October 9, 2007

Researchers at Virginia Tech are weaving textiles with inbuilt electronic components that they are calling e-textiles.

Some of the applications they are working on include integrating bluetooth technology into textiles (which will add an extra dimension to that popular early millenium parlor game “Cell phone or crazy person?”) and what they call a “glove keyboard”. The glove keyboard lets you use to type on a tabletop and associates your finger movements with the keys on a keypad.

They are also working on textiles which can be made into garments to analyze the way that people move through space.

I think this stuff is a ways away from any kind of market release applications for ordinary consumers — and frankly, I’m not sure what the applications of the gait analysis garment would be, anyhow. The only think I can think of is computing applications to make fancier games or animation.

The coolest mass market application of electronics in textiles that I have seen is the solar powered backpack, which allows you to do things like charge up your cell phone. I’m trying to think of cool electronic clothing options I would like if I lived In The Future. Maybe a fabric where the weave loosens as it gets hot and then tightens up again as it cools down?

I can’t even think of any sci-fi concepts of this nature excepting the Ford Prefect’s danger-detecting sunglasses.


In Progress

October 8, 2007

I’ve got a couple projects on the go at the moment, and I haven’t blogged any of them as yet. Partly because the batteries in my camera have expired, and partly because I’ve been too busy to sew and document the process.

The silk brocade from the NYC fabric run is half-way through being made up into a skirt. It’s my standard 8-gore knee length tried and true pattern, but this time with a Hong Kong underlining. I’m very happy with the way that it’s turning out, but it’s going on hiatus for a few days until I make something with the silk dupioni which I geeked out about back in September, but have as yet neither sewn up nor photographed.

I’m planning a faux-wrap skirt — a simple floor length a-line style but with a flap across the front to showcase the beautiful selvage on this piece of fabric. I’ve currently cut paper and a muslin. The pattern is self-drafted from a skirt that I made about a hundred years ago with a lot of help from a sewing friend, waaaaay before I had any clue. I’m also planning to use the Hong Kong underlining technique on this skirt (which is why I practiced first on the brocade).

I was going to take advantage of the public holiday today to start cutting this skirt, but I had a very restless night. ‘Bout 1.30, I was lying in bed, unable to sleep, when I heard a rustling noise in the apartment. I’m fairly sure that the upstairs neighbors have a dog or cat, so I figured it was just scritchy paws on floorboards upstairs, but five minutes later Spouse Phor jolted awake and yelled “what’s that noise!?!”.

Now, we have rats living in the alley next to our apartment, and in my sleep-addled state, I was imagining their little ratty paws managing to get them into the building and operate the elevator and I dunno, pick locks or some such, so I scooted out of bed and turned on the hallway light.

There, momentarily stunned by the brightness, was a largish cockroach. Who must have been wearing the cockroach equivalent of wooden clogs, because I have never heard of cockroach scuttling waking anyone up before.

Is Tim Gunn married?

September 24, 2007

Dear readers,

To those of you who are arriving at this blog via google searches inquiring as to the marital status of Tim Gunn. No, Tim Gunn is not married. But I’m pretty sure you still don’t have a shot.

NY Fashion Week

September 13, 2007

I moseyed on over to to check out some of the designs coming out of New York fashion week. Mostly I look at this kind of stuff for inspiration — ideas on stuff to sew or color combinations or shapes. It’s tricky to do, though, especially for silhouettes, because you have to translate shapes from the models, who are all the same shape, to your own shape. There are some things which look very nice (or interesting, which isn’t at all the same thing) on the runway which would just not look at all right on me. You also have to not let the model-shape colonize your head. Most women don’t look like that, but if you spend all day looking at these pictures, you can forget that, sometimes.

When you look at runway shows, you see a lot of stuff that is silly and easy to mock, and it was not my intention to do a post about that stuff. But I failed. There just wasn’t enough stuff that I liked. So I’m gonna start with a couple of very bad mistakes.

