Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some Wordy Top Five Lists

I've really been enjoying reading the Top Five lists organized by Gillian of Crafting a Rainbow, because I think it's so satisfying and fun to look back on the things people have accomplished in a year's time. As much as I'd love to participate in full, I genuinely don't think I have enough to fill out most of the lists! I've really only made five things this year (The Other Williamsburg skirt, my two Coopers, the Stress-Sewing T-Shirt dress and my as-of-yet unblogged Newcastle Cardigan), and they've all been crammed into the last two or so months at that. Not quite enough for a Top 5 Hits and/or Misses, unless I have all the things I've made serve as both!

What I can do, however, is all the more introspective or forward-thinking questions. It can serve as a boost for me, especially as a beginning sewer (is sewist the term? It feels strange to say, but I imagine that'll change) and blogger. Plus, I'm a sucker for lists. So, here we go, slammed into one massive (and text-heavy) post!

Top 5 Reflections/Things I've Learned:

  1. The sewing machine is not an object to be feared, but if you need to get yourself a cutesy, completely non-intimidating beginner's model to convince yourself of that that is a-okay. I've always had an interest in making my own garments (it started with a desire to take up cosplay), but I was terrified of my nana's and my mother's sewing machines and self-aware enough to know that handsewing was not my thing. It was even worse when I tried to use my friend's gray storm cloud of an industrial-strength one last year while working on cosplays (it didn't help that the buttonhole feature of it totally destroyed my blouse- and that was with her trying to do them for me!). It wasn't until I bought myself my cutesy little mint green Janome Hello Kitty machine that I actually felt comfortable with a sewing machine, and that has made ALL the difference.
    I love you, little buddy. Guest starting my BJD, Thomasina, who will eventually show up on this blog as I venture into RIDICULOUSLY SMALL SEWING.
  2. Letting myself embrace the fact that I had no idea what I was doing made it possible for me to actually learn. I know that probably sounds hella weird, but it's true! I have this problem in all areas of my life: I'm so afraid of coming across as uninformed or stupid that I lie to myself and to others that I know a lot more than I do. That's a ridiculous way to be! Going into a hobby where I really had to study and embrace the fact that I knew nothing (Jon Snow) is helping me attain the confidence to, well, not know things and to respond to that lack of knowledge not with embarrassment but with excitement.
  3. Wearing things I've made is really satisfying! I wore my Stress-Sewing t-shirt dress to both a luncheon honoring an alum of my college and to my voice jury and I felt completely comfortable in it. I thought I'd be self-conscious, but since it's considering impolite to flip someone's skirt to see how they finished their seams or inspect a worn garment to see if the thread matches just so, I knew only I knew about the flaws of what I was wearing.
  4. If wearing things I've made is satisfying, giving things I've made to others is even more satisfying. Best sewing-related thing of the year was definitely making my sister the Winnie the Cooper. The Newcastle Cardigan for my boyfriend would've edged that out if I'd made it a bit neater, as he adored it (and so did his parents, something I did not expect- his Army dad actually complimented me on the workmanship of it and his British mom couldn't stop complimenting the fabric choices). Can't wait to steal that back from him tomorrow to fix it up a bit.
  5. It may be a silly reflection, but as this is my first year (well, half a year or so) sewing it's an important one: I really, genuinely do love sewing!
Top 5 Inspirations:
  1. My cosplay group at college and my cosplay friends online. If it hadn't been for the group's tutelage last year and the motivation to make costumes to go along with my friends when I met them at conventions, I never would've built up the determination to get into sewing.
  2. Tilly and the Buttons. It was reading her "Learn to Sew" posts that really made me feel like this was something I could do, as I actually understood things, both from what I'd learned with the cosplay group and just from how she was writing it. Looking forward to her book!
  3. Independent pattern companies. Seeing the incredible stuff made by companies like Colette, Deer & Doe, and Victory Patterns has shown me that I can have the wardrobe of my dreams. My fashion style is a weird mesh of feminine, flowing and effortless with futuristic, bold and androgynous, and that's kind of a hard thing to pull off using storebought clothing; by utilizing patterns from these amazing companies and using cohesive color palettes, I can make my ideal style a reality.
  4. A slew of different sewing blogs. Reading about others' projects made it seem so fun and so creative that I wanted a part of it! Besides the already mentioned, I really love Ginger Makes and Cation Designs. That said I'm still looking for more blogs to follow- again, I'm pretty new to this slice of the internet! 
  5. Animated fashion designs. This is a little dorky, but man, being able to sew means if I so chose I could have an entire wardrobe based on the Disney Princesses or on my favorite video games (I could dress like I live in a Harvest Moon game!!). I'm going to go mad with power.
Top Five Goals:
  1. Sew more, plain and simple! By the end of the year I want a wardrobe of items I've made myself that I can wear for a variety of occasions and environments.
  2. Be more mindful of my technique. It's well enough to sort of be sloppy in certain things while I'm building up the confidence to do them in the first place, but if I want to improve and to have a solid foundation for my future sewing I have to start doing things right now. (Although I think I'll always be that person who'll fudge things if I can get away with it...)
  3. Focus on things I'll wear, rather than patterns that make me go "ooh how cute!" I don't have the budget to buy patterns that'll just linger there looking pretty.
  4. Have a cohesive feel to what I make. Similar to the above, I can't let myself get swept up in a pretty fabric if it won't go with anything else I own or have made!
  5. Get more involved in the sewing community! I don't really know anyone else who makes their own clothes (my cosplay friends sew for cosplay and that's typically it), but I'd love to make some friends who won't tune out when I start talking about fabric choices or how I want to learn a new technique- and if they can help me learn, so much the better!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sewing for the Holidays: Winnie the Cooper

Apologies for the gap in posts, but I permitted myself to take a break from the siren song of the laptop for the start of my winter break. By that I mean I was avoiding opening up my laptop because it'd mean I had to actually deal with the bureaucratic mess that is getting some paperwork done for my history thesis, but I do genuinely believe it's good to take nice, long breaks from the internet and it's charms when possible. And I promise I put that time to good use, as I whipped up two new makes during that time!

Without further ado, the first of the two Christmas gifts I handmade for special people in my life: the Winnie the Cooper Satchel for my sister!

The elusive sophisticated Winnie the Pooh print fabric has been found.
Initially, I was going to make a Cooper satchel for my dad, but I knew he'd be more particular about what he wanted in a bag so that plan got scraped. I really wasn't planning on making my sister one, but then I discovered this Winnie the Pooh printed burlap while traipsing around the Joann's website and everything clicked beautifully into place. I mean, a mature-looking Winnie the Pooh print?! Knowing how obsessed with Winnie the Pooh my sister is, I knew what I had to do, and thus in a marathon night of sewing (more because I had the motivation to tackle it right then and didn't want to stop working on it than because of time constraints) this Cooper satchel was born... with a slight modification.

No pannier here!
My sister doesn't ride a bike. She doesn't live in a very bike-friendly place, so she couldn't even if she wanted to. I knew the pannier straps'd be a waist on her satchel, but I still wanted to put the clasps I got in the hardware kit to good use. I considered a shoulder strap but my sister doesn't really like those, and then it hit me: why not make horizontal straps for it rather than vertical ones, so it could slide over the handle of a rolling suitcase and serve as an awesome travel bag? It was a really simple switch to make. First, I sewed the back handle into the top contrast panel rather than the bottom one, so it was neatly enclosed. I then eyeballed the length of the horizontal straps I'd want, taking the fact that the straps would need to be longer than one might think to accommodate the bag being full (okay, that makes it sound like I planned everything out, when really I just cut two long pieces of fabric and sewed them up as per the instructions for the bag's handles and it just happened to work out well), then sandwiched the raw ends into the side seams, backstitching there to reinforce it. Dad and I stuffed a twin-sized thick blanket into it to test the straps and they worked like a charm!

The body fabric is a great thick corduroy I found on sale that matches the red of Pooh's shirt perfectly; it makes this bag look a lot more "fashionable" than utilitarian, like the pack cloth of my messenger bag. It was my first time working with a fabric with pile, but mercifully bag sewing is a bit more forgiving than garment sewing so it wasn't tedious to work with at all, although I did have to give my machine a through cleaning afterwards as it left everything with a delicate frosting of red fluff. Since I was using burlap for the contrast fabric, I lined the bottom gusset with the corduroy as well, to make the bottom of the bag extra sturdy. I also lined the flap pieces with the lining fabric (a cute blue and white polka dot waterproof fabric that was cryptically labeled "bag fabric" at the Joann's, but it was in the utility fabric section and was $2.50 a yard so I figured what the hell, let's go with it), to ensure that the snaps wouldn't tear out of the loose burlap and that the flap itself wouldn't be too, well, floppy.

This pattern sewed up even more easily the second time around, with one notable difference: I totally bugged up those straps at first! I had the messenger bag instructions too fresh in my mind so I stitched the front straps down the entire body, which made it so that when I went to test how the bag looked with the handle done up I found that completely impossible. Mercifully, since the straps are sewn down entirely on the outside of the bag, it was a simple matter to seam rip out the extraneous stitching with no damage to the bag. Bless my lime green seam ripper, it's my best sewing friend (don't tell the shears or my teapot pin cushion).

I do wish I'd taken more care with cutting out the burlap- it'd be nice if I'd managed to get a Pooh between the handle straps rather than being cut in half by or creepily blindfolded by them. But! My sister is incredibly pleased with it, and really that's what matters the most to me.

Next up: a Deus Ex: Human Revolution inspired Newcastle Cardigan for my boyfriend, which was many a first for me (first time sewing for a guy, first time making a jacket, first time using facings- the list goes on!) But first, I need to recapture the cardigan from him to make a few fixes (definitely made the arms a little too long as I forgot that the cuffs were a thing) and so I can take some decent photos!

P.S. I got the Colette Sewing Handbook for Christmas, so definitely expect more Colette Patterns makes in the future. I love all the patterns (well, I might make the Pastille Dress have a fuller skirt, because I don't like dresses that are so fitted everywhere even though I know that's kind of the point of the dress, but) so I'm going to work through it almost like the Home Ec class I never had. I might go a bit out of order, though, as I have the perfect hunter green chiffon for the Taffy Blouse, and I'm itching to cut into it and try it out. This really is a beautiful book, full of great tutorials for the beginner and just inspiringly pretty in general!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Completed Cutesy Cooper!

I studied for approximately eight hours straight yesterday, and I'll be doing about the same starting in an hour today, so I decided I would treat myself this morning to a bit of a break to bash out the rest of my Cooper bag. Hey, I need something to cart around all my Russian history textbooks, now, don't I? My satchel certainly can't, and it's finals time. This was a practical decision (or so I keep insisting to myself to nullify the mild guilt of devoting a few hours to a sewing project rather than studying).

Ready for the grand reveal?

It's possible this qualifies for green overload but I DON'T CAAAREEE.

This sucker is ADORABLE you guys. I struggled with a few parts, mainly because, well, my body fabric did not press well. And when I say not well, I really mean I literally melted the first flap strap piece I cut, and had a momentary panic of "oh god how brutally will they kill me if I cause a fire alarm during finals week". It creased nicely, however, so I ended up making the straps work by using an unholy quantity of pins to hold them in place, pinching the edges firmly a couple of times, and then leaving the pins in place while I sewed and removing them as I went along. My self-made shoulder strap doesn't like to lie particularly flat as a result, but hey, I take what I can get.

I decided to make my body pocket out of the contrasting fabric as well, rather than the main body fabric like the pattern suggested- when you have a contrast fabric this cute, it's a crime not to use it all. On that note, I have a shoulder guard in the works, but I couldn't complete it as I completely lack any velcro and lack the time and the vehicle to get out to a store to buy any, but it will get done! The fabric is already cut and ready. Oh, returning to the whole body-fabric-does-not-press thing: it also made it so my straps ended up a bit uneven. The right-side body strap is noticeably bigger than the left side, but honestly I'm just not that bothered by it. Considering this was my first time ever making a bag and using most of these materials, I'm just tickled pink it actually worked! Speaking of new materials...

The lining fabric was both a breeze and a bitch to work with, let me tell you. It cut and sewed up beautifully, easy as could be, but that stuff gets stiff. It does not want to get turned inside out without a significant struggle and a few tears. The fighting was worth it, though, as it gives the bag some wonderful shape and I just love how the fabrics go together- the cute green ribbons and purple fabric, uhg, it's too cute. I only sewed down the center of one pocket, as I wanted to leave the other full-sized as then it's the exact right size to accommodate my Nook. Plus, I know if a soda ever explodes in my bag it'll be an easy matter to just wipe down the inside! (I'm not speaking from personal experience, but my freshman year roommate definitely lost her favorite bag that way. Moment of silence for the sparkly zebra print purse.)

I used the Gifts for Crafters hardware set for this, and it was a total breeze. Doesn't hurt that the bronze finish happens to be my favorite, anyway, and that it went so nicely with my fabric choices! I'd never installed snaps or rivets before, but I was surprised by how straightforward it was. I think next time I will use a bit of interfacing to reinforce the snaps, though; I don't think my fabric will tear, but I still hold my breath a little bit every time I unsnap it. The rivets were a bit of a struggle as, confession, I lack an awl and mallet (I MacGyvered a makeshift one using a pair of tiny scissors and a lot of brute force, and then used a wine bottle opener as a mallet because I keep it classy), but it all came together in the end.

The other thing that absolutely amazed me was that my machine had no problems handling this, even when I had to sew through five+ layers of fabric at once. My machine isn't anything particularly fancy- in fact, much like this Cooper, it's on the cuter side of life (it's a mint green Hello Kitty Janome model), yet I have yet to run into anything it can't do. Sometimes the cute ones are more than they seem!

Now, the main motivation for this bag was I needed something big enough to hold all my books. As a history major, I get a lot of reading assigned, with a lot of textbooks to go along with it. How does the Cooper bag stack up under the pressures of a senior history major?

GLORY GLORY HALLELUJAAAHH. Now imagine the bag is saying that. You're welcome, I still haven't stopped giggling.
There are five books, one Nook, and two notebooks in there and the sucker is still ready for more. I could probably fit the majority of my textbooks for the semester in this little beauty, although I am a little concerned as to how well it'll hold up under that strain. I sewed the shoulder straps on about five times each for that very reason, though- I knew what this poor thing was gonna get into. But just, man, this thing is the TARDIS of bags, I genuinely think it's bigger on the inside.

... who let me think that, now I can't get the idea of a TARDIS blue satchel out of my head.

Obligatory modeled view! Ah, the mess of my room increases.
I am mildly concerned that since I went so cute with the fabric it ended up looking a bit like a diaper bag, but that's a very mild concern. I'm planning on adding some button pins to it and I think that'll take care of that concern in an instant (as well as draw attention away from the slightly messed up straps). I do really love the size this ended up being, though, it's exactly what I wanted without overwhelming me.

My Two Bags: A Love Story. Guest starring the unreasonably large Hello Kitty KISS bag I got at DragonCon from the WeLoveFine booth.

Between my satchel as my laptop bag and my Cooper as my "toss everything into it and run" bag, I think I have all my bases covered- and don't they look so nice together? Technically speaking my Cooper has its share of mistakes to its name, but even so the result is exactly what I envisioned, practical as all get out and go, and the mistakes aren't really noticeable unless you're A) familiar with the pattern and B) really looking for them. That's enough to make me inordinately proud of myself.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must put my new creation to work and trudge off to a Russian history study session. At least I'll be cute?

UPDATE: It kept all those books dry through a ten minute walk through a cold Williamsburg downpour, like a little boss. A+ job, bag friend.

P.S. While adding three of these photos into the Colette photostream for the contest, I realized that I made my flicker account years ago and it has the somewhat embarrassing moniker of moonlight-chan. I... I don't really have anything to say for myself on that front.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

In Which There Are Feels About Princess Gowns

Yesterday was the last day of classes, which is affectionately referred to as Blowout. The intent is to, uh, spend the entire day in a drunken stupor of "thank god classes are done with for the semester", and crazy things tend to happen. I skipped on the drunken stupor part, although I did partake in some of the best alcohol I've ever had: I am officially a 100% mead convert. As my friend Joanna kept saying, it makes you feel like you're sitting in a huge armchair by a fire surrounded by cozy furs and at utter peace with the world (this mental reverie only slightly inspired by Skyrim). This does not mean, however, my Blowout was not wonderful; after seeing our AMAZINGLY talented friend Sophie perform with the orchestra (she's a killer mezzo-soprano opera singer), a group of us was left wondering what to do when Joanna announced there was a showing of Frozen in fifteen minutes.

You have never seen a group of college students leap up and run (literally) out the door as fast as we did then, stopping only to accept a plate of pancakes from a group of students dressed up like cutlery (I swear I'm not making that up and I swear all of us were completely sober).

The movie itself was splendid and adorable (although it certainly has its problematic elements- one of the reasons I left tumblr was my burnout over all the posts upon posts of preemptive hate Frozen was getting for its continuation of the trend of the white Disney princess, the reduction of female characters, and so on, which are all incredibly valid and necessary points to make, but they don't necessarily define the movie- but that's a discussion for another time), but one of the things that really struck me was my god the costume designer was on point.

They put the blue-eyed redhead in green or blue dresses. Bless their hearts, they finally figured that one out.

Do I have tears in my eyes right now? Possibly.
I have not been able to get this dress out of my mind. The box pleats! The colors! The sweetheart bodice! The rosemaling-inspired details! It's enough to make this blue-eyed redhead cry because finally, finally they didn't make the ginger wear pink! Not only that, but they basically made the exact dress I'd want if I were a princess dressing for a ball, sans exaggeration. It truly has all my favorite elements. Her winter outfit (blue!!) and end-of-movie outfit (ANOTHER GREEN ONE) are also beautifully done, and make me wish I still had hair long enough to pigtail braid. Elsa's gowns were also on point (her ice gown, with the snowflake cape? Genius.), but the reaction I had to Anna's dresses was nigh visceral.

