Archive for February, 2012

Material Politics

February 21st, 2012 6 comments

Bunny has sung the praises of Walmart’s faux leather, and has made some amazingly creative bags using it.    Though I’m not convinced that its competitors are a lot better, I admit that I’m no fan of Walmart, and I try to avoid shopping there.  That’s not difficult to do, but several times a year, for one reason or another, I do find myself wandering the aisles in search of something I can’t find elsewhere.  Last time that happened, I found this:

It’s a woven, herringbone tweed corduroy.  Be still my heart!  From a distance, it looks like a deep, charcoal gray. This is my dream fabric (sad, I know — I must have been imprinted to corduroy when I was too young to resist).

I couldn’t believe it when I spotted this out of the corner of an eye while power-walking through the store.  It’s all cotton, from Pakistan, and was $4.47 a yard.  Next fall, it’s going to be, I hope, a favorite pair of pants, and maybe trim on a pair of Au Bonheur jeans.

Several years ago, Walmart pulled fabric from most of their stores.  So many people complained that they’ve now begin carrying material again, along with a selection of notions, and an expanded craft inventory.  Walmart’s prices are one-third to one-half those of JoAnn; the flannels are thicker and better quality, and Bunny’s synthetic leathers are much nicer than any I’ve seen at JoAnn.  However, the notions and fabric selections are extremely limited at Walmart; it would be awful if it were the only local source for these goods.

Walmart’s cotton wovens are, generally speaking, nothing to write home about, and our local store, at least, has very little of interest in the way of knits.  Stock is very  much a hit-or-miss proposition; it’s like a consignment shop, in the sense that  it’s best to buy what you see immediately, since it may never return.  I’m sure that some inventory is made to order for Walmart, but suspect other items are mill ends; oddly, it seems that Walmart does a far better job of quality control than JoAnn, even for what look like remainders — go figure.

The last few pieces I’ve bought at JoAnn were also produced in Pakistan; it’s likely that the same factories turn out goods for both companies.  That’s how it works in China, and it’s probably reasonable to assume that Pakistan follows the same model.  I’m not thrilled abut buying from either country (anymore than I am about shopping at Walmart), but avoiding doing so has become nearly impossible.  It’s also getting more and more difficult to find anything interesting stocked locally (except at the crazy, unpredictable, and eclectic JoMar), so I end up feeling grateful for the occasional treasure, like this cord.  The old days, they’re not coming back; it’s a case, maybe, of adapt or die.

Categories: Misc Tags:

Trike and Trekking

February 16th, 2012 16 comments

Cidell and Trena will not be impressed, but I have a new vehicle (new, that is, as of last fall):

It’s my favorite form of transportation around town (though I’ve also taken it on vacation).  It’s much lighter (only 62 pounds) and smaller than any similar vehicle I’ve seen, and riding it feels amazingly like flying on a two-wheeler.  I love that cargo basket; surprisingly,  it’s saved me a bundle in gas.  Who knew?  (The basket, by the way, folds down if you’re not carrying cargo.  I almost always am, so mine stays up, but the versatility is  a nice feature.)

The rear basket holds groceries and anything else I need to haul — I’ve made a few trips to and from the hardware store — but I wanted a way to keep my bike lock in the basket without needing to attach  it to the frame while riding.  I also wanted to be able to carry miscellaneous things without worrying that they might fall out, or through, the basket.

Naturally, then, I made a liner.  It’s orange ripstop — not my preferred choice of color, but not many people cycle on the streets where I live; visibility trumped any aesthetic considerations.  I plan to do a more refined version once I know how I’m using it, so I just winged this one.

Here’s the layout of the main pattern pieces, along with a fetching picture of my helpful assistant.  The assistant in question is big — the main fabric piece runs about 40 inches from side to side.  The sides of the basket are angled, so I measured top and bottom, and then drew the center strip right on the material — down one side, across the bottom, up the other side — and cut it all in one.  Then I cut the two side panels, and connected them to the center strip.

My assistant was a bit put-out when I began sewing, and, I’m afraid, found himself literally “put out” when he insisted on helping more actively.  Let’s just say that he ‘s not a bobbin’s best friend.

