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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:

AG Doll Clothes, Vintage Version, With Bed and Trunk

December 31st, 2011 11 comments

They’re vintage because I made them for Noilette, when she was very little.   Years ago, before Mattel bought American Girl, the dolls (and their clothing) were excellent quality (unlike the books, which, despite their “educational” pretensions, are pretty weak all around).  The size of these girl-shaped dolls makes sewing for them fast and rewarding; you get a lot of bang for your sewing efforts.

Running across various posts about others’ AG sewing prompted me to finally get out the camera and immortalize Noilette’s collection.  Here are the garments I made for her AG dolls a long time ago. (And, at the bottom of the post, pictures of the trunk and bed I made for her, too.)

First up, a sou-wester slicker and hat, made from a flannel-backed table cloth, and lined (badly, I’m sorry to say) in navy nylon.  The dark nylon is why the coat looks darker than the unlined hat.  You can’t tell here, but the brim of the hat is elongated, just as it would be in a proper, full-sized version.  The coat’s collar is a very, very fine pinwale cord, in brown.  Much more comfortable than PVC next to the chin!

The back of the slicker has a little vent:

The little chrome “snaps” are fake; there’s hook-and-loop underneath.  All of these items were made on my Pfaff 1229, and most of what I’m posting here was made from American Girl patterns. Does Mattel still sell them?  They were quite wonderful.

Here’s a prairie dress, complete with bonnet, simple bloomers, an apron (with pocket) and a floating pocket that also wrapped around the waist.  I’m not sure why I made a pocket on the apron, since it’s a bit redundant.  Because I could?

You can barely see the “growth tuck” about an inch above the hem.  That’s so frugal mamas could let the skirt down as the child grew taller.  The hem is faced with blue gingham; I did that on a couple of the garments, probably  just because it seemed like fun.

Moving forward to Victorian times, here’s a very badly wrinkled little cotton pinafore, trimmed in rick-rack, with a pink gingham dress underneath, complete with mini leg o’mutton sleeves:

My iron and I are not getting along these days.  I have a vague recollection that I made Noilette a matching outfit.

Naturally, I made a full-circle poodle skirt, though it’s very much the worse for fuzz.  This wasn’t the best quality felt around.

Here’s a surprisingly badly-made tutu.  I’m not a fan of pink, and I see that I managed to find a rather mauve-y shade for the leotard:

There was only one slipper in the trunk when I unpacked it today.  If these little treasures get passed down someday, I’ll have to make a new pair.

Here’s another dress; a generic drop-waist style that, I think, was also supposed to be from around the turn of the century:

I know; wrinkle city.  It’s all-cotton.  Those are little, tiny, woven checks.  Lovely stuff!

This little sweater set was supposed to have matching mittens, and may yet acquire them:

I didn’t use a pattern for these, just copied some larger ones.  Fitting was not much of an issue, so they worked up very quickly.  I think the checkerboard pattern on the hat may be traditional; anyway, I liked it a lot.  The figure on the hat is skirted, wiht doubel stripes between, all around the crown.

I’d forgotten about this little sweater:

It was also a very quick knit, but I was surprised at the infinitesimal button holes.  Easy to do, though, since you  just drop a stitch, and then pick it back up.


I’m not sure what possessed me to use quite so many buttons.  Probably an attempt at miniature verisimilitude.

This is my favorite outfit:

It’s a separate blouse and skirt, with a little Russian flair.  The hem is faced with red-and-white gingham checks.

This Victorian cape set, complete with beret and gaiters, is made of practical polar fleece, and lined with the same navy nylon I used to line the sou-wester.  Wool would have been authentic, though probably not if it were white.

The collar has a lovely shape, only part of which can you see here:

Little corduroy overalls, with a pocket on the bib, and the same faux snaps as on the slicker:

The turtleneck is open down the back, and closes with hook-and-loop fasteners.  It’s not very inspirational, but a necessary accessory.

Naturally, there are nighties in the collection.  This one is of a lovely heavyweight all-cotton flannel, with ruffles at the shoulder, wrist and neck, as well as mauve ribbon woven through lace trim on the bodice:

Everyone needs a cloud nightie, don’t you think?  Noilette had a matching one, of course:

I made the wooden trunk Noilette’s doll wardrobe is store in, as well as the wooden bed that fits inside.  I love unexpected challenges, and, at the time, my father was handling the plumbing, so I had to look elsewhere for projects, unlike these days.

