Monday, May 17, 2021

perspective on home sewist issues

 Time seems so fluid these days, I can't believe a month has passed since I last posted.  

I was thinking the other day about how the pattern making process is a mystery to a lot of people.

I don't take the process for granted, yet I am at a different vantage point regarding pattern making than the average or even experienced home sewist.  I have almost 30 years of experience doing this, intensive years of learning how to draft, how to fit different bodies and how to adapt the information provided (measurements and design) into a paper pattern. 

There is always something to learn, problems to solve, and I enjoy that aspect of the work. In the absence of a lot of work (Covid issues),  I have tuned in more to the home sewist platforms and their particular challenges. 

Yesterday I read a post on Instagram (blog post here) about a sewing wiki. I found it interesting that these two women were considering this, but I think they have made a wise choice in not going forward.  I cannot imagine trying to curate the information! The thought makes me ill 😉. 

The internet has opened up a lot of information to so many people in such a positive manner, but unfortunately it also has let loose a lot of misinformation. I think it is mostly misguided, not malicious in any way. I think there has been a generational gap (or two) of knowledge and learning in the area of pattern making and sewing, and now that the art and craft of it is seeing a resurgence, the gap is showing.

 In the age of social media and the loyalties it engenders, I have noticed a certain interesting embracing of failure. It sometimes seems that people identify with the struggle and sharing the struggle, often to the point of dismissing or disregarding sound advice. I am all for figuring stuff out on your own, but why not accept good advice or pointers in favour of failure?  Eventually with time you may realize that you have been reinventing the wheel.

I guess I am just seeing it from a much different perspective than most.

Anyway, I could go on and on about it all, but I am sure that would be too much for both of us. 

I was going to post about my coat pattern here today, but this is already too long. That will be another post.

I would be interested in your opinions on this, 


Friday, April 2, 2021

lockdown project- a coat for myself

It seems that spring is here, and it is time to switch out the winter clothes for something slightly lighter. That makes me remember that I had another lockdown project I can tell you about. 

I made a coat for myself. 

I still have the first coat I ever made for myself, way back in the early 1980's. It was a Vogue pattern, I believe, I bought the fabric at Duthler's in London Ontario- they had nice fabric in the day! Sigh.

It was a classic cut, DB camel coloured tailored coat. I haven't worn it in decades, I did love it, but, it was time to make a new coat. 

First-design- I had to pick a style. Oh gosh, I had so many pins of women's overcoats on Pinterest that I liked but I couldn't decide on any of them. Then, I saw an online ad for a winter coat at the Bay, and I liked it enough that I thought I could use it as a jumping off point. 

I did a little drawing first. 

Then I got out my base/block pattern that I drafted and fit on myself last year.


I made a pattern, started a mock up and realized it had way too much ease allowance, so I started over,  made a new pattern and cut right into fabric. I figured I would baste it together and try it on as I went and make adjustments to the style and fit on the fly.

Maybe not the best decision, but in my defense, I had what I will call "Covid Brain",  very fuzzy thinking, and I had the time to spend. 

This project also provided something I had been lacking since the lockdowns, and that was a deadline! I planned to have it finished in time for my working gig in Montreal.

I muddled through. I am sure Lela thought I was crazy at times when we were working in the studio together but it all worked out in the end and I got a coat out of it.

I will show you some of the stages in the upcoming posts.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Drafting on the computer

     I have been trying out some new things this past year of Covid woe. For someone like me who is used to having problems to solve on a daily basis, this year has been a challenge in the absense of a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

    One of the things that I am using for a brain exercise, is learning some new things on the computer. I have been seeing so many patterns by Indie designers out there available for digital download, and I wondered what software some of these people were using.

    I thought that I could learn to draft patterns with the computer and started a search for software (affordable) with which to do this. 

    I have no experience using the computer for this task and I love, love, love, drawing patterns on paper, so I am not likely to give that up by any means.

    I started this journey with Inkscape, and began teaching myself some of the tools of that program. It was quite enlightening, I learned a lot - much of which may not have lodged firmly in my brain, but it opened up a door to a place I had never gone before. It was interesting and there are so many helpful YouTube videos out there that made the steep learning curve ever so slightly scalable- hats off to Logos by Nick for an excellent set of tutorial videos, even though I had to stop and start constantly because at his slowest I still was struggling to keep up.

    I decided that Inkscape was not the pattern making solution for me.  I am keeping it in my back pocket but decided to look further afield.

    I encountered a program called, Patternmaker Pro (closed down recently)which also did not work out for me- I could hardly get started and I was not looking for plug and play solution. I want to be able to control the parameters of my own drafting.

That then led me first to Valentina and then Seamly2D

    I am still learning the software and the tools with in it, but I have been encouraged by my progress so far and also by the welcoming and helpful forum of users.

Here is a little learning exercise I did recently.

This is a replication (just as written) of a vintage waistcoat draft.

It is a challenge for a paper and pencil gal to adapt, as following the process as written works well with paper, but isn't in the best order of operations for the computer.  I do like a challenge and this has been a lot of fun to do.

I don't necessarily have a plan beyond learning right now, but who knows, this may come in handy in the future.

I might become an indie pattern designer of period menswear😉

What do you think? Do you use a drafting software? Any advice?

Monday, March 8, 2021

Acknowledging the women I work with.

 On this International Women's day, I want to acknowledge all the fellow women I work with, and have worked with over the years.

Women who are tailors and seamstresses, cutters, dyers, milliners, craftspeople. Women who make jewellry, and boots, who dress the actors, stage manage the shows, buy the fabric, make the props, sell the tickets, manage the patrons, run the facilities and do a lot of the grunt work that is hidden to the public.

The actors and to a lesser extent the designers get almost all the public recognition that takes dozens of unacknowledged people, many of them women, to make what you see on the stage and screen come to life.

I always make sure that people know we are a collaborative kind of art, and my work doesn't exist without their expert hands. 

Thank you all.❤️

Sunday, February 28, 2021

sewing tips: inserting jacket zippers

      I am sure that it is something many people already know, but for me I am not routinely inserting zippers into coats, but when you need to do it, you figure it out and get on with it. This sample represents a coat with a centered zipper, an offset facing, and has a Peter Pan collar. It was also quilted, but that is neither her nor there really, just an added layer!

Step one. My pattern is Nett so all the lines are sewing lines. I have my centre front stitched through the quilting and the backing. Press the seam allowances of the CF back to give it a light crease.

Measure from the centre of the zipper teeth to the edge of the zipper tape. That is 1.5 cm by my ruler. 

Mark a line on the CF body seam allowance  1.5 cm away from the CF. 

This is a guideline for sewing the zipper in. lay the edge of the zipper tape against the drawn line. Stitch the zipper in approximately .5 mm in from the edge of the tape.

Fold the CF edge back on the crease you ironed in. Check to see that the teeth are in a good position. The stitch line is 1 cm away from the CF line.

Next the facing. The next stitching line needs to be marked 1 cm from the CF. Mark a line 1 cm inward from the CF on your facing. This line will be sewn to the previous line of stitching you just created. 

You can work it out so you have a line to visually run the edge of the zipper tape against or you can just pin the facing in place and stitch line to line. 

The facing seam and the previous stitch line for the zipper are right on top of each other.

Done? Now you will fold back the CF of the body again and see that on the inside, the facing is now set back 1 cm back from the CF edge. 

Nice! If you have a stand collar where all the seam allowances will live up inside the collar you can go ahead and catch all the CF  layers down by topstitching, or if you are careful, and things look fab, stitch either just beside the facing seam through to teh fronts, or edgestitch the facing edge from the inside. 

If you have a collar such as I do- a peter pan style, one that requires the seam allowances of the neckline to be opened, then you must wait until the collar is installed before topstitching the CF.

 This type of garment has a fabric facing around the whole neckline. The only place the facing and body are attached at this point is the CF zipper insertion.

