Duct Tape Mannequin, Check!

It’s been a while — thanks for sticking around…

(BTW, if you’re only interested in the mannequin tutorial, scroll down to where the photos begin!)

The skating world is so weird sometimes; I know people who protect their costume ideas for each season more carefully than they protect their passwords, bank PIN’s, and in some cases, their true ages. I’m always very secretive about costumes I’m working on whenever it’s requested by a client — this is why you won’t see photos of most costumes in progress, or photos of finished costumes until after they’ve been worn.  If I’m secretive about the dress I make my own daughter, it’s usually just because I’m not sure if I can actually do what I set out to do in the first place, so sharing details about her dress really doesn’t matter because what she ends up with is generally pretty far from what I originally planned anyway.

This year I’m going to try something totally different: I’ll document the entire process, beginning to end, because honestly this idea is so ridiculous that if someone else is crazy enough to want to copy it, more power to him or her.

The basic dress is black, because she’s “earned” the right to wear it (many skating folks have some odd theories about certain things, and wearing black is one of them). I’ll use mesh dyed to match her exact skin tone so that it completely fades away on the floor.  But between the black bodice and the nude neckline, there will be loads and loads and loads of ribbon embroidery. Embroidery done 100% by hand. By my hand. With non-stretchy silk ribbon. 261 yards of silk ribbon. 261 yards of hand-dyed silk ribbon. 261 yards of hand-dyed silk ribbon in 42 colors.

Yep. This is why I’m not worried about this insane idea being copied.

The first step in the process was to figure out how to embroider non-stretchy ribbon onto a stretchy base fabric. Usually embroidery is done with a hoop that holds the fabric taught, so that the ribbons and thread don’t create bunching, pulling, and puffing. The problem with doing this on stretchy fabric is that the hoop would over-stretch the fabric in some parts, under-stretch it in others; this would leave bumps and gathers everywhere  when it’s worn, rendering the whole mess totally unwearable. I needed to figure out how to replicate the exact stretch of each part of the dress while it’s being embroidered, so that everything lays flat and nice when it’s being worn.

Since I couldn’t really ask Emma to wear the dress for what I’m estimating will be 200 hours while I embroider it on her actual body, I opted to recreate her so that I’d have a perfect form, a makeshift “hoop” if you will, on which to embroider these hundreds of flowers.

I’ve seen so many different methods of doing this, so after much research I decided my best bet was to use paper tape — the kind used for packaging, with a pre-gummed backing that is activated by water. Supposedly this method dried harder and stronger than using duct tape, so that’s how we began. Over the course of the next several hours, we learned many ways how not to create a personal mannequin, which I’ll go over below.

CREATING A PERSONAL MANNEQUIN

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Emma, my model, with Ditty (this stands for DTE, or Duct Tape Emma)

Step 1. THE ASSEMBLY

You’ll need the following:

*Tape (more on this below)

*Sponge/water if you use water-activated packaging tape

*Tight fitting clothing that covers everywhere you want the tape to go;  clothing you don’t mind sacrificing, since it will be forever attached to the inside of your mannequin (as you can see in the photos below, I made her little spandex arm sleeves because the sleeves of her t-shirt weren’t long enough to cover her to the elbow)

*Scissors

*Hair dryer (if you’re using paper tape, you’ll need this to speed up the drying of each layer before adding a new one)

*Lots of stuffing materials (we used last year’s AP World History papers; you can use newspaper, scraps of fabric, really anything you have laying around)

Tape is easy to cut when your model holds the roll.

Tape is easy to cut when your model holds the roll.

Sponge with water, for activating the paper tape glue.

Sponge with water, for activating the paper tape glue.

A word about tape: in my photos, you’ll notice that I started with paper tape, but ended with duct tape. The edges and ends of the paper tape just didn’t seem to be laying flat enough for me. I wanted a smooth finish, but it looked like feathers on a bird, with all the ends sticking up a little bit. Maybe it was the quality of the tape I used, maybe it’s just the characteristic of paper tape, maybe it was just me…but in the end, I preferred duct tape. Nashua brand seemed to be just perfect for this; it didn’t fray, and it was easy to pull off the roll in one piece rather than having it split (which was the case when I moved onto my second half-roll of tape, which was a different brand).

FYI: Emma is a fairly small person, and we used 1/2 roll of paper tape (with a full roll being 114 meters) and a full roll of duct tape (well, two half-rolls). Had we done the entire thing in duct tape, I would have used 2 full rolls, so plan accordingly.

Step 2: THE PREPARATION

Have your model use the restroom. Be sure he or she is wearing underwear that you don’t mind ruining, just in case you accidentally cut through it. I was able to pretty easily slide the scissors between the clothing and the undies, but this might not be possible with every model, so it’s better to assume the underwear will be ruined and then be happy when it isn’t. Also, soft shoes (or flip flops) would have been nice. My model was barefoot, which grew sort of annoying after standing on the hard wood floor for a couple hours.

Cut pieces of tape ahead of time! I found that I liked shorter pieces of paper tape, if you choose to go that route.  I also found that cutting slits in the edges of a lot of pieces made them lay flatter (cut slits like you would on a curved sewing edge).

Shorter pieces work best, with slits cut in the edges to form to your model's curves.

Shorter pieces work best, with slits cut in the edges to form to your model’s curves.

Step 3: THE WRAP

X marks the spot...

X marks the spot…

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Base starting to form.

With your model in his/her tight-fitting clothing, start by wrapping a large X across the chest. If your mannequin will have a crotch and thighs (great for leotards and pinning on skating skirts, since most dressforms don’t have a crotch and instead stop just above the hip!), one long piece between the legs is a great way to start as well. I found that my model’s t-shirt was just way too big (but it was the only one she was willing to destroy), so it took quite a few foundation pieces of tape to get it to fit snugly. You want those clothes tight against the body, so be sure to wrap the tape so that there is no gap between the tape and the model.

Start adding pieces horizontally at first, and then vertically. Use those shorter pieces with the slits on the edges to fit curves (like bustline and shoulders, especially). If you´re using paper tape, be sure to let each layer dry before adding another (this is where the hair dryer comes in handy).

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TIMEOUT #1: WHAT NOT TO DO

BIG MISTAKE. Don't use clear tape. Ever.

BIG MISTAKE. Don’t use clear tape. Ever.

So I was having a hard time getting the paper tape to lay snug against her body — there seemed to be a bit of a gap, so I really wanted to cinch it in. Sitting on the table happened to be a roll of clear packing tape I’d just used to mail some things, so I figured it would work well to really gather in that excess tape and make the base of the mannequin really fit. Well, it DID do that…as you can see from the photos, it really drew the excess tape together and created a very nice silhouette that matched my model to a T. Great, right?

Wrong. DO NOT USE CLEAR PACKING TAPE. EVER. Paper tape won’t stick to clear packing tape, so everything started sliding around after that. What a mess! Skip the clear tape and go straight to…

 

 

 

DUCT TAPE TO THE RESCUE!

Duct tape for the win!

Duct tape for the win!

20170221_163408I was about to just give up on the whole damn thing when I decided to try to raid my husband´s work bench to see if he had any duct tape laying around. Of course he did, so I tried to salvage the mess of wet paper tape and packing tape by just wrapping her up in a few pieces of duct tape. It worked perfectly! So we finished by covering the entire paper tape base in duct tape.

A WORD ABOUT CROTCHES…

I hate mannequins without legs and a crotch, since most of what I do involves a leotard of some kind. This is where things get dicey, and it’s really important that you’re *ahem* close to the person you’re wrapping. I’ve seen a lot of duct tape mannequin tutorials, but only one bothered to go below the hip. If you’re going to go through the trouble of making this thing, go ahead and do it right — give yourself some legs!

Step 4: THE ESCAPE

When you’re convinced that your model is sufficiently wrapped (no clothing showing through, at least two layers of tape absolutely everywhere (three or four is better), it’s time to cut. You want to cut through BOTH the clothing and the duct tape — the clothing becomes part of the mannequin.  Take care around the underwear/bra areas, as it’s tricky to differentiate clothing you want to leave in the mannequin and clothing you want to leave on the model! I started at the back of one leg and sliced all the way up through the center of the back to the neckline. We also cut slits in each arm, about half-way up to the shoulder.

Have your model carefully wriggle his/her way out of the form, moving slowly so that the form doesn’t become misshapen.

Step 5: THE REPAIR

Taking care to line up your seam precisely, tape the escape slices shut again.

Step 6: THE STUFFING

Tape closed the leg and arm holes.

Crumple up your paper and slowly start stuffing your mannequin, being sure to really fill it…if you leave large air holes or gaps, your mannequin will eventually cave in. We stuffed it pretty tightly so that when pressed, it barely gives beneath your hand.

YOU’RE FINISHED!

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In the end, I think we accidentally did this the perfect way: start with paper tape to give a strong, sturdy base, and then end with duct tape, to really make sure the fit is exact. Our mannequin’s measurements are EXACTLY my model’s measurements, except for a 1/8″ difference in the bustline (because my mannequin’s boobs turned out a little uneven…I don’t know why, but with only 1/8″ difference, I really don’t care. That’s close enough for me…I mean, 1/8″ can be the difference between Bra A padding and Bra B padding, so it’ll be fine). So I now have a mannequin I can stick pins into, leave around the house to spook the dog, or hey — use as a ribbon embroidery form.

To Be Continued…

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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

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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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!

 

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…).

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…