Marc Jacobs was playing with asymmetry and with garments where the left side didn’t match the right. Some of the results were tragic:

This is from Heatherette. Who I had never heard of before, but I hated their stuff.

You might have to blow the photo up. It appears to be some species of crotcheted beach short for men.

This is Valentino. I thought he had died, but turns out he just retired, so I don’t feel bad mocking him.



I suspect this is what they call “challenging”. I just think she looks like a lampshade. And are her arms pinned to her body with this contraption? (Don’t tell me you don’t need to move you arms if you’re wearing a couture gown. How do you sip your cocktail??)

The only thing I’ve seen so far that I’ve thought “hrmm, I might make something like that” is this:

I don’t know what it is, exactly but I’ve been watching an old BBC series called The House of Eliott. Two upper class sisters in London in the early 20s are left penniless by their father who was mean and frittered away the family fortune. The only thing they know how to do is sew, so they open a fashion house. Trials and tribulations ensue, and there are a lot of fabulous clothes. They spend a good deal of time swanning around in their pyjamas, which have wonderful matching dressing gowns. So, even though I suspect this is a dress, I think it would be an absolutely divine dressing gown. Do you think anyone does a print like that in flannel-backed satin?

Tim Gunn’s Guide To Style

September 6, 2007

So I watched the first episode of the new Tim Gunn show, he of Project Runway fame.

Oh sweet baby jesus. Sweet, sweet baby jesus with balled up fists of fury.

How did the usually fabulous Tim Gunn become roped into such a cauldron of sickly sweet pseudo-empowering sentimentality? I know the man is smart (you can tell because apparently he uses big words). And there are one or two moments when he lets that shine through — especially when he talks about hemlines and seamlines and proportions.

But the rest of the show? I feel a little ill.

The premise is that a young woman (“Rebecca”) is judged by her friends to be “unstylish” and given a makeover. Now, I knew that was the premise going in — all these shows have the same premise, and yeah, it’s icky, but I can get over that. I could deal with Tim and his cohort Veronica taking the poor woman shopping for underwear. I could deal with the hair styling and the makeup and the “let’s go shopping” and “ooh, shoes”.

I could not deal with the “life stylist” who made Rebecca wear a garbage bag and repeat a mantra. “I cannot control how I am perceived. I can only control how I am presented.” He was very earnest, too. And yanno, I kinda thought Rebecca looked alright in the “before” pictures anyway.

But really it was the last ten minutes that took the cake. This was the point when I thought to myself, “Tim Gunn, you have lost it. You really have crossed the Rubicon of bad taste. I didn’t expect it from you, but you did it.”

The show ends with Rebecca performing a “fashion show” of the new outfits she’s bought in front of her family and her adoring husband. Before the “fashion show” begins, Tim Gunn takes the adoring husband aside and tells him he has a gift to give him. There’s a blurb about how they got married young and didn’t have much money and blah blah blah, and then Tim Gunn busts out this diamond ring and is all like “so, I know you couldn’t get Rebecca the diamond she deserves when you got engaged, so here, have one now”.

Because, doesn’t everyone need a tv celebrity to tell them how the wedding jewelry that they bought for their spouse is crappy? And they could do better and by the way, hey, I’m your fairy godmother? I would have decked you, Tim Gunn.

So then, they have the fashion show, and just before the reveal of the big finale number, adoring husband gets up and makes a speech about how his wife is a beautiful woman and he always wants to provide for her and he couldn’t prove that when they were all young but this is for her and everybody cries because she is all feminine now and he’s all masculine and providing for her (except for the fact that really I guess she is now married to Bravo since they paid for it. I wonder what three months’ of their salary is?)

And then she puts on the fabulous dress. And then they bring in her mother-just-recovering-from-surgery. (Seriously. I am not making this up.) Who didn’t get to see the whole “fashion show” bit? I don’t get that.

