Monday, December 21, 2009

The semester in review, part 2: the important stuff

In part 1 of my semester review I wrote about what I needed to know for my final exam. All of that will be useful as I progress through school, but some of the other things I learned this semester are much more important. I did not take this class for the credits; I will not be transferring them to UW-Stout. I took this class to confirm that this field is the right one for me and to gain a little experience before I start my studies in earnest. I now know that I chose a good major. I love sewing. I am excited about my upcoming studies at Stout and my eventual career in the apparel industry. The lessons taught in class were important, but the other things are learned are what really matters most.

Experience counts - Practice, practice, practice. What is difficult at first becomes easier over time. Sew a lot and your sewing will improve. Complicated procedures become easy with experience.

Muslin is cheap - Play around with it. Sew stuff. See what happens. Make stuff in muslin first to learn how to do it. Big mistakes in muslin are no big deal, but big mistakes with expensive fabrics may make you cry.

Sewing requires a lot of attention - If you become distracted as you sew you will probably need to rip out some stitches. Pay attention. I often listen to my iPod as I sew. Classmates are more distracting that music.

Mistakes happen; it's OK - My seam ripper may be my most important tool. I tell myself that every mistake is a learning experience. It is a good idea to have some extra fabric. Remaking a small piece is sometimes easier and less time consuming than ripping out stitches.

Sergers can screw you - A mistake on a serger can cut your fabric. Stitches sewn in error can be torn out, but cut fabric may be beyond repair. A lockstitch can put a needle through a finger; a serger can cut off a finger tip. Sergers are fun, but please be careful.

Don't sew angry - Sewing angry as just as bad as sewing distracted. Relax. If I make a small mistake I deal with it and keep going. If I make a big mistake, or if I continuously make the same small mistake, I will stop work and take a small break. I leave the lab and eat a bag of Skittles. After I calm down I can think about what I learned from my mistakes, and hopefully they will not be repeated.

Press everything - Press your fabric before tracing your pattern pieces, after you cut them out, and again before you sew. Press open seams as soon as you finish sewing them. Press everything, then do it again. This brings us to my next point...

Irons are hot - We all know this, but it still needs to be mentioned. Be careful, but no matter how careful you are you will still occasionally singe your finger tips. First degree burns are part of sewing. Stop complaining and just deal with it.

Industrial machines are fast - I learned to sew on a home machine. At the start of the semester industrial machines intimidated me, but now I love them. I need a lot more practice, but I will eventually become adept.

Work at your own pace - We have deadlines to meet, but if you go too fast you may screw up. It is better to spend a few extra seconds sewing slowly than minutes making repairs.

Machines have personalities - I am not referring to the differences between different makes and models. Every machine is different. Find one you like and try to use it as much as you can. I used a few Juki DDL 5530N machines at school. One of them is my favorite machine in the lab, one I hate, and the rest are OK. If you are using a machine for the first time you should spend a few minutes getting used to it.

Sew on a piece of scrap first - Before starting work you should test your machine on a piece of scrap fabric. The machine may not be threaded correctly, the tension may be off, and there may be other problems. The scrap should be the same type of fabric that you will be using.

Watch your bobbin - No matter how much thread you think you have on your bobbin you really have less. It is not fun to have a bobbin run out of thread halfway through a seam.

Help your classmates - Maybe someday you will be on Project Runway, but until that day comes you should not think of sewing as a competition. We are all in this together. All of us need help at times. Today you help a classmate and tomorrow someone helps you. Play nice.

Watch your tools - Share your tools and supplies with your classmates. Sooner or later you will need to borrow something from one of them. But keep an eye on your stuff. You will spend a lot of money on equipment; try to not lose things. This semester I had to replace a clipper, a seam ripper, and two rulers. They were not stolen, I just left them behind. Write your name on your stuff.

Pins are your friend - There is no such thing as too many pins. Difficult seams become simple with lots of pins. It is easy and quite tempting to sew over pins, but you should not do it. You can usually get away with it, but the first time your needle hits a pin you will understand. Keep the pins away from the seam line if you are using a serger.

Don't give up - Some things are easy, some are not. Ask questions, seek help, and keep trying. Even the most difficult tasks become easier with experience.

Sewing is fun - You should enjoy what you do. You need to love sewing in order to devote enough time to it to become proficient. If you hate to sew this might not be the right career path for you. Perhaps you are better suited for a different area in the fashion industry, or perhaps a different industry entirely would be best for you. Fortunately I find sewing to be exhilarating and enjoyable.

I learned a lot of other things too, but these were the ones that came to mind as I wrote this blog entry. The two most important pieces of knowledge I gleaned are the first and last ones mentioned: Experience counts and sewing is fun. Tasks that at the start of the semester seemed impossible are now easy. I am confident that as I take more classes my skills will continue to improve. This was one of the most the most enjoyable classes I have ever taken, and I am excitedly looking forward to my future in fashion.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I finished my shirt

Today was my final day of class for the semester. I took my final exam and finished my shirt. We did not make buttonholes or attach the buttons. First semester students are not trusted with the buttonholer. I will use my home machine for the buttons and holes. There was no pattern piece showing where the holes should go, but I think I can figure it out.

There were a lot of first for me with this shirt. I never before made a sleeve with a placket and cuff, and the yoke and collar stand were new to me too. The sides of the shirt were closed with a French seam, and that also was a first for me. The yoke was easy and turned out quite well. The collar could be better, but I think I did a decent job with it. I made the French seam two weeks ago, and at the time I thought it went well, but toda I found a problem. In one of the armpits part of the seam allowance protrudes through the seam. With a little time it would be a simple problem to fix, but I had no time left.

I found the sleeve plackets and cuffs to be the most difficult part of the project. The first placket (left) took a lot of time, but I was happy with the result. My second placket was great, or at least it appeared to be great until I discovered I had sewn it on backwards. Placket number three (right) was not too good, and I had no time for a fourth attempt. The placket problems were overshadowed by the cuffs. With both cuffs there are problems where the cuff meets the plackets, and I am not happy with the pleats.


Despite all the problems, I am very pleased with my shirt. I learned a lot. My next shirt will be a lot better. My goal was to learn how to make a shirt, not to make a great one. I will need a lot more experience making shirts before I can make great ones, but I think I am off to a good start.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The semester in review, part 1: Sewing lessons

The semester is nearly over. All that remains for me to do is finish my shirt and take my final exam. To help prepare for the exam the class was given these 16 study questions. This is easy first semester stuff, but we all have to start somewhere. Perhaps some of you will find this useful too.

1. Define lengthwise and crosswise grain. I grew up in New York. So what does that have to do with grainlines? I have lived in flyover states for the past 15 years, but I still think of myself as a New Yorker, and view grainlines with a New York perspective. Avenues are on the lengthwise grain (wrap), streets are on the crosswise grain (weft), and, as my grandfather was wont to say, Broadway is on the bias. The Hudson and East Rivers are the selvage. I like working with bias cut pieces; they make me think of Grandpa.

2. How do you find the true bias on your fabric? The true bias is at a 45 degree angle to the the lengthwise and crosswise grains. Fabric stretches the most at this angle.

3. Define ease. Room for movement. A little extra measurement.

4. How do you correct bad tension on your sewing machine? Test your machine on a scrap piece of fabric. Turn the tension know one way or the other until the tension is good.

5. What is the purpose of darts? Darts add shape to garments. They fit a two dimensional piece of fabric to a three dimensional body.

6. How do you know a pattern piece is on the straight of grain? Measure from the edge of the fabric.

7. What are the most common seam allowances used in industry? 1/2", 1/4", and 3/8".

8. Why is accurate cutting important? If you do not cut your pieces accurately they may not line up right. Fabric is expensive and we do not want to waste it.

9. Why is it necessary to press after each sewing step? Seams must be pressed so that they will be flat.

10. Define the difference between a 4 and 5 thread serger. The 5 thread seam is stronger than the 4 thread one. The 4 thread seam is stretchier. Both machines can be used for a 3 thread seam which is weaker and stretchier than the others.

11. What is the difference between topstitching and edgestitching? Edgestitching is very close to a seam or edge of the fabric. Top stitching is (often) 1/4" from a seam or edge of the fabric. The distance from the needle to the edge of the presser foot is 1/4". both topstitching and edgestitching are on the right side of the fabric. They can be decorative, functional, or both.

12. What is the purpose of interfacing? It makes fabric firmer and less stretchy.

13. What factors influence the type of interfacing you use in garments? The type and weight of the fabric. How firm I want the fabric to be.

14. How do you recognize the front and back of sleeve patterns? The front has one notch, the back has two.

15. What is the most common setting for stitch length? 10-12 stitches per inch. The stitch length know on industrial machines is set between 2 and 3. At least that is the stitch length we used in class. The machines can be set for bigger and smaller stitches, but I have not yet learned about them. I do know that long stitches are used with leather. I do not know about the shorter stitches yet. I have a lot more learning to do.

16. Define Vicki's golden sewing rule. Vicki is my instructor. Her golden sewing rule is, "Right sides together when stitching a seam. OK, Vicki was not the the first one to say this, but it is an important rule. There are are a few occasions when we do not obey this rule, but they are rare.

I learned a lot more this semester than what is listed above. The main focus of the class was learning how to sew with industrial machines. I will address that along with some of the other things I learned in part 2 of my semester review.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My clothing is changing me

In my lengthy college career I have tried a number of majors - religious studies, physics, and emergency medical services to name a few - but none of them excited me the way apparel design does. I am only in my first semester of class, but I find this field is already changing me. Six months ago clothing was just something to keep me from getting arrested for indecent exposure; now it is something I think about a lot. I still dress like a ragamuffin, but at least now I realize that. At work, as at sit at the front desk in the building's lobby, I often pay attention to what people are wearing. So far I have only learned how to make t-shirts and tailored shirts, but I like looking at other pieces of clothing and thinking about how they are made.

As I was on my way home from work yesterday I noticed Macy's had new window displays. Before this semester it is unlikely I would have noticed this, but even if I had noticed I would not have cared. Last night I spent more than 20 minutes looking through Macy's windows. After leaving Macy's I went north a few blocks to look at Saks and Neiman Marcus. Saks had no clothing in its window displays; there were just posters promising large savings. It is an Off 5th Saks Outlet so I understand the promise of savings, but I still expected to see some clothing on display. I have never paid much attention to Saks before so I do not know if this lack of displays is normal. There were dresses on display at Neiman Marcus - not as many as at Macy's, but I thought the Neiman Marcus dresses were much nicer than the Macy's ones. It is nice to know that I have good taste.

This change in my attitude towards clothing struck me quite hard a few days ago at work. As one of my coworkers and I were sitting at the front desk a beautiful woman walked through the lobby. After she exited the building my coworker and I looked at each other and smiled. I suddenly realized I had been thinking about her dress while he was thinking about something else entirely. If he thought about her dress at all it was to think how nice it would look crumpled up on his bedroom floor the next morning. In retrospect I realized that my bedroom floor is where I would most like to see that dress with my attention devoted to its owner, but I would like to devote a few minutes after breakfast to the dress too. It is a little scary how much my attitudes have changed in just one semester. What will I be like in three or four years?