Sunday, 27 January 2013

3D dress (Danni Dolman Dress)

At the beginning of January, Sarai from wrote about her wardrobe inventory and inspired me to do something similar.
When looking at my wardrobe critically, I realized that what hangs in my wardrobe does not entirely fit my lifestyle and the garments do not always go together. For instance, I own too many fancy dresses which I have worn only once. My wardrobe also lacks some simple essentials, and could benefit from a couple of classic pieces.

I've been thinking what if, from this year on, I start working on a more consistent but also more "grown up" wardrobe. Sounds like a lot of work to me, but I am ready to take on the challenge! 

Yesterday I worked on the muslin for a 3D dress (Danni Dolman Dress) from Style Arc as a first step in my mission.

This pattern is so easy, I could have drawn it myself. But I had already purchased it anyway. Cutting the fabric and sewing it together took me approximately one hour. Completing a project so fast boosted my confidence after spending days working on the Matthew Williamson dress!

Earlier this morning, I gave the muslin a test run. Whilst hanging out in Harajuku, we noticed a lovely photo spot ^^

As I mentioned, this is only a muslin; not a "real" dress. Even from the photos, you can see that this purple jersey is pretty thin and saggy. I can put it on to wear at home, go out for a quick shopping trip or late-night drinks with friends and hopefully nobody will see the imperfections. A proper version will be made from this more solid and heavier panel jersey knit purchased at Tesutti Fabric.

The 3D dress covers two essential points from my 2013 challenge: comfortable and classic. Also, I just love sewing with knits; they don't crumble, they need less fitting and they are super comfy to wear!

An interesting observation after my sewing couture seminar with Susan Khalje: on all six days of the seminar, all of the students (plus Susan) wore knits on a daily basis! Nothing more to add to that :)

Regarding the design, I avoided the back seam as I thought it unnecessary.

Do you also work on quick projects as motivation/to encourage yourself?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Becoming a needle geek

When you live in Japan, sooner or later you become an otaku (geek in Japanese). The more I sew/craft and the more I develop my skills, the more I prefer working with higher quality materials and tools. Lately, I have been focusing on needles and little by little this passion has transformed me into a needle geek.

My latest discovery is Misuyabari, a needle shop which has been in the industry since 1651. They were the official needle-makers for the Emperor's palace!

On their website alone, you can count 79 types of needles (there are more in the store), and after one hour of browsing I felt overwhelmed. I ended up ordering a kit with different types of needles. From right to left in the picture below: silk needles, tsumugi needles (for thin wool and cotton), cotton needles (for wool, cotton and hemp), okuke needles (for very thin fabric), a sashiko needle, dress-making pins and thread scissors.

The distinctive feature of Misuyabari is quite a wide eye. This picture from their website showcases an average needle (on the left) and Misuyabari one (on the right). This makes it easier to thread.

Now, I want to go to Kyoto just to buy more needles! Meanwhile, I will be working with the ones from the kit and documenting my experience. Although Gillian won't see my sewing dare finished today (SORRY), I am using the silk needle to finish my dress.

The needles felt kind of lonely in their paper envelopes and begged me to make them a nicer house. Inspired by Kyoto, the needles' place of origin, I made this tiny needle holder.

I even dared to embroider the needles' names in kana and kanji!

These are the Japanese sewing needles which I sell in my Etsy shop
Allow me a few more weeks to work with more materials and understand the needles a little bit better, and I'll give you a deeper overview of these little darlings.

Is anybody else a needle geek? Or are you nerdy about something else?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Thank you! and updates to my Etsy shop

Dear international community of seamstresses: THANK YOU for supporting my little Etsy shop! I did not expect such high interest in Japanese sewing notions! My little shop received many more orders in a week that I expected to get in a month!

Thanks to you, I've already learnt so much and am working on the improvements. For example, yesterday I re-took all of the pictures, I ordered business cards and return address stickers.

Due to the amount of time I have had to dedicate to it and my travel expenses to purchase additional stock, I have decided to slightly increase the prices for some products. I hope you understand!

I appreciate your suggestions about the additional Japanese notions you'd like to see in the shop. The newly featured products are: Japanese dressmaking pinsleather thimblesdouble (or fork) pins and Japanese thread scissors. And here's a little overview of why they are so good:

Double pins or fork pins

Quilters often use these pins for better precision in sewing parts of the quilt together. The first time I saw how they were used in sewing was from Susan Khalje. When I tried the double pins myself, I realized the advantage of using them: due to their forked nature, they hold the fabric tightly preventing it from moving very much when sewing. Fork pins are especially great for sewing with striped or plaid fabric. You can get the fabric perfectly aligned and avoid ripping your seams.

Dressmaking pins

The quality of the picture below is not great, but that's the best I could make with my little amateur camera.

For the sake of experiment, I put two pins together: the yellow one is a pin from my shop, the black one from a manufacturer from Europe. I hope you can see that the yellow pin is way thinner and a bit longer.

Now I'll try to explain the feeling when you insert these two pins into fabric. It feels like the black pin is struggling to go through the fibers and does not slide very smoothly. My hand gets the feeling as if the surface of the pin is not smooth. The yellow pin seems to glide through fabric and I don't need to force it. It stops or moves where I want it to.

Also, the black pins leave tiny holes in the fabric, whereas the yellow ones do not.

Japanese thread scissors

As with many other Japanese sewing notions, I was introduced to these scissors by Ayumi-sensei. At first sight, they looked very strange and ugly. But my skepticism vanished as soon as I tried working with them.

Their advantage over classical embroidery scissors is that they spare you lots of time and effort due to the absence of the circular handle. Just think about it: every time you need to cut a piece of thread, you put your fingers through the handle (sometimes my fingers get stuck). With the Japanese thread scissors, it is just one easy movement - click -and then you are done!

Don't forget that kimonos are 100% hand-sewn and require lots of running stitching and consequently lots of thread cutting. Scissors like this significantly speed up the process! They are so smart, these Japanese inventors!

Another huuuge advantage is that they are for life. Made of metal, they never break! Contrary to the scissors where the handle is made of plastic. When the blades become blunt, it's recommended to sharpen them with a special sharpening stone. But the traditional "western" way at a professional sharpener works just as well.

If you live in an area with a high level of humidity, it's always better to keep the scissors inside a box.

Personally, I own two pair of scissors: the 100% metal scissors featured in my Etsy shop and another blue pair, from this post. I like the blue scissors less because of the ceramic blade. After using them for three years, the blade is not as sharp as it used to be.

Leather thimble

I added the thimble to my shop because two customers asked about it. You can read more about it here.  I can only say that having used it since November, I am more than happy with it. Despite its rather odd appearance, it feels very natural on my finger and protects it perfectly well!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Thewallinna and a new creature

Let me introduce you my new neighbor flatmate: Totoro! In fact, there are 13 Totoros sitting on the yoke of my jumper.

It all started from Ravelry: I was searching for a new pattern of something warm and cuddly. First I saw the original Paper Dolls by Kate Davies, Scottish knitwear designer. But then my eyes caught one of the jumper's variations: TOTORO! On the same day, I ran to the yarn shop. Thus began two weeks of Totoro-mania, because not only did I knit Totoro, but I also watched the movie and sang karaoke Totoro songs.

If you don't know Kate Davies and if you are into knitting or pictures of gorgeous Scottish scenarios,  I would tell you: go check out her siteSeveral more of Kate's designs are on my knitting list; seriously, who can resist?????

I knitted size 5 without major changes. But I should've done 4 for the lower body and 6 for the upper body to accommodate my swimmer's shoulders. Well, it's not that bad after all. I also decided to go for the long sleeves

From doing this project, I've acquired three new techniques: knitting i-cord cast on and bind off, stranded color work and wrap & turn technique, which considerably improved not only the knitting experience but also the look of the finished garment

The thread for this jumper is an amazing mix of 80% wool and 20% LAMB LINEN from Avril: 1200m of the main color,  and less than 100m of the two contrasting colors.

NO, no, I did not forget about sewing! Yesterday I even accepted a sewing dare from Gillian which is to finish my Matthew Williamson dress by the end of next week!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Post-Christmas memories

Now that the holidays are over and everybody has gone back to their routines, I've decided to share a couple of memories from the holiday season!

Not so long ago, I met my future Santa-to-be: Gillian! We started following each other's blogs and Twitter accounts and got chatting and at some stage, we decided to swap goodies. How surprised I was when a postman rang on my door-bell on the morning of the 24th of January and brought me a package from Canada!

The package contained a whole lot of sewing essentials: several metres of horsehair braid, knit stay tape, a needle holder (the one that looks more like a lipstick), Kleenex(!) and a beautiful handmade garland! You ask why Kleenex? Japanese tissues are of very poor quality and every time I am out of Japan I bring Kleenex, the best brand of tissues. So in my stock I've got some Thai, English, American, French, Australian and even Israeli Kleenex. Now my collection has been replenished with Canadian Kleenex!

I was so excited (even over-excited) that I hung the garland on my neck, pretending to be a Christmas tree! Gillian, it was so sweet of you to make this wonderful present! 

Now it looks more civilized, hanging across the room ;) 

On a random note, during the last couple of months, I've got hooked on chai which I drink without milk. The obsession has reached the stage where I make the entire mix by myself. 

Here's my recipe:

*dried ginger (peel fresh ginger, cut into dice and dry in the oven)
*cinnamon sticks
*assam tea or darjeeling tea (assam tastes better!)

For one serving of tea, I boil a saucepan of water with 2-3 cinnamon sticks inside it and keep it on the heat for approximately 5 minutes after it reaches boiling point. Then I take it off the heat and pour it into a teapot together with the tea leaves, 3-4 crushed cardamon pods and a teaspoon of cut dried ginger. Wait 5-7 minutes and enjoy your chai! Add milk if you like :) 

 What are your nicest memories from the holiday period?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

On Japanese threads and needles

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have opened a tiiiny Etsy shop to re-sell a few Japanese sewing notions. Let me praise these products and explain to you why I use them.

T.E.C. Tokyo hand sewing needles 

Amongst all of the brands of hand-sewing needles in Japan, I went for this one because my teacher at ESMOD recommended them. So like a good student, I followed her advice and was not disappointed.  Extra thin and sharp, these needles do the job: they penetrate easily through multiple layers of fabric; they go through coating wool or silks like a hot knife through butter and transform hand-sewing into a more enjoyable experience. A good thimble can be helpful, though, as the needles are really thin and sharp.

Japanese basting cotton thread

My ESMOD teacher also told me that this cotton thread is ideal for basting! When we temporarily put two or more layers of fabric together, we baste them by machine or by hand. Nothing against machine basting! But after machine basting, I find it more difficult to remove the thread and control what I am doing. I manage my fabric better when basting it by hand and, because the cotton thread breaks much more easily than polyester, I can remove it in the blink of an eye. If your seam is very long, just snip it every couple of centimeters/inches and voilà!

Another important use of this thread is for making tailor tacks. And yes, Ayumi-sensei also taught me this :) Two years ago, when I had just started at ESMOD, we used tailor tacks even for skirts! So not only for tailoring! Wondering what a tailor tack is? It's a way of marking fabric using only thread; avoiding pins, chalk or other markers on the fabric. A tailor tack looks like a loop. In fact, this can be a topic for another post!

A tip for the best use and maintenance of the cotton thread: Knot a piece of contrasting thread or ribbon across the entire bundle of threads. Then cut through all of the threads, opposite from the knot as shown below. Keeping your basting thread this way will allow you to easily pull individual strings of thread and keep it together at the same time.

That's the way I do it
Japanese basting silk thread

In the construction and assembly of my woolen skirt and the Matthew Williamson dress (still unfinished), I used silk thread for both basting and sewing. From your own experience, you might know that when pressing/ironing some very sensitive fabrics like wool or silk, seams leave marks on the right side of the fabric. To prevent this from happening, use silk thread for basting. Oh boy, this woolen skirt required lots and lots of pressing and none of the basting thread marks could be seen. I even experimented with different types of thread and then tried to press it. Unfortunately, no photos was taken, but you can take my word for it.

In my Etsy shop, I currently sell only N4 silk thread. If I am not mistaken, it's the finest you can find. The following number is N9 and the thread is thicker by a fraction of a millimeter. The reason I am selling only N4 is because I've used it myself. For my next couture project I'll try N9 and only after testing it will I recommend it to other seamstresses.

