Reception Dress

The Project: take in and shorten a reception dress that was covered in beads and sequins. For an out-of-state bride getting married in a couple weeks.


This dress is a very silky, loose-woven chiffon and is cut on the bias. It’s hard to tell how it will lay on the actual wearer, because the drape of it will be different on anyone who puts it on.

I pinned it on the bride-to-be and determined that taking it in in the sides would make the most sense at the back-center zipper.

Once I delved into it, I discovered there was no machine sewing to be done, pretty much anywhere. I removed the zipper and replaced it by hand:

Working with this dress was incredible. It’s hard to tell how much of the beadwork was done by hand, and despite some scrutiny by both my designer-creator friend Denise and myself, we couldn’t come to any solid conclusions.

The periodically interspersed sequins into the lines of seed beads are a nice touch:

Look at this and keep in mind that it is done on the bias on the shiftiest, slidingest chiffon:


Remember this is not an applique. And it isn’t backed with stabilizer:

I had to find a balance between getting both edges right up on top of each other to hide the invisible zipper vs. making the beads lumpy against the edge or getting them too close to the teeth:

Here it is finished, hand-sewn hem and everything:

Added drama: despite planning to go to the wedding, I figured with something this last minute and this important, I’d better not be responsible for hand-delivering it and not losing it in transport. I could so see sleeping in late and missing the plane. So I sent it by Fed-Ex so it would arrive 2 or 3 days before the wedding.

I hadn’t paid attention to the tracking number and was out and about without the receipt when the groom called to ask about the dress’s whereabouts. Since I’d paid by debit, the tracking number was luckily listed in my online bank summary, and we discovered that some weather conditions (neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail, my butt) had held it up–to the extent that it arrived shortly after I did.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean that we’d have been better off with me hand-delivering it; I’ve heard too many stories of items being stolen off planes, and after our adventure in ridiculousness in flying Spirit, I wouldn’t have gotten off that little toy plane too surprised if all my luggage had been replaced with a sack of potatoes.


Why was this blog tabled for so long?

So here I am back after a long absence caused by various reasons, not the least of which is being fabulously busy. So the next several posts, submitted in rapid succession will show some of what I have been up to.


Here is my soon to be previous work table. It features some paint shelves, despite my not being a painter, and also despite the fact that the space provided here is barely enough to hold even the paint selection of a non-painter (which isn’t apparent in this picture as I remembered to snap this Before shot just before completely emptying all the paint into a milk crate).

This table also featured shelves that were way too deep and too high on the other side, making it very hard for me to organize:


Shelves can be freaking cheap at thrift stores and they are readily available locally at places like Ikea and Target and what-have-you. However, I wanted specifically 36-inch high shelves that were fairly wide, but only about a foot deep. Apparently, this is not a common size.

An internet search turned up a decent selection online, and further inquiry turned up the cheapest to be found online. (

The description almost led me to hope that they would come put together, but when 5 boxes of the size shown below arrived, I knew some assembly was required.

You know those little twist circles that cheap furniture always have? Well, maybe a quarter of the holes those go in had to be chiseled out. Which greatly increased the time it took to build these shelves. As well as the frustration and sense of tedium that is generally inspired by assembling this sort of furniture; the work vs. outcome ratio is akin to if it took 12 hours to prepare spaghetti. Their screw partners had to be screwed in tightly or loosely in various places so that the heads would line up, and it wasn’t apparent without screwing them in then testing, then adjusting. I wound up chiseling through the shelf in a couple places and not managing to complete the connection in a few more. In other words, I learned why these are hands down the cheapest shelves on the internet. I’m also getting email updates on office furniture deals pretty regularly now.

It took multiple sittings to manage to finish all of these, and about 3 or 4 trips down to the dumpster to get rid of the boxes and Styrofoam. So fast-forward ahead and here are 5 shelves waiting to go into my studio.

I discovered that much of the previous table had to be dismantled by pounding the crap out of it with a hammer and ripping the boards apart with my mighty thews. It took me back to that throw-away joke in Maniac Mansion about how the hamster cage was nailed, bolted, taped, and glued down. (Something like that; I can’t find the exact quote online, and I don’t want to download and play the whole game from scratch again just to get it right for those two people over the next decade who not only read this blog but also know what the heck I’m talking about. Unless you happen to know, please comment. Not knowing this occasionally drives me crazy.)

Also, I did not build this table myself, nor, apparently, have any say whatsoever in its construction.

On to the new table base, still covered in Styrofoam bits:

The following step was difficult. The sheet of MDF is outrageously heavy, and the shelves are pretty light and are easily knocked over.



Business Buffet Pants

I repaired the hem on these pants for a client and noticed a cool effect at the waist.