The bedding is just a ticking mattress, with matching pillow, and a little quilt — a thin quilt, like the ones my great-grandmother used to make.  She used flannel for the batt, so that’s what I did, too.

Naturally, I used scraps for the patchwork, and the doll’s doll is wearing a copy, sort of, of the white flannel nightie.  Yes, those are miniature Little Golden Books.  I hate them, and wouldn’t allow them in Noilette’s library (not that the issue came up), but apparently I thought they were good enough for dolls!

I’m no pro at stencilling; I was very relieved when this turned out.  However, I think that was because I faked it, and pencilled the design, then painted it.

The trunk lid is made of extremely thin plywood, like that used on vintage plane wings, and nailed and glued into place.

Because we had cats, I made a cozy for the lid; the elastic needs replacing, but it still provides protection from the depredations of the current herd of cats:

As it turned out, Noilette was never very fond of dolls, possibly because, unlike her mother, she has always been very social and very fond of living, breathing people.  Nonetheless, she still appreciates handmade things, and one day may pass all this stuff down to a child of her own.  If not, it may eventually become someone else’s treasure.  Or not .  .  .  regardless, her mother had a great time constructing every piece, and that’s quite enough, all on its own.

Categories: Misc, Vintage Tags:

Zoë

December 16th, 2011 6 comments

Peter, of blogging fame, is apparently not content with collecting a small army of sewing machines, or an actual army of Ken dolls (all of whom look as if they’re ready for some sort of leisure-suited Armageddon).   Nooo, now he’s gone and acquired a Patti Playpal doll.  From a Manhattan thrift store.  For the grand total of 15 dollars. (She’s even wearing her original pinafore!)

Does Peter have supernatural help in finding these things?  Or a secret army of spies, ever-alert, walking the sidewalks and scouting the shops? Because the most exciting thing I ever found in a Manhattan thrift shop was a Sherlock-Holmes-style cape with moth holes and several buttons missing.

But I digress.  Peter, meet Zoë.  Admittedly, I didn’t score her from a consignment shop on an exotic island, but she’s just as useful for freaking out the spouse:

I did, however, make her myself.  Or, rather, I designed and made her inner armature myself, modified her body, and assembled her limbs and head.  (Without the armature, she’d have been relegated to life in an assistive device).  Her skeleton is made of flexible plumbing tubing, which makes her less stable than Patti, but more posable.

Mr. Noile finds her creepy (and this from a guy who used to feed baby dolls to a giant preying mantis puppet!  Talk about creep factor!).  He was pleased to learn that Michael felt similarly about Patti.  And no, I don’t sew for Zoë, but I do have a whole box of 1940s and 1950s children’s patterns in the attic, and, next to Patti, Zoë’s apparel looks awfully modern, doesn’t it?  Maybe I should do something about that.  There may not be enough eccentricity in the world already.

What?  You say that I haven’t posted on this sewing blog since August, and then I write about a life-size doll?  Yeah, what of it?

Categories: Misc Tags:

MPB Day!

August 15th, 2011 No comments

I’m back home after several days in New York, including a Saturday spent celebrating (the first annual?) Male Pattern Boldness Day.

(Photo cribbed from MPB; that’s our fearless leader, front and center, looking, as he himself points out, quite tall.  How did he do that?  I think he’s discreetly en pointe, myself!  But you can hardly tell .  .  . )

Peter was a most amiable host and shepherded a good two dozen of us through a perfectly planned day full of New York City treats.  (We even met Michael, though he was a bit difficult to spot in the sea of humanity that we were at Brown Cup for lunch.)

Those of you unfortunate enough to have missed the day are encouraged to enjoy Peter’s excellent re-cap; I suggest that you do this immediately; those of us who are regular readers of MPB realize that a day that starts without an MPB post is hardly worth getting up for.

Since I’m leaving recounting the actual day to Peter, I’ll  just sneak in a few random notes here, to immortalize the unexpected joys of any day in New York.

For example, as I was walking from one floor to another of the Chelsea Flea Market, I discovered this marvelous vehicle parked in front:

It’s a Thunderbird, of course, and according to its owner, a 1957.  Of course, it’s owner is obviously a madman, since he actually drives this treasure in Manhattan.

