Monday, October 30, 2017

Behold! I Am the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog! (In Which I Make, and Wear, a Giant Toddler Costume for Halloween)

Good afternoon, friends!  Happy Almost Halloween!  Have you ever noticed that my husband Bernie bears an uncanny resemblance to Tim the Enchanter, and that I am just the spitting image of the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog?

Tim the Enchanter and the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog

In case you're unfamiliar with killer bunnies and Tim the Enchanter, refer to this classic Monty Python clip below:

So Bernie and I were invited to a Halloween costume party, and I was disappointed by the options for women's costumes that were available at my local Party City store:

Women's Costumes at Party City
Um, NOT what I had in mind.  I wasn't in the mood to go out in public wearing a costume that barely covers my tushy, but the sleazy bunny costume sparked the idea for making a Monty Python Killer Bunny costume instead.  I bought a pair of bunny ears on a headband, a tube of fake blood, and a pin-on tail from the accessories aisle and then headed to Jo-Ann's for my DIY costume supplies: a basic, loose-fitting pajama pattern, and several yards of white faux fur.

It turns out that thick, fluffy faux fur is annoying to work with, so I thought I'd share how I tamed that furry beast.  My faux fir was similar to a Minkee in its drape, but with barely any stretch to it and a VERY thick furry pile.  It was very difficult to cut through two fabric layers, and it shed so much white fluff all over the dining room that, when my son Lars came home from school, he said it looked like I had slaughtered the Easter Bunny.

I had originally planned to whip this costume up on my serger, but the two fabric layers were just too thick to fit under the presser foot of the serger and a few minutes of fiddling with it were enough to convince me that my regular sewing machine was going to be faster and easier for this project.  These are the settings that worked well for faux fur on my Bernina 750QE:

Straight Stitch No. 1, Stitch Length Increased to 3.0, Presser Foot Pressure Increased to 65
I was using presser foot 1D with Dual Feed engaged, regular polyester all purpose sewing thread, and a size 80/12 Universal needle.  The other challenge is that the thick furry stuff wanted to stick out past the cut fabric edges -- so I couldn't even SEE the fabric edges, let alone see the 5/8" seam guide marking on the stitch plate of my machine.  First I tried using the seam guide that screws into the bed of the machine, like this:

Using the Screw-On Seam Guide that Came With Foot 97D
It helped to have a "wall" to guide the fabric edges against, but I had issues with the bottom layer of fabric curling under and getting stuck in the seam.  So I took my biggest acrylic quilting ruler, smashed it down against the wrong side of the fabric, and trimmed away all of the fur that extended past the cut edge of the fabric, all the way around each cut-out pattern piece for my pajama pants and top.  This extra step made a big difference, because after I did that I was able to see and align the top and bottom fabric edges more accurately as I sewed the seam, and I was much better able to monitor that bottom edge to prevent it from curling up into the seam.

Furry Rabbit Pants In Progress
Do you see how thick that fur is?  It felt like I was like wearing a down comforter.  I'm glad I left the furry arms off the pajama top and wore a long sleeve cotton T-shirt underneath instead of doing long sleeves in fur.  I was already plenty warm in my furry outfit.

Anyway, that's all I have to share today.  The party was fun, but the faux fur made a huge mess in my house.  I'd like to return to my quilting projects today, but first I've got some vacuuming to do!

Quilty Goals for this week include:

  1. Cheater Cloth Practice Quilt:
    Now that it's quilted, I want to photograph some of the issues I had with it, trim the excess batting and backing, and then serge the edges (rather than binding it) so I can toss it in my washing machine and evaluate how washing shrinkage affects my oopsies.  
  2. Math Quilt:
    Backing fabric needs to be seamed together, and then this will be my first real pieced quilt on the quilting frame.  Not sure whether I'll attempt a simple edge to edge pantograph or continue working with my rulers and free motion fills.
  3. Butterfly Bear Paw Quilt: 
    This one needs its final outer border cut and sewn, backing fabric pieced, and then it is destined to be the second real quilt for my longarm machine.
  4. Anders' Modern Building Blocks Quilt:
    I adapted the Moda Modern Building Blocks quilt to work for an XL Twin bed and pieced the first block for this quilt over a year ago, so I think it's time to make the second block now, don't you?  This one should be fun to quilt on the long arm machine since I get to do something different for each block.
  5. Jingle Quilt:
    This is a pieced and hand appliqued WIP that I set aside about 3 years ago because I didn't know how I wanted to set the center medallion and I discovered that one of my red fabrics is a bleeder.  That sapped all motivation for continuing to work on it.  However, with the holidays right around the corner, I've decided to take it out again and finish it up.  At the very least, it will be good practice for quilting around applique on my longarm machine, and I've gotten some good suggestions from other quilters that I can try that might save the finished quilt from the running red dye.  Worst case scenario, I end up with a pink background instead of off white.  And this quilt definitely needs to go through the wash when it's finished, because I glue basted all of those turned edge applique shapes in place and I want the glue out of the finished quilt.
  6. Pineapple Log Cabin Quilt:
    I suppose I ought to make another paper pieced pineapple log cabin block for this quilt.  
  7. EQ8:
    Last but DEFINITELY not least -- I downloaded the EQ8 upgrade a few days ago and I love it so far!  I'll be taking some time this week to get comfortable with the new interface and playing with the new features.