First View: side pocket lying flat–

Second View: 2-layered waistband; the upper layer slips quietly behind a beltloop into a casing made from the back of the waistband, where it hides some elastic that doesn’t visibly rumple the outside–

Third View: sneaky!–

Buffet pants you can wear to a business meeting!

A Lot of Thread

Here is a lot of thread:

This isn’t the largest quantity of thread I’ve bought in one go; I was actually sort of disappointed with myself. There was a half-off thread sale that coincided with a 10% total purchase coupon, so I stocked up and bought the store out of black, white, and brown. Which means that I can postpone setting up a wholesale account and buying it directly from the manufacturer for a little longer.

I actually prefer Maxi-Lock, but this is what Joann’s carries, so it’s more Toldi-Lock for now.


Next round of velcro-on-Cartier-panels. This set is 330+ panels, so the new machine is pretty much broken in as far as sewing through glue.

I’ve been thinking about a name for the machine: perhaps a superhero, to go along with Jonah Hex, my serger. I considered The Flash, but I don’t think it would be readily clear that I’m referring to Wally, who dresses in red and wears a lightning bolt, rather than just something that is fast, without having to stop and explain to everyone:

Me: This sewing machine is called The Flash.

Other Person: Oh, because it’s fast.

Me: No, because it’s super.

Other Person: Oh, right.

I’m not sure that any other fast superhero has any clearer a name in regards to sewing machine nomenclature, so then I thought about naming it after the fact that it only does one thing, but it does it really well.

The Atom? But he’s also smart, and I don’t know how bright this machine is, after all. Elastic Man? That’s a big misleading.

The Green Lantern is definitely the one-trick pony of the Justice League; magic ring, and all he ever manages to imagine with it is a giant fist. I suppose he can also cut things when necessary, and that he can change his foot pressure.

If anyone confuses the name Green Lantern–

Other Person: Oh, like a decorative green lantern I would put in a yard or buy at Hobby Lobby in the perpetually half-off glass section?

–that’s their own fault, and I’m not explaining it. Though perhaps I should ask Larry what he thinks of the name before I christen it with a bottle of machine oil, as it is his sewing machine after all.

Wonder Woman is not amused. (Actually, this isn’t the Green Lantern I picture in my head, but I couldn’t find any handy shots of Jon Stewart making a fist, for some reason.)

Anyway, back to how Green Lantern handled the glue. Pretty well; the needle continues to not be particularly gummy. The bobbin case is only marginally sticky and it catches a very moderate amount of fuzz. The thread has a periodic tendency to break, and there seems to be some sort of intermittent issue with the tension, but complaining about that after getting 250 strips of sticky-back velcro into this project is pretty much complaining that my sewing machine isn’t magical.

And now I’ve created this horrible meme that will live forever on the internet.

Clothing Journey Part 2

Now, don’t get me wrong (continuing from my entry two posts ago); it’s not that I’m complaining about “having to” sew for a living–I’m attempting to publicly reason through what made me rush home from linguistics class to sew without a break back in college, and what it is that changed so that now there’s a temptation to take a break from taking a different kind of a break before getting back to work.

And don’t say “being 23,” because it’s that kind of attitude that puts bags under your eyes at midnight on your 29th birthday and makes you old when you’re old.

This woman is 70. To all those people who have ever said to me–or to anyone, for that matter–“Well, you’re not 20 anymore, what do you expect?” (though my first-person encounter with that sort of rubbish was at age 27, so what do YOU expect?), take a good long look at the above photo and then an even longer look at the following photo response:

I know a self-described “corporate whore” who does awesome art–my house is about 80-90% decorated with his stuff–who described the divide in college when all his artist friends started art-related careers, while he picked a money-related career. Now he does more art than any of them do.

That’s the danger of successfully turning a hobby into a job. It doesn’t take long before the thing you love becomes the thing you have to do.

Robert A. Johnson, in his book She describes the journey to maturity as starting out in childhood with unconscious perfection, shifting in adulthood to conscious imperfection. The final stage is conscious perfection, combining the best of both. I like to apply this model to pretty much anything that comes in 3 and happens across a timeline, and I posit that the hobby-to-job transformation exemplifies it.

To go off for a moment on a related tangent, I have met a lot of people who want to sew. When I was rolling in writing circles and telling everyone about how I was going to be a writer (which I still will . . . ), I met a lot of people who wanted to write. Get people talking enough, and you’ll hear about how people want to paint, but . . . who want to _____, but . . .

The thing is, if you want to write, you write. If you want to sew, you sew. If you want to paint, you paint. If you want to learn guitar, you play a guitar. Actually, what all these people want is not to sew, but to want to want to sew; to want to want to write, to want to want to paint.

There’s nothing wrong with this; nobody can do everything they want to want to do. Nobody has enough energy to actually want to do all of these things, and they wouldn’t be any good at any of them if they didn’t set aside the want-to-wants. (Though that previous statement does not apply to you if you only have want-to-wants; in that case, pick one and want it.)