Next to the Brown Cup, where we all ate lunch  (just down the street and around the corner from FIT), was a little Korean place, apparently run by the same people. It smelled heavenly, and they sell Kimchi pancakes.  Next time!  (Peter vouched for them, too, so they’ve got the MPB endorsement, though, sadly, not nearly enough seats for 25 ravenous fabric tourists.)  No picture, I’m afraid; too busy eating a tasty avocado and mozzarella sandwich from the Brown Cup at the time.

Kinokunyia is always full of surprises; we got there too late for me to buy onigiri for my trip home the next day, but many of us were treated to the sight of these otaku:

(Along with lots of Japanese sewing books, Kinokunyia sells a ton of manga.)

On the north side of Bryant Park, as I was heading off to do one last errand before packing in the day, I saw these portable racks of books (a “Reading Room”) for visitors to read while sitting in the square:

(For the electronically-inclined, or those of us, like me, who often have a rooted Nook in hand, Bryant Park, like many parks in the city, also has free wi-fi.)

In other news, I’d actually seen Peter at Metro Textiles on Thursday, where I’d gone to find some wool for a jacket. I hadn’t recognized him, go figure.   (Some fan, huh? — hey, it’s all about the fabric; focus, focus, focus!)  Kashi, Metro’s proprietor, isn’t usually open on Saturdays, so I’d figured (correctly) that Metro wouldn’t be on the agenda for MPB Day.  I even spoke to Peter’s shopping companion, Lynnelle, because the wool she was holding was such a great color.    On Friday morning, I realized my error when I saw Peter’s post, and the photos of both Peter and Lynnelle.

Metro Textiles is on West 37th Street, and it’s a great place to find fabrics at much better prices than you’d think, but it’s very hard to spot these days.  Kashi is on the third floor of a rather elegant-looking building which has had this rather inelegant looking façade for far too long:

No need to remember the floor; the men who operate the elevators are expert at spotting Metro shoppers!

All in all, it was a splendid day.  What else has Peter got in store for his legions of fans?  I wonder .  .  .

Categories: Misc Tags:

Münchausen-By-Cat

July 27th, 2011 6 comments

Sally lives for the day when anybody is sick.

She’s been known to herd people to the bedside, madly hoping one or more will spend the day sick in bed, next to the desperate cat.  A laid-up human!  Oh, the bliss .  .  .

Categories: Misc Tags:

Buttons Galore

July 23rd, 2011 6 comments

I think JoAnn’s just supplied me with the button box of my dreams.  It’s sad, though:  At least in my area, JoAnn isn’t  going to carry JHB buttons any longer.  I walked into our local stores and discovered that all JHB buttons were on clearance, priced at 25 cents to 97 cents.

Here’s the haul, spread out on a table:

Guess I won’t be buying buttons for years!  It might be worth a trip to your own local JoAnn to see what you can score, although the walls I encountered were well-stripped even before I got to them — my haul was fron the dregs.

Some dregs!  I’m a happy camper, but sad that this line won’t be locally available any more.

By the way, I stapled like cards together before tossing them in the box.  That way I’ll know exactly how many of each set I have without undertaking a frantic search when I need specific buttons later.

Categories: Misc, Tips Tags:

Tilton “Original”? Vogue 8761

July 17th, 2011 8 comments

Have you seen this new Marcy Tilton pattern, Vogue 8761?

Have you ever noticed the logo in the upper right corner?  It’s Marcy Tilton’s logo:

If you can’t read the small print under, it says “Vogue Patterns Designer Original”.  Vogue, and Marcy Tilton, want you to know that you’ve just paid for something special:  an original design by a “designer”.  This is (allegedly) something you can’t get anywhere else.

On the back of the pattern, you can see this:

It says:  “SOLD FOR INDIVIDUAL HOME USE ONLY AND NOT FOR COMMERCIAL OR MANUFACTURING PURPOSES ONLY.”  There’s a copyright notice above this line; that means that Marcy Tilton and Vogue own this design, and no one else can profit from it.

Well, that seems fair, doesn’t it?  Marcy Tilton (and Vogue) are selling you the right to make items from this pattern just for your own personal use.

They are reserving the right to make money off this design, because it’s their own, original design.  Marcy Tilton has put sweat, effort, and presumably, development expense, into designing this pattern so that she can sell it, first to Vogue, and then to you.

EXCEPT  .  .  .   EXCEPT that when I bought this pattern, I was wearing this bag, which a fantastic company named Baggallini has sold for years:

This is the Baggallini Uptown bag.  That shiny plate on the front says “Baggallini”.

