Tips & Tricks Tuesday: Travel Kit

Since, until like two days ago, my studio was a complete and utter hellhole (see my last post: So Much Room for Activities!), I usually traveled for fittings. Unfortunately, this meant carrying tons of stuff with me, and I usually ended up searching for it all, throwing it into a bag, and running to the car ten minutes before the fitting was to occur.  Not anymore.

A few months ago I stumbled upon these great little black nylon organizer bags at Ulta. Originally meant for stowing hairdryers, curling irons, and various other hair-related paraphernalia, they looked like they would work perfectly for travel fittings (plus they were full of random hair product samples, so kid #4 was super thrilled). I didn’t want to spend a lot on a travel bag, because it would end up very used and abused and basically destroyed before too much time had passed…so the $3.33 pricetag was absolutely perfect — and I bought the last three I could find.

Getting rid of the Ulta logo was easy — I still had a yard of Spoonflower fabric that I had intended to turn into small garment tags but, in my haste to order, I accidentally made the logo much too large so I had to re-order them anyway.  Rather than throw away the mistake, I used about 3/4 yard of it to make an ironing board (more on that project later), and the other 1/4 yard became logo tags — the perfect size for covering the Ulta logo.

I also picked up a really terrific zippered vinyl bag at a thrift store because it was the exact chartreuse color of my logo. I had no clue how to use it (I think it was originally meant as a little lunch sack?) but in the end it became a great way to transport stones and other slightly-delicate, don’t-want-them-to-get-banged-around materials and supplies.

I painted a couple Altoids tins the same shade of chartreuse green. One is filled with pins, and the other houses my Square card reader and rhinestone sample cards.

A third tin, the origin of which I can’t recall (maybe kid #2’s Christmas present wallet?), was also painted green and houses a travel sewing/fittings kit, which includes a tiny tube of E6000, soap markers, thread, needles, sewing machine needles, safety pins, chalk, measuring tapes, a seam ripper (of course), a small vinyl pad for stoning, and a skewer for stoning.

All the tins include a logo magnet on the cover. Also in the bag is a great little LED light (which comes in handy when you have to finish 5 ballroom dresses in a Prius in the parking lot at night…long story, for another post), a calculator, paper, pen, scissors, business cards, and a roll of colored pencils.  Everything is chartreuse green, not because I’m particularly strange, but because in my brain, color coding things means they’ll end up back where they belong. It’s a very left-handed system, but it works for me.

Under the cutting table -- my travel fitting bag and my sizing leotards bag.

On the left is my travel bag — with room for garments and anything else I need to add at the last minute.

The traveling fitting bag, exploded...includes samples of rhinestones and everything I need for a remote fitting. Obsessively weird about that chartreuse green thing, I know...but once I started I just couldn't stop!

The traveling fitting bag, exploded…includes samples of rhinestones and everything I need for a remote fitting. Obsessively weird about that chartreuse green thing, I know…

So why should you care? Because if you’re reading this, then I assume you’re marginally interested in sewing, in some way or another — either the process or the product. And after 20 years of trying to figure out what I need when I’m not at home, I think I’ve finally worked out the kinks in my system and I no longer carry excess crap unnecessarily, and I no longer get somewhere and wish I had something I inadvertently left at home.

I get a lot of messages from sewist around the country asking about fittings, since apparently the desire for home sewn items is growing by leaps and bounds, but the desire to learn how to create such items is seriously lacking…so the people who do know how to sew are busier than ever. My advice to you is to keep a travel bag packed at all times, ready to grab and go whenever you need it; it’s worth the cost of duplicating some of your supplies (and, if you’ve got a kid like my #4 at home, then it’ll give you an awesome excuse to go to Ulta…).

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So Much Room for Activities!

Well, it’s been 18 months, but I think I’m finally finished!

We started this garage “renovation lite” project in September 2013. I say “renovation lite” because it didn’t involve any destroying of walls, demolition of floors, or anything very exciting or fun.  It did involve several trips to Ikea, a lot of curse words (because on the little ladder I’m still about 2″ too short to attach anything to the ceiling, which means getting out the big ladder, which means way more trouble than just waiting until someone taller comes home), and many, many exclamations of, “There’s so much room for activities!” by the kids.  Over, and over, and over again.  If you’re unfamiliar with this quote, at the risk of revealing how not evolved we are in this family by sharing what we find funny, check out the video below (or go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulwUkaKjgY0). There is one curse word in it, so skip the first 30 seconds if you’re near someone who wilts at the sound of one of the most perfectly dropped F-bombs in cinematic history (OK not really, but it’s still pretty awesome).

Anyway, so with all my newly acquired room for activities came newly acquired space for the kids’ crap. I managed to keep the space pretty nice until Christmas, when it was a magnet for kid #1’s excess college junk when he came home for a couple weeks.  Then it became the landing spot for so much camp stuff (so, so, so much camp stuff).  Then when it was clean again, kid #1 came home for the summer.  Kid #3 waited about ten minutes after kid #2 left for college to move into his bedroom, vacating his completely.  Then we waited about ten minutes to turn kid #3’s bedroom into an office.  This meant that when kid #1 returned home for the summer, we no longer had space for his paraphernalia.  We were careful to be sure that we still maintained enough beds for all four kids (there’s a sofabed in the office), but we neglected to reserve space for their entourage of boxes, books, and the mounds of laundry they brought home and continued to create throughout the summer. Thus, my newly acquired activity space became the repository for anything and everything that required even one tiny shred of brain energy to find an appropriate spot for in the house.

I had to do something.  I’d lost my beautiful work space to piles of camp files, stuffed animals, boy laundry, duffel bags and first-apartment-Ikea-accoutrements.  To make things worse, I couldn’t put away stuff that actually did belong in the shop, so bags of scraps, leotards, fitting supplies, and general sewing junk were now stacked atop kid #1’s piles.  When I had to cut out a few dresses on the dining room table, I knew things had gotten completely out of hand.

Camp ended, kids #1 and #2 left for college, a gigantic Christmas party came and went, and still I lacked all motivation to dig into the piles that had taken over the workspace. The thing that should have pushed me over the edge was a huge project in February for the Claremont Colleges Dance Team, that ended up leaving what felt like millions of green sequins everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I’m still finding the tiny, doughnut-shaped metal pieces all over the place. The dog even had one on her foot the other day. I knew I needed to get rid of the sequins once and for all, so I started what felt like an archaeological dig to clean up the place.

But what really pushed me to finally finish this project, however, was a request for photos of my “studio.” My studio?  You mean, the cobwebby corner of the garage where kid #4 and I move piles of crap around until we find enough space to maybe sew a little and watch a few episodes of “Dance Moms?”  I needed to make a change, and it needed to happen quickly.  All the right pieces were there, buried under scraps and bags of fabric that needed to be folded and put away.  So this is what I ended up with at the end of spring break. No before pictures, because they would be too embarrassing…but here’s the “after:”

The whole studio!

The whole studio!

Working my way around my room (about 20x35, not huge, but I'm definitely NOT complaining). Northeast corner.

Working my way around my room. North corner (I think. Maybe. Yes, I can use a compass. But no, I’m not going to get it out to check.)

North wall, where kid #4 pretends to do homework but I think she's really just watching 50 First Dates.

Northwest wall, where kid #4 pretends to do homework but I think she’s really just watching 50 First Dates.

View of the north wall. Second best part is the crystal chandelier; best part is that my husband didn't think I was nuts for wanting the chandelier in the first place. The screen opens up to create a private changing area for fittings.

View of the northwest wall. Second best part is the crystal chandelier; best part is that my husband didn’t think I was nuts for wanting the chandelier in the first place. The screen opens up to create a private changing area for fittings.

Northwest corner. Crystal chandelier #2. Office supplies, tax info, everything boring is held inside the black file box. I don't know why it looks so small, but it's two file drawers deep! I guess the really high couch makes it look tiny...

West corner. Crystal chandelier #2. Office supplies, tax info, everything boring is held inside the black file box. I don’t know why it looks so small, but it’s two file drawers deep!

Works in progress. For some reason this also looks really small, but each garment bag holds TEN dresses for sale, packaged up for travel. Each compartment in the hanging shelves holds an outfit in progress.

Works in progress. For some reason this also looks really small, but each garment bag holds TEN dresses for sale, packaged up for travel. Each compartment in the hanging shelves holds an outfit in progress.

Moving around the room, the west side. A couple more mannequins, actually dressed for a change.

Moving around the room, the southwest side. A couple more mannequins, actually dressed for a change.

