Saturday, May 21, 2011

Adventures in Costume Supply Shopping, Part 2: The Office Supply Store

I'll admit it, I love office supply stores. It's like the cosmetics counter: Hope you can buy. I wander around looking at all the wonderful organizational tools and imagine having a serene life with everything in its place and all my life tasks detailed on 3x5 cards. I can dream, right?

While I'm there, I also, of course, keep my eyes out for costuming supplies. Here's what I've found.

Every sewing space should have a bulletin board, for hanging swatches, sketches, take-out menus, and stray pattern pieces. Ideally, it should hang over your sewing area so that instruction sheets can be hung from it. If there isn't room there for a full board, consider a bulletin bar, a narrow strip of cork that can be mounted beneath something else.

If you need to enlarge gridded patterns, a flip chart pad with 1" gridded lines is perfect. The sheets are 2' x 3', so they're big enough for most bodices and sleeves, and can be taped together for bigger pieces.

Speaking of tape, stop torturing yourself trying to keep track of those little plastic dispensers and use them with one hand while you're drafting patterns. Buy yourself a good heavy desktop dispenser and a multi-pack of tape rolls. There. Doesn't that feel better?

While we're making patterns, go to the mailing department and get a roll of brown paper for cutting final patterns.

Now, on to what I call the "notions department": all the little things for hanging, attaching, and marking.

Binder clips are very useful. The small ones can be used to "pin" leather pieces together while sewing. They're also good for clamping pieces when gluing. The bigger ones are great for hanging pattern pieces, and for clamping slippery fabric to the table to keep it in line when you're cutting. You can also use two of them to clamp a trash bag to the edge of the table, or under the serger.

If you need to store lots of small things, install an Ikea curtain wire along a wall or the bottom of a shelf, and string binder clips on it. Clip zip fastener plastic bags on to it, and fill them with small notions, trims, fabric swatches, or whatever else you want to keep organized but visible.

Poster putty is handy for hanging your instruction sheets and other materials if you don't want to put holes in your walls, but be aware that it's a real pain to get off textured walls. I also like to stick a blob of it on the side of my sewing machines to hold small tools like seam rippers and tweezers.

Labels and stickers can be used for labeling, of course, but if you want to be really organized looking, get yourself a label printer. Having matching, professional looking labels on all my drawers and containers really helps my mindset.

You still want to visit the label section, though. Small labels dots for file folders can be used to create a marking system for sewing. Use them to indicate right and wrong sides of the fabric, in place of cutting notches and marking dots, or to label pieces when you're making multiple versions of the same garment. Be sure you do a test on a scrap of fabric, ideally leaving the sticker on for 24 hours before you try to take it off. Some fabrics, especially fragile ones, can be distorted or marked by the pulling when removing the sticker.

Check out the children's art and school supplies section for chalk (much cheaper than the fabric store kind) and washable markers, crayons, and glues. Be sure to test them on a swatch to be sure they'll really wash out. Washable Glue sticks are fabulous for "basting" trims and appliques. The ones that go on purple and dry clear are nice. Try not to put the glue on the areas where you'll be sewing, because they'll gum up your needle. If this does happen, a little rubbing alcohol will clean it up.

School glue, or washable white glue, is also good for basting.

If the store has an art or drafting department, look there for rulers, french curves, and squares.

Office supply stores have a wonderful selection of organizers and storage devices. Desk drawer organizers keep all your small sewing tools in order. A rotating desk organizer is handy to keep on your sewing table with your scissor and a few other often used tools.

Binders are good for storing instructions, inspiration pictures, printouts, and, of course, the instruction manuals for Margo's patterns. Plastic sheet protectors, hole reinforcements, and dividers help keep all this organized. Binder rings are good for holding things like swatch cards, plastic bags, and zippers.

Use an index card system to keep track of your fabric and pattern stash. Swatches of fabric can be staples to the cards. Punch a hole in one corner of each card and string some of them on a binder ring when you're going shopping for matching supplies. Another way to organize your stash is to use a business card binder with plastic pockets.

Rolling drawer units can be your best friend when you don't have enough storage space, especially if you don't have a dedicated sewing space. You can even sew covers for them so that they blend into your decor when not being used.

Office furniture can also work well in a sewing space. A file cabinet is the perfect place to store patterns. Make cardboard dividers so that you can store the smaller ones in double rows. Two 2-drawer cabinets with a door across them makes a good sewing table.

A folding banquet table can be used as a cutting table, although the 30" width can be annoying. To bring it up to a comfortable working height, stand it on a set of bed risers or use PVC pipe to create leg extensions (more detail in the upcoming Home Improvement Store section).

An armless rolling task chair is ideal for sewing, but be prepared to have to take a seam ripper to the castors to remove threads at intervals.

That's all for the office supply store. Next: Grocery and Kitchen stores!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Adventures in Costume Supply Shopping, Part 1: The Drugstore

This is the first of a series of posts on odd shopping places for costumers. Whether we're seeking replacements for historical items that are difficult or impossible to find nowadays, or trying to create an effect from pure imagination, we use odd materials in unexpected ways, and we're always looking for new ideas. You can't take us to a store, any store, without finding us staring at some mundane item with the light of speculation in our eyes.

Today, we're shopping at the drugstore.

My first stop is the dental aisle. Pick up a pack of dental floss threaders. They're great for threading the serger's loopers, and to use as a "needle" when stringing beads onto a large diameter cord.

While you're there, grab a package of orthodontic wax. A small pellet of this, stuck on the end of a toothpick or skewer, makes a picker-upper for individual rhinestones or small beads.

Dental floss is great for stringing beads, and in a pinch, for sewing on buttons. I like the flat waxed ribbon floss for gathering. Lay it on your gathering line and stitch over it with a wide zigzag stitch, going over, not through, the floss, creating a casing and drawstring. Pull the floss up to the desired size and tie it off. This is much faster and stronger than pulling up machine stitching.

Now, on to the hair accessories department!

Spring clips can be used to "pin" a hem up, and so can bobby pins.

Do you want to add elastic button loops to a garment, but can't find the right color elastic? Covered hair elastics come in a huge variety of colors.

When working on a large piece of fabric, it's often easiest to roll most of it up, for example, to fit it through the harp of the sewing machine. Use a couple of large plastic hair clamps to hold the roll in place.

In the cosmetic department, Take a look at the cosmetic bags and travel kits. They can be great for organizing anything form notions to sewing machine feet. A large travel case with many compartments and loops to hold makeup brushes can make an excellent travel sewing kit.

Mineral makeup eyeshadow can, in a pinch, substitute for charcoal powder when transferring a design for embroidery by the "prick and pounce" method.

Now, on to the pharmacy area. Here you'll find day of the week pill organizers that are perfect for small items like beads, snaps, and the like. Pick up a box of exam gloves to wear when doing messy projects like dyeing.

Finally, get yourself a box of baby wipes. They're perfect for doing quick cleanups n your sewing machine bed, like when you're going to sew white linen right after black velvet, and they also do a great job of removing surface dirt and stains from costumes.

Stay tuned for Part 2: The Office Supply Store.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When Cording Goes Wrong, or, How Not To Do What I Did.

I started on the hemp corded bodice for my lavender Tudor kirtle today. If you're not familiar with hemp cording, check out Jennifer Thompson's excellent page at Festive Attyre.

Because the thickness of the cording can cause the piece to "shrink", I traced the pattern onto my linen fashion fabric and added 2" all around. Then I pinned the fabric to the backing fabric, a cotton linen blend I've had in my stash forever.

I turned on an interesting audiobook and started to stitch, using the width of my sewing machine foot to make lovely parallel rows 1/4" apart.

I started from the center line of the front piece and worked my way outward. The first half went fast and looked great. I went back to the center and started working my way out in the other direction. My book was getting more interesting, and I zoned out and just stitched, till I was almost done.. and then I looked at it and saw what I'd done.

Apparently, i got a little bit wonky with one of my stitching lines. And then I followed that line for the next one, and so one, and so forth. With each repeat the line got a little more exaggerated, and by the time I noticed, my stitching looked like this:

So I had to take a seam ripper and rip out a dozen or so tightly stitched rows. And then, to add insult to injury, I realized I'd ripped on the wrong side, where the perfectly good, straight stitching was. That's when I decided to call it a day.

How to avoid doing what I did is simple: Watch what you're doing, and check your work once in a while. You'd think after almost 50 years of sewing I'd have figured that one out.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Between moving, caring for injured and elderly parents, and other things life has thrown at me, I haven't been here in quite a while. But now I'm back, and I thought I'd share some of my current projects. I'll just do a quick list here, and make more detailed posts as they come along.

First, I'm creating a custom pattern for my friend Laura, who is making the Eleanora of Toledo dress. She's blogging about it here: and you can see some of the pattern pieces I've created there.

I'm making myself a Tudor kirtle, in a dusty lavender linen. I want to start going to more SCA events, and currently my costume wardrobe tends toward the sumptuous and less than comfortable. I need something cool and comfortable, because I can't take heat well.

My son has just been cast in a school play as the ghost of Richard Burbage, one of Shakespeare's actors, and he needs a costume. I don't have a final design for it yet, but I've started making thread wrapped buttons for it.

And finally, I'm working on an Italian Lady's wardrobe pattern, or possibly two, if I can't make both Venetian and Florentine play nicely together. As part of my warming up exercise for the project, I'm making a Venetian ladder laced gown. I'm making it in white brocade, so it will be sold as a historical costume that can also serve as a wedding dress. Yes, I know brides in the period didn't necessarily wear white, but most modern brides still want to.

So that should keep me busy for a while!