Commercially Alternative: August 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fairytale Retellings I Love

Lolita inspires my imagination. Looking at ruffled skirts and ethereal photo shoots brings about images of princesses in gothic castles and maidens fighting evil trolls. Yes, I do imagine the forces of evil being fought by girls wearing petticoats and lace. It makes perfect sense if you look at guro lolita. *nods as if I know what I'm talking about*

Books also inspire my imagination. After reading one of my favorite books, Ella Enchanted, for the thousandth time, I decided to go on a fairytale-retelling binge. Here are a couple of my favorite retellings that I think everyone should try.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
This is a retelling of the Cinderella story. I adore this book. It’s short, I’ve read it hundreds of times over, and, yet, the journey never gets old. The hero is Ella. When she was born, a fairy gave her the “gift” of obedience. Needless to say, this “gift” is actually a curse. If someone were to tell Ella to cut off her own head, she would have to. I love the characters in this book, especially Ella. Despite the presence of magic, giants, and other fairytale things, the world that Levine creates seems very real and plausible. I highly encourage everyone to read this book. Please note that I do not acknowledge the presence of a movie by this same name. Even though all my friends say it’s a good movie (they haven't read the book), that is not my Ella. It is a separate entity entirely. That is, if such a thing actually existed. Which it doesn’t. 

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley
The title is self-explanatory. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what makes this book unique. I read it years and years ago, probably way back in middle school or even elementary school. Anyway, I’m going to include it in this list because I remember loving it very much. 

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
This is a retelling of the Grimm fairytale by the same name. It actually sticks extremely closely to the original tale, but fleshes it out into novel form. The story is about the crown princess Ani. When she was young, her aunt taught her how to speak to animals, more specifically, birds. This is not seen as appropriate behavior for a princess and she is pretty much shunned by everyone because she’s weird. Ani is not very good at being crown princess. She would much rather talk to the swans at the pond than the people of the court. Things happen and she is forced on a journey to grow up from a naïve princess into who she’s meant to be. It’s a good story and is written very well. It is actually the first of a series. The rest of the series goes on to tell the stories of other characters that you meet along the way. However, they are not based on any fairytales and are completely the author’s own. (I am not a fan of the rest of books actually and don't recommend them)

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
This was a very charming yet simple story. It read very much like an old fairytale. This story is based of the Grimm fairytale involving 12 princesses that are cursed to dance every night until their slippers wear out. It's not very deep and I could guess how it ends, but I still greatly enjoyed myself. I definitely recommend it if you are not aware of this fairytale or even if you are a fan of it. 

I often forget how much I love reading books. It’s hard to start a book with such a busy schedule and even harder to find a good book that’s worth the time. I quite often use my spare time to read manga. They are easy to find and quick to read. I love the beautiful art, references to a different culture, and engaging plots. However, when I finally have time to sit down with a real novel, it’s a completely different feeling. Books absorb me into their world. If it’s raining and the characters are cold and miserable, I am genuinely surprised when I walk outside and it’s 110 degrees and sunny. For that short period on a bus or on lunch break at work, the characters reality becomes my own.

Do you have any favorite fairytale books? Or favorite books in general? I’m always open to recommendations to expand my repertoire. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Operation JSK: The Plan

All right, I am on the lookout for quality fabric to make another blouse. Hopefully, in that search I can find some good fabric for a JSK as well. In the mean time, I have a few yards of cheap blue cotton fabric that I will use to make my first JSK. Hopefully, it will look nice enough for casual wear and not be a total waste. 
I will be using New Look 6589, view A, without the ribbon. The JSK will be very simple as I'm not sure if the pattern will even work. Obviously, some alteration was needed. I transferred all of the pattern pieces to tissue paper. I didn't want to alter the real pattern and then mess up horribly. 

The first alteration was the most obvious, the skirt. The drawings on the front don't show this well, but the actual skirt part of the dress is trumpet shaped. Thus, the dress comes in a bit below the hips and then flares out more dramatically. To fix this, I made a mark on the fullest part of the hip on one of the pieces. I measured where this was so it would be the same location on all the pattern pieces. I believe this was about 7.5" from the waist for my size. Next, I pinned the pattern pieces to some tissue paper and marked the outline. Then I took a large heavy ruler and made a straight line from the mark at the hip to the point of the hem. This was repeated for all the skirt pieces.
Here is a picture of the original pattern piece laid on top of the new pattern piece.