Mannequins and dresses for sale. The kids have named all the mannequins in the shop...here we have Marie Antoinette and Peg (named for the pole inserted into her derriere).

Mannequins and dresses for sale. The kids have named all the mannequins in the shop…here we have Marie Antoinette and Peg (named for the pole inserted into her derriere).

And here we have Buttsy on the left, used for pinning skirts to children's skating outfits. Also all the random junk that doesn't really go anywhere else.

And here we have Buttsy on the left, used for pinning skirts to children’s skating outfits. Also all the random junk that doesn’t really go anywhere else.

Closeup of my random shop stuff...bottom left is adjustable stoning frames out of PVC, shop packaging, and lots of fabric dyes. Check out the previous post describing my stoning frames.

Closeup of my random shop stuff…bottom left is adjustable stoning frames out of PVC, shop packaging, and lots of fabric dyes. Check out the previous post describing my stoning frames.

Tracking cards. These start out pinned here until the garments are actually cut out...

Tracking cards. These start out pinned here until the garments are actually cut out…

Close up of tracking cards.

Close up of tracking cards.

After garments are cut, the tracking cards go into these awesome clear card holders, leftovers from my days as a second grade teacher. The bags are from the dollar store. Each bag holds everything I need for each garment until it's completely finished -- then the info off the card makes compliance and tracking a piece of cake.

After garments are cut, the tracking cards go into these awesome clear card holders, leftovers from my days as a second grade teacher. The bags are from the dollar store. Each bag holds everything I need for each garment until it’s completely finished — then the info off the card makes compliance and tracking a piece of cake.

Above the tracking cards -- scraps, all scraps, all lycra. Each basket holds about ten yards, divided by color. Pieces are all 1 yard or less, usually much less...but sometimes we just need a tiny bit, so anything bigger than 12x12 gets saved. I probably have 30 shades of blue alone!

Above the tracking cards — scraps, all scraps, all lycra. Each basket holds about ten yards, divided by color. Pieces are all 1 yard or less, usually much less…but sometimes we just need a tiny bit, so anything bigger than 12×12 gets saved. I probably have 40 shades of blue alone.

Closeup of one of the scrap boxes. Again, why the #*@% does it look so tiny?! These are about 15" x 24"...found them at Home Depot a decade ago and they've held up great! Bags are the XXL size garment bags from the dollar store.

Closeup of one of the scrap boxes. These are about 15″ x 24″…found them at Home Depot a decade ago and they’ve held up great! Bags are the XXL size garment bags from the dollar store.

Machine table, again.

Machine table.

Except for the top drawer (which is all scissors), each drawer holds elastic. All elastic...every kind of elastic imaginable!

Except for the top drawer (which is all scissors), each drawer holds elastic. All elastic…every kind of elastic imaginable!

Machine table, again. Behind the curtains are six sets of old elementary school library shelves, 35 feet worth, full of rubbermaid bins holding miscellaneous crap...I mean, supplies...

Machine table, again. Behind the curtains are sets of floor to ceiling old elementary school library shelves, a whole wall of ’em, full of rubbermaid bins holding miscellaneous crap…I mean, supplies…

Miscellaneous Stuff Wall.  Includes ancient elementary school art by the boys, and a mobile made for me out of special camp items, circa 2000.

Miscellaneous Stuff Wall. Includes ancient elementary school art by the boys, and a mobile made for me out of special camp items, circa 2000.

Cutting table, ironing table, and the box contains hangtags, pricetags, and design packets (invoice blanks, sketch croquis, stuff like that)

Cutting table, ironing table, and the box contains hangtags, pricetags, and design packets (invoice blanks, sketch croquis, stuff like that)

Little ironing table, made out of an old nightstand and a yard of Spoonflower labels that I screwed up and ordered waaaay too big. Luckily the only thing I ever iron is tiny tracking serial numbers onto my garment tags, so the low height isn't a big deal at all.

Little ironing table, made out of an old nightstand and a yard of Spoonflower labels that I screwed up and ordered waaaay too big. Luckily the only thing I ever iron is tiny tracking serial numbers onto my garment tags, so the low height isn’t a big deal at all. I also got to use Insulbrite, which I’ll write about in a future post…

My awesome husband added casters to the bottom (because I thought it would be easy for me to do by myself, which it wasn't) so it rolls in and out! Inside the cabinet is a HUGE vat for dying fabric -- so glad I found a place to stash the thing.

