Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Kilt Update (long overdue)

I'm afraid this blog has really fallen by the wayside. The boat project has really taken over just about everything for the past few months. Because I don't have a barn or garage, I've been splitting the rent on an industrial space with an ex-coworker for over 4 years now. So there's a real economic incentive to be wrapping things up. Plus, my co-tenant is sending some subtle hints that he may want to emigrate and live an ex-pat life in Mexico! I'm trying not to panic, but it's feeling like crunch time. To speed things up I've turned a tiny bedroom in "this old house" into a painting and varnishing workshop. So, evenings when I would usually be working on a sewing project, I'm working on the boat instead. Trust me, this does not make me a happy camper.

 

So where did I leave off?

 

Oh, yeah.....A heavy weight hair canvas arrived from B. Black and Sons. Strips were sewn to the top portion of the kilt using a heavy carpet / buttonhole thread. A tailor's or diagonal stitch is used, the trick being to catch only a single layer of the tartan underneath so that none of the stitches show through on the right side of the kilt. It's surprising how one can develop a "feel" for it, especially this far into the whole process. I found using a very short needle worked the best for me.

 

 

Pleats are formed in the canvas covering the pleated section of the kilt. This preserves the slight flair at the back. Nothing is really measured, it just intuitively happens as one is stitching along.

 

 

So here is the completed canvas all sewn into place. What looks very tedious was actually very soothing and relaxing to do. It went remarkably fast. It also helps that I enjoy handsewing.

 

 

The fringe at the edge of the upper apron is actually double thickness. I undid just a bit for this picture to show how a narrow fringed strip (maybe 1.5 inches wide) is sandwiched into the side seam. Offsetting the layers slightly gives a more full appearance.

 

 

 

The only machine stitching on the kilt is the attachment of the narrow waistband (and even this can be handsewn if one wishes). The waistband will only match on the front apron of the kilt, and a walking foot would be a big help. I'm definitely going to look into getting one for my Magnolia. Even with basting, my matching isn't as perfect as it should be. Have I mentioned how obsessive this kiltmaking biz is???

 

 

The buckles and leather straps are easily found online. These leather straps came all pre-punched, so sewing them on was a breeze. Making the tartan tabs for the buckles is a bit trickier, the goal being to make them as inconspicuous as possible. In the end the buckle tab gets covered by the leather strap, so go figure! Just more obsessive kiltmaking behavior.

 

 

The home stretch! A cotton broadcloth lining is basted and then handsewn over the canvas. Once again small pleats are worked into the back to preserve the shaping of the kilt.

 

Time to give it a good pressing and remove what seems like miles of white cotton basting thread. I'll try to model the completed kilt soon. Be well....and be sewing more than me!

 

 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Couture Jacket for Men -- Oui ou Non?

I bet you love Peter's "Yay or Nay" posts as much as I do. (Example for the uninitiated)

 

Sheer shirts for men?, knickers?, dip dyed clothes? It's always fun to read all the responses his posts elicit from the sewing community. So..... while I wait for some kilt supplies to arrive from the west coast....

 

The French Couture Jacket.....should men wear it? More importantly, should I?

 

 

As you know my son is getting married this Fall. As the groom's parent, I'll be hosting a rehearsal dinner the evening before the wedding. "Save the date" announcements have already gone out, and the couple is requesting "casual dapper" dress for the dinner. So, the old man needs to get his dapper on! Which, of course, leads to....what to make. Which leads me to this....

 

 

I have a little over 5 yards of a cranberry wool tweed, handwoven by my mom. I'm not really sure why she wove it. All I know is that she was petrified to cut it, so it just sat in a plastic bin for years. When she downsized to a nursing home, I was the only person interested in having it. So I brought it home and it's been on mothballs ever since. I'd love to make something special with it....and what's more "tweedy" than Chanel?

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I've been collecting some of the bits to make a jacket over the past year. Ribbon, trim and buttons from M&J Trimming in NYC. The mohair trim with a multicolored ribbon woven through it appears to have been made for my mom's fabric. I think the only thing I need is some silk charmeuse for the lining. The fabric is quite heavy, so I need to keep things as light and unstructured as possible.

