Saturday, October 31, 2009

Homework woes

It is an odd thing for a student to say, but I wish I had more homework. My class meets one day per week for four and a half hours. The first hour is spent in the classroom as the instructor demonstrates new techniques. We spend the rest of the time in the lab. I usually have to rush to finish my assignments. On two occasions I had to turn in items with which I was not happy because a finished but poorly sewn project is better than no project at all.

The only homework I have had this semester was to buy supplies and to cut out lots of 5" x 10" muslin rectangles. There are no homework assignments that require sewing. I would like to be able to work on my assignments outside of class, but that is not possible. My instructor does not object to students finishing assignments at home, but the work must be done on industrial machines. My only machine is a cheap home lockstitch. My last two assignments in class were done on an overlock.

More time to work on my assignments would be nice, but what I really need is more practice time on the machines. At the start of the semester industrial lockstitch machines scared the heck out of me and I had nearly no control of what I did with them. Ten weeks in and I love industrial machines. My home machine now seems slow and under powered. My sewing skills still require a lot of improvement, but I can now use industrial straight stitch, overlock, and coverstitch machines with some small amount of confidence. Most importantly, I see myself improving every time I sit down at a machine.

There is a lesson in all of this; perhaps the most important lesson of the semester. Sewing is not an innate skill, it is learned. Practice makes perfect. To become a master of my trade I must spend as much time as possible sitting at a sewing machine.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I'm in syndication

OK, this blog is not really in syndication, but it will be reaching a larger audience. I recently came across a new site for fashion students: Fashion Students Online. I joined the site and included a link to this blog in my profile. The site administrator saw my blog, liked it, and asked me to join the FSO staff as a student blogger. All future blog entries will be posted both there and here. My entries on both FSO and this site will be the same, but in order to help out FSO I would appreciate it if you read my posts there rather than here. Click here to see the FSO version of my blog. And after you read my blog be sure to take a look at the rest of the site. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Menomonie, WI

Today’s blog entry was written in the Menomonie public library.

I went to Menomonie to find an apartment, and oh boy did I find one. I already put down my security deposit. My new apartment is much larger and nicer than my current one, and rent will be 23% less than what I pay now. I will move January 4, 2010. Most of the tenants are Stout students. The neighborhood looks quite nice, the building is less than two miles from campus, and it is downhill all the way. My bike ride to school each morning will be fun, although the ride home will not be quite so easy. The up parts of hills are always much bigger than the down parts. I am not quite sure how that works; I will have to ask a mathematics professor about it.

I stopped by the financial aid office to discuss my upcoming financial hardships. I am not happy with the answers I received, but they were the answers I expected. I am not poor enough to get grants or subsidized loans. I can afford school, but I would much rather have Uncle Sam foot the bill.

I took some time to walk around campus and the town. I was surprised at how few students I saw on campus. Many of them would be in class, but I still expected to see more people outside. I cannot blame the weather; it was a balmy 40°F.

I like the campus, but I am still undecided about the town. My neighborhood is very nice, but I was not impressed with the area closer to the campus. A number of the stores and businesses were closed, and on every block there seemed to be at least two commercial properties with for-sale signs. I suppose one could describe the area as ripe for development, but to me it just looks old and run down. In this case perhaps the weather is to blame. It is a gloomy overcast day. I hope the neighborhood looks better in sunshine.

The Menomonie Walmart has a full service fabric department, and the employee who cut my fabric told me they plan to keep the department. I bought some interfacing (for class) and some fleece (because I cannot enter a fabric department without buying something I do not need). Walmart does not carry my preferred brands of rice and coffee, but as long as they have fabrics I can make do with other brands.

That is enough about Menomonie for now. Yesterday in class I made my adult t-shirt. The patterns were for women’s shirts, so I will not be modeling the shirt. I will post a photo after I find someone to model the shirt for me. I had a lot of fun making the shirt. Most of the work was done on an overlock, and for the bottom hem I got to use the coverstitch. I still do not know how to thread either machine, and I have not yet learned how to use all of the coverstitch’s functions, but I greatly enjoy both machines and I look forward to using them in the future. The only drawback to these machines is that the school does not have enough of them. The twenty students in my class must share nine overlocks and one coverstitch. I was the only one in class to finish the adult t-shirt, and my next project will be done on a lockstitch, so I may not get to use an overlock or coverstitch again this semester. Hopefully at Stout I will have more access to machines. But if some generous soul would like to purchase an industrial serger for me I could summon up the humility to graciously accept the gift.

