Friday, November 27, 2009

Another shirt and some thoughts about prints

As promised I made another shirt this week. It is not great but it is a lot better than my previous one, so I will call it a success. The next one will be even better. I used the same pattern for both shirts, but I made a couple small changes for shirt number two. I reduced the size of the pockets and the width of the front plackets. For my next shirt I will reduce the size of those pieces a bit more.

This shirt is 100% cotton which is much better than the polyester I used before. What little experience I gained from the first shirt helped a lot with this one. At this rate of improvement I should have a nice shirt finished by the end of my fourth or fifth attempt. The biggest improvement with this shirt was the seams. The seams on my first shirt were unfinished; on the second shirt I made flat felled seams for the shoulders, sleeves, and sides. My stitching could have been straighter, but I am still quite pleased with my seams.

There are three problems with this shirt, two of which I should be able to overcome with the next one. The buttonholes are a little too big, I screwed up the collar, and the shirt is the wrong size. All three problems provided learning experiences so I am not too upset. I now have a better understanding of how to correctly size button holes. The collar was the most difficult part of the shirt. It needed a few attempts to get it attached and I never got it on well, but by the time I was done I finally understood how this type of collar works. The next one will be easy. As for the size of the shirt, unless I want to get another pattern there is not much I can do. I do not yet feel comfortable enough to try resizing an existing pattern. I wear large shirts, so I thought I should use the same size pattern. I should have used medium. I do not know if all patterns are sized too big or if it was just this one. I will know more about sizes after I try a different pattern.

Before beginning work on the shirt I went to Walmart to buy the fabric. I picked a nice print with flowers, but before I got to the cutting counter I found a bolt of the black and white striped print. The flower print was a lot nicer, but the striped one was only $1.00 per yard. Economy trumped aesthetics. I will hold off using nicer (and more expensive) prints until I can make a shirt I want to wear. As I was loading the fabric into a washing machine I discovered a copyright message in the selvage.

I understand taking out a copyright on an intricate design with lots of shapes and colors, one with flowers, or one with copyrighted characters. Perhaps even an original plaid or an intricate striped design with multiple colors and stripe widths deserves a copyright. But simple black and white stripes? Is this pattern truly worthy of copyright protection? Surely someone used black and white stripes before MBT. What obligations do I have if I use a copyrighted pattern? Do I need to give MBT credit for my shirt? Can they sue me if my shirt is not up to their high standards? Maybe I should just use solid colors. Does anyone hold the copyright for red?

And now for the obligatory class update: On Tuesday I made but did not attach the collar for my tailored shirt. Unlike the collars on the shirts I made at home, this one has a neck band. Now I know how to make two types of shirt collars. I also finished the front placket and attached the two front pieces to the back. This shirt has a yoke while the two I made at home do not. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to put the pieces together, but after I got them pinned the sewing was easy. I will either alter the pattern I am using at home to include a yoke or find a new pattern that already has one. I have two class sessions left in which I must attach the collar, make and attach the sleeves, close the sides, and hem the bottom. It is a lot to do, but I am on schedule and I have confidence in my ability to turn in a well made shirt on time. Then all I will need to worry about is my final exam.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

UW-Stout transfer student orientation

Yesterday I was in Menomonie for transfer student orientation at UW-Stout. This was not the first time I have attended a new college student orientation. My previous orientations have been long boring affairs filled with information I did not need. Speaker after motivational speaker drones on and on about how fortunate we are to be in collage, how important it is that we devote ourselves fully to our studies, how much fun we are destined to have, and lots of other crap that nobody wants to listen to. An additional hour or two is spent discussing every possible facet of the upcoming college experience on the off chance that one person in the room may need that info. So it was with great sense of apprehension that I approached yesterday’s orientation. I need not have worried.

Transfer student orientation at UW-Stout is a streamlined and painless affair. There was only one speaker and she only discussed topics that were relevant and necessary for everyone. She told us how to access our online student accounts, how to get a student ID card, and how to register for classes. We signed up for laptop pick-up times, and we received info about textbook rental. (Tuition includes fees for laptop and textbook rental. More about that after the semester starts.) Rather than addressing every possible concern that a new student might have she gave us a form listing the most common concerns and the departments to speak to about them. We were in and out in just a little over one hour.

