Archive | January, 2012

In Living Color

28 Jan
Feral, lithograph, 2009
Some odd months ago I found a nice black frame in good condition leaning up against the outside wall of a warehouse on some side street in Bushwick. And I thought, “Gee, frames are expensive… I’ll take it!” So I brought it home with me, discarded the tattered map of southern Maine and rifled though my prints to find something that would fit. I ended up with Feral, a simple lithograph I made while learning lithography from a live sketch of local blues musician, Feral Foster. It was suitable. But after staring at that drab black and white print in a black frame on a white wall for so long, I felt it was just screaming out for color. And why not? It’s a print after all; I’ve got enough copies and nothing to do with them.
So I flipped on the latest episodes of 30 Rock, pulled out my Prismacolors and set to work.
Feral, lithograph with colored pencil, 2012
I wasn’t so sure how I was feeling about it, but it’s amazing what a step back will do. I put it in the frame, hung it on the wall and thought, “Hey now; that looks pretty darn good.”



Alteration Station: Zipper Up!

26 Jan
Many would consider a broken zipper on a treasured garment a true tragedy. You fiddle with the teeth, trying to smush them back into place or attempt to sneak the pull back onto the tape with mounting frustration. I know. I’ve tried. And it never works. But I’m here to tell you that there is hope. Replacing a zipper is actually a rather quick and easy fix.
Last year I gained a little extra weight and split the zipper of one of my favorite dresses while trying to squeeze into it (as if the weight wasn’t insult enough!) So my dress hung lonely and broken, untouched for months. Fortunately, I managed to lose the pounds this past fall, so it seemed about time to fix up the old girl and wear her out.
What You’ll Need
Sewing Machine
Seam Ripper
Straight Pins
1. The first step is to get rid of that broken zipper. Use your seam ripper to break the thread that is connecting the zipper tape to your garment, being careful not to damage the fabric.
2. Once you’re removed the broken zipper, press the seam where the zipper used to be flat with an iron. This gives you a nice fresh start and helps to keep your seam neat.
3. Turn your garment inside out and use a basting stitch to close up the seam where the zipper used to be. 
A basting stitch is the longest stitch length on your machine. This seam helps your finished zipper set to look neat and professional. It is an aid, not a finished seam, which is why we use a basting stitch: a basting stitch is big and loose and easily removed. If you don’t know how to change the stitch length on your machine, consult your owner’s manual.
4. Next we go back to the iron and press this seam open.
I forgot to take a picture of my own seam pressed open, so here is an image I found online, in case you don’t know what I mean by “pressed open.”
5. Now, with the garment still inside-out, we pin the new zipper to the seam we just pressed open. The front side, the side with the zipper pull should be facing down, pressed up against the fabric. Be sure to carefully align the zipper teeth with the seam.
Depending on your level of comfort and where you stand on the perfectionist scale, you may want to hand baste the zipper in place, so you don’t have to worry about your zipper shifting around under the needle and you can sew from the outside of the garment. I usually skip this step out of pure laziness.
6. Next, you need to switch the presser foot on your machine to a zipper foot, which allows you to sew right up next to the zipper teeth. Most zipper feet can be used on either the right or the left, depending on which side of the zipper you are sewing.
7. Stitch your zipper to the garment, straight through from zipper tape to the face of the fabric on the outside of your garment, being careful not to catch any other parts of your garment in the stitching (if you hand-basted your zipper in place, you can do this step from the outside of the garment, giving you more control over how neat your stitching looks from the outside).
Your zipper foot should find a sweet spot where it nestles up against the zipper teeth and rides them down in an effortlessly straight line. But don’t mess with that zipper pull! It’s big and bulky, and it will mess up your nice straight line. Just leave it alone; we’ll finish off the top later.
Don’t run over any metal bits! You’ll break your needle. Do give the zipper stop at the bottom a few runs as you sew around your zipper. Pause at the bottom and sew back and forth over the base a couple times.
8. Once you’ve got your zipper sewn in place, all except for around the zipper pull at the top, turn your garment right side out and rip out that basting with a seam ripper.
9. Go ahead and unzip your zipper.
10. Now that the zipper pull is out of the way, you can go back and finish off the top. Be sure to back-stitch at those top edges so your stitching doesn’t come out!
And there you have it. Everything back in working order!
A new lease on life! And I even threw in a bonus package and slapped some satin ribbon over those hardworking seams.
Cheers and good luck,


Oh, and in case it was unclear why I love this dress so much, let me clarify:

Thanks, Ghana. You’re hilarious.

Alteration Station: Going Sleeveless

25 Jan
There are a lot of great vintage finds out there, but sadly to say, a lot of them have pretty unfortunate sleeve situations. Removing sleeves is probably the trick I use most often when updating, repairing, and refitting secondhand clothing. Dresses that fit perfectly well everywhere else, but dig into your pits or restrict your arms to a 30 degree range of motion are common enough to make me wonder about the evolution of arm-to-body proportions. Not to mention the multitudinous variations of big, puffy sleeves that didn’t seem quite so bad on the hanger, but are just flat out embarrassing when you put them on. A true tragedy.
My fix? Go sleeveless. You don’t need those things. Sleeveless dresses are more versatile, anyway. On its own? Summer dress. Throw on a sweater, and now it’s a winter dress. VoilĂ .

