Recently in Sewing/Craft Projects Category

an eye and an eye

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the eyes have itIn brighter news, my doll eyes arrived! Six pair of 18mm blue eyeballs. You wouldn't think it would be so hard to find eyes for dolls and stuffed animals. At least, I wouldn't. I was surprised to discover the selection in the big craft stores so poor. They all have tons of googly eyes, and maybe, possibly, one size of brown stuffed animal eyes. If you want doll eyes or cat eyes or a different size of animal eyes, forget it.

amigurumi how-to

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A few people have asked me about learning to make knitted and crocheted toys. And in general, they are much easier than they look. For me they are much, much easier than sweaters and scarves. Because my problem is having a short attention span. So I'd much rather make a toy that I can finish in a day or two, even having to learn new stitches, than a sweater which I will never finish.

Of the knitted amigurumi I've made, if I were starting as a beginner I would make the cherry pie first. It's done on regular sized needles, and the only new technique is the bobble, for which the pattern provides nice photo instructions. A real beginner could make the crust first and then they would have gotten some practice in before trying the bobble.

If I were comfortable with double-pointed needles, I'd start with the slug. (Probably because I did, that was the first amigurumi I made.) It's simple and made in one piece with almost no sewing. So it's a good way to learn a few key techniques like short rows and how to increase without making a hole. The only reason I wouldn't recommend it to a super-beginner is the first few rows, when you only have a few stitches on the double-pointed needles, are kind of fiddly.

For crochet, they were all equally easy. Well, that's not strictly true. The katamari was a bit more difficult because the pattern said to crochet as tightly as possible, so the weight of the magnets couldn't pull it out of shape. And I ended up crocheting so tightly I couldn't get the hook through the stitches. It took a while for me to get a feel for the right gauge. But anyway, the point is that crochet is really not hard to do. There just aren't any difficult techniques, so a beginner can start with anything they like.

If you don't know how to knit or crochet at all and you want to make amigurumi, there are some terrific sites with instructional photos and videos. Or I have a great knitting book called Reader's Digest Knitting Handbook, maybe we can have an amigurumi party and I'll bring the book! It really, honestly doesn't matter if you've never made anything more complicated than a scarf before. Any stitch or technique you don't know, you can google and find either photo or video instructions. (I personally prefer photos to videos because I'm left handed and everything I do is the mirror image of what most people do. I have to translate the instructions, and that's easier for me to do with a photo. Videos go by too fast.)

As for me, I have a few more presents to make, and I need to make a hat for myself while it's still winter. And then I think I'm going to try some more challenging toys. I found a pattern designer on with some really complex, realistic patterns for sea creatures like octopus and angler fish. And maybe I will try designing a pattern of my own!



SlugetteI've recently discovered amigurumi. Which seems to be Japanese for "tiny, obscenely cute crocheted toys." It's the perfect craft for my short attention span. I've been trying to knit sweaters and I can never finish them. An amigurumi comes together in an evening or two.

I found out about them on They set that site up so it's really easy to browse patterns and other people's projects to get ideas. Plus if you post photos of your own projects, other people make encouraging comments and it's a nice little egoboo.

take your slug to work dayMy first amigurumi was knitted, not crocheted: it's a toy slug! I named it Sluggette. I intended to give Sluggette as a gift, but once I saw it I couldn't give it away. I've even been taking it to work with me and sitting it on my desk. I don't want it to get dingy being carried around in my purse. Maybe I'll try to make a little slug carrier for it.

Knitting big projects like sweaters can get expensive, and Amigurumi cost almost nothing to make. Sluggette used maybe 1/3 of one $3 skein of Sugar n Cream (cotton yarn from Michael's which I like because it has very little give, so the stuffing doesn't show through.) Though the expense adds up if you have to buy a lot of colors for a specific project, and then only use a tiny amount of each color. I guess ideally you would use scraps from other projects. Or if you really had to buy a bunch of yarn, then you could use the leftovers to make other amigurumi.

RE: BrainsAfter Sluggette I made a corporate zombie called "RE: Brains" for Georg to take to his office. I used a pattern for a person (the pattern designer makes toy sets of characters from the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Firefly etc) and, inspired by a zombie someone else on had made, added blood drips and eyeballs to make it look like a zombie. Since taking that photo I added tiny black beads to make pupils. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo with the pupils before Georg took it to work.

tiny teddy bearAfter slugs and zombies I made a cute one, just to prove I could do "cute" I guess. A teeny tiny teddy bear. It's a gift too. I didn't give it a name because I thought they'd want to.

