Still Not Dead

Wow… July.  My last post was July.  How many months ago is that, even?  I’m not sure I want to know.

The good news is that I’ve still been sewing in that time, to the point where I’ve actually finished a few things, including ripping an op-shop dress apart and turning it into a miniskirt that any Sailor senshi would be proud to fight evil in, and finally finding something to do with that chartreuse silk satin seersucker (try saying that three times fast), which was make that sucker (ha) into a cool-as-a-cucumber summer cami pretending to be that elusive beast the going-out-top.  Not that I get out much in summer.  I’m just fooling myself into thinking I need something in case I did, and then wearing it around in non-going-out contexts with sneakers because I’m desperate to look like I don’t take myself seriously.  Seriously.

I haven’t managed photos in either of them because I’m lazy, and because I got sidetracked with other creative interests.  Insert shameless plug for new Tumblr!  Check out my geek art!

So I wouldn’t have anything to report, but then I joined the Melbourne Opera chorus on a whim, and they did a thing on Saturday involving the O Fortuna from Carmina Burana, which is fun, and I enjoyed breaking out the misheard lyrics video on Youtube and having a merry chortle.  The dress code was gowns for ladies.  As usual.  The forecast was cold and rainy.  Most of my gowns are backless.  Bad combo?  Wrong.  Excellent combo.  Why?  Excuse to make new gown.  With sleeves.  And maybe even a back.  But perhaps not a front.

The inspiration was mostly Gucci…

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With a dash of Ralph Lauren…

Ralph Lauren

…And a whole heap of dressing gown.

First step, I ripped apart the Green Soprano Gown, salvaging roughly 5m of relatively undamaged silk satin.  Then I had a play:

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I liked this idea a lot.  So then I had a think.  I wanted a really relaxed, draped look, so my normal method of mathsing out a pattern and then testing with a billion toiles wasn’t going to really work.  I’d enjoyed draping on the form so much that I thought I’d give moulage a go.

DSC_0684First I made a fitted back lining, then started draping the other parts onto it.  Kind of in a robe a l’anglaise-y sort of way… shh.

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I backstitched the back panel on over the gathered front, then turned in the neckline and point a rabbatre-d it.  Then came a long debate over what to do with the side skirt seams, which was resolved by putting it on, pinning them where they looked right and sewing them down.  It was liberating after having been pretty strict with myself about sticking to patterns for the past couple of years.

The only sad thing was cutting the back hem.  I loved the look of a big long train, but past experiences of people stepping on them have taught me they’re not a good thing.  Cue anecdote about having the back of the Atonement dress stepped on just before the bows at a Mozart Requiem in 2012. All the snaps at the back came undone and I had to hold it together to preserve the innocence of the first violins.  Not good.  (That link will also show you the gown that I ripped apart to get the fabric for this one)

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It was still sad to cut away that swathe of silk though.  So very sad.

The sleeves I wasn’t game to drape, so I just patterned them like usual.  They’re a straight-up French sleeve, with tucks on the inner elbow for bendage. Finishing involved three rolled hems, a twill waist tape, one hook and eye and a discreet tack to keep the split in the skirt from flapping too far open.  I still need to make a proper sash for it, but for all intents and purposes it’s pretty much done.  It goes on like a dressing gown.  Funnily enough.  It sure looks like one.  So I struck some vaguely film noir poses and had a little fun:

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You can’t think little old me responsible for that grisly murder, can you?

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Dammit, Johnny, fix me a scotch already.

 It’s got me addicted to moulage now (seriously, the whole process was so organic and fun, and a helluva lot quicker then draft, toile, redraft, toile).  I’m thinking of doing more while I have the time, and filling in some of the gaps in my audition/day-performance wardrobe… Stay tuned.  But not too tuned.  In case I don’t post for another six months again, you know?

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Clothes for the Recital that I’m So Glad is Over.

Do excuse my recent lack of postage.