I want to want to play the piano; I’ve wanted to want to play the piano for over two decades–I even went so far as to take a year of classes and to buy a nice keyboard and a lot of music books. I practiced periodically, but I never wanted to–I only wanted to want to, so now the closest I’ll come to playing a piano is hanging one’s guts on my wall and strumming them amusically.

I want to want to learn gymnastics. I want to want to be a martial arts master. I want to want to be a dead shot with some kind of projectile. I want to want to have an impeccably trained dog. I want to want to be able to sing. I want to want to keep a beat on a drum (I’ve heard it said that there are two kinds of people in the world–drummers and people who want to be drummers). I want to want to build elaborate furniture. I want to want to understand electricity and wiring. I want to want to be a chemist. I want to want to want to be able to hold a spider without going into convulsions.

So know that what I’m saying here is not a value judgment. It says nothing against you that you’d rather buy your clothes in a store than make them yourself. It says nothing against you that you don’t want to churn your own butter. It says nothing against you that you get your oil changed at a shop–or, if you do change your own oil, that you didn’t build your own car from scratch.

Back to sewing. First you want to want to sew. You admire fashions; you admire other people who sew; you buy fabric but don’t do anything with it; you talk about what you could do with it, what you will do with it; you think about buying a sewing machine, but you use the excuse that you don’t know what kind is best or they’re too expensive; you maybe even have a sewing machine, but you don’t know how to use it, and you don’t get around to learning. You think about at least sewing your own buttons back on your shirts when they fall off in the wash, but it just seems like so much work and hassle, and it’s easier to hire someone to do it. You roll around outside the edge of sewing, but you never cross the border.

When you really want to, you start figuring out a sewing machine, you start playing with patterns. Make a pillowcase. Pajama pants. Repair a tear that’s on a seam. Discover how easy it is to add darts to certain cuts of shirt and jacket, and go nuts.  Everything’s exciting–OMG, I can cut out a pattern on the bias and it makes it drape completely different!

To take it from dabbling, wanting to dabble, or vague slightly dabbling to actually sewing even part time, you have to change your mind. There is a lot of tedium in sewing, and one of the big points I’ve heard people bring up against themselves personally being able to sew is that they don’t have the patience. You don’t sew because you have patience; you have patience because you sew.

I was a kid who grew up spending a lot of time sitting still, entertaining myself quietly, reading, drawing. I have an unusually high tolerance for sticking with a project for an extended period. But making a half dozen skirts all with 6 panels and 18 godets (triangles) sewn in between the panels in sets of three, could make the aspergheriest bean counter balk.

You try the trick where you see how many you can do in an hour, then try to break that record. You try counting down: there are 108 triangles. Yeesh. Okay, no, there are 18 in this skirt. Let’s start there. So you plow away at these triangles for a really, really, really long time, then stop to count how many are left. 14. Seriously? But I’ve been working on this forever. So you work on it for even looonger this time. Stop and count them: 9 left.

And you’ve just spent probably a quarter of your sewing time counting and recounting triangles instead of finishing a freaking skirt. Not to mention dwelling on the fact that you’re sewing triangles and getting quickly sicker and sicker of it.

What has to happen between counting triangles and wondering why you ever wanted to sew instead of just wanting to want to is a cognitive shift. There are any number of Zen anecdotes about the rice-preparing monks reaching enlightenment before the meditating monks; there’s something about repetition to enjoy (there’s even a Hot Chip song about it) but you have to change the way your brain works to make this possible. Since we can’t get into our own personal bios or locate the dos prompt, the most reliable way to do this is by doing it.

Back to the three-part growth cycle. I suspect that pretty much every job provides the opportunity to get bogged down on level two.

I’ve never sold a house, but if I did sell one, I’d probably be pretty excited. I’d probably be pretty happy with my sales skillz for the next ten houses. A couple decades later, and do you still love your real estate job? Teaching kids all year, getting to know them, and then they move on and you start over, teaching the next round the same stuff. Year after year, same song thirtieth verse, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.

Feeding big cats at a sanctuary–how long until the excitement of feeding this guy wears off and you lose the wish that you could just cuddle him?

It’s easier to force yourself through the second stage for longer when you work for someone; when there’s someone else making you do it. When some of your time clocked in can be spent getting paid to go to the bathroom or playing minesweeper. This is why there are so many genius artists who can’t make a living; when you want to keep your attitude about art at stage 1 but get paid like you’re in stage 2, it’s not going to work.