Really, I have been longing for a good green princess dress. Tiana's lily pad dress in Princess and the Frog gave me hope, and is probably still my favorite truly over-the-top princess gown, but the huge bell skirts and straplessness of it made it so while I can love it for its beauty I'd never want to wear it myself. (Her fantastic end outfit with all the 20s flourishes a girl could hope for, however, is another story- but it's not a true Princess Ball Gown. Actually Tia probably has my favorite full wardrobe, and I still maintain that in the event I get married I want her wedding dress.) Shockingly none of the other Disney princess gowns have ever spoken to me; I reiterate, I don't go in for huge bell skirts, Rapunzel's outfit was adorable but a little too pastel for me (were it only a bolder purple!), and while I am head-over-heels for Mulan's matchmaker outfit I'm too white to not feel inappropriate and mildly culturally appropriative were I to ever wear it. Aurora's dress (in blue) is nice, but not nice enough to really get my heart beating, and Belle's green library dress again wasn't a true Disney ballgown but a filler outfit. 

We just don't talk about Ariel's gown. It never happened. The new seafoam version is vastly better, but it's still a smidge too poofy for my tastes.

Do you know how mildly devastating it is for a cosplayer to not have a princess gown they dearly want to make? It's just one of those things that eventually happens to us all: making a princess ballgown is like a rite of passage. I'd been contenting myself with Anastasia's Once Upon a December sequence gown, knowing that, while stunningly beautiful and something I'd love to make, it wasn't quite right.

Although damn I still love this song, and will always love Anya's color palette as also getting this blue-eyed redhead's preferred color palette SO RIGHT.
My head is just abuzz with inspiration from Frozen's costuming, I just can't help it. I'm scheming up a version of this dress with a modified pointed waist rather than straight for the contrast bodice, and while I could never afford it I can't get this fabric out of my head for the skirt and sleeve portions, with a nice darker purple for the bodice and a lovely dark orange and purple peter pan collar and cuffs. Almost like taking design inspiration from Frozen with a dash of Kayley from Quest for Camelot (who also has a wedding dress I adore, and anyone who wears a purple tunic with blue tights is okay in my book). While we're on the subject, I'd also love to make a shirt dress inspired by the one Dmitri got Anya... Maybe using the Colette Hawthorne pattern? I have Christmas/Hannukah money incoming, it could happen...

Basically, my ultimate wardrobe goals would be ganking the design elements of my favorite animated heroines, and I am certainly not ashamed of this in the slightest. Now, for the time and the money to make it so.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Please Hold for Finals

And just like that, I missed basically the entire last half of November. All I can say to justify myself is, "It was Thanksgiving break, I was exhausted, and now it's the week before finals and I am even more exhausted."

I have some things in the works I really would love to share: my Cooper is coming along adorably, despite some issues with pressing (my body fabric refuses to press neatly, so sewing down the detail straps on the body was a bit of a bear, for example, which makes me a bit apprehensive about making my own straps but eh, might as well just press on), I've got the Newcastle pattern printed and pieced together and ready to go, and I've been chipping away at the Yui Hongo and Chihiro Fujisaki cosplays, but the only time I really have to take pictures is late at night and my room has succumbed to the Finals Pit of No Return stage. It's really not the nicest place to take photos... if I could find a flat enough surface to lay out my things to TAKE photos, even.

Currently, I'm working on a Russian history paper due tomorrow at midnight (only eight pages doublespaced, but the prompt is so massive I could have double the page count and still feel like I was leaving things out, so that has me a bit on edge), revising my writing seminar portfolio, and beginning to study for my finals, all of which are next week (my college doesn't believe in Reading Days- or, rather, it believes Reading Days is just a fancier term for the weekend). I'm also polishing off my grad school applications, so a lot is getting crammed into the next week and a half!

... and then I'm done with my last fall semester as a college undergrad. How the hell did that one happen, I ask you.

Anyway, the point of this post is: sewing posts will resume once I get a break from the chaos that is the last week of finals, because I can't wait to get back into it! I'm gonna try to have a sewing wishlist post for Sunday, as a bit of a break for myself (because who doesn't love to destress with a little internet window shopping around the holidays?), but I don't want to make any promises I might not be able to keep, so that's still up in the air for now.