Wednesday, January 27, 2016

While the barbarians clamor at the gates...

...for me to provide them their bread (lunch) and circuses (Lego Star Wars video game), I will give a quick update:

The choice between fixing up the old computer and buying a new used computer was made for me, when the old computer the processor, according to my husband's interpretation of the error lights. He went to the local FreeGeek for me, knowing my requirements, and picked up a computer...for only $10, plus a couple more for extra memory, because they were still selling rebuilt computers at half price to get them out the door. The new computer is a little slow sometimes, but it does what I want. It is also very clean inside; the old computer had a decade of dust and cat dander in it. I may do something to the outside of it; black isn't really my color.

In other projects, I pulled out an unfinished crochet project, and started making it into something else. Originally, I was crocheting irises out of acrylic yarn, and I had gotten to the point of having two flowers and some leaves. I like the technique of taking different colors of yarn and "painting" with them, but it takes a lot of mental energy. Also, I needed a new dishcloth. So I took the crocheted pieces for one of the flowers, and unraveled the others for yarn to knit around the pieces and join them together. This involved picking up stitches, knitting them, and using techniques like short rows to fill in the spaces and turn tilted edges into square edges. Now the knitting is done, and I have dozens of ends to work in. Some I will work in along the surface, for color and texture. Others I am going to have to just tie and cut short.

I also took out the last of the dollar store cotton string, and crocheted a comet to go with the crocheted star, and stiffened it with white paint in the same way. (The comet is a circle, with a tail.) They are on the same wall in the bedroom now, and go together well. A while back, I put a frieze of paper snowflakes over the closet door, I am thinking of replacing them with something else soon. I also made a small copper star for the bookshelf, just by cutting the shape out of thin sheet copper with not-my-best scissors. (The copper is from a roll that I bought at the art store years ago.) I brought in a pottery bowl from the kitchen, to set on top of the bookcase.

I did some more drawing on my white vase with the blue permanent marker. It is fun, and if I were a professional designer this would definitely be one of my go-to techniques for developing new decorative patterns, but the marker tends to rub off if I'm not careful. I believe the art store has markers for ceramics that mark more durably.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Review: The Pattern Making Primer

My "word" for 2016 is Integrity. Some things that have come together recently for me under that theme:  Ezra 4, Daniel 10, this post by Sally Clarkson, and the discussions of vocation in Dorothy Sayers' novel Gaudy Night.

So, I have been working toward a coherent policy of how I will approach doing reviews here. It is a work in progress, but it is coming along. One important point is that I have no connection whatsoever with the publisher or authors of the book.

The Pattern Making Primer, by Jo Barnfield and Andrew Richards, published by Barron's:  I bought my copy for the cover price, $23.99, at JoAnn Fabrics. I had been wanting a good pattern drafting reference book for some time, so I was willing to pay the cover price and not wait for a coupon. My copy is kind of a hybrid between hardcover and softcover; the cover is flexible, but sturdier than most softcovers.

The book covers how to make slopers (master patterns) for dresses, how to use the slopers to make muslins to test and correct the fit, and then how to use the corrected slopers to draw up a variety of patterns, including shirts and skirts and even capes. Basic sewing and drawing knowledge are assumed, but the book does contain many sewing tips, as well as hints about how clothing is designed and manufactured commercially.  There is also a short chapter about starting to sell your clothing designs. The book reads like a textbook--the authors seem to be college teachers in some sort of fashion-technology area--and it tends to terseness rather than verbosity.

There are many illustrations, all well-done, although the graph paper background behind the line drawings is sometimes distracting. The illustration for how to place a sleeve in a garment before sewing them together is particularly good; it clarifies one of the most confusing situations in sewing. (The sleeve, right side out, gets put inside the garment body, which is inside out, and then they are sewn together...somehow it all works out in the end.)

The valuable parts of the book, for me, are where it gives the general shapes of pattern pieces, how to work from them to create different clothing styles (different shapes of sleeves, for example), and how to draw (and sew) pesky pattern details like seams, collars, cuffs, pockets, and facings. Also useful is the section about diagnosing fit problems from the patterns of wrinkles that show up when the garment is worn. There is a chapter about "rubbing off" patterns from existing clothing. The book takes a low-tech approach; minimal tool sets for pattern making are listed and illustrated. The book has almost convinced me that I need a tracing wheel.

Being only a primer, the book does not go into as much depth as I would like for my sewing in the long term. The sloper patterns are provided only in small, medium, and large, and in a scale that will be very awkward for most people to enlarge to life size. There is almost nothing about pants, only a brief example of using the skirt sloper to make a pattern for culottes. (Pants are much harder to design and fit.) There is nothing about maternity patterns, or other extremes of figure, although enough information is given to enable one to make some good guesses. There are some links to pattern software, but no other information is given about how to go beyond hand-drawn patterns. The business information is helpful, but is only the barest bones of a beginning for someone who actually wants to do it.

The book seems to be a Western Hemisphere issue of a British book. Measurements are given in both inches and centimeters, but there is no U.S.-specific information about the fashion industry--if I remember right, U.S. clothing sizing is not standardized, but U.S. pattern sizing is. Looking at my commercially-created patterns (none of which are recent), the sloper sizes provided in the book don't correspond exactly to U.S. standard dress pattern sizes, but would be about size 10 to size 16.

Overall, I like the book very much, and have consulted it several times already in thinking about future sewing projects. Making your own patterns is an interesting intellectual challenge, almost mathematical, and this book is a good starting point if you want to take that road.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Not idle

I've been working away at a number of projects already this year:

Reallocating bedroom space. With a family that is still growing, adjustments in living spaces need to happen from time to time. I swapped functions between two rooms, and it took about a day to get everything moved and set back up.

Setting up a functional computer in my space. We were down to one internet-capable computer, which is in my husband's office, and if I am in there, the children tend to come in, in a wave right behind me. Then they knock over all his tippy piles that he had carefully sorted out, the last time he was trying to organize it all. So I am trying to get a working setup in my own space. I pulled out my old handed-down desktop computer, which I thought was on the verge of dying, and gave it a try. It wasn't making ominous grinding noises anymore, so then I tried updating the OS (Ubuntu). This worked, but the graphics card is so old that we had to do some tweaking to get Unity to stop doing 30-second fade-ins and fade-outs for every window. My husband worked some further command-line magic to set me up with xfce as a desktop environment. There is still some work to do, as my browser of choice is crashing frequently. I also have to decide whether to live with the slow graphics, buy a new used graphics card and put it in, or buy a new used computer, such as a rebuild from the local FreeGeek chapter.  The last two options would cost about the same, $20 to $30.

Reinforcing the table under the computer. Old computers and monitors are heavy, and my table was just a half-inch thick piece of plywood with legs. I figured out how to use the scrap wood and screws we had to strengthen the plywood from underneath, both lengthways and crossways, and to brace the legs better.

Waxing the kitchen floor. This was actually the most laborious project, because first I had to get the floor clean, and I wasn't using the capital-C Chemicals to strip the floor this time.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Overhauls and a new project

The time came for some more diaper refurbishing--replacing the outer flannel layer of worn-out prefolds.  (The center pads in prefolds last much longer, and can be re-used.) Their last re-covering wore out relatively quickly, after only a year or so, because I used fabric from a flannel blanket with a looser weave, instead of from flannel sheets or clothing. Still, the blanket I used was only $2 at the thrift store, had a pretty pink and white plaid pattern, and was a good buy, considering the use we got out of it.

So, I took a used flannel sheet, twin size, and cut it up for diapers. There was enough fabric to re-cover nine toddler-size prefolds. I have been slowly sewing these as I have time, and only have one left to do.

Another project I have been working on is knitting a towel, as an experiment. The idea came from a book, Flanagan's Smart Home, which lists basic household necessities for starting out or starting over. According to Flanagan, a simple waffle weave towel will dry you and itself faster than a standard bath towel. I have some nice cotton yarn from a sweater that I carefully unraveled some years ago. At one point, I started knitting a vest with it, but I'm not really a vest person. For the towel, I decided on a K2, P2 check pattern* as the easiest way to achieve a waffle-like texture. Because of the width, I am only knitting one or two rows at a sitting, so this project is going to take a while.

*Knitting books almost never mention this, but to change back and forth between knit and purl stitches in the same row, you need to bring the yarn between the needles so that it is coming in from the right direction for the next stitch. So patterns with more switches between K and P stitches will take longer to knit. I chose K2, P2 rather than K1, P1 because it would create a similar effect, but would be faster to knit.