Sunday, October 28, 2012

Easy wrap dress

I just noticed that I wrote this post back in May and never posted it! Now that it's starting to get cold here, seeing this is a nice reminder of what it's like to be warm when you're outside.

This is Vogue 8646, a "very easy Vogue" wrap dress. I made it out of an old bedsheet. When I unpacked our belongings after we moved to Chicago, I realized that we had several sheet sets that either didn't fit our current bed (Jon's old extra long twins from college) or were clearly inferior to other sheet sets and thus never got used, so they went into the sewing stash. Even though I have a ton of non-sheet fabric in my stash as well, using the old sheets is a low-stakes way to test out a pattern. Basically this is a nice wearable muslin that was free to make, and I plan on making a lot more bedsheet muslins.

For this one, I used a lightweight cotton-poly blend light green checked sheet. The pattern only had four pieces, and it was really easy to lay out. (The grid pattern of the fabric made it easy to line up the pattern pieces with the grainline.) I like what a full skirt it has, and I liked that the pattern had you do finishing a little bit at a time rather than getting to the end and having a million hems to make. For the armhole and neck/front opening, it had you do a single fold bias tape finish. I had never used this technique before, and the instructions were a little unclear, but I found a good tutorial on the Burda style blog. I did the single fold bias finish for the first time, and I was a bit underwhelmed. I guess it's a faster alternative to using facings because you don't have to cut the facing out, but I felt like it wasn't as good on the tight curves on the armhole. I was pretty happy with how it worked for the neckline. I might try omitting the seam allowance and doing a double fold bias tape finish next time, or making armhole facings and doing the single fold bias tape finish on the neckline. I made my own bias tape out of the same fabric. That was fun. I might post about that later.
I found the bodice a little too roomy, especially where I graded up a couple sizes for the waist. Next time, I will cut a smaller size and make it a straight size, even though my bust, waist, and hips are all different sizes. I will also use a snap instead of ribbons for the inside fastener. I think it is too hard to keep the ribbons from looking lumpy on the outside, and I'm not sure I see any benefit to them.

All in all, I really like this dress. It's a little translucent because I used a lightweight sheet, so I have to be careful with underwear color, but it's breezy and flattering on me. (With a smaller bodice it will be even more flattering.) I think the cut, especially the full skirt, is classic without looking vintage/costumey. (Not that there's anything wrong with looking vintage/costumey, but it's not always what I want.) I plan on making this dress again. I think all sorts of summery prints would look great in this pattern, and I bet I could make some nice fall/spring dresses by adding sleeves and using heavier materials.
I made this in late March or early April, but the first time I wore it was when I went to Houston for my graduation weekend. (Yes, you may call me Dr. Evelyn now.) I wore this on Friday, which was the day of the hooding ceremony, with my sea glass necklace. The necklace has the added bonus of holding down the flappy bodice a bit to help avoid wardrobe malfunctions. The hooding ceremony is an event for Ph.D. graduates so their families will get to sit through an extra boring ceremony on graduation weekend. It was actually pretty nice, and I was glad to have something lightweight but special to wear under my 100% polyester portable sweat lodge doctoral regalia.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

64th anniversary tablecloth II: practice

And now, the exciting conclusion of the tablecloth saga!

I should just say that this project was harder than I thought it would be. In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is. One lesson I learned was that the lumps and bumps of the human body are a lot more forgiving than a flat tabletop. Who knew?

My grandparents' anniversary was September 5, the day before my birthday. (I was a 35th anniversary present, a day late.) It's not really fall weather in Dallas, but my grandmother likes fall colors, and their house color scheme is fall-ish, so I went with some orange eyelet I had lying around and brown and cream polyester for the tablecloth. After some sketching, I decided that the color scheme, working in from the largest square, should be orange-white-brown-white-orange-white-brown-white.