The liner top was cut to fit across the top of the basket, and attached to the body of the liner with zippers.  Because this was a quick and dirty project, I took rough measurements and cut flanges to go around the top flap, and then connected zippers to them.  The zips are two lightweight robe zippers, and I arranged them so that they open behind the seat, rather than in the back.  It’s a nuisance deterrent, like the flaps, so that it’s not immediately obvious how the liner opens, and so that it can’t be easily accessed from the back of the trike.

This is one  feeble sewing job, I’m afraid.  Sadly, that flange is not attached carefully at all, thanks to my having whipped this up just before taking off on a bunch of errands that required the liner, stat.  The corners are a mess, with some gathers and puckers instead of neat joints.  (I guess that makes this a usable muslin, right?)  The liner is held in place with hook and  loop fasteners, but I plan to replace them with snaps and snap tabs if I don’t remake the whole thing.  The liner costs a bit, aerodynamically speaking, and I’d like to be able to drop it to the bottom of the basket when not carrying cargo, to eliminate wind resistance when the basket isn’t full.

This is a hybrid vehicle, meaning that it has an electric assist, which I thought I’d need regularly, partly because I remember the clunky and incredibly heavy adult trikes of old, which weighed over 100 pounds — which is to say, most of my own body weight.  However,  I rarely use it unless I’m climbing a hill so steep that my current level of physical conditioning can’t handle it.

Because of an intermittent balance problem, I thought I’d never pedal again — and I’m thrilled to have been very, very wrong about that.  Though most of my ramblings around town are considerably shorter, I’ve taken several trips from 12 to 15 miles long, and loved every minute.   That’s not at all impressive if you’re a serious cyclist, but it’s not bad for a former couch potato.  And did I mention that I can break the speed limit in parts of town?  Without electric assist?  (Just call me Hot Dog.)  (OK, I might need a hill in spots, but this is a light trike, and it flies!)

I’ve been told that this nifty little vehicle is used in refineries, where nimbleness and and the electric motor are necessary advantages.  It’s turned out to be the perfect vehicle for me, too.  I love not having to drive into town, and knowing that I’m getting exercise even when I’m picking up human fuel at the grocery store.

By the way, guess which demographic LOVES my red trike?  12-22 year old males — go figure!

Categories: Adventure/Travel, Misc Tags:

Exterior Pockets for the Minoru

February 12th, 2012 4 comments

I’ve been dithering, seemingly forever, over what to do about exterior pockets on my Minoru jacket.  I even wrote a blog post rounding up choices other sewists had made, in an effort to sort out what might work best for me.  They were all good options, but I quickly decided that patch pockets were the answer.  It took a lot longer to figure out what kind of patch pocket I wanted.

Andrea B’s pockets were the ones  I kept remembering.  I really like the way she incorporated the pockets into the side seams, and decided I wanted to do the same thing.  I copied that feature, squared the corners, curved the top edges, and added cross-grain trim:

It’s difficult to see here, but the left side is curved to match the Minoru’s side seam.  The right side will be parallel to the front placket on the jacket, about an inch and a half from the placket seam.

I always line my patch pockets, and interface them, too.  Both steps increase their durability, and help with shape retention if you use pockets as avidly as I do.  Instead of cutting the lining in one piece, I used the trim pattern to make a self-facing of corduroy — my main jacket fabric — which is not only nice to touch, but also adds to the stability of the pocket.

Here’s a closer view of the crosswise trim.  Dark purple is nearly as hard on detail as is black, but you can probably get the gist:

(The raw edge — the one that goes into the jacket side seams —  is on the right,  here.)

Stitched together, these pockets are about 12 inches by 10.5 inches.  They’re big, but that’s no accident!  The Minoru pattern allows for far more ease than I needed in the hip area, so I don’t anticipate the size will be a problem for me, but hip ease is something I would have had to think about if the tolerances had been smaller.

There’s a loop inside each of the pockets.  If my pockets don’t have a closure, I like to be able to clip things inside them, so that I don’t find that I’ve lost something when tossing the coat around.  When I’m in New York, my MTA pass case will be clipped onto this loop, and the other one will be useful for keys or my pocket camera or whatever else.

Here’s the pocket set in place on the front of the jacket:

I still haven’t added the front plackets or, of course, or the zipper, and I won’t be able to tell how these work on the jacket as a whole until I can baste the side seams together, but, at the moment, I’m pretty pleased with the way they’ve turned out.

