Laced Garments and Life Hacks

I’m in the middle of a project which is going to have lacing in it, and also in the middle of one massive, days-long squeal of excitement regarding my new eyelet press and how much easier it’s going to make setting eyelets in all the laced garments I’m going to be making, when into my lap is dropped another massively time-saving, argh-saving device (or rather the idea of that device) by way of a video by the inimitable Cathy Hay.

In that video (about 23:00) she whips out this genius tool, made by Amped Atelier, which is a “lacing guide”, basically a piece of perspex with sets of holes drilled in it at regular intervals for marking where to put eyelets.

Well, says I, I definitely need one of those. But, a) they’re in America, b) they only come in metric OR imperial and I use both, c) they seem to be out of stock at the moment anyway, and most relevantly d) I never buy anything I could make.

I raided my perspex drawer (yes, I have one of those) and pulled out a big sheet, which I put on my chop saw (yes, I also have one of those) and cut it to about 15″ by 6″.

I then took a ruler and a sharpie and marked a bunch of sets of dots at spacings of, on the metric side, 1cm, 1.5cm, 2.5cm and on the imperial side, 1/2″, 5/8″, 3/4″ and 1  1/8″. That’s one and one eighth. Not eleven eighths.

As you can see above, I forgot to add 3/4″ until after I’d marked 1  1/8″, but I did add it.

How did I choose the spacings? Well, there was no point doing a row of 1cm and a row of 2cm spacing, you can just use every other hole of the one row. So I chose intervals that would fill in gaps left by each other.

Happily, half inches are just that little bit different from centimeters, which meant using a variety of measures from both systems left me with a spacing option for pretty much any occasion.

Then commenced a whole lot of drilling. I do not have a drill press. Surprised? Yeah, me too, kind of. Maybe I’ll get one. Meanwhile, my right elbow is not pleased with having had to drill so many holes.

And also my nanometer precision could use a little refinement. My not-super sharp drill bit walked around a bit on the perspex before settling into each cut. More so on the left-most holes below, because I started out with a 5mm drill bit for no reason other than that seemed eyelet-sort-of-size and I didn’t think it through (moi?!) but then I switched to a 3mm drill bit and the rest went rather better.

So, having got quite thoroughly distracted for the morning and blown my schedule for the day completely, I have a handy new tool which should save me maybe 15 minutes at a time, but it’s a faffy, annoying 15 minutes I’ll be pleased to not spend painstakingly marking eyelet hole interfals every time.

And besides, I like making random stuff.  Now I’d better go mark the eyelet holes in that corset.

Casting Me In Expanding Foam

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I made a dress form in the shape of me from a whole lot of gummed paper tape. I followed this tutorial from Threads magazine, and if you’re thinking of doing this, but plaster casts and expanding foam feels a bit too much, that might be a good way to go. Certainly I liked mine and used it lots, but you couldn’t stick pins in it and it eventually deformed after being stored in less than totally dry conditions. Also it was me-without-a-corset-shaped and I wanted one me-in-a-corset-shaped so I can make more badass historybounding clothes for everyday awesome-wear.

Also, YouTube had helpfully suggested I watch Morgan Donner’s comprehensive and excellent video on how she made her Morgan-shaped dress form and I was all like “I could totally do that.”

If you are thinking of doing this and wondering whether plaster casts and expanding foam are too much for you, I’d highly recommend watching her video as it gives a pretty good idea of what’s involved, and I do not go into as much detail about the process here because she already did a top-notch job. I do, however, have some stuff to add, so come on back here when you’re done.

The plaster casting bit was fun, messy and definitely wanted two extra paris of hands if you can find two willing accomplices. I pretty much followed Morgan’s technique, except I added some thick nylon rope lengths around the areas that didn’t already have compound curves, like the back, bum and tummy areas, which I figured would be prone to slight mis-shaping during drying, as happened to Morgan.

I’d cite some engineering study on the inherent stability of corrugated materials, but engineering papers are truly, impenetrably boring and I couldn’t trawl through them to find a good citation. So just take my word for it. Corrugation makes things rigid.

For said corrugation, we added these rope sections, cut to length on the fly, after about 3 layers of bandage, so as not to have them showing through on the inside. We bandaged them on with a couple more layers and it worked a treat.