When I left off the last post, I had just started cutting the fabric. I was a little worried about having enough of brown and orange, so I figured out a super clever strategy: the smaller squares covered up a lot of the larger ones, so I poached fabric from the larger squares to make the smaller ones of the same color. For the white ones, I cut the two larger squares out separately and then cut the 3rd largest out of the fourth largest.

I also figured out a super-clever way to cut a small square out of the center of a large square: fold the large square in half to get a double-layer isosceles right triangle. Then fold again to get a four-layer isosceles right triangle. Then, keeping measuring tape parallel with side of outer square, move it in until you hit the side length of the small square. (In the schematic on the left, I start with the full square and fold it up into the small triangle. The dotted line in the last triangle is the side of the smallest square.)

Unfortunately, I once again underestimated the difference between theory and practice. It's very hard to get all the layers perfectly flat, and some of the squares I ended up cutting out weren't very square. The large orange one worked out OK, but I had to re-cut some others out of the remaining fabric, which didn't end up being an issue. Oh well, it was a nice idea.

I also messed up the largest white square. I don't know how, but it ended up with sides that were two inches too small. I didn't have a square of fabric large enough any more, so I ended up cutting out four right triangles, the only part visible in each layer, instead of one square.
This is the orange piece with a square cut out of the middle. That white layer is the one I had to make by cutting out triangles instead of a square because I miscalculated the first time.

The construction was pretty straightforward. I started from the innermost square and worked my way out. Instead of doing some sort of turn-under on the sides of each square, I topstitched using a wide but short (many stitches per inch) zigzag stitch. A wide, short zigzag stitch can cover a multitude of sins! I was nervous about the (lack of) square-ness of the squares, and the wide stitch gave me enough wiggle room to make less than straight sides look straight. (If you'll recall from the last post, I had computed the side lengths to the nearest thousandth, and here I was using a quarter-inch wide zigzag stitch-ha!) For each layer, I chose the color that was not represented by the two adjoining squares.

I had some trouble getting the fabric to lie flat. I had to pin a lot more densely than usual, and I also basted the layers. (I'm lazy, and I don't usually baste when I'm sewing.) In the end, I didn't completely get it to lie flat, but it was pretty good.

I went to Dallas for a week in September to be with my mom when she had surgery, so I decided to deliver the tablecloth in person then. Of course, I procrastinated and was trying to finish it the night before I left. Of course, I ran out of orange thread because the zigzags were so thread-intensive, so I had to run to the fabric store the next morning to pick up more. I had time to finish all the zigzags, but I didn't have a chance to do some of the finishing.

The upside to my procrastination was that I got to use my mom's beautiful 1950s-era Singer sewing machine to finish it off. (We think it belonged to a grandmother/great-grandmother/great-aunt, but Mom can't remember exactly how it got passed down to her.) Before I had a machine of my own, I used this one, and now that I am more experienced, I have a better appreciation for what a great machine it is. I had to get her to help me remember how to thread it and insert the bobbin, but once I had it all set up, it was a dream. I don't know how to describe it exactly. It's just a smooth ride. Is there a certain car that's supposed to have a really smooth ride? A Porsche or something? I've never driven a Porsche (or whatever the canonical smooth ride car is), but if I had, I would compare using this machine to driving a Porsche. I love my machine, and it can do zigzags and buttonholes better than Mom's, which requires special attachments, but I wouldn't mind having a machine like hers for straight stitching someday.

Since I had a big hole in the back of the piece from my weird inner square cutting, I used a big piece of leftover white fabric to make a backing for the piece. Here it is before I covered the hole. (I didn't take a picture after. Oops.)

My mom sent me some pictures of the finished tablecloth on my grandparents' table, one of which is posted at the top of this post. I hope they like it. I love and admire them so much, and I hope that our marriage can be as long and as loving as theirs. I often have trouble finding good gifts for them, so I was glad to get to make them something special and creative.

Jon LOVES the design. He's supportive about my sewing, but he's not usually very effusive, and he doesn't often bring a design up later. I might be able to make a present for him along these lines, although I'll probably go smaller/fewer layers. Wrangling eight was a bit overwhelming.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

64th anniversary tablecloth I: theory

In my last post (two months ago!), I asked for ideas for a tablecloth that would feature 8 squares for my grandparents' 64th (8 sqared-th) anniversary. A twitter friend pointed me to Wooly Thoughts, a site with the tag line "in pursuit of crafty mathematics," and I ended up really liking this design. My version has 8 squares in it, of course. I used more math than I'm usually aware of using when I sew, and it was really fun. In this post, I'll talk about some of the math I used. In the next post, I'll talk about the actual construction of the tablecloth.

The mathematics behind the square pattern is a curve of pursuit, at least as I understand it. I haven't done the computations myself, but I think that the "spiral" (it's piecewise straight, but the mind easily makes it into a curved spiral) traced out by the corners of the squares represents the path four dogs (or mice) would take if they were all mutually chasing each other at constant speed. Pretty cool, huh? The way I thought of constructing it was just rotating a smaller square until its corners hit the sides of the next larger square.

I decided that I wanted a constant ratio of sizes of squares, and I thought that it would be cool if the innermost square were parallel with the outermost. I did a simple high school geometry proof to make sure that the angle of successive squares was additive.

The left picture is a schematic of a few of the squares. The right is a blow-up of the way the angles in question are situated. The variable x represents the amount of rotation at each layer. The variable y represents the total rotation after two layers. I used the fact that the sum of angles of a Euclidean triangle is 180 degrees and that vertical angles are congruent to conclude that y=2x, which means that rotation is additive. (OK, technically I showed that the rotation would be additive if the rotation is by the same amount each time, but if x were replaced with z for a different amount of rotation, we would find that y=x+z.)

There might be an easier way to see that rotation would be additive in this case. It's obvious that it is additive if the vertices of both angles x are in the same place, so if the squares all had a corner in common. But I was worried that maybe something weird would happen when you slid the second angle along the side of the first triangle. This proof told me that nothing weird would happen. I have learned that my intuition is often wrong in math, so it was nice to have a proof so I knew for sure.

Since 13x7=91, which is close to 90, I decided that each square should be rotated by about 13 degrees to get the sides of the last square to be parallel with the first. I wanted the tablecloth to have a diagonal length of 60 inches because my vision was for it to be rotated and put on their table diagonally, and based on their table size, I thought 60 inches was a good length.

I couldn't actually find our calculator. (Update: I found it recently when I accidentally knocked it off the back of the work desk. But the batteries are dead anyway.) Instead, I used the google as a calculator to figure out what the side length of the largest square should be to give diagonal length 60. (Answer: 60/sqrt(2), about 42.4 inches, conveniently about the same as the width of the orange fabric I was using.)
 Then I set up an equation to figure out the ratio between successive square side lengths. In the picture to the left, I assume the total side length of the largest square is 1 and figure out where the second square touches the first using the equation I wrote at the bottom. To figure out the side length of the smaller square, I used the Pythagorean theorem with the x and 1-x to get the hypotenuse of that triangle, which is the side length of the second square. After getting a decimal approximation of that side length, I computed all the square side lengths to three significant figures. That should have been my first clue that I was greatly underestimating the difference between theory and practice: my tape measure goes down to 16ths of an inch, and my cutting is considerably less accurate than my tape measure.

Here is a sketch of my plan on poster board.

Even with the relatively good precision of pencil and paper, the innermost square didn't line up very well with the outermost square. But it looked cool anyway.

Unfettered by banal practicalities such as the realistic amount of precision I could hope for when cutting the fabric, I double-checked my numbers and went off to cut the fabric.

Tune in tomorrow (or whenever I get around to posting again) to read about the differences between theory and practice that I encountered during this project! (Compelling cliffhanger, or most compelling cliffhanger?)