Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Links for the Fashionable Sewist

I've been busy with some holiday sewing so no projects to share this week -- that would spoil the surprise for any of my gift recipients reading this! 

So I thought I'd share some fun links to interesting things I've been watching lately. 

My local Garment Guild is meeting virtually this year, and this month we were really honoured to have the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, join us on our Zoom meeting. She's not only an amazingly accomplished woman and a government official, she loves to sew. It was great talking to her and hearing some of her stories, and seeing some of her favourite fabrics! 

There was a news spot on her a couple of years ago, and I think it shows her passion for sewing clearly. Hope you enjoy it too. 

And just this morning I saw that The Queen's Gambit is now the most watched Netflix scripted show ever. I can see why; it was so good. The storyline, characters, acting, and the set design and costuming were all excellent! Readers here will likely be as interested in the wonderful costuming as much as I was, so be sure to check out this interview with the costume designer Gabriele Binder about her inspiration and intent with the costuming.

Here are two of my favourites among the many spectacular period outfits.

Then check out this amazing virtual exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum featuring closeups of the costuming from both The Queen's Gambit and The Crown. Warning: you'll be there a while!

Hopefully I'll be back with some projects soon. If you're also busy with your holiday sewing...good luck :)

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Weekend Review: The Rarest Blue

The Rarest Blue / Baruch Sterman & Judy Taubes Sterman
Guildford, CT: Lyons Press, c2012
305 p.

This book is a mix of ancient history tracing the path of Murex dyes across the centuries, a scientific treatise of dye and colour perception, and specific tiny points of Jewish law and history. It works, to a point.

It looks at the search for tekhelet, a specific sky blue dye that is required in Jewish law to dye threads to attach to one's prayer shawl. Sterman goes into what the dye was, why it was important to Hasidic Jews, how it was made in ancient days (discovered by the Minoans, traded by Phoenicians, worn by Roman elites, used in Jewish religious tradition), and the effort by Hasidic rabbis over the last two centuries to recover the secrets of how this dye was made. 

The search for how Murex dyeing works was fascinating, even though it's also quite disturbing, being dependent on mutilating live snails and discarding them after the one precious gland is harvested. There was no real discussion about the ethics of this practice or any moves toward a more sustainable method of harvesting the important chemical -- but when religion gets involved in things, other considerations often get tossed out the window. That is my own observation, not something that is discussed in this book.

The history of blue and purple dyes is interesting and exciting; I recall Lydia, the seller of purple, in the bible and how that mention always intrigued me as a child. And of course the history of Minoan and Phoenician culture is always fascinating, at least to me. The details of how the dye is made is both compelling and disgusting -- who knew that the smell was so bad that a woman whose husband became a dyer after they were married was entitled to a divorce if she wanted one! I found these parts great reading and very informative. 

However, there didn't seem to be strong organization in this book, it talks about a lot of different things and sometimes themes and timelines get mixed up, at least for this reader. It also feels like it goes on a little too long; the chapter on the physics of colour perception could have easily been dropped without being missed. 

If you are interested in dyes and their cultural relevance, this is a good read. Keep in mind that the authors are also head of the Ptil Tekhelet Association, an organization dedicated to selling this rediscovered tekhelet dye and the threads required by this obscure biblical directive, so they might not be as objective about its importance as another person would. But they do know what they're talking about when it comes to how this dye was recovered from the mists of history and put back into production. 

This was an unusual find and one that I learned quite a lot from. Pretty interesting that I was reading this while making my latest super blue dress!

Friday, November 20, 2020

A Factory Dress for the Literary Sewing Circle

Today is the final day of the "official" Literary Sewing Circle for the fall of 2020. However, I know that quite a few people had delays in getting their hands on the book this time around, so please know that you can still read the book, check out all the posts in this series and comment on them anytime, and if you do make a project, feel free to leave a link in the comments of the wrap-up post. If you are reading this far in the future, sharing your thoughts on the book is still very welcome! 

On to my own project for this round, inspired by The Night Watchman. I read this book first in the spring when it was newly released, and then again for the blog series, and I also listened to the audio version (read by the author, Louise Erdrich) while sewing. So I feel like I am really familiar with this novel and all the many characters who I came to really care about. 

I had many ideas for projects, but ended up going with one that mixed together a few elements of the book. I was taken by the idea of the jewel bearing plant, but couldn't find a good gemstone print to work with (my first idea). So I decided I'd make the Factory Dress by Merchant & Mills, as my nod to Pixie's workplace.

I also chose this bright blue linen from my stash; there are many references to blue in this book, from Pixie's blue coat that she's so proud of, to the family name of Juggie and Bernadette Blue. Wood Mountain's borrowed boxing robe is also blue, and Millie's glorious mission dress is a mix of blue, green & gold.

So all together this is a mix of inspirations, and a project I finally chose from among the many, many ideas I was working with. I'd still like to make something inspired by Thomas' wonderful penmanship, too! 

Now for the sewing details. 

This is a loose fitting dress, so I was careful to search for other makes on Instagram to get a feel for the ease and fit in other's projects before deciding on how I wanted to make mine. This helped give me a sense of the size to cut and any adjustments I might need before cutting. I think I've got it just about right for my sensibilities. 

