Friday, March 16, 2012

Fabric Plans and Finally Knowing What I'm Doing

So, it's tax return time, and that means fabric!  I've spent the past month or so looking at my options and trying to decide what dresses I need (OK, what dresses I want), and I've finally made some decisions and placed some orders.  It's very exciting.  Never mind the fact that I haven't done anything with the fabric I already have. But let's not dwell on that.

All this fabric reviewing and swatch fondling has created a very enlightening environment for me.  First, a little flashback: I didn't sew anything (except for silly craft sewing in grade school and summer camp) until I was a teenager. I made a jumper that I wore perhaps twice.  And my mom was there the entire time instructing me on how to read a pattern and talking me through those first utterly scary, foot-on-the-peddle-of-a-motorized-needle moments.  To say I was less then enthused about the results, and that I really could have cared less whether I ever sewed again or not would be an understatement.  Fast forward two decades (give or take) and I find myself starring at fabric swatches and throwing words around like "bias" and "twill weave" and doing unholy amounts of math and drawing really silly pictures of sleeves in the margins of my work notes.  This wouldn't be so odd, except that, following that mini foray into sewing in my teens, I had not really sewn anything except headdress (by hand) until 2009.  Which really means that I only have 3 years of sewing experience under my belt.  And here I am attempting to sew (from-scratch and with as much hand work as possible) recreations of medieval garments.  These past few days, as I've been pondering how to get the most out of my fabric purchases, I feel that I've reached the tipping point to finally understanding what the heck I'm doing.

It's a real epiphany to look at a small swatch, tug on it to find the straight grain (and realize that I did it automatically), and spend the next three hours doodling how to lay the pieces out to ensure that the straight grain is going in the right direction.  If I've finally reached the point when this happens naturally, then I would say that I've finally learned something.

I've learned that patterning is serious business; that throwing patterns down on the fabric willy-nilly and crossing my fingers while I cut them out is not an enlightened and accurate method of starting any sewing project.  Maybe I learned this lesson by diverting briefly to mundane sewing that required the use of patterns.  I'd like to believe so, since that was the purpose of doing those projects.  Maybe it's also because I've taken heed of my disappointment in my previous attempts, and allowed myself to recognize the critical technical flaws in my results.  Sewing isn't an art, really. It's a science.

I've learned that while the finished aesthetics of a gown are important, they shouldn't compromise the technical considerations that would result in a better look, even if it's not immediately noticeable.  A perfect example of this is my (previous) habit of cutting the angle out on the skirts of my gowns as part of the main panels, rather than cutting separate gores.  This creates fewer seams (which results in fewer seams needing to be finished), but it also creates the potential for unwanted warping and stretching of the fabric.  This is because, since the gores are already integrated into the sides of each panel, the outer edge is cut on the bias on both sides of the seam.  Two biases working together kind of cheer each other on to create mischief.  However, if you affix the bias edge of a separate gore to the rigid edge of a straight-cut main panel, you create a better draping environment.  All this means that the next time I'm ready to make a new gown, I must weigh the overall technical craftsmanship against the aesthetics of having fewer seams.

My first order (linen) arrived late this afternoon. It contained a sea foam blue piece for a tunic for Dearg, a chocolate brown piece for pants for him as well, the lining for the pink wool that will be the supportive cote of my Garb Quest outfit, and two, 2-yard pieces for the bodice lining on the dark colored wool dress and a new dress.  The new dress will be made of a light blue twill wool I've just ordered.  I have also ordered a piece of a gold twill wool for an overdress that will not be lined, 2 yards of white flannel wool for the visible lining and trim on the navy blue Garb Quest surcote, and a beautiful dark green wool for a tunic and hood for Dearg.  All I'm missing is a white linen for the remaining lining on the navy blue surcote (because I had to run out of money at some point.)

I'll share my plans for the two new dresses with you in my next post.  For now, I've cut the sea foam blue linen out to make Dearg's tunic.  He'd like a new tunic that's suitable for when he's shooting archery, and designed to be comfortable and easy to wear with his arm guard.  This will probably result in interesting sleeves that are most likely not period, but since it's meant to serve a very specific purpose, it will make perfect sense in context.  Thankfully, I was able to convince him that one short sleeve and one long sleeve on the same tunic wasn't really a good idea!  That should go together fairly quickly, so I'm hoping I can knock that out while I've still got the motivation and good timing fairies staying in my house.

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