After the speaker finished I had ninety minutes to kill before my appointment with my advisor. I had my photo taken for my ID card, ate my lunch, and wandered around campus. I was thrilled to see the campus has a disc golf course, but the holes seem awfully close together. I will need to play the course a few times before I can decide if it is any good. I was surprised by how few squirrels I saw around campus. Stout does not have a culinary arts department, so I do not know where all the squirrels have gone. Squirrels are an integral part of any college campus. I will start feeding the squirrels after classes begin in an effort to help bolster their numbers.
Two thirty finally rolled around and I met with my advisor to discuss what classes I will take next semester. I am transferring in with more than 60 credits, and not one of those credits is in apparel design. I am able to apply some of those credits to most of my out of major requirements, so I may be able to finish in three years instead of four. My speech, economics, math, history, and lab science requirements are already fulfilled as are most of my general education credit requirements.

After meeting with my advisor I went to register for classes. I will have a full class load – five classes for 15 credits. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday will be busy days. I will have class from nine to two thirty with an hour off for lunch. Tuesdays and Thursdays are easy with a three hour block of classes in the afternoon.

I registered for three apparel design classes and two out of major requirements. I will be taking the following classes:

APRL 145 – Interior Decorating/Design Textiles This is the same as APRL140 – Textiles, but I could not fit that section of the class into my schedule. Interior design students come to the apparel design department to learn about textiles. The Interior Design department requires its students to take classes with “interior design” in the title. The Apparel Design department understands that it is the content of a class, not its name that matters.

APRL166 – Apparel Construction This is the introductory sewing class. We will learn about machine use, various types of seams, and sewing terminology. We finish by making a tailored shirt. I could have tested out of this class, but I think I will benefit from taking it.

APRL274 – Fashion Industry This class is about the fashion industry. It is recommended for third semester apparel design students, but it has no prerequisites and I could fit it in my schedule, so I decided to take it now. My hope is that this class will help me decide what specifically I want to do in the apparel/fashion industry so that I can structure my future classes around that decision.

SOC110 – Introductory Sociology This class is required for my major. I am not looking forward to it but there is no avoiding it. I will get it out of the way as quickly as possible.

ENG101 – Freshman English-Composition This is another unfortunate requirement that I must take. I am not able to register for this class yet. I must first prove that I posses basic English language skills either with a recent ACT score or by passing a placement test. I took the SAT in 1992, but Stout demands an ACT taken within the past three years. So 12 days from now I head back to Menomonie to take the placement test. Me ain’t frettin’ none. Me does rite english goodly.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One ugly shirt and what I learned from it

I continued work on my tailored shirt in class today. That shirt is not the ugly one; the ugly shirt is the one I made at home this past weekend. My shirt for class will be beautiful. I will get to the ugly shirt soon, but first a few words about today's class. I attached a pocket and finished the two front pieces. I also had time to take my serger threading test. Students must thread a four thread serger to pass the class. I threaded the serger. My instructor's lesson about serger threading made me think the process would be difficult, but the moment I got my hands into the serger's guts I realized that threading it is easy. Just follow the color coded threading guide and there is nothing to worry about. I have not yet threaded a five thread serger, but I expect it will be no more difficult than the four thread one.

This past week I tried to make a tailored shirt at home. My goal was to gain experience and pick up a few tricks that will make the shirt for class a little easier. i did not expect my first attempt to turn out too well, but I have to start somewhere. The shirt is no good, but while making it I learned a lot. I will make at least one more shirt each week. As long as each one is better than the last I will call it a success.

was going to use muslin for my first shirt, but at Walmart I found a print for three cents per yard more than the muslin. It is polyester, and the print is horribly ugly, but I had not worked with prints or polyester before so the fabric presented me with two more things to learn from this project.

What was good

Buttons and button holes - I still want to learn how to use the industrial buttonholer, but using my home machine was a lot easier than expected.

Pocket - this was the first pocket of this type I have made. All the edgestitching we have done in class this semester has paid off.

Shoulder and sleeve seams - Attaching the sleeves was easier than expected, and I am pleased with the seam finishes.

What was bad
The collar - This was my first collar, and I did not do a good job with it. I made a few mistakes as I attached the collar. The pattern was confusing, but I accept the full blame for the problems. My next one will be better.

Sleeve and bottom hems - The hems did not turn out well. I know I can do better.

The loop - The pattern called for this loop. I made it well, but I do not like it. I think this loop is a silly way to fasten the top button. My future shirts will have buttonholes rather than loops.

Pattern pieces - I began work by transferring the pattern from pattern paper to oak tag. I then used my oak tag pattern to trace the pieces on fabric. With each step there is a slight margin of error. As I pinned together the pieces of fabric I found my notches did not always line up perfectly. Precision is necessary.