 

 

This pattern was an Etsy find. I do like the collared version. Very Tyrolean. I've never even opened the envelope, but looking at the photos it strikes me as boxy and a little oversized. Fitting it will no doubt be a chore. But what else is new!!?

 

 

So... The men's Couture Jacket....

 

Classic or Clownish?

 

 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Kilt update -- I'm steeking!

The next step is cutting out the excess fabric from behind the pleats. The book I'm using emphasizes that this is no place to screw up. One slip of the scissors is all it takes to make an unfixable mess. For me that means the most expensive wadder ever!

 

 

 

Based on the way the pleats are formed, just a single layer of fabric is removed at a time. I used my trusty bandage scissors.

 

 

 

 

I ended up with a nice little stack of scraps. Some of these will be used as beltloops and buckle straps. The rest might end up as elbow patches some day. :).

 

The tops of the pleats are secured in a process called steeking. Using a heavy carpet thread, a line of stitching is worked across the top of the pleats from the back of the kilt. This stabilizes the pleats and helps prevent the stitching from ripping out.

 

 

It's hard to see the steeking because my thread is black. The trick here is to sew through as many layers as possible without going through the front of the kilt. Even if a single thread is caught on the outer layer of fabric a dimple will form. I ended up with 2 dimples, had to go back, rip out a few stitches and restitch.

 

 

Next, a waist stay is sewn in over the pleats. This is a selvedge strip of cotton broadcloth. Like the steeking, all the stitches are worked from the wrong side of the kilt. "X's" are worked in at every third pleat. Because it's at the edge of the kilt, it's much easier to keep flipping the work over to check for dimples or stitches that show.

 

That's as far as I can go right now. The next step requires a heavy hair canvas which I can't find locally. B Black and Sons to the rescue! Once my order arrives I'll be back in business. In the meantime there's always a boat to build.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Pleat On!

 

 

 

I think the scariest part about making a kilt is that it's just based on 3 measurements that someone else has taken. You have to give up every shred of control and place your faith in someone that you hope is taking the job seriously. That's hard for a control freak like me. I had my son, who has NO sewing experience whatsoever, measure me. Then, unbeknownst to him, I had my very OCD friend David do it. If you've got that kind of friend in your life I highly recommend it, purely for the peace of mind! In the end their measurements were almost identical. David gave me an extra 1/2" of length, and I'm taking it. I'd rather have a little extra length than end up with a plaid miniskirt.

 

So that's it....no pattern, no muslin, no dry run. Three measurements.

 

 

 

The book I'm using is unapologetically traditional in its methods. Everything is marked with chalk. That might be fine for an experienced kilt maker, but I found myself handling my fabric so much that my marks were quickly wiped away. As a result I misplaced my first pleat! Not a great start. So I resorted to more reliable techniques. I remarked all the pleat spacing with Wonder Clips and triple checked myself. (Any mistake is almost unfixable). Then I popped in a tailor tack at each clip. No more lost chalk marks. I also thread traced the edges of the overlapping fronts (the "aprons" in kilt speak).

 

You can see a few of the clips in the above picture. This is 5 yards of fabric that's perpetually sliding back and forth on the table.

 

 

 

 

 

My kilt will have 22 pleats across the back. The set of three black blocks is centered on the front of the kilt, so it should also be centered on the back. That took a bit of trial and error but I eventually got there. Each pleat is 1" at the hip (the "fell" in kilt speak) and tapers to 7/8" at the waist. The amount of taper is determined by the difference between the hip and waist measurement. Mine is minimal since I have a flat buttock and the waist is measured 2" above a person's natural waist.

 

I'm sorry I don't have more detailed photos of the pleating process. There's a certain rhythm to the sequence. In short, the next pleat has to be formed and held in place before stitching the pleat one's currently working on. This is all to be accomplished by pinching the pleats with the left hand and stretching the fabric over one's thigh. With the fabric stretched the pleat is hand sewn with small invisible edge stitches. Somehow everything is supposed to end up perfectly straight and aligned. IN MY DREAMS!