Then they go to Mexico and she swans around in her new clothes and Tim and Veronica talk about how she was an “A student” and she totally “mastered it”. And Rebecca does a little wrap-up spiel about how her friends now call her “Newbecca”. And everyone drinks champagne and feels a little bit sick.

Fabric geekout: Silk Dupioni

September 6, 2007

I have about two yards of what I think is silk dupioni that I picked up on vacation about two years ago. It’s a beautiful iridescent fabric that is mostly a rust tone but has a green thread in the warp which makes it change color with the light.

It’s also quite possible that the fabric is shantung. There doesn’t seem to be a firm consensus about the difference between these two fabrics. Both are woven with irregular weft threads and often with different color threads in the warp and the weft. Both have a slightly uneven surface texture because their weft threads are not of even width, and it’s this texture which gives the fabric its iridescent quality.

Technically, silk dupioni is woven from threads produced when two silkworms spin thread side by side and their threads twist around each other. (Is that cool or what?) But I’m not sure that modern manufacturers stand on the difference. It also appears that shantung is generally described as “lighter” “softer” or with more drape.

The fabric that I have is extremely crisp.

Here’s are some of the highlights of the shantung & dupioni entry in Claire Shaeffer‘s fabulous book Sew Any Fabric:

  • Be careful with pins; they can mark this fabric.
  • Don’t cut on the crossgrain as the seams will slip.
  • Avoid seams on the straight grain.
  • Use a new sharp needle (I know that everyone always says that for everything; in this case, I would). Sharp or universal, 60/8 – 80/12.

You can prewash this fabric if you want to, but you don’t have to. If you wash it, it will become softer and drapier; if you don’t it will retain the very crisp hand — but you should have your garment drycleaned. In my experience of washing silk, you can also lose some of the shininess with a wash.

As for seam finishes, Schaeffer suggests “serged, pinked or zigzagged”. I personally don’t like any of these options; I don’t have a serger, my fabric is awfully ravelling for pinking, and honestly, to my mind, zigzag finishing just doesn’t look good on a woven.

I think for this type of fabric, I’d go for some sort of modified Hong Kong finish, where the raw seam is wrapped in bias tape.

Baby Sling

September 1, 2007

I made a baby sling for my friend Bomboniera. Apparently they are all the rage with celebrities these days. I was explaining to another friend what I was making, and he nodded and said “oh yeah, like Angelina Jolie”. So Bomb, you’ll be rocking it like Ms. Jolie.

I tried to find some pictures of glamorous celebrities wearing them, but although I could find plenty of pictures of “celebrities”, I’m really not so good with the celebrity gossip, and I wasn’t entirely sure which celebrity I was looking at, or often, how celebrated said individual really was. So here’s a picture of Laura Bennett.

And here is a picture of me, modelling what I made. The sling is filled out here by a five pound bag of flour which Spouse Phor insisted on calling “Nikita”* for the duration of the photo shoot. Note also my multi-tasking as I both wear Nikita in the sling and engage in scathing political analysis of Mike Huckabee.

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Summer Dress

August 28, 2007

From the NYC fabric run:

This is made from two yards of cotton gauze and about a yard of t-shirt knit. The bodice derives from my cowl neck “muslin” — the skirt is simply two rectangles sewn together with pockets inserted then gathered and attached to the bodice. More detailed construction info after the fold.

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New York, New York

August 23, 2007

So I managed to sneak up to New York city last weekend, and of course, the first thing I did when I got there was to hit the garment district.

The NYC garment district is one of my favorite places to shop for fabric. The Garment District neighborhood is in midtown Manhattan, conveniently right on top of Penn Station. I’ve found the best fabric shopping to be between 36th & 39th Sts between 6th & 8th Aves.

Recommending particular stores is tricky. I generally tend to wander and weave my way through, stopping at whatever catches my eye, and rarely remembering the names of stores. And at one point, I did manage to get myself turned around and wandered into the store I’d just been in five minutes ago.