Today I'm linking up with:

Thursday, October 26, 2017

My New Favorite Quilt: "Mummy Without Coffee Take 2" by Mathea Daunheimer

"Mummy Without Coffee Take 2" by Mathea Daunheimer, 2016 
Apparently I am NOT the only mommy who wakes up every morning in the guise of a fire-breathing dragon, requiring several shots of espresso in order to regain human form!  Am I even sure that I AM a human, suffering from a curse that turns me into a raging dragon every morning?  What if I really am an honest-to-goodness dragon, magically transformed into a human each day through the sorcery of my skim milk and espresso elixirs?  And if so, at what level can I blame my wretched teenagers for all of this?  These are questions we may never be able to answer...  But in any case, this is officially my new favorite quilt and I just had to share it with you.

Detail of "Mummy Without Coffee Take 2," photo by Luana Rubin
"Mummy Without Coffee Take 2" is a 40" x 36" painted whole cloth quilt made by New Zealand quilter Mathea Daunheimer of Esparta Fiber Arts in 2016.  This quilt was exhibited in the 2017 New Zealand Quilt Symposium, and Luana Rubin shared it in her eQuilter newsletter this morning so I discovered this loveliness early this morning when I sat down at my computer to check email...  with my freshly-brewed latte.  :-)

"Mummy Without Coffee" in Process, photo by Mathea Daunheimer
Daunheimer starts with plain white fabric, quilts the picture into the layered quilt sandwich with heavy black thread on her domestic sewing machine, and then colors it with textile paints, referring to her process as "coloring book quilting."  How cool is that?!  Daunheimer's fabulous dragon patterns are available for sale here.  

Today, this espresso-tamed dragon mama will not be doing any quilting.  Instead, I'll be waging war against the fleas that have infested my dogs and home, sewing myself a Halloween costume, and hopefully meeting with my husband's cardiologists as soon as Bernie gets back from a business trip.  And I'm gonna handle it all with aplomb, like a perfectly sane human... thanks to the magic of coffee.  

Lovely Latte Art by Rush Espresso at Ballantyne Village, Where Everyone Knows My Name
I think that Rush Espresso should try to purchase this art quilt for display in their cafe, because I'm pretty sure I'm not the only mommy in Ballantyne who can relate to it.  

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

...And the Plaid Flannel Fabric is Reassigned to Manly Pajamas!

Thanks so much to those of you who read through my long, boring blog post about my Christmas caroling costumes, and thanks even more to those of you who took the time to weigh in with advice and suggestions.  After reading through the comments and mulling it over a bit more, I have decided that the plaid cotton flannel fabric is FIRED from the costume project.  It will not, however, go to waste, because it will be perfect for matching Christmas pajamas for my menfolk:

Footsie Pajamas for Bernie, Lars and Anders!
Hah!  Can you imagine my teenaged sons and my 6'8" tall husband, wearing giant toddler pajamas like these?  I can see the Christmas card photo in my mind already...  This is from Kwik Sew pattern 3713.
Kwik Sew 3713 Men's Pajamas
As funny as that would be, none of them would actually WEAR footsie pajamas, and that's too much work for a practical joke.  So I'll probably just make my flannel plaid into a few pairs of pajama pants like these:

New Look 6858 Sleepwear
Pajama pants would sew up a lot faster than the union suits, and they would actually be worn regularly.  Waste not, want not!

When I went to JoAnn's looking for new caroling costume fabric, I had a polyester taffeta fabric in mind, but they just didn't have anything in the right weight or colors.  That's how I ended up settling on the cotton flannel.  I think I need to check out another fabric store, like Mary Jo's Cloth Store in Gastonia, to see if I can't find me some fun taffeta plaid with shimmer and sheen.  Wish me luck!

