Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Book Review - The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting, by Sarah Veblen

Book Review by Erin Retelle

Veblen, S. (2012). The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting. Creative Publishing International: Minneapolis. Available at sewBoise for $29.99.

With good fit being one of the main features setting custom garments apart from ready-to-wear clothing, it’s surprising so few good, usable, reference tools are available on the subject. Thankfully, Sarah Veblen’s new book, The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting, is helping to change all that.

As the title suggests, the most wonderful thing about Sarah’s book are the abundant high-quality photos. And these aren’t just pretty pictures – they are detailed portrayals of real-life fitting scenarios. Each muslin garment, or garment part, is photographed on a model. Several different models, with varied figure-types and characteristics, are used and discussed. Sarah adeptly points out the symptoms of a fitting issue the reader is seeing, what the fitting problem is, how it can be corrected in the muslin, and how that change can be brought back onto the paper pattern. I find it incredibly useful to be able to actually see in a photograph the drag-lines, folds, bubbles, and strains that are so often only described verbally or poorly sketched in a line-drawing in many of the fitting books available. Sarah’s step-by-step guidance that accompanies the pictures is fantastic. She breaks down the fitting process into manageable chunks so that the reader can approach a fitting project without getting lost and overwhelmed. Of course, every garment fitted to every possible figure type is impossible to address in one book, so the user must be able to take the principles presented and apply them to their own situation.
The book is organized into three main sections; the basics and “rules” of the fitting process, step-by-step walk-throughs of fitting various garments and garment-components on different models, and guidance on how the fitting process will have affected ancillary pattern pieces like facings, collars and cuffs. 

Sarah assumes some familiarity with commercial patterns, but fills knowledge gaps with helpful definitions and explanations that won’t bore a more experienced reader. She lets her audience know what rules and principles of fitting are fixed and which are more flexible to one’s creativity. Sarah describes commercial patterns as a “starting point”, both for the fitting process and the creative process. She encourages the user to adjust seam and dart placement based on personal preference and what arrangement appears most flattering to the wearer. Sarah gives many design and aesthetic suggestions and heartens he reader to run with them. Very importantly, Sarah discusses how to determine an endpoint for the fitting process, and gives us permission to STOP once that point is reached.

This book is a fantastic tool for any garment maker, novice to professional, who would like to delve further into fitting. I’m already putting this superb visual reference to use and it’s a book I think will fit perfectly into any garment maker’s library!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

5 Lies and a Truth

I don't own anything that doesn't fit perfectly. Everything in my closet is in good repair and there's nothing about any garment I have that I would change. I also don't have any clothes I don't wear. I'm getting the most wears out of the pieces I spent the most money on.

And the moon is made of cheese.

I've just told you 5 lies...ok, 6 if you count the moon thing, but I like to imagine a yummy Emmental ball in orbit. Now for the truth: if any of the above statements are lies when you say them, you need alterations.

But, that's expensive.

I like to think of it as an investment that's cheaper in the long run. If you have clothes you don't wear because they don't fit quite right, you aren't saving any money. They take up valuable space in your closet, and on the rare occasion you DO wear them, you feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. I've often fallen into the trap of hanging onto something for YEARS, unworn, because it's "brand new". The worst of these culprit outfits are the ones I got on sale. In the dressing room, I talked myself into buying this or that because even though it wasn't perfect, it was cheap. Well, a $15 pair of pants still costs $15, and if you wear them only once, that's $15 per wear, and if you wear them never, you've just purchased a $15 closet-ornament that sucks away your space and lavishes you with guilt and buyers' remorse. Alterations on a pair of pants are usually between $10 and $35, depending on what needs to be done and how fancy the pants (ha-ha). Yes, in the case of the $15-sale-rack-pants, the alterations cost more than the pants did... but would you rather have a $15 closet ornament, or a $40 pair of pants you look great in and wear all the time? Plus, wear 'em 4 times and you're down to $10 per wear, which is actually CHEAPER than wearing them that one fateful time in their unaltered state.

Train your brain to expect alterations

The decision to alter should be made in the dressing room (or in your bedroom if you're evaluating clothes from your current collection). Ready-to-wear clothing is made for no one, or rather, it's made either from an average of lots of measurements (so really, no one), or it's made for one person's measurements, which are then scaled up and down for different sizes. Unless you happen to be the lucky 1 in a million that an item of clothing fits, you'll need to have it altered. If a garment fits your largest dimension, chances are it can be taken in to fit your smaller measurements. Sometimes if you need a little more room in areas, a garment can be let out a bit, but often it isn't much and certain fabrics are unforgiving as far as showing needle-holes and press-lines. Do your best to ignore the size label (they're totally made-up, un-standardized numbers, anyway), buy for your largest dimension, and have smaller areas taken in. If you're less than average height, you're obviously going to need hems on pants, but beyond that, you need to consider scale - you won't believe what a difference the right length of jacket or skirt can make!