This is what the pattern pieces look like.  (I did this on the fly; can you tell?)  There’s a 5/8ths of an inch seam along the joint between the pocket and the trim, and another 5/8ths inch seam along the side that lines up with the sides of the jacket.  Everywhere else, I used a 1/4 inch seam; I prefer this when making patch pockets, as it means I can turn them without having to trim anywhere except at the corners.

There’s one last structural dilemma to resolve before I can do the final assembly of the coat shell:  how to handle the drawstring I want to add to the hood.  I’ll probably never use it, but I’ve got both red elastic cord and purple toggles, so how can I resist?  But that’s for another post.

Categories: Jackets Tags:

Vogue 8771 – The Sweats Version

February 9th, 2012 10 comments

I’m supposed to be sewing my Minoru jacket, but other things have taken precedence, and I still haven’t gotten to it.  Fortunately, the sew-along is moving at a relaxed pace, so I’m not out of time quite yet.

In between some critical house projects, I did manage to sew up this weird and wonky tunic.  I’m desperately searching for some alternative to rectangular sweatshirt tunics to wear around the house.  I live with five toddlers cats, so I need some serious, indestructible shirts to loll about in.  This looked as if it might fit the bill, and I knew it would make up in less than an hour.  My assessment was right on target.

I don’t think this is a flattering style on anyone, although doing the front panel in a contrasting color might help.  (So would having the proportions of the women in Vogue’s illustrations, which I’ve never seen on a living person  It’s always a bad sign when the pattern company only shows a pattern in sketches, with no photos.)

Back view:

The full sleeves exaggerate the width of the top, and make it look clumsy and super-wide.  For wearing comfort, this is excellent.  For style, not so much.

The sleeves gather into the gauntlet-like cuffs, which run from the elbow to the wrist. (The sleeve is unhemmed here; I was still making up my  mind about the length.)

I actually think this is very practical for a wear-around-the-house, utility garment.  The top is nice and warm, but the fit is so close along the lower arm that the sleeves stay well out of the way when performing domestic tasks (or sewing, for that matter).

The “tail” on the tunic is very long, but the front isn’t quite long enough — when it rides up, as it inevitably does when worn, it neatly arcs over the lower crotch area on my leggings.  This is fine at home, but perhaps not the effect anyone would prefer when running around in public.  The rear hem length does a nice job of making leggings respectable, though.

This pattern is meant to be sewn in something drapey and fluid.  I didn’t do that.  Instead, I used some black sweatshirting I’d picked up at that “craft”  store that sells fabric, because sweats were what I needed.

Although it’s priced at $13 per yard, this stuff is the nastiest sweatshirt fabric I’ve ever seen.  My local JoAnn stores have replaced their sturdy but wearable 60/40 cotton/poly sweatshirting with this dreck, and it’s awful.   I did realize, to my horror, that it was almost all polyester  before I bought it, but, hey, it was for knocking around the house, so I figured I could live with that.  What I hadn’t counted on were the sparkles (yes — sparkles!) in the material, which I assume are all the hard plastic bits that give it a truly awful hand once it’s washed.

Do.Not.Buy.This.  Even at steep discount!  It’s worth — and I use the term loosely — four dollars a yard at best, but only if you’re upholstering plywood with it, or doing something similar.

See the horrible little plastic flecks?  Yuck.  The alarming plasticity of this stuff made it poof peculiarly where the sleeve curve met the bodice.  That’s my fault, not Vogue’s, due to my choice of fabric.  I edge-stitched all around the sleeve seam, which reduced the plastic pouf a bit.

Because there was absolutely no stretch to my material, I cut the size Vogue recommended (it’s usually waaay too big for me), and used a smaller-than-usual seam allowance.  I also raised the neckline; I think Vogue’s doesn’t work very well, and makes the shirt look more droopy than drapey.

Would my result be more flattering if done in a lighter weight knit?  Possibly.  Maybe I’ll give it a try.  I do like the cut of the center panel, but the unflattering sleeves, not so much.  Overall grade:  Meh.

(Ignore the baby gate in the background.  Did I mention that we had a houseful of toddlers cats?)

