Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Darts and drawing

Class began yesterday with the instructor returning our two past assignments to us. Out of a possible five points I earned four and a half points on one assignment and three and a half points on the other. The first assignment had to do with topstitching and edgestitching. The second assignment required us to line up two seams to make an intersection, and it also involved topstitching. On both assignments I lost a half point because not all of my stitching lines were perfectly straight. I lost a full point on the second assignment because my seams did not line up perfectly; they were off by less than the length of a stitch, but off is off. The instructor explained that we must be able to line up our seams perfectly. There was no partial credit for being close. Seams that lined up earned one point; ones that did not line up got no credit. I will do better next time.

The topic for the day was darts. I enjoyed making darts, and I think I did it well. I expect I will earn the full five points for this assignment. It turns out I have been making darts for a few years now, and I did not know I was doing it. I use darts on the pants I make for dolls. I just thought it was a good way to make the pants fit better. I never knew there was an official name for what I was doing. I wonder what else I have been doing.

At the start of class I made sure I got a good machine. I did not want a repeat of last week. There were a few minutes left in class after I finished my assignment, and most of the machines were no longer in use, so I decided to try a few of them. I found two machines that are much better than any other one I have used. I plan to use those machines as much as I can.

In the evening I attended my first fashion sketching class. I did not know what to expect, and I was worried that my lack of drawing skills would leave me unable to complete the class work. I need not have worried. Many of my classmates are as bereft of drawing skills as am I. We have a great instructor. Everything was explained clearly and the class was interesting and fun. This made the work a lot easier than I thought it would be, and while I still would not call it easy it was doable. By the end of the class I had produced the best human figure I have ever drawn.

The class is a non-credit continuing education course. It meets only five times. I want at least a full semester of drawing class, and I will probably need more than that, but this class is a good start. I hope to find additional drawing classes at UW-Stout, and I plan practice drawing on my own. Sewing and design skills are more important than drawing skills, but to be truly successful I will need them all.

Fashion sketches are supposed to have elongated legs, but I got a little carried away with my elongation. All aspects of my sketching need improvement, but I think I should work on legs first. I suppose that in a way it is a little encouraging to think that with my current level of skill all I can do is improve.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The September Issue

I saw The September Issue yesterday. It was a very good movie; I recommend it for everyone, not just those with an interest in the fashion industry. I will describe my thoughts about the movie in a moment, but first I have some things to say about the experience of seeing it.

The movie is playing at only two theaters in the Twin Cities. I chose the one that is closest to my home. I had never been to that neighborhood before. I knew it is in a more affluent part of town, but I did not know how affluent that area is. I saw some very nice houses on my way to the theater. Like most upper middle class neighborhoods, this one has narrow winding streets with lots of traffic lights and stop signs, so the traffic was horrible. I guess those who own a Lexus, BMW, or other luxury cars prefer to drive slowly so that others may see them and know how successful they are. I felt out of place in my Saturn. Upon finding the theater I learned it is in what seems to be a fashion district. For a three block stretch all the stores seem to be upscale apparel stores, boutiques, and jewelry stores. I got there early so I had time to window shop. I saw a number of pieces I liked, and I got a few ideas for items I want to make. I am not ready to attempt them yet, but I hope to be by the end of this semester.

This week is MNfashion Week. There are many events going on throughout the Twin Cities, and I plan to attend a couple of them. But had I known what event was going on in that neighborhood I would have gone to see the movie a different day. It was "Ladies Night Out." There were 28 people in the audience for the movie, and I was 50% of the audience's male component. Many of the shops on the street were hosting special promotions for women. I am comfortable going into an industry that is predominately female, but last night I felt quite out of place. I need to get over my lingering insecurities or at least plan my outings better.

And now on to my thoughts about the film. I regularly read Vogue and Teen Vogue. Anna Wintour is a god of the fashion world. My teachers will teach me how to design, but she will teach me what to design. And more than anyone else, it is she who decides whose designs will sell. I usually picture Mrs. Wintour sitting quietly in the front row of every fashion show, wearing large sunglasses, and displaying no emotion. It was nice, and hopefully useful, to learn something about her and how she works.