My only real goof so far was using dried beans to weigh down Sluggette and RE: Brains, and then finding out after they were finished that beans inside amigurumi are bad. Eventually the humidity in the air softens the beans, and then they attract bugs. Ugh. Thanks to Lee I found a plastic alternative to beans, little stuffing pellets, at Michael's. And I was able to get both Sluggette and RE: Brains open, remove the beans, replace with pellets, and stitch them back up without ruining them. Whew!

knitting yay

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I bought Knitter's Handbook by Montse Stanley, and it is great! I started that cotton cardigan I wrote about a few weeks ago, and used the book to make a hem at the bottom. I made a provisional cast-on, which means a cast on in another yarn, that's meant to be pulled out. Then when the length of the hem had been knitted, I pulled out the provisional cast-on, put the loops at the end on another needle, and knitted both ends together. It felt weird at first to knit with three needles, but I got used to it. And voila, a neat, seamless hem!

The pattern said to just fold the hem over and sew it up after finishing the sweater. I don't mind sewing on a knitting project when it's the best approach, but the instructions in the book to knit it up seamlessly were so much tidier. I even marked the fold by slipping every other stitch in one row, instead of purling a row as the pattern said, so the fold wouldn't have a ridge. This is my favorite kind of finish for the bottom of a sweater, and I'm thrilled to have figured out how to do it so nicely. Maybe this is old hat to experienced knitters, but I felt like a knitting superstar!

knitting: buttonholes


I'm sorry to bore the people who don't knit again, but I'm in the thick of this project so it's kind of on my mind. Besides, it's not like knitting is the only limited-audience topic I ever write about. My blog has something to bore everyone at one time or another. (or maybe all the time!)

Thanks to Raynor Grace and Bummble, I have online advice on an alternate cast off method, which I think will work much better for me. Unfortunately I didn't get that far last night for two reasons: first, I had to work. Bummer eh? What can you do, we had an idea late in the day which would resolve a problem for a tense meeting first thing this morning.

Aside from that, I wouldn't have gotten to the casting off anyway because I got stuck on the buttonholes. The pattern calls for making buttonholes by casting off four stitches, then on the next row casting them back on. This makes a buttonhole which is parallel to the edge. Which you would rarely do in sewing. A buttonhole like that would gap and be unstable. In a sewn garment you would always make the buttonhole perpendicular to the edge, so the button pulls against the corner of the buttonhole and it doesn't gap. I also like to make keyhole buttonholes for added stability on that outer edge.

I looked online for knitted buttonhole variations, and all of them were parallel to the edge like my pattern. Maybe this is just the way it's done in knitting. But I'm having a hard time forcing myself to make a buttonhole like that. Especially such a large one. It just looks like it's going to gap open and the buttons are going to pop right out.

It seems to me that it would be easy to make a buttonhole perpendicular to the edge. Just knit the area in between two buttonholes for as many rows as you need, leaving all the other stitches on holders. Do that for all the buttonholes, and then join them all together at the top. You'd end up with a slit in the fabric for each buttonhole. Does that explanation make any sense? Is there a reason I don't want to do that?

I think I'm going to try it tonight and see how it turns out. I'll only have to pull out a couple of rows.

One more knitting question: Once a circular needle is removed from its packaging, how do I figure out what size it is? There doesn't seem to be a marking anywhere on the needle.

knitting question: cast off


So I'm finishing up a sweater. Not the one I wrote about last week; this is the striped cardigan I started back when I had surgery. And I feel like I need to finish it before starting on another.

I've never made a sweater before, just simple hats and scarves, so I used super cheap yarn in garish colors. That way, if I mess it up, I don't feel like I wasted a lot of money. Just time. Of which I have so much to spare! (that was sarcastic.) In fact, I did not mess it up and it wasn't a waste of time. On the contrary, it seems to be turning out well! I like the way it fits in the body. The sleeves are big though. Not too big to wear, but if I make this pattern again I'll do the sleeves at least an inch narrower, and a bit shorter too.

Over the weekend I had to learn a couple of new techniques: sewing pieces together and picking up stitches to make the ribbing on the edge. Both of which went well. I was worried about matching the stripes when I sewed the pieces together, but it turned out to be easy. Easier in fact than sewing striped fabric. Because when you (or more to the point, when I) sew on a machine, the top fabric always shifts a bit. Not enough to mess up the seam, but enough to throw off the stripes. But since I hand-sewed the sweater, I could match up all the stripes as I went. In a way it made it easier to make sure I was sewing the pieces together evenly.