 Bag out/ prepare your collar as usual. 

Open up the front body and facing at the CF so they are flat. Match the CF seam of the under-collar to the CF of the body at the neck. Pin or baste it all around the neck.  Stitch*.  (*it just may make it easier to have one section already stitched while you pin and prep the top collar/facing neckline side). Pin or baste the top collar all around the neck line of the facing, pushing the seam allowances of facing/zipper seam away from the CF. Stitch.

As I said you can do this all in one go it you wish.

Here you can see what happens at the CF area. 

Trim, clip and press the seam allowances of the neckline open, on the body and the facing. 

Press and whack it with a hammer if it needs encouragement!

Turn right sides out and check the placement of everything.

Go back inside the facing at the neck and hand stitch or machine the opened neckline seam allowances together face to face.

I think you are done. 

Topstitch as desired.

One advantage to this is that all the seam allowances are not all concentrated at the CF which can get quite bulky. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Childen's wear drafting and trying to find information

     I recently needed to produce a few garments for a child, and it occured to me that I had only one drafting book to reference for children's wear.

That book is the Winnifred Aldrich's  Metric Pattern Cutting for Children's Wear and Babywear. 

I have an older edition so out of curiosity I borrowed a newer edition just in case. I found there were  some changes to some of the basic drafts which made me wonder. 

Things like the calculations for neck width used 1/5 neck minus 2mm now its 1/5 neck plus 2 mm on some drafts.Were there errors in the older drafts or just typos? Strange.

     I wanted to find a draft for a one piece snowsuit. It is not a garment covered in the Aldrich book. The child would arrive after quarantining, go for fittings, alterations would be done there, and then be on camera two days later.   They didn't want a waist seam in the snowsuit, so I had to get it right the first time. I needed to find basic torso girth measurements for children so I could have some kind of reference point. "It shouldn't be difficult" I thought to myself....... Anyway, it sent me down a rabbit hole of internet searching.

I did finally find a study of children's measurements here, done in 1939. So I waded through all of this and got a number range for height. 

I called friends with children too! "how tall is your child? Can you take a measurement of his torso girth for me?"

What a run around for information! Oh I forgot to mention, all I received was height and a chest measurement taken by a parent. That is all I was working from. What a business! and let's not talk about the deadlines.

What else did I find? I found a snowsuit draft on a Russian website, which I downloaded for reference and I could follow along looking at the diagrams. My desktop translated the pages, except for the sizing tables!! because they are photos not text! Drat!

I was on Pinterest and I found an Italian children's cutting book. In Italian, of course. Again, I could follow along by "reading" the diagrams. But I don't think there was a one piece snowsuit draft there either. That book, by Antonio Donnanno is available here in English.

I decided to basically stick with the Aldrich using the flat overgarment blocks for jackets and the flat two piece trouser block, and melded them together so they looked right ot me.

Once I made the basic draft, one of the things I had to take into account was the thinsulate lining. My base pattern was for the lining, but the outer fabric layer needed to be bigger than the under layer. I think I read somewhere about re-calculating the draft for the amount and type of insulation being used, maybe it was on the russian drafting site, maybe on a german site....I can't remember now.

Anyway, in the end, I figured out how much bigger to make the shell and made a pattern for that too. 

It was lots of work mentally and then a lot of work just cutting and sewing them. (yes, plural! I needed to cut two of them) I think they turned out really well, The best part is that they fit. I breathed a sigh of relief. 

We did get stuck waiting for zippers to arrive, but all in all it went fairly well. 
The shutdowns have made getting supplies a bit more challenging! So many things are being shipped its a miracle everything gets to where it is going.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Christopher Plummer 1929-2021

 Such sad news yesterday that Christopher Plummer had passed away.

I made a number of costumes for him over the years.
I cut his costumes for King Lear 2002 that went on to Broadway later. 
Sewn and constructed as usual by my talented team

Designed by Clare Mitchell, directed by Sir Jonathan Miller.