Categories: Tops Tags:

Minoru Pockets

February 5th, 2012 2 comments

I’m supposed to be participating in the Minoru Sew-Along, but a variety of things have conspired to keep me from tagging along as Tasia leads the group.  I’ve cleared the decks, mostly, but am stymied at the moment because this jacket really needs pockets.

Tasia provided a link to Amy’s tutorial for in-seam pockets (which includes a downloadable pattern for the pocket), but I really am not crazy about the idea of having the pockets in the side seams.  It can work, but . . . eh.

So I’ve decided to do what any good researcher would:  Survey the literature.  Here’s what I found:

Michele, of My Own Inspiration, added welt pockets to her Minoru.  They’re beautifully done, but I’m not so sure that I’m in the mood at the moment for something so fiddly.  I think the welt style works perfectly with the Minoru, though, and probably suits it best.  I like the  Minoru lines very much, and the welt preserves them nicely.

Rocket Sews is making a rain jacket from the Minoru pattern, and made a welt pocket with a flap; she  matched her lively print so well that the pocket is almost invisible!

Andrea B, of four square walls, made patch pockets, using an accidental shape that’s rather cute.  She used scraps, and ended up with a fun and funky touch on her jacket.

Sophia Sews took a look at another pattern, and re-cut the bottom of the Minoru’s front to make a different version of in-seam pockets.  Clever — and also puts the pockets into a very natural position for use.

All good ideas, but what do I want?  I’ve got some thinking to do .  .  .

Categories: Jackets Tags:

Not Martha/Not Sewing

February 3rd, 2012 No comments

(With apologies to the actual Not MarthaReal Martha, America’s favorite domestic diva and best-known upper-crust felon, wouldn’t be impressed with this project, either, but there you go.)

Our pull-down attic stair was replaced recently, first, with a horrible, flimsy aluminum ladder that swayed when it was looked at, and then by a sturdy wood ladder which has its own shortcomings, but is stable and strong.  I’ve finally stained and sealed the attic panel and trim.  Here it is, taped up and nearly ready for my tender ministrations:

The carpenter who did both installations was apparently pretty annoyed at having to re-do his first faulty job, and, whether through pique, carelessness, or incompetence, managed to destroy the trim around the opening when he removed it for the second time.  This was a problem, as all of the (matching) trim in the house is 60 years old.  The color — ancient varnish and stain from technologies long gone — was not easily replicated.

A really helpful guy at our local hardware store patiently opened can after can of stain for me so that we could figure out what would look as close as possible to the old trim.  So this is what I did this week, instead of sewing:

It’s not a perfect match, but it’s very close, and we can live with it.

Both stair sets came with white strings, and flimsy white plastic pull tabs.  Control is important when raising these panels, and the plastic tabs were hard to hold onto.  A ring would have looked great, but could have led to finger amputation, so I replaced the tab with a T-shaped lawnmower pull handle. The T shape allows us to get, and keep, a good grip without risking any digits, and, as a bonus, it’s also comfortable to hold.

However, the metal faceplate was pretty tacky.  I covered it with a little bit of rust-colored Ultrasuede (which should probably be dark brown, instead):

I also replaced the white nylon cord with a sturdier black cord, which won’t show dirt nearly as  readily.

Staining the stairs seemed like an unnecessary aggravation, but I did stain and seal the hand rail, since it gets constant use, and holding onto what would have eventually become a grubby rail was not a pleasant prospect:

That aluminum-looking, textured silver stuff above?  It’s an insulated cover that isolates the attic from the rest of the house with a thermal barrier; it helps keep heating and cooling bills lower.

I made one other improvement when the ladder was first installed.  The pull cords were just threaded through a hole drilled in the wood.  I think that’s sloppy, so I added a washer on the inside:

When the cord is pulled down, the inside knot rests against the washer.  Continual use of the cord won’t wear away the edges of the washer, as it will an unreinforced hole drilled in bare wood.

Most useful new trick I learned on this project?  The helpful fellow at the hardware store sold me this full, round, brush; he said it was the best tool for applying the urethane to the grooved molding trim.  It gave me a beautiful result with less effort than a rectangular brush would have required, and far better, and more even, coverage.  And it really was much easier to use than a conventional brush.

It’s not sewing, sadly, but it did need doing.  Sewing is best, but getting these projects out of the way is satisfying, too, even if it’s a rather different type of satisfaction.

Categories: Home, Misc Tags: