Tag Archives: fabric

A Passion for Purple

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I’ve been curating a new wardrobe for myself. Right now I am focusing on casual summer tops to wear with shorts. All I have are tank tops and a couple of $5 t-shirts I got on sale at Michael’s. Functional, yes, but not really stylish nor necessarily the coolest thing for hot Texas summers.

I went to a couple of thrift stores (I pledged to only buy my clothes secondhand. The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters and I don’t want to contribute to it anymore. There are more than enough used options around, at least if the thrift stores in my area are any indication). Since I wasn’t able to try anything on, I did get a couple I’m not totally in love with but for the most part, I found some real gems. And a pattern emerged. The majority of stuff I bought had a definite bohemian vibe – Indian-like prints and embroidery. No big surprise there. Also, there were a lot of blues and purples.

I love color. I have always been attracted to it yet haven’t had a lot of it in my wardrobe. Maybe because black and grey were just an easy option. I have another theory though. My wardrobe and it’s lack of cohesion, color or style has been an outer manifestation of an inner confict. How could I possibly develop a personal style when I was flip-flopping around, trying to be what everyone else expected me to be? If I didn’t know who I was how could I dress her? Only now that I am learning to listen to and trust my authentic self have I been able to see my true style emerge.

And purple in all of it’s glorious forms, is definitely on the menu!

What is Color?

I’m not going to pretend to understand how color works optically (apparently it has something to do with how different wavelengths of colored light combine and how cones in our eyes percieve it or something like that) but I do know from elementary art class that purple is a mixture of red and blue. Mix in more red than blue and you get purple. Mix in more blue than red and you get violet. This analogous color scheme (red, purple and blue) is my favorite so it’s no wonder that I now have quite a collection of it in my wardrobe. (I would extend that range to teal blues also. Not only do I love these jewel tones, they look good on me.)

Purple Dyes

The color purple as a dye has an interesting history. Apparently purple is rare in the nature (though it doesn’t seem like it thanks to having everything at our fingertips these days). Even if we don’t live in an area where lilacs, grapes or eggplant are indiginous, we still know what they are.

The color purple as a dye has been around since biblical times. The most important dye originally came from what is now known as Lebanon. It was extracted from a snail – mucus of a snail to be exact (the history of dying is quite fascinating and also a little gross – maybe it’s the grossness that makes it fascinating…) which had to be dried out in the sun for a particular amount of time to get the right hue. The reason purple is considered the color of royalty was because it took about 250,000 of these snails to produce one ounce of dye, making it extremely expensive but the color was deep and long lasting. If you wanted to display your wealth, wearing purple spoke volumes.

There were other natural sources for purple including purple moss, blackberries and mulberries but these created colors more on the red side and weren’t as colorfast.

Synthetic purple dye didn’t become prevalent until the mid 1800’s when William Henry Perkin, who was trying to produce synthetic quinine, created the first aniline dye instead. It was known as mauveine and shortened to mauve. He took full advantage of this discovery, set up a factory and it became readily available (i.e. affordable) to the masses.

Meaning of Purple

I’m a sucker for symbolism so naturally I’m interested in what meaning people have attached to the color purple. According to the website Color Matters :

purple symbolizes magic, mystery, spirituality, the sub-conscious, creativity, dignity, royalty – and it evokes all of these meanings more so than any other color.

I find the link to royalty rather interesting given my life archetype is The Empress. (I’m a sucker for these type of personality quizzes. And whether or not you believe any of it, I strongly identify with everything about my archetype.) While it doesn’t state a particular color, purple is definitely an empress color.

Am I drawn to purple because it is such a rare color? That it evokes “deep mystery? Because of its “royal” heritage? Or because my skin tone has a reddish undertone so the coolness of purple keeps me from looking like a beet?

I confess the idea of being mysterious and rare does sound better than being an outcast and weird, which is kind of how I felt my whole life. Being a little older and wiser, I’m no longer concerned about fitting in. Actually I’m okay with being weird. What’s the other option – normal? When I was younger I did everything I could to be like everyone else – to be accepted – but now that sounds so…boring. And life is so much easier and enjoyable embracing my weirdness instead of trying to hide or erase it, like it was something to be shameful of.

