Thursday, February 19, 2015

Progressing Backwards

Well hello, winter.  I see you've finally decided to show up.  My poor British husband doesn't know what's hit us--I've been telling him not to be a baby because we've had a pretty mild winter so far, but I guess I can't say that anymore.  Temperatures are in the negatives (Fahrenheit) and there's all sorts of warnings out for visibility, snowfall, wind chills, and frostbite.  In case you were wondering, 15 minutes or less to freeze bare skin means it's HELLA DANG COLD out.  The dog doesn't even want to go out to poo anymore.  On the bright side, cold weather means fuzzy blankets and puppy cuddles, so that's a plus!

I'll admit to not making very much progress on my stays this past week.  It's been breathtakingly cold, so curling up under the electric blanket and cuddling the dog has been very tempting.  Also, the hot water heat in our apartment building froze on Monday, and the complex shut off our water with no warning or explanation related to this.  We got water back by the time I got home from work, but not heat until later that that was fun.

The next day, Rich started a new job!  Which was exciting, but one thing I didn't realize was that it would mean I'm not only in charge of preparing dinner, but also two lunches now as well.  When he was home, I would take our lone car to work and then come home on lunch and make us both food.  Now, we're packing lunches ahead of time, which feels like way more work and prep than just making lunch at home.  I feel like all I've done for the past three days is think about, plan, prepare, package, and pack food for lunches!  When I'm not making dinner or doing dishes or cleaning the kitchen, that is.  Ugh.

So yesterday I finally got my poop in a group and took some sewing with me to work.  Since Rich now takes the car to his job after dropping me off in the morning, I have a whole hour for lunch, nowhere to go, no transportation, and it does NOT take me an hour to eat.

Anyway, over the weekend, I had traced my stays pieces onto twill and cut out two layers with big ol' seam allowances, and then cut the wool layers.  Rather than having ten pieces all bristling with pins to work with, I decided to baste all my stuff together.  So that happened on lunch yesterday, and a bit last evening.  Except for two pieces that needed to be pressed before basting.  So I busted out the iron.  Aaaaaannnnnd...

Well then.  I know you're not necessarily supposed to iron wool on your iron's 'lava hot' setting, but even if you do, THIS is NOT what is supposed to happen!

Now, I'm aware that many, many wools these days are blends.  I've been told that it's difficult for today's manufacturing processes to handle a 100% wool and that there are often small percentages of nylon or acrylic added.

But folks, this was SO synthetic.  For reference, here is what a burn test of a all-or-at-least-mostly wool should look like:

Differences between the burn tests I conducted included:

  1. The faux-wool caught on fire very readily and kept on burning--did not self-extinguish.
  2. The second swatch, the true wool, was more difficult to ignite and the flame petered out on its own.
  3. The burned edge of the synthetic melted into a hard plastic ridge that stayed hot for a LONG fact, I burned myself on it while showing Rich my sewing science.
  4. The burned edge of the true wool crumbled away into a dry ash and did not retain heat for long.
  5. The actual wool smelled like burning hair...gross!
So basically, the piece that I melted with my iron shows very little evidence of containing much wool at all, and the second piece that I compared it to is most likely 100% wool for realsies--or very, very close.  In any case, it's mostly sheep.

Anyway, I then proceeded to become VERY grumpy and ripped all my hand basting out (8 of 10 pieces were done, dammit...) and will today be re-cutting my wool layers.  I'll be using the same stuff I cut my swatch from, which is a lovely piece of fabric--but ugh, really?!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Pedantic Treatise on Thread

Nothing too exciting today, but I did some test stitching to see what I like best for my blue stays.

Here's my test swatch, which is two layers of cotton twill with a layer of the blue wool on top.  I actually started with the right side, with just plain old 100% cotton Gutermann thread on the machine, longest stitch length, same thread in the bobbin with the blue side up.  The next test was the same setup with a shorter stitch length.  As you can see, my machine threw a hissy fit and decided to skip stitches on this one.  I retaliated by changing the needle.  The next test was with the same thread setup, new needle, and a shorter stitch length with the swatch flipped so the blue side was on the bottom and I was looking at the inner twill layer while stitching.  

