Hand-Dyed Lace and Where Crazy Ideas Begin

**If you’re only interested in the hand-dyed lace tutorial and not all my babbling, scroll to where the photos begin!**

The process for most of the custom roller skating outfits I make is fairly simple: coach has an idea in March, we settle on a plan in early April, dress is finished by early to mid May.  Boom.  Done.

However, the process for my daughter’s annual dress is usually a long, drawn out ordeal: idea in September, dream about the mechanics and engineering of it for months, keep an eye open for fabrics and embellishments all year, settle on a plan in February, put off making it until everyone else’s is finished, then work like hell to hurry up and get it done by late June, usually stoning it in the hotel room the night before she has to skate.

This year started out in exactly the same manner — idea in the fall, long thought process, and I even cut it out and put the most technically challenging part together in April.  But it wasn’t special; it was great, and the pieces I did finish are cool, but it was predictable, a little boring, and something practically anyone else could have imagined and made.  Nothing unique, nothing striking.

Then one day in April (because goodness knows this couldn’t have happened last September, because that would have been too easy) I ran across an old photo I’d saved years earlier of a dress neckline I liked.  That’s the only reason I saved the picture, and I discovered it quite by accident while searching my photo database for inspiration for someone else’s dress.  That’s how this whole thing started, and it organically snowballed into something super cool, super memorable, and so damn simple that it’s embarrassing to admit to people just how easy it was.

The dress is made entirely of nude mesh (gratuitous plug here: my company hand dyes 17 different shades of skintone mesh to match any skin color, so the dress really disappears on her.  She’s a “chai,” by the way; I think she was hoping to be “cupcake” or “graham cracker,” but then Disneyland happened and that slight tan pushed her into “chai” territory), with a double layer of nude mesh on the skirt. Underneath the mesh (because this isn’t THAT kind of sport) is a strapless bra and underlayer of nude spandex, which covers just the parts that need to be covered to stay tasteful and costuming-rules-legal.  I made the dress in its entirety, including sewing on the skirt, before I started adding anything else.  So basically for a few days she had a nudie dress, which totally freaked out my husband one day as he came around the corner and there she was in her perfectly matched skintone dress, looking pretty much buck naked with a skirt…

Anyway, then came the fun (?) part: the lace.  I’ll add the tutorial to the end of this post; I wasn’t going to take the time to do it, but so far no one believes me when I tell them how easy it was to actually make this dress, so I feel the need to prove I’m not a liar…

This process and the results taught me a couple of things.  First, it’s ok to start over if something better pops into your head, even if you’ve had your heart set on something for nearly a year.  It takes a good designer to know when it’s time to change course or just throw something out the window entirely.  Second, don’t dismiss the value of revisiting things you once found intriguing. Had I not glanced at that old neckline photo, the rest of this never would have entered my brain, ever.  Third, sometimes all it takes to create something spectacular (and honestly, this is the first piece I’ve ever made, after 20+ years, that I would call “spectacular”) is one tiny kernel of an idea…then the rest just falls into place.  And finally, don’t assume you can’t do something until you mess it up for yourself.  Initially I was extremely skeptical that what was in my head would ever end up on her body.  It took hours and hours of research to figure out how to accomplish exactly what I wanted the end product to be, and honestly, the only reason I even attempted it was because I had that other dress nearly finished already, just in case.  I could afford to screw this one up, and that’s what gave me the courage to follow that hare-brained idea in the first place.

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Ok.  Now for the tutorial.  If you skipped all that musing and are just now joining us, welcome.

1. Finding the lace and dye materials

This part was easy.  I decided right away that I didn’t want to use paint. How did I know this?  Because I once made an absolutely hideous dress with painted poppies. I mean, the idea was terrific, and the poppies weren’t all that bad, but I hated (and still hate) the textured, 3-D effect that paint gives you; I wanted to be able to see the actual fibers of the lace because I wanted more of an embroidered look.  The only way to achieve this is with dye, not paint.  Paint sits on top of fibers, dye adheres directly to fibers.  And the best place EVER to purchase dye is from Dharma Trading.  I loved their acid dyes already, so this was a no-brainer.