And, at that moment, at home in my closet, was this bag:

(Yeah, all rumpled.  It didn’t know it was going to get its picture taken today.)

This one’s my favorite Baggallini bag of all time, the Milano, which Baggallini was selling a long time before this Tilton pattern became available this month.

Baggallini is an interesting company.  It was started by stewardesses who wanted better purses for travel.  You know, just people who had a good idea and thought they might grow a business from it.  Kind of like what a designer might do, too, when starting out — imagine things, create them, and grow a business.

At first, Baggallini  offered very utilitarian bags, but in recent years, they’ve gotten more adventuresome, and now offer new, more fashionable, lines.  The Milano, above, is from their trendiest, the “International Collection”.  Apparently, it’s catching quite a few eyes.

Here’s the line drawing for the Tilton pattern:

The differences between the Tilton “designs” and the Baggallini bags are inconsequential.  Vogue/Tilton have even used exactly the same, somewhat unusual, closure for the view B bag as the one that is sold on the Baggallini Milano.

These two bags in the Vogue pattern are not “original” in any sense of the word.  The “designs” were Baggalini before they were “Tilton”.

Although both Tilton and Vogue license this pattern under terms that do not allow you to profit from their work, they apparently, have no problem profiting from someone else’s labor and development, themselves.  They just don’t want to be the ones ripped-off.

Nothing in the pattern, on the Tilton site, or on Vogue’s site, indicates that this pattern is authorized, or licensed, by Baggallini.

This is a particularly interesting situation since it calls into question the value of the Marcy Tilton brand.  What kind of “designer” offers previously marketed work and repackages it as his or her own?

Any one of us might buy a Baggallini bag and copy it.  Home stitchers do this, or some variation of it, all the time.  BUT IF THEY ARE ETHICAL PEOPLE, THEY DO NOT SELL PRODUCTS MADE FROM OTHER’S DESIGNS. And this isn’t a case of someone making one of something for personal use; it’s a case of a “designer” selling something that looks virtually identical to something already on the market, made by another company entirely. And backed by a major publishing house.

This example is particularly interesting, too, because not one, but TWO, unoriginal designs are sold in this pattern envelope — both, seemingly, from the same source.

Marcy Tilton is not a home sewer; she is a person who has made her name, and her livelihood, on theoretically original designs that she creates.  When you buy a Tilton pattern, you are buying Marcy Tilton’s “vision”, her aesthetic:  Something, theoretically, you can’t find elsewhere.  Except, it seems, when you can.

It makes me wonder if somebody saw all those Etsy sellers getting ripped off, and decided that, really, it was OK to lift whatever would sell, because who, really, would notice?

I did.  I have a closet full of Baggalini bags, and I love them.  I buy them because they are clever, stylish, and easy to wear and use. Apart from ethical and legal considerations, Baggalini deserves more respect than this.

And there’s that other nagging question:  Why design at all if you can just take what others have already done and claim it as your own?

If there’s a good explanation for this I’d just love to hear it.

Update 7/18/2011:  A reader has written to let me know that there is a link to Baggallini on Tilton’s website.  Tilton recommends the Baggallini Rolling Tote on her “Life Tools” page.

This confirms that Tilton is familiar with Baggallini products.

The mystery regarding the release of two designs that so closely mirror Baggallini’s, under the Tilton name, without any mention of Baggallini, still baffles.  It’s odd that the designs are so obviously similar, yet no explanation is offered.  This seems a strange choice when the lack of an acknowledged link is virtually guaranteed to raise questions.

Categories: Bags, Misc Tags:

Quality control. Of a sort.

June 25th, 2011 5 comments

The cat who used to be the baby of the family thinks the sewing room is incredibly boring, which was a much-appreciated surprise, as Baby is incredibly persistent, and forgets nothing that interests him.

We have two new boys, though, and one of them loves to spend time with me in the sewing room.  Leo is a very lazy relaxed fellow and, unlike Baby, refuses to jump up anywhere.  Leo respects the gates we have all over the house:  Baby sails right over the gates, but Leo refuses to.

Naturally, I assumed my sewing table was safe.  I was wrong.  Apparently Leo can do a standing leap from the floor to above my waist if sufficiently motivated.  And his persistence more than matches Baby’s.

I do not find his assistance helpful.

We reached an accommodation:

Leo is another BIG cat; he’s also a Maine Coon, like our Emma, but with different coloring.  He probably won’t be full-grown, though, for another year or so.