My awesome husband added casters to the bottom (because I thought it would be easy for me to do by myself, which it wasn’t) so it rolls in and out! Inside the cabinet is a HUGE vat for dying fabric — so glad I found a place to stash the thing.

Close up of my stupid mistake, turned into an ironing surface.

Close up of my stupid Spoonflower mistake, turned into an ironing surface.

Pattern weights (aka old roller skating wheels, filled with fishing weights). Check out my previous post on how to make these weights.

Pattern weights (aka old roller skating wheels, filled with fishing weights). Check out my previous post on how to make these weights.

Top of the cutting table. The kids named the electric scissors "Jaws" and in one of the boxes is my electric seam ripper, "Jack." As in Jack the Ripper. I promise my kids aren't seriously demented. One of the boxes contains my frequent buyer and rewards program cards.

Top of the cutting table. The kids named the electric scissors “Jaws” and in one of the boxes is my electric seam ripper, “Jack.” As in Jack the Ripper. I promise my kids aren’t seriously demented. One of the boxes contains my frequent buyer and rewards program cards.

Under the cutting table -- my travel fitting bag and my sizing leotards bag.

Under the cutting table — my travel fitting bag and my sizing leotards bag.

Inside the travel fitting bag. Future post will explain this awesome little thing, contained in a throw-away bag I picked up at Ulta for pennies!

Inside the travel fitting bag. Future post will explain this awesome little thing, contained in a throw-away bag I picked up at Ulta for pennies! I bought three of them for $9.99 total, added my logo tag, and I probably get more people wanting to know who manufactured these for me than anything else.

The traveling fitting bag, exploded...includes samples of rhinestones and everything I need for a remote fitting. Obsessively weird about that chartreuse green thing, I know...but once I started I just couldn't stop!

The traveling fitting bag, exploded…includes samples of rhinestones and everything I need for a remote fitting. Obsessively weird about that chartreuse green thing, I know…but as my camp friends know, everything in my world is color coded…

Sizing leotards -- 13 of 'em.

Sizing leotards — 13 of ’em. The pink makes me crazy, but it was just too expensive to have them manufactured in my company chartreuse green.  Oh well…

View of the southwest corner. Lots of rhinestones on racks, and a partial view of the dining room table - turned - cutting table. I didn't get a good picture of it, but it holds a giant white cutting mat on one side, and various cutting table supplies on the other.  There's a better photo of the cutting table in a previous post.

View of the east corner. Lots of rhinestones on racks, and a partial view of the dining room table – turned – cutting table. I didn’t get a good picture of it, but it holds a giant white cutting mat on one side, and various cutting table supplies on the other. There’s a better photo of the cutting table in a previous post.

Fabric row, courtesy of Ikea shelving.

Fabric row, courtesy of Ikea shelving.

Another view of one row of fabric.

Another view of one row of fabric. These are the fabrics I won’t be using this season.

I’ll post more about my tracking system and travel fitting system in my next posts. I know many of you couldn’t care less about these things, but I’m in several professional sewing organizations now, and consumer products compliance is a HUGE issue there — so the tracking system and travel fitting system are extremely relevant in that arena.  Also coming up is my saga with trademarking my name and logo, so I know those folks will be checking out this blog in the coming months, too. Hoping that maybe one of them might be a fan of Stepbrothers…you never know…

What are They Wearing Wednesday: Latin Ballroom Dress

Here it is — our Latin ballroom dress, the “Rose.”

This isn’t quite finished — with only 14 gross stones on it so far (yes, I did write “only”), it still has a few gross to go…but this thing included two techniques I’ve never used before:

1. Scraping.  What I call “scraping” probably has a more elegant term, but it involved carefully cutting open the braform, scraping the excess pushup padding away, and then hand sewing it back together. I could have used a standard braform, but amazingly enough I stumbled upon this particular one, which happened to be made out of the exact — and I mean exact — bolt end fabric that I also stumbled upon 11 months prior on a trip to the garment district in Los Angeles. It’s no secret that many of the fabric sellers there are really just unloading bolt ends that they picked up from various garment manufacturers nearby, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I somehow managed to find both the bolt end and the braform, already covered in this exact fabric, twisted and boned and underwires  and EVERYTHING, already done. So of course I was willing to spend the few hours it took to carefully scrape away the excess padding.  Totally worth it.

