Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Alabama-style stitching - Part 3

[just tuning in? Part 1 is here]

Here's a look at the completed stenciling on the back. I reused some of the main motifs from the front, in different positions, and filled in with additional leaves and some dots. The dots are stamped with one of the sponge-on-a-stick things I was using to apply the fabric paint. I've also added some dots to fill in the larger empty spaces and edges of the front.

My under layer is an identical sleeveless T in a (slightly faded) kelly green, which is my favorite color combo with this bright blue. I could have simply slipped one inside the other, but decided to reduce seam bulk by cutting away the seams, hem, and neck/arm binding on the inner layer. The two layers are pinned together with small safety pins, which I placed on the inside, so as to keep them out of the way of stitching. Here you can see the under layer pinned around the edges. I also added a few more pins in the center.

So far I've really been enjoying this process, designing and cutting the stencil and seeing that pattern emerge. Now the real fun begins: hand stitch around each motif, and cut out the larger bits for a reverse applique effect:

First I had to make a thread choice. The Alabama Stitch Book recommends button/craft thread, which is a thick, strong cotton-wrapped polyester. I have some ivory of that, and some beige. Not my first choice, although the beige is what I've ended up using.

I first tried some dark blue 100% poly upholstery thread, but decided I had zero confidence that the knots would hold, as it's quite slippery. Then I considered hand-quilting thread, which is heavier than all-purpose thread, and which I have several nice colors of thanks to my Mom, who passed most of her thread stash on to me. Alas, a brief tug test revealed that the stuff has the tensile strength of wet Kleenex, so not a good choice for this project. Probably also useless for quilting, other than it's 100% cotton which I guess may be important to someone. Not to me, though. I'll probably collect all those spools and toss 'em. If I ever hand-quilt something I'll want those stitches to last.

Final option, some poly top-stitching thread. I have two spools of purple, which would be a fun color choice. But it's a bit too heavy for this, so beige button/craft thread it is. Although the book says to use it doubled, I tried that and decided I prefer a single thread. I think that's because, as I realized when I went to pin the two layers together, what I'm working with is not a simple interlock, but a very fine single rib, which has more sideways stretch and heft. You might think that was so obvious I'd have noticed it a bit earlier on, but it's typical of me to have been so caught up in the enthusiasm for a new project that a key detail went undetected during the planning stage and into execution.

I chose to leave the knots/ends on the outside, although remembering to start from the front is a challenge. It's so deeply ingrained to bring that first stitch up from the back to hide the knot and tail. I've miffed that twice so far, but it's not really noticeable.

Here's a close-up of the reverse applique effect:
I've never hand-sewn cotton jersery before, and it is so soft and lucious to work with! It's been a couple of decades since I did any kind of embroidery, and I wasn't sure how working without a hoop to stretch the fabric would work, but the jersey handles just fine.

What I'm so enjoying about this method:
~ how meditative and relaxing the hand-sewing is; even more so than hexies, possibly because the running stitch is smooth and easy
~ the in-your-face hand-sewn effect, knots and tails out there for everyone to see, plain-jane running stitch, nothing fancy about it; yet the result is complex and elegant
~ how the reverse applique bumps the stencilled pattern toward the abstract by making the echo shape more prominent that the line of the stencilled pattern

I'm asserting great restraint to hold off on adding beads to this one. I'm eager to take that extra step toward labor-intensive excess, but will save it for when I'm working with new fabric. Because I do want to do more of these. First, though, I need to finish this one, and that will take a while.

When I've got all the reverse applique done I have one more decision to make, and that's whether to cut off and hand-finish the neck and arm edges. And maybe the hem, too.

I think I want to, but have no extra jersey to make a binding from unless I cut up another shirt and add a third color, which would be too much. So I'd have to come up with some way to stabilize the neck/arm edges. Maybe a strip of fusible interfacing on the underlayer?

That's the kind of thing that would have been easier to do before all this hand-sewn assembly, but I'm sure it's doable. Nevertheless, I've decided to wait on the neck/arm edge decision until I get the rest of the sewing done.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Alabama-style stitching - Part 2

[missed Part 1?  catch up here.]