So yeah, color me purple.

Coming out of my rut and triangle quilt update

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You know that creative wasteland I talked about a couple of posts ago? Yeah, still there. Having a project like a scrap quilt gives me something to do while I’m figuring out what I want to do, if you know what I mean.

I love making quilts and I have enough fabric to make a few. I decided to make a triangle quilt. It’s done by cutting four inch squares, drawing a diagonal line down the center, sewing a quarter inch on either side of the diagonal line and cutting them apart. As this is a scrap quilt, I just cut out squares and randomly sewed them together. No particular design – a “no-brainer” of a project. It gives my hands something to do while my brain is incubating.

Creating my half triangles

Scrap quilts have a long history in America. Patchwork quilts were often made from sewing scraps and old clothes. Nothing was wasted. One of the tennents of the sustainability movement is not to waste anything and use what you have on hand. Some people might see this as restrictive and feel deprived but it’s the opposite for me. I love the challenge of using what I have. It’s strangely satisfying to use stuff up and see my stash shrink.

The quilts I’m making will be donated to a non-profit. This one will be queen size and requires 930 half-triangle squares (30 squares X 31 rows). I had already made 300 squares and over the weekend I cranked out the rest while watching some bad Netflix movies and reruns (if you have any good Netflix viewing suggestions, please tell me).

Squares are all done, now laying them out to sew them up for the quilt top.

A couple of thoughts emerged during this sewing marathon. First, I finally figured out where I could pin my quilts. While I have the floor space in my apartment (I don’t have a lot of furniture) it’s carpet so essentially useless. I realized I have access to a huge space where I could pin multiple quilts out at a time. Even though I will have the room to do the whole thing, I’ll do it in two pieces because it is so much easier to quilt smaller pieces on a regular sewing machine than one large piece.

Second, sometimes when I’m in these “lows” I find great clarity. Not being able to move forward could be my brain/soul/authentic self’s (or whatever you want call it) way of saying I’m on the wrong track. I believe this dry spell is one of those times. I happened upon a Youtube channel and it got me thinking about what I am really trying to accomplish. I’m focusing on the wrong things – on the outcomes – things I don’t have any control over. I was getting caught up in my old nemesis, outer validation, worrying about what other people think and trying to do what the “experts” are doing instead of following my own passions, curiosity, wants and interests. The best thing I could do to get out of my rut was to give my hands something to do while my subconscious worked things out.

It sounds cliche but we each are given one life to live. I’ve already lived too much of mine by other people’s agenda but it’s a hard habit to break. I still fall into the trap of comparing myself to other (seemingly more successful) people and thinking I should be doing what they’re doing. But it’s just that, a trap. Because when I focus on what “they’re” doing, it takes the focus off of what I want to do, what would truly make my life meaningful and fulfilled. It’s like my brain slammed on the brakes as if to say “whoa, you missed your exit!”

So I readjust my internal GPS and head back to where I’m suppose to go and the creative juices start flowing again.

4 Days, 4 Skirts (Draft an 8 Gore Skirt)

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4 Days, 4 Skirts (Draft an 8 Gore Skirt)

I’m a sewing Ninja.

I talked about these skirts in this video (I threw one in as a bonus). In actuality, I’ve been “planning” them for a couple years but some other project has always gotten my attention. I also said I could probably sew them all in a day if I set my mind to it.

Famous last words. Technically I could have done it if I hadn’t chosen to hand sew the hem and waistband. Still, a skirt a day is pretty impressive, in my opinion.

Let’s break them down, shall we?

Skirts 1, 2 and 3

The brown/olive skirt was the first one I made because I had black thread in my serger and all the other skirts required white (I use only black or white serger thread – black for dark fabrics, white for light. Serger thread is not cheap and you have to buy 4 spools so I don’t bother matching colors.)