If you don't know if a piece can be altered convincingly to meet your fit, flattery, and budget expectations, check the store's return policy, and bring yourself and your purchase to a skilled alterationist to get his or her expert opinion. Most items can be made better, but there is a limit to what can be done. You want to be sure the alteration maintains proportions. If you have the seat taken in on a pair of pants, the pockets can begin to converge too closely and start to look odd. As I mentioned before, some specialty fabrics like leather, certain silks, velvet, or beaded and embellished fabrics don't lend themselves to being let out. If fabric needs to be added to accomplish the correct fit, matching colors, weights and textures can be a challenge.

Once you get comfortable in the routine of having regular alterations, think about going a step further to customize your clothing to your STYLE as well as your body. How about that jacket with the weird pockets...what weird pockets? They've been replaced by AWESOME pockets! You can have details and embellishments added, buttons switched out, collars reshaped or downsized, belt loops put on or taken off, long sleeves traded for short, bra carriers installed, and more. If you're up for a full-on remodel of a piece of clothing, chat with your alterationist about your ideas and he or she can suggest an approach.

Now that you're convinced 

that alterations are going to make you look and feel better, prolong the life of your wardrobe and your sanity, save you money and help you win friends an influence people, here are some tips for how to go about your first foray into getting a good fit. WARNING: Super-shameless promo ALERT

  • Find a skilled alterations shop, such as sewBoise (Caledonia Sewing School) and make an appointment to come in with your items.
  • When you go, make sure all the clothing has been laundered (it's the law), and be sure you have proper undergarments, shoes and coordinating clothing (if any), so the alterationist can get the best big-picture information possible.
  • Please ask questions. Technical questions should always be welcomed, as should pricing questions. Most alterationists will share guidance and opinions about fit and flattery if asked. Use the expertise available.
  • Share your goals for the item - where and how often will it be worn? Fill in blanks about your lifestyle that may be helpful - do you always wear heels? Never? Is it typical for your right jacket elbow to wear out, but not your left? Do you have a budget for the garment? i.e., "If it costs more than $35 to alter this jacket, I'd rather not." or "Is there anything you can do to improve the look of these pants for $20?"
  • Are there alterations you can do yourself (or would like to learn to do yourself)? Some alteratonists will pin and mark your alterations for a nominal fee and then you can sew them yourself if you know how. Alterations and general sewing classes are available at The Sewing School.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Give Kai a Try

As far as tools go, there's hardly a more important or more utilized one in a sewing studio than the scissor. Although there is the occasional exception of a person struggling by with a cheap and nasty pair, most sewists employ at least one, if not a dozen, "good" pairs of scissors. Whether you're a gear-head, who simply must have a specialty tool for each and every task, you're lazy, wanting everything to be just that much easier, or you find that you can actually accomplish a higher quality of work with significantly less effort, you want the best tool for the job. The best way to find the tool that works best for you is to give some a try.

Here in the classroom, we're busily "taste-testing" Kai's 10" Professional dressmakers' shears, 9" bent handle shears, pinkers and 4" scissors. Now, I must say, I've historically been pretty apathetic in my relationship with my scissors. Sure, I buy an adequate-quality brand, keep them sharpened and clean, don't cut non-fabric objects with them and am careful around pins and needles, but it's certainly not love. When I met Kai's 10" Professional Shears, I realized I'd just been killing time with interim scissors...now I've found my scissor soul-mate. The weight and balance are divine and nothing beats the zen like slice of those carbon steel blades. The 9" bent-handle shear is a nice ergonomic option, too. They have all the stability and sharpness of a pair of Ginghers, but with a shape that makes cutting on a flat surface a lot less awkward, as well as a soft handle. They have a lower price tag than the 7000 Series, but they're still nothing you'd want in the hands of a scrap-booking spouse or blister-package-opening teenager.
Kai makes a whole bunch of scissors, all of which seem pretty great so far, so we've decided to make them a scissor of choice at the Schoolhouse. Please feel free to drop by for a test-drive yourself!

On Friday, November 9th, we'll be placing an order to Kai.

Below is a list of the models we'll have a couple of on hand, as well as the ones you can special-order.
Carry in Stock
4" needlecraft
4" curved
9" bent handle 5000 series shears
8" pinkers
loop snips
squeeze snips

Special Order
8", 9", 10", 11" and 12" 7000 series professional dressmaker shears
10" 7000 series professional dressmaker shears LEFTY
10" 7000 series professional serrated
4" bent handle
4" blunt tip
5" and 5.5" embroidery
5" and 5.5" curved embroidery
6" rag quilt
6" patchwork
6.5", 8", 8.5", 9", 10", and 11"  5000 series shears
8" and 8.5" 5000 series shears LEFTY

Pre-order 2 or more (any models from either list) and get an in-store discount. Follow this link to place your order and get your scissors in time for holiday gifting, winter sewing, and the Wool Retreat!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

We Gotta Get Outa Here...

As the temperatures drop, the soggy days start to stack up, and the darkness squeezes in tighter and tighter from either end of the day, two thoughts come to mind. The first is, "Oh NO! I can't handle this for 4 more months!" and the second, "Alright, where's my wool?" Delightfully, we've come up with a scheme to address both musings, a Winter Weekend Sewing Retreat in Sun Valley! A change of scenery always lifts the cold-weather blahs, especially if that scenery includes the breathtaking winter landscape of Sun Valley, and working with and then wearing wool, well that's simultaneously relaxing, rewarding, cozy and chic.

Ohmygosh! When is it? Where are we staying? What are we making?

January 18, 19 & 20th, 2013, we’ll be heading to the charming Kentwood Lodge, located in the heart of Ketchum. They've got a big, cuddly, conference room ready for us where we'll have all our sewing supplies and equipment set up, and where we'll all be working our woolen magic. We encourage you to bring a woolen project (or several) that are appropriate to your sewing skill level - whether you've been sewing 6 months or 60 years, you'll benefit from the techniques taught, the restorative surroundings and the inspiration from your fellow retreaters. Make a wool skirt, dress, jacket, pants, overcoat, whatever you like! Barbie and Erin will both be on hand to help with fabric and design choices, fitting, and general project questions and techniques. Barbie will be teaching techniques geared toward working with woolens throughout the weekend. Students will be introduced to concepts like turn of cloth and using wool’s formable properties to one’s advantage. Interfacing for wool will be discussed, demonstrated and experimented with. Participants will be taught how to construct a collar that lays correctly, how to do bound buttonholes, tricks for working with and matching plaids in wool, among other techniques. You'll be guided through making several samples and then you'll get help incorporating some of those methods into your own project. Some tailoring methods will also be covered if there is interest; pad stitching, roll lines, etc.

About the logistics:  Arrive Friday at 1pm in the conference room of the Best Western Kentwood Lodge for lunch with your fellow retreaters (included), then we'll get started sewing! If you can’t make it by Friday at 1:00, feel free to join us as soon as you are able. We’ll toil until about 7, or whenever brains feel full and tummies feel empty, then it’s dinner on your own at any of Ketchum’s wonderful restaurants (many within walking distance). We’ll regroup after breakfast on Saturday morning at 10 to resume our projects and learning. Lunch is again provided and there will be snacks and beverages available throughout the day as well. We’ll follow the same timeline for the end of the day, regrouping Sunday morning and Sunday lunch. Around 3pm on Sunday, the retreat will wind down so we can all begin to make our way back to reality...or to the ski slope.

Materials:   We’ll be bringing a couple of machines and sergers, presses, irons, a bunch of sewing tools and a bit of fabric, interfacing and trim for samples. Bring your favorite machines and supplies and let us know ahead of time if there’s anything specific you’d like us to bring along for your use. A more comprehensive supply list will be showing up sometime in the next couple of months, but probably the most pressing (har har) material you'll want to procure is some wonderful wool. Since Caledonia Fine Fabrics is not long for this world, time is of the essence. Need help picking? We have a class for that. And we're always available for quick questions via phone and e-mail, too.

The pricing for the retreat is as follows:
Sewing retreat which includes over 18 hours of sewing workshopping and 3 lunches - $200 per person
We will happily make your arrangements to stay at the Kentwood Lodge. Add $300 per person for single occupancy for 2 nights ($150/night) and $160 per person for double occupancy for 2 nights (assuming you already have made arrangements for a roommate). We’re glad to set you up with another retreater as your roommate if you are open to double occupancy, but obviously if there is not an even number of roommate-wanters, the last person to sign up will not be able to take advantage of the associated savings.

You should probably sign up sooner, rather than later...we limited the number of retreaters so everyone will get enough attention, workspace and equipment. CLICK HERE to go to the registration page.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Introducing the Sewing Scoreboard

In the Tuesday evening Assisted Sewing Lab, you'll usually find two of our teenage fashionista students toiling away on one project or another. They've tackled skirts, dresses, costumes and ballgowns over the course of the past 18 months. Both have brought their sewing skill-set up to an impressive level (neither had ever sewn before the Beginner A-Line Skirt Class) and finished numerous projects worthy of being sported to school and family gatherings, but does that satisfy these stellar students? No. Only when a new or challenging sewing task is accompanied by the elusive "Gold Star" from that evening's lab instructor are the girls truly fulfilled. Now, mind you, the gold stars doled out to these young ladies are not real. They aren't seen or counted. As far as I know, I've given them 100, and they've received the same from Lauren, Lori and Arielle for all their "jobs well done" over time (though, let's not build the pedestal too high, there have been just a few instances of gold stars being stripped...is that a rotary cutter open on the table? Um...yeah, I'm docking you.). All of this, plus the late-night phone conversation with Barbie after we had returned from this year's ASDP educational conference with a booty of fantastic fabrics from Haberman, in which I heard myself blurting, "...and I'm gonna make (this), and I'm gonna make (that)!", knowing full-well I was going to add all that beautiful material to my ever-swelling "stash" and never take the scissors to it, led me to the epiphany I had last week. Let's make the Gold Stars REAL and actually have them count for something!

So, earlier this week, I came up with the Sewing Scoreboard - which is, in fact, a bulletin board covered in butcher paper and pattern tissue, but bear with me, it's symbolic AND motivational.  Here's how it works: Each student (and teacher if they want) makes a list of projects they intend to complete and pins it to the sewing scoreboard. The projects can be completed at the Schoolhouse, at home, in class, outside of class, whatever, but when a project is complete...and I mean COMPLETE - lining closed, hooks and eyes on, hems...hemmed, I'll place a star (yes, a REAL one) next to it on the list. You're probably thinking, "Hey! Nifty! I'm going to get stickers and public praise and that system is going to make me accountable to finish my projects!" Yes. (Cue late-night infomercial voice) But wait, there's more! If you earn Gold Stars (or silver or red) by finishing sewing projects, you'll also get FREE sessions at the Sewing School! Drop by and make your project list today so you can start earning stars!

Here are the details:

  • Finish 3 Gold-star projects and earn a FREE session of  Tuesday Lab or Intermediate Sewing Club
Gold star projects typically take between 6 and 15 hours to complete and might include skirts, dresses, tops, unlined jackets, hats, un-detailed pants, shades or piped cushions
  • Finish 2 Red-star couture projects and earn a FREE day of Couture Club
Red star projects typically take between 20 and 45 hours to complete and might include couture dresses and tops, pants, jackets and coats
  • Use small projects to earn more stars
Silver star projects take less than 6 hours to complete and might include purses, t-shirts, athletic pants, simple skirts, small or easy home decorating projects, quick vests, straightforward knit dresses or tops
  • Trade in 3 gold stars for a red star, or 3 silver stars for a gold star

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Sad Time for Boise Textile-o-philes

We just heard last week that our sister-business and supplier of all things touchable, Caledonia Fine Fabrics, will be closing its doors in a month or so. 

The Sewing School will journey on with the heavy hearts and added complications of having to shop for fine fabrics out of town or online. We've had some questions about whether the School will now be selling fabric. Although the sewing school doesn’t have a lot of retail space and it’s not our goal to be a fabric store, we will likely carry just a handful of bolts of fabrics that are directly related to the classes we are offering, and we’ll also place occasional orders for our students (specialty supplies, tools, interfacings, etc.). After all, how are we going to have a silk sheath dress class without any silk, or a wool cape class with just the crappy wool blends from JoAnn? We already offer a few specialty tailoring tools and books in our puny retail foyer and through our website, and as we hear of our students' needs and desires, we'll add more.

We are so sad to lose our friend, neighbor and provider of tactile treasures. Hopefully our personal stashes and small orders can hold us over until somebody picks up the mantle and opens up another fine fabric store nearby. 

 If you do need to shop online, please try to patronize independent fine fabric shops like Caledonia Fine Fabrics was. If we don't demand the quality goods and service provided by these merchants, the supply of beautiful and high-quality fabrics and specialty sewing tools will continue to dry up and we'll all lose access to them forever. Here is a link to an e-mail service that connects you to 25+ independent fine fabric shops across the US and Canada: http://finefabricstores.com. Note the names of these stores as well, and make a point to visit (and BUY) during your travels.