This was my first ever try at freezer paper stenciling, and info on what heat setting to use when ironing the freezer paper onto fabric was elusive. I took a break with the finished stencil in place, and did some research.

Of the many online tutes turned up by a Google search, only one addressed iron temp, and recommended "hot." I didn't trust that. My iron packs a lot of heat, and I was wary of scorching the paper, so I turned off the steam and tried the "silk" setting first. It was was not hot enough: the paper adhered while warm but loosened as it cooled.

I pressed again on "wool" and that worked beautifully. The paper had good adhesion, and didn't lift off as I applied the paint, but peeled off very easily afterward. Here it is pressed (edges trimmed before pressing). I pressed on a folded towel on the counter because that was easier than relocating to the ironing board in the sewing room.


I've never used fabric paint before, so wasn't sure what to expect. One reason I stalled on getting started on this project is that every time I thought "fabric paint" I thought:  mess, clean-up, ugh.

I'm pleased to say it wasn't that bad. I used acrylic craft paint, 'cause that's what was available at the crafts store here in town. It's those little bottles in the pic above. The nice lady at the store advised to also get the fabric-formula goo and mix it in at 2 parts paint to 1 part FFgoo. I started with a tablespoon of paint, which turned out to be not quite enough; next time, for this size stencil, I'll mix up half-again as much.

My inner six-year-old (who likes all things tacky and bling-ish, and whom I usually keep under strict control when making wearable decisions) woke up in the paint department and insisted that we really, really wanted to use SILVER paint.

Uh huh. Metallic. Fabric paint. On a T-shirt. This is not the sort of look the grownup me goes for, so I thinned the paint with water and hoped it wouldn't be too glittery.

I used a round sponge-on-a-stick thing and tap-tap-tapped the paint onto the open parts of the stencil. Quick and easy!

I think the silver paint turned out okay. There's a teeny bit of glimmer to it (accentuated by the flash, below), but overall it's more of a tarnished silver look, which is exactly how I hoped it would turn out:

I cut the stencil into pieces as I removed it, because I hope to reuse at least some of it on the back. The stenciled shapes are nicely sharp-edged, by the way. Don't know why they look a bit blurry in the photo, but if you click on the pic for enlargement you can see the edges came out very well.

I still need to heat set it (iron again, with a press cloth), and then stencil the back and fill in at the sides for more of an all-round effect. The paint needs a good while to dry, so it will take another day to get all the stenciling done.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Alabama-style stitching - part 1

My sewing plans for the weekend include collecting my courage and diving back into the next pants muslin. Shortly after my last post I got new front and back pattern pieces revised with latest best-guess modifications, then decided to set it aside during the workweek with hopes of returning to it refreshed; I'll report back on how that goes once I've sunk my teeth into it.

In the meantime, I finally stopped just looking at my Alabama Stitch and Alabama Studio Style books and decided to use my play time this week to start making something. However, I'm way past my personal-best mark on the current fabric embargo, and hope to keep on going until my eagerly-awaited Portland shopping binge coming up in the fall. Which means no splurging on lovely new organic cotton jersey until then. Old tank tops will have to do for a foundation.

I agree: it's crazy to apply such an extraordinarily labor-intensive process to old tank tops that are showing their age. But it's what I've got, and I'm not going to shop.

Here's where I am with it as of this morning:
[disclaimer: I did not do this all in one day. Steps 1 and 2 happened weeks ago, then I had to get around to shopping for fabric paint, and then I had to get around to getting back to this project. Step 3 and onward happened Wed-Fri this week.]

All I had to do was look at my lap. Which, at the moment this photo was snapped, was clad in my most-favorite so far Amy Butler print (it's a bit faded, as it has been worn and washed many times):

I disrobed, spread the skirt out on the kitchen counter, placed a sheet of tracing paper over it, and did a quickie capture of several motifs with a ball-point pen.

I photocopied my tracings at 200%, and then made another copy of the enlarged leafy one at 78%. This produced almost as many pieces of paper as one of those downloadable PDF garment patterns, but without the helpful line-up points. Tracings on the right, photocopies on the left:

I'm extremely grateful to be able to do this on the multi-function copier-printer in our home office; if I had to go to Kinko's for enlargements it would probably never happen.

After some fiddling, I got the various motif pieces sorted out and taped together.

My top fabric is a blue "Haines Perfect Tank" size Large, a couple years old and purchased at WMart for around $6. I slid two open file folders between the front and back of the T to keep the fabric paint from bleeding through onto the back. Works out nicely, because they are a good width to keep the T spread flat without stretching or wrinkles. Here's how I laid out my stencil motifs for the front:

When the motifs were in place, I tore off a piece of freezer paper and lay it over the whole shebang, plastic side down, and traced the motifs again. I did a super-quickie slapdash job of this, just as I had with the original tracing:

The freezer paper became a stencil in many short sessions throughout most of the day Friday. My current "real work" project is at a tedious and fiddly stage, the kind of thing best done in short sessions with frequent breaks to prevent brain fatigue and stupid errors. Which, coincidentally, is the best way to approach a large stencil design that you realize (too late) could have been simpler, and which is going to be way more time-consuming and tedious to cut than anticipated. So I spent the day alternating between bouts of tedious, mentally numbing computer work, and tedious, mentally numbing stencil cutting:

I used both a craft knife and embroidery scissors on this, and came to the conclusion that there is no way easy to do it. I cannot imagine doing this with template plastic or posterboard. You'd have to be crazy.

Eventually, I got it done.

Next steps coming up, when I get around to posting Part 2...

Sunday, July 18, 2010


(warning: another long and rambling post that may be of little interest to anyone but me...)

I spent a good chunk of yesterday "muslining" the HotPatterns Marrakesh Pant ("straight leg, relaxed fit" with one of those HP combined elastic-drawstring + zipper waists: sounds forgiving, right?).

Some of the reviews over at PR suggest that this pattern is not for pants newbies, but the fly front, faced pockets, etc., do not intimidate me. It's true that after muslin #2 I and ended up with a worse fit than I'd started with (resulting in some profanity and a creeping sense of despair), but none of the style details have anything to do with that.

I am not giving up, however. Here in Hawaii I can get away with wearing skirts every day in public, and yoga pants (at home only) in cooler weather, but pulling that off during my October mainland trip will be difficult. I dearly, dearly wish for at least one pair of medium- to light-weight pants that fit, and since RTW will never deliver on that dream, I have no choice but to keep on until I can make them myself.

After walking away from utter failure yesterday, I regrouped and spent an hour or so browsing sewing forums for advice and re-reading my two pants fitting books...:
~ Pants for Real People, which is highly praised but did not deliver good results yesterday; I got caught in a feeback loop of pulling up at the waist to resolve problem A, which made the cr.curve too high, recutting which resulted in problem A again. After going through that two or three times it was clear I was heading for no improvement in fit but with a waist at the armpit and the pants hem somewhere around my knee. I do appreciate the "real people" approach, but none of the real people in the book are shaped anything like me. Heads-up folks, some of us pudgy middle-aged ladies carry our excess in a very curvy bum, not so much the belly and hips (not as slim as they once were, but still a long way from huge).
~ Easy Guide to Sewing Pants, from Taunton Press, now available as PDF download, which is quite detailed, with many diagrams of how to change a paper pattern. More photos/diagrams to help identify the problem to which those pattern fixes refer would be helpful.
... and the Threads magazine article (#142 July '09) on fitting pants to a curvy figure, which so far has been the most helpful.

As frustrating as the unsuccessful muslins have been, I now have a significantly improved understanding of my fit issues, and that's an important first step. Here are some problems and hiccups I've encountered:

1) "Choose your pants pattern size by your hip measurement." Um, okay. I'm exactly halfway between a 12 and a 14 hip on the HP chart for both waist and hip measure. Based on my Kyoto skirt experience (and even a passing glance at my hip profile in a mirror), however, I know I'll need extra butt room. I decided to go one size up and cut a 16, figuring I could trim if/where necessary.

2) But wait, let's take a gander at the crotch length measurements. I am "long in the hip" (more distance than average between a low crotch and a high waist), but had not realized that on the HP chart my crotch length is between size 18 and 20, and cr. depth a solid size 20. My "center front" (floor to waist) BTW, is a whopping size 22! Gee, do you think maybe that's why the incremental pattern adjustments my resources recommend were not delivering a good fit? According to a flat measure of the HPMP pattern, the size 16 back crotch length, point to (low) waist, is 2.5" too short for me.

I'm not going to try a larger size because the only successful revelation of the muslins so far is that they hang better if I take at least an inch off the outseam (bringing the pant leg down to somewhere around a size 10). Going further up in size seems likely to deliver so much extra fabric at the back of the thigh (already an issue) that it won't be worth any hip/crotch improvement.

3) In the absense of one of those flexible ruler things to capture the full glory of my curves, this morning I followed an online tip and twisted up a coil of aluminum foil, pressing it firmly front and back. I don't expect it's truly accurate, but take a look at it overlaid on the pants back from my original HP size 16 muslin (no adjustments yet):

As you can see, I am not exaggerating when I say my butt is "curvy." My curve is so far off the pattern I'm not even sure where/how to line it up; either way it's somewhere between fascinating and appalling. When I am slimmer this profile does shrink some, but the basic shape remains unchanged. Where this JLo-worthy shape came from is a mystery, BTW: I am the product of a solidly WASP gene pool in which the most exotic contributing element is a scant touch of French from way, way, way, way back.

However, this does help me understand why the unaltered muslin is snug in the butt while I can pinch a half-inch or so extra out of the hip (two fitting issues that seem as though they should be mutually exclusive, a situation that utterly baffled me yesterday).

Anyhoo, now that I've taken a break to write up this post and play with the photos, I'm going to give the "Threads" slash-and-spread method another go and see how I do. I'll post more pics when I'm a little closer to a wearable solution. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

book score!

The Hilo Borders bookstore is closing. I feel partly to blame, given my Amazon habit and the fact that I now download all fiction to my Kindle. But it's their fault, too, for not having what I was looking for the past few times I went in 'cause I was in the neighb., just every title ever published by the big names, and for giving over more and more of the store to non-book items.

So, when they announced 20-30% off everything, I decided to give them some guilt dollars if I could find anything of interest in their meager and already picked-over craft section. Which I did. This one:

... and this one:
(Yes, clicking on one of those links will take you over to Amazon. Sorry, Borders, that's just how it is.)

Even at discount I still paid more than Amazon's current price for each title, but I also got a couple nice bound journals at a very good price, two novels cheap, and was able to explore both sewing books instantly (in the car on the way home, as DH drove) instead of waiting for mail delivery.

I now have both "Alabama" books, which equals a lot of inspiration, and no excuse for not starting in on something right away. Except that there are some other items on the to-do list.

I have been sewing since my last post, but the current project is not anything I can show you yet. It's of the quilt ilk, and part of a collaborative thing I'm exploring with my sister. She reads this blog, and doesn't want what she's doing on the same theme to be influenced by my take on it. I can provide a sneak peek...:

... but that's it for now. That's a yard of a lovely, reddish, mahogany brown Kona cotton, and small squares from the littlest scraps pile, roughly 1.5-2.5". I'm challenging myself to make something wherein the brown looks chic and stylish, not just muddy.

In other news, I have decided to break my pattern embargo (but not the fabric one; I'm sticking with that), for very good reason. I am headed for Maine in October, to visit my parents and brother, and will be stopping over in Portland, Ore, for the weekend on my way back. This means I will need some FALL CLOTHES, and nothing will thrill me more than if I've sewn some of them myself. I have fabric, but the patterns I want to use are still on my wishlist over at PatternReview.

The embargo idea was a good one, and I did very well with it, but let's face it: I need all the sewing days I can get, and waiting another three weeks to order them feels like a wasted opportunity. So, a pat on the back to me for making it to day 96 of the pattern embargo. That's going to have to be long enough.

I might even extend the fabric embargo until October (which would make it 180 days!), because my quilting sister, Abby, is coming over to Portland the weekend I'm there, for a meet up, and we have major fabric shopping plans. It will be nice to feel I've earned a serious binge.