I made it to wear with this sweater:

Unfortunately I was less than thrilled when I tried them on together (I wish had taken a picture). The sweater came down too far and hid my waist. It didn’t look bad, it just didn’t wow me and it took a bit of the wind out of my sails. After mulling it over for a couple of days I decided to redo the sweater. I unraveled it to 2″ below the armhole, which was easy because I knit it top down. I shaped the sides to take away some of the bulk and define my waist. Also, I’m short waisted so I took away four inches of length going from a side seam of 13 inches to about nine inches. Looking at the two pictures side by side doesn’t seem like that big of a difference but when paired with the skirt the proportions are spot on!

I realized that’s been part of the problem with my wardrobe – I’ve been settling for “good enough”, instead of insisting on only having pieces that look and make me feel great. More importantly, I understand my proportions better and can see the (sometimes subtle) changes needed for a garment to flatter my figure. We should take the time and effort to make it right because we are worth it. I noticed a discernable shift in how I was carrying myself when I put on the revised sweater.

This made me rethink some of my yarn stash. Because the waistband on jeans fall below my waist, I want sweaters that are longer so they cover my stomach. But these skirts fit me at my waist (which I want to highlight) so I don’t need all that length, which means I don’t need as much yarn. I can make “skirt sweaters” from those yarns I have less of.

Okay, back to the skirt. I put a diagram below to show you how I drafted the pattern. Make sure you add your seam allowances and cut your pattern on the fold. You’ll need to cut out eight gores. I wear my skirts so the zipper is in the back.

What went well:

  • For the waistband I cut a 3″X 29″ (my waist measurement + 1″ ease + 2″ to finish at zipper opening) rectangle and interfaced it.
  • I used the same pattern I used to make the dress in this post. It fit me perfectly, sitting at the my waist and flaring out.
  • The fabrics I used were a bit more shifty than the quilting cotton I used for the dress so interfacing where I put the zipper was a big help and made insertion much easier.
  • I learned my lesson from the dress and made sure each side of the waistband lined up at the zipper so no more uneven zipper openings.
  • I serged all the seams after I sewed them as these fabrics tend to fray.
  • I got a lot of practice inserting zippers and hand sewing.

What would I do differently:

  • The light blue fabric, while having a beautiful shimmer, was not a good choice for a skirt. Not only is it very sheer, it was also surprisingly scratchy. There night be some metallic thread running through it. I barely lasted eight minutes in it, I couldn’t imagine wearing it for eight hours. I won’t be wearing it until I get a slip.

Skirt 4

I didn’t mention this skirt in my video because I was in the process of knitting the top and I wanted to reveal them together. I got the fabric from the thrift store and I think it’s a silk sari as it’s very narrow.

I didn’t use the gore pattern because it would have distorted the stripe, which pulls in the color from the top. I decided to make a dirndl skirt instead. A dirndl, or gathered skirt is basically two large rectangles (mine were 28″ X 31.25″) gathered up into the waistband (I made the waistband the same as the gore skirts).

I squealed when I looked at this outfit! I am absolutely in love with it, which was a bit of a surprise. I thought the gathers would make me look poufy. And if I used a heavier fabric it would have, but this is light so the gathers drape nicely. I get a 50’s vibe from this look. All those vintage sewing videos seem to be rubbing off on me. Not that I mind. I think the 40’s and 50’s silhouettes are flattering to my shape and plan to reference them more in my designs.

The sweater is my own design. I had only three skeins of Red Heart Luster Sheen (I don’t think they produce it anymore but you can find some on etsy or ebay). I planned on making it a raglan tank top but couldn’t figure out how to finish the neckline in a way that I liked. I didn’t want to do a rounded neck either, thinking that would make it to “vesty”. I settled on this wider neckline which suits the whole 50’s vibe of the skirt. I will be getting a lot of wear out of these two.

Final Thoughts

If you are new to sewing, these two skirt designs are easy, not only to sew but also to draft yourself. Buy some cheap fabric (check your local thrift store for fabric and/or bed sheets) and test the fit of your pattern as well as work out construction details. Zippers seem intimidating but like everything else they become easier with practice. Invest in a good sewing manual (I like the one Reader’s Digest puts out) or Youtube for tutorials.