2. One fitting only. Not my ideal situation, but it worked. Fortunately this dress belongs to someone who could easily have been the model for one of my mannequins, because their measurements were practically identical. So Marie the headless mannequin, as she is affectionately called around here, accompanied me to Los Angeles to make finishing and stoning the dress easier.  Such a nice traveling companion she was, didn’t ask for potty breaks or beg for food, though it would have been nice in LA traffic to have been able to use her for the carpool lanes.

So here she is, almost finished:

1503362_1041824639177646_8172474094805353618_n 1782175_1041824722510971_997969831923661712_n 10527645_1041824702510973_1098394206690064000_n

Tips & Tricks Tuesday: Stoning Frame

I get frustrated easily, I admit. I want (expect) projects to run smoothly, and I assume that the hardest part of a project is going to be related to my own lack of experience or knowledge, nothing else.

So when something is tedious, time-consuming, or difficult — and it feels like it shouldn’t be any of these things — I obsess over it. Constantly. Sometimes I go to thrift stores or hardware stores, just to browse the aisles looking for some clue, some random way to fix whatever problem I’m having by using something in a way for which it wasn’t originally created. Sometimes this works; I have some really great, albeit weird, tools now because of this habit. Sometimes it takes many, many trips, and more trial and error messes than I care to admit. But eventually, a solution usually presents itself.

This is one of my favorite and definitely most time-cutting, mess-inhibiting, frustration-avoiding creations — stoning stretcher bars.  The concept is simple, really — they’re just PVC pipes cut to various lengths, connected with PVC elbow joints. The frame fits inside whatever it is you happen to be stoning, and it keeps the garment or project perfectly flat while you work. When you’re finished, take it apart, string your joints together and throw a rubber band around your pipes — and the whole thing stores in a drawer or corner of your work area until the next time you need it.stoning frame

Depending on the size of your frame, you can stretch the fabric or not — depending on the needs of your project. One side benefit of using this frame is that it doubles as a carrying handle so that I can stone the front, flip it over, stone the back, and stand it up/stack it/move it/whatever without the risk of not-quite-dry glue ending up somewhere it shouldn’t. You can’t do this with those cardboard t-shirt inserts that some people use — not only does the cardboard bend, but since there is no space between the fabric and the board, often you’ll discover that you’ve successfully glued your garment to the cardboard. The PVC pipes keep the front away from the back with a small channel of air between them, which not only avoids the whole “cardboard pieces are now stuck to my garment” thing, but it also helps the garment to dry much faster thanks to the additional air circulation to both sides of the fabric. And as your subject grows, and kids annoyingly do, your cardboard can’t grow with her — but the PVC frame can.

I even have sleeve forms which attach to each side of the frame with additional PVC fittings, for the times when I want a sleeve to lay flat while I stone it…but usually, I put together a simple frame and insert it in the garment, as shown below.

stretcherbars2

I keep multiple lengths of pipe on hand, to accommodate all sizes of garments; but if you’re only stoning for one person (and therefore one size), this isn’t necessary. In the course of a project, I’ll leave the garment on the frame and insert the entire frame into a thick gauge garment bag with a ziploc seal at the top (details next Tuesday!). This way, I can stack a dozen or more garments in-progress, keeping each clean, unwrinkled, and ready to be stoned again.

Maybe the best part of this solution is the price — PVC is ridiculously cheap.  Plus, even someone with my rudimentary hardware/construction skills had no problem cutting the pipes without the assistance of my resident handyman/construction wizard.

What Are They Wearing Wednesday: All About the Access

20141015_114848OK, quick disclaimer — I couldn’t get this dress onto the mannequin because the straps are too tight to go over Peg’s hips…so this is What’s Hangin’ Wednesday instead.

This is a super-quick dress that’s leaving the shop this afternoon. Quick, not because I rushed through it, but because I think I’m finally getting to the point where it’s rare that I make the kind of mistakes that cause me to have to rip out seams and waste so much time. Plus, now I think my machine and I have come to an understanding: it doesn’t freak out when I pull fabric or elastic through it, and I don’t curse and throw things at it. Makes everything go much, much faster.