This one was for Caesar and Cleopatra. 

Designed by Paul Tazewell. 

Photo by David Hou.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

bathing suit sewing tips- a bagged out edge with elastic

Okay, so apart from the basics of getting the swimsuit and lining cut out, there was a small sample to be made.

On the neckline of the bodice, the elastic is applied differently than on the other edges. The front neck edge does not have a visible zig or cover stitch holding the elastic in place. The lining is used to bag out that edge. It is the left edge in this photo, where you see the zig on the blue lining.

You can see here, that the neck edge is bagged out but the armhole edge has a visible zig stitch 

I made a sample before starting.

For the sample you need a piece of the fashion fabric, a piece of lining and the elastic. I thread marked the line in yellow so you can see it. 

The lining and the fabric are placed right sides together. The elastic will be serged to the two fabrics, keeping the one edge of the elastic right against the line that is marked in yellow. 

You could zig it on if you do not have a serger. 

Here you can see that as the lining is turned to the inside, the elastic edge stays along the yellow thread line, which of course, is the finished edge.   
It all nice and neat. 

The final step is to control the edge by understitching. I am going to zig the elastic to the lining and in doing so, that will keep the lining and elastic in place on the inside of the garment.

The layers are opened up and laid down flat (sorry no photo of that!!)

The lining and elastic seam is under the foot and the fashion fabric is to the right of the foot while you are stitching. 

This is when you can test your machine for the best zig width and stitch length, as well as to see that you need a new needle! (Boo, skipped stitches are not good!) That is why a sample is a good thing to do! Identify issues before you work on the final garment.

Remember, the face of the fashion fabric is not caught in the zig, and when it is all laid in place, you get this nice clean edge. 

This, by the way, is the same technique I use on a tailored trouser waistband. Instead of bagging out  the top edge of the waistband, I do a variation on this, using the waistband canvas in the place of the elastic and it offsets the seam between the wool and the silesia. 

I will have to look for a photo of the technique used on trousers, I am sure I have one somewhere.


Sunday, January 17, 2021

Bathing suit drafting and construction- 2020 projects

 Well, where are we?

Oh yes, lets look at the next bathing suit I drafted. I had one successful pattern and contruction under my belt, so I felt this next one was worth using some fabric I had purchased but didn't want to waste on a trial garment.

I had an existing tankini suit that had seen better days, and I liked the design of the top, but I felt that it never really fit me that well. You know, it was good enough but better is better, right?

The top was a halter style with ties and a ring detail at the centre front bust. The ring was in great shape, so I took the old bodice apart- which is always an interesting and informative process. You can see the order that the garment was constructed and the techniques that were used.

I had been poking around at my local fabric store and I found some lightweight power net in a pale blue colour. It was onsale too! I decided, since I am experimenting, that I would try that as a lining in this suit. I think I also bought some flat rubber elastic for this one as well. I hadn't worked with it before, so why not now?

Stuart had a tutorial on his website for this process. I have since discovered that these lessons are now under a paywall. I think if you are interested in making bathing suits, or stretch wear it is well worth the cost.

My first draft, and then the altered pattern. I basically made the same pattern alterations here as I did in the first bathing suit in the previous post. (I added length over the bust)
I started again from scratch though, partially for the practice, and also to make sure that I wasn't making changes based on fabric characteristics.  

The second photo is the altered pattern. 

At the bottom you can see the idea of the design pinned up on the stand.

We will have a more detailed look at it next...

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Keeping busy?

      In March of 2020, when everything shut down,  I was up to my eyeballs in work. It was quite astonishing how in the previous year and a half we had gone from worry about not having enough work being available, to way too much work, and then absolutely no work at all.

At the time of shut down, I had a large ongoing project for the new Swan Lake for the National Ballet of Canada, I had a project for a suit and overcoat for a tv show, and I had started back at the Festival. (once those projects get onstage or onscreen I will share, but for now I cannot)

On paper, and in our most positive outlook, it was all scheduled to pan out properly but of course it didn't. Unexpected delays, fabrics or fittings unavailable pushed all these projects upon each other. It is exactly the kind of situation that I try to avoid.  