But before I could order the dye, I needed to know the fiber content of the lace I’d be using.  After much research, I figure out that rayon lace was the way to go.  Coincidentally, my favorite lace supplier, Mary Not Martha (sold on Etsy), carries TONS of rayon lace, so the hardest part was figuring out which pieces I liked best.

After ordering my lace, I researched rayon dyeing techniques.  Dharma already has a fabulous tutorial here, so I won’t go into everything needed before you even begin dye painting; but I ended up needing several different chemicals on top of the eight colors of dye I ordered.  Be sure to read their tutorials FIRST so that you order everything you need at once to save on shipping!

2. Prepping the lace

Before doing anything, I washed the pieces in textile detergent (synthropol, also available on the Dharma website).  This gets rid of not only dirt, but invisible acids and grease from your fingers and anything else the lace may have touched, which inevitably would affect how the dye adheres to the lace fibers.  Then I cut the lace appliques into small, individual pieces, since I didn’t want the dress to look like I’d slapped a few big appliques on it and called it a day.

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Soaking the lace in Earl Grey

As I learned two years prior (revisit that post here), all white lace is not created equal.  Before the lace even arrived, I knew I’d have to figure out some way to fix the variations of “white,” or eliminate them altogether.  Since the dress was nude, I decided I wanted the edges of the lace to blend into the dress — so I decided to tea stain the lace.  In the past I’ve tea stained lace for an hour, but since I only wanted a slight tanning, I opted for a 15-minute soak. If you’ve never done this before, it’s embarrassingly easy; place five or six black tea bags (ok, all I had was loose leaf Early Grey with Lavender tea…so my lace smells slightly of lavender) in a bowl.  Cover with hot water.  Let sit for a few minutes, then add the lace or fabric or whatever.  When it’s a little darker than desired, remove it and rinse in cold water.  Done.  Don’t drink the tea in the bowl, because that would be gross.

3. Prepping the dyes

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Sodium alginate, urea, soda ash. Not the lime.

Again, Dharma covers this on their website. I mixed the urea and sodium alginate together, put them in a tupperware container in the fridge, and slapped a “don’t throw me away and don’t drink me!” sign to the top — because hey, I live with teenage boys…

Two days later, I mixed six shades of burgundy/pink and six shades of green by mixing various combinations of the eight procion dyes I’d ordered.  I found a terrific little bead organizer in a little acrylic box, which worked perfectly for dyes — the lids screwed tightly onto the little jars, which kept them from spilling/getting lost on my work table.  Plus, I could put the entire box into the refrigerator (which extends the life of the dye, I’ve learned) and I didn’t have to worry about twelve little jars ending up in twelve separate places in my bottomless pit of a fridge.

By the way, I initiated a discussion in some dyeing communities on Facebook because I was mixing techniques (procion dyeing and tea staining) and I wasn’t sure how to proceed, and together we decided that the best way to proceed was to tea stain the stuff FIRST, and keep the soda ash (a necessary compound in hand dyeing with procion dyes — it helps the dye to adhere to the fibers of the lace.  Keep reading to find out what happens when you skip this step) out of the dyes and to soak the lace in the soda ash separately.  This is why I only mixed up the urea, sodium alginate, and dye.

4. Prepping the lace, part 2

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Soaking in soda ash. Notice that I only placed about a dozen pieces in the soda ash at a time; you don’t want soda ash sitting on your lace fibers longer than necessary.

I couldn’t help but think about the old saying about painting — how 70% is prep, 25% is clean up, and only 5% is actually painting.  Same holds true for this process — I needed to prep the lace yet again, and prep the painting surfaces as well.  The tea stained lace soaked for about 10 minutes in a soda ash solution (and believe me, I was very relieved that the soda ash didn’t change the color of the tea staining, though the soda ash did turn slightly beige…so obviously I hadn’t rinsed the lace enough).  I pinned pieces to a plastic wrap covered piece of cardboard, small enough to fit into a 2-gallon size ziploc bag (more on why this is important later), and then, FINALLY, I was ready to start painting.  Word of warning here: I tried using leftover dye on another dress, but I forgot to pre-soak it in soda ash. I figured what the heck, it’s just a practice dress…uh, no.  An hour later all my carefully painted flowers and leaves had turned to one giant, mushy mess, and two hours later every color had bled into every other color, so now it looked like I spilled burgundy dye on the fabric had tried to rub it off here and there.  HIDEOUS.  So don’t skip the soda ash step.  Of course, this may have happened because of the fiber content of the fabric, but still, why risk it?).

