When Life Gives You Lemons….

It’s been a while since I’ve written. The good news is that my puppy, Beasley, despite Murphy’s Law, survived his ordeal and is doing wonderfully. Thank the goblins for small favors, because if I lost him or Jack the Parrot, I think I would be utterly lost.

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I have recently been working on a series of sample bras. They are very pretty vintage designs, and I bought beautiful, slinky, silky satins, and stunning kimono fabrics to make them. Being the genius that I am, I took my pattern, and cut out all the pieces in all of the fabrics I had, all in a 36B.

Right there was the first series of mistakes. I should have cut the damn thing out in muslin and sewn it up to make sure the pattern was okay. But I didn’t. My new fabrics filled me with excitement and perhaps more optimism than I should have had for such a daunting challenge.

And then I sat down to sewing… having NOT made a test muslin first, to make sure I knew exactly how to assemble these beautiful bras. And having not put a SINGLE MARK on the pieces to help me in the assembly.

At first I thought I was on a roll. I had a bit of trouble with my darts, but I forged ahead at reckless speed. Once the first one was done, and only needed to have some hand stitching down, I noticed that it just looked… well… it looked WRONG. Because I had sewn two pieces BACKWARDS, and had done the most beautiful, miniscule French seams the world had ever seen. There was no salvaging or fixing my mistake.

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So I surrendered that bra, and continued on like a run away train. I put together two new bras, still in the glorious (expensive) silks and satins. Another one suffered the upside down fiasco, but I was determined to fix that with the cunning use of lingerie elastic (on non-existant seam allowances, because I trimmed those off…). There were nightmares with trying to encase elastic with bias tape, which created horrendously bulky underarm seams (because both the bias tape AND the elastic were all wrong). There was my failed attempt a what could have been beautiful piping detail, because I had no idea what I was doing.

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There were seams and stitches that were picked out so many times that the fabric disintegrated, and then there with the horrible, ugly , visible seams that you could SEE, because I ran out of the appropriate colored thread.

I was like a zombie mindlessly hell bend on finishing. Or a lemming, DETERMINED to charge off that cliff if it was the last thing I did.

The first sensible thing I did, was take an enforced two week break from the projects, to get ready for two back to back events I was privileged enough to be a vendor at. For two weeks, my sewing area sat fallow, and dust covered, while I barreled through 200 lb.s of origami paper to make these stunning hair creations and more (not that I’m tooting my own horn, or anything…). And I was equally as maniacal about these pieces as I had been with the bras… the results were just better.

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After two weeks, I returned to my derelict sewing area, and picked up the bras. They looked wretched. So I did the second most sensible thing I could think of. I went online, to the wonderful vendor of vintage patterns, and found a tutorial for sewing a vintage bullet bra.

And there, before my eyes, in black and white print, and colored photographs, I saw EVERY SINGLE ONE  of my mistakes spread out before me.

Such as including seam allowances in my pattern pieces.

Such as using an iron to press seams before barreling ahead.

Such as understitching.

Such as matching seams before you sew them.

It was embarrassing. I know better. I’ve known better for years. But I was so excited with the gorgeous, dazzling fabrics I chose, that I was determined to skip all the appropriate steps, and convinced that the end result would be just as good.

The sewers, seamstresses, and designers out there will not be surprised to learn that I was disappointed.

Over 100$ of supplies were chucked into the garbage, the fabrics now too degraded from abuse to be salvaged for anything more than cleaning rags.

This week I sat down, resigned to the fact that I have not yet achieved Alexander McQueen perfection with my “sewing-by -eye”, and cut out a muslin that fit my fairly hefty 38DD torso. I figured that if I was going to drag myself through hell again, I was going to make something I could wear.

The muslin, including all of the tweaking and pattern redrafting, took me thirty minutes. Just thirty minutes.

Then I cut into my beautiful fabrics again, and spent an extra two minutes marking all of the pieces. Just two minutes.

And then, before I could do any damage, I called it a day, and spent the rest of my time drawing up an sewing order, so that the bra would go together nicely.

Had I bothered to take 32 minutes out, before I let myself loose on the project, I could have saved myself an ENTIRE MONTH of needless cursing, tantrums, and tears.

And 100$.

The moral of this story is that, yes, “Time is money”.

By which I mean that you will WASTE money if you do not take the time to go about things the proper way.

 

 
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Of Ancient Egyptians and Bias Tape

First, let me introduce you to Hatshepsut!!

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She is my brand new industrial sewi g machine that I bought for 50$. No joke.

She needs some living care, like some oil, and a new cord, and maybe a new lamp, since the old one got smashed in the moving process.

But other than that, she runs like a dream!! I can’t wait until I have her back in ship shape, so I can put her to work… And let my moms sewing machine take s vacation. That poor little Viking has really been a trooper for me!