In fact, I could have done with a couple of rope “straps” up the shoulder blade area, because that bit did end up a bit flexible.

I also would have gone a little higher up the neck (though I already had to trim some hair to get out of the thing) and a little further down the arms, without creating the issues Morgan had with her arms. By the way, I assume Morgan shaves her pits anyway, but I don’t and I will just say: shave ’em first. Do it.

On the subject of whether to go into *every* crevice with the bandages: don’t. My lack of cleavage, reflected in the above picture, resulted in just resting the wet bandages over the area. Whereas the depression between my shoulder blades, which my partner was very careful to preserve, just ended up getting lost at the fabric covering stage anyway.

In sunlight, it was pretty easy to see where it needed a few more bandages, and it is important that you don’t leave holes, because the expanding foam will leak out of any gap it finds, or even deform whole areas if the mould is not rigid enough.

I was super careful in how I instructed my team to form the overlap at the side seams, and that went really well for the most part. See Morgan’s video and just try to make your lines as crisp as possible.

While it was still in two halves, I smoothed the inside surface with plaster mix, as per Morgan’s video. I didn’t wait til my mould was completely dry, I waited overnight and it was still clammy and obviously not yet dry, but it was well and truly set and rigid. I wasn’t able to do a super-good job with the plaster smoothing and it was a pain in the aaasssssss. I’d recommend doing everything you can to get a good, smooth finish during the plaster bandaging by careful placement and smoothing of bandages, and by NOT MOVING until they are set, which is really not that long. Have a full length mirror set up so you aren’t tempted to be craning to see all the time.

From the inside, you can see where I did have some slight deforming in the direction I didn’t predict would be a problem. And it wasn’t really a problem because it was slight and there was enough flexibility to just clamp it with twine while I sealed the seam.

After I’d stuck the mould together with a fat seam of bandage up the outside, I opted to use plaster to fill in the crack so as to minimise sanding later, and I’m glad I did. I hate sanding.

I also made cardboard ends for the neck and shoulder holes and bandaged them in place really well.

I then sealed the inside surface, like the baker I am, by buttering and flouring it, albeit with vaseline and corn starch. The vaseline I applied with my hands, aiming to definitely cover every single inch, but not to leave a thick layer anywhere. The cornstarch I sprinkled over every surface using a tiny tea sieve and then shook the excess around and tapped it out gently. This worked *extremely* well and I Would Recommend.

I was worried about standing her on her neck with no support, so I took my electric carving knife to a bit of bed foam (yes, that’s the life I lead…) and made a support pillow for her to rest on during filling.

I propped her between two chairs and suspended the pole (in my case a wooden pole which had once been a hat stand) augmented with a cross piece securely screwed to the end. Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of that, but it was basically a t-shape.  And then I further augmented it with some leftover foam in an effort to minimise the risk of running out of expanding foam. This monster of a pole system I suspended from a rig spanning the chair backs. Yes, that’s duct tape.

I was scared, in the normal way, at this point: we’ve done so much and it’s gone so well leading up to this point. What if it all falls to bits when I put the stuff in? What if it floods all over the floor? What if it doesn’t foam? What if it turns into a zombie and eats me? Ok, you get it, the normal, paralyzing, irrational fear attack. I got over it and so should you.

I mixed a good 500ml each of part A and part B, having seen how little Morgan’s 8oz (250ml) foamed up. I really wanted to do this in fewer pours than she did.

As I mixed it, it started to turn milky and as soon as I was convinced it was pretty well mixed (maybe 20 seconds) I poured it in and scraped the bucket as well as I could with the silicone spatula I keep for such tasks.

By the way, my buckets did not end up re-usable. If you had a pristine, smooth bucket, you might well have got away with it, just cracking the set foam off the surface, but my buckets are well used and very keyed on the interior surface. No chance of cleaning it out. Sad face.

It started to foam and grow its way up the mould really quickly and had reached maximum expansion within five minutes.

It started pushing the pole rig up as it rose, so I had to leap in and hold it down.

The first pour took up what I estimated to be a little over half the volume, so I mixed probably about 400ml each of the two parts for the second pour.

I continued to hold the pole in place, although I suspect it was pretty well secure by that time, as the first pour had gone stiff. I waited maybe 20 minutes in total between first and second pours. I did everything as quickly as I dared. As you can see, I nailed the volume estimate. I think it’s probably safe to be a tiny bit generous on that score, because by the time it reached the top, and in fact pushed just beyond the top, it had stiffened to the point where it just sort of extruded straight up in the same shape as the top of the mould. I’d rather that, and maybe have to take a knife to it here and there, than try to do a tiny last pour to take up the one inch left.

I left it overnight again at this point, just to give the foam a good long time to set properly. The packaging said 24 hours but who’s got that kind of time? 12 hours was fine.

As I said, the vaseline and cornstarch sealing did the trick. It was *really* easy to get the plaster off the foam in all places except the very small area that didn’t get vaselined. Bound to happen.

At this point, our dining table was really not usable for anything else and my co-habitants were very forbearing.

Next came sanding, which was not as easy as I anticipated, and I’m very, very glad for every little thing I did to avoid having to sand much. I hate sanding.

But she came up a treat and I was perfectly satisfied with her regardless of her minor flaws.

I thought about trying to fill in the divot between the shoulder blades, and am glad I didn’t go there because I doubt I could have made a good job of it and I would be sanding still.

The corset bones are just a bit visible, and I considered adding a layer of sweat-shirt fabric or similar to smooth out inconsistencies, but I decided that would be too much of a pain.

And anyway, she looked fine with this medium-weight, slightly stiff, black stretch suit weight polyester stuff I had lying around. I followed Morgan’s general technique, though my fabric was probably a little less stretchy and also I am super-curvy, so I ended up deciding it couldn’t be done without some darts and tucks, and a whole two pieces for the back.

I had to leave the waist un-closed for getting the cover on past the MASSIVE shoulders (butch, yes, I have been described that way. I have built a whole house, you know…) but it was pretty easy to slip stitch it shut after the fact, because you can stick pins in this dress form!! So good!!

So here she is. I am extremely pleased and extremely grateful to Morgan Donner for making a truly comprehensive instructional video, and just generally being one of my favourite YouTubers.

My new girl has settled in amongst the other dress dummies and is getting to know them.

And very shortly I will put her to work as I plough through some of the mountains of amazing fabric I’ve got stashed in boxes.

I still have a house to be building, so it may not be next week, but stay tuned…


Practical Workwear From Old Tents

My mate Loukas, to whom I have owed a few days’ work for aaaaaages, came to stay last week so we could get to work on a project he’s been eyeing up for a while.

Somewhere, he’d happened upon a small mountain of old scout and guide tents, the cotton canvas kind, and his creative mind had whirred into action. Oh, the possibilities!

His creativity and vision, combined with my aptitude for garment technical design and construction, ended us up with these babies. Based on the traditional fisherman’s smock (but with the neck in the right place, what is WITH that?) and with as many awesome little tent details left in place as possible, the result is pretty damned cool.

He’d also managed to acquire some old sailboat sails, complete with lettering and edge grommets. So of course, a waterproof version was necessary!

Lined with some of the tent cotton for comfort and minimal sweatiness, the result is practical, comfortable, and really very cool indeed.

There’s a bit of pattern grading and a whole lot of construction to go yet, but watch this space for his line of seriously awesome, recycled, super-practical, workwear. With added awesome.

I believe he’s also got a few pre-orders, so get on that bandwagon soon! Loukas can be contacted through his website:

Shirt In A Day

I was lucky enough to spend a day this past weekend at Running With Scissors in Sheffield, teaching some lovely people to make a shirt in a day. It is every bit as ambitious as it sounds.

But they were well up for a challenge and they did magnificently.

Up to and including this course, I’ve been making custom patterns for each attendee, according to measurements provided. Which amounts to an extra day of work, unfortunately. Normally I don’t mind because it’s fun, but these days I have, like, three other potential uses of that said day.

So in future, we are going to break the course in to a “draft your own pattern to your chosen measurements” day and a “make the resulting shirt” day. Which I think will be a genuine improvement, because if you can learn to draft a custom pattern, and learn to make the shirt, you can just make shirts for everyone you know for the rest of your life. What’s not to love?

So yeah, I had five lovely people on the course this time and they all, as usual, had a range of really nice fabrics (though Phoebe went conservative with white!) and a lovely sense of fun on the day. I love teaching that course.