My next concern is casting off. For some reason, when I cast off the finished edge always ends up loose and messy looking. I don't want the whole front edge of my cardigan to have that messy edge. Am I doing something wrong, or is casting off just like that? Are there multiple ways to cast off, and how do I find instructions for a neater method? The only thing I could think of was to switch to smaller knitting needles for the cast off. I wonder if that would work. I'll be ready to cast off the sweater soon -- maybe tonight! -- so I hope I figure this out.

knitting opinions

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I like knitting, but I have the proverbial "beer budget and champagne taste" when it comes to yarn. In other words, I can't stomach the prices at good yarn stores, and I can't stand the horrible plasticky feel of most yarns at the big craft stores.

I've been meaning to ask the experienced knitters I know how to find decent yarn at a non-obscene price. Meanwhile, I was running errands yesterday, made a quick stop at Michael's, and discovered that they now carry a cotton blend yarn that doesn't cost a lot, feels nice and comes in colors I like. Jackpot!

I want to make a light cotton cardigan for my office, which vaccilates between really cold (when the a/c is running) and a bit warm (when it's not). Something I can throw over my shoulders when the a/c kicks on, and then easily pull off when it warms up. Spent a little time browsing patterns last night and came up with these two:

festiveBEAUTY.jpg tahoeBEAUTY.jpg

Any opinions? I like the style of the Mandarin collar one better, but it would be more complicated for two reasons: first, I want long sleeves, or at least 3/4 length, and the pattern is short sleeves. Second, the gauge is off so I'd have to recalculate everything. The blue one isn't as stylish, but the gauge is exactly right so it would be easier to do.

On a closer look, I also see that the Mandarin collar one is gapping over the model's bust, and she's not that busty, so that would be more of a problem for me. Maybe I should make the blue one, and wait until I know what I'm doing before trying a pattern that needs so much adjustment.

always look on the bright side

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Y'all are probably as tired of reading my complaints as I am of making them. So how about a more cheerful post.

The sewing went much better today. Thanks largely to Mod_complex' suggestion of using my teflon presser foot on the lace. Actually she suggested a rolling presser foot, which I don't have, but I do have a teflon presser foot, and that helped a lot. No more of the lace getting stuck or catching in the machine.

And while I'm looking on the bright side, the lack of stability in the lace, which was so crazy-making last night, made for the easiest easing of sleeves I've ever done. Seriously, it was great.

(If you have no idea what "easing of sleeves" means, and you care, go look at the shoulder seam of a woven shirt or jacket. The seam probably isn't totally flat; the sleeve probably stands up a little bit. That's because a set-in sleeve is bigger than the armhole it goes into. It has to be "eased": first the sleeve is gathered, and then sewn carefully so that none of the gathers get sewn into the seam. It's hard to describe it if you can't see it. But you end up with a smooth seam if you do it right, and a sleeve that puffs gently out from the armhole. If you mess up, you end up with little puckers or creases in the sleeve at the edge of the seam. I confess that I find sleeves challenging, and do mess them up more often than I'd like. So it was a relief to find it so easy with this lace.)

I got way more done tonight than I had expected. The bodice is entirely put together. Tomorrow I'll do the skirt, and then the lining on Wednesday. Then Thursday I can relax and hem while watching TV. It looks like I'm not going to end up in a crazy rush to finish sewing, like I usually do.

Best of all, a scheduling conflict later in the week that has been causing me major stress resolved itself all on its own. Talk about the bright side.

new project


I ought to be in bed now, and an hour ago I was pretty tired. Then I had the brilliant idea to eat some coffee ice cream. I didn't have much, but man, I feel a little jittery. It didn't even have sugar in it.

So I'm too wired up to sleep, but not focused enough to work on my new sewing project, so I'll talk about it instead. It's a bag for carrying my camera. I've been looking all over for a good camera bag, but the only bags I can find are horribly unstylish. I've been using a Cafe Press messenger bag with some foam inside, which isn't at all safe. The foam slides around in there and I'm always afraid my camera is going to get banged up. The Cafe Press bag is also lacking in the pocket department. There's only one huge front pocket where you have to keep everything, and my keys are always getting lost in the bottom.

I found a messenger bag pattern with lots of pockets that will work I think. Also found some cool upholstery fabric on sale. Because I can't do anything the easy way, I decided to add piping. That's what the light green fabric is for. Also got some heavy-duty interfacing to give the bag stability. (the pattern doesn't call for any interfacing at all! ugh, the bag would get all crumpled up!) I'm going to use fleece to pad it but I didn't need to buy the fleece. I have tons of it lying around. For the lining I'm using a raincoat fabric I bought on super-cheap sale last year. It's hideous but waterproof, which is a good thing for a camera bag. I think I'm going to use another layer of the main fabric to line all the visible parts, and keep the ugly raincoat fabric hidden in between layers.

I'm a little concerned about how many thick layers there will be in this thing. There's the 2 layers of main fabric, the waterproof lining, the fleece and the piping. (I trimmed the interfacing to just inside the seamline, so it won't add to the bulk that has to go through the machine. I guess I'll just baste it to one of the lining layers.) There's also the strap, which will be that nylon web stuff and will have to be sewn in. I've never worked with that before. The pattern called for a strap made of the same fabric as the rest of the bag. But I think the nylon web will be more comfortable, more durable and look better too. I better make sure I have upholstery thread, & I might have to get a sturdier needle too.

All I've done so far is cut all the fabric and interfacing. Since everything is lined I probably don't need to zigzag all the edges, but if the fabric frays a lot I probably will anyway. I'll post an update when I start sewing.

new project

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I have tons of yard work to do, so I spent the whole weekend sewing instead. The change of seasons is a good time for new clothes, and having finished the halloween costume two weeks ago makes it a good time to start a new project.

Friday was the fun part: pulling out my pattern and fabric collections and deciding what to make. It's so nice to have a stash of raw materials and not needing to go to the fabric store everytime I want to make something. It's like having a free fabric store at home! Well not free of course, since it's already paid for, but it feels free. Those of y'all who do crafty things know what I mean.

I picked out a coat and two dresses, and started on the coat first because I've been feeling the lack of a warm coat the past few days. It's a cute little A-line, high waisted coat with a standing collar. I'm using a really funky blue and white fabric I picked up last year, with a nice soft flannel lining. I'd also like to make a fleece shell lining that could snap in for extra cold weather, but the "home fabric store" didn't have any fleece that worked so I'll have to buy that. Hey, JoAnn's is having a sale on fleece!

The only problem with buying fabric in advance is that you never know how much you're going to need. I almost didn't have enough of the blue and white fabric. With some careful rearranging I was able to fit everything, but I couldn't even try to match the pattern. I'll see how it turns out! It's an irregular pattern so it shouldn't be too bad.

Laundering and cutting the fabric took all day yesterday. Well actually I spent several hours cooking a nice big pot of chili for dinner, and the fabric took the rest of the day. I had a scare this morning with my sewing machine jamming up, and thought for a while I was going to have to take it in for repair tomorrow, but thanks to the internets I figured it out. Word to the wise: if you get a giant tangle of thread underneath that jams up the bobbin, the problem is actually with the top thread. It turned out there was a bit of crud stuck between the tension discs, holding them open and making the thread behave as if the tension was set to 0.

Spent a long time this afternoon practicing buttonholes, and it looks like bound buttonholes aren't going to work with this project. I don't know if's the fabric, or if I was just being clumsy, but all my practice buttonholes came out awful. Ugh. I hate to do plain old machine buttonholes on my special coat, but at least they'll be neat and even. I might try the bound buttonholes again in a few days when I'm in better spirits and see if I do a better job of it.

Anyway, I'll post photos when I get a little further along. I can't wait to wear my new coat!



(Not my real hair. Or my real waist.) I think the Scarlett O'Hara costume turned out well! As corsets tend to do, it completely changes the shape of my torso, and also makes my hips look enormous. The baggy drawers don't help with that either.

Georg helped me tighten it, which we did in three stages: put it on snug, waited about a half hour and then tightened it as much as possible, then waited another half hour and tightened it again. If you put it on and immediately try to tightlace, you are in for a world of pain. But doing it gradually like that lets you get used to it. I could still breathe comfortably, though not too deeply. (I have deep admiration for women who could ride a horse or do physical work while wearing one of those things!) It did make my back hurt a bit, and finding a comfortable seat was a challenge. Still, I wore it for about 5 hours before it started to feel seriously uncomfortable.

Did I ever write up the completion of the sewing? I don't think I did. Well, I finished the corset. Everything went smoothly at the end, except for the 1/2" bones at the back. They have you use wider bones at the back edges because there's so much pressure on the grommets. I was going to use the white steel bones from my old corset, just so I wouldn't have to deal with cutting and tipping. But the white steel bones were made for a Victorian corset, so they were too long.

Did I mention that Civil War corsets are smaller than Victorian corsets? Victorian corsets cover more of the bust and curve over the abdomen. Civil War corsets typically don't provide much bust support, I've heard complaints about that, but I'm so short that it worked out perfectly for me.

Anyway. The white steel bones were too long for the new corset. Lucky for me the corset supply store had mistakenly shipped me 1/2" boning, otherwise I wouldn't have had any. It turned out to be more difficult to cut than the 1/4". The bolt cutters didn't work at all; instead I had to use the wire cutters on each wire individually. The problem was working the wires loose without distorting the shape so much that the tip wouldn't fit. I did get both pieces cut and tipped eventually.

After that the only thing left was to sew the edging on the top and bottom. It was supposed to have lace on the top, but I skipped that because I wanted a simpler look. Really I should have reinforced the ends of the bone casings. I thought about cutting little strips of the canvas and slipping them into the bone casings, but I decided that it was okay to skip this for a costume that would only get infrequent wear.

The chemise and bloomers came together pretty well, although they took longer than I had expected. (Isn't that always the way?) The fabric was already cut, but I did all the sewing on Friday. Started work at 9 am and finished at 4 am. I did take a couple of breaks, to drive to the store and to eat dinner, so I figure that was about 16-17 hours of work probably. That was even with skipping some of the fine detail work that wouldn't show. All the seams were supposed to be flat-felled and there were supposed to be facings inside to cover the underarm seams. I think that was to protect the skin from raw seam edges while the corset was on. I skipped it because the fabric was so soft.

I did make one major goof with the drawers: the pattern had to be shortened, but it had been so long since I'd made a pair of pants that I'd forgotten how to alter them. I tried to alter them the way I would a dress, and ended up cutting off way too much above the waist. Basically I turned them into low-rise drawers, the waist ended up very low on the hips. It looked ridiculous but thank goodness it was covered by the corset.

The other weird thing about the drawers, which I didn't realize at first, is that they are totally open between the legs and over the backside. This is, of course, so the wearer can go to the bathroom without having to completely undress. (It's also, I have heard, the reason why the can-can was so scandalous.) Obviously this wouldn't do for a halloween costume. I thought about just sewing the legs together, but decided that the ability to go to the bathroom would be a good thing. So I added snaps. Very authentic. It didn't even work anyway, because I had normal underwear on under the drawers, so I still couldn't go to the bathroom in the corset. Oh well, it was a good idea. I should have put snaps in the underwear too. I'm going to stop talking about underwear now.

boning and bone casing

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OK, after the grommet problem was resolved next up was the boning and bone casings. I already wrote about making the bone casings, and sewing them in place was fairly easy. Just place the bone casing centered over a seam, then sew it down on both sides, close to the edge. I did have to go slow to make sure the stitching was nice and even on both sides. Not only for neatness, but also if the seam drifted too far in, there wouldn't be enough room inside the casing for the boning.

The photo shows one half of the corset with the bone casings all sewn on. If I do say so, the two colors look pretty nice together. Even with interfacing these bone casings are a bit on the light side. I'd be worried about the boning popping out if it were going to get any heavy duty use, but it's just for a costume so I think it will be OK.

Next was the boning. There are two kinds of boning used in corsetry: white steel and spiral steel. White steel is a strip of steel that has a white coating, so it won't scratch I guess. It comes in various lengths, and you just buy the lengths you need. Spiral steel is made of tiny coils of steel wire, with a metal tip on each end to prevent scratching. I thought the tip was to prevent unraveling, but actually the coils are crimped together pretty well and don't unwind. It also comes in precut lengths, or you can buy a 10 yard length and tip it yourself.

(There's also plastic boning, which I think is used in clothing where lighter support is appropriate, like prom dresses. But plastic wouldn't hold up in a corset, everyone uses steel.)

I already had a bunch of white steel from my old corset, which I originally planned to reuse. But then I read that the advantage of spiral steel is its flexibility. White steel, being a flat strip of metal, only bends one way, while spiral steel bends in all directions. Apparently if you're trying to create a nice hourglass figure with your corset, spiral steel is the way to go. Also it's easier to move while wearing the corset if it has spiral steel. Which is a good thing!

So I ordered spiral steel. For cost reasons I bought the 10 yard length instead of precut. Most of the boning in a typical corset is 1/4" wide, but I lucked out and also got 10 yards of 1/2" wide because they sent me the wrong thing. They let me keep the half-inch and sent another roll of the quarter inch. The delay of a few days was no big deal, so it worked out great for me.

Cutting and tipping spiral steel requires a lot of tools. The corset supply company sells a very expensive boning cutter, which I did not buy because I already had a bolt cutter. In fact I had a funny exchange with Lisa when she was here helping me tear down the paneling in the bedroom: I was looking for the extra pry bar, and didn't find it, but did yell out "Hey, I found the bolt cutters! I need those for my corset!"

Unfortunately the bolt cutters didn't slice right through the boning like I thought they would. It was more like wiggling the boning back and forth against the bolt cutters to snap the individual wires. Sometimes I also needed a pair of wire cutters to finish them off.

Once the boning was cut, getting the tips on was a bit trickier. If you squash them flat with pliers, the sides splay out. But if you pinch the sides, the top and bottom puff out. The only way I found to do it was to use two sets of pliers at once: wide ones on the sides, and then needle nosed on the top and bottom. Alas, I did not get a photo. It was hard enough just to do it, I didn't want to fool around with making Georg take a photo too.

The boning fit into the casings just right. A bit snug, but they went in there so all is well. And with that, the corset is almost done! All I have left to do is finish the top and bottom edges. Then the chemise and bloomers have to be made, but those will be easy. Actually the corset was easier than I expected. It was time consuming and tedious, but there weren't any tricky seams or anything. I've made dresses that were more difficult.

grommets redux

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Well I was working on the art gallery site redesign tonight, but frankly the presidential debate was so depressing I couldn't concentrate on my work. I'm filled with a sense of dread and creeping panic about the election. Why did I even watch that stupid debate? Damn sense of civic duty.

Now the debate is over and we're watching tonight's Survivor. Ahh, much easier on my mental state. Armchair analyzing the strategies of a bunch of losers on an island is so much more fun than analyzing the strategies of our evil overlord and his would-be successor. I'm so cheered up that I can finally write up the progresss on my corset.

Okay, the first thing I did was replace the piece I had done backwards. I had to remove that whole end piece, cut new fabric and sew it back together. This time I sewed the layers together, but didn't sew the piece onto the corset until I was sure the grommets were in right. I did get a photo of the grommet setter. Which, let me repeat, is a waste of money which no one should buy. As you can see, it looks like a hole punch, with a place to put each half of the grommet.

The problem is that unless your hands are strong enough to crack walnuts, there's no way to exert enough pressure to set the grommet. I had to hold it against the makeshift anvil (dumbbell) with one hand and whack it with a hammer with the other. Very awkward. Note also the cutting board, which I used to make sure the hammering didn't mark the coffee table.

The grommets did go in OK this time, I managed not to put them in backwards or anything, and sewed the piece on. Next up, boning!

isabella rattalinni


My friend Nellorat just posted photos of her pet rat Isabella wearing the "Queen Gloriana" costume I made, for which Isabella won Best Costume at a big rat show over the weekend. It looks really good on her if I do say so myself! It matches her coloring perfectly. The other rat costume gown is, if I recall correctly, soft green and gold. I hope they have a girl rat with tan coloring to wear it.

corset update


Haven't posted on the corset in a while, for the reason that I haven't worked on it in a while. With so much work on the house and yard, plus paying work being busier lately, I haven't had the energy for sewing. Besides, I was also kind of demoralized by messing up the grommets and then trying it on and discovering it's a bit too big. But enough time has passed that I want to work on it again. So I thought I'd start by writing up the last work I did, a few weeks ago.

The last thing I did was the grommets and the busk. Which are the fasteners on the back and front, respectively. You might be wondering why it needs fasteners on both sides. Because it's a royal pain in the ass to deal with clothing that requires a long series of laces to get in and out of. As anyone who's ever worn twenty eyelet Dr. Marten's knows. The busk in front allows the laces to be used just for tightening, so you never have to unlace them all the way.

Because the grommets are very visible, it's important that they be placed just right. So the first step was to measure carefully. This was supposed to be done after the boning was put in, but I wanted to try it on and possibly alter it first, so I had to estimate where the bone casing will be. I have a magic disappearing ink pen for this kind of thing. It works like a charm: the only problem I have is that in very humid weather, the ink disappears in a couple of hours! So I had to work very fast before the measurements disappeared.

Once the measurements were marked, time to punch the holes. Scary! The grommet setter came with this tool, whose name I don't know. It's basically a metal stick with a sharp hollow circle on one end. You bang it with a hammer, and it punches a perfect circle into the fabric, into which you then set the grommet. You're supposed to do this on an anvil, but I don't have an anvil. So I used a 15 pound dumbbell. All the pounding kind of screwed up the smooth edges of the dumbbell, but the part were you grip it is still fine, so I don't think it matters.

I practiced on a piece of scrap canvas until I got the grommets nice and even. Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos of the grommet setting tool. (How did I miss a photo of that? I have no idea.) It looks sort of like a hole punch, with a place to put each half of the grommet on each side. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in an earlier post, it's a piece of crap. There's no way to squeeze the handles tightly enough to set the grommet. I ended up holding the grommet setter against the anvil (dumbbell) and whacking it with the hammer. Which was very awkward.

They sell much less expensive grommet setters at the fabric store, but those usually aren't really grommet setters, they're eyelet setters. Eyelets only have one piece of metal, which is pushed through the hole in the fabric and then flattened around it. In my experience this makes eyelets not only rough on the inside, very bad on a garmet that will be so tight against the body, but prone to pull out under pressure. Which is very bad on a corset.

Grommets are much better because they have two parts that are flattened around each other. That's stronger and also a better finish, because the rough part (the part that gets bent when you whack it with the hammer) is completed encased in the two halves of the grommet.

Well the grommets went in, and they looked good if I do say so myself. Except for the small matter of my having put half of them in backwards. The fronts are white and the backs are silver, so this goof is really noticeable. I was too bummed to keep sewing at this point, so I finished the bone casings. If you look really closely, they're not exactly the same width; there is some slight variation. But I think they're plenty good enough for the costume. That trick of sliding them under a pin works really well.

Next up was the busk. A busk is sort of a metal hook and eye thing, although they call it "stud and loop" in the instructions. Corset supply shops typically sell busks in a variety of lengths, on which the studs and loops are evenly spaced. But I'm reusing the one I got in the Past Patterns kit, which has the fastener over the belly moved down a bit. I don't know if this is something about Victorian corsets, or something particular to Past Patterns, or what.

The two halves of the busk must line up perfectly in order to fasten it when it's sewn in. This means that accurate measurements are even more important with the busk than with the grommets. And I have to say, the instructions in the Simplicity pattern for this step are absolutely terrible. They have you center each half of the busk on the fabric, mark and sew, without ever measuring the halves against each other. That's a recipe for disaster, especially with so little margin for error.

There's a much easier way: all you have to do is center the loop half of the busk, sew it in, then lay the finished piece down against the other half of the corset so the fabric lines up. Mark with your magic disappearing ink pen inside the loops, then put the studs into those marks. That's it! The busk is guaranteed to line up just right. (Again, I can't believe I didn't take a photo of this. All I can say is that screwing up the grommets threw me off my stride, so I didn't think of photos.)

Once I had the busks and the grommets in, I was able to try the corset on. Which I did, only to discover that it's a bit large. By myself I can tighten it so much that the back is completely closed. It should be small enough that even with someone else pulling the laces, and the wearer hanging from a bedpost like Miss Scarlett, there's still an inch or two gap in the back. I was worried about this beforehand, because I had heard that modern corset patterns are sized to be worn just snug, no tightlacing. I made it one size too small, but I guess I should have gone two sizes or even three.

The other problem with the fit is in the bust, just like the other one I made. (If you think this is too personal, just skip to the next paragraph.) It doesn't fit tightly over the bust at all; it's quite loose, almost like a shelf for the bust to rest on. Since I've had this problem with both corsets I've made, I'm beginning to wonder if this is the way the corsets are supposed to fit. Maybe I shouldn't be expecting a 19th century corset to shove the bust up into that massive cleavage that you get from an 18th century corset (think Dangerous Liaisons). I guess with that loose chemise on, it maybe won't be too obvious if the corset is a bit loose in the bust.

So that's where I am now: needing to remeasure and figure out which seams need to be ripped out and resewn to get a better fit. And also needing to recut and resew the end panel that has the backwards grommets in it. And needing to clean up my sewing area, which is currently stacked up with books I pulled out of the bedroom before redoing the walls. Sigh. I suppose I shouldn't have flat-felled those seams.

today's lesson


Today's lesson: I should never work on a project while tired, or while watching The Daily Show. I just set half the grommets backwards.

Unlike a seam, grommets can't be pulled out and done over. That whole end piece of the corset will have to be removed and thrown away. I have enough fabric to cut those pieces again, but I'm going to have to order more grommets. Oh well, it could be worse. At least it can be fixed without too much anguish.

The other lesson for today: the $36 grommet setter from is a complete waste of money. In case anyone ever finds this post while looking for tips on corset making, or grommet setting, don't waste your money on that grommet setter. The one that looks like a hole punch, with two handles. It's impossible to press the handles tightly enough to set the grommet. I ended up having to hold it down and whack it with a hammer, which was very awkward. The little grommet setter (just two pieces of metal you fit together and tap) is much cheaper and probably works better too. Although it wouldn't have prevented me from putting half of them in backwards.

bone casings

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Well I set out to put in the grommets last night, but it was kind of late and by the time I had attached the back facings, I realized that I was too tired to figure out how to use the grommet setter, measure and set 30 grommets without screwing up at least one of them. Which I do not want to do. So I made bone casings instead.

Bone casings, as you might guess, are the tubes of fabric that you put the boning in. Corsetry supply companies sell bone casing by the yard. A normal person would buy a few yards of bone casing, cut it to the needed lengths, and be done with it. But that would be way too easy for me. Oh no, I had to make my own bone casing out of the same silk I'm using for the outside of the corset. Of course, this silk isn't strong enough to withstand the pressure of tightlacing without the ends of the boning ripping through. So first I interfaced it with iron-on interfacing. Then cut it into 1" strips, each about a foot long.

Next the sides had to be folded under to make a 1/2" tube. The boning is 1/4" wide, so you'd think a half inch tube would be too wide. Aha, but you have to sew it down on both sides, and that takes a bit of width off. With a seam on either edge, it's a pretty snug fit as I recall.

Of course the bone casings all have to be exactly the same width. They're going to be on the outside and in a different color, so any variation in width will look really sloppy. The best way I've seen to do this is to set a pin into the ironing board with a gap of just the right width under the pin. Fold the strip of fabric, pull it under the pin and iron it as it comes out the other side, et voila! Neat little tubes of fabric, all the same size. The end you push through first ends up a touch too narrow, but I cut the strips a bit long so I can just discard the narrow ends. I did 15 bone casings last night, before I got so bored I couldn't stand it anymore. Unfortunately, I need 22. I don't think I can take bone casing again tonight, and it's early yet, so I'm going to work on those pesky grommets.

new sewing project


I just started a rather involved sewing project and I thought it would be fun to blog the project from start to finish, with photos along the way. (People who don't care about sewing should probably skip this whole series; I'm not going to give you a cookie for reading it if you don't want to.) Unfortunately I had this idea after I'd already bought the fabric and done the first bit of sewing, so I can't write it up from the very start. But pretty close.

The project is my Halloween costume for Lisa's party. I'm making this pattern. The whole thing: corset, chemise and drawers. I'll be Scarlett O'Hara before the ball. Fiddle dee-dee!

I made a corset once before, but I was a lot less experienced at sewing then so it didn't turn out as well as I might have hoped. It was a Victorian pattern from Past Patterns. They have a great reputation for authenticity, and the saleswoman was very helpful on the phone. I bought the "corset kit" from them which includes everything you need. It's great for a first attempt because you don't have to figure out what supplies to buy, but the fabric is kind of ugly. Plus there must be something funky about their sizing because it never fit right, especially in the bust. I cut it open and took the boning, busk and laces for re-use. I guess you could call it my "parts corset."

This time I put more time into planning so it will look nicer and (I hope) fit better. The pattern is to be made out of only one layer of fabric, with the boning on the inside. Corsets need to be made out of very sturdy fabric with very little give, but these fabrics tend not to look very nice. So I'm making mine out of three layers: duck canvas for strength, a simple cotton lining on the inside for comfort, and a pretty dupioni silk (on sale, yay!) on the outside for show. Also, instead of putting the boning on the inside, I'm making it out of a contrasting color of the silk and sewing it to the outside. I got this idea from a corset-making website and though probably not authentic, I think it will look nice.

The first step of course was to sew the layers together. Actually, the very first step was to edge the pieces with a zigzag to prevent unraveling. Normally I wouldn't bother when the edges will all be enclosed, but this silk frays so fast I figured I'd better do it, just to make it easier to work with. I did not edge the canvas or the cotton lining. But I digress.

OK, so the first step was to sew the pieces together. As you know if you have ever sewn anything, you always put the right sides of the fabric together, so that when you open it up the raw edges will be in back and won't show. But in this case, the raw edges are going to be hidden under the boning, which goes in front. So I had to sew everything with the wrong sides together. I was nervous about screwing this up -- it's just the kind of thing I would get wrong when hurrying, and I don't want to have to rip out any seams in this silk -- so I double checked each seam before sewing.

The only other complication was that the canvas was too thick to take pins. So I had to go slowly and just sort of hold the fabric together, an inch or two at a time. Actually it wasn't that bad. Since none of the fabrics are slippery, they stayed in place pretty well.

The second step was to flat-fell the seams. I wish I had taken photos of this step in progress because it's kind of hard to explain, but I found a page with photos here. Basically it means trimming one side of the seam allowance so it's shorter than the other, turning them to one side (with the longer one on top) and then sewing them both down. It makes a nice strong seam (because the seam now has two rows of stitching, not just one) so it's used on seams that will get a lot of stress. Like in jeans, or a corset.

Normally you would fold under the long edge of a flat-felled seam, so all the raw edges are neatly enclosed. I didn't bother with that here because the whole thing is going to end up underneath bone casings. All I need is the added stability.

And that's how far I got in one evening on my corset. Reading back over it, my post makes the work sound rather tedious. But it really is fun, in the sense that focusing on the details of a challenging project is fun. If you're still with me, the next installment will probably be putting in the busk and grommets. I'm supposed to do the bone casings next, but I want to be able to try it on first, since it will be a lot easier to alter before the boning is sewn in.

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