When we were sent home from the theatre two weeks before the tech dress, I frantically used the strange gift of time we had been given to get everything back in order. Ballet costumes done as far as possible, check! Overcoat and three piece suit finished?Check!

Then what? If you work in this business you get used to deadlines and gearing up to the finish line, but the finish line became a distance blur.

We made masks, yes, many masks. When the call came from the local hospice, we were a well oiled machine of co-operation, organizers, cutters and sewers.

then what?

Well, we (myself and Lela- with whom I share the studio space) started creating projects with deadlines for ourselves! Honestly! Old habits die hard.

The first project was stretch wear- specifically bathing suit drafting and construction. Luckily for us, Pattern School Online run by the amazing Stuart Anderson had resurfaced from the depths of neglect on the internet, and it proved to be a valuable learning experience.

I made three bathing suits, and not only did I finish them, but I am very happy with them. The first was the trial run and mock up of a basic rather modest pattern. Cheap and cheery too. 

I went on a shopping expedition. I found this basic floral print fabric and I found something to use as lining- not marked as bathing suit lining per se, but something I felt would perform well as a lining. Since I was making a trial garment that I hoped would be wearable, I went old school and hand basted in the lining, and left a fair bit of seam allowance for alteration purposes. It was zigged together and tried on, then serged using a domestic four thread serger for the main seams and an industrial three thread serger and domestic zig for elastic application. I think I found patience to be a virtue in this endeavour especially with the elastic and how the machines handles the fabrics.

I think the calculation for elastic was the most challenging and most interesting part of the process. I really appreciated delving into the why and how of it all. Stuart does an excellent job of examining and explaining how stretch works (or doesn't). 

By the time I was ready to hit the beach, there were shutdowns at the lake due to overcrowding, so this piece had its debut at a friend's pool! My daughter thinks it is matronly looking but I don't care. The next one has a lot more flair!

That will be next.


Sunday, January 3, 2021

Books and references

Since I cleared out all my books from the theatre workspace, I had to find a shelf and space at the studio for them. Its rough but but at least I can see them. It was quite a job moving 30 years of stuff out of there and finding room for what I wanted to keep; patterns, tools, books, memorabilia, thank you cards,,,, you know the kind of things I am talking about.

I still have a box of vintage catalogues and the like which I am not sure how to store, so for now in a box they shall remain. I still have a box of vintage catalogues and the like which I am not sure how to store, so for now in a box they remain. 

I have not purchased many new books recently, trying to cut down on all that as I am more at the end of my career than the beginning, but I do love books. 

I try to keep track of them on Librarything .  If you are a member there, I am TTailor if you want to have a peek at my modest list. I think I say modest because there are some people there with vastly large collections! where do they keep them all?

Have you purchased any new costuming or tailoring books recently? Do you have any worthwhile books to recommend? Tell me about them, old or new books, no matter! do you want to see more of any of my books? Let me know.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Well, shall we get back to it?

 Good Question. Shall I get back to it? What is it I want to get back to? Not to make this tailoring blog  a confessional, but these are questions that I am asking myself.

Where do I go from here may be a more pointed question. The past three years (that is shocking!) since I last posted seem have flown by in a mishmash of illness and stress and just carrying on as best as I could. The past year has hit our industry particularly hard and I have friends and colleagues around the country reeling from the blow. Almost all avenues of making a living as a theatre professional have disappeared, although film and tv work is continuing on, not all of us are able to, or desire to tap into that side of the business in a full time manner.

So, standing at the edge of 2021, looking over the edge, I think that I need to come up with a plan, and I hope that I can come back to the blog and perhaps with a few adjustments, move forward with learning some new things and bringing you along on the journey.

I wish you all the best in the year to come, stay safe, be kind.


Art installation  Entre Les Rangs  by Kanva architecture at Place des Arts/Quartier des Spectacles Montreal