Monday, August 15, 2011

Trash Top: Making it Work

On Wednesday I typed these words into Facebook, “I need a dress form. I’m just putting it out there.” And a mere 4 hours later “Pinny” was sitting on my design table. I’d been searching for a while, but that day, after typing that sentence, I found what I’d been looking for: a great price ($25).  I just love Craigslist. True, she didn’t come with an ornamental stand, nice for photos, and has a couple stains. But I can use an ugly stand I already have for practical purposes and I expect a beautiful stand will one day materialize.

So I felt ready to rock out some clothes and gave myself a Project Runway inspired challenge: two days and two items from my studio. I picked a top which I’d taken from the trash. (Sort of.  You know how, after a yard sale, people often leave a box of unsold items at the curb? That’s my favorite time to shop.)  To coordinate with the muted pink and mustard flowers in the top, I chose a warm brown silk kimono I’d purchased years ago and never dared to cut apart.  Here is the blouse before and after. The kimono skirt and jacket will be the subject of the next post - so stay tuned.

Finished Front
Finished Back
Style Influences: Victorian & 1700s torn silk.  There wasn’t much fabric in the blouse. But I could feel that there was a layer of interfacing within the collar and that it wasn’t fused to the fabric. So I knew I could separate and use the layers. I immediately saw a high lacy Victorian collar in my mind’s eye, and this was the inspiration for the whole design. I decided to combine a few historical references with an edgy contemporary silhouette. The design features a high, fluffy upstanding collar with a drapey razor-back that is sexy without being revealing. The geometry of the angles, with clean finished edges, are a deliberate contrast the frayed scalloped edges of the collar and blouse hem: a juxtaposition of curvy and straight, prim and adventurous.
On the original top, I especially hated seeing the cheap plastic buttons. In Victorian times, buttons and other closures, that revealed how a garment came off, were concealed cleverly within folds and tucks. This was because seeing them implied ‘easy off’. I have seen some antique dresses that are hard to tell how to put them ON, like this circa 1900 top from my collection which uses 32 hooks and eyes!  (Pinny has allowed me to see and photograph this garment in 3 dimensions for the very first time.) I like the secrecy of a hidden closure, as long as it is practical. Reversing and hiding the buttons behind a new placket was a way to dress up the top while simultaneously dealing with a small tear in the existing fabric.

Many people might be surprised to learn that raw edges aren’t really a new thing. Upon scrutiny of numerous costumes from the 1700s, I’ve noticed that long bands of ruched torn silk are a common decoration. Since I wanted a ruffled appearance but didn’t want to add any weight, I decided to stretch the fabric along the scalloped neckline.

Back Neck detail – sexy and functional. Since I removed the shoulders, all the weight of the blouse-back is suspended from one central point at the back of the neck.  Having no more fabric, I used an ornament of lace and tulle scraps to fortify this area as well as to add another Victorian detail. Again, I think of the Victorian tendency to eroticize things like a woman’s neck, wrist, or ankle.

Tim Gunn Make it Work moments:

I had to remove the double stitched thin bias edging all around in order to re-sew the armscye and used one of my favorite tools: this wickedly sharp Surgical Steel Seam Ripper.
I saved this edging and used it to stabilize the new placket by ironing it flat, adhearing it with Misty-Fuse, and double stitching. My hand-covered snap was devoured by my studio monster and had to make another.
Finding buckram inside was a boon and really lended itself to embroidery. But I didn't like the first flower and had to carefully pick it out. I embroidered a “J” on the center back of the buckram ‘lace’ (in lieu of installing a label), and stitched ‘bars’ to create the illusion of lace and support the collar. However, since it barely shows, I decided to limit the embroidery and not do cutwork, as I had initially planned. I found that the less literal I was with the lace, the more I liked it.
I also thought about using more left-over bias strips as casings for recycled collar stays, to insure an upright collar, but ended up achieving the same effect with sewn pintucks along outside collar piece.