The next couple of alterations were for fitting purposes. I adjusted the length of the pieces to account for the difference in the shoulder to waist measurements and I increased the bust. It's important to remember that patterns are built for women with A and B cup sizes. If you are above that, pick your pattern based off of your high bust measurement and alter. This will give a better fit in the shoulders and neck. I consulted the book "Fitting Solutions: Pattern-altering tips for garments that fit," with how to alter the bust on a princess seam. The book has excellent descriptions and pretty clear pictures. The alteration was slightly different as the book gave instructions on how to alter a princess seam that included the shoulders instead of straps like this dress. However, I tried my best with what I had. Hopefully, it will all work out. 
I like the idea of the scrunched straps in view A. I think it will add a little something to this oversimplified lolita JSK that's easy to do. However, I feel the straps are far too wide so I believe I will use half the pattern size.
The final alteration is the waist. The pattern calls for a whole 5 inches of ease! This is far too much. However, I'm not going to alter the pattern pieces before I sew. It's pretty much always possible to take something in so I will take in the waist after everything is complete.
Well, what do you think? A good idea or bad? Has anyone tried this pattern before? If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear them.

(Note: I will try to add some pictures of the altered pattern pieces by Wednesday)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Story to Match #2

Rae had no idea where she was or how close she was to her destination. Her back was stiff from hours of travel and her jaw ached from the frequent bumps in the road. She was unfortunately squeezed right in the middle of the hard bench with no room to stretch or readjust herself. However, the coach was so overflowing with petticoats and bags no one was comfortable. Luckily, these girls had traveled this way before and everyone had the sense to save the perfume for another time.
Then, the sound of soft plodding on worn dirt instantly changed to the sharp clop of hooves on cobblestone. The coach had finally reached the edge of town.
Not fifteen minutes later, the carriage pulled up the gravel drive of the university station and the driver and footman began to unload the luggage. The girls poured out as quickly as they could, trying not to fall on snoozing limbs. They were all grateful to be standing in the cool moving air. Rae quickly located her large red leather bag amongst the hap hazardous heap and made her way to her dorm.
It was a warm and sunny day, but Rae felt almost chilled as she walked in the shade the tree-lined lane. Tall oak trees arched above her, allowing only the smallest specks of light to litter the ground. The large cathedral like buildings of the school could barely be seen through the old trees. She passed by many girls coming and going along the way, but she mostly didn’t recognize any of them. It was a large university and common to have a class with a girl and then never meet her again. The campus was loud with the hustle and bustle of everyone returning from spring holiday.
Rae eventually made it to her own dorm on the other side of the campus, fairly worn out from the long trek. She walked through the entrance of one of the many matching red brick buildings, quickly checking the building number to reassure herself. This was mostly out of habit after her mishap her first year. Back then, she had gone so far as to sit on the bed when she looked up and realized that girl lying on the opposite bed was not her roommate.
Rae climbed the ornate staircase to her room on the second floor, saying good afternoon and bobbing her head to a couple of dorm mates passing by. Unlike other dorms, the doors that lined the hall were bare of decoration. Nothing indicated the inhabitants of each of the unmarked rooms except two small nameplates on the wall. The hall monitor was very strict on this floor. Rae didn’t mind not being able to gussy up her door, but she wished others could just so she could tell which one was hers in the middle of the night.
Tobi had already arrived and was unpacking in the bright room. The late evening sun poured in, giving everything a slight orange glow. The room was small. The only furnishings were two small beds, a shared nightstand below the window, a shared dresser, and a shared vanity set.
The girl nearly flew across the room and embraced her roommate. Her light red-brown curls appeared almost bronze in the light and bounced as she moved. Rae hugged her back, glad to be with a kind friend.
Tobi was the daughter of a very rich and old merchant. He had made his money working hard and selling the new steam technologies that were just emerging. He married late in life to a young lady just out of high school. They had three daughters and named each after the month they were born. The eldest was June, the middle April, and, not wanting to break tradition, the youngest was named October. Since the merchant had neither family money nor a title, the family was considered “new money” and not thought of as on the same social level by many of the older generation.
“Isn’t it so exciting?”
Rae only shook her head in response.
Tobi’s eyes widened in surprise. “Haven’t you heard? ‘Destiny’ is being made into a musical!” The girl was nearly bouncing with excitement.
“Oh really? I hadn’t heard. How wonderful!” Rea said. However, she groaned inwardly. She had hoped that Tobi would have come up with some sort of conversation other than that darn book over the break. The romantic novel series was Tobi’s latest obsession, though she had many, and the only thing Rae heard about from the girl.
Tobi chattered on and on about the upcoming play while Rae unpacked her things in the tiny room.
As she fused with her belongings, Rea ignored her roommate’s endless prattle. She nodded her head at the appropriate moments and strayed into her own thoughts.
Suddenly, she realized the room was silent. Rea looked up and nearly jumped out of her skin to see Tobi standing directly over her, eyeing her curiously.
“You’re not paying attention!”
“Oh, sorry!” Rae blushed at being caught with her mind elsewhere. “What is it?”
“This!” Tobi exclaimed as she pushed a large piece of paper in her face.
After pulling back so her eyes could focus, Rae saw that it was a poster.
Rae sighed, “Yes, I heard you talking about the musical.”
Tobi rolled her eyes in exasperation.
“No! Him! Henry!” she said as she jabbed at the center of the paper. “Isn’t he handsome? I swear this is the man I am going to marry!”
Rae studied the printed drawing. Below the large letters of the title were the faces of a couple held in a loving embrace, the male and female lead.
He could certainly be considered… pretty, Rae thought, maybe. However, she didn’t think that the word handsome could ever be applied. She wondered if her roommate truly found him attractive or if it was just because he was playing the lead in her favorite book.
Tobi then took to hanging the poster on the wall above her bed, cooing to herself that she would be Mrs. Henry Something-Or-Other. Rae looked at the clock and realized they were going to be late for the evening meal. She grabbed the other girl’s hand and dragged her away from her love towards the dining hall. The whole while an image of a broad back and a boyish smile, reminding her of her own definition of handsome.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Fabric Dilemma