The famous store here is of course Mood Fabrics, as seen on Project Runway. It’s right in the heart of the garment district, at 225 W37th St (go on up to the 3rd floor), and it has some gorgeous things. It’s also very sensibly laid out, with fabric organized by fiber content, and unlike many of the other tiny retail stores, with price labels on the fabric. It is also, however, nowhere close to being as cheap as the storefronts at street level. Worth a visit, though, if only to eavesdrop on the catty comments by the FIT students who prowl the aisles (“Did you hear what she said to me? She was all “oh, did you make that shirt yourself?” She’s soooo bitchy!”).

So. I didn’t buy anything at Mood, but I did come back with quite a haul. First, some basics:

A couple yards of basic cotton, in a dark green and a salmon:

A black cotton knit and some light frothy gauze:

These two are going to go together, I think, into a dress with a knit bodice, and the gauze as the skirt.

A couple of my best finds came from a store with a “Going Out Of Business” sign on front. This is a black stretch velvet embossed with a floral pattern (close up at right):

I also picked up this gorgeous floral print velvet, an absolute steal at $4/yard:

And finally, the piece de la resistance, and my favorite, this divine striped brocade:

It looks very pink in the photograph, but actually, the dominant tones are from the greens and golds.

Drafting from RTW: Cowl Neck Tank

August 13, 2007

Scuse the hiatus. My computer died, so I’ve spent the last week or so figuring out what sort of machine I can get for a decent price, and then trying to salvage all my stuff from my old machine, which has a busted backlight. (The backlight shines through from the back of the monitor — which means I can still see stuff on the old machine, everything is just very dim, like I’m looking through some ridiculously dark glasses.)

Just before the computer died, I had just finished a project. The staring point was this:

It was a freebie from some golf thing Spouse Phor went to for work. It’s a men’s XXXL cotton knit t-shirt with a polo neck. Waaay to huge for him to ever wear.

Now, I wear cotton knit tanks constantly. Like they are going out of style. I must have four or five in black, at least, but a couple are getting a bit ratty and overwashed, so it’s time to add a few new ones. I figured this would make a great practice fabric for pattern-making. I’ll throw together a pattern, see if it works out, and if it does, I’ve got a great easy pattern for knit tank tops.

To make this pattern, I started by tracing around a top I already own:

You can see that I folded it half. Because knits are stretchy, if I’d have spread it out and traced both sides independently, there would have been a decent chance that the sides wouldn’t match. By folding it in half, I get a pattern that can be placed on the fabric fold line and the left and right sides will match.

I traced around the back half of the top — the front neckline is slightly lower, but happily, the back and front sides of the pattern are identical.

So now I have a basic tank top pattern, without seam allowances. The next thing I wanted to do was play around with the necklines a little. I drew another copy of this pattern, and shifted the neckline up — this, with seam allowances added, is now my back pattern piece. On the front piece, I wanted to draft a cowl neckline. To do this, you need to spread the shoulder points out to give you excess fabric for the cowl.

To make the cowl neckline, I started by tracing the armscye from just below the armpit all the way up to the shoulder seam:

I then cut around the curve. I took this curve and laid it on top of my original pattern piece. Using the armpit as a point of origin, I pivoted the curve outwards. I probably shifted it so that the new shoulder seam was about 2.5 inches away from the original seam.

It took me a few tries on the fabric until I got this just so — I basted in the side seams and chalked in the armscyes, then hand basted the shoulder seams on the back and front until I had it the way I wanted it. Once I’d figured the pattern the way I liked it, I added the seam allowances to the paper piece.

The final garment came out with a nice shape. But:

Because I was futzing around with the fabric *before* I’d properly cut my pattern, I ended up with the original logo of the shirt sitting. right. there. On my shoulder.

It says “Loretta Sanchez for Congress”. I have nothing against Congresswoman Sanchez, but I’m not sure I want to wear that over my heart, yanno?