Nope!  This Fabric Will Become Pajama Pants, Not Caroling Skirt!
If I can't find a taffeta plaid for my costume, another idea would be to use one of the plaid Christmas cotton fabrics with metallic accents.  I'll see what I can find.  What I have in mind is the kind of plaid fabric that would make a great holiday table cloth.  If anyone has sources, please let me know.

Meanwhile, happy Fall, y'all!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

...Meanwhile, Longarm Quilting Practice Continues

Getting Better, But Not There Yet
So I've been working on that cheater cloth practice quilt some more.  It's definitely more challenging than just practicing different quilting motifs on solid fabric.  I've been experimenting with different thread types and colors, and changing up the way I quilt each printed 54-40 or Fight and Dresden Plate block.  The quilting really does change the way each one looks, so it's nice to be able to just try out different things from block to block without worrying about having to rip anything out so all the blocks can be the same in the finished quilt.  For instance, I was surprised by how much I liked those loopy squiggles in the blue star points of the block above.

Stitching In the Ditch, Without the Ditch
The first thing I did each time I advanced this practice quilt was to practice precision straight line quilting with the help of a ruler.  If this was a real pieced quilt top instead of a printed "cheater cloth" panel, I would be stitching right along the seamlines between patches.  As you can see in the photo above, this isn't as easy as you might imagine -- even with a ruler! -- but I am definitely getting better at it.  And stitching along those fake seamlines really makes the cheater cloth look more like a real pieced quilt, don't you think?

HandiQuilter Mini Ruler, 2 x 6
Here's why it's tricky.  You can't put your ruler right along the stitching line, because the presser foot is in the way.  The outside edge of the presser foot that rides alongside the edge of your ruler is 1/4" away from the needle, so the ruler needs to be lined up 1/4" away from where you want your line to stitch.  I quickly learned that I needed to stitch SLOWLY and keep my eye on the needle in order to stay on that printed seam line.  That's why it's so time consuming to do SID (Stitch In the Ditch) on a real quilt.

Once I had the "ditches" stitched down, I practiced some freehand fills, feathers, pebbles, and straight line fills using the ruler.  When I started this piece, I thought I was going to want a matte, all-white thread, and I did like the white on white for the stippling around the Dresden plate.  However, I was surprised to discover that I really preferred the light blue Glide thread over most of the fabrics, just a shade or two lighter than the solid blue patches.  

Feathers are still really challenging.  I'm getting better at backtracking, but still working on controlling the machine on diagonal curves.  That's why my quilted feathers aren't shaped as nicely as the ones I doodle on my iPad with my Apple Pencil.  But I think they're looking less and less like ogre toes every day.

Behold, Sub Par Feathers
More Feather Practice on a Dresden Plate
See the straight line quilting on the blue triangle, lower left corner of the above block?  Used the ruler for that.  Nice, straight lines, but again, had to go pretty slowly to keep the ruler from slipping.  I did ALL of the triangles in that "fabric" this way, even though it doesn't show up well, because practicing straight lines with the ruler was one of my primary objectives with this piece.  I tried spacing the quilting lines 1/4" apart using the lines on my 2" x 6" HandiQuilter Mini Ruler, but I think on a real quilt I would at least need little dots marking where each line ends and begins to get spacing that I was happy with.

Wretched Attempts at Pebbles
Yeah, those pebbles were intended to be ROUND...  Not!  But isn't it interesting the difference that the thread color makes?  Those quilted rocks I made in white thread caused the blue triangles to virtually disappear and blend into the adjacent blue and white print.  If you scroll back up to the picture where I was using light blue thread on the dark blue triangle, you'll see what I mean.  

Ah, well -- that's the whole point of practice, isn't it?  The only reason I'm posting these pictures is so I can look back on them at some point in the (hopefully not too far off) future and say:

I can tell you that I now understand why professional longarm quilters charge so much more for custom quilting.  All this fiddling around with outlining blocks and SID and special fills in each little patch is taking me forever!  But I'm very much looking forward to taking it off the frame and comparing the quilting at the top of the practice quilt to the quilting at the bottom.  Happy Stitching. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Christmas Caroling Season Approaching: Should I Make a New Costume, Yea or Nay?

