Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Felting and Embroidery

Back in early January I decided to make surface design a focus for this year. I issued myself a challenge to explore a new technique every month, and dove head-long into felting and hand embroidery. I dug out the felting/embellishing machine I bought a couple of years back and re-familiarized myself with it. I augmented my meager fleece supply to the point that I now have way too much of the stuff. I also unearthed embroidery threads from years and years ago, when I did lots of needlepoint. Technically, neither felting or embroidery is new to me. But I never fully explored needlefelting when I purchased the machine, and it's been a looooong time since I did any embroidery. So it was definitely worth revisiting the two in combination.

I love making things with the felting machine so much, I've continued with it throughout February. Which puts me behind in my challenge, but, hey - it's been too much fun to leave behind just yet.

The main reason I love this craft/art is because it lets me play with color and fiber. Here is some of the fleece I've accumulated:

Warm tones, reminding me that spring will indeed come some day:

Cool reds and purples - my favorites:

Blues and greens - an ocean of color:

And neutrals, including some very cool curly locks:

Here is my drawer full of embroidery threads:

If you're not familiar with a felting machine, it looks quite like a thread-less sewing machine. No bobbin, no thread. Just a shaft that goes up and down. And on the bottom of the shaft, a head that holds 12 barbed needles. These needles push the fibers through the base fabric, felting the two together. The base can be any number of clothing or home dec fabrications. It can also be the interfacing-like Solvy product that dissolves in water. For most of the work I've been doing, I've used prefelt, a very lightly felted wool fabric similar to needlepunch (that stuff we used to make shoulder pads with, back in the dark ages).

Here's a photo of the needle head. I don't have all 12 needles in it here.

If you click on the photo, you may be able to see the barbs on the sides of the needles. (I removed the plastic protective shield for the photo. It should never be removed during use, as it protects fingers and whatever else from being pierced.) 

So what have I been doing with all of these supplies? I started by simply playing with the fleece, felting it onto a woolen fabric. After breaking a few needles, I got the knack of it. It requires a steady, heavy foot on the pedal, and smooth, regular movement of the fabric using both hands. I do use a hand-held felting tool sometimes, for detail work or to "baste" a piece of roving or yarn in place. And that's all there is to it.

I have little to show for all of my explorations thus far, because I didn't like certain pieces for one reason or another. I haven't taken photos of the rejects, for fear they'd show up on Pinterest or somewhere. But here are two projects I'm pleased with:

Coasters! I used a fleece batting that was several colors blended together, which is why the background is so rich. Then I felted the leaf shapes on, and added the hand stitching. It's really rewarding to see an item come alive with the stitching. It adds texture, more color and a focal point.

Second, a big, bold cuff bracelet:

The whimsical spirals on this band make me smile! The large spiral is stitched over a thick strand of hand dyed yarn. It gives great texture and is a focal point for the piece. The smaller spirals are stitched with a variety of threads and types of stitches. Two magnetic snaps close the bracelet, and it's lined with silk dupioni. It's a good 3+ inches wide. That would be too large for many women, but it's great on my long arms. It's really comfortable to wear, despite its size. Its softness and flexibility boost the comfort factor.

Today I started a felted wall hanging, but you'll have to wait for my next post to see it. I'm pondering what to explore as my technique for March. There are so many things I want to try, it's going to be a fun year!

Oh, and clothing? I made a couple of ponte jackets in late December. I'll get them photographed one of these days. I have no need for clothing right now, so new clothes can wait a month or two. In the meantime, I'll be felting, embroidering, and longing for spring!

Our deck on February 15th. Way. Too. Much. Snow.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Butterick 5891 Revisited

Earlier this year I purchased two doublecloth fabrics from Marcy Tilton. They are cotton gauze - lightweight, airy, with a soft drape. One is plaid with checks on the reverse side, the other is solid with checks on the reverse side. Purchased on separate occasions, I was pleased to find out the two fabrics played very well with each other. While not an exact match, the purples are very close, and I knew they would look great together in a garment.

I allowed these fabrics to rest together on my design table for a couple of months, so I would see them often and think about what to make with them. It was a design challenge of sorts. I wanted to use all four sides of the fabric, but I didn't want the finished garment to look clownish or garish. After much consideration, I decided to go with my favorite pattern of the year, Butterick 5891.

The plaid/check fabric was perfect for the collar, as both sides of the fabric show. I cut it on the bias for a bit more interest and better drape.

I love, love this collar! It's not difficult to make, and it gives a sweet focal point that frames the face.