There were two non fashion related topics in the film that I found quite poignant. Every computer shown on screen in the movie was a Mac. Did Macintosh enter into some sort of agreement with the film’s producers, or is Mac the chosen computer of the fashion industry? I own two PCs. UW-Stout provides all its students with a free computer. Most students get PCs, but apparel design students are given Macs. The other non fashion topic was coffee. Mrs. Wintour is often seen with a cup of coffee. I drink a lot of coffee. In a scene in Mrs. Wintour’s kitchen a French press coffee maker can be seen on the counter. I use a French press! The knowledge that Anna Wintour and I share a preference for something, even if that something has nothing at all to do with fashion or apparel, provides me with a boost to my confidence.

I was eagerly looking forward to seeing what goes on behind the scenes at Vogue. For the most part the movie did not disappoint me, but there was one topic I felt deserved a lot more coverage. The September, 2008 issue of Vogue was a record breaking 840 pages, but only 120 of those pages were produced by the staff of Vogue. The remaining 720 pages were advertisements – six pages of ads for each page of content. The movie was about the 120 pages. While I am more interested in what went into those 120 pages, I also wanted to learn the story behind the 720.

Despite that one shortcoming I found the movie fascinating, entertaining, and often humorous. I also found it to be quite scary and intimidating. Tremendous amounts of skill and creativity are required to become a major fashion designer. I hope someday to be good enough, but it is still far too early in my career to know if I have what it takes. In addition to all that skill and creativity, designers require lots of luck to make it big. For every big name designer there are hundreds of unknown designers who are just as creative and skillful but not as lucky. I know I want to work in the apparel/fashion industry, but I have not yet progressed far enough in school to know exactly what I want to do. My schools (MCTC and UW-Stout) offer programs in apparel design, not fashion design. I do not think I want to work in high fashion, but I still dream of having something I designed on the cover of Vogue. Should I plan for a career working for an established design house or apparel company, or do I shoot for the stars? It is too early to tell, but at least I do not yet have to make the decision. Ask me again in three or four years. Hopefully by then I will have a better answer. For now I will just work on improving my skills.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Good machine, bad machine

The focus of yesterday’s class was precision sewing in small places. We were working with small pieces of fabric where a single stitch out of place would be a problem. We expanded on one of the techniques we have used before and added some new stuff. And our projects did not involve any 5” x 10” rectangles. Class has not yet progressed to the point where we are making actual apparel, but we have started working with pattern pieces and we put together some pieces in the way will for apparel.

We had two in-class projects yesterday. We called one a shirt and the other a skirt, but neither one is wearable. The shirt was just a piece of muslin in the shape of a shirt back to which we attached a second piece of fabric with a label. The skirt was just a big rectangle. Both pieces required edge stitching, and each piece involved one new technique for us. The shirt had a mitered corner, and we used a gathering foot for the skirt.

I knew the two projects would be more difficult than anything we had done before, so I wanted a sewing machine that would be easy to use. A few weeks ago I used a Consew 230 and was very pleased with it, so I decided to use one again. This taught me a very important lesson: it is not the make/model of machine that matters, it is the machine itself. I was at the machine for more than 90 minutes, and I spent far more time ripping out stitches and cutting new pieces than I did sewing. Eventually another machine became available, so I switched to it. It was another Consew 230, but the difference was amazing. On the first machine I was unable to sew a single acceptable seam; on the second one everything I did came out well on my first try. I used one more machine yesterday. There was only one gathering foot for the class to use. Each classroom has one machine in front that the instructors use, and that was the one to which the gathering foot was attached. I very quickly discovered why that particular machine was the one the instructors use. Of all the machines I have tried so far, that one was the easiest to use. I had no problem controlling the machine’s speed. It was almost as easy to use as is my home machine. I do not like blaming the machines for my shortcomings, but when there is so much difference in my work from one machine to the next then perhaps it really is the machine’s fault.

Next week we may start using the overlock machines. Our homework assignment is to buy the fabrics we will need for the overlocks, but I do not know if we will actually start using the machines or if the instructor just wants to make sure we all get the correct material. A few students already went shopping for it and bought the wrong stuff.