What You’ll Need

Sewing Machine
Matching Thread
C-Fold Binding:
(purchase or make your own out of your discarded sleeves or matching fabric)
Seam Ripper 
Tailor’s Chalk
Straight Pins
First, find the seam where the sleeves are sewn to the body of the garment. Using your seam ripper, tear out the thread that is holding together that seam, being careful not to damage the fabric. The easiest way to do this is to start on the inside of the garment, where you can see the stitches better. Tear out a few stitches, then pull the seam apart where you’ve made a hole and continue from the outside of the garment, alternating between ripping out stitches and pulling the seam apart further.
Remove both sleeves and you’ll have something like this:
You’ll have to cut off that ratty seam allowance, and depending on your garment and your style you may or may not want to cut off more. If your sleeves were too tight or restrictive in any way, you’ll definitely want to trim some fabric from the underarm and the front of your sleeve setting. Just be careful not to cut too much. You can try it on before proceeding to make sure it’s the cut you want. It should look something like this:
Now you just have to finish off that raw edge. There are a number of different ways to do this: 
Facing: This is the most involved and invisible method. It requires making a pattern piece, leaving a seam allowance, and hand sewing. You may want to use this method for a more formal dress.

V-Fold Binding: This method may or may not be invisible, depending on whether you hand- or machine-sew it, but the binding will end up fully on the inside on the garment. It requires leaving a seam allowance.

C-Fold Binding: This is the method I’m showing you. It is quick and easy and requires no seam allowance. The binding will be visible, so it has a sportier look than the other methods, and using binding that matches is important.
Both C- and V- fold binding can be purchased in the notion section of any fabric store, pre-made in a variety of widths and colors. But they are also easy to make out of any fabric you have lying around.
Binding must be cut on the bias. This is really important! The bias of a fabric runs diagonally across the weave of the fabric. The bias is the only direction in which a non-stretch fabric has stretch. This stretch makes it possible for the binding to fit smoothly around a curve without buckling or bunching or rolling. If you look closely at any woven fabric you should be able to see the perpendicular lines of the threads.
It’s ideal to cut on the true bias, however if you’re trying to squeeze binding out of a small piece of fabric, you can fudge it a little.
Using a ruler and tailor’s chalk, draw strips along the bias of your fabric. The finished width of your binding will be 1/4 of the original width. I made mine 2″ wide, so my finished binding looks to be 1/2″ wide.
Cut up your bias strips.
Square the ends.
If your strips aren’t long enough to make it around your armhole, sew a couple strips together and press the seam open. Treat it as one long strip.
Fold your strips in half lengthwise and press.
(Press: Iron slowly, using the weight of your body to press the iron into the fabric.)
Open up your binding and using your center crease as a guideline, fold half of the width of your bias strip in half and press.
Repeat on the other side.
Fold again on your center crease and press, allowing one side to be a smidge wider than the other. 
(The purpose of leaving one side wider is to make it easier to catch the hidden underside of the binding when you sew.)
I like to swirl my finished binding to encourage a smooth curve. You can do this by ironing your binding, and as you iron, curve the binding so that you iron it into a curve that mimics the curve you’ll be sewing it to. In this case, you should swirl with the center fold on the inside.
Now we pin. Starting in underarm (the least visible area), sandwich the fabric of the garment in the opening of your binding. If your binding were a hot dog bun, your fabric would be the hot dog. Put your pins in perpendicular to the binding with the heads hanging off the edge for easy removal, on the outside of the garment, so you can see what it will look like on the outside as you sew. The wider side of the binding should be on the inside, the side that you can’t see when you sew.
Pin all the way around, cut the binding, leaving about a 1/2″ of overlap. Turn 1/4″ of that raw edge to the inside of the binding and pin it down. You shouldn’t have any raw edges showing.
Turn the garment inside-out so that when you sew on the face of the garment, your presser foot is like a hamster running in the wheel of your armhole.
Sew at about 1/8″ from the open edge of the binding, as neatly and evenly as possible, removing your pins as you go.
And you’ve got a super-fashionable vintage getup!
Happy sewing,


Meow: Portraits for the Lonely

3 Jan
I was spontaneously inspired this morning to bring an old idea to fruition.
Joey, a former roommate of mine, founded a family wall in our kitchen: above the kitchen table we hang framed portraits of current and former roommates and their families.

Joey and I are both proud cat owners. Mine, a simple-minded tabby named Cecil and a self-righteous calico princess named Dinah, plus Joey’s all-gray intellectual, Ghosthunter and black-and-white kindhearted spaz, Ghoul, made four. Four people. Four cats. One bathroom! (laugh track) 
Sometime last year, before Joey, Ghoul, and Ghosthunter packed their bags and moved to Portland, it occurred to me that our feline family deserved some wall space. I thought I’d do portraits of them all, but never quite got around to it.
Today I was inspired to make those cat portraits a reality (however retrospectively, in the case of Ghoul and Ghosthunter). Thanks to Facebook, I was able to get my hands on photos of the missing misters in absentia. 
For each portrait I referred to a photographic reference, taking some of my own whimsical liberties in order to accentuate each personality.
I colored them in with Prismacolor colored pencils and Faber-Castell brush-tip markers.
Melody and Friends