I used this silk thread to put the skirt together, considering that it was done mostly by hand. Despite being so thin, the silk thread is very strong. But before I start sewing, I pass a piece of silk thread through a piece of wax and iron it once or twice. By doing this, the wax settles within the thread and makes it stronger, preventing the thread from twisting.

Are there other Japanese sewing notions which you are interested in and would like to see in my shop? 

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Couture skirt and my Etsy shop

Happy New Year, dear bloggers and readers! I hope this year will be a great one for all of us! Let's jump into another 365 days of sewing and crafting!

Since my last post, I did not feel like blogging, but that doesn't mean I was sitting with my arms crossed. As my main goal for 2013 is to use fewer patterns, I've been putting my efforts into drafting, using various books and methods. Not all of it has been successful, but I am improving. Another confession to make: I've entered into a knitting frenzy. Maybe it's something about touching soft fibers, or maybe because of the little yarn shop? In any case, one jumper is ready and I have a few other knitting projects already lined up. 

On the sewing front, I have finally managed to finish this flared skirt using couture methods from my lessons with Susan Khalje.  

To execute the project, I used this brown plum suiting wool from Mood Fabrics because my wardrobe is lacking calm, solid colors and classic shapes. The skirt is underlined with silk organza and lined with black crêpe-de-chine. To add a bit of flair and movement to the skirt, I decided to add a horsehair braid on the bottom. During the sewing process, I was not 100% sure about the horsehair braid, but once I tried it on, the feel and look justified my choice.

Adding organza strips to the pocket edges creates a neat and crisp look. This little detail is often omitted from the "Making of" description on patterns but I think it makes a big difference.

Another important practice which we underestimate or don't do enough of in sewing: pressing. I spent maybe 20% of the time invested in making the skirt pressing it because I wanted all of the seams to look immaculate! Thread Magazine even describes a point presser/clapper as one of the five must-have sewing tools. And there's a reason for it! Working with heavier materials such as wool or bulkier seams requires serious pressing.

On the subject of time distribution, hand-sewing took me over 70% of the time. I used the sewing machine only to sew darts and to put the eight panels and the pockets together. The rest of the garment was hand-sewn, including attaching the horsehair braid.

A few points about the waistband. Claire Schaeffer in her book Couture Techniques says that only three techniques are used in couture to finish the waist edge of skirts and pants: the self-fabric band, the faced band, and the faced edge, which does not have a band. I hesitated between the second and third options and it took me a day to think it through. But then I remembered that during my seminar with Susan Khalje, she said that there is no right or wrong; the couture techniques are there to be used when appropriate for a particular construction or design. So I opted for the latter solution: a faced waistline. Following the instructions from the book, I attached a piece of grosgrain ribbon to both the seam allowance of the skirt and the underlining. For this, I used fell stitches or appliqué stitches. When working on the bottom part of the grosgrain, I snipped it to fit the curve of the waist and overcast the raw edges. So far I have worn this skirt twice and I don't feel any discomfort due to the choice of waistband.

The only thing I am not happy about is the front closure. According to the Burda instructions for the version I chose to make, the buttons are hidden inside. Because the underlining and lining give my skirt some extra weight, the panel with the buttons is slightly bulging, even after adding little hooks. To fix this problem, and also to reduce some bulk at the waist, I'll insert an invisible zipper in front. This might be unusual, but it seems a rather convenient solution to me. I don't think it will spoil the skirt visually.

It took me a few weeks to finish this skirt. Most of the work was manual, repetitive and sometimes even boring. I tried to entertain myself by watching movies and listening to audiobooks. In the end, it was so worth it! When I pick up the skirt and feel the weight of it, when I wear it and feel the soft touch of silk - I am glad I spent all this time making it and used quality materials for it.

That leads me to my final point: the opening of my Etsy shop. I am not offering couture skirts, oh no! I am just re-selling Japanese sewing notions which I used for this project and which are so amazing and nice to work with! During my seminar with Susan, many seamstresses praised my basting cotton and silk threads, saying that they cost a fortune in the US or Europe. One of them encouraged me to re-sell them through Etsy. At the moment, I feature only three products: needles for hand-sewing, basting cotton and silk threads. I want to reiterate that I make absolutely no money from this shop: the price is based on the real value of a product + Etsy fees + shipping. You are all very welcome to have a look and leave me feedback. Are there any other products from Japan which you would like to see there?