Now, by this time I was completely freaked out, because I’d already spent sooo much time prepping everything and I was positive it would be for nothing since I wasn’t very optimistic that I could actually paint very well.  If there’s one thing I hate, it’s wasting time or investing a lot of useless effort into something for nothing.  So after I cried from worrying that I would totally suck at this (yes, I cried over something this stupid), it was finally time to take the pieces out of the soda ash and get busy.

5. Finally, painting!

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Finished pieces, sitting in plastic.

And what do you know?  This was the easiest part of all!  It was FAST, too…the dye, when applied with a watercolor brush, actually behaves like watercolors…touch the brush to the fibers, and the fibers drink in the dye.  I mixed up my dyes with very, very little actual dye itself, so they were rather transparent.  This worked perfectly, because unlike regular fabric paint, you can control the actual hue of the dye simply by layering it; one layer is lighter, but each additional layer darkens the color.  I started with my lightest colors and added darker colors gradually.  It was quick, it was fun, and it pissed me off because I’d worried so much about it not working.

6. Resting/rinsing

After painting the pinned lace pieces, I placed the cardboard inside 2-gallon ziploc bags and sealed them.  This is necessary because you want to slow the drying process for about 12 hours, which allows the dye molecules to really bond with the lace fibers (I’ll spare you the chemical explanation here, because frankly I’ve forgotten it by now anyway). 12 hours later, I removed the cardboard and washed the lace in cold water for what seemed like days.  Really, it took a good hour for the lace to stop bleeding excess dye.

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Rinsing, and rinsing, and rinsing.

One important thought here — as the lace dries, it gets darker.  Like, really darker.  I hadn’t read anything about this, so it really worried me, because all my carefully designed, color graduated painting basically disappeared and my flowers just looked like one shade of dark burgundy and my leaves looked like Hefty garbage bag green.  But when you start rinsing, all these color variations magically reappear.

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Lace getting darker as it sits. Freaked me out.

7. Drying

OMG I still had more to do before I could even begin using these things…

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Drying lace, day 2. I stopped pinning it by this point.

The drying process took several days, to be honest.  This was also something I hadn’t anticipated.  I wrapped cardboard fabric bolt inserts with thick bath towels and carefully pinned each lace piece flat (because I didn’t want curly edges, which is what happens when you wash lace — see below).  But after 24 hours, they were still damp…so I blotted, flipped them over, and waited.  And waited.  Multiple blottings later, they were finally dry and ready to use.

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The reason I pinned the lace to paint it and dry it — curly edges, yuck.

One additional word of caution here — don’t use towels you care about.  Even after an hour of rinsing, my lace pieces still bled a little bit onto the towels.

8. Placing

Close up of lace pieces

Close up of lace pieces

I sprayed the back of each piece with quilt basting spray, and with her in the dress, I slapped these pieces onto her fairly quickly, Tetris-style.  I did pin them as well, but using basting spray helps the edges stay perfectly in place so I only needed one pin per piece rather than several.  This saved her lots of standing-perfectly-still time, and saved me lots of pin-pricked fingers.  Plus, the last time I pinned so much lace to a dress I had to cover up several little blood spots with stones…but not this time.

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Pieces being glued down. Note the awesome stretcher frame? Available at Firefly Fabrics!

9. Adhering

Notice I didn’t say “sewing?”  Nope…I didn’t sew these on this time.  E6000 to the rescue, and it worked beautifully.  I used to sew lace onto dresses, but I learned my lesson (read about it here).  Of course, my work table looked super creepy for a while, but it was worth it.

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Mannequin arm to the rescue!

Notice the waxed paper?  This dress was made entirely of mesh, and I didn’t want the glue to seep through and accidentally glue arm holes shut, or glue the front to the back.  I lined the entire dress in waxed paper, which then pulled off pretty easily once the glue was nearly dry.