            This week I reached a brick wall in my sewing and hit it hard. While preparing the fabric for my next sewing project, I asked my mom if the dress would look nice. Her response was no, but it will look fine for my purposes. After some clarification and remembering that my mother thinks of Lolita as a costume and nothing more, it was revealed to me that my blouse looked “costume-y” and “cheap.” My pride was hurt. The garment that I had worked so long and hard on and tackled so many new and challenging things ended up as nothing but practice. I admit, I acted like a drama queen and began to question my sewing and whether or not it was even possible to be apart of this frilly world.
            After a while of self-pity, I decided I needed to educate myself. I remembered how well I had done in my sewing class, how quickly I pick things up, and how much I enjoy sewing and creating things. Thus, I am beginning my stint of fabric research.

  • Find what fabric stores (if any) are available in my area other than Hobby Lobby and Joann’s
  • Find out what online resources provide reliable quality.
  • Discover what to look for in a quality fabric

I am hesitant to buy fabric online. I actually dislike buying anything online. Moreover, I would like to be able to feel and see the fabric rather than fumbling around in the dark. However, I don’t know what resources other than Hobby Lobby and Joann’s are available in my region. I hope that my fellow sewing bloggers who are more experienced than I can help me in this.
Once I have learned all that I can, I shall post my findings. In the meantime, I shall continue working on my next project with the cheap material I already have to see if this pattern is even worth any lolita’s time.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Quick Guide to Interfacing

            Interfacing is a very useful tool in sewing. It is used in collars, cuffs, waistbands, buttonholes, and much more. It makes the fabric stronger, stiffer, and helps the garment keep its shape. However, with so many choices available, interfacing can be intimidating. This basic guide will let you know what’s our there and which I like to use. Remember, always test interfacing on your fabric before you use it. This will allow you to see if the interfacing you purchased is appropriate for your fabric and gives the rigidity you desire.

Lightweight or Heavyweight
The type of interfacing one uses sometimes depends on the requirements of the garment such as lightweight or heavyweight. Patterns often tell you which type is appropriate. Generally, the heavier the fabric, the heavier the interfacing one needs. In addition, different weights create different affects. Such as a lightweight can be used for the facing to finish a neck seam while heavyweight is used for tailoring jackets and for stiff collars. It all really depends on how rigid one wants the garment, the weight of the fabric, and the purpose. If you are unsure, test it out in the fabric store. Place your fabric on top of the interfacing in question and see how it hangs. Do the two of them together feel like the final product you want?

Sew-in or Fusible
Some people like sew-in interfacing while I prefer fusible. Sew-in is just like the name and requires one to sew the interfacing to the fabric piece and then sew the pieces together. They are used on fabrics that can’t withstand the heat or steam of the iron needed to fuse the interfacing or on fabrics with sequins and such. Sew-in interfacing is also used on fabrics that could be crushed by the iron such as velvet or fake furs. On the other hand, fusible interfacing is perfect for cottons. Fusible interfacing has an adhesive on one side and one irons it in place. Fusible is fast and easy to use. I’ve heard some people complain that fusible interfacing comes out lumpy and bubbly, but I have never run into such an issue. Remember to follow the instructions given on the packaging and these following four things. If you utilize them every time, I’m sure your fusible interfacing will turn out beautifully.
·        Heat: You must turn your iron up as high as your fabric will allow.
·        Time: Don’t rush it. Give it at least the minimal time listed on the package.
·        Moisture: Turn your steam all the way up and, if you can, press the button that gives you bursts of steam every ten seconds or so.
·        Pressure: Press down hard on the iron.

Remember: Use paper towels when applying fusible interfacing so the interfacing is not accidentally fused to the board or the iron. In addition, do not pull the iron across the fabric but use a pressing motion.

Woven, Knit, or Non-Woven
Interfacing is constructed in one of three ways, woven, knit, and non-woven. Woven interfacing is fine, but just like woven cotton fabric, following the grain line is important. With knit, that is not of concern and the pattern pieces can be placed wherever. Do not get non-woven interfacing. This type falls apart after a few washes and does not provide much, if any, support for your garment.

How the interfacing is constructed and the effect on the finished garment can become quite complicated. For instance, some types allow stretch, some allow stretch in one direction, and some do not stretch at all. As a default, I use a basic knit because that’s what I’m comfortable using.

Interfacing can be found on bolts in the fabric department and come in white or black. Don’t get the prepackaged interfacing that can be found near the sewing notions. When using interfacing, one wants to get the best. Prepackaged interfacing is incredibly cheap in both price and quality. You will not be happy with the final product.

When buying interfacing, get more than the pattern needs. Keep the instructions that come with it and maybe a scrap of fabric with the interfacing applied. This will allow you to build up a library of sorts. Then, when the need arises, you will have just the right interfacing for your project and you will know which works best.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Story to Match #1

I love the pairing of the pale pink roses with black in this Victorian Maiden OP. It's like a classic take on bittersweet. The following is a little story that I came up with when I put this coord together.
The carriage cantered down the circular gravel drive and pulled up at the front of a large country manor. The house was a pale yellow with white trim and many lace-curtained windows. It was a cool spring day and a stray breeze left over from winter played in the horse’s tail and mane. A small woman stepped out with a refined grace. She patted her once black, now dark gray and white, hair in place and pulled her lace shawl tighter around her shoulders. Turning back, she watched her tall granddaughter awkwardly manage the decent down the carriage step and gasped when the girl barely caught herself before taking a less than graceful fall. The old women shook her head and sighed. “What am I to do with you?” she said. The young women simply smiled until her grandmother’s back was turned. Then she let out a small sigh of relief that nothing was further said. Rae wondered how her mother had managed to worm her way out of accompanying them.
She followed her grandmother’s quick pace into the house, always amazed at how quickly the woman walked. They were greeted at the door by a manservant who escorted them through the house to the garden out back. Rae rolled her eyes as they passed the overly ornate décor and furnishings that were, frankly, rather tacky. They came up to the doors leading outside and she could see the large gathering of ladies through the glass panes. A slight feeling of panic settled into her heart when she saw them. As soon as they exited into the cool morning air, her grandmother was met with many warm welcomes. Walking in her shadow, Rae accompanied her grandmother on her rounds to greet the ladies present. They smiled, curtsied, and engaged in the small pleasantries of proper society. The old woman was remarkable in these social settings. She remembered names, distant relatives, and the current doings of every guest. Rae was the opposite. Despite having known many of these women since childhood, she was hard pressed to remember a handful of their names.
      After some chitchat with the hostess about her health and Rae’s progress in the local university, Rae left her grandmother to locate a group of girls her own age. She quickly saw them down by the fountain at the entrance to the gardens. The girls Rae called her friends were kind and generally meant well, but Rae felt no deep connection with them. She found conversing with them rather difficult. Even when she did have something to add, she felt her words were generally ignored. Sure enough, they would not disappoint her today. The group was all a flutter with talk of the ending school year and the upcoming Season. A couple of them competed with one another about how many new gowns and shoes their parents would buy them this year.
Rae herself had mixed feelings about the Season. On one hand, she loved the opportunity to don her fanciest frills and to people watch for the latest fashions. On the other, the social aspect scared her to death. She was a girl who was relatively capable of doing many things, sewing, math, and music especially. However, Rae excelled at being invisible, although, generally, it was not on purpose. She had been attending for a few years since she came out at 16 and every year was the same. There was excitement and a dramatic build that promised romantic adventure. At the end, she was always disappointed having held up the wall every event except when the occasional drunk old man would ask her to dance.
Seeing that no one was paying any particular attention to her, she snuck away further into the gardens. Rae strolled slowly through walls of dusty pink roses and beds of pansies and other flora. She came across a small pond and knelt next to its surface. Dragonflies darted to and from the soft purple lilies and her looming shadow scared away a few fish residents. Rae took to daydreaming about mermaids as she stared at the lightly rippled surface. She imagined herself as one, playing amongst colorful coral and crashing waves. A soft playful wind chilled her skin as it passed and tossed her loose dark brown hair. Deciding it was still too cold to swim, faeries playing in a sunbathed meadow occupied her thoughts as she got up to wander some more. Her education plucked at her thoughts with warnings of how illogical or physically impossible fairy tale things were. However, she tossed such feelings aside with a wave of her hand and defiantly dreamed up creatures that were even more fantastic.
The crunch of footsteps on gravel shook her out of her fantasies. She looked up to see a young man walking with a large wood bucket towards the small grove of apple trees. She could not see his face as he walked away from her, but she noticed his shaggy dirty blond hair and his tanned muscular back. A gardener she supposed.
“Wait,” she thought to herself and she pondered what it was she was seeing.
 He was shirtless! She gasped aloud and ducked behind a nearby wall of roses.
After a couple of breathless minutes of embarrassment, she chided herself for hiding away. She breathed deeply in and out. Then, gathering her resolve, she peeked around the dusty pink blossoms.
Nothing. He wasn’t there. Her shoulders drooped with disappointment. Once again, she scolded herself for missing such an opportunity.
“Lose something?”
Rae bolted upright and frantically looked around for the source of the man’s voice, but there was no one to be seen.
She looked up at the sound and there he was, leaning over the top of the rose bush wall in the shade of the overhanging boughs of an apple tree. Her cheeks blushed a scarlet red that reached all the way to her ears. Not knowing what else to do, she hurried off in the direction she came.
“Hey wait!” he called.
The man started to hurry down the ladder he was using and slipped on the last rung. Rae turned when she heard a thump and watched as the ladder crashed through the wall of roses.
She hesitated for a second, not sure of what just happened, and then rushed to the scene. He was propped up on his side, looking quite surprised at the giant hole he had made in the rose wall. At the sound of her approach, he turned to her, and gave her a huge embarrassed smile that transformed his rugged face into the like of a young boy. It was so bright and honest; Rae could not help but smile sheepishly in return.
She looked up at the sound of her name and saw her grandmother hustling down the path towards her. The man hurriedly picked himself up and bowed smartly at the approaching woman.
“Just what in heaven’s name are you doing out here? Tea started a half hour ago.”
Rae’s grandmother grabbed her hand and pulled her back towards the house, not even acknowledging the gardener’s presence.
Just before they were out of sight, Rae turned to see the young man, his head bent, and his hands in his pockets, kick a nearby stone before he trudged off as if defeated.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fabric Preparation and the Importance of the Grain Line

What is a grain line anyway?
The grain line has to do with how a woven fabric is constructed. Do you remember weaving with yarn back in elementary school art class? If your class was anything like mine, you had yarn tightly wrapped and evenly spaced around a square of cardboard. Then you wove in and out of these strands with the color you wanted your little woven square to be. This is similar to how the fabric you get from the store is constructed. The tight yarn wrapped around the cardboard is known as the lengthwise grain and the yarn you wove in is the crosswise grain. The lengthwise grain is very strong with little stretch. The crosswise grain gives a little and stretches. In addition, if you grab it 45 degrees from either grain, otherwise known as the bias, it stretches a lot!