Once you’ve sewn a few skirts you can play around with the details on these skirts by adding tucks, pockets and other embellishments

Now that I’ve tested these two designs, I’ve added other fabrics to the queue. But first I have to find a knitting project since I finished all of my UFO’s. I have several yarns that match the red poppy skirt and a basic black sweater would also be a welcome addition. I just have to figure out the designs, which is always fun.

Out of the four outfits, which one is your favorite?

Testing the Pattern – Summer Dress and Cardigan

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Now that I have a master pattern (well, at least the bodice) I felt it was time to test it. I decided to make a simple sleeveless dress with circle skirt. I also had a small amount of yarn and tested my luck by making a short cardigan so I could feel comfortable wearing it to work.

Let’s look at how it went.

The Cardigan

I started out with the cardigan. I had the idea of doing it waist length (cropped) with short, gathered sleeves. I wanted to do a lace pattern as I felt that was a bit more summery and chose a simple eyelet pattern. Halfway into it I thought a little bead between the eyelets would have been a nice touch but I was doubling the yarn and wasn’t sure if I even had enough, so I filed that idea away for a future pattern. The yarn was unraveled from a man’s sweater I got thrifting. I think the fiber content is wool.

There weren’t any surprises knitting this cardigan. Everything went according to plan, except the gathered sleeves. I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough yarn so I made the a simple set-in cap sleeve. Turns out I could have probably done the gathers but I still like it.

The finishing touch was a handmade Dorset button.

The Dress

Let me just say, this dress fit me like a glove. Yes, there are some slight modifications I will need to make to the pattern, but overall, I am incredibly happy with the final product. Even though I drafted a circle skirt pattern, I did not have enough fabric for it (circle skirts eat up fabric) so I decided on an 8-gore skirt. I measured the waist on my bodice and used that to draft the skirt pattern. Gored, circle and A-line skirts are very easy to draft and would recommend them if you are just starting out in patternmaking. The fabric is a quilting cotton that’s been in my stash for awhile. I think it was given to me.

What worked:

  • Incredibly my side seams and dart lines of the bodice and gored skirt matched up perfectly even though I didn’t plan it that way. Unfortunately you can’t see it because of the dark print.
  • I skipped facing my armholes and used bias binding instead which resulted in a nice, clean finish.
  • Thanks to The Closet Historian I was able to – for the FIRST TIME EVER – put in a zipper that looked good.
  • Also thanks to The Closet Historian’s suggestion, I cut bias tape from my dress fabric and used it to hem my dress. She uses it on circle skirts but it worked just as well on the gores also. If you are making a straight skirt you can hem it the normal way by turning it up but once you are working with any sort of curve, bias tape makes the job so much easier.

What I would do better:

  • While my gores lined up perfectly with my side seams and darts, somehow the gores for the back seam (where I inserted my zipper and which were the same size as all the others) were about 5/8 -3/4″ too wide. This is because my back bodice is not as wide as my front. To fix this, I measured in at the waist 3/4″ in and then took a yardstick and connected that point down to the hem, creating a long, narrow wedge shape piece that was cut out. While just taking 3/4″ off the entire seam would have probably worked just fine, I wanted to keep in as much width as possible because I like flowy skirts.
  • For some reason I decided to face my neckline instead of using bias tape like I did on the armholes. I had to cut my facings out twice because the first time I didn’t account for turning under my edges to finish off where the zipper was. Once I got that all straightened out, I felt the facing was too wide so I cut off an inch.
  • Speaking of facings, when I was sewing them in, I didn’t bother to pay attention if they lined up at the zipper. They don’t and it was a detail I could have easily fixed if I had caught it soon enough.
  • Although I got my zipper in nicely, I wasn’t sure how much space to leave at the top. I think in the future I’ll put the start of the zipper 1/2″ down from the top, which once the neckline finishing is put in, the zipper will be right a the top.
  • I need to add about 1-1/4″ to the side seam so it sits at my natural waist. I’m short waisted, just not that short waisted.
  • I also noticed some fabric pulling at my armhole so I’m going to try dropping it about a half inch. In it’s current state I still have total mobility but the extra half inch I think will just let it sit better, especially if I decide to add sleeves.