The collar closes with a medium size snap. I hid one side under the black lace and covered the other in fabric. That way it is barely visable if you choose to wear the collar open. Snaps are under-used in my estimation and covering one in fabric is easy to do and makes an inexpensive closure. If you've never made one, here's how:

Technique: How to cover a snap with fabric
Snap your fabric between your snap, with the right side facing up on top of the female side of the snap. Stitch a running stitch around it, allowing enough room for the fabric to go up and around the snap. Cinch in the running stitch to enclose the metal, but not too tightly, and unsnap the snap. Pass your needle up through the bottom hole and through the fabric. Move over a bit and pass needle back through hole. Now tighten the thread and the hole will pull down. Backstitch around the gathers of fabric on the back of the snap and secure with a tight knot. Carefully trim the excess fabric flat and as closely as possible. Douse the cut edges and stitches on the back with Fray Check, but avoid getting it on the front side, and set aside to dry. Now you can attach it by stitching around the edges, catching the fabric as you go, for a very pretty couture finish.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Makin' Bacon

Funny where ideas come from.  After I posted my Carnivore Coasters, some jovial banter ensued. I blurted out 'Bacon Beer Wraps' and instantly knew they had to be. Ok, not a long stretch from steak to bacon, but still. Sometimes it is as if the concept is the reality - and fabrication is the abstract process you have to go through to get to the place you’ve already been. In a process similar to the steak coasters, I began with photographs of actual bacon. Then I studied the image to decide how best to translate it into embroidery: what aspects are best rendered by line, color, texture and stitch direction, etc.
I have a dark sense of humor and sometimes laugh at horrible things. I think this meat series is funny because – well, I think that industrial food production is gross. Like all of my work, there is usually a connective thread to my life. That connection with this meat series is to my belief in the humane and sustainable treatment of all animals, including those that are farmed. Healthier for you, the animals, and the planet. On the back of my package is the link to Food Inc., a documentary that everyone who eats should see. At Local Harvest you can find tons of information about safe food in your area including piggies, and other animals, who had a healthy, happy life before they went to market.  Folks in my neck of the woods might enjoy shopping at Rainbow Ranch Farms.

Once the digitizing and the embroidery was done, it took me a long time to finish this item – and I suppose it is because I don’t like this kind of packaging and graphic design.  I had to study bacon packaging – really look at it – and gosh it is ugly and excessive.  Vivid bright yellow backings are the norm, and lots of primary red. Simultaneously, during a conversational thread I was following amongst some European friends, someone expressed the opinion that Americans’ vision was stunted by the constant affront of intense primary colors, leaving us unable to appreciate a subtle palate. I was certainly feeling under Primary Attack.
As with all of my products, I like to give careful thought to the packaging and try to utilize creatively that which is at hand. For the Bacon Beer Wraps, I used recycled yellow file folders and repurposed print sleeves. I drew the label image and text, scanned it, and printed it on 8.5 “x 11” stock cut from the file folders. The wraps’ Velcro tabs slide into carefully cut slits in the cardstock, holding each piece in position within the package and completing the illusion.

Here’s the Nerdy Part for Digitizers

Since the Bacon Beer Wraps were worked from photos, they weren’t vector images. I like working this way because I feel the lines have more life, but you can get some surprises. That magic wand can include things you don’t want and don’t even know are there. Maybe you have also run into this: you are using your tools, but an object isn’t behaving as you expect.   It could be one of many problems, but here’s an example of one type of glitch and how to fix it:

Zoomed in a little more than 100% and the problem is only visible to a trained eye.

Zoomed way in, now you can see a tiny D-shaped hole. This little hole can cause a host of problems. It could prevent the surrounding area from being outlined or cause the fill stitches to stitch badly.

It’s a little hard to tell, but see how the green stitching lines are interrupted with this hole? This would stitch with a little blip there.
Select all the control points at one time and delete.

Usually with these little anomalies, once you delete the control points, a black line remains. But as you can see here, if you look closely, the green stitching line now spans across the hole. This indicates that it will now stitch properly.
Zoomed back out, you can see the black line remaining around the removed hole. Now that you know what to look for, you can probably find a couple others. Can you spot them? Learning how to recognize and deal with these little buggers will save you lots of headaches. Next time something acts funny…. Zoom in. Zoom waaaay in.