10. Stoning

Most fun part of all.  I used seven different sizes of crystal AB’s to give a graduated look, as well as every random green and purple/burgundy/pink stone I had laying around the studio.  You know — when a dress doesn’t use up a full gross of stones so I had 4 leftover here, maybe 15 leftover there, etc. — but you can’t ever throw stones away, yet how do you use fewer than a dozen of any one color?  I had saved up stones in weird sizes and weird colors, which was perfect for this dress.  I also used about a gross each of burgundy, light burgundy, and light burgundy AB stones.  I scattered 12ss, 16ss, and 20ss crystal AB stones all around the bottom of the skirt and around the neck and back openings, too — initially we were going to leave these openings without elastic and without stones, but this fabric matched her skin (at the time) waaaaay too closely, and she really did look naked with some flowers carefully clinging to her boobs and butt.  A little too Adam-And-Eve for me, so the finished edges and scattered stones really helped it look more like a dress and less like a naked forest nymph getup.

And this is it — the finished product.  Totally different than anything at all on the floor this year, which is exactly what we wanted.

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And this was the finished result!  Heading to the US National Championships in two weeks, where hopefully hopefully hopefully this dress (and the kid inside it) will qualify for a trip to Italy for the World Championships in September.  Stay tuned!

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PS: Added August 15, 2016: THE DRESS MADE IT TO ITALY! Emma placed 8th in the world…to read more about that experience, visit http://www.EmmaGoFigure.com.

 

emmasolo

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Scary Season

Scary season is upon me, which isn’t exactly as it sounds…it’s not scary because of the workload; it’s scary because the workload means my shop has become an utter hellhole.

There are scraps everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I even devised a new scrap storage system, but it doesn’t matter — just when I get them under control, I find I need 1/8 yard of this or that, and everything ends up on the floor of the studio once again.

Just when I find enough horizontal space on my gigantic work table to cut out pieces, it quickly becomes engulfed in yards and yards of swatches, bolt ends, and yes, more scraps.  Piles of scraps behind my machines = I can’t push them back to use the table space in front of them; piles of scraps around my chair = I have to climb over the back just to sit in it; piles of scraps around my thread spools = every few hours my cones stop feeding and I have to perform a sort of archaeological dig just to find them again.

I clean up my scraps every night, believe it or not; but right now the volume of merchandise coming out of this studio is at a point where the scrap count reaches critical mass about two hours after the start of each work day. The chaos makes it difficult to work, though oddly enough, it makes me work faster because I’m not in the calm, relaxed, lovely little space that is my studio when it’s clean.  No, the workshop is a hazardous place to be during the month of May, so the faster I can get my work done and escape, the more likely it is I’ll be able to find my way out anyway.  So I let it continue.

I didn’t come up here to write about my mess; I actually came up here to look for a chalk marker that is, no doubt, buried in a corner under a pile of scraps.  But while I’m here, I’ll share a photo of a simpler, less-scrappy time, when these girls were tiny.  Here they are, holding their first club dresses, circa 2003.  Allison already has the best club dress of all — a Team USA dress — from her 2015 World Championships trip.  Hopefully Emma will earn that dress this summer.

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Trademark — Check!

Not exactly sewing related, but I’ve had so many requests for this information, and this is really the only place I have to put it.

Last March, after spending too many hours working on SEO (search engine optimization) for my company website, I realized there are just too many damn companies that use the name Firefly.  I knew the domain owner of “FireflyFabrics.com” has never, ever published a site with that name, but he wants $10,000 for the rights to the name.  Whatever.  Then in a few of my Facebook groups, too many very good, very innocent people were running into huge headaches because others were using their chosen company names or designs, yet they really had no recourse because they didn’t have enough official documentation to prove it was theirs in the first place. So I decided it was time to look into a trademark filing.

When I started this company, I filed for various things before doing anything else — business license, resale license, DBA paperwork, tax stuff, blah blah blah.  I bought domains, and set up an account so that my entire online presence would be automatically saved and marked in case I ever ran into a copyright issue.  But I never approached the trademark issue because, let’s face it, it isn’t cheap…everyone told me that I needed an attorney to do it for me, and even without an attorney, the filing fees for my two classes would be $450 alone — including a $200 discount.  Yikes.