 

I quickly realized that I would have to make a hundred kilts before I could master this technique. Anyone who's followed this blog knows that I'm a baste-o-holic, so I posed a question about basting on "X Marks the Scot". Stand back! This set off a small firestorm between the traditionalists and the more modern kiltmakers. After the dust settled I pretty much ignored all their advice and proceeded to baste all my pleats. In the end it's all about what works, right?

 

Even with all my basting, sewing the pleats accurately was no small feat. The horizontal red stripe was particularly difficult to keep aligned. There's definitely a knack to it. Maybe on my hundredth pleat I might have it down. Sometimes you just have to say it's "good enough for a first kilt".

 

 

So here is the completed back, pleated to the sett, with all the pleats basted into place. A good place to take a break and read up on the next step.

 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Kilt -- Baby Steps

So I've officially taken the plunge.

 

 

This will be my guide. I think it's safe to say that this book is considered the bible of kiltmaking. It's a little on the daunting side. The book opens with a series of color plates showing "good kilt" next to "bad kilt". Good kilt length / bad kilt, too short . Good stitching, invisible / bad kilt, stitches too large. Good kilt, stripes straight / bad kilt, stripes wandering. It's hard not to feel defeated before even starting! This lady sets the bar high.

In addition to this book I've also joined an online forum called "X Marks the Scot". Barbara Tewksbury, author of the book, actively participates in the forum. I've already posted several questions and she has chimed in on all of them, sometimes at great length. I've appreciated both her expertise and willingness to explain things in a supportive way. That doesn't always happen in online forums, where some members love nothing more than to pontificate on and on, and never answer the question.

 

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

 

 

I spent days playing around with possible pleating styles. Yes, days! Without going too deep into the weeds, there are two types of pleating. Pleating "to the stripe" (also called military pleating), and pleating "to the sett" (in which the tartan is reproduced in the pleats). In military pleating the same stripe is centered in the pleats worked across the back of the kilt. My tartan is one of the more simple weaves, made up of only 3 colors. There are really only two possibilities for pleating to the stripe IMO. The yellow stripe centered between the black squares, and the red stripe through the yellow. I sort of approximated them in the photo above.

 

In the end I rejected both of them. Pleating to the yellow stripe created a very somber, to my eye "muddy", look. It took on almost a greenish cast.

 

 

However, it would have produced bright flashes of color when the pleats moved. Lots of drama, but a little too risky for a first (and most likely the only) kilt I will ever make for myself.

 

Pleating to the red stripe created a very golden yellow kilt. Pretty, but would I love it forever? These are the kinds of quandaries that can keep a man up at night, especially considering the cost of the materials and the amount of labor involved.

 

In the end I decided that pleating to the sett was the way to go. The pleats in the back will reproduce the tartan, giving the kilt the same appearance all the way around. In other words, I'm taking the safe route.

 

 

Here I've broken the weave down into the sections that will become the pleats. Each pleat will be 1" wide with a stripe or color border centered in each pleat.

 

 

 

Here I've pinned the pleats into place. The sett of my tartan is actually quite small. Each total repeat of the plaid is only 5". Why does this matter? It makes the depth of each pleat quite shallow. That would be fine if I had a limited amount of fabric to work with, but I have "the whole nine yards!" I definitely don't want a skimpy kilt, so I've decided that each pleat will encorporate two whole repeats of the tartan. Yet another decision that kept me awake at night!

 

Days of deliberation and not one stitch made! Next time I hope to have made some real progress.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sewing Bigly in 2017!

Sorry, I couldn't resist. Clearly, we're sailing into uncharted waters as a nation, but my goals for the coming year are crystal clear.

 

My son will be getting married in October, and get this.....he's asked the old man to make him a kilt! I am deeply touched and honored beyond belief, but at the same time scared to death. Maybe you remember that this has been on my sewing bucket list for about 3 years now.

 

 

 

 

 

Here I was picking up my tartan, the "Loud MacLeod", with my mom at Scotland by the Yard in Quechee, Vermont. It's been on mothballs ever since! My plan is to make myself a kilt first, (read: make all the mistakes on mine), then tackle his.

 

 

I have this Folkwear pattern, but won't be using it for the kilt. There is, in fact, no "pattern" for a kilt. A kilt is totally made based on the wearer's measurements and the amount and sett (repeat) of the tartan. It's a little overwhelming. I will use the pattern for the Prince Charlie jacket and vest.

 

 

So here's to the New Year! My year of SWAP, sewing with a purpose.

 

 

My goal.....

 

Two 8 yard kilts

Two Prince Charlie (or maybe Argyle) jackets

Two vests

A Glengarry cap for me

 

Oh, and something snazzy to wear for the rehearsal dinner I'm hosting. Time to roll out the tartan!

 

I also promise to never utter the word "bigly" again!

 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Repairs Completed or..... Rip, Sew, Scream, Rip, Repeat.

OK. This exercise is completed, and it's been a journey for sure. At one point I was screaming louder than the collective scream heard from coast to coast a few weeks ago. My strategy was to take a break, go to yoga class, breath and then calmly return to the whole mess.

 

Yes, it got messy! The shirt in particular. But first up...the safari jacket.

 

 

This was the easier of the two repairs. I opened up a slit in the lining's side seam just big enough to put my hand through (I didn't want to mess with the armhole). Then it was easy to reach up inside and pull the sleeve head down and out. And what to my wondering eyes did appear?

 

 

Why, a sleeve head and seam allowance clips everywhere! All part of my failed attempts to improve the set of the sleeves way back when.

 

This time around I reduced the height of the sleeve cap by 5/8" at the apex, and then graded the curve down to the front and back notches. This greatly reduced the amount of easing required.

 

 

After sewing the new seam, I stitched in a new wool sleeve head over the top of the sleeve. This technique is from The Bishop Method of Sewing Construction, by Edna Bishop. A bias cut strip of wool 1 1/2" wide is lined up with the edge of the seam allowances, and then hand sewn in close to the seam. It sounds more difficult than it is. When the sleeve is turned rightside out the strip will fold over on itself and fill out the top of the sleeve. That's the theory anyway.

 

 

And here's how it turned out. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but still a big improvement. If it weren't for the Lycra in the fabric, any little dimples could have been steamed out. Alas, they just spring right back. Still, this repair is a win in my book. The safari jacket is back in rotation! (And I will continue my resolve to NEVER buy stretch fabrics again!).

 

On to the shirt.....

 

Picking apart a shirt is an exercise in patience and perseverance, especially when it's sewn with about 20 stitches per inch.

 

After what seemed like hours, I had a pile of abandoned parts. Cuffs, collar, stand, interfacing and the entire left front placket. From there, things actually progressed quickly. I had more than enough fabric to remake the replacement parts which I interfaced with Shirt Crisp interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply. Everything was assembled and wouldn't you know, my old Singer 301 refused to make a buttonhole. Ugh!

 

I pulled out the Janome Magnolia, my backup machine, and figured out how its buttonhole attachment works. I had never used it before. My practice buttonholes were coming out perfectly. I bet I made at least 10. Everything was working flawlessly. The buttonholes on the placket and cuffs came out perfectly. I was cruising towards the finish line. And then....I had to make the small buttonholes on the collar.

 

Wouldn't you know. The F'ing contraption just took off on its own and decided to make a huge butttonhole. To make matters worse I had set the machine for its most dense stitch. Needless to say there were some choice words said. By the time I picked it out, the fabric was pretty well shredded. In fact there was actually a hole on the undercollar.

 

 

In another act of brilliance, I though a dab of Fray Check might help. Wrong! It bled through to the upper collar and left a stain. At this point a cooling off period was in order, so I put the whole mess aside for at least a week.

 

 

I had just enough fabric to make another collar, so I ripped the whole thing out again and started over. This time around the buttonhole gizmo worked perfectly, but I still held my breath through the whole operation. So what did I end up with other than frazzled nerves....?

 

 

A shirt that will actually get worn. I made a few stylistic changes this time around. The placket and collar are cut on the cross grain, I added a buttoned pocket, and swapped out the light colored buttons for something darker. The shirt will always have its flaws (I've learned a lot about shirtmaking since I made this), but overall it fits in better with my wardrobe, and I no longer feel guilty about the clothes that I never wear.

 

What's next? Some "secret sewing", and then a fresh project. Wishing you all happy sewing!