So what I have for you today is a rant about bias tape.

I just spent two days making 5 yards of shantung bias tape from 1/8 of a yard of fabric. “Why?!” You ask.

Because the fabric stores near me only sell decently priced cotton bias tape, and for this new panty design, I needed cherry red shantung bias tape like this.

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I’m going to cry blood when I run out of this bias tape!

Because Sometimes Your Best Friend Needs to Drag You, Kicking and Screaming

A very long time ago, it seemed, I wanted to try and start my own business, as a fashion designer. True, I had dropped out of an apparently well respected university’s fascist fashion program because the professors were all Nazis, and the students were all Abercrombie&Fitch drones… not that I was judgemental or anything…
And true, I changed my major to Anthropology (and am now happily frollicing about the class rooms of Temple University). And maybe I decided to pick up a few other side jobs because the start up fashion design business wasn’t exactly booming the way I anticipated… Which will happen when you only end up with 10 hours a week to sew, between three other part time jobs, and a full course load. (Yes… I know, the term over-achiever-about-to-become-burn-out might POSSIBLY be applicable… but that’s not the point!)

So I was thrilled when I pillaged The vintage lingerie patterns of MrsDepew, and got the okay from her to sell the things I made with her patterns in my store. And even MORE thrilled when I picked up two orders! Imagine, little ol’ me, making “unmentionables”! Surrounded by rolls upon rolls of laces and satins and crepes (covering my mother’s living room floor…)

But when it really cam down to it, even though I’d managed to get three listings put into my store, I was unhappy. Where was the glitz and the glamour? Where were the people clambering for my carefully crafted, excruciatingly detailed clothing? I was supposed to be famous by now, and making clothing for Dita von Teese, dammit!!

Enter one of my trusty best friends, who listened to me bemoan my fate , very patiently. He took a few moments to consider my options.

“Uh, didn’t you used to have a blog?” he asked me. well… yes…

“Did it ever occur to you to keep your blog UPDATED, so that people will see what you’re working on?” … But it takes SOOOO much time to come up with a post, after classes and work, and more work, and homework….

“Don’t you have, like, FIVE HOURS between classes, when you sit in Starbucks and watch Netflix?”

And that was where he got me. True, I can’t drag my entire sewing room on SEPTA and through the college campus. But I can keep my blog updated. But what was I going to put IN my blog?

Well, he solved that one for me, too. He remembered how much fun I had in the summer and fall, drafting vintage patterns for day dresses and then trying to sew them, and get them too look right. So, my goal has been set for me!

From now on, Ladies and Gentlemen, you’re going to be kept updated! (Because he’s making me do it, whether I want to or not…)

Oh. One more thing. To keep myself motivated, I apparently have to show you what I’m going to be tackling first. How hard could it be to mess up a kimono, anyway? 

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The Death of a Sewing Machine

I have a sewing machine. My sewing machine is named Neffi. She is a Bernina, and she has seen me through many theater shows, and many sewing projects. My heart is broke.

Let me try this again. Up until 30 minutes ago i HAD a sewing machine. her name WAS Neffi, and she WAS a Bernina.

Now she’s just a stupid chunk of metal that only runs backwards. No. REALLY. She sews back wards.

At first i thought is was a jammed reverse button. No problem. Couldn’t I just jimmy it a little with a screw driver? HA! NO! not even with a CROWBAR. The button is fine. The button is NOT jammed. Neffi is just possessed by the devil.
And this brings up a disturbing question. if my sewing machine is possessed by the devil, then will the effects of the possession stop at just sewing backwards, and only doing a basting stitch length? What if my sewing skitters across the floor while I sleep and starts chanting voodoo curses in my ears, and then i wake up and I’m a 95 year old crone?

Do priest’s even DO exorcisms on machines? And if they do, then doesn’t that mean that my sewing machine has an eternal soul?

Perplexing. I leave you to ponder this.

The moral of the story is that my sewing machine broke and needs a doctor. In the mean time, I’m going to padlock it in a steamer trunk and bury it in the back yard. I don’t want it to put the voodoo-hoodoo on me!

A Stitch in Time Keeps the Doctor Away

Ah, my sporadic blog. How I love it.

I recently relocated funds (very paltry funds, used in conjunction with an army of coupons), to buy most of the materials to begin work on the constantly mentioned, but never seen (okay, well, now you can see it- isn’t it gorgeous?)

Antoinette Dress (Acheron Violet)

Original design for Antoinette dress set, by Mack McKamey August 29, 2012. For KSSD’s Vices&Virtues.

And while I was working on the actual sample, I decided to do something incredible stupid. I decided to make TWO dresses to go together as a set.  So I got the materials for the under-dress, and drafted out the pattern for that.