Being the cheapskate that I am, and considering the fact that I usually stupidly assume I can do something — anything — until proven wrong (which is often, believe me), I decided to just file on my own.  It was tedious and a royal pain the rear, but really, not so bad — and definitely not difficult. Everything worked perfectly, until a little issue with J&P Coats (as in Coats & Clark, thread folks for those of you who sew), which I’ll get into later.  But first, mostly for my FB small business group friends, I wanted to give a quick outline on how to file on your own:

  1. Set aside (or acquire) the funds. Normal filing online for one class is $225 to $325, depending on how you file.  Most WAHM (Work At Home Moms) who run a small business will only need to file in one class.  I filed in two, because my business includes selling supplies and selling finished garments.  Of course the USPTO (US Patent & Trademark Office) separated these…so my cost was $450.  More on cost later.
  2. Watch the videos on searching existing trademarks HERE.
  3. Do an exhaustive TESS search.  TESS stands for Trademark Electronic Search System, and you can access it HERE.  Before conducting a search, you may want to check out their helpful how-to page.  Start with a basic wordmark search, but don’t stop there.  For example, if you type in “Firefly,” you’ll get 1056 results.  Go through each one.  But don’t stop there…after searching with the basic wordmark search, go back and use the structured search and the free form search.  The links are all on the main TESS search page.  I realize this is going to take hours…but it’s worth it — unless you don’t care about throwing $225 per class down the toilet.  Once you pay, that’s it…no refunds, whether or not your trademark is approved.  It’s like the most stressful gamble EVER because you’re betting on a US government agency.  Do the search, then do it again.
  4. Now it’s time to start thinking about filing.  Go to the info page at TEAS (Trademark Electronic Application System) here.  Click the links for any parts of the process that are still a little fuzzy for you.  I suggest trying to go the TEAS Plus route, because a) it’s the cheapest, and b) if you’re computer savvy enough to file online, there’s no reason for you to not get your correspondence via email (the other two filing processes mail stuff to you…but hey, for a $100 discount per class, I’ll take everything by email, thankyouverymuch).  All three options are laid out clearly on the TEAS application page.  There’s a great set of videos HERE, which really walks you through the entire application process.
  5. Before you start to file, get your proof and photos ready.  Like many online application systems, this one can time out — so if you don’t have enough time at one sitting and if you don’t have your files in order, don’t start the process until you’ve got about 90 minutes to spare all at once.  If you’re creating a brand spanking new trademark, then you don’t need these additional files — but generally, most people file after they’ve already designed and used some sort of business mark because that’s when they realize they have so much time/effort/energy/dollars invested in the mark and its use.  You’re going to need photos as proof of this — hang tags, garment tags, business cards (though a business card isn’t going to be enough proof), signage in your store, brochures, flyers, etc.  You can submit multiple forms of proof, and I suggest you do this.  After my initial filing, they wanted more specific proof because my business card wasn’t specific enough…so I took photos of every single thing I could think of, and submitted them.  Nothing fancy — I used my cell phone and didn’t clean up the photos or anything.  If you use a business card, you just need to be sure that your business type is very clearly stated on the card, and it matches the class in which you’re filing.  If it’s vague, submit other proof as well.  A business card is sort of generic, but a tag sewn into a garment is very powerful.  If you do use a business card, be sure to take a photo of it — don’t just submit your original artwork file.  You need to prove you’re using this mark…and just having the digital file isn’t good enough.

    Some of the random proof I submitted.

    Some of the random proof I submitted…packaging, tags, etc.