What I learned
Buttons and buttonholes - These were the first buttonholes I made with my current sewing machine. With other machines I found making buttonholes a very difficult process, but this time it was easy. It was the first time I used a buttonhole presser foot. I do not know why I did not learn how to use a buttonhole foot in my seventh grade home economics class. As I was reading my machine's user manual to learn how to use the buttonhole foot I discovered that I also have a presser foot for attaching buttons. I did not know that I could use a cheap home machine to attach buttons; I have always sewn on buttons by hand. It was much easier with the machine, and the machine did it better than I can do by hand. The lesson: read your machine's user manual.

Polyester - Ironing shrinks polyester. It shrinks as I press seams, and it shrinks a lot more as I attach fusible interfacing. If I iron over a pin I will leave a burn mark in the fabric. Removing stitching from polyester can be difficult. Tearing or stretching the fabric while removing stitching is easy. The lesson: do not use polyester if other materials are available.

General stuff - Making this shirt helped me understand how tailored shirts are constructed. Knowing that I already made one shirt, even a bod one, gave a boost to my confidence as I worked on the shirt in class today. Some of the other students were nervous about attaching their pockets, but I knew I could do it because I attached a pocket yesterday. The lesson: sew a lot. Then sew some more. Practice, practice, practice. Experience counts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The shirt begins

I began work on my tailored shirt today. There will be no more new lessons this semester. This shirt is my final project and I must have it finished by December 8. It seems like a lot of time, but I only get to work on it for a few hours each Tuesday. My pattern pieces are all cut out so there is nothing I do on this shirt at home. I may make a practice shirt or two at home though. I will not be able to submit those shirts for grading, but the experience will help me with the one I make in class.

I sewed four darts and attached the yoke to the back today. Darts are simple, the yoke was just a simple seam, and there is nothing particularly complicated about a tailored shirt, but this is the first semester of my first year as an apparel design student so cut me some slack. In a year or two a tailored shirt will be the sort of simple project I will make to pass time on a Sunday afternoon, but for now this is a big and exciting project.

The sewing was easy today, but there was a little excitement too. I thought I had cut all the pieces last week, but it turns out I missed a few. I began class by cutting out the remaining pieces. After I finished sewing he darts i realized that I was not sure if I used the large or medium pattern last week. I had sewn darts on one piece cut last week and two pieces cut today. I ran around the room collecting pattern pieces to check my sizes. If I used the wrong size pieces today I would have had to redo my work, but fortunately my pieces were all the same size. It was just good luck that I did not have to redo my the pieces, but I learned an important lesson from this: I must pay attention to what I do, and I must keep a record of what I have done for projects that take more than one day.

Despite my progress on the shirt and the happy ending to the day's excitement, class ended on a sad note. I asked my instructor when we would learn how to use the buttonholer, ans she told me that we will not. She explained that the machine is expensive, difficult to use, and easy to damage. She added that in the past students have caused the machine to require thousands of dollars of repairs. First semester students are no longer permitted to use the machine. After we finish our shirts our instructor will add the holes. I was looking forward to learning how to use the machine. I want to know how to use as many different machines as possible, but I have a second reason for wanting to know how to use this particular machine. I do not like making buttonholes on my home machine. Before the end of the semester I wanted to use the industrial buttonholer to make a few hundred holes to hake home with me so that any time I need a hole I would have one available. I still need to work out a few details of this plan, but I want to eventually complement my jar of buttons with a matching jar of holes.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pattern, pattern, pattern

The first time I used a store-bought pattern was in 1988 for my 7th grade home economics class. I made a jacket. The sleeves were not the same length, but for a 13 year old kid with nearly no prior sewing experience I think it was an impressive piece of work. My next use of a store-bought pattern was in 1995. I made a quilted gambeson. A few days ago I started work on my third pattern piece, a vest. The project is not going well.

I have made vests before but never with so many problems. My other vests I either designed myself or were based on simple patterns I found online, while now I am using a Simplicity pattern. This vest is more complicated than my previous ones, but my problems seem to be caused by the pattern itself and not the act of sewing. The sewing would itself would be easy if I could figure out what to do. The instructions make no sense. A picture is provided for each step, but the step 2 instructions seem to correlate with the pictures for steps 1 and 3, and it just gets worse from there. Instructions for the side and back seams are repeated in a few steps while only partial instructions are given for the bottom and neck pieces.

No doubt my lack of experience with patterns accounts for some of my woes, but I think this particular pattern deserves the lion’s share of the blame. The jacket was much more complicated than this vest but making it seemed a lot easier.