Why is this important?
This all affects how a garment fits and hangs. Have you ever bought some pants or a top from the store and after you washed them, they twisted on your body? That’s because that garment was not cut with the grain. After washing, the strong lengthwise grain wants to hang perpendicular to the ground so it will twist if the fabric is not properly cut out. You don’t want this happen to your lovely OP you worked months on! Preventing this starts with fabric preparation.

Wash and dry your fabric
The first step to fabric preparation is to prewash. Wash and dry the fabric how you would the finished garment and be sure to follow the instructions on the end of the bolt. Remember, even if it says preshrunk, it’s still going to shrink in the wash. Nevertheless, you want this to happen before you sew your garment, not after. When the fabric has been washed and dried, cut off all the loose threads and fuzz balls you’re bound to get on the cut ends.

Press the fabric
If your fabric is cotton, as most Lolita clothes are, turn your iron up to cotton or high heat and turn the steam all the way up. Don’t be afraid of heat and your cotton, since it’s a natural fiber. If it’s not cotton, make sure you read the end of the bolt for iron instructions. Now press the fabric in a small up and down motion, lifting and pressing the iron in small motions. Do not drag the iron across the top as this will stretch and distort your fabric. Get all of the wrinkles out so you have a smooth and beautiful looking piece of fabric.

Make the cut ends parallel to the crosswise grain
Now, look at your fabric. Do you see the non-cut edges on either side? They are sometimes white if you have a print and are usually tougher and thicker. These are the selvages of the fabric. The selvages run parallel to the lengthwise grain. From one cut end, go in about an inch and cut through the selvage and slightly into the fabric parallel to the cut edge.

What you do next depends on if you have a tightly woven or loosely woven fabric. If you have a tightly woven fabric, you can tell by the feel and the look of your fabric, grab both sides of the cut and pull hard and fast ripping the top strip clean off. If you can’t cleanly rip your fabric and it tends to come apart rather than rip the cotton is probably woven too loosely and you will have to use the method discussed later. The top should rip completely through to the other selvage. If it does not, cut a little further down and rip again. Again, the rip should go from selvage to selvage. Do the same to the other cut end so you have two very straight cut ends.

If you have loosely woven fabric, you have to go through a very tedious process, pulling the thread. Why? Because it is very hard to rip loosely woven fabric and, if you do, you may distort your fabric. Cut through the selvage, slightly into the fabric, as above. This time work out one of the crosswise grains. [INCLUDE PICTURE OF CUT AND WORKED OUT CROSS WISE GRAIN] Gently, pull on this single thread, working it out of the fabric. This thread will have a tendency to break, a very obnoxious thing. Anyway, when it breaks you will see that a straight line has been created in the fabric. Cut along this line until you get to the end of the thread and start pulling again until you reach the other selvage. This creates a guideline that you can cut along to get a perfectly straight edge. Do the same to the other cut end. (I know, it hurts just thinking about it) I suggest doing this while you're watching TV or sitting around and want something to do with your hands.
Example of pulling the thread
Why is this important? When one buys fabric from the store, most of the time the fabric has not been wound onto the bolt perfectly straight. So when the wonderful people working at your local fabric store cut the fabric, the cut edge is not parallel to the crosswise grain. After you go through the process above, you will probably see just how off the fabric is. You need the cut edge to be perfectly parallel with the crosswise grain for the following step described below. It will allow you to line up the crosswise grain so that it is parallel to the floor so you can see if your fabric is off grain. The following picture shows an exaggerated view of what the ripped off piece of fabric may look like.

Checking and Straightening the Grain
Now fold your fabric in half. Hold it by the corners of a cut end, one hand at the fold and the other at the two selvages. Raise up the fabric over your head so that the fabric isn’t touching the floor and shake it out a bit so the fabric hangs and doesn’t cling to itself. Make sure that the top edge is completely aligned. Look at the selvages. It helps to have a mirror or someone else to see the other side while you’re holding the fabric up. Do the selvages line up? If they do… huzzah! It’s a miracle! However, odds are they won’t line up. (Especially, I’ve found, if the fabric is from Joann’s) This shows that your fabric is off grain. Have someone else grab the bottom corner that is higher than the other and you grab the opposite corner from it. Get a good hold of the fabric with your hands on either side of the corner about 10 or 12 inches from the corner on each side. Now pull hard! If there was only a little difference between the selvages go easy on the fabric or you could pull it off grain the other way. But if there was a big difference, really go to town! Hold the fabric up again, lining up one cut edge, shake it out and the selvages should hang perpendicular to the floor. If not, repeat the process.
The shape on the left is an example of folded fabric that is off grain. The rectangle on the right is what folded fabric that is with a straight grain will look like.

If your fabric is too long and touches the floor when you hold it up, lay it on a clean flat surface. Fold in half and line up one cut edge. I think it helps if you pin this edge together. Now gently go down the fabric and work out any bumps so that the fabric is completely flat and folded. Don’t force the selvages to line up, let the fabric fold where it wants. If the selvages don’t line up, go through the process described above.

Give your fabric a touch up press if it needs it and then you’re ready to lay out your pattern pieces. It’s a lot of work and pretty time consuming, but it’s worth it if you don’t want your garments to instantly scream handmade. As long as you lay out your pattern pieces such that the marked grain line is lined up with the fabric’s grain line, everything will hang beautifully.

I really suggest buying the book Readers Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing. It goes through this process and much more with very clear pictures. I always have this out whenever I sew anything.

Monday, August 1, 2011

My First Blouse

I bet many of you think that this is a strange choice for my second Lolita garment. I mean, what beginner sewer in their right mind decides to tackle a blouse right off the bat? Moreover, a Lolita blouse at that! Well, I guess I’m just strange that way. I had a desire to make a blouse next and I found the perfect pattern so I thought, “Why not?”

I used the short sleeve blouse pattern with collar stand from McCall’s 6035 view A. It’s a lovely pattern with easy to follow instructions, princess seams, and different pattern pieces for different cup sizes. This last point was probably the major deciding factor, minimal alteration! The only altering I did was to lengthen it a bit. For decoration, I looked heavily at Innocent World blouses. I decided on some simple pin tucks down the front and ruffles at the collar and sleeves. I used 100% cotton off-white fabric from Hobby Lobby. I also used New Look pattern 6599 for the instructions for the pin tucks and how to attach a ruffle to the collar and sleeves.

I had a lot of fun creating this blouse. The collar gave me many issues and I had to do it over about 10 times, but I think it turned out really well being my very first collar. I suggest you have a bunch of extra ruffle gathered in around the curve of the collar. I didn’t have enough extra in the curve so when I turned it right side out it pulled at the ends funny. I used a 5/8 inch narrow hem on the ruffle edges, but, next time I make it, I’ll have at most a ½-inch hem, maybe smaller. The fit is amazing and I want to make it in the ¾-length sleeve as well. Not a common sleeve length in Lolita, but I think it’ll look cute. I would love to be able to use the body of the blouse and have a few long sleeve versions as well. However, I’m not sure if taking sleeves from one pattern and using them with the body of another is a good idea. I need to do more research. Here’s a picture of the finished project.

It was my first time sewing sleeves, collars, pin tucks, buttons, and ruffles. I’ve done buttonholes once before, but not on this machine. Despite that, I think I did a decent job. I definitely learned a lot. Next time I make this pattern for Lolita, I would like to add corset ties or just a simple waist tie in the back. I tried it on with a couple plain skirts and it has a tendency to bunch up over the top of the skirt. So ideally, that would fix this problem. Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’m debating about sewing in waist ties to this blouse, but I’m not sure if I have enough fabric. I also wish the fabric was a bit softer, but maybe it will loosen up a bit with wear.

What do you all think? Did it turn out well? If you have any questions or suggestions, please tell me. It’s only with your help and comments that I can improve.

(Side note that has nothing to do with Lolita: I think that the body of view A of New Look 6599, the sleeves from view D, and some drafted detachable sleeves would be the perfect blouse for Ciel’s costume in the Kuroshitsuji Visual Kei picture. =^.^=)