbon; why not? It is a little impractical, but it does the job (it holds everything in snug and sound). I invited my friend Shana over for tea, and she was kind enough to take a couple of snapshots of me in my corset in my messy turret..

I want to thank Jo at Bridges on the Body for hosting this Sew Along! It was super fun, and a bit of an escape from what I normally do. If you like to sew, this is a fun project, and all of the instructions are here in bite sized pieces. It was really fun to see what everyone else made; check them out in our flickr pool.

I haven't thought about an outfit to go over this for a Titanic reenactment. Any suggestions?

04 March 2012

1911 Corset Sew Along Final Fitting

Once I put the whole corset together, it is time to lace it up and try it on to see if I need to trim or cut off the the top and bottom edges. By the time of the Edwardian era, corsets had become longer in their lines, and had more of a focus on smoothing lines and the S curve rather than the hourglass waist. The top of this particular style of corset rises over the chest line without covering the whole bust. The bottom covers the hips. The boning ends at the top of the hip so you can sit down.

I am pretty satisfied with the lines and the fit of this corset! The top softly hits at the bottom of the bust giving a little bit of lift. The bottom curves over the hips with a bit of a curve upward in the front and the back. The flat steel boning curves nicely along my body without stabbing anywhere, and clears the chair when I sit down. As a matter of fact, it is surprisingly comfortable. The one thing with this corset as opposed to my more victorian styled corsets, is that the long line makes it more difficult to lace up by myself. I can see why one would need a lady's maid to help get dressed and undressed.

I bound the top and bottom with plain navy satin. Traditionally, you might have lace trim at the top. I decided to forgo the lace since I like clean lines, and the stripes are busy enough already.

The last part is the flossing. This the embroidery at each end of the boning to keep it from moving around in its casing. The victorians had some very elaborate flossing, but most of the corsets in the edwardian era were more plain and simple. I used this corset as the inspiration for my flossing design. I bought both silver and navy embroidery floss to see which looked best.

Navy won out. The silver looked bad (too bad to bother taking a photo).

This corset has both 1/4" and 1/2" flat steel boning in it. I made X's over the 1/2" bones.

Next: DONE.

01 March 2012

1911 Corset Sewing the Actual Corset

I know it's been a few weeks since I've posted about this. There was the week I couldn't stop dropping sharp objects on my feet, and then there is the part about how I am really bad about taking photos or writing blog posts. Really bad. But here I am to finish what I have started. Now that I have made a mock-up, and it fits, I have adjusted the paper pattern pieces to reflect my fitting changes; it is time to cut out the real thing and start sewing!

This corset is unlined, so I have to make it using flat felled seams. This method involves sewing the wrong sides of the fabric together, trimming folding and topstitching. and don't forget swearing, picking out stitches and doing it again when the seam line is crooked because my mind wandered off while I was sewing the long seam.

Once everything was pieced, I added the waist tape to reinforce the waist (got to hold that sucker IN), and inserted the busk (the long metal front closure that allows to get in and out of your corset by yourself).

The next part is to set the grommets. This involves stabbing an awl through the fabric and hammering the grommet and the washer together. I only stabbed myself three times doing this part!

Next: Trying on the corset for its final fit!