I start the Fashion Sketching class next week. It is a non-credit continuing education class, but I am still quite nervous about it. I have never possessed any drawing ability. Perhaps it is simply because I have never received any training, but I worry that I might just lack the required skills. Well, I will find out soon enough.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Topstitching, edgestitching, and two side projects

My instructor began class today by returning to us our assignment from last week, and I am pleased to say I received the highest possible score, five points. Today’s assignment involved topstitching and edgestitching. It was a lot more difficult than seam lines; I expect to earn four or four and a half points for this one.

I have found there is often a huge difference between machines. It is not a matter of different models or brands of machines behave differently, rather each machine has its own personality. Some machines are faster or more sensitive than others. Today I chose to use the fastest machine in class. I knew there are easier machines with which to work, and that by using the one I chose I would make my work a lot more difficult, but I think that if I can become comfortable with the more difficult machines then my work with all the machines will improve. It was the machines sensitivity, not its speed that I found most daunting. I would tentatively apply a little pressure to the pedal, and nothing would happen. I would slowly apply more pressure, and suddenly the machine would take off like a rocket. Once I got it going I could control it well, but the first few stitches of any seam or line were a little hectic. However, after working with it for three hours I began to feel good about it.

This past week I completed two small projects at home. Neither one was a class assignment, but they were both sewing projects of my own design, so I will include them in this blog. The first project, while not a class assignment, is still for class. I am pleased with the design, but the execution could have been better. It is not bad; I would just like it to be better. On the other hand, this was my first bag of this type, it is a lot more complicated than any other bag I have made, and I learned a lot while working on it, so I consider this project a success. Now that I know what I am doing with this bag design the next one I make will be a lot nicer.

My other project combines apparel with my other design medium, chainmail. Before I provide any further details of this project there is something I must explain. I wish I did not need to state this, but at times I feel I cannot stress it enough. There is a huge difference between designing outfits for dolls and playing with dolls. I DO NOT PLAY WITH DOLLS. I have been making doll apparel for a couple years now. It is nice to be able to make a full outfit with less than one yard of fabric.

I began by dressing this fine laddie in a shirt, kilt, and pair of boots so he can look sharp while wooing the lassies. Then I equipped him with some armor in case he should need to defend his home from the English.

My homework for next week is to bring two yards of muslin to class with me. I do not know what we will be doing, but I know that we will not be working with 5” x 10” rectangles again. I am looking forward to new shapes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A new sewing machine and Walmart

Today in class after spending some time practicing seam allowances we learned about topstitching. I used a Juki machine today. I need a lot more experience on industrial machines, but I see myself getting better every week. I wish class met more than once per week so I could use the machines more often. I hope that once I am at UW-Stout I’ll have regular access to industrial machines.

The real excitement happened over the course of the past week. I bought a new sewing machine. I wanted a Singer 99k, but any cheap machine that works well would do. I searched the pawn shops and thrift stores, but found nothing I liked. I could have bought a 99k on eBay, but I do not want to purchase a used machine that I have not tried first. I will eventually find a 99k, but I needed a new machine now so I bought a Brother LX-3125 at Walmart. I have been pleasantly surprised with how well it works. It is a simple machine with no bells and whistles, but simple is what I wanted.

My new sewing machine is a source of excitement and joy, but last week I learned some bad news that has left me feeling sad. Prior to the start of last week’s class some of my classmates and I were discussing where we purchased our muslin. I told them I shopped at Walmart because they have the best prices for fabrics. A few others in the class said they wanted to shop at Walmart, but their local Walmarts no longer have a full service fabrics department. I had never heard of such a thing as a Walmart without fabrics. In the past two years my Walmart shopping experience has been confined to two stores, both of which offer a full service fabrics department. After hearing from my classmates I assumed that it was just a few of the smaller stores that now do not have fabrics. But, as I was to soon learn, that is not the case. As I was searching for a new sewing machine I found myself in Bloomington where the Walmart was recently upgraded to a Walmart Supercenter. I had purchased fabrics at this store prior to its metamorphosis, and I thought that even if some smaller Walmarts no longer have fabrics a Supercenter surely will. To my great surprise and dismay I learned that not only were there no fabrics, the store did not have a crafts department at all.

