My Sewing Room Tour

My sewing room

Cut Out + Keep is hosting a photo tour of my craft room. This is kind of a big deal. Not because my room is extra special or anything. Rather my room normally looks like this:

That means I dumped a bunch of half finished projects in the hall furiously cleaned my room to take these pics. There’s also a little interview if you want to read that.

You can head on over to Cut Out + Keep to witness this one-time only miracle.

End of the Year Review!

Well, it’s the end of the year which means everyone does a summary of what we made this year. I really enjoy reading other people’s review posts I never actually did one of these for 2013, I think I thought about it but then it was almost the end of January and at that point I guess I figured it was too late.

But this year I’m going to do one of these posts. Let’s get started!

2014 Makes
I made about 30 items of clothing (not counting a couple unblogged pieces and costumes):
                            

And this is where it gets surprising – when categorizing “hits” and “misses” most of these are clear hits and I don’t really have any big misses…

“Misses”

The only that immediately comes to mind is my Mathilde Blouse and only because of fabric choice. The pattern is great but the fabric I used really should have just been for a lining of a jacket rather than a shirt on it’s own. It wrinkles terribly (and I can’t steam out those wrinkles) and even though it is silk it just doesn’t look “nice,” ya know?

I still wear it occasionally but I definitely intend to try this one again in, say, a cotton voile.

TNT Patterns
Quite a few, it seems.

  
#1 Grainline’s Archer Shirt. I made three! And I wear them all the time.
#2 True Bias Hudson Pant. I made a plain black lounge-y pair and a “fancy” pair.
#3 Burdastyle Book Blouse. This is the third version of this shirt and it’s one of my faves.

Most Adventurous Makes
 
Definitely my experimental Cynthia Rowley Vlisco outfit. It’s pretty wild and crazy. And I know my Holly Jumpsuit seems tame in comparison but it’s still a bold move for me to wear a romper.

Favorite Dresses
  
It’s a hassle to get into because of those straps but my coral Cynthia Rowley dress is pretty sweet.

The white trim on my navy silk Flora Dress makes it win out over my other By Hand London dress I made this year (which had some crummy poly fabric that I didn’t end up liking).

And how could I forget my Breathless Dress? It also got the most pageviews of any make this year (thanks Tilly!). It’s absolutely a make I’m especially proud of.

Most Used Fiber
 
Cotton: 18
Silk: 3
Cotton/Silk Blend: 1
Linen: 1
Rayon: 4
Poly: 1
Blend/Mystery: 3

Knits vs Wovens
  
Knits: 9 (counting a couple unblogged)
Wovens: 24

Garment Type
 
Tops: 12
Bottoms: 5
Dresses: 10
Outerwear: 1
Rompers: 1
Weird matching set thing: 1

Most Worn
This one is tough because I wear nearly all of these makes often, weather permitting, with the exception of the “party dresses” and the psycadelic Vlisco outfit.

 
The most worn items are my casual ones like tops because I can wear them with jeans or shorts and my two mini skirts ’cause I can wear them when I can’t find my jeans or shorts.

It’s easier to talk about the least worn garments…

Least Worn

My cat, Peanut, ATE one of the tie strings off my Pintuck Sundress. Not all of it but now the string is way too short to wrap around to the front. I haven’t taken the time to fix it. I know I ought to have enough fabric left somewhere.


I gotta be honest… I forgot I made this dress. Does that ever happen to anyone else? Where the heck is it??? *rummages through drawers*


For some reason I just haven’t worn this dress that often. I think after making it the fabric feels too “party” for everyday wear.

Looking back I’m a little in shock. Nearly all of my makes this year were winners, that’s a first. None of these have been put in the “take to Goodwill” pile. I should pat myself on the back for this year.

Costuming
The thing with this whole historical costuming business is that in order to have a full completed outfit you need so many details: corsets, petticoats, shifts, hair styling, accessories. It’s not just “the dress” and that’s what’s keeping me from showing off my costumes.

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So far I have a completed Regency era outfit with undergarments.

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Currently I have an 1840s dress that is *thisclose* to being finished but I need more petticoats (and maybe a wig?). I just finished one petticoat and I need at least two more. The dress itself came together quite quickly for being a big fancy dress.

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I finished a Victorian corset which I showed in a decorated state to be used with this work-in-progress cosplay.

I also have a couple shifts (undershirts) from different eras and I’m working on a mid-late 18th century shift for an upcoming colonial era outfit.

Other Accomplishments and Fun

I got to meet some new lovely sewing friends and grew closer to some local gals. I did some pattern testing for By Hand London and Jolie Marie Louise. I participated in Sewing Indie Month. Attended Pattern Review Weekend here in Austin. Became part of the Blank Slate Sewing Team.

I’d say 2014 was a pretty good year for sewing! If I have any goals for next year I guess I want to ramp up the historical sewing and costuming. As for regular wardrobe sewing I’d like to make more everyday wearable dresses that I can just throw on in a pinch and feel comfortable in. Oh, and maybe finish that darn skirt pattern I’ve been working on and off with for months. 😉

Blog Hopping!

Normally I don’t do these sorts of things but my good friend Nicole nominated me. And I feel like I owe her an apology because it took me so long to get around to doing this. 🙁 I had plans on taking fun pics to go with my questions but, as you can probably guess, that didn’t happen.

But Nicole’s other nominee, my friend Susan, already did her post so now I feel like I gotta get off my bum and do this thing. Motivation!

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Thanks so much for the nomination, Nicole! You’re awesome and I’m glad I’ve gotten to hang out with you so much lately with the meet ups and sewing parties.

So, questions…

How does my blog differ from others of its genre? 
Hmm, I guess I have a few themes on my blog like sewing clothes that will actually be worn rather than pure frosting.

But on the other end I’ve been going through a phase where I want to be challenged by my sewing whether that means learning new techniques, trying my hand at costuming or just making and wearing clothes that are out of my comfort zone.

Why do I create, and why do I write?
Creating is in my nature and I blog to document what I make. You never know if in the future you or your grandkids will want to look back on what you made years ago. I would love it if I had a 5 year log of everything my grandmother made way back when. This blog is a historical document.

Having a blog is also a good reference if I want to re-make a pattern and cant remember the changes I made to my original version.

(A dress I made in 2010 and a more recent make from this year)

Oh, and I think it’s kind of cool that I have continuous catalog of pictures of myself (posed “photoshoot” style, as opposed to selfies) from at least once a week for the past several years. Sometimes it’s interesting to go back and see how much (or how little) I’ve changed.

How does my creative process work? 

Lots of procrastinating in between naps – just kidding (mostly).

Usually I find a pattern design or inspirational photo online of a garment or style I love and start from there. I don’t have much of a fabric stash but it’s growing. After I find a good fabric then the fun begins.

The actual work is when I sit down for marathon sessions of sewing and whatever I’m watching on Netflix (right now I’m catching up on Doctor Who). I’ve found that I can sew for much longer if I’m being entertained (MUST. FINISH. EPISODE.).

Once I’ve finished I show off my new make to Justin who then proceeds to make unnecessary comments (“You look like a flight attendant/girl scout/50s housewife/librarian.”) and I grumpliy trudge back into my sewing room.

After I get over that I then take pics and blog about it.

I can tell you one thing my creative process doesn’t involve – cleaning.

What am I currently working on?

You mean what am I NOT working on? Hehehe, well, I made myself laugh…


I usually have several projects on the table at once. I know some people are adamant supporters of the “one project at a time” philosophy but that just slows me down. If I have several garments I’m working on then I can switch between them as I go.

Sure, juggling many makes does bring a UFO risk, but so does getting so frustrated with a persnikity project that you shove it into the black hole of shame a drawer. If I can take a break from a dress that’s giving me trouble and work on a simple shirt then that success will fuel my desire to finish that other project.

A garment is most likely to become a UFO if it never makes it to the sewing machine. Most of my “UFO bags” are filled with cut out fabric pieces that probably aren’t even pinned together.

But for real: I’m slowly working on a dress inspired by one of my favorite movies, a cosplay that I need to have finished by January, a 1840s romantic era dress, a Regency era bonnet, a Nettie Bodysuit, and a shirt dress are in the pipeline.

Ok, now for nomination(s)!

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I’m nominating Lauren from Rosie Wednesday (I know I didn’t ask ahead of time, but too bad, you gotta do it now). Not only is Lauren a great friend but her love of all things vintage is inspiring. She rocks the vintage look like no one’s business from hair to glasses to her sassy and adorable handmade wardrobe. Seriously, this lady has a great blog (and she obviously loves candy as much as I do!) so you really ought to check it out.

Interview with Andrea Schewe, Pattern Designer

Lately I’ve ventured into costume and historical sewing. It’s proven more challenging than I’ve expected. One of these days I’m going to post about the things I’ve made (like all my half finished corsets, ugh). But with costume sewing in mine I’m quite excited about this post!

A few weeks ago I some how found myself at Andrea Schewe’s incredible blog. She’s a costume and craft pattern designer for Simplicity and on her blog she chronicles everything from her research to her design and sample making process to tutorials on how to create great costumes yourself.


If you peruse the costume or craft section of the Simplicity catalog you’ll find her little logo appearing all over the place. She’s made patterns ranging from fantasy hobbits to pirates to Elizabethan gowns to toddler animal Halloween costumes and more.

I was fascinated with the business side of designing for the big 4 and Andrea has such an informative an inspiring blog. Luckily she was kind enough to answer a few questions…

How did you get started working in pattern design?

I worked in the professional costume shops in New York for a number of years. Then in various other jobs in the fashion industry. I learned my sewing and patterning skills from my mother, who taught costume design and construction, then learned more at every job.

I wasn’t completely happy in the fashion world so when a job for soft toy maker was advertised I applied and got it. That job was fun. I made all kinds of rag dolls and plush animals. So, between professional costumes, fashion and cloth toys I acquired the skills to make the various things I now make for Simplicity.

When Simplicity approaches you to design a pattern what information do they give to help you create your pattern? Or does Simplicity just let you make whatever you want?

Simplicity sometimes gives me free reign when working on a new design. So, they will ask for something in a specific category, I will then send in reference photos to give them an idea of what I’m thinking about.

Next step would be to email in sketches. After they are approved, I will start work on the mock up samples continuing to check in for lots of reasons including approval of construction issues such as how many pattern pieces and specific sewing techniques. I, also, usually need to get fabrics approved. Other times they will send me photos of what they want. But even then I will let them know what I think will work or not.

We have a very good “give and take” working relationship. And I sometimes make patterns for other licensees, such as Disney and Amy Brown.

How long does it take to design a pattern? Do some styles take more time than others?

Most patterns take about 2 weeks of solid work for me, (then much more time after it is sent to Simplicity’s workroom) once the design is settled on, although some do take longer.

The tudor gown with all the correct underwear probably took me at least a month and a half. I do have a few people I hire to sew when I get really busy.

How many iterations of a design do you make before you settle on a final? How many samples will you create to send back to Simplicity?

On average, I have to sketch things about 3 times for each pattern. When finished, I send to Simplicity one sample of each style ready for photography, all the patterns and any sewing instructions I operations I think should be done a certain way. They have instructions for most things stored in their computer system, so it would be silly for me to spend the time to write complete instructions.

Does Simplicity request you to make a certain size to fit their models?

I must make my samples in for each size range of patterns in Simplicity’s sample size.  Again, their computer system is set up to work best from these certain sizes. For Misses it is their 10 (32 1/2” bust, 25” waist, 34 1/2” hips), for Women’s sizes it is Simplicity’s 22 (44” bust, 37” waist, 46” hips), for babies size 6 months, Child size is a 4, Girls size is a 10 and Men’s is a 40” chest. 

The children’s and Men’s sizes are the same as ready to wear and the same as they have been for decades, but the Misses and Women’s sizing have not kept up with the changes in modern ready to wear.  People really need to measure themselves and the tissue pattern when sewing for the best fit.  Don’t let the fact that you wear a size 8 in the store but need to cut a 16 when sewing bother you. How a garment fits is what is important.

From the time you submit your pattern to the company how long does it take to then appear in stores?

The turnaround time after my samples arrive at Simplicity is about 6 months. They have to check my samples, make all the sizes, write the instructions, draw the technical illustrations, photograph the models, make the guide sheet layout, make the layout for all the pattern pieces on the tissue, make the envelope layout and create the catalog. And then, of course get it all printed. I think they work amazingly fast.

You sometimes talk about restrictions like only being able to fit a limited number of instruction sheets and tissue paper in a pattern envelope. Or using supplies for your samples garments that come from big box stores so they are easy for users to find. What are some other technical challenges you face when designing patterns?

The biggest thing I have to worry about that is unique to someone making home sewing patterns is figuring out how to reuse the pattern pieces on two, three or more different styles in one pattern envelope. It makes you think in a different way. I also am mindful about how much all the materials I’m asking the customer to buy are going to cost and try not to require tons of expensive trims or too much fabric. People can always add the more expensive stuff on their own creation.

When you design costumes do you have a specific user in mind or do you try to design something that will appeal to a wide audience? How do the needs and wants of different sewists (like community theatre costumers, historical reenactors, cosplayers, or even novices making Halloween costumes) play into your patterns and instructions?

I and Simplicity try to make patterns for a wide variety of customers. We do create some patterns specifically for certain people, making some things easier, some historic, some sexy, etc. And if a certain pattern sells well, I’ll more make in the same category. So, the people who buy the most patterns will get more patterns made for them and one or two categories will predominate. Steampunk is really popular right now, for example.

I have a few of your historical patterns. What’s your research process like for these designs compared to the obvious fantasy styles?

Whenever I get to work on an historical garment, and please note I said GET TO – it is a big commitment for Simplicity to do a period correct piece, I first spend time looking at books with patterns from the period. Find out what kind of undergarments were worn and anything else I can.

Now, over the last 15 years Simplicity has really stretched itself trying to provide patterns for really accurate historic clothing. It takes so much more time every step along in the process. But even then it’s not possible to make the pattern 100% perfect. Within their format things have to be simplified. Plus, Simplicity wants it easy enough to sew for most people. There are a lot of compromises that have to be made.

Simplicity doesn’t have an opinion about historically accurate vs. modern interpretations. They go with what sells best. But, I think the people in the workroom prefer to work with modern sewing techniques, because that’s what they are used to and all their computer systems are set up for that.

On your blog you mentioned you were copying an extant dress for a museum in order to create a muslin used for fitting a display mannequin so that the original doesn’t get damaged. Are you often asked to do projects like that? And how do you go about carefully copying delicate garments?

I’ve only been asked to work on a museum project two times. It is really interesting work and I’d like to do more. To make the copy, the museum first sent me a photo of the dress, I then could learn about the period and research similar patterns before getting to actually handle and measure the gown. I then spent a day with the dress taking multiple photos and taking every measurement I could think of,  So, with the pattern diagrams in my books and all my measurements and photos I was able to make a muslin sample for them to work with and paper pattern, just for the museum’s reference. This muslin will be used as the manikin is built to display this very fragile garment.

You once made a comment on how kids costumes that feature lots of pink in the envelope deigns tend to sell well. Why do you think that is? Does it have something to do with “Princess Culture”? Because of this does Simplicity request pink samples from you?

Yes to everything you said about pink. Some day this will change, but it has been so drilled into everyone’s head that pink is for girls, people don’t even realize this only started to happen after the 1950s. My 1960’s Barbie only had one pink thing, her night gown!

What’s the weirdest pattern you’ve ever had to make? The family size, lime green, fleece footie pajamas come to mind. (Even though they were color corrected on the envelopes they look pretty funny in their original color)

Years ago, over 20 to be exact, it was poplar to cover your vacuum cleaner with a stuffed animal with a big full skirt. I made a pattern that had a cow and a duck. I wonder what we are making now that will seem funny 20 years from now?

Thanks so much to Andrea for doing this little interview!

I really hope you check out her blog – so much information. Here’s just a sampling of some of my fave posts of hers:

She also does a lot of fun clothing projects for herself and nearly every pattern she’s developed in the past couple years have detailed tutorials to follow. It’s like Wikipedia for creative sewing – you’ll end up with 20 tabs open in your browser and four hours later you’ll wonder where all the time went!

Do you own any of Andrea’s patterns? Have you ever sewn a Halloween or threatrical costume? Feeling inspired to make one now?