The question is what does it look like to reach level 3? The confusing part is you can’t imitate anyone else who’s found it, because it’s going to be different for you; some people are going to get all the work done during the red part of the above graph, then relax in the yellow. Some people are going to have that same style of action, just without the crying part. So if you’re standing at level 1 and trying to imagine at yourself at level 3 and thinking you know what that looks like, I leave you with this picture to ponder:

Chinese New Year Sacks

Usually for these panels, I just stitch on the velcro, then someone else glues the fabric to the backing. This taffeta fabric chosen to decorate for the Chinese New Year was too thin and the glue left visible dark spots. So instead of wrapping the fabric around the styrene, we made the panels like bags with the styrene as an insert.

I laid the styrene panel on top of the fabric and traced around it, then stitched on the outside of the line with the fabulous new Speed Janome. (I need to come up with a better name for it–and don’t say it already has one. I don’t tell you to name your kids Tiny Human Jones; don’t tell me to call my sewing machine P1200.)

Snip the corners, turn it right side out, and poke the corners out with this corner-poking tool:

Press the pouch. Before:


Eek, I ironed off the velcro! No, it’s on the other side. I had you for a minute there, didn’t I.

Don’t worry; I’m not going to justify that “question” with a question mark.

Double-sided tape to hold the velcro in place and pull the back fabric taut:

I cut the raw edges fairly close, then folded them inside and pinned:

Larry made an extended table for the sewing machine, which was necessary for sewing something this stiff that had to be kept flat.

Here is a shot of it being slightly more visible:

I broke into the Chinese New Year panels for some emergency velcro-sewing on some regular panels. There is a gap between the back of the sewing machine bed and the extension because the base didn’t take into account the width of the knee foot-raising lever.

Which I also had a hard time remembering to take into account. The first several panels, I snipped the threads with a physical scissors instead of the auto-snip scissors button. Since I associate my hand (upper body) with raising the presser foot and my foot (lower body) with making the machine run, trying to associate my knee (lower body) with raising the foot kept messing up my internal autopilot; I kept mixing up making the machine go with the knee-raiser and pushing the pedal with raising the presser foot. Other times, I would raise the foot by hand and by knee at the same time or confuse the fact that the knee raises the foot temporarily while the hand lever raises it until you manually lower it.

We needed a couple dozen velcro strips, which wouldn’t truly test the new machine’s ability to handle the X-treme glue (no sic), but it could start to give an idea, as well as mentally prepare Speedy for his real full-time job that does not include hours of sewing on luxurious taffeta.

Here is what the glue looks like collected on the needle:

That’s the accumulation from just one strip.

So far it does not seem to be getting down into the bobbin case or sticking to the bottom of the presser foot. Or getting into the feed dogs or lining the bottom of the needle plate.

These needles don’t really have much of an indent running down the shank, so the glue doesn’t build up in there. The side-loading needle so far seems to handle the glue and keep the thread away from it better than the usual front-loading needle.

One sort of problem I’ve noticed with this machine is its ability to corner:

And again, to show that this is not an isolated incident:

Though in this one, you can see where it’s trying.

Coming up slowly on the corners–and of course coming to a complete stop, raising the presser foot, then turning the fabric–does not seem to have any effect on its tendency to Tokyo drift.

Anyway, back to the New Year panels:

Because the process involves so many steps, and because doing all of one step before moving on to do all of the next step takes less time than cycling through all steps for one or for a small group, I tried to production-line as many stores at once as I could. They’re all divided up by very specific quantities and sizes–down to a half-inch difference between the panels for one store or another. So here is the mess of multiple stages going on and being kept carefully separate.


Continental Gin

Here are some shots from my old sewing studio at the Continental Gin building (which used to manufacture cotton gins). It was the corner space on the 3rd floor, and it was the only one that came with a built-in loft. Since then, I will not studio out of anywhere that I can’t build up.

The bricks are so old that every time a mouse sneezes, you can hear the skitter skitter of dust crumbling down all over your stuff.

I had just bought two rolls of these plastic sheets and was going through the process of putting it up everywhere behind all the existing stuff when I got the opportunity to move into my current space.

The reason the plastic looks like crap was because as I was installing it, this whole space was filled with shelves and piles of fabric. Also, it looks like crap because it’s plastic and it has to cover some really cool-looking bricks.

It was impossible to keep it not-filthy, though. This was after I pulled everything out of the closet and actually swept. From this photo, it looks like an abandoned building you’d find squatters in. Yup, that’s swept:

The roof of this place slopes in two directions, so my studio was actually the one in the building with the highest ceiling, and nearly the only one of its size with three windows. Which meant that at certain times of day, I would be blinded for several hours while trying to sew.

When I first moved in, the halls in my area were burgundy, and a nearby wall was yellow with windows made from glass doors whose trim was painted red. It was very bright and creative, which worked well, I thought, for an artist space. Eventually, everything was painted a nice, tedious shade of white for some reason. My studio was the only one that came with walls that weren’t white, not to mention floor.