My plan was to make two copies of this vest strictly adhering to the pattern, one in muslin to learn how to make it and one with fashion fabric to wear. If I liked the general look and shape of the finished piece I would then make one or two more vests with modifications of my own design. I will finish the muslin vest, but I may then move directly to a modified design. If I ever have a finished vest that I am not ashamed of I will post a picture of it here.

Thank you for taking the time to read my long winded and self pitying rant. I will try to keep my future posts more positive. The past few days have been stressful, and I needed this chance to vent my spleen. I suppose I could start smoking, but kvetching to strangers online seems a little more productive and a lot less unhealthy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


My instructor began class today by returning some assignments to us and going over our mistakes. i got back my baby t-shirt, adult t-shirt, French seam, coverstitch hems, and piece of muslin with concave and convex curves that the students all called a large Peep. For the French seam and coverstitch piece I received full credit, five points each. The Peep was deemed too easy to deserve a grade. I knew my t-shirts were not perfect. I would have liked higher scores, but I cannot complain about what I received. Out of a possible 40 points I received 34 points for the baby t and 37 points for the adult t.

The baby t was the first shirt we made. Everyone in class agreed that of the two it was the more difficult one. I do not know if that is because it is smaller or because by the time we started work on the adult t we had more experience with sergers.

It took me three attempts to make the baby t. Fortunately I had finished my previous assignment early so I had time to cut out multiple copies of the pattern pieces before the class began work on the shirts. My first attempt was a dismal failure, but it provided useful experience with sergers. The shoulder seams were easy, but after multiple attempts and failures to attach a sleeve, the fabric had been trimmed too much for me to continue. I used what I had already assembled as scrap. It would have been nice to finish a shirt on my first attempt, but I was neither surprised nor upset with the outcome. I began that first shirt knowing it was just practice. By the time I gave up on it I felt I had finally figured out how to successfully attach a sleeve, and I learned a trick that proved invaluable on all my following shirts. I found it to be a lot easier to attach sleeves and neck ribbing if I used two different color fabrics. This allows me to see exactly where the two pieces of fabric are so I am able to sew the seams without any holes.

Before I began work on shirt number two the instructor made one to show the class how to do it. It took her no more than ten minutes, and she was working slowly so that she could explain each step along the way. I spent nearly 90 minutes working on my shirt. The neck ribbing was the most difficult and time consuming part, and while I managed to attach both sleeves on the first attempt without any problems the process was also quite difficult. I had not yet learned how to use the coverstitch machine, so for the bottom I did a mock coverstitch hem with the serger and a straight stitch. Unfortunately, as I was using the serger my hands slipped and I gouged a large chunk out of the shirt. I knew I would not be able to turn it in, but I finished it anyway. It was still good practice, and I was doing fine on time.

I do not know any babies, but my teddy bear was willing to model the shirt for you. It is a little big on him, but at least I do not have to worry about him outgrowing it.

Attempt Number three was a lot easier. I finished the shirt in about one hour. I knew what I needed to do, and I was sewing with a little confidence. I knew the shirt was not perfect, but I was pleased with it and I wanted to give one of my classmates time on the serger. There are 20 students in the class and only nine sergers. I lost one point because one of my shoulder seams was not perfect, one point because the neck ribbing was not perfectly centered, two points because the armpit seams did not line up perfectly, and two points because the bottom hem was not perfectly straight.

The adult t-shirt was the easiest one yet. It took me less than 45 minutes to make. The only men's pattern was for a v-neck shirt, and I do not like v-neck shirts, so I made a women's shirt. I will give it to my sister. The pattern called for the sleeves to be hemmed with the coverstitch, but I thought they would look better with a ribbed cuff. I told the instructor how I felt, and she said that as long as I could make it work I could make the sleeves however I liked. I went with the cuff. My classmates were impressed with my innovation, and the instructor gave me a perfect score for the sleeves. The total grade consisted of eight sections, each with a maximum score of five points. I lost one point for a shoulder seam and two points for the armpit seams. It did not change my final score, but I was thrilled to see that for the neck ribbing and serger use my score was five plus.

The semester is almost over. The only things left to do are make a tailored shirt, learn to use a button hole machine, and pass my serger threading test. I could have threaded a serger today, but I wanted to let my classmates who still needed to finish their t-shirts use the machines; I will do it next week. The instructor did not want us to start sewing the tailored shirt today. She will provide detailed instructions for it next week. I was able to cut out all my pattern pieces though, so I will be able to start work as soon as she says go. It is a big project, and I admit I am a little intimidated by it, but I think I will make a good shirt. If there is one skill everyone in class has become great at this semester it is tearing out stitching. I hope I will not have to do too much of it, but at least I can do it well.