I neglected to take photos of the back, which is half purple, half purple check. Not wanting to feature the plaid, I kept its use to a minimum, trying to balance the overall look with it. There is no cuff on the pattern, but I narrow hemmed the edge to the right side, so I could turn it back to show off the white and black check. I like how that echoes what's going on in the collar.

Some rounded square buttons from Sawyer Brook tie into the square motif that runs throughout the top.

After taking photos of this garment on me, I saw how far off my shoulders the top hangs. I don't think that's the intended look, so if I make this again (for a fifth time) I will cut the shoulders and chest narrower and raise the top of the sleeve. 

I continue to be amazed at what I see in a photo that I don't see in front of a mirror! Things show up that I never noticed while making the garment. Has anyone else experienced this? Makes me think I should take photos while constructing and trying on a piece. Or just pretend I'm a camera when I look in the mirror!

Katherine Tilton hit one out of the ballpark with this pattern. Even with the loose fit, I love this top. The weather won't be conducive to wearing it until spring, but I know I'm going to enjoy it. It's super comfortable and easy to style. And it's purple!

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Disappointing Vest, Vogue 9034

And now I've come to the bottom of the pile, the last of the garments I made during the summer and early autumn of this year. The bottom of the pile also means the last of the photos taken by my sister, Lisa, at the end of October. I'll miss these colorful portraits!

In September, I whipped up this vest and top:

Only after arriving home and editing these photos did I notice I didn't have the lapels of this vest turned back properly. So, I took some selfies to show how the lapels are supposed to lie.

This vest was made using Vogue 9034, a pattern I can't recommend as is. The reasons? Many shortcuts were taken with the pattern instructions and pieces. And it's not a Very Easy Vogue pattern. So, what gives, Vogue?

First of all, the garment is lined to the edges. Not a good construction practice. I much prefer facings and hems, to give the garment more structure. Secondly, no interfacing in the lapels!!! Horrors! I foolishly followed the instructions, and put interfacing only in the collar. Big mistake, as you can see in the photos. Those lapels are crying out for more support.

Thirdly, no tailoring techniques were recommended. To give Vogue credit, the undercollar is cut in two pieces, on the bias. A surprise, considering the lack of any other tailoring tricks. I did know enough to hand sew the undercollar/body seam to the collar/facing seam. But I really should have interfaced the front, faced and interfaced the armholes, and hemmed the bottom. I'm not sure why I blindly sewed along to the directions. I must have been in a trance of some sort!

The fabric is a rayon/linen blend from Marcy Tilton. It was a gem to work with, and I love the color. The jersey for the top is from her, also. I used my TNT t-shirt pattern, Vogue 8793.

I love the print of the top, and it was cool how these two fabrics came together, as they were purchased separately. Too bad I probably won't wear the vest very much. It just looks too sloppy. A shame. I suppose I could take it apart and remake it the right way, but I'm not sure how motivated I am to do that.

I do like the asymmetry of the front of the vest. I'm not crazy about the rest of it, though, so I just might reclaim the fabric for another pursuit. I have at least 1/2 yard of the fabric remaining, so it could become part of another garment.

All in all, a disappointing pattern and garment.

Why in the world, you ask, am I standing next to a Hindu statue (a deity?), with my hand on its head? Because I couldn't resist her. The grounds of the manor where my sister lives is dotted with these, along with a few Japanese and Celtic statues. An eclectic mix, almost humorously positioned among the grasses and Indiana limestone rocks that dot the landscape. I had fun wandering the gardens and photographing the statuary. Enjoy!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Denim Jacket Times Two

No, this isn't a photo of me, or my jacket. Wouldn't life be different if both were true?! This is Butterick 6106, a jacket I've made twice this year, with varying results. Here's the story:

Back in August I married this pattern to a mid-weight, denim-type fabric from Sawyer Brook (now sold out). I liked the striped version on the pattern envelope, as well as a plaid version Katherine Tilton posted on her blog. You know I like to add some paint to fabric whenever it's appropriate, so I jumped in and did it here. I laid the yardage out on my work table and masked off a 2 inch wide stripe about 6 inches from the selvedge. Then I took a brush and some pewter Lumiere paint and used light strokes to paint the stripe. I liked it so much, I repeated it at the other selvedge.

When I cut out the pattern pieces, I tried placing them where they would take advantage of the stripe. I didn't get fancy about matching stripes anywhere. I just wanted the stripes to appear in a balanced fashion. Not a perfect job, but I'm happy with it.

