Time has flown. It's been more than two years since I last posted on this blog, which really is a shame as I've been doing more sewing recently than I have in the past 8 years.

My latest project was designing and making costumes for 16 gladiators of the DC Stunt Coalition (and myself) for the convention, Spartacon!

The most exciting part about this project was delving into leather working. I had basic knowledge from a few projects I've worked on in the past with leather components, but this was the first time I'd ever made armor.

I loved working on this project but the real challenge was making sure the costumes were stunt safe. Many of the performers did flips, tricks, and rolls across the sand (yes, real sand arena!) and their costumes had to hold up to the stress. We had at least 2 full costumed dress rehearsals of the fights and that really helped troubleshoot any potential problem areas.

Finally, I'm very grateful to George at Tandy Leather who took the time (3 hours!) to walk around the store with me and demonstrate techniques while shopping for the supplies. I also read countless blogs and watched hundreds of Youtube video tutorials to figure out construction techniques. I took a lot of in-progress photos while I worked and plan on sharing them here so others can learn too!

In the meantime, enjoy these gladiator glamour shots by Mythology Studios, LLC:
Click the photo to see the entire gallery on Facebook

Tree of Gondor Coat Construction: Part 4

With the back panel finally done, it was time for the easy part: constructing the jacket. I followed the directions for view C, Simplicity 3628 to make up the coat with very few changes:

First, I didn't like how the  pockets looked after I basted them in place. They broke up the lengthening effect of the princess seams and just looked kind of strange. So I took them off.

Second, the instructions for top-stitching on the collar were different from the picture on the front of the pattern. The picture clearly shows top-stitching that follows the curved top line of the collar, however the directions called for just horizontal spaced lines, ignoring the front curve. I ended up making the collar look like the picture as it echoed the curves in the rest of the jacket.

Top-stitching details.

Finally, the collar piece didn't ease into place very cleanly. I'm not sure if it was the pattern, my cutting or the materials I used, but I was able to solve the problem by gathering at the center back of the neck. And I actually like the effect it has.

Gathering at the back of the collar.

Here are a few more details of the coat:

Top-stitched sleeves.
I tried to very cleanly pleat the tops of the shoulders.

To close the jacket I used several silver coat hooks. And, to go along with the vaguely historical/Victorian feel, I added period cord buttons from LaMode for decoration on the front.

Pretty Buttons!

Here is the completed coat, front and back!

Front of the coat.

Back of the coat.

Looking back at the coat, there are a few things I would do differently:
  • I would use sturdier thread for top-stitching. My usual white Guttermann thread had some issues and snapped a few times. Really it looks just fine, but I notice where I had to backstitch to reconnect the thread.
  • I would have given myself a bit of extra room through the shoulders of the jacket. When I made a mock-up and tried on the shell it flexed fine, until I put the lining in. I believe this was due to the slight stretch of the micro-suede compared to the lack of stretch in the cotton twill. I made this coat to be worn with a t-shirt, so it was meant to be fitted, but the extra inch for movement would have been nice.
  • Finally, I would have given the coat some pockets. Maybe pockets inserted in the seam would have worked, or just pockets inside the lining, but I do prefer to have clothing with just enough room for a wallet or cellphone. 

 I hope you enjoyed following along with the construction of my Tree of Gondor coat!
 The end! :)

Tree of Gondor Coat Construction: Part 3

After three nights of sewing the tree design, it took most of an evening to use my Gingher Epaulette mini snips to carefully cut away the center of the reverse applique. And here's what the finished back panel looks like!

The back is finally finished!

Detail of the branches and stars.

Look at all those points, they took forever to sew and trim.

Tree roots.

Next in Part 4: constructing the jacket, adding top-stitch details and the finished product!

Tree of Gondor Coat Construction: Part 2

Once I finished cutting the coat shell pieces from the micro-suede, I finally got to work on the the back panel.

Test of the reverse applique technique.
I cut out the tree from the paper pattern and traced it onto the back piece with pen, carefully lining up the center back mark on the design and fabric. Then, I cut a cream velour piece a little larger than the suede to layer beneath it and basted them together on my sewing machine. I had already done a test of the stitch setting on the fabrics and tried different feet and techniques, so I was prepared to dive into the real thing.

Here are the pictures I took pictures through the process:

Before the first stitch.
You can see the design marked out in pen. I actually used the Bernina open embroidery foot (#20), not the clear applique foot (#23) that's on the machine in this picture. Also note the basting stitches holding the layers of fabric together.

Almost to the tree roots.
You can see where I cut the basting after sewing over it to make sure it wasn't stuck underneath the narrow zig-zag stitch.

Almost done!
On the branches and stars, the knee-lift and 'needle-down' function were invaluable to getting sharp points. I also started cutting out some large parts of reverse applique to make sure the cream fabric looked OK. 

Next in Part 3, onto trimming out the center of the applique design!

Tree of Gondor Coat Construction: Part 1

Now that I had a pattern (Simplicity 3628, view C) and fabric (a sage-forest green micro-suede for the fashion fabric and dark brown cotton twill for the lining) I needed to make a mock up of the pattern.
My dressform.

First, I adjusted my dress-form to my measurements (a bra with socks for padding, and a slip). I also tied cords at the bust, waist and hip so I could check that the bust points and waistline matched the pattern.

Then I cut out and constructed a muslin mock up of the Simplicity coat pattern C according to their directions to what I thought was my size.

Amazingly, I only had to make a few changes to the pattern. I took in a bit underneath the arms at the side seams and tapered in the princess seams front and back to add more waist definition (there's an 8 inch different between my waist and bust, and 10 inch difference between my waist and hip).

Front of the mock up
Back of the mock up

Next, I scaled up the Tree of Gondor design to a width less than the measurement between the back two princess seams, printed it out, taped it together, and tried to figure out the exact placement.

Tree design pinned to the back of the mock up.

Once I figured out the exact scale and placement of the tree design I took the mock up apart, began to cut out the pieces of the coat from the micro-suede, and work on the back panel.

Next is Part 2, applique the tree design!

Mini-tutorial on how to do reverse applique

Apologies for not updating about the progress of my Tree of Gondor jacket! While I finish writing up the rest of the process, here's a mini tutorial of how to use reverse applique to create the tree design.

Here are the five basic steps:

First - Trace the design you want on the fashion fabric of the coat (the exterior layer). I tried to use a chalk pencil but, because of the micro-suede, I ended up using pen. My advice is to avoid using permanent methods of marking the fabric (like pen) in case the design changes, but it worked for me as I had a very set design and was using a narrow zig-zag that covered the pen marks.

Second - Pin and baste the backing to the interfaced exterior fabric and make sure the grain-lines match up, otherwise it'd be an awful stretched mess. I did a several lines of vertical and horizontal basting several inches apart.
Bernina Open Embroidery Foot (#20)

Third - Test the zig-zag (or other stitch you're going to use) on the same layered fabric, just to be sure all the settings are right before you start on the real thing. Also, I used a new universal needle (90/14, I think) and the Bernina open embroidery foot (#20) which let me see where I was stitching. However you have to be super careful not to pull on the fabric to suddenly in any direction as it greatly increases chances of breaking the needle. Another option would be the clear applique foot (#23) which I considered using but when I did a test I couldn't see my lines clearly enough.

Fourth - Spend forever slowly stitching over the design you just traced. It takes a lot of time, but precision at this stage is very important. If you have a design with pointy bits (like root tips and star points), it really helps to set the sewing machinet to the "needle ends down" setting and use a knee bar to lift the presser foot. This allowed me to manipulate the fabric so I could get the points as sharp and clean as possible on the ends of the tree branches and stars.

Fifth - Use the smallest point scissors you have (I bought Gingher Epaulette mini snips just for this project which worked beautifully) and cut out the inside of the design. Then you trim and trim and keep trimming until all the little stray threads are gone.

This was my test piece for the reverse applique process. 

Now, onto constructing the coat!

Sewing Machine Review: Bernina 380

As the 1 year anniversary of getting my own sewing machine approaches, I want to write a review for the Bernina 380 to help any others who are making up their minds about buying one.

The Bernina 380

First, a bit of background about my experiences with sewing machines. I've been sewing since I was very young, mostly by hand but when I did start to use a machine in high school it was my mom's Bernina Activa 130. In college, I used my roommates vintage Singer (from the 60's), a basic modern Singer, a miniature travel machine, the mechanical Bernina 1008.

When deciding on a sewing machine, I went and tested out a bunch of them by bringing scraps of my usual fabrics in all thicknesses and layers and I also asked about sales, as there was no way I wanted to pay full price for any machine when I could wait for a sale. Here's the reasoning why I picked the machine I did:

Why a Bernina:
  • If you sew regularly (at least an hour a week), you need the reliability of a machine with solid metal insides, which many modern machines don't have. Also, in my case, I make some money off of commissions and the knowledge that my machine will last for years and years with heavy use is awesome.
  • Quality of stitches - compared to many modern inexpensive machines, the stitches are always consistent even at high speeds.
  • The warranty - Extremely generous! (2 year warranty on electrical, 5 year warranty on boards, 20 year warranty on parts). All you have to do is make sure it's serviced by a certified Bernina technician.
  • Free classes - Even though I have been sewing for years, taken classes, and worked in a costume shop, the woman who taught the free class that came with my machine was extremely knowledgeable and taught me specific tips and techniques to use for the machine.
  • Free 1 year checkup - A $100 value!
  • Free help! - At the GStreet I bought my machine at, the Bernina specialist is happy to answer questions on the phone or in person at the store. She even helped me troubleshoot a problem I was having my first month.
  • Left handed machine- I am left handed and Berninas still have the presser foot lever is on the left hand side of the machine. Many of the modern machines and other companies try to move it closer to the center/right side, which is awkward for me to use.
  • Many different feet options - I have the choice of over 70 different feet, including the awesome ruffler and hemmer foot.

In the end, certain features really sold me on the Bernina 300 line (although I really considered the 200 line and the 1008). The entire 300 line:
  • Small sized machines - As a recent graduate with only an internship, I had no idea where I was going next, so a smaller, portable machine appealed to me.
  • The stitches and monograms - I really liked the mechanical 1008, but I knew the ability for decorative stitches and monograms would be useful for hobby sewing, even if not my usual clothing/costume commissions.
  • Extra features - The higher end of the 200 line was no longer available in my area (except used) and if I was going to pay that much, I wanted to have the full warranty.
  • Within my price limit - All of these machines ranged from $700-1400, not on sale. And there was an excellent sale going on at GStreet for these machines.
  • Autopilot! (as a friend of mine calls it) - these machines sew by themselves in straight lines with minimal guidance and with a speed adjusting slide. This means I can sew decorative stitches with no worry about consistency.

What sold me on the 380:
  • The free hand system - While I was skeptical in the store of why I'd need it, it was invaluable while working on the Tree of Gondor coat and I'm sure will be on many other projects.
  • Top of the line - My dad recommended I get the highest grade machine I could afford so that I could grow into it over many years. He's usually right about these sorts of things.
  • Tonnes of stitches - 20 practical stitches, 12 patchwork stitches, 4 buttonholes, 79 decorative stitches, 2 alphabets. It's pretty neat.
  • Luggage quality carrier - A really nice padded, rolling case that fits the machine and all my accessories. Another plus for a travelling student.
  • Lots of feet - The 380 came with most of the feet I wanted, besides specialty feet like the ruffler and hemmer.
  • Geared for general sewing - Unlike the 350 Patchwork Edition, which had many features geared towards quilters, the 380 had more features/stitches geared towards general sewing.

Review of Performance:

As a seamstress/costumer, the Bernina 380 is almost perfect for me. It's a smaller machine, but as a travelling student I don't need a large complicated one that does embroidery right now. Also, the smaller throat on the machine hasn't been a problem. It can power through many layers of thick fabric (corsets and heavy upholstery) and it also sews thin fabrics well (such as sheers and light cotton) with just some tension adjustments. One of the criticisms I read about the 300 series is there is no physical adjustment for presser foot pressure but it seems to adjust well on its own and I've had no problems with it so far. However, I don't really quilt though fiddly layers and I don't usually work with extremely thin fabrics, so I don't know about how it would work with those consistently. Also, on average I sew 3 hours a week but if I have a costuming deadline or commission, I have been known to sew over 10 hours a week. And my sewing machine works just the same as it did when I first bought it.

So, if you're in the same situation as I am: a travelling student who needs a reliable, all purpose machine, then a Bernina 380 is an excellent choice.