Who needs a cutting table?

Something I’ve wanted for a long time is a proper cutting table. At the moment I have two options. There’s the the dining table, which is too low for cutting standing up and not large enough for big pattern pieces. I also have a huge foldable cardboard cutting mat for the floor. The mat is a really good surface and has a printed grid which has proved surprisingly useful, but it’s hard on the knees.

But we have never had space at home for it, unless I got one of those foldaway ones and they cost something ridiculous. However we’ve just had a new kitchen. I swear I wasn’t thinking about dressmaking when we planned the layout, but look at this…

It’s the perfect height and plenty long enough; that’s most of the pattern pieces for a pair of jeans laid out there on wide fabric. Guess I don’t need a cutting table after all.

Batch processing

Thanks so much for all the really positive feedback about my colour-blocked dress. It’s definitely growing on me but I think the solid versions of that pattern are still my favourites. I have my planned stripey version cut out now, so it’ll be interesting to see how that turns out by comparison.

I don’t know about you, but while I can sew by artifical light I really need daylight for cutting out fabric. And the nights in the UK are really drawing in so the only chance I get to cut out is at the weekend now. And as making enough room to cut out fabric involves rearranging the entire living room, I thought I’d try cutting out more than one thing for a change.

Four cut dresses

That’s four dresses, all of which I’ve made before. Burda 116-08-2011 in red and again in navy, a stripey Vogue 1250, and the stripey version of the colour-blocked dress, which is Burda 117-02-2012. I normally only cut one garment at a time because my cut fabric pieces either crease horribly or go missing as soon as I turn my back on them. All of these projects are quick enough that the pieces won’t be hanging around for long enough for anything bad to happen; that’s the plan anyway.

Protocol droid legs

So I guess the first attempt at trousers is officially a success! Thanks for all the kind comments. I wore them to work this week – always a good test – and they were pretty comfortable but I realised I’d ideally like the waist a bit lower and the legs longer. Now as I don’t wear trousers much I wasn’t going to rush out and look for fabric for a second pair. But I was sorting my stash looking for things to potentially swap at Claire’s Walthamstow meetup next week and found some silver-painted denim. And I’ve always had a bit of a thing about silver trousers. My inspiration folder contains a large section of images of shiny trousers, including Balenciaga’s notorious C-3PO leggings. Here’s a few.

collage of shiny trouser pictures

I’ve never actually owned a pair of silver trousers, so I squeezed the Burda trouser pattern onto the silver denim and cut it out again. This is all a bit of a gamble. The silver denim has no stretch, unlike the black stuff I used last time, and the painting is a bit uneven in tone which could lead to some unfortunate contrast effects at the seams. I didn’t have enough of the fabric left to have any useful choice over how I laid the pieces out so I’m just going with what I’ve got. If they don’t work out they can at least be used for dressing up as a droid. Wish me luck.

Upside down dragons – patterned fabric and symmetry

Thank-you all so much for the nice comments on my last post about Vogue 1220. I can report it stands up to wearing at work pretty well.

What I’m doing at the moment is making a kimono for my mother. I’ve made kimonos before. The one the one I posted about last year was made from a patterned fabric but I made no effort to match the pattern or worry about which way up it went, and the other couple I’ve done were solid colours. My mother has picked some lovely dark blue and gold Chinese-style brocade with dragons on it and I decided to put some effort into laying it out to best effect.

Here’s the fabric design. I’ve darkened the picture so that the design shows more clearly, but the base colour is really a midnight blue rather than black. The medallion-like motifs are about three inches across and turn out to be curled-up dragons when you look closely, so the whole design is made of dragons and little clouds.

Warning: geekery ahead. At first sight the design looks as if it has a fairly small pattern repeat, something like the cell I’ve drawn below. I assumed the design was ‘one-way’ and had a good look at the curled-up dragons to see which way up they should be placed.

But when I looked more closely I saw that half the curled-up dragons are upside down. The pattern repeat is twice as large as I thought. Whichever way up the fabric is used, half of all the dragons will be upside-down. I’ve drawn the real pattern repeat below. It’s actually rectangular but I must have taken the original picture on the skew.