It wasn't a very difficult dress; the construction is quite logical and well laid out, although the collar did give me some issues with a few puckers near the back shoulders. I don't think I clipped the collar seam well enough before adding the facing. I might go back and add a few clips into the final seam and press again to see it that smooths it out a bit. It's a tiny thing but something to note for next time. 

I wasn't sure if I should add the pocket to the bodice as it's not useful, but decided that it added to the style and so was needed visually. I like how it turned out! 

Otherwise a pretty quick sew. Sleeves are attached flat, the skirt is pleated not gathered so is easy to attach, and overall this was a speedy and enjoyable project. Since I used a looser weave linen, I did finish all the edges of all the pieces before construction, and that was probably the lengthiest element of the entire project. I love the clear blue, and think I might try this as a blouse next, as I really like the fit of the bodice. 

I hope you enjoyed The Night Watchman if you were reading along! Keep your eyes on this space for the next round of the Literary Sewing Circle, anticipated to begin in February or early March 2021.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Leopard Print Burda

As I've mentioned before, I am currently taking the Burda Teacher Certification Course. It's been pretty fun and I feel like I'm learning some new tips and tightening up some of my techniques. As part of the class there are four projects to be graded; the latest one is Burda #128 05/2011, a vintage style dress that isn't something that would have caught my eye normally. 

Part of the reason I wouldn't have made this for myself outside of this class is the poofy gathered back. I guess in a lightweight voile or rayon it might look nicer, but I used a cotton sateen from my stash. I hoped it would be lightweight enough for the style, but the back did poof out far more than I liked. 

Since it was an assignment, I made it strictly by the pattern directions, only changing things for sizing purposes (ie: grading from 42 at shoulder/bust and 44 for waist/hip like I usually do with Burda). There were a few issues -- I only had a 14" invisible zip in my stash, not a 16" as called for, so a bit of wiggling is required to get it over my hips. But the zip was a vintage one and an absolute match so I went with it. 

Also, when the main dress was done, prior to attaching the collar, I tried it on since I felt like the neckline was enormously wide. I was right. Thank goodness for the raglan sleeve -- I took a 1/2" wedge out of each sleeve seam, and another 3/4" wedge out of the centre back seam. Then it seemed to fit around the shoulders nicely. I adjusted the collar pieces accordingly, and then attached it. 

After I took the photos of the dress for class purposes, I attacked it once again to make it wearable for my tastes. This meant removing the giant poof in the back. I unpicked the back waist seam and measured to see how much I'd need to remove; it was nearly 6.5"! So I took a wedge from the centre back seam, 2" on either side of it tapering up to nothing at the top of the seam. Then I pinched out two darts which were each just a smidge over 1" each. I basted these all down & then basted the waist seam too, and tried it on.

I found that the width was okay but I also had to take out some of the length -- good thing it had all been basted! I tore out the waist seam again and pinned a wedge of nearly 1.5" in the centre of the bodice tapering to nothing at the side seams, kind of like a bit of a swayback adjustment. When I basted that and tried it on it seemed just right. So happy! I like the flat back a lot better. 

This dress was made from all stash -- fabric and zip. I was delighted to be able to finally use this firey fabric and also that I had perfect matching burgundy scraps in my stash for the collar, and a pale orangey vintage zip too. I actually like the shape of it and was able to get the fitting right after all that fudging :) 

This has a definite vintage vibe, and I think I kind of like it. I may just finesse that back a bit more and make sure any remaining bulk is completely smoothed out. But I do think it's perfectly wearable now. I enjoyed the challenge of making something I wouldn't normally choose, and making it strictly by pattern directions -- at least in the beginning ;) I have one more pattern to make in this course and then it will be complete!

Even took pictures in this light dress with snow on the ground,
 just for you ;)

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Weekend Review: A Red Like No Other


A Red Like No Other: How Cochineal Colored the World /
ed. by Carmella Padilla & Barbara Anderson
NY: Skira Rizzoli, c2015.
319 p.

Since I'm on the subject of colour this month, I finally brought this book home from the library to read -- I've been meaning to for years! But it's quite large and heavy, a classic art book, so I had put it off again and again ;)

But I'm glad I finally dug in, because it's fascinating, though the content is almost as heavy as the actual physical weight of it. It's a look at Cochineal through the ages, as the sub-subtitle says: an epic story of art, culture, science, and trade. 

It's an exhibition catalogue from an exhibit on the history of cochineal put on by the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. And as such, it is packed full of amazing images from the exhibit, ranging over centuries, from prehistoric to modern uses, and examples of natural dyes used to create red tones revealing why cochineal was so prized for its stable reds and variety of shades it could produce. 

Of course, because it's a set of essays by over 40 scholars, there is no real narrative, just a loose arrangement of themes and timelines that combine to give a vast picture of the reach of cochineal in global history. The exhibit was inspired by the museum director reading a book called "A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and a Quest for the Color of Desire" by Amy Butler Greenfield. And if you're looking for more of an exciting narrative about cochineal, this is probably the one to reach for (I have my eye out for it now).

But this art book is full of fascinating historical information, and has exemplary illustrations -- I learned a lot about things I didn't even know I was interested in! One of the first essays was called "Three Reds: Cochineal, Hematite and Cinnabar in the Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican World" and I found it so intriguing. 

The book is broken up into 7 sections, and each is really a book in its own right. The 7 topics are all centred on cochineal -- the colour and the insect that creates it -- in varied time frames. Starting with Pre-Columbian & Early Contact Americas (since the source of cochineal is Mexico and South America), it moves to Global Trade, then Science, Textiles, European Art, the Colonial Hispanic Americas, and finally brings us to the Modern World. There are 4 - 6 essays in each section and the number of pieces contributed really gives a wide view of the topic. 

This is not a book that you're likely to read cover to cover, or in a weekend. But as a beautiful book to look through, dipping into different essays over a couple of weeks and picking up varied facts and enjoying the illustrations in particular, it's a good one. If it wasn't so expensive I'd say it would be a great coffee table book. As it is, I recommend that if you think this sounds good, you give your local library a go. Much more affordable that way! 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Weekend Review: The Wild Dyer

NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2019, c2017.
159 p.

After recently reading about indigo farming and then the history of chemical dyes, I turned to this book from my local library to learn a bit about non-toxic plant dyes. 

It's a really good one for beginners; unlike some others I've flipped through in the past, this one is accessible and not at all intimidating. Also, it has gorgeous photographs of plants laid out four to a page with samples of cloth showing the various colours that plant can create, whether on its own or turned a darker brown/grey tone with a mordant (she mentions alum and iron mordants). She does note that some brighter colours can be found in the plant world but that she prefers the more common earthier tones herself. 

Another thing she says is that she likes to work by feel -- there are no precise recipes in the book for specific amounts of this or that, partly due to her process and partly due to the variability of plant matter. Personally I work this way in much of my creative life so this really appealed to me also; it felt like a natural way to approach this and not as terrifying as some more detailed books on the topic! 

The book has good illustrations of supplies and plant matter as well as clear explanations and lists of plants. It's written with an encouraging and low key tone -- the author suggests that an easy route to starting to dye naturally is to use kitchen waste like avocado skins & stones, onion skins or red cabbage. Then if you like it, you can try foraging or growing other plants specifically for dyeing. 

She does suggests working outside when possible, despite the natural sources, to alleviate any fumes (ie: rhubarb leaf gives a nice dye but also gives off toxic fumes -- the leaf is poisonous, so do not ingest) However, the difference between these dye batches and ones made with chemical powders is that these nontoxic dyes can just have their leftovers poured onto the garden when cooled off.

This book also include simple projects that readers can make with all their newly dyed fabrics. They are pretty basic and straightforward projects -- placemats, coasters, bags, apron, pillows -- all simple and using the muted earthy tones she prefers. It's really simple sewing for people who are more into the dyed fabric part than the sewing part. But again, a low threshold for beginners! 

I liked the feel of this book a lot, and it even made me think that dyeing doesn't seem so difficult, that maybe I'll actually try it someday. There is even a bonus recipe at the end for Oak Gall Ink -- made in much the same process as the dye batches in the rest of the book, but with a few additions to create a deep black ink, one that's been used for centuries. A nice addition to the rest of this thoughtful and calming book.  

I haven't really gotten into the dye side of fabric arts but this book might just be the thing that convinces me to give it a go. Really enjoyable and informative read!

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

This N That Tuesday

I didn't post on my regular days last week -- what with work and the world, I was distracted and busy, and haven't got much sewing or writing done at all! But I'm starting to work on a few things so thought I'd just share a couple of the projects underway in my sewing room currently. 

As I mentioned previously, I've signed up for the Burda Teacher Certification Course this fall, and have been working away at it. I finished my first two projects but then stalled a little on getting going on the third one, a dress -- which is odd since that is my most common type of project!

I'm trying to use stash fabrics for my sewing this fall though, and I wasn't feeling any of it. This weekend I went through some of my stash again, and decided that the retro style of the dress will be perfect for this super bright leopard print sateen, and just like that, I'm feeling like sewing again. 

I also spent some of last week tracing off more Burda patterns from recent magazine issues. I'm hoping to get a few of the cold weather designs made up quickly enough to wear them this year! I have the cover dress from the November issue and a long sleeved pullover dress from the October issue traced and now just have to match up some of my fabric to these styles. 

Plus I've been going through Instagram and other sewing related social media, and have found a huge number of challenges, sewalongs, and contests that are appealing to me...but I have to find time and decide which ones I might actually be able to do. 

First of all, though, I must finish my project for the Literary Sewing Circle. I can't neglect to finish the item for my own sewalong, after all! I have traced off my pattern and am just trying to decide which fabric to use for this dress...more will be revealed soon. I hope that you had a chance to read along with us in this round featuring Louise Erdrich's The Night Watchman, and that you've enjoyed the posts if so; and of course, that you'll make a project too if you can. 

I hope everyone's sewjo survives this week and that we still have the luxury of time and mental space to sew when it's all over.