  6. Stay in contact. You’ll get a few emails from the USPTO, but you’ll get lots of emails from various people and law groups telling you that you need their help.  You probably don’t.  In fact, the USPTO even warns you at the end of the application process that you’re going to receive unsolicited emails, so you need to be very careful about what you keep and what you trash — because sometimes these unsolicited emails (and even snail mail…more on that later) look official, and the USPTO emails blend right in.  Don’t accidentally trash something from the USPTO!
  7. If you need to add something later or amend your application, there are links here to do it. I did add additional proof about two weeks after my initial filing, and it was easy.  HOWEVER, a few months later the USPTO asked for the exact proof I’d already filed, so I am not sure just how connected these amendments and additions are to your actual initial application.  As soon as I sent these same .jpg’s again, the application was approved.  So just be diligent, and don’t be afraid to submit more than you think you need.  One additional hint: when I was asked to send additional proof, I noticed that some of my original photos were no longer attached to my application…so I resubmitted them, too (this is part of the “online application process that doesn’t save attachments after you close your browser” thing, and it’s totally normal.  Just submit them again).  Just something to check on, should this happen to you.  I was also asked to “exclude” claim to the word “fabric” unless it’s attached to the word “Firefly” or to my logo.  At first I freaked because I figured that was obvious (I mean, how can you trademark the word “fabric?”), and because I had no idea how to do this because it wasn’t part of the original application — but, of course, they actually give you suggested wording in the email; so all you have to do is follow their very clear directions, cut and paste the exact wording they give you, and you’re good to go.  If there are any issues, they give you the opportunity to amend your application, and if you take their exact suggestions, your application could be approved in a matter of a couple weeks.  As difficult as they make it sound in the beginning, once you actually apply, they really seem to go to great lengths to help you along.
  8. Follow up.  This is a slow process, but you can track the progress of your application online easily.  You’ll receive a US Serial number quickly, and you’ll need that HERE to track your application.
  9. Publication.  You’ll get an email, usually about 4-6 months after your initial filing, telling you that your application has been approved for publication (because you did such an exhaustive search first, right?).  But you’re not finished…as I unfortunately learned.  Anyone can file an opposition to your trademark, or they can file for an extension (companies and individuals have 30 days to file this sort of thing after the publication date).  As exciting as it was to see my mark in the USPTO Gazette, two days before the end of the 30-day window I received several postcards from random law firms telling me I needed their services to defend my trademark.  What??  I was confused, so I checked online…and sure enough, J&P Coats filed for an extension so that they could investigate how my mark was going to confuse and befuddle their customers.  Now, I could go off here about how stupid this is, how their “Firefly” thread isn’t even sold retail in the US (it’s thread treated with fire retardant for things like bullet-proof vests and fire fighter jackets, and obviously big manufacturing companies looking for fire retardant thread are going to be very confused and attempt to purchase it using their Paypal account from a garage roller skating dress sewing business with purple rhinestones all over the website, because yeah, it’s so similar and confusing), how their marks are registered in totally different classes, how they only registered the name “Firefly” with no logo or anything else, how stupid it is that a huge European company who used to have the total corner on the thread market would be so pathetically worried about a tiny little silly skating fabric company in the middle of nowhere, but I’ll refrain…

So anyway, I did a lot of research, and apparently there are attorneys who do nothing but file these sorts of things, and then they go back to these big companies to present their case to see if they’re willing to pay them to pursue it.  The man who filed against me has filed hundreds of these things (you can search for almost anything in the USPTO web pages!)  As of this morning, two days past their additional filing deadline, J&P Coats hasn’t given this guy the go-ahead bucks to come after me, so right now it looks like I’m in the clear!  Officially I have to wait eleven weeks for my final final final letter, but a quick email from the USPTO tells me I’m ok.

So that’s it — how to file in a long-winded nutshell.  To anyone who has made it this far in this very long post, if you’re thinking about a trademark filing, you can do it!  I found that the stress wasn’t in the application at all — it was in the waiting and wondering, which I still would have had to do anyway had I paid an attorney a few thousand dollars to do it for me.

Good luck, and happy filing!

ADDENDUM 5/12/2016: BTW, I received my official and very cool looking US Patent & Trademark Office certificate on December 8, 2015 — less than 9 months after my initial filing.  That may seem like a long time, but I don’t care…I’ve got the cert in my hot little hands, so I’m happy!  In fact, I learned today that the USPTO actually does a bang up job of defending trademarks they’ve approved without you having to lift one tiny finger…so if a trademark application comes in that seems to infringe a bit on one they’ve already approved, they reject it.  The applicant can always appeal, but the point is that there’s a reason these applications take so long…and if it’s because they’re doing all this work for me, I don’t mind one bit.  I thought I’d have to scour the Gazette every month, but nope — they’ve got my back, so I can get on with doing the stuff that made me file in the first place.