The best bit is seeing people be pleased with themselves as they achieve something really quite difficult that they didn’t realise they could do.

It is a bit of a brain-meltingly intense day; a shirt in a day is ambitious even if you DO know what you’re doing when you set out. And in truth, we’ve never once managed to actually get the buttons on on the day.

But still, people’s shirts were absolutely beautiful, and rather inspired me to make a shirt or two of my own.

It’s just a pity I have to use up some of the *mountain* of fabric I already have, rather than going out and acquiring more. They say buying materials and doing craft are two different hobbies. I quite agree.

Anyway, fabulous job, folks, thank you so much for attending! See you for the Pants course in July.

Phone Holster “Tutorial”

Ok, it’s not much of a tutorial, since you could have figured this out on your own, but in case you are really new to this augmented apparel thing, here you go:

Dig into your spare denim stash (which you totally have, right? You cut the legs off knackered old jeans before you chuck them, right?) and choose a colour that will work on your recipient garment. Using your phone as a template, cut a rectangle as big as your phone plus about 2.5cm all round. Then cut a curved corner away, bit enough that your phone will fit into the pocket if that’s the opening. Bear in mind a bit of seam allowance.

Turn just a bit of the curved edge under and stitch it down. This will be easy if it’s stretch denim and a little harder if not, but it’ll work if you turn under only about 5mm. Stitch that down all along the curved edge. Don’t worry about the raw edge on the inside, it won’t fray much.

Plonk it on your jeans along the side seam, about mid-thigh. Turn under each edge about 1cm as you pin it in place. Adjust pins until you are happy with where it is and that it is not all wonky. Maybe stick your phone on it again to make sure it hadn’t got too small.

Manouvre the jeans into your machine and stitch round the perimeter, skipping the curved edge (obvs, that’s the opening) and reinforcing with some backstitching either side of the opening, where you’ll be pulling at it every time you take your phone out. Be careful not to stitch bits of the leg to the back of the work, but if it happens, it happens. Rip the stitches and do it again.

You are ready to go. Commence to quote various spaghetti westerns as you reach for your phone. And enjoy not having to stuff your phone in your stupid girlie pockets that can barely hold a tissue and are already on a fairly crowded bit of your anatomy if you’re shaped like me…

Bead and Wire Necklace

I’ve been messing about with this bead and wire technique since I saw a Very Expensive necklace in a posh artisan shop in town and thought to myself, “I could do that…”

I love the bit where I go to my stack of drawers full of beads of every shape and colour and just choose a colour palette to work in.

This style is very meditative to do; the sort of thing I turn to when I’ve had enough of being outside my comfort zone and need to make no more pressing a decision than what bead to use next.

And at the end of a day’s meditation, I have a lovely necklace to show for it.

Further Adventures in Pants

Emboldened  by the success of the first pair of boxers I made, and somewhat overexcited by the re-opening of charity shops, I decided to make Julian some crazy new boxers.

I came home with this haul of old garments:

And from them I made this pile of pants:

These take a up a lot more fabric than the girly version. I only really got one pair per garment, except from the stripey swing top in size XL, from which I got two, at the price of giving up on pattern matching. Averaging just under £3 per pair and I made them all in a short day of sewing.

Definitely never buying pants again.

Jeans That Fit From Jeans That Don’t

You know how it is: you buy a pair of secondhand jeans without trying them on, maybe you’re too lazy or maybe you’re buying them online and there’s no option, but you’re safe because these are from a company you know, they are a style you have already tried and they are the same size as the ones you already have.

Nope. You cannot trust that shit. I mean, one of my recent purchases had one size on the label in the neck and a different size on the inside of the skirt seam. This is how these things end up on eBay I guess.

The jeans in question fit so badly there is not even a “before” picture for this post. I could, technically, get them on, but it was not pretty and I will not subject you to it. Almost every aspect of them was wrong. There was a bit between about mid-thigh and over-knee that was fine, but aside from that, every damn thing needed to change.

Challenge accepted.

First, the silly flap pockets. Off! And the newly orphaned rivet buttons, likewise, which left holes in my back pockets, but that’s why god created buttonhole stitch. So far so easy.

I also took in the outer side seams on the legs between over-knee and hem because these were beyond boot cut and I like straight cut.

I needed about 2 inches adding to the waist and hips area for a decent fit, so I set about unpicking the side seams.

I started by removing the waistband from everything else for a strech of a few inches either side of the side seam.

And proceeded to rip about half a dozen over-sewn, top stitched, crazy-secure stitch lines… why? Your crappy short-staple cotton will give way LONG before the seams! Oh, for a decent long-staple denim!

But anyway, seam ripped, waistband cut and I had basically flayed these jeans from mid-thigh upward.

I cut four rectangles of denim from the non-knackered bits of some knackered jeans I’d kept (always keep the non-knackered bits of your knackered jeans!) and extended the waistband with an insert on the outer and lining sides.

And from the same bit of old leg, cut some long triangles to add as a sort of upside-down godet.

The results look decidedly customised, which is exactly the look I love. I have a roll of thick orange thread that makes a very authentic topstitch. Details count!

I’d added a bit too much, really, at the waist, and they gaped (in the normal way, you know what I mean, don’t you?) at the back of the waistband. So I opened the top only of the waistband either side of the back belt loop and added small darts either side.

Fairly subtle, but making a curve out of what they always cut as a straight section of waistband. Why do they do that? Everybody always has a four-finger gap at the back of the waistband unless they really have no arse to speak of. These were even meant to be “curvy” jeans. What curves? My knees? WHAT CURVES?!

Anyway, the end result was pretty damn good. Probably a little too loose in the waist for wearing without a belt, but that’s fine by me, I’d rather the belt did the heavy lifting than the jeans anyway. Maybe not less fat rolls, but certainly subtler ones that way.

Now I just need to add a phone holster and I’ll be on my way.

Pirate Puffling Pants

I wanted to call them pirate pants. Julian suggested puffling pants. It was inevitable.

You may (if you have been paying attention) remember that my enormous stash of knit fabrics contained some awesome stripe stuff (pictured below under some less-desirable green fabric). It was actually cream, gold and dark green when I bought it but I felt it could benefit from a round of green dye. I’m quite pleased with the result.

Part of the inspiration for this was a youtube post by all round rad lady Morgan Donner about Historybounding, the act of wearing everyday clothes that are in some way remeniscent of historical clothing without going the whole, period-accurate hog.

I am so in. Especially where breeches are involved. I am working on another look that skims the silhouette from an 18th C gent and does it in slinky knit fabrics, but I may be getting ahead of myself…

There was only *just* enough of my awesome stripey fabric to make a pair of breeches, so I had to piece it a bit to get the inseam curve, but on the plus side, I had next to zero waste after cutting. One bit of waste I did have become a hair accessory. Trés piratey, non?

Sorry, no info on the making process because I was winging it so completely, I didn’t even photograph them in the making. I will do better.

Teapot Leaf Mould Roller-majig

Inspired by the one we saw at Harlow Carr, I decided a couple of days ago to make a leaf mould roller/container in the shape of a teapot.

For one thing, it’s something to do with the rolls of fencing wire I have somehow acquired over the years, and the chicken wire (I don’t even know where that came from) that’s been stored outside the shed I just took down.

After an entire iteration of this project that, while I won’t call it a failure, didn’t come up to the mark in terms of quality (falls apart at the seams when rolled) or appearance (more of a blob than a globe), I decided to just go right ahead and improve on the design.

Looking at my blobby, wobbly mess of a non-spherical first attempt, I decided that measuring and being careful were maybe worth trying. So I put some marks on my deck and marked the fencing wire lengths at 50cm intervals.

They cross over at the bottom, fed through a loop in one of them. I used some smaller gauge wire to weave a bit at the bottom to keep the wires pointing in roughly the right directions. I also put small loops in the main frame wire at the marked 50cm intervals for some latitudinal circles, which I had to make of the lighter gauge wire, but it is too bendy, really. I think I should have used the heavy stuff. Still, the overall stiffness of this design is better than the first.

I cut the chicken wire into big triangles and bent/twisted it around the wires, or later, itself, in an attempt to make the seams on this one more robust. The first one was rather haphazardly thrown together, and also the leaves we put in it were already wet and compressed, making them heavy and awkward to roll.

We haven’t filled it yet, but hopefully, between drier leaves and a better design, this one will do the job better.

Anyway, it looks super cute.