That seemed to be fine, but I then decided that the thread looks a bit thin.  The inspiration stays seem to use a fairly stout thread, so I changed to Americana glaced quilting thread.  The JoAnn near me carries this stuff in their endcap bins, and I tried it on the recommendation of my friend Mike "Captain Tightpants" McCarty.  In fact, I used it on my last pair of 1812 stays and really liked the look.  And yes, "glaced" is spelled that way on the spool.  Even though my word processor is telling me it's not actually a word.

Anyway, I was then seized by a temporary insanity and decided to try hand stitching a row.  That's the next test line.  And then I realized that even if I could sew a straight line and my hand stitching didn't look like it was done by a drunken buffalo with a blindfold on, there's no way in hell I want to or even can hand stitch sixty billion boning channels between now and the end of February.  So no, I will not be hand-stitching the boning channels on this MF-er.

Next was a row of stitching with the Americana on the top and a normal cotton bobbin...that sucked and skipped stitches so badly I pulled it right the hell out and you can't even see it in pictures.

After that I put a bobbin of the Americana in and flipped the swatch over so the twill was up and the blue wool was down.  The next two rows you see after the drunken buffalo hand-stitching (second and third from the left, in case you've lost your place) are that arrangement with gradually increasing top tension, since the bobbin is now functioning as the visible thread in the test.

The far left line is what I think I'm going to go with, which is Americana on the bottom, Gutermann cotton on the top, and my top tension set at between 6-7.  And nobody probably cares, but later on when I want to do this again and am going "shit, what did I actually settle on," I will hopefully remember that I took the time to type this all out and go back and look it up.

One benefit of having the bobbin thread end up on the outside of the finished garment is that I will be able to mark my boning channels on the inside layer of twill and NOT have to worry about removing them!  I can use a fine tip Sharpie or super sharp pencil and it won't show through, and I don't have to worry about if it washes out.  There will be a removable lining of checked linen sewn into the finished stays, but even if there weren't...who will be looking at the inside of my stays?  Nobody who cares about Sharpie or pencil lines, that's who.

I also tested out some boning arrangements--I received a roll of flat oval reed from a generous friend and experimented a bit with how many to use in each channel, how flexible it was, etc.  I'm still undecided on that, but here's an artsy-fartsy macro picture.  It's coming together!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Stays, again.

Remember those stays that turned out hideously too big, despite what the measurements SHOULD have been?

Okay, so I measured, and I did not accidentally add 10".  I made Rich double check my math and he agrees.  Adding 5" was too much.  Last night, I sewed up my mockup #2 and tried it on for size.

Oh hey, actual compression and shaping!  Well, this is looking more positive.  Less saggy.  All that good stuff.

Why am I posting such crappy pictures when I have a tripod and a self timer?  Or heck, even a husband who should be able to take pictures for me?  Bad blogger!

Anyway, yes!  Gap!  It's about 4.5" at the widest point, which is just about perfect when you're aiming to keep shrinking over time.  I am about 4,000% certain that I do not want to make a new pair of stays anytime in the foreseeable future, so while many people aim for a 2" gap, and some even prefer their stays to lace completely shut, I have no interest in that since I've got about 40 more pounds to shed and am obstinate about my sewing.

So, alterations.  Want to know what I did?  I added 1/2" inch in the center front.  That's it.  This is Baumgarten's pattern, unedited except for one. half. inch.

Which should have been at least 10" too small in the bust, and 6" or so in the waist.  So what happened?

Well, I'll tell you.  Squish.  Squish happened.  Which is something I entirely neglected to take into account.  See, I'm relatively certain Baumgarten gives the measurements of her actual source garment, rather than the size the wearer would have been.  And, as I mentioned, I still have about 40lbs I'd like to get rid of, which in practical terms translates to quite a bit of fluff hanging around still.  Also there's the fact that I have very soft tissue in my bust--and it's gotten even softer with weight loss.

So what happened with my last mockup was that I added 5" overall, meaning the actual mockup had a bust of 39" or so, and a waist of about 34".  My current measurements aren't that far off, at 44"-36".  Once you start lacing things up, my chub easily and obligingly squashed about, et voila.  No gap.  If I'd added 10" accidentally, I'd have been able to fit an arm down the side.  The good news is that I'm not crazy!  I did really only add 5".  The bad news is that I've apparently forgotten how to fit corsets, or at least forgot temporarily while being distracted by math.  The better news is that I've got a mockup that I think will work just fine, and am ready to start testing stitches and various marking techniques on my real fabrics.  Wish me luck!

P.S.  Here's a picture of my dog being cute with another project.  Which I need to write about!  The project, not the dog.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Winter Blues

Hey guys.  It's winter.  Know how I can tell?  My nose is always cold and people laugh at me for wearing hats and mittens at work.  Scarves are at least socially acceptable fashion accessories this season.

Fortunately February is a short month, and winter is (likely) at least half over...and since February is a short month and I'm doing this whole monthly challenge thing, I'd better get my rear in gear!

My sewing plans already included a new pair of 18th century stays before I decided to bandwagon this shit up, and much to my...delight?  relief?  the February "Blue" challenge aligned perfectly with my plans to use these stays at the Met for my inspiration:

These are similar in cut and shape to the pair that Linda Baumgarten diagrams in her book Costume Close-Up; that pair is made of a wool satin with two inner strength layers and an attached linen lining.  The Met pair is linen, and both are bound in soft leather with tapes sewn over the seams.

I've got a remnant of soft slate-blue wool from Wm. Booth, Draper waiting to become stays, along with a cut of their blue and white checked linen for lining.  The inestimable Twila Taylor used her costuming ninja skills to size the Baumgarten diagram up for me, and I made a photocopy so I could hack away at it without damaging her original tracing.

According to the book, the bust should be around 33-34", with a 28-29" waist.  My measurements are holding (frustratingly) steady at 44" bust, 36.5" waist.  So my brain went like, "oh hey, if you add about 5" to the pattern you should have a decently-sized gap in the back and it should fit great!  So I blithely set about slashing and spreading my pattern pieces.  And I checked my measurements.  More than once.  I cut a mockup, sewed it up, and tried it on.

...And it was too big.  As in, it laced completely shut, no lacing gap, minimal compression.

What. The.  Ever.    Loving.      FUCK.

Yeah, that's basically a transcript of what happened when I tried the stupid thing on.

So that was on January 22, while I was still working on my 1860s corset.  Because I wasn't really excited to work on that corset, I wanted my awesome blue stays!  But then that little shit decided it didn't want to play nice, so I threw it in the corner to think about what it had done and finished the corset.  But now it's February and I need stays, and I had enough time to cool off so that my pattern and I could have a meaningful conversation about its hurtful actions and start from scratch.

Which is what I did yesterday on my lunch break.  Normally I go home for lunch since I live quite close to the office, but yesterday it was snowing like nobody's business and Rich had the car, so I made use of our lovely big filing stations to re-trace my pattern in its original size.  I'm going to try it un-altered and go from there.  The length and waist level and everything actually looked pretty good on my first mockup, but the additional width was apparently too much.

I love you, counter-height filing stations...
In other news, I want that filing unit in my house for use as a cutting table.  How much would my back NOT hurt if I had that?!

My next step will be to sew up my mockup #2, hopefully with much more success and much less swearing.  That didn't happen last night because it's winter, so I went home and took a nap with the electric blanket instead of sewing.  So, you know, maybe tonight.

My nose is still cold.