I went to my local Walmart where I purchased the sewing machine along with some interfacing, and I had a long chat with the employees in the crafts department about the future of Walmart. They told me that the folks in Bentonville, AK decided to get rid of full service fabrics from all Walmart stores. Some stores protested this decision and were granted a temporary reprieve. The final fate of Walmart's full service fabrics departments has not yet been determined, but it is possible that by the end of the year they will all be gone.

Walmart is my favorite fabrics store. They do not have as broad a selection as can be found in stores devoted to sewing and/or crafts, but Walmart’s prices cannot be beat. Their prices are often as much as 25% less than those at JoAnn Fabrics. Furthermore, Walmarts are often easier to find than other craft and fabrics stores. On my one visit to Menomonie, WI, I was pleased to see that the town has a Walmart Supercenter. I told myself that after I start at UW-Stout this store will be my primary source of fabric. Now I do not know if I will be able to shop there or if I will have to go elsewhere. JoAnn Fabrics and Hancock Fabrics do not have stores in Menomonie. If the Menomonie Walmart does not have fabrics I may have to drive more than 20 miles to Eau Claire to shop.

Your help is needed to keep full service fabrics in Walmart. Tell the manager of your local Walmart how important their fabrics department is. I found this petition asking Walmart to keep their fabrics department. Please sign it and encourage others to do so to. Your assistance in this matter is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sewing machines, fabric, tools, and bags

Today in class we started sewing. We didn’t make anything; we just sewed together a few pieces of muslin as we learned how to use the machines. It may not be glamorous, but it’s just a start. Simply using an industrial machine was exciting. I used a Consew model 230. Next week I plan to try a Juki. It will take some time before I can sew with confidence on machines that fast and powerful, but I am starting to feel more comfortable with them.

Our assignment in class today was about measuring, cutting, and seam allowances. We began by cutting 24 5” x 10” muslin rectangles. We then sewed together four pairs of them with seam allowances ranging from ¼” to 1”. The assignment concluded with a fifth pair of rectangles sewn together with multiple seams at ½” intervals. Vogue will never run an article about muslin rectangles no matter how well they were cut and how accurate and straight their seam allowances are, but making them was good practice and everyone has to start somewhere, so I am very happy with my rectangles.

In preparation for class I needed to buy some supplies. I needed bobbins and a bobbin casing for industrial machines, five yards of muslin, and some tools. The bobbins and bobbin casing were available at the campus bookstore, I bought the muslin at Walmart, and the tools I either already owned or bought at Walmart and JoAnn. I have been using a Fiskars scissors for years, and few months ago I bought my first rotary cutter after I noticed some of the designers on Project Runway using them. For class the instructor highly recommended Gingher scissors. I have never had reason to complain about my Fiskars scissors, but I know the ones from Gingher are considered to be the best available, so I bought them. So far all I have cut with them is the muslin rectangles, but they seem to be great.

Whenever I find myself at JoAnn or in the crafts section of Walmart I am unable refrain from making a number of impulse buys. In addition to my class supplies I decided to buy fabric to make a nice bag. I went with duck cloth (my favorite fabric) for the outer shell, a heavy interfacing to give some support, and bright pink polyester for the lining. I started work and quickly discovered my sewing machine could not handle the materials. I simplified the design, removing first the interfacing then the lining, but the duck cloth by itself was still too much for my machine. I gave up on the duck cloth completely and switched to a lighter weight canvas. I attached a zipper and had just three seams left for a simple rectangular bag, and my machine stopped working at all. Without those three little seams my bag is just a flat piece of cloth with a zipper in the middle. I plan to buy a new sewing machine soon. Eventually I’ll want my own industrial machine, but that’s a few years in the future. For now I just need a basic home machine that can handle a simple straight stitch.

I found a bag in my apartment that will hold all my supplies, but I still plan to make a new one. I could bring the cut pieces to class with me to assemble them with an industrial machine, but I don’t know if I’ll have time after finishing my assignments. If I get a new machine I’ll have it finished for class next week. If I don’t have a new machine by then I’ll bring the pieces with me and hope I have the time.