Overall, this is a comfortable, well-fitting dress and cardigan. The organization I work for announced we will be returning to the office in April. It will be on a rotation basis so no more than ten people will be in the office at a time, which means I’ll be there about once a week. It will be nice to have some cute clothes to wear, because let’s face it, we’ve all been in our pajamas the past year, haven’t we?

My "Studio"

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There once was a time when I had two rooms – TWO DEDICATED ROOMS – for all my creative stuff.

These pictures are of my last studio space. I had a workroom – sewing machine, serger, cutting table – right next door. Plus I had two closets packed full of storage. I loved those rooms.

In an ideal world, my studio would be a totally separate building – preferably a tree house. It would have tons of windows, one wall would be a bulletin board and another a white board. It’d be filled with yarn, fabric, books, art supplies and people. It would be a private space for me to create and a public space for me to teach, learn, collaborate and share. It would be heaven.

Right now, though, my apartment is about as big as those two rooms I used to have. I still have plenty of fabric, books and yarn, but nowhere near as much back in the day. I’ve become a lot more discerning about what stays – partly because I don’t have the space – but mainly because I outgrew the need for it.

Pattern books got weeded out as I realized I could draft any of the patterns in those books. For years I used those books as a crutch, thinking I needed them to make anything. But my skills have grown, I’m confident in my knowledge so most of the books I kept are about technique or have stitch patterns.

I also Marie Kondo’d my yarn and fabric. I was hanging onto yarn that wasn’t fun to knit with, the colors were all wrong for me or uncomfortable on my skin. I finally decided I deserved better. Anything worthy of my time needed to be something I would enjoy working with, would feel comfortable wearing and would look good on me. Each skein of yarn or yardage of fabric had to “spark joy”.

This was quite a revelation for me. To be honest, I’ve been a bit of a hoarder when it came to yarn and fabric. When people find out I knit or sew I get gifted a lot of fabric and yarn. I figured I could always find something to make with it. It dawned on me that my time was precious and limited so why spend it making stuff that wasn’t an absolute WOW. Not that everything I’ve ever made has the WOW factor, but my intention is always to do so. Using stuff I don’t love handicaps my best efforts. I will never turn down free yarn or fabric, I just don’t feel compelled anymore to keep (hoard) it. Nothing ever gets thrown out – I have a network of sewers and knitters so I can always find someone who can use what I don’t want.

My current “studio” is actually my living room. My sewing machine and serger sit in a corner next to my kitchen. I have two dressers storing most of my stuff – notions, fabric and yarn. I’m fortunate to have a lot of storage for such a small space and the rest of my textiles/yarn are in my linen closet or under my bed.

Other essentials such as my cutting table and chair can be folded up and stored out of sight. My mat and rulers are hung on doors (thank goodness for over the door hangers!) I have one bookcase that is overloaded with books and the rest are scattered throughout my apartment – part of the decoration – or tucked away in my walk-in closet.

I am happy with this set up. I live alone so I don’t have to cater to anyone else’s taste or stuff. And seeing my sewing machine, ready to go at a creative moment’s notice, is comforting. Especially right now when “social distancing” is encouraged, having projects of various stages scattered about my apartment is keeping me productive and sane.

No matter how big or little your home is, you can always carve out a space for your creative endeavors. Maybe it’s a closet, maybe it’s a storage bin under the bed. Maybe it’s just a tote bag with all the essentials. Making things is part of who I am. It’s in my DNA as an Empress (it’s my archetype) so having my sewing machine in the middle (well, corner) of my living room is as natural as having a T.V. (except I don’t own a T.V.) Even when I have a dedicated studio, there will always be a basket of yarn and needles by my chair, ready to be picked up as I relax after a long day.