Good morning and happy holidays, everyone!  I know it's only October 17th and y'all are probably festooning your front steps with pumpkins and "harvest decor" if you're thinking about holidays at all, but my professional caroling group just had our kickoff rehearsal/party last weekend so I'm already thinking ahead to Christmas.  Behold, me in the Giant Green Dress That Does Not Fit In My Car:

Final Christmas Caroling Job Last Year, Holiday Party at a Private Residence

That photo is from my last caroling job of last year's holiday season, a party at a private home in Charlotte.  The weather was perfect, the other members of the quartet were some of my favorite voices to sing with, and we really enjoyed singing together.  The homeowner who hired us had also hired a horse drawn carriage bringing guests up the their winding driveway past the beautifully lit trees to the house, where we met them at the front door with Christmas carols in four-part harmony.  (I am now BFF with Jake the Horse).
Imagine All Of This Dress Stuffed Behind My Steering Wheel...

So the dress...  You can read more about how I made it, which pattern I used, etc., here if you're interested.  I got carried away with the design, and wasn't thinking about the practical requirements of a costume that I need to put on at home and then wear while driving my little car to wherever the job happens to be.  Have you ever tried to drive in a hoop skirt with petticoats?  It's a hassle just getting in and out of the costume, it's restrictive and uncomfortable through the arms and shoulders, it's 100% silk so if I'm caroling outdoors and it rains on me, the dress will be ruined, and it's dry clean only...  Also the hoop skirt tends to knock things over, and when we were hired to go caroling door-to-door in a neighborhood the other night I kept tripping over the skirt and couldn't see where the steps began or ended.  There have been some close calls where, if someone hadn't been in the right place at the right time, I could have knocked over a Christmas tree or two.  This dress is ridiculously impractical, so even though our clients and their guests love it (especially the little old ladies at nursing homes), I am strongly considering making a new caroling costume for this year.  

Honestly, after two years, I am bored with wearing the same thing over and over again, struggling in and out of this dress 2-3 times a week for the whole month of December.  I feel like Charlie Brown!  I won't completely retire the green dress; I just need a different costume that I can alternate with it, something in a different color that is more suitable for outdoor events, with a warmer fabric and/or matching cape, something a bit later Victorian with a skirt that is not quite so full....  I want a costume that will be easier to get in and out of, more comfortable to wear and practical to drive in, and one that won't cost a fortune and take 50+ hours to sew.  So, without further ado, BEHOLD!  The Inspiration for my Next Caroling Costume!:

Inspiration: 1826 Fashion Plate from a French Ladies' Magazine
My costume is supposed to be "Victorian" or "Dickensian," and plaids were a huge fashion trend in the mid-19th century.  No, I'm not going to wear a dorky bonnet, but am thinking something like the red and green plaid skirt with ruffles with a frilly blouse, and maybe a little cloak to go over it.  

Because a LOT of work goes into shirtmaking, I ordered this blouse from a historical costume supplier:

Abbington Blouse from Historical Emporium
The blouse cost me $56, which sounds expensive until you consider that I would probably have spent that much on a pattern, fabric, lace trim, buttons, interfacing, and whatever other notions were needed to make it -- plus it would have taken HOURS of time that I don't have.  So I'm going to use this ready-made costume blouse as a starting point and just add more lace trim from my stash to make it more exciting.   In the Victorian fashion plate illustrations you'll notice that the shoulders and upper sleeves are very pouffy and frilly, and making the shoulders and upper arms bigger with ruffles and frills helps to make the waist look narrower for that hourglass silhouette:  
1826 and 1829

Also, just tucked into a skirt as in the Historical Emporium photo, my Abbington blouse looks more Little House On the Prairie than Elegant Caroling Fashionista.  It's not going to look Victorian if it's all blousy and loose at the waistline.  So I I'm going to make some kind of separate waist cincher/corset/belt thingy, similar to what this costumer Victorian Choice has done:

From other photos on their web site, I can see that Victorian Choice makes that waist cincher so that it ties with long sashes at the back -- which means it's totally adjustable in the event that a Caroling Fashionista eats a couple of extra slices of pumpkin pie...  

I haven't seen anything quite like the Victorian Choice waist cincher in my Victorian fashion research, at least not dating from my target era of 1840-1860.  The one below is an antique garment dating from the 1880s or so:

(At this point, you might be wondering why I don't just order my whole costume online and be done with it, especially if you're a sensible, practical person.  Unfortunately for me, I'm an impractical, ridiculous person who needs to have a one-of-a-kind costume entirely of my own making and incorporating all of my own design whimsies, so ordering a readymade costume online is simply out of the question). 

Back to the project at hand:

A Starting Point: Simplicity 8910
Let me assure you that there will be NO dorky bonnet on my head, but I DO like the View C cape from this Simplicity pattern shown above.  I've got a lightweight red microfiber that looks and drapes like velvet and won't need lining for the cape, and I bought some heavy black pom pom trim to use where red trim is shown in the pattern photo.  But I don't like the skirt in that pattern because there is too much bulky fullness at the waist, which would look frumpy-dumpy, and I think the skirt might even have an ELASTIC waist, God forbid.  I have a different pattern that I'm planning to use for my skirt, this OOP (Out of Print) Butterick:

OOP Butterick Pattern 3418
I like this pattern better than the Simplicity skirt pattern because of the princess seams, which keep fullness at the hem while reducing bulk at the waistline.  I may even gather and attach my skirt to the waistband by hand the way my original costume was made, because that historically accurate technique wasn't difficult and it really did allow a tremendous amount of fabric to gather up at the waist without any bulk.  That's key to creating the illusion of a corseted silhouette without actually having to wear a corset -- waist cincher with full, puffy blouse above and full, puffy skirt below.  

I'm thinking of a hybrid between View D with the three tiers of gathered ruffles and trim, and View B that has the flat skirt panel in the front with fullness concentrated to the sides and read of the skirt.  Look at my historic inspiration photo again:

See?  The skirt is gathered on the back and sides, but flat (not gathered) in the front.  With enough fullness in the back, that could even give a hint of a bustled effect (without having to tie a pillow to my derriere).  From a historical authenticity perspective (which absolutely NO ONE cares about besides me), notice the ruffles on the skirts -- three tiers of ruffles, even a contrasting plaid ruffle on the one on the left, and the ruffles are clearly cut on the bias due to the diagonal direction of the plaid.  Plaid was a very fashion-forward trend in the mid-19th century, as were the very full skirts supported by hoops and petticoats.  But what really stands out to me in researching women's fashion circa 1860 is the bold, graphic trim on the skirts:

Chevron With Plaid!
Ruffles, Plaid Banding, Bold Trim
Ruffles, Banding, BOLD!

Check Out the Coat Trim!
Interlocking Ring Applique
These are some wild getups, aren't they?!  Those super-full skirts were never plain; they were canvases waiting to be embellished with dramatic, showstopping trim.  That's why I went with the bold, black scalloped ruffling on my previous costume -- and I want to have that drama for my new costume, too.  

For my skirt fabric, I bought some green and red plaid cotton flannel from JoAnn and some red floral yarn trim:

For My Skirt?
So, what do you think?  At the moment, I'm feeling kind of "meh" about it.  Here are the pros:

  1. 100% cotton flannel can be preshrunk, so my finished skirt could be washable -- no more dry cleaning costs
  2. This is an outdoor-friendly fabric that won't be ruined by a sprinkling of rain or snow
  3. It's warmer than the silk I used for my last costume, which would be a plus on cold evening gigs
  4. Several yards of red yarn trim can jazz up that plaid fabric so it looks more interesting and more 1860s Fashion Forward
  5. The plaid will make it easy to cut the skirt panels straight, and I won't have to mark where the trim goes because I can just use lines in the plaid fabric itself
  6. I was originally thinking of skirt view D, with the three tiers of ruffles and the red yarn trim just above each ruffle, but I'm having second thoughts about that because of the bulk of flannel ruffles...

And of course the cons are that it's too "expected," too cliche, and not nearly exciting like a silky satiny outfit.  The biggest factor sabotaging my "sewjo" with this project is that everyone to whom I've mentioned my plan to make a new costume this year has reacted with DISAPPOINTMENT.  :-(


Anyway.  Here is the plan for the little cape thingy:

Simplicity 8910 Double Tiered Cape
The other thing I can do is disregard the skirt pattern instructions when it comes to gathering and attaching the skirt to the waistband, and use the hand stitched cartridge pleat technique I learned from making my previous costume:
Inside the Waistband of an Antique 1860s Dress
Doing the skirt that way is not hard at all, not using Tiger Tape to space my hand stitches and heavy duty upholstery thread that won't break when I pull up the pleats.  This method can't be done by machine, but it really does enable you to get an authentic bell-shaped skirt without thickening up the waistline.  Those pleats rotate outward when you put the skirt on with a petticoat, so there is no gathered seam allowance adding girth at the waistline itself.  It's genius.

Anyone who has managed to read all the way through this rambling stream-of-consciousness post without falling asleep deserves a prize, and here it is:  I will now listen to and consider YOUR opinions!  Please leave me a comment and let me know if you think this new costume idea would result in a crowd-pleaser or a disappointment.  If you don't like this idea, what would you suggest instead?  I have about 6 weeks before the caroling season starts in earnest.  Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts!