Friday, April 30, 2010

Hot iron, short sleeves, bad shirt

My apparel construction class began work on our shirt this week. I have made shirts before, so I expected to have no problems with this project. As my classmates were still working on collars and front plackets all I had left was cuffs, buttonholes, and hem. My plan was to have the shirt finished by now so I could spend the weekend and the last week of class studying and working on other projects. My optimism was foolish, but at least I have time to make another shirt.

I ran into two problems. My fabric is a polyester/cotton blend, and my iron was too hot. The heat setting was fine for pressing the fabric flat and pressing open seam allowances, but my front plackets became horribly distorted. If the crinkled plackets were the only problem I might have been able to turn in this shirt, but I ran into a bigger problem with the sleeves. Instead of making a muslin for the shirt we just did a tissue fit. I thought my sleeves were long enough. They weren’t. This problem could be fixed with huge cuffs, but then the shirt would look silly.

I need a greige goods shirt to wear for my final project presentation in my fashion industry class, but I did not plan to have that shirt finished by the time my apparel construction shirt is due. Now I will have to use the same shirt for both classes. So the shirt I made with fashion fabric is my muslin, and the shirt I will make with muslin is my finished product. At least I am getting a lot of experience making shirts.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fifty dollar presser foot

I started work on my shirt. My pattern calls for ¼ inch seam allowances. I think the 5/8 inch seam allowances on most commercial patterns are too big, but ¼ inch seems awfully small. Half inch seam allowances are better. Where I will be making flat felled seams I increased the size of my pattern to allow for ½ inch seam allowances, but for the rest of the shirt I want to try making the ¼ inch ones.

On home machines the edge of the presser foot is 3/8 inch from the needle. I can sew ¼ inch seams like this, but it is easier with a ¼ inch foot. I remembered seeing a ¼ inch foot at Jo Ann Fabrics, so I hopped in my car and drove 30 miles to Eau Claire.

Only one ¼ inch foot was in stock, but one was all I needed. The foot cost $4.99. I did not need any fabric or notions, but I am unable to enter a fabric store without buying lots of stuff. On a sales rack I found two bolts of dupioni silk marked down 75%. I did not need dupioni silk, but at $4.00 per yard I felt I could not afford to not buy some. Two colors were available, green and gold. I am not too fond of either color, and there was not enough of each for a single color garment, but how often do I get an opportunity to work with silk? After I make a few cotton shirts to become comfortable with my pattern, I will make a silk shirt.

I bought a few other pieces of fabric from the sales rack along with some thread that was on sale. I had a 40% off coupon, but the coupon could not be used for sales items or machine accessories. I did not want to waste the coupon that cost $0.10 to print in the library, so I bought a bolt of interfacing. You can never have too much interfacing. The presser foot was the only thing on my shopping list, but I ended up spending more than fifty dollars.

The presser foot does not work!

It is labeled a universal foot. The package states it can be used with both Brother and Elna machines, but it does not fit on my Brother or either type of Elna at school. It is a snap-on foot, which both Brother and Elna machines use, but the back end of the foot is too close to the presser foot holder. The foot cannot move freely, and it does not rest flat against the feed dogs. With the foot at an odd angle it does not hold fabric in place. Stupid foot. At least I got some silk.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My first pants

I turned in the pants for my apparel construction class on Wednesday. This was the first time I made a pair of pants. It was not an easy project. I usually make a few practice items before the one I turn in, but for this project I did not have time to do so. All I could fit in was one extra muslin, but even that little bit helped a lot.

My pants are not great, but for a first attempt I think I did a good job. The pants fit well, but I will probably never wear them. I did not make back pockets. The requirements for the project were front pockets, fly front with zipper, and waist band. I put a back pocket in one of my muslins, and was very bad. I found making pants difficult enough and I did want to risk mangling the pants with a poorly made back pocket.

Belt loops were not required, but I added them to my pants. Wearing a belt during my final fit gave me a little wiggle room in the waist size. I did not like my pattern for belt loops or their placement, so I designed my own loops and put them where I like. My pattern called for me to make belt loops by sewing a thin tube of fabric. Turning the tube was too difficult, so I wanted to find a different method. I examined a few pairs of pants and found that belt loops are commonly made by folding a piece of fabric and covering the raw edge with a coverstitch. I do not have access to a coverstitch machine, but I do have a double needle for my lockstitch. The double needle is not as good, but for belt loops it is good enough.

I used matching color thread for the pants. The contrasting thread was used here for contrast.

The fly front was the most difficult part of the project. It took me a lot of time to finish, and my seam ripper saw a lot of action. My finished fly is not great, but it works and there are no exposed unfinished edges. My instructor warned the class that the waist band would also be quite difficult, but I found it easy. The method I use to attach sleeve cuffs worked well for the waist band. The bottom hem, while easy, proved to be a time consuming process. The hem had to be hand stitched. Had I done it at home rather than in lab with all my classmates to distract me I would have needed less time, but working in lab is a lot more fun.

I used one of the computerized machines for my buttonhole. Last semester as I was working on shirts I wrote about how easy it was to use my home machine to make buttonholes. Compared to the school machines, my home machine seems overly complicated and difficult. The buttonhole feet at school have a special slot into which I insert a button, and this tells the machine how big to make the hole. At home I must measure the length of the hole myself and hope I get it right. On my home machine I must stop after each part of the hole and change the setting on my machine. At school I just hit the gas pedal and let the machine do all the work. The school machines even give me a choice of a few different types of holes. I made a keyhole buttonhole for my pants. It almost seems too easy. Sewing should require more effort.

Muslin Muslin Pants

Monday, April 12, 2010

Men wear clothing too

The pants and shirt I am sewing in my apparel construction class must fit me, and I need to supply the patterns. The women in class have had no trouble finding patterns, but for the men it is not so easy. Not only do we need to find pants and shirt patterns; the patterns must meet certain requirements. The pants need a fly front and real pockets – no patch pockets. The shirt must have a collar stand and sleeve cuffs.

The local Wal-Mart carries only Simplicity patterns. The only Simplicity men’s pants pattern has patch pockets. Simplicity has a few men’s shirt patterns that meet the requirements for my class, but the shirts do not look good. They lack yokes and sleeve plackets.

The nearest fabric store with a better selection of patterns is in Eau Claire, 28 miles away from home. I found McCall’s patterns on sale for $0.99, but there are no McCall’s pants patterns that meet the requirement for my class. McCall’s offers a shirt pattern with a collar stand, yoke, cuffs, and sleeve plackets, but I have used this pattern before and I do not like it. Parts of the shirt fit very poorly. Perhaps the fault was mine, but I did not want to risk it. I bought a Kwik Sew shirt pattern and a Burda pants pattern.

I had very few options as I searched for patterns. Men’s clothing makes up a very small portion of the pattern books. McCall’s offers more patterns for menswear in the costumes section than in the men’s section. I understand that most of the people who sew are women, but surely some of them have husbands, boyfriends, fathers, and sons who wear clothing. In a few years I will be able to design my own patterns, but for now I must rely on commercial ones. Perhaps if more menswear patterns were available more men would sew.

Friday, April 2, 2010

They're dropping like flies

At the start of the semester there were 20 students in my apparel construction class. Six are majoring in education, one in business, and the rest in apparel design. One of the apparel design students dropped the class a few weeks ago after realizing that sewing was not for her. Another apparel design student plans to finish the class, but she will be changing her major. I do not know how many people have dropped out of my textiles class, but last week the woman I sit next to in lab told me that next semester she will be transferring to another school where she will major in something that has nothing whatsoever to do with the fashion industry. Students who were here last semester have told me that it is rare for only two students to give up on apparel design after taking the apparel construction class; usually five or more drop out.

There are usually about 200 students majoring in apparel design at my school, but on average only 30 earn a degree each year. There are a lot of people who drop this major after or during their first year. I knew my major had a high attrition rate, but I do not enjoy watching it happen. I love what I am studying and doing, and I wish others did too. Some of my classmates share my passion for the work, but others seem overwhelmed and dismayed. I think their expectations for the program were misguided. A lot of students seemed to expect the glamour of high fashion they see in magazines and on TV, and did not think they would have to do any real work. I try to help and encourage my classmates, but for some of them this just is not the right field.

High school seniors who are considering attending Stout to major in apparel design have been visiting my apparel construction class. We try to make the class look fun, but I hope they also see that it is a lot of hard work. Last week six prospective students watched as we struggled, and often failed, to make pants pockets.

Apparel design can be a fun and rewarding major, but it is not necessarily easy. Hard work and long hours are required. Realistic expectations and a passion for the work are required to do will in this major.