Recent Projects

Wow…I’ve been gone forever…

So much has happened recently…our trademarks were approved and registered (yay!), I finished dozens of pieces for regional and national skating championships, we sunk more money than I care to think about into our fabric business…it’s obviously been a crazy summer! And there are lots of changes coming for us this fall — I’ve retired from my camp job to devote 100% of my time to our fabric and costuming company, I’ve started several new product lines, I’m teaching several new classes, and we’ve started a tutorial channel on YouTube and Vimeo!

For now, however, I just want to share a few photos of one recent creation.  This is definitely just a tiny taste of what came out of the studio this season…more photos to come.

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The Explosion of Home Sewing Enthusiasts

A little off topic today, but here’s a Buzzfeed article I recently wrote…

Goodbye cyber cafes; hello sewing studios.

In Paris, you can rent a sewing machine by the hour to go along with your coffee and croissant. From Redondo Beach, CA to Manchester, England, sewing studios are providing opportunities for people to connect, share, learn, and experience a skill that, until recently, appeared to be disappearing.

But the art of sewing isn’t limited to these corner cafes. In places like Sacramento, CA, not only can you check out a book on sewing, you can also borrow a machine to go with it.  The Sacramento Public Library’s Library of Things program includes six BabyLock portable sewing machines, and based on the number of people currently in line waiting to borrow one, they could easily use about ten more.

According to a December 2014 report by IBIS World, fabric and sewing stores have rebounded from recessionary lows and revenue is projected to continually increase over the next five years thanks in part to the popularity of do-it-yourself fashion trends. Websites like Etsy, Craftsy, All Free Sewing, and Sewing.org are helping to spread the sewing love to both new and seasoned sewing enthusiasts.

Why the seemingly sudden surge in home sewing interest? Many sewists (the preferred term for someone who sews) began sewing as children, taught mostly by their mothers or grandmothers. Denise Golden of Arkansas states that in 1960 her “Nana gave (her) a Barbie doll, fabric and threaded needle and said make her a dress.”

Misty Littlejohn of New Mexico also learned from her grandmother.  “She was my mentor” says Littlejohn.  “Her funeral card sits with me now whenever I sew as a reminder of who she helped me become.”

Sandy MacMaster of Maryland was taught by her aunt. “She didn’t know what to do with a 13-year-old for the summer, so she sat me down at a sewing machine and taught me how to sew!” MacMaster’s further sentiments echoed among the more than 300 home sewists interviewed for this article: “She gave me the best gift I had ever been given and I blame her today for my sewing addiction. It was a true blessing from the heart, and she had no idea the positive seed she planted that year would blossom as it has!”

Casey Lee Snyder’s story helps show what keeps these young learners interested in sewing, while many other childhood pastimes fade with age.  “I learned how to sew by hand in Girl Scouts and was hooked” says Snyder, of North Carolina.  “Later in high school it was super cool to sew my own unique punk clothes. Now I make the cutest personalized clothes for my son and it’s the best!”

But not everyone learned to sew as a young child. According to Amber Balek-Lenius of Iowa , “I taught myself to sew because I couldn’t find clothes in my rural hometown that inspired me, so I made my own. This is the reason I continue to sew for myself and my family! I’m just too picky to shop at the mall.”

Her story is not unique.  Says Sara Girtz Brull of Texas: “My third child was born, finally a girl, and I could not afford the cute boutique clothes.  So, I started sewing.”

18-year-old Julia Michala Johnson of New Jersey “got really inspired to dress modestly and started sewing  (her) own clothes.”

Nicci Schroeter of Kansas says, “Home Economics wasn’t offered in the parochial school I went to…but I always wanted to be able to sew. So at the age of 46, I got a machine and am teaching myself.”

Amber Dalrymple of Indiana decided that rather than paying someone else, she would teach herself to sew her daughter special outfits. “Now I can design from my own ideas” states Dalrymple, “Instead of endlessly searching for something someone else has made.”

Still others have turned what was once a hobby into a full-time, often very lucrative business.  Donna Jordan of North Carolina says, “Although I had the desire as a child watching my mother sew, I started sewing later in life as a way to relieve stress. I got lost for hours. It’s meditation, and I come out with beautiful garments to wear to work. Now my garments are a part of the brand DonNaturaL.”

Candace Diane Bonilla of Oklahoma has a similar story. “My Mema taught me to sew when I was around 8 or 9” she says.  “I always looked up to her and knew one day I wanted be just like her. Now 16 years later I own my own business and sew everyday.” You can find her cloth diaper business, Teensy Trousers, on Facebook.

Mandi Budvarson of California started sewing full-time so she could be a stay-at-home mom. “My youngest is disabled” she says, “So trusting someone with my boys, especially him, was hard for me. It has now become a fun thing and my two boys like to help me and model for me.” Her store, Duo Jumping Bean Style, specializes in children’s clothing items and custom orders.

Tiara Cameron of Georgia started sewing when she wanted to use cloth diapers for her newborn son. Now she makes his clothing, her own clothing, and has a high demand for custom pieces for clients. Her store, Mommy and Mason, sells boutique children’s clothing “without boutique prices.”

Finally, Brenda Haas of Michigan started her home sewing business out of necessity. “My daughter Lucy dances…a lot. When I looked at the available leotards and dancewear I was very disappointed with what I found” she says. “One thing led to another, I opened an Etsy store…and I do a lot on Facebook.” Haas used to consider herself an “engineer by day, booty short maker by night,” but now works full-time creating pieces for her LucyLu Dancwear shop.

Inspired?  Interested in connecting with other sewing enthusiasts and aspiring newbies?  Check out these Facebook pages:

1. Sewing Inspiration and Tutorials. With nearly 39,000 members, this page caters to sewists of all levels. Administrator Daria Ross believes her group “gives home sewers and professionals a place to share and ask advice. We encourage and cheer one another on. The members share projects, tutorials, reviews, and so much more!” But in an effort to not scare away beginners, she emphasizes that “we laugh together and celebrate together, but I think the biggest thing we do together is learn. There is always something to learn when it comes to sewing, and with almost 40,000 members, it’s safe to say there is a new lesson almost every day.”

2. No Drama Mama Sewing.  There’s a  great mix of both advanced and beginner creators here. Get questions answered, seek advice, and get sewing machine assistance. For hobbyists and professionals alike, and a great place to vent when you just can’t get a sewing project to work right or when life prevents you from sitting at your sewing machine.

3. Sew and Tell.  A terrific community for sharing fabric store coupons, project ideas, and photos of your latest sewing project. This is a great place for newbies to get help, and to show off their creations in a kind, supportive environment.

4. Spandex Doesn’t Scare Me!  A small group compared to the others listed here. This group is focused on sharing ideas, buying/selling/trading spandex and other stretchy fabric, and asking for advice about sewing things like bathing suits, skating dresses, dance outfits, and leotards. A fun community of both beginners and professionals, and a perfect place to connect right before bathing suit season!

 

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…

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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emmafrontemma body

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…

April’s Challenge: Seeing Double, Sewing Double

So I stumbled upon a sewing collective called “The Monthly Stitch.”  Now, not to bash other collectives, but this one seems to be full of completely normal, nice people for a change…yet they approved me, so…

Every month they host a challenge, something of a goal, a way to spur creativity and set a deadline for those of us who really, really need it (for example, I can crank out twenty or more competition dresses in a month; I can really fly, if necessary, and make one start to finish in a day if I had to.  Yet I’m embarrassed to admit that I have outfits for my Ready-to-Wear line that have been cut out for weeks and are still not finished…).

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April’s challenge is simply perfect for me: “Sewing Double.”  Folks are asked to recreate an item that has worn out, remake a piece a clothing in a different fabric, or simply make two pieces from the same pattern.  However, since this is a creative activity, I am allowed quite a bit of leeway, which is great — since I just received an order this morning for a new custom piece (and I definitely, definitely need a deadline for this, as it’s not something that makes me wake up and think, “Wow!  I get to work on this today!”)

So my personal “Sewing Double” challenge is going to be team dance outfits (Get it?  Double?).  All I know is that they’ve been commissioned in black, in a fabric I don’t particularly care for, but one that should be easier to use than the velvet upon which I usually rely.  It was either this, or get to work making a dozen or so club dresses now (double times six), the likes of which probably wouldn’t make for G-rated reading after about day two.

The last tux I made

The last tux I made

If you’re interested in joining the collective, check them out by clicking “The Monthly Stitch” icon on the right side of the page.