The fabric, which is all cotton, was a breeze to sew, and it stands up pretty well to the collar design. I was really pleased these buttons from Sawyer Brook matched the paint so well:

Sewing this design is like putting a puzzle together because of the asymmetry at the lower fronts. It's not difficult, but it requires patience and attention to detail. As I put the pieces together, I discovered two errors on the pattern. The first involves a mis-placed notch:

The notch at the top of piece #4 should have been about 1-1/2 inches to the right. I only figured this out when I went to attach it to the right front and found the notches were quite far away from one another.

The second error is on piece 13, the right front facing. The lower edge needs to be extended on one side and tapered to nothing on the other side, as shown below:

If you don't do this, you won't have enough fabric to cover a seam later on. So it's pretty important to fix it before you cut. You can see the problem if you lay piece 13 against the right front piece. It's just too short!

Aside from these two errors, the pattern sewed up really well, and was fun to construct. I really like this jacket and expect to get a lot of wear from it, since it's in a good-for-me basic color.

Oh, and one thing about the design of the lower left front. As you can see in the photo above, the lowest piece does "stand out" from the jacket. It's a bit odd, but I've grown to like it.


Three months later, in late November, I decided to make the jacket again. 

And I'm not so happy about this one. First of all, the color is a stretch for me. Even though my eyes and hair are brown, it's hard to find brown that enhances my cool skin tone. I don't think this is bad, but it's not my best color. Agree?

The second problem is a larger one, and it involves an unhappy marriage of pattern and fabric. This is a lightweight denim of cotton, polyester and lycra. It is soft and drapey. Not the right fabric for this collar style. The collar can barely stand up, even with a facing and interfacing. And see the drag lines on the upper chest? Too soft a fabric.

And lastly, the fit of this jacket isn't good at all. I don't know why I didn't notice it back in August when I made the first one. The shoulders are just too wide on me. I should have cut this version in a smaller size. The style is loose, to a certain degree, but I don't think the sleeves should hang off the shoulder by more than an inch. I simply wasn't paying attention.

Oh well, on to the parts of this jacket I really like: the printing. 

Diane Ericson's  Bamboo Forest and Brush Alphabet stencils were a perfect pairing for embellishing this fabric. I used black Neopaque and copper Lumiere paints, which enhance those colors in the fabric (and the buttons, which are from Sawyer Brook). 

What a lot of fun this printing was! In fact, I love the printing so much, I'm not all that unhappy with the jacket. I just don't know how much I'll wear it because of the color, the baggy shoulders, and the drag lines. Honest opinions - would you wear this jacket if it looked like this on you? If not, what would you do with it? I welcome any and all comments!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Go-With-Everything Ponte Jacket

Back in September I realized I could really use a basic cardigan in my wardrobe, an easy-to-wear jacket that would go with (almost) everything. So I dug through my resource center and found a black ponte milled for Eileen Fisher, purchased from Sawyer Brook a couple of years ago. The fabric is rayon and nylon, and it has a soft hand and drape.

Now, basic isn't my normal thing. If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I like asymmetry, uneven hemlines, and maybe a touch of paint. But not on this garment. I really needed it to be PLAIN. Enter McCall's 6996, view C/D, a simple cardigan with a wide center front band that becomes a collar of sorts. Without buttons or pockets. Really basic.

There is one nice design feature on the jacket - gathering at the center back seam of the band:

I like the extra interest this gathering gives, even though it's a small area that is almost covered by my hair.

A simple pattern and easy to sew fabric made for a quick project. Cutting this out and sewing it up was a dream. A dream in terms of easiness, but I have to admit, it was a bit boring for me to sew, and I was glad to get it over with. But it will be the perfect thing to grab when I need an extra layer over a t-shirt, and I expect to wear it a lot. I'm in the market for a really funky cardigan style jacket to make from ponte but I haven't found one yet. Maybe I'll have to design one that more suits my style.

The t-shirt I'm wearing with the jacket is also a recent make. The fabric is a rayon/lycra jersey, once again from Sawyer Brook. I had visions of combining it with other fabrics, but that never happened, so I decided on a top. It's a lot of print for me, but it will usually be covered by this jacket, or one of my black vests. I used my TNT t-shirt pattern, Vogue 8793, Katherine Tilton's zipper collar top. I made it with a neckband instead of the collar.

I've been on a quest of perfecting my TNT t-shirt pattern. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm getting close.

And that's the news from my little corner of the world. I have some other garments finished but I need more photos. We got 6" of snow Wednesday, so outdoor shots are out. The daylight hasn't been good here lately either, so I'm still waiting for a sunny day so I can take photos indoors. I'll be using my new camera and tripod. Wish me luck!