I FINALLY did my first Masters recital; the evil one; the one that got postponed last year because I had a month’s worth of the flu and pharyngitis; the one that I’m so so so glad is finally over, despite the fact that I had a cold and had to keep dashing off stage to blow my nose, much in the manner that more normal sopranos might dash off to swig from glasses of water.  I thought putting the tissues on the piano would be a bad idea, though it was mighty tempting.  Then maybe my level of professionalism would be on par with the con’s; they managed to bugger up my program notes, which I had given to them formatted to a tee after adhering to all their pernickety editing suggestions.  Fancy that… a red squiggle.  Wordpress doesn’t think pernickety is a word.  It keeps suggesting ‘pumpernickel’. Which is a great word too, don’t get me wrong, but not so relevant in the context.

And I actually managed to finish my skirt and top ensemble.  At 12:15am the night before, admittedly, but yes.  Finished.  Now I have things to wear when performing in winter.

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Ta-daaaa! A blurry photo.  Excuse the general mess.

The skirt took about a week, partially because I was working around loads of practice and trying to maintain some semblance of contact with other humans, but mostly because my Janome is to the lovely Fabric Store silk as hot wax strips are to Wolverine: not exactly as Kryptonite to Superman, but it’s still not a fun combination, and the result doesn’t look very attractive.  I should’ve known, because I’ve used this particular kind of silk before when I made my lace crop-top back in the mists of time (*cough* last year *cough*) and my machine has horrible memories of needle-breakage associated with it.  But in the lead-up to my recital, soprano-brain was a bit of an issue and I figured that last time I’d been trying to flat-fell chunky seams and use bias binding (ie: more layers), so if I used a brand-new, sharp-as-a-psycho’s-scalpel, small-as-I-could-get needle and set the thread tension very very carefully, what problem could a mere two layers possibly pose?  (OH THE STUPIDITY)

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Exhibit A: Nasty buckly seam.  In centre-front of all places.  😡

Doesn’t seem to matter how fine a needle I use or how few layers I have or what my thread tension’s set as, I end up with a buckly seam.  So I thought, stuff you Janome, and hand-stitched the rest of it.  What can I say?  I’m a control freak who likes to watch things while I sew.  Many, many episodes of Buffy later, I have a rather nice skirt.  The buckly seam thankfully hangs in a fold, hiding its shameful buckly nature from the eyes of good citizens.  Then I just stitched the silk over the top of the foundation layer of the waistband with backstitch so you have these little lines of topstitching, which the silk will eventually fade around so it’ll look a bit interesting.

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Pinned and ready to go.

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Little backstitches are prettier than buckly machine mess, anyway.

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Then it was slipstitched over the pleats.  Hot-damn I’m proud of that neat curve.

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Okay, so the inside’s all messy.  But it’s secure and there’s no chance of fray-age and I could not give fewer damns.

The skirt ended up being a circle skirt cut to twice the length of the waistband and then pleated on (haphazardly).  The zipper was set in with a pick-stitch, because I HATE sewing zips on the machine.  Hate hate hate, like stompy eye-pokey-outy hate.  Only on the morning did I notice that on me the lining hung more crooked than it did on the dressform, and so I had to emergency-tack it up a bit, but it’ll be an easy fix for The Weekend That Never Comes.

The top was my first foray into jersey-land (aka Mordor.  Stretch fabric is clearly the work of Sauron), negotiating the perils of Twin Needles and Clear Elastic Stay Tape of Doom.

MordorHere dwell the dreaded jersey fabrics.

via lotr.wikia.com

I cut the pattern off a skivvy I had that fitted nicely (though I ought to have gone a little roomier because my jersey didn’t stretch quite as much as I thought), and it sewed up relatively quickly.  I couldn’t figure out how to do a drapey bit at the front, so I improvised one on after and covered the joins with some bows cut from the remnants of my silk.  With a singlet under it, it was *just* warm enough in Melba Hall.  A friend of mine the Best Baritone I Know nearly froze to death in his exam the other week, so I thought it’d pay to be cautious.  Boy did it ever.  My poor accompanists… it seriously looked like a scene out of Dickens backstage with them huddled there in their coats with their hands under their arms.

Now, Clegs doesn’t normally hold much fascination for me with the Fabric Store to compare it to, but when I went down there the other day to pick up the twin needle and the elastic, they were having a remnant sale.  Remnant sales are very dangerous.  I had to be prudent, but when they’re getting rid of just enough of just what you’re after for about 1/4 of the normal price per metre, you must strike, strike like the bargain-cobra.   Now I have enough silk crepe satin to cover my stays when I finish them (I would use it for something else it’s so nice, but that colour really doesn’t suit me unless I’m fancy dressing as a zombie.  My skin cells wouldn’t know what melanin was if some came along and bit them on the endoplasmic reticulum), and half a metre of the most airy and delicious silk georgette which is going to be a nasty beast to sew, but I’m not intending to make anything super fancy from it… maybe just a fichu for my as yet hypothetical georgian costume…???????????????????????????????

So pretty!  It’s like if soufflé could be a fabric.

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Guaranteed to make me look about 5 days dead.

And then there’s sissy-poo’s kitty-shaped hot water bottle cover.  The toile (do you call it a toile when it’s clothes for a hot water bottle?) is assembled, but I’m still trying to work out if the vaguely 3D face is going to work in practice when darts aren’t meant to be a thing you do with faux fur.  I guess the pile’s not too deep, I figure I’m going to treat it pretty much like velvet and see how it goes, unless somebody warns me off it in the next 24 hours.  There’s enough faux fur that I could probably make two or three attempts before I throw in the towel.???????????????????????????????

There will also be legs and a tail but I didn’t bother to pattern them.  I’m not sure how I’ll do the nose and eyes yet, but at any rate, this is the look I’m going for:

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Via au.catsadoptions.com.  KITTY WITH NO FACE NAWWWWWWWW!!!!

It beats doing tax.

Too Good at Voodoo

Firstly, I couldn’t resist filling a title with ‘oo’s.  Secondly, I’ve been pinning things to my dodgy dressform, which pretty much equates to voodoo: sticking pins in a large stuffed copy of myself.  I feel fine… apart from the shooting pains…  Perhaps I have some latent talent for the black arts.

Anyway.  I’ve got two things sort of on the go at the moment, one of which I can’t show you because it’s a birthday present for my sister.  She requested a hot water bottle with a cute animal-shaped cover (kitties being highly preferable), so I can tell you that much, and having trawled the interwebs and the cute stores and I couldn’t find anything. Well.  Nothing nice.  So I figured I’d study my leopard-shaped one and work out how they did it.  And hopefully optimise the design because while the leopard is mighty cute, he doesn’t quite fit over the bottle anymore.  So I’ve started patterning, and I’ve got some absolutely lustrous faux fur (Lisa Ho faux fur, no less!  This is gonna be one high-end kitty-hot-water-bottle) which I’ll bag out with a sturdy cotton lining.  The ones from Big W are completely made of crappy polyester, so I figure high-quality faux fur lined in cotton will be safe.  Safer, even.

???????????????????????????????I can’t resist one picture of that faux fur.  Mmmm, pettable.  

The other is a skirt.  I decided I need something different to wear in my recital seeing I’m spending half of it sitting down so I don’t look like some kind of evil soprano hulking like an overbearing heavy-breather over my hapless guitarist.  Also it’s June.  The chances of Melba Hall being comfortably heated are laughable, and most of my performance gear is either backless or not made of particularly insulating fibres.  So I’ll make a long-sleeved but fancily-draped merino top (eventually.  Hopefully)  and pair it with this skirt I’m making, which is going to be a big-ass thing that fancies itself as a Dior New Look late ’40s/early ’50s silhouette.  Which is going to be a damn sight comfier to sit in than a wiggle dress.

???????????????????????????????Here be the design sketch.

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Here be what I have so far.

I’ve only got the bare bones yet.  The foundation layer for the waistband, boned at the seams to stop it collapsing on itself, and one lining layer of very thin synthetic net stuff that my housemate the Adorable Folky gave me after she cleaned out her gran’s hoard of stuff.  There’s more of it.  Like, metres more.  So I can go nuts with the friffiness.  And once again my patterning is slightly too big, but this time it’s deliberate so that I won’t bust a zip with a big breath.   After years of trying to breathe properly, I finally got the hang of it, and now get accused of taking ‘Wagnerian’ breaths in Donizetti by my teacher.   I’m pretty sure it’s just a normal breath that looks big on me.

Then I pinned on my nice crispy new black silk to see how it’ll look when I cover it.

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Not bad…

Then I got massively distracted with pins.

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 Exhibit A: ‘So what if I save a metre and make a matching bodice…’

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Exhibit B: ‘So what if I buy 3m more and make an awesomer bodice…’

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Exhibit C: ‘What if I just get a heap more fabric and make a whole other dress…’

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Exhibit D: Ridiculously carried away by this point, envisaging asymmetrically-draped confections, requiring more yardage than I can afford…

And now I’m in a world of pain.  I should probably take those damn pins out.

Bleugh! Too Hot to Sew

As you might’ve guessed from the title, it’s been over 30° for at least three days now, and it’s not going to cool down in the foreseeable future.  The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting MINIMUMS of 24°.  Yuck.  I’m going slowly batty and getting mighty tempted to pull a Caligula and try and battle the sky into submission.  Only, Caligula tried it with the sea.

Not a lot of sewing’s been done, partially because it’s too hot to think about turning the iron on, and largely because there have been plenty of rehearsals and opportunities to go and fry my poor unsuspecting Irish hide with friends at the MSO in the Bowl.  And I’m sure my intonation would’ve been just as unpalatable if I’d been the one on the stage in a suit in 34°. (Yowch!  Surely an unfair assessment, I hear you cry.  Nonsense.)

So I guess this is the ideal opportunity to get all show-and-tell with some of my previous successes/blunders.  Let me just get my teeth-whistly old-person voice on.  I’ve been sewing since year 7, when I joined the Sewing Club at my (then American) middle-school (I know, let’s hear it for the ol’ U S of A, right?), and demonstrated an absolute lack of affinity for it, in much the same way that jellyfish lack an affinity for carpentry.  I persisted in dribs and drabs through high-school, making a grand total of three draw-string costume skirts for Fiddler on the Roof, one hideous crushed-velvet elf-dress that I don’t think I ever took off between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, and one appallingly historically-inaccurate *aghem* “Tudor” gown.

Come university I renewed my interest, only to find my Grandma tried to do everything for me.  To be fair, I did actually make some clothes that saw public wear, including a rather charming little rough cotton babydoll dress that I wore to my 18th, a black cotton version of the much-maligned “Infinity” dress that I wore to my graduation, and a black linen sheath dress that I had to alter the pattern so much for it to fit me that I almost ran out of fabric.  And it still wasn’t a great fit.  Thanks a bunch, Burda.  Realising that as an ultra-petite-long-waisted-pear the commercial pattern industry wasn’t going to offer me much, I turned my back on them and went to the dark side.

…only to find that the first draft of my dress block (which, as the book advised, wasn’t completely unrelated to the Table of Average Measurements) had about 4″ extra room in the bust.  But now that it’s been corrected (and now that my dress block looks more like a group of bacon rashers than a dress pattern), I can do the whole draft-my-own-dress thing.  To be fair I’m still not a crash-hot seamstress.  It’s not a skill that’s come easily to me.  You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

The Misses:

Most of them have been relegated to the salvage yard to be cut up for zips and spare fabric, but some of these relics yet survive…

The Mothball Tablecloth Dress:

I picked up the yellow fabric at an op-shop in Newstead in the form of a round tablecloth.  It STINKS of mothballs once ironed, and as a result of some very sloppy adjustment on the fly due to the small-ish nature of the tablecloth, it’s quite obviously wonky.  Doesn’t look so bad with a black belt, but I’d be embarrassed to be seen out in it by anyone who knows anything about sewing.

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Oh the shame of the wonkiness…

The Frumpy Dinosaur Dress:

Don’t get me wrong here, the print is awesome and it’s a super-comfy dress with pockets that work, and I’m rather proud of my even topstitching.  But the pattern is frump-tastic and doesn’t flatter me.  My über short legs make many skirt lengths look strange and frumpy, but don’t agree with my brain, which likes the whole sensible-can-ride-a-bike-without-flashing-too-many-people-in length.  Unfortunately I think I just need to bite the bullet and alter it.

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And the pattern-match at the sides is atrocious.

The Unexpected Wins:

The Velvet Going-Out Dress:

 There was only 1.2m of 90cm wide blue velvet that I fished out of Grandma’s stash, and some madness possessed me to make a dress.   Due to a rather substantial measurement error, I had to re-make the whole front of the bodice and I thought I was going to die, because there was no fabric to do a re-cut, and it meant that all of my beautifully-matched darts got pulled all skew-whiff. 😡 GRRR.  But yet it still works.  It could still be improved on (a lot), but I’m not too ashamed to wear it out in public as it is, my strange-looking figure notwithstanding.

Bear in mind it looks much better with fancy stockings, red lippy and an elaborate ’50s/’60s updo.

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Look at them matched bands!  Win Win Win!

The Nasty Polyester Crop Kimono Tee:

It’s wonky.  It’s badly-finished.  It’s badly-drafted.  BUT YET IT WORKS???  It’s comfy AND relatively stylish in a grungy uni-student sort of way?  Whatsmore, I wear it all the time? I still can’t believe it myself.

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I think the print distracts from the wonkiness…

The Faux Atonement Gown:

Like every other girl who saw Atonement, I wanted that dress.  But I’d never made a gown before, and I didn’t know what working with silk would be like.  So I researched the hell out of it, made a toile and then did a test run in just under 4m of apallingly stained and narrow-bolted bargain-bin silk satin from *shudder* Lincraft.  It was only ever meant to be a working toile, (and if I made it again I know what I’d fix), but it looks good from on stage (which is all you need for a performance gown), and the experience was great.  Cutting one’s own pattern on the bias on not enough fabric while trying to avoid the stains and then being able to wear the result?  Hell yeah!

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Ignore my anaemic-looking face.  I’d had the flu for about 3 weeks at that point.

And yes, I know it’s orange.  Turns out I like it in orange, as I like most things in orange.  But next time I’d get a silk-cotton blend from Cleggs and avoid the whole stains saga.

The Actual Wins:

The Lace Panel Crop Top:

I am so pleased with this thing in so many ways.  It’s a good pattern, the finishing is all nice (French seams on the sides, flat-felled at the panel edges, self-bias-binding everywhere else), and I love wearing it.  The only problem is the black silk was so tightly-woven that my machine didn’t like it much and there was a lot of hand-wheel action to avoid snapping another needle.  So worth it though.  I’m wearing it now.  It’s wrinkly in the photo because I wear it so much.

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It’s not the top that’s wonky there, it’s me.

The “Anachrogasm” Gown:

Earlier this year, I decided to make a gown that was a combination of all my favourite ideas and shapes from history, and at the same time fulfil the requirement for the bog-standard soprano-gown (ie: a strapless poofy thing, usually tasteless and unflattering, beloved of old-lady-eisteddfod-adjudicators everywhere).  Taking most of my cues from the phenomenally-inspiring Dreamstress, I somehow managed to pull together a bodice-foundation complete with boning channels (filled with no less that 38 cable-ties, what else?) and hand-bound eyelets, to the effect of an 18th Century silhouette.  I was hoping for the “two-apples on a plate” look, but unfortunately I ain’t got much in the fruit department.  Then I covered it in emerald green silk satin, and made a half-knife-pleated-half-cartridge-pleated skirt, with a little ruching on the sides and a ruffled underskirt to get a little late 19th Century bustle-esque action going on.  This was the result:

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Excuse my camera.  It likes to change exposures without telling me.

Due to the flexy nature of the cableties, it’s still quite comfy to sing in, though it doesn’t change my shape much.  Mind you, being made of solid bone, I’m not sure I could expect anything to have changed my shape much.  I still have some issues with the back closures that I need to fix (mostly that the skirt waistband ended up too big.  Maybe I should just have sewn it straight to the bodice?  But I didn’t like the idea of the extra strain on it. Now I’m thinking waist-ties.)  So far it’s the best I’ve done.

Maybe I’ll get down to some hand-sewing to fix it this evening.  Beats turning on the sewing machine.