I love this thing — made of a really great, deeply saturated red slinky remnant I found in LA (and I’ve already used the very last piece of it on a competition dress for the Pan American Championship of Clubs for Emma in January), with an inset midriff panel of black mesh, and a very geometric rectangle of black spandex on the chest, which contrasts nicely to the fluid line of the red fabric. The skirt is also black spandex and the back is open, with three (really really really hard to do) perfectly straight, tiny horizontal straps, and two asymmetric diagonal straps, also black and very thin.

The best part about this dress is the access — which is always an issue with freestyle dresses because I hate to use non-permanent strap attachments (meaning using things like hooks or buttons or snaps…too much can go wrong and I don’t like even the slightest chance that a strap might come unhooked). However, you have to get into the dress somehow, and I think I finally stumbled upon the perfect solution: bra extenders.

bra extendersThis nifty little thing solves several problems at once: 1, the underside is a very soft, very strong, very sturdy knit that protects the wearer from the sharp edges of hooks and clasps.  2, the hooks are sewn so well into the extender — much more permanently than can be done with a needle and thread by hand. 3, if the skater grows, as they annoyingly do, there’s already a built-in way to make the dress stretch an inch or so, which is usually enough to get through to the end of a season — which is important because it’s a serious pain in the rear to alter dresses that have already been stoned. And finally 4, it gives extra stability and strength to the part of the dress that usually bears the most stress — especially when your hooks need to be attached to very fine fabric like mesh or lace.

I first cut the extender in half, and removed one set of loops (so that I didn’t risk breaking any machine needles when sewing the extender to the dress). I then sewed the hook end to the nude mesh shoulder of the dress, flipped it over, and sewed the loop end to the other side…and it’s done. Those hooks aren’t coming undone, no matter how many double flips she throws or how many times she lands on her rear end (sorry Sabrina, just sayin’)…

 

Creating a Watermark

No, I’m not stupid. I know there are lots of tutorials out there explaining how to watermark pictures. However, as of today, there doesn’t seem to be one that is both a) up to date, and b) written for people who honestly don’t care much about photography and who don’t understand/care to take the the time to learn about all the weird jargon and lingo associated with photography. I don’t know what kind of camera we have…just that it is in a tan and green camera case. So for all of you, here’s a nice, quick explanation of how to create a watermark the very easy way…one that can be used over and over again on blogs where the main point is something other than your own (maybe not so) amazingly wonderful photography.

Why watermark? I never really cared, until I recently came across MY PHOTO, of food I designed and created, posted on a very large, very public, very Pisses-Me-Off-Now food site. No credit, no nothing, and they’re using it on Pinterest, too. (It’s Foodie.com, in case you’re interested in likewise un-following them). The photo isn’t great (I’m no photographer, but that pumpkin fondue was killer amazing), and I don’t care that they used it, but no credit for what’s in the photo itself is what bothers me. I used to think a watermark was mainly for great photos – but I now know that it’s important to protect what’s featured in those photos, regardless of the photographic quality.

So here it is — Watermarking for Sewists (because hey, we’re not Dummies)

1. Download this free program. It’s called Gimp, and it’s the faster, easier, free version of adobe photoshop. No need to learn a whole new vocabulary…though the program does a lot of cool stuff, it’s streamlined enough so that you can create a quick, easy logo without a lot of excess hassle.

2. Create your logo by doing the following:

EASIEST, FASTEST WAY

a. Open Gimp.

b. Go to File>Create>Logos.  Choose your style from the dozens listed, fill in your text in the uppermost dialog box, then hit Create.

c. If you chose a style that allows for a transparent background but you ended up with a white one instead, go to Layer>Transparency>Add Alpha Channel. OR, go to Layer>Transparency>Color to Alpha.

d. Save your creation AS A .PNG file.  A .jpg will come out pure white because flattened .jpg’s can’t handle transparencies.

MORE CUSTOMIZED WAY

a. Open Gimp.

b. Go to File>New. Add your text, add a logo, whatever you choose. You may import just about any file into Gimp, too. I won’t go into detail here because the tutorials on the Gimp site are great, but you can easily change the color of a logo you already have, say from black to white, with a couple clicks.

c. Save your creation AS A .PNG file.  A .jpg will come out pure white because flattened .jpg’s can’t handle transparencies.

 

NOW…

3. Go to PicMonkey.  This is the free online photo editing site that works beautifully with Gimp.

4. Open the photo you wish to mark.  Edit it if needed (change color, contrast, add frames, whatever…)

5. Click the butterfly icon on the left, then click the “Your Own” box at the top. A dialog box will open, where you may choose the file you just saved in Gimp.

6. A new box will open and your artwork/logo will appear on top of your photo. You may play with the blend modes, but you may also just go to the Fade bar and set it at 40% to begin…your logo is now semi-transparent. Play with your fade until it’s just right, and you’re finished!

Here’s a quick sample, with a watermark close-up:

emmapractice4

watermark closeup

Sure, there are slicker, fancier ways to do this, but each minute I spend perfecting my photos is another minute spent away from the shop…and when I’m not there to supervise, I swear the fabric piles multiply on their own. So I’ll leave the obsessive photo-perfecting to my photo-blogging friends, and I’ll get back to sewing for their kids…

 

 

 

Plumber’s Paradox

I only sew (super-crazy-stretchy) knits, so how odd is it that I skipped The Monthly Stitch’s “Sew Stretchy” May?

For newcomers, The Monthly Stitch is an Australian sewing blog, to which I’m a regular contributor. Each month they vote on some new challenge, and finished products are posted on the blog. Being Australia, skating a very big there — and being the only skating dress designer and one of only a handful of US participants makes it even more fun to participate.

So this month was “Amnesty Month,” a chance for folks to re-do a past challenge or submit something they finished too late in the month to post.  While I actually sewed more than a dozen figure skating dresses in May, the business was so crazy-busy that I never posted anything during the PERFECT challenge for me, “Sew Stretchy” May.

The oddest part of that insane month was that none of those outfits were for my own daughter. We often laugh ironically at how the Plumber’s Paradox works in this house (you know…the pipes in a plumber’s house are always leaking, the mechanic’s own car is broken down, the chef’s family eats take-out, etc.). I have probably 60 figure skating dresses being worn in the world at any one given time these days, but my own child had only one dress to wear to practice.  Every. Single. Day.

I figured I needed to remedy this embarrassing (and honestly stinky) situation, so in honor of Amnesty Month, I made her a couple new pieces to wear to practice. These are not competition outfits so no one really cares what they look like, but I’m not going to sell very many dresses if my own child’s stuff is dull and boring, so we spiced it up a little bit.

The dress is made of a nice matte spandex I’ve started carrying here in my shop — super stretchy, but without the cheap-looking sheen that the older girls sometimes detest. It’s very soft and comfortable, which is a huge plus in your third hour of practice without air conditioning. It has a couple of stretch mesh inserts, and about a gross of leftover pink stones that have been hanging around the shop for way too long — the stones are a terrific color, but this specific color isn’t being made anymore so I’ve spent the last couple of years looking for a good excuse to use them up.

 

Really, the seams are super straight…the weirdness at the top is just excess seam allowance that I (oops) haven’t yet trimmed…

 

The white straps which don’t really match the rest of the dress give away the dirty secret…I wanted to surprise her with the dress, so rather than actually measure her, I cut/sewed the whole thing one day while she was at school. I have a set of measurements and a pattern I made for her in May, and I figured she couldn’t have grown that much in four months.  Uh, wrong.  She was surprised — not so much by the dress itself, but by how much skin and underwear and various body parts it showed. So I cut it up, got rid of the white stripes that originally adorned the front, reworked the design, and since it’s just a practice dress, I went ahead and re-used the white straps anyway…no sense in wasting perfectly good elastic and perfectly fitted spandex straps (a rarity), right?

So this is the finished product. Nothing fancy, but extremely comfortable (which she loves) and extremely NOT the one practice dress she’s been wearing daily for a year (which I and everyone else within smelling distance love).

Hoping to post some other designs from our crazy summer soon…

Silence is Golden

Truly golden, as in gold medal.

My blog silence over the past three months is due to a ridiculously heavy sewing load, leading up to both the regional and national championships for roller skating, my largest client base by far.

I’m not complaining…I had fifteen separate outfits in various stages of completion during one particular week in May, plus ten more waiting to be started, which made for a stupidly messy shop.  Then my oldest child came home from college, and since kid #2 had moved into his bedroom, all kid #1’s junk ended up where?  In the shop.  And since kid #4 is also a client of sorts, it meant we traveled to these various meets in the capacity of parent/coach/designer, so where did this triple-load of luggage/gear end up staged?  Yep, in the shop.  It was all I could do to just walk from one end to the other, constantly trying to stay organized, so all my non-sewing time was spent creating pathways and keeping records for the CA sales and use tax return I filed this morning, not on blogging or taking photos or, in all honesty, sleeping.

So that explains the silence.  And the golden part?  Here she is, US National Champion, again:

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Totally due to the dress, of course.

Although we’re headed into the mountains for the next two weeks, I’m really looking forward to getting caught up here and sharing everything that’s been keeping Firefly Fabrics so crazy busy.  In all, our outfits brought home 28 regional (CA, NV, and AZ) medals, and 13 US National medals, including 3 US National titles…and we still have 8 still left to skate over the next week or so.  Not a bad haul.

 

 

Fifty Shades of White

I finished this latest creation just in time to enter it in The Monthly Stitch’s July challenge, “MonoSewn,” where everything had to be black, white, or both.  You can read about it here.

I knew I wanted a completely white dress, but what I didn’t plan on back in November when I decided on this design was a) Venetian lace by the yard is lame and boring or else it’s $400/yard, and b) there must be fifty shades of white clearly discernible to my eye, and probably an additional hundred or so that are probably different but too close for me to care or worry about.

Rather than spend a fortune on a yard of Venetian lace that would then have to be cut and turned and altered so drastically that it made no sense to buy it in the first place, I opted for individual Venetian lace appliques…much cheaper, much more varied, and much, much more interesting.  However, even within the same manufacturer there are incredible color variances not visible under the dull lighting of an old lace shop, but clearly obvious in every other sort of lighting this dress would encounter.

What to do?  At first I didn’t care, but then when placing the appliques on the dress we were shocked to discover that the very yellow ones worked perfectly right in the middle of each boob…like a bright, shining beacon, screaming, “HEY!  LOOK AT ME!” Not exactly a good thing, especially considering how much we built up the boobs in the first place to make her fit in better with the girls she would skate against, many of whom would be up to six years older than she is.  Plus, the dress design screamed for boobage, and she was more than happy to comply.

Anyway, rather than freak out, I tried to figure out some way to lessen or eliminate the color variances.  A mix of four parts water to one part cheap, white acrylic paint did the trick.  I dipped each applique in the solution, wrung it out (all over myself and the garage floor, of course) and let it dry.  Added bonus — it stiffened the lace slightly, making it easier to work with and forcing the tiny detailed edges to stop curling.  Extra added bonus — it got rid of the cheap looking polyester-esque sheen that some pieces had (hey, for $3, what do you expect?), making it all appear matte, in a nice, expensive, silk/linen sort of way.

Each piece was pinned to the dress with her in it, I swear I didn’t stab her once, and I only bled on the thing in one tiny spot, easily hidden by strategic stoning later.

The finished piece was stunning…temporarily.  However, on her 14th birthday, I swear her hips moved and grew overnight because all of a sudden the trunks were too small and there was an ungodly amount of butt cleavage showing.  I know that dress fit her perfectly on Memorial Day; but less than a month later we were using Hollywood Tape to stick it to her rear end to avoid any Atomic Wedgie Action on the figure circles.  It worked fine, until we started looking through the action shots taken of her at Nationals and we had to carefully weed out all the ones where her butt just screamed a successful “I’M FREE!  I’M FREE!”

So here it is, in all its glory:

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It definitely made a statement, and it was definitely memorable… certainly not another spandex creation in a sea of similar dresses.  Will I do it again?  No.  Not because it was particularly difficult or time consuming (although each lace piece was hand sewn in place, and it probably took a total of 30 or more hours to finish just that aspect alone), but because I want to try something different for her next year and I won’t copy this dress for anyone else.  One and done, and happily, I’m pleased with the result.

Monthly Stitch Challenge: Sewing Double

So this really great collective called The Monthly Stitch puts out challenges meant to keep sewists (a new word I learned…maybe it’s just an Australian thing, but it sounds better than “sewer,” which brings to mind nasty, disgusting things) on their toes and actively learning new things.  This month’s challenge was “Sewing Double,” and, as usual, I totally overdid it.

This month I made thirteen new club dresses, a record for me.  Rather than copy the entire post, you can read about it here, where it’s posted on the Monthly Stitch blog.

The thirteen dresses is a lame attempt at an excuse for not posting anything else this month.  The fourteen dress orders sitting in my shop right now won’t help things, either.  Hopefully I can write more when the sewing is done…