Monday, October 26, 2009

UW-Stout update

I finally got an acceptance letter from UW-Stout. I still have not resolved the confusion caused by the AccesSTOUT site. It is a good thing I am going into apparel design and not website design. All that matters is that I know I am in.

The acceptance came with an offer to live in university housing and a questioner from the campus health center about my immunization history. I know I have had all my shots, but I could not find the dates for all of them. I guessed. I hope that is good enough.

My plan had been to live off campus. I never considered living in a dorm, but after receiving the offer I began to think about it. Living on campus would be very convenient, and the cost of a dorm room is comparable to the cost of a one bedroom apartment. On the other hand the double rooms are 165 square feet and the singles are smaller. I would probably be the oldest person in the dorm, and I could expect every conversation to eventually roll around to, “Hey, could you buy some beer for us?”. I read through the "Life @ Stout" brochure, gave the matter a lot of thought, and reached a decision in less than one minute. Living off campus will impose a few hardships, but I think it is the right choice. I have too much stuff and I am too old to live in a dorm.

On Wednesday I will be in Menomonie to look at a few apartments and to meet with a financial aid counselor. Orientation is on November, 20; I will meet with my advisor and register for classes then. Now I need to step up preparations for the move. I still have not canceled my dentist appointment in April. I did at least get my acceptance celebrations out of the way. I had a pint of Guinness – it seemed appropriate.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lunch break and a trip to Pig’s Eye

Nothing new happened in class yesterday. In my sewing class I worked on my t-shirts, and in sketching class I continue to struggle. The only excitement was at the start of class as I spent five minutes frantically searching for my blue ribbed interlock fabric before remembering that I only had red ribbed interlock. I really do not have anything to say, but fortunately having nothing to say has never prevented me from voicing my thoughts. So today instead of writing about my classes I will write about my school and I will critique some other students.

Campus was always very crowded at the start of this semester. There were long lines in the cafeteria and at the coffee shop, and open seats in the lobbies were hard to find. Now seats are always available, and even at lunch time the lines are never long. Where have all the students gone? Have they dropped out, or are they just managing their time better so that they do not need to sit in the lobbies for hours? Maybe they are all in the library studying. I have not needed to go to the school library; maybe I will visit it next week.

I bring lunch with me to school – usually a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bag of Skittles. I have not yet purchased anything from the cafeteria, but last week I looked at their menu. Hamburgers cost $2.25 while veggie burgers are $4.10. To produce one pound of meat a cow must eat somewhere from eight to forty pound of feed. (PETA will give you the higher numbers; the cattle industry will use the smaller numbers in response to PETA and the larger numbers for tax purposes.) I understand that there is a much greater demand for hamburgers than for veggie burgers, but the difference in price still strikes me as a little extreme. I will continue to brown-bag it.

My school has a basketball team. I have never been to a game and I have no plans to ever go to one. I do not even know where they play. I have never been a fan of college sports, and my current school has not inspired in me any feelings of college pride and loyalty. This in no way means that I object to my school having a basketball team. On the contrary, I think having a team is a good thing for this school. Even if I do not care about college basketball other people clearly do, and they should have the opportunity to play (if they play) or attend games (if that is what they like doing). So I was very upset to learn that this year will be the final year for basketball at MCTC. I understand that state budget cuts are affecting all public schools, and that basketball is not as important as academics, but I think it is still important enough that it ought to be kept. Maybe the school could raise the price of hamburgers. It is sad that the program had to be canceled to make me care about it. Last year the team’s record was 33-2. I hope their final year is just as good. I do not know what the team’s name is, but GO THEM!

Last year ten apparel design students at MCTC made outfits to be shown at the school’s Diva Project Fashion Show. The ten outfits were recently on display at Metro State University in St. Paul. I do not know why this display was in St. Paul at a school that does not have an apparel design program, but St. Paul is where they were so across the river I went. I found the outfits both daunting and inspiring. They were well made and the designers used a number of techniques that I have not yet learned. The students who made these outfits are only two years ahead of me in school. It is a little scary to think of how much I need to learn, but the thought that in two years I will be able to make outfits like these fills me with hope and confidence. The apparel construction impressed me, but the design and styles did not. Of the ten outfits on display I thought seven were quite unattractive. The remaining three were no better than OK. With most of the outfits I thought the designers got carried away adding too many features. The three I thought were OK could all have been very nice if their designers had not added so many bells and whistles. This is a problem I have noticed with a lot of student designs. The designers make the items far more complicated than needed. I have not yet designed any pieces for school, so I do not know if the overly designed garments are what teachers want or if most students just do not know where to stop. The outfits brought to mind a line from A Chorus Line, “Different is nice, but it sure isn’t pretty.” I feel the purpose of fashion clothing is to draw notice to the person wearing it, not to the clothing itself. I could be wrong about all this though; perhaps I just have a lousy sense of style. We will see what happens after I start designing clothing instead of working from patterns.

Wow. For someone who had nothing to say I certainly rambled on. I have some news about my UW-Stout saga, but I do not want to take up any more of your precious time. I will be back in a day or two with the Stout update.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Spaghetti, seams, toilet paper, and career plans

Before work today I ran into Target to pick up a few rolls of toilet paper and boxes of pasta. Later at work, as I was noshing on some popcorn (also from Target), I began chuckling as I thought about how my shopping practices have changed recently. A couple months ago if I found myself with some extra time while in Target I probably would have gone to the electronics department to see if any DVDs I wanted were on sale. I looked at no DVDs today, but instead spent my extra time in the women’s wear department. I was not looking to buy women’s clothing for myself. Perhaps I would look quite fetching in a dress, but I have no intention of finding out for sure.

I closely examined a few shirts to see how they were constructed. In class I have learned to use straight stitch and overlock machines, and we have discussed cover stitch machines. I was able to identify all the stitches and seams I saw today, although there are a number of them I do not yet know how to make. I do not know if I will use the cover stitch this semester, but I hope I do. Every garment I saw today had at least one seam or hem done with a cover stitch. I suppose it may look a little odd for me to be devoting attention to the wrong side of women’s shirts; I hope nobody noticed me.

In addition to garment construction I also looked at the styles and designs available. I was not impressed. I am not saying I could do better; I cannot – yet. I just do not think that the apparel offered by Target is particularly attractive. The building in which I work is across the street from Target’s corporate headquarters, and more than half the office space in my building is leased to Target. I am consistently amused to note that hardly any corporate Target employees wear clothing from Target. It is reassuring to see that Target’s employees share my view of their company's clothing, although obviously there are a lot of people who like these styles. In a five block stretch of Nicollet Ave. in downtown Minneapolis one can find Target, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, and Saks. I see people shopping at Macy’s, but I would never describe the store as crowded. Neiman Marcus and Saks usually seem empty. Target is always busy.

Like every other design student I dream of being the next big-name designer with a line at Saks, but I do not know if that is possible. I also wonder if it is a smart goal to have. How many $40 dresses does Target sell for every $400 dress at Macy’s or $4,000 dress at Saks? Where is the larger profit, one $4,000 dress, ten $400 dresses, or one hundred $40 dresses? How much of that goes to the designer? Target clothing is designed by committee, but all the designers on that committee have a good job with a regular and decent paycheck. Jobs at Target and other similar companies are open to recent design school graduates. Designers with products at Saks must first spend years building a name and reputation. For every designer with a dress at Saks there are hundreds working at Starbucks during the day and designing on their own time at night.

It is far too early for me to early for me to make decisions about my career plans – I have not yet even started at UW-Stout – but it is never too early to start thinking about these things. I would love to be rich and famous, but not being poor and unemployed is what matters most. A good job doing something I enjoy would be enough for me, but I will never stop dreaming of greatness. I have a few years to decide what I want to do. I hope that by the time I finish at Stout I will have some better answers. For now I will just keep sewing and dreaming.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sergers and sketching

Busy day yesterday. We covered a lot of new material. I have to admit that none of the stuff I made in either of my classes turned out too well, but what we were working on was quite difficult and my results were not too bad either, so I am pleased with what I did.

In sewing class we continued working with the overlock machines. We began work on our first piece of apparel, a baby t-shirt. The instructor began class by demonstrating how to make the shirt. It took her less than ten minutes, and her shirt was perfect. It took me more than one hour, and my shirt was far from perfect. The neck ribbing is not centered, there is a small hole in one of the seams, and the bottom hem is not straight. But none of that matters. This shirt was just practice; I will make another one next week and that one will be perfect. I learned a lot about sergers while working on the shirt. They are more difficult to use than I first thought, but not so difficult that I will not be able to master them. I have a lot of fun with the sergers and I look forward to spending more time with them. I was the only person in the class to finish a t-shirt, even a bad one. I know this is not a competition – Project Runway is many years away for me – but it still made me smile.

The sketching class is extremely difficult for me. I often become quite frustrated as I struggle to draw, but on those rare occasions when a drawing turns out well I am overjoyed. Last week in class we worked on faces. They are not easy, but that is OK. I am studying to be a designer, not a plastic surgeon. A good figure with a crudely drawn face or no face at all can be used to show clothing, but a great face without a good body does nothing for me. For now I will devote my attention to bodies.

At the end of class last week we watched a video about a fashion illustrator. I was amazed by how easy he made it look. Just a few swipes of a pen and he had a perfectly drawn figure in a beautiful dress on the paper. It was interesting to watch, but I found it intimidating and depressing. I know I will never be able to draw anywhere near that well. For a few days I worried about what I saw, but then I had a revelation. This man is a fashion illustrator, not a designer. Designers send him photos or rough sketches of what they made, and he produces the final sketches. I would like to see him try to make a t-shirt. Someday I will have an illustrator working for me.

My homework from last week was to find poses I like in fashion magazines and try to sketch them. I tried, and failed miserably. I was not looking forward to class. But as we started drawing all my fears melted away. Suddenly I was able to draw – not very well, but my work was good enough for now and it is a lot better that anything I could have done three weeks ago. Skills I do not posses while I try to draw at home suddenly manifest in the presence of the instructor.

We drew a couple figures and began to put clothing on them. The instructor designed the skirt on the left, and the outfit on the right is my own design. It is a very simple design and not very original, but it is all my own so I am very happy with it. I was thrilled that the instructor immediately recognized the skirt as a wrap around. Perhaps one day I will make this outfit.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Today is not so good

I just checked my account at UW-Stout. My application status is listed once again as “complete,” not “admitted.” I have no access to most of the student services links now; some of those links worked yesterday after I accepted admission. One of the few links to which I do have access leads to the following message: “Thank you for applying to the University of Wisconsin – Stout. A decision will be made pending review of your application materials. Contact the Office of Admissions if you need further assistance.”

Could yesterday’s admission have been a computer glitch? I knew yesterday’s surcease from worry would not last forever, but I expected it to be longer than this. I needed something to cheer me up, so I went to JoAnn Fabrics and bought some notions. I will sew something tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Today is a good day

Last night I prepared a lengthy blog entry about the day’s classes. I wrote about my grades on the most recent assignments, using an overlock machine for the first time, my struggles in sketching class, and my changing mood throughout the day in response to events at school. There were also sections about the weather and my commute to school. I even mentioned the Twins’ victory over the Tigers. But all that stuff has been preempted for something far more important.


I have been checking my Stout account almost daily for the past few months, and today I finally got the good news. I promptly accepted their offer of admission. In late August I received a verbal confirmation that I would be accepted, but I needed to see it in writing to allay my fears. Now I cannot stop smiling.

For the next few months I will be quite busy as I prepare to move to Wisconsin and get ready for school. This morning I made an appointment for a dental cleaning in April; now I have to cancel it. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but it will all be worth it. The nervousness should kick in soon, but for now I am just too happy and excited to worry.

Next week I will get back to my regular musings about classes and sewing, but I do have one quick statement about overlock machines now: I love them. If anyone is thinking about buying me a gift to celebrate my acceptance to Stout, a Juki industrial serger would be very nice.