Categories: Misc Tags:

FIT Exhibit: The Sporting Life

June 16th, 2011 2 comments

One of the myriad nearly-secret pleasures of New York City is the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.  Admission is free, and the gallery is always full of slightly eclectic, fascinating garments.  Until November 5, 2011, the exhibit is “The Sporting Life”, and featured clothing runs the gamut from the 1800s to the 21st century.

Sadly, photos aren’t allowed, and, generally speaking I’ve found that the photos released for publicity by FIT rarely illustrate the scope of the collections.  The current exhibit is no exception, and it’s a pity, because there is so much detail that is wonderful to discuss, and it’s very difficult to do that without images.

Here are two “sporting” outfits, both from the late 1800s, among the very few photos available online:

First, a two piece dress by Haas Brothers, with a middy blouse (I do love me a middy!):

The contrast looks orange here, but it’s not; even 117 years later it’s a bright, clear red.  The trim is a white flat soutache braid used in triple rows around the collar, hem and cuff, and double rows on the tie and belt.  The belt has no obvious fastener; just a diagonal keeper. It’s dressy athletic-wear, 1894 style!

Second, this gym suit, for more active young women:

I’m guessing that waist is about 18 inches, and perhaps it was corseted even for sport, but it does make for a marvelous profile, doesn’t it?  Careful examination (don’t you wish all clothing exhibits were staged with mirrors showing the reverse of the garments?) revealed that this, too, is a two-piece garment.  There’s a small peplum that tucks into the trousers below the very fitted waist on the top.

Another secret:  There are neat little buttoned tabs at the side waist, and longish openings at the side seams.  This suit has a drop seat!  Was it actually used as such?  Or was that just a simple way to accommodate entry and exit?  The collarless, side-buttoned blouse is classic; we’ve seen more than a few like this in the decades since.

Oddly, all of the other PR photos show what I found the least interesting of the garments:  A Patagonia jacket; generic biking jerseys; an OK Tom Ford Gucci ski jacket and an eh LaCroix beach ensemble — all of them from the 1990s.  There’s so much more to see, and many more decades represented than just these two.  I wish the bait had been a little more varied — or that I’d been allowed to show you far more of what I loved seeing!

Above, the Patagonia jacket.  Meh.  Clean design, but .  .  . more commercial than spellbinding.  It might be stupendous in a technical clothing exhibit.  Perhaps, thirty years from now, this will be a curious relic of a distant time in sportswear.  Today?  It just doesn’t seem either ground-breaking, nor particularly representative of a compelling era.  Design-wise, these garments are more utilitarian than cutting edge.  Don’t get me wrong; I love utilitarian clothing, but this sort of thing, like the biking jerseys, seemed out of place in an exhibit that generally celebrated the idea of sport as interpreted by designers responding to cultural change.

Among the rest:  Anne Cole’s “scandal suits” from the 1960s; a fabulous (fuchsia?) neoprene dress with box pleats, a bouffant skirt and a tiny waist; plus fours for golfing;  men’s (and a woman’s) shooting jackets; and a really odd Gaultier ski suit that resembles a cozy mattress cover; and much, much more.

Everything was interesting to one degree or another, but the outfit that amazed and astonished me was a sporting outfit from the mid-40s designed by Claire McCardell.  Think skinny leggings (black) topped with a sleek trim jacket, subtly and narrowly striped in black and gold.  A zipper up the front that terminates in a deep collar — almost a cowl, but with no excess fabric.

The zipper is closed only to the base of the collar; one side of the open collar stands up, the other is folded over.  (Verrry chic!)  Long, slim sleeves are finished with just a touch of elastic hidden in the hems.  There are nearly hidden vertical pockets — all you can see is the hint of the zippers — just at the side, and below, each breast.  Matching boot/shoes that are the same stripe as the jacket, and almost pixie-ish — except that they are the height of era-less style, and not cute at all.  To die for — and eminently wearable today, a mere seventy or so years later.

Categories: Misc, Vintage Tags:

Toilets Can Be Fun

May 29th, 2011 4 comments

Really.  When you do your own repair, you get to be quirky:

1952 toilet (the date of manufacture is stamped inside the tank), 2010 push button.  Fun, no?

I did this repair a couple of years ago, but decided that I’d post it, just to round out the recent plumbing series.

Related:  The Kitchen Sink, Sinking, Not Sewing , and Plumb Done

Categories: Misc Tags: