It gets really hot and super humid here in the Washington DC area in the summer and I live in loose cotton dresses all summer.
Read my blog about shopping in Singapore in 2013.
A special "Everyday" dress
It seems most of the time people sew clothes for special occasions ... and then these special garments get worn once or twice. But what about comfortable clothes that we wear everyday? Why not sew something special in that category?
It gets really hot and super humid here in the Washington DC area in the summer and I live in loose cotton dresses all summer.
Diving into my stash I found this nice cotton, a block print from India that I bought in Singapore during the trip my husband and I made to South East Asia a few years back. I love it a lot and been saving it for something I would wear often.
Read my blog about shopping in Singapore in 2013.
In my pattern drawer is this old, probably out of style, pattern I have at home and is exactly the kind of dress I want.
Even with a loose fitting garment like this, it will save a lot of time to make a muslin of, at least, the bodice for fit. And I did have to take it in a bit and change the shape of the armhole so it wouldn't gap so much.
One of the reasons I like this fabric so much, is because it is a border print. I have 2 meters which is a little longer than 2 yards. The skirt will be 2 yards with the border along the hem. That leaves just enough border for some along the top of the two pockets ... BUT!!! this fabric is only 44" wide. If I cut the skirt as long as I want it, there is not enough length for the bodice. I am going to have to do something tricky and put a seam across the middle of the bodice.
Time for a little planning on the back of an envelope. So, I figure if I make part of the bodice on the bias, the seam will look like a design feature instead of a mistake. Which it is now.
To make the borders show as much as possible, I will hem the pockets and skirt with strips of fabric and just use a 1/4" seam when sewing it on.
Here is the front side and back side of the pockets. See how I ran a gathering stitch at the corners to help evenly ease the curve.
I will need LOTS of bias to finish the neck and armholes and hem the skirt ... EEK! I am running out of fabric.
I'm liking it so far.
Pressing the bias hem facing up and ...
Top stitching with grey thread on a grey stripe.
And what you see in the palm of my hand is all I have left ... PHEW!
Now for buttons. I don't want to go out shopping. This is supposed to be totally out of my stash. But, I don't like the grey buttons, or the purple, buttons or the triangular mother of pearl buttons ....
But WAIT! I totally forgot about these buttons I bought when I was working on some Steampunk style costumes. They are perfect with the spirals just like the fabric.
Dress done and back to the garden ... a never ending job.
Thimbles are worth the trouble
This is my hand wearing a thimble while slipstitching the back of some bias tape. I use a thimble for 90% of the hand sewing I do and regret the 10% of the time I'm too lazy to fish it out of the drawer thinking "this is only a tiny bit of hand sewing." And then end up with a hole at the end of my middle finger totally ruining my fingernail in the process.
This is me 40 years ago working at Brooks Van-Horne in New York city. (Thank you Martha McCain, who took this photo. This was the year we met. I was her assistant.)
This was a huge multi level costume shop that did everything from Broadway shows, to opera, ballet and especially the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus each year. The magenta petticoats hanging from the ceiling are probably for the Circus showgirls. I'm standing next to a costume for an opera entitled "Angle of Repose" being made for the San Francisco Opera ... but I digress ...
The reason I'm showing you this photo, besides the fact I can't believe I was ever that young, this was the time I learned to use a thimble. I starting sewing at age 10 and didn't use a thimble until I was about 23 because every time I tried it slowed me down SO much. It felt like trying to sew with my feet.
But, this wss the first time in my life that I was sewing 8 hours a day and most of it was hand sewing. At this shop the jobs were very closely defined. There were the machine operators who did ALL the machine sewing and I was not one of them. My job was to cut, pin and hand sew. My middle finger was aching. So after struggling through a week of awkwardness, all of a sudden the thimble felt like a part of my hand and I was able to sew much faster!!!!
This is my current collection of thimbles. I need a variety of sizes because some days my fingers are a bit puffier than other days. And often, after sewing with one thimble for a while, my finger gets compressed and I need to switch to a slightly smaller one. Otherwise the thimble just keeps falling off my finger.
Here are the same thimbles from above. If you notice the one in the middle is now oval. That is my very, very first thimble purchased to sew in that costume shop above. It has become finger shaped over time.
And, yes, I know there are all different kinds of thimbles made from more comfortable materials. I've tried so many kinds of plastic and leather ones, but still prefer the good old tried and true metal ones.
So, this is just my personal take on thimbles. As with anything, there are many schools of thought and practice.
I love this set of photographs showing how using a thimble is like holding a pencil. I got this at Brooks Ann Camper Bridal Couture. Use this link to read her entire blog about thimbles. It even includes a great video tutorial.
This is how I hold my thimble. I pinch the needle between my thumb and first finger and use the side of the thimble to push the back end of the needle through the fabric. This is the traditional way. Interestingly, I am left handed, but cut, iron and hand sew with my right. I think because my mother's sewing room was set up for a right handed sewer.
And to conclude this blog I will share with you two things I learned to speed up hand sewing.
#1 Take several short stitches (5 - 10) pulling the thread just enough for those small stitches THEN pull the full length of the thread through. This is what I am doing in the photo above.
And #2 If you are sitting down to do a lot of hand sewing, thread a bunch of needles at the same time.
OH! and one more ... for fast buttons, snaps and hooks and eyes ... sew with quadruple thread!
All learned at my first professional job, still used today.
I love theater, which includes grand opera. Theater was my sewing training ground. So when my husband and I went to see Madam Butterfly at the Washington Opera the costumes caught my attention and threw me off at the same time. This is a very serious and sad story and the costumes almost looked like cartoons or clown costumes.
Each act started with kimonos in all those bright graphic prints hanging in front of the curtain. sorry ... Hard to see with the lighting here.
Then the singers came on stage and they were wearing kimonos similar to the ones hanging in front of the curtain. And particularly weird were the suits of the two western characters, Pinkerton and Sharpless. The sort of western style suits they wore were also made of all different fabrics and colors. This didn't work for me.
Then I realized the costume designer, Jun Kaneko, was the artist who made all these fun ceramic bears I'd seen a few months back in the hallways of Kennedy Center.
Don't they look like the kimonos?
Here he is next to some of his really large sculptures.
So, he is Japanese and was asked to design the sets for Madam Butterfly. But, after he started working on the sets he asked to do the costumes, too. This is a very conceptual production.
Before he started designing the sets and costumes he went all over the United State and saw every production of Madam Butterfly he could for a year
Here is the set alone. This stays up the entire opera with only a few screens being pulled in and out, sometimes with very interesting projected images. This set really pulls you into the story. It's a bit hypnotic actually.
The screen on the right had stripes and dots (do you see a theme here?) that represented the night sky. The screen on the left was pulled in and out many times. It represented the walls of a Japanese house and was used with great affect for shadow drama.
Another very cool thing were these mute actors dressed all in black with the squared off headdresses. They were called upon to be all sorts of things during the opera, such as a table, a servant or someone to deliver a prop. What ever was needed.
So, I said this was a really sad story. Actually if you know the story of the Broadway musical Miss Saigon, it is the same story as Madam Butterfly. She kills herself at the end. Here was another very effective use of the screens with projections. As she stabs herself the red dot on this screen starts to drip and flow like wet paint or blood. Very powerful along with beautiful singing and lush music.
This link will take you to a short synopsis of the opera plot.
I started wondering how the story of this opera came about. The program said it was partially based on an auto biographical story written by a French sailor in the 1880's. I found it on line. The link below will take you to the site where it can be read for free in several different formants. It describes 19th Century Japan from the eyes of westerner ... very interesting.
Read Madame Chrysantheme
But, this is a sewing blog ... so back to the costumes.
As I said, I didn't know what to make of them at first. They didn't seem to suit the story, but by the end of the first act I fell in love with them, except for the western men's suits. See how this kimono has one long sleeve and one short one? I like the inventiveness and it kind of represents Butterfly's confusion, how she is living in Japan, but thinks of herself as the wife of an American man.
If you are interested to see more photos from the Washington Opera's costume shop click on the link below.
To see more costume shop photos, read the Washington Opera's Blog post about making these costumes by clicking this sentence.
There are many different kinds of costuming and all is creative. But this is the kind I admire the most. Good costumes play such an important part of good theater!
Jam Time! ... a break from sewing
Taking a break from sewing. Which is a good thing to do since last week I let you all know about my hand/wrist and arm problems. Not sewing for a week and I'm feeling much better!
I started canning jams about 3 years ago after my mother passed. She had been providing everyone she knew with endless jars of wonderful Boysenberry Jam and Orange Marmalade for years. Going back to store bought stuff just seemed too sad.
I tried one batch of Marmalade using the store bought pectin she always used, but it came out runny. I tried to cut back on the sugar. Canning is a bit like a science. Things need to be precisely measured. So I've come to the conclusion that it is better to eat a small amount of something that tastes really good (albeit high in calories) than something that has been altered. So, I make the full sugar stuff these days although I now use recipes that use a bit less.
I do what is considered small batch canning. I usually get about six 8 ounce and two or three 4 ounce jars with each batch.
I simply follow the instructions that come with the Ball brand jars and "process" (boil) the jars for 10 minutes. If you live at high altitude the time is longer. It is important to follow all their instructions to get something that is shelf stable.
I've invested in some specific tools, this jar lifter is essential and that metal disc at the bottom of my pan was my mothers! You need something to keep the jars from sitting on the floor of your pot. Many such things can be purchased or in a pinch you can put a folded towel there.
Strawberry done ... onto the Marmalade. Cathy Barrow, alas, does not have any recipes for Marmalade in her book, so it's taken me a while to find one that works without the commercial pectin.
I use oranges and lemons taking the skin (zest) off first. They get cooked for a while before adding the rest of the chopped up fruit and sugar.
Store bought marmalade is usually JUST the peel with a bunch of sugar water. My mother's and my marmalade use the whole fruit. So yummy!
I'd give you the link for this recipe, but I'm using elements from several recipes ... still working it out. This batch came out pretty good though. I put some Cointreau in it at the end ... that helps!
I ended up with more jars than I could fit in my pan, so I put 3 of the smallest jars in a separate pan with a folded towel at the bottom to process.
By the end of summer I will probably make 3 or 4 more batches as the fruit becomes available at my Farmer's Market. Oh if I only had enough sun in my yard to grow my own like my lucky sisters who live in California do.
It's a good idea to label things with the date. Technically jams like this are stable for one year, but I've kept them for up to two and it has been fine.
The best part is I now have all occasion gifts for people all year long! They are a nice thank you when my neighbor waters my yard when I'm on vacation. They are a nice thing to bring when invited to dinner. I send a few when I want to give Christmas gift that the recipient doesn't have to feel obligated to give something back.
AND I think of my mother every time I spend an afternoon doing this.
I love my job ... really I do. BUT it is a job, which means I have to do it even when I don't feel like it and even when I am not feel well. AND even if I am having some physical problems. Which is what I want to talk about today.
I have been diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and multiple trigger points along my right neck and shoulder.
I alway thought I would never have to deal with repetitive stress issues because I'm rarely in the same position for long. I'm at my cutting table, then the sewing machine, then the ironing board, then at a dress form and at the computer, too. But, last fall my entire right arm started going numb every night in bed. And sometimes my right hand would loose feeling while I worked. So, finally, I got myself to the doctor, who sent me to a physical therapist.
We all have projects that HAVE to get finished, even if sewing is done for pleasure, so I want to share some of the stuff I learned. Maybe you can avoid my problems or at least know what can be done, if you have similar issues.
I now own 4 wrist braces. They help a lot.
The first (beige) one is great for heavy work like gardening. But, a friend of mine had the more delicate pale blue one (made for women, by women!) so I bought one, loved it, and now own two so one can be washed while wearing the other. They get dirty really fast. So I've taken to cutting the fingers off a surgical glove and covering it while I work to keep it clean.
I can work all day with it on. It is very comfortable.
Also, I am trying to pace myself while I work, breaking up the different tasks, so I'm not literally sewing for hours at a stretch like I used to do in my 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s without blinking an eye!!!
Now, if I have sewn for too long a period. I wrap my wrist with a ice pack for 15 minutes or so. I keep this in the freezer at the ready for when I'm sewing.
My 4th brace is for sleeping ... it keeps my wrist in a neutral position all night. Otherwise it will go numb.
My therapist and I talked about ways I could modify my workspace. She said it is best to work with your elbows by your side with your forearms at a right angle. So, I lowered my ironing board a bit since I use my sleeve board all the time which was requiring me to lift my elbow quite high when holding the iron.
Because of the trigger points in my shoulder I have gone back to using my lighter home iron as much as possible. The gravity feed iron only gets used when I must have LOTS of steam.
To save stress on my right wrist I bought the largest rotary mat I could find.
I use my right hand for scissors ...
But am really a lefty, so use my left have for rotary cutting, which I am doing as much as possible, even to cut patterns.
Although, that back fired on me. I was rotary cutting so much that my left shoulder started hurting so now I alternate scissors with my right hand and rotary with my left depending on how I'm feeling at the time.
Last and really, really not least is stretching and warming up everyday.
This whole experience has made me think of sewing as an Olympic Sport. We need to warm up, sew smartly and cool down with ice, if necessary. There are lots of suggested hand, wrist and arm stretches to be found on line. And doing them is probably never bad.
BUT, please, if you are having problems that won't go away. Go to a professional. They can tell you what's best for your specific problems and massage you, etc. There are more things that can be done, that I may have to resort to. The first is a cortisone shot and then final solution is surgery to release the carpal tunnel, which I really, really, really don't want to do, although many people have said it is a routine treatment. I just don't like knives. For now, I'm managing.
Please write in, if you have dealt with similar issues and have devised ways of dealing. I feel your pain ... or numbness ... !
I am a commercial pattern maker who is now "sewing over 50"!
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