Antoinette Underdress

Original design for Antoinette under dress, by Mack McKamey, August 29 2012. For KSSD’s Vices&Virtues

 

So 5 yards of muslin later, I figure out the pattern. I redrafted the pattern on to paper and painstakingly marked every single seam allowance, every single notch, ever reinforced stitching line. I marked EVERYTHING.

With a slightly pounding hear, I traced out the pattern on the fabric, a dusty rose shantung that is currently worth more than my life, as far as I’m concerned. I got it cut out with out any incident. I transferred all of the pattern markings to the fabric with meticulous care. And then I sewed the stupid thing together wrong.

It’s true. The upper bodice, where I was supposed to gather it? I didn’t make the basting stitches go far enough, so when I gathered it, the bust would only really have fit a boy who had glued two apples to his chest. And to add insult to injury, I’d clipped the seam allowances BEFORE checking it on the mannequin. Stupid me. So now I have to re-cut the upper bodice (THANK GOBLINS that I thought to buy a little more fabric than I needed!!!!).

The moral of this story is that regardless of how carefully you plan, it is the actual execution that matters. t doesn’t matter if you spend a month perfecting a pattern and marking it. If you don’t put the same amount of attention and care into the garment you are sewing, you ill end up feeling the same way I did- stupid. Don’t be stupid. Take your time. Because it’s not how you get there, that counts. It’s what you have when you are done!

The Lie of Lace

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the word “Lace”? Some people think “The curtains my cat ripped to shreds”. Others think “Something I wish my wife/girlfriend/finacee/lover would wear more often…”. Still others think “I wonder if they finished altering my wedding dress yet”. And of course there’s a plethora of people who think in abstraction : Sexy, pretty, girly, flirty, soft, decadent, expensive… the list probably keeps going on into eternity.

Now, with a show of hands, how many of you thought “I hate you”? Not many, am I right. Maybe a few new sewers, who are in the same boat I am. Those of us who are still getting the hang of working with lace twitch in horror. I have nightmares. I’m being chased by a bolt of lace that is screaming “SEW ME!!!!”, and I can’t escape.

My fear of lace is actually pretty logical. It gets pulled down into my machine while I’m sewing, and then rips. And if it doesn’t do that, then it stretches while I’m sewing (now matter how many pins I use), and then has a bubble effect. I can’t mark it very well when I’m cutting the pattern. And let’s not talk about how many times I’ve sewn something together backwards and then had to take out every. Single. Seam.

I recently encountered a new problem with lace. This time my problem arose with the lace trim. Those dainty strips of gorgeous lace that you can use to trim skirts, and dresses, and socks and gloves, and, well, anything at all. The sewing instructions called for lace that was 1″ wide. I’ve got a HUGE drum full of vintage lace, in every width, and color and pattern. So i dove in to this barrel-o-lace (literally and figuratively) and like a cat with yarn, I started unrolling the lace until I’d made an ungodly mess.

And not a single lace was 1″ wide.

Sure, there was scalloped lace that in PLACES was an inch wide… But in other places it was 2-3″ wide. i had lace that was straight edged and 1.5 ” wide, lace that was .75″ wide, lace that was 6″ wide… but no 1″ lace.

“What the heck,” I said to myself. “Does it REALLY matter? I’ll just use a thinner lace!”, and so I did.

Now is when I should probably say that the lace in question was going to be used for inserts. What is this “insert”? you may wonder. Basically, I was supposed to sew the lace flat against the finished dress (or stitching line on each side of the lace), and then slit the fabric behind the lace, fold it back, and sew it into place, thus creating sort of windows. Doesn’t that sound pretty?

Now that you know what I was supposed to do, please divide .75 by 2. If you don’t want to, that 3/8 of an inch. That’s not a whole lot of a seam allowance to be sewing on, especially with a machine.

My machine agreed. It sucked the fabric down into the hole for the needle, and ripped a big old hole in the dress. I screamed a little. Then I swore a black streak. I stomped my feet, and pounded on the table, and, after three more failed, and destructive, attempts, I surrendered and threw the dress into the garbage.

This week, I decided to try the dress, all over again, with many modifications on the sewing instructions. As for the question of lace, I took two thin trims and sewed them together with a zig-zag stitch. The machine enjoyed this, and did NOT try to eat the lace. And while I have not yet gotten around to doing the inserts, I have a feeling that this time, with the help if a zig-zag stitch and a WHOLE lot more patience, I will be much more successful.

In conclusion, I offer these words of advice on using lace: patience is a virtue. So is a fresh needle and a zig zag stitch. And if you feel like I did, and want to eradicate lace from the face of the planet because it just DOESN’T BEHAVE, do as I did. Take a break. Drink some decaf herbal tea. Do some yoga. play fetch with your dog. Take the time to unwind, and then, once you feel calmer, return to your project. It will go a whole lot better. I promise!