At this point I thought that the design had two-fold rotational symmetry – in other words you could turn it upside-down and it wouldn’t make a difference – and I started trying to figure out its wallpaper group. It’s possible to classify 2D repeating patterns, such as those on wallpaper and fabric, into exactly seventeen distinct types. I thought I had one of the five types with two-fold rotations. Once you know what rotations there are you start looking for reflections to narrow it down to the exact type. There clearly aren’t any ordinary reflections in the pattern, so I started looking for glide reflections. Then I spotted the clouds. Have a look at the two I’ve circled below, which are next to what appear to be otherwise identical (apart from rotation) dragon motifs. The two clouds are different! The smaller cloud only appears in one orientation within the design, so it is a one-way pattern after all. It’s the simplest of the wallpaper groups, called p1. Once I started looking for it I found a few of the other cloud-like motifs were strictly one-way as well.

It still doesn’t really matter which way up this particular design is placed as long as it is consistent. I put the centre back on one of the vertical lines of medallions, and then tried to lay the rest out so that the pattern matches at the side and sleeve seams as well as possible. I don’t think I’ve done a completely perfect job on the matching, but the fronts and back will demonstrably be the same way up even if you have to squint at the small clouds to tell. I would never have noticed something like that before I started sewing. I’d like to find some wearable fabrics with more elbaorate wallpaper groups.

Taking the plunge

Thanks everyone for the encouraging and helpful suggestions about my cutting mistake. Alas it’s too late for that dress, which went in the bin shortly after I discovered my mistake, but it’s all good advice to remember for next time.

So I finally cut the Liberty fabric. Although to be perfectly accurate, what actually happened was that I laid out the pattern pieces on the Liberty fabric and then suddenly found all sorts of things that Had To Be Done around the house before I could go and start cutting out. After the horrible mistake I made with the test run fabric I was more than a little nervous about cutting into the good stuff.

But it is done now, and the picture above is the little pile of scraps I have left. Is it possible that for once I bought the correct amount of fabric, you ask? Well no. There’s an uncut metre and a half left over too, but I didn’t photograph that. At least if I go wrong I’ll be able to recut a piece or two this time.

The little pile of scraps will go in the bin once the project is finished, unless there any pieces large enough to be of use to my mother, who quilts. But I find it quite useful to keep the bits around for a while to test things out on. This particular project calls for buttonholes, never my favourite thing to sew, so I think the scrap pile is going to see quite a bit of use.

One of the buttonholes is a little bit unusual – at least I’ve not noticed this particular finish before. The project is a copy of a wrap dress I own, and the buttonholes are for the ties to pass through rather than actual buttons. The buttonhole at the waistline is placed in an area of the garment that’s just a single layer of fashion fabric. The buttonhole therefore requires quite a bit of reinforcing. On the original dress a small rectangle of fashion fabric has been top stitched to the back of the buttonhole area with its edges neatly tucked under. It’s very nicely done. Here’s the view from the inside of the dress.

You can’t see from this picture but it looks as the short edges of the patch were folded under first and pressed, then the long edges. I’m not sure if it’s been interfaced or not. I shall have to make a couple of samples out of my scraps and see what works best. Wish me luck.

Disaster strikes

Disaster has struck my wrap dress project. As I posted on Sunday, I managed to cut the body of the dress out wrong side up so it would wrap the wrong way. That was recoverable from – as people kindly said, it’s likely no one’s going to notice. But when I came to sew the collar I found I’d cut the collar pieces the ‘correct’ way up, so they will have the wrong side of the fabric on the outside when I attach them to body. I haven’t got any more of the fabric so that’s the end of that. At least I only wasted the polyester and saved the red swirl print fabric for a better fate.

I am still intending to make the final version of the dress out of my Liberty fabric, but before I cut that out I’m going to remake the pattern with seam allowances included and the pieces marked ‘this way up’!

Do you notice which way a wrap dress wraps?

Do you notice which way a wrap dress wraps? As you’ve probably guessed, I have managed to cut out my wrap dress the wrong way up so it’s going to wrap left over right instead of right over left. I thought I was being clever by cutting it out with the wrong side of the fabric up. The idea was that it would then be easy to mark the darts onto the wrong side of the fabric with chalk as I wouldn’t need to turn the fabric over. This fabric is slippery and creases as soon as you look at it so the less handling it gets the better. Then I forgot to flip the pattern pieces as well as the fabric and didn’t notice until it was too late.

Personally I don’t think this is the end of the world – I had to think a bit to work out which way round women’s clothes normally do wrap in the first place. In addition, the fabric I’m using makes the detail of the pattern almost invisible.

I guess this is something most sewists manage to do at some point or another. I shall finish the dress and see if I notice it’s ‘wrong’ when I’m wearing it.

Blogger meetup and cutting on the living room floor

The stash has grown again, although I really ought to be reducing it. It’s all Elizabeth‘s fault really. She was in London this week and so a few of us met up to go round Liberty of London and have a drink. It was a really great afternoon! We oohed and aahed over the gorgeous but very expensive fabrics in Liberty (have a look at their website – the prints are amazing) then checked out the Berwick Street fabric shops. While talking nineteen to the dozen about sewing, fabrics, and patterns of course. It’s so nice to talk to other people who sew.

So many thanks to Elizabeth, Helen, Eugenia, Claire, Karen and Melissa, stashing enablers and really fun people to be around 🙂

So on to trying to reduce the stash. I have a long list of projects lined up which will take care of a lot of it, but it requires a bit of effort to get started because cutting out fabric is one of my least favourite parts of sewing. Especially when you need to cut a wide fabric in a single layer and end up trying to cut it on the living room floor. The scissors catch on the carpet, the fabric clings to it, little bits of fabric and thread end up all over the room, and you get sore knees too.

Well I think I have found the solution to everything except the sore knees and the threads. (Maybe some sort of kneepads?) A while ago I acquired an enormous roll of tracing paper from Morplan for tracing patterns.

I have barely made a dent in the roll, so I decided to use some of it to cover the carpet before laying out my fabric and pattern. It makes a surprising difference. Things don’t stick to the paper so the fabric lays flat much more easily than if you put it directly on the carpet, and you can cut it without worrying about catching anything but the paper.

The paper didn’t survive the experience unscathed, but it will last a few more goes. And it’s not as if I’m short of the stuff. Or fabric. Or patterns. I’d better get back to the sewing room…

High tech solutions

As I mentioned before, it took me most of a day to cut out Vogue 1239. It’s a complicated pattern with a lot of pieces, but at least part of the problem is that I am really slow at cutting. My usual method for a big pattern is to put up both leaves of the dining table and cut on that, weighing my pattern and fabric down with food cans. This involves moving all the houseplants into the garden and rearranging the living room to find space for the dining chairs but there’s not a lot I can do about that.

The main thing slowing me down that I can actually do something about is that I find the food cans get in my way, so I have to keep rearranging them to avoid bumping my hands into them while cutting. A while ago someone (I wish I could remember who so I could link to them) mentioned on their blog that they use large washers as pattern weights, which would solve that problem nicely.

So today I went to the hardware store and had a look. Washers are not on display so I had to ask for them. They showed me some tiny little steel things. I tried to explain what I wanted them for, but obviously failed because then they offered me rubber ones. I eventually asked to see the biggest metal ones they had. They produced these, which are 7cm across, and then looked very surprised when I bought them. I realised afterwards they must have just heard ‘dressmaking’ and have been thinking I wanted to sew them to something! No wonder they looked rather dubious.

I think these will be a big improvement over food cans.

Time sink

Thanks for all the nice comments about my kimono! And yes, the gravel in the garden is pretty uncomfortable on bare feet but it was the only way to get the Japanese maple tree into the shot and given its name it just had to be done. Normal service of pictures taken in front of the wall will be resumed with the next project.

The next project is Vogue 1239, the dress that looks like a labcoat. I’m going to make my version in black cotton poplin so as not to be mistaken for one of the scientists at work.

Vogue 1239 pattern photo

The sewing rating for this pattern is ‘average’. I’ve previously made Vogue 1087 which has a sewing rating of ‘advanced’ so I figured 1239 would be quite achievable, if not a one weekend project.

I probably should have realised I was slightly wrong about what was involved when it took me two whole evenings to cut out the tissue. And another hour to lengthen all the pieces that needed lengthening.

I started pressing and cutting out the actual fabric and lining at about midday on Saturday. I think I finished transferring markings to the last piece of fabric at seven in the evening and my back still aches. Most of the fashion fabric is cut using a single layer layout so you have to cut the same pieces out several times over – and you really have to pay attention because a few pieces have multiple cutting lines and you have to cut one along each line. Piece 8 sticks in my mind in particular as you have to cut three different versions of that one.

None of this is terribly difficult if you’re concentrating so I can’t complain about the sewing rating too much. But if you make this one, allow yourself plenty of time. I haven’t even started sewing it yet.