Sewing in July

Dear Constant Reader,

At the end of June, I decided July would be a sewing month and I was going to work on using up my stash. How did I do? Well… not so great.

July was terribly hot and it was frequently stifling in my atelier, so I didn’t get as much done as I had hoped. I only made 3 garments, all lingerie.

First was a vintage-style net bra, which I made from some black netting embellished with gold that I had recycled from a skirt I made ages ago and never wore. No photos of this one yet. Maybe you’ll see it in my new book, hopefully coming out soon. You’ll definitely learn how to make one!

Then I made a bra top and French knickers from And Sew to Bed: 20 Vintage-Inspired Projects for the Boudoir. I used some luxurious black silk and some fun red buttons from my stash for these. I think I had to buy the right width elastic for the button loops on the bra, but everything else I had already. Artsy shot by Scratch.

The bra only turned out okay. I didn’t make a muslin first, so it was in progress that I realized the back band was going to be too long and shortened it. After the whole thing was finished, the cups didn’t fit well, so I made some hasty darts, which I don’t love and that tightened up the back band as well, so there’s a gap now. Lesson learned. Anything involving boobs really should get a test fit, but I was feeling lazy.

The French kickers (aka tap pants), however, are lovely. They’re cute and comfortable and I love the little red buttons on the side. They should have been much quicker, but I was a total perfectionist here. The waist and leg openings are bound with bias tape and even though the tape is turned to the inside, I just couldn’t bear to use commercial cotton-poly tape. Instead, I made bias tape from the silk. Making your own bias tape isn’t hard with the right tool — a widget that you pull the bias strip through and iron as it comes out with the edges folded under. My problem was that I couldn’t cut a nice, neat bias strip to run through my widget because the silk was so slippery. Scratch, because he’s clever this way, got me a yard-long, inch-wide piece of flat steel and painted one side with grip paint. It held the devilish fabric in place and gave me a nice edge against which to draw a chalk line for cutting.

The big win the whole month has that I can finally make buttonholes on my sewing machine. I have an amazing 1958 Singer Slant-O-Matic 403 Special that does everything I need — except buttonholes.

I mean I could make buttonholes, but it involved a lot of fuss, constantly changing the needle positions and the stitch width and they never seemed to come out evenly. I often resorted to making buttonholes by hand and once to hiring Vixens Ahoy to take care of the many, many buttonholes on a blouse I made.

A friend tipped me off that Singer made a buttonhole attachment back in the ’50s and I easily acquired one on eBay and it sat in a drawer for a long time. Now I had to learn to use it. It’s really clever! There are little cog-wheel templates that move the needle in the shape of whatever buttonhole you want. And the set I bought not only had all the original parts and the instructions, but extra templates and even a sample strip the previous owner had made of all the sizes. I’ll admit my buttonholes weren’t perfectly positioned, but they looked great and work just like they are supposed to. My next goal is to learn to use all the other sewing machine feet and attachments that I’ve never tried, like the ruffler.

Not a great month in terms of churning out stuff and winnowing down my stash, but I do have some really decadent French knickers. I still have some of that black silk and I want to make a camisole to go with them instead of the less-than-lovely bra top. More importantly I have some new tools and new skills.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

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Published in: on 15 August 2018 at 7:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! It’s the last Friday in July and here’s your sewing tip:

Avoid sewing when you’re tired.

I know it’s tempting to work late just to get the darn thing done, but when you’re tired is exactly when sleeves get sewn inside out and gussets are inserted upside down. You’ll spend more time fixing your mistakes that you would have gained by sewing while your concentration is drifting from weariness. Do I speak from experience? Oh yes.

The rule of thumb I was taught is not to start a sewing project after 10pm. This of course only works if you keep a schedule in which 10pm is getting late…. By all means, if you’re fresh and alert at 2 am, sew away! If you get fuzzy, step away from the fabric, get some rest, and pick it up again when you’re refreshed.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 27 July 2018 at 3:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Here’s your sewing tip!

Avoid sewing over pins.

I know it seems like it’ll be faster if you sew first and remove the pins later, but you risk hitting one of the with the needle. This can nick or bend your needle or, worst of all, cause it to break and perhaps fling a tiny shard of sharp metal at your face. (you are wearing your safety goggles, right?). It’s especially tempting if you’re one of those people, like me, who inserts the pins perpendicular to the seam line.

If the fabric is so slithery or bulky or otherwise badly behaved that removing the pins as you go makes things go awry, consider hand basting with the pins in place and then removing them as you sew on the machine. It’ll be extra secure!

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 20 July 2018 at 2:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Continuing with my costuming theme for July, this week’s tip is about keeping your sewing machine in good shape.

Keep your presser foot down when your sewing machine is not in use and keep a scrap of fabric between the presser foot and the throat plate.

There are a couple of reasons for doing this. Keeping the presser foot down relieves pressure on the spring that raises and lowers it. Also the presser foot lever can’t get knocked down (say, by a curious pet wandering around your work table) so that the foot suddenly drops onto the feed dogs. The scrap fabric is to provide a little cushioning so you don’t have metal resting on metal. It’s also a good idea to lower the needle into the fabric, especially if you are transporting your machine. This protects the needle and also lowers the feed dogs.

That’s my machine in the picture and the scrap is from when the repair shop tested the stitch disks the last time I had the machine serviced.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 13 July 2018 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! It has been beastly hot in Boston. My atelier, where my writing desk is, has no air conditioning, which is why there have been no missives this week. However, I would never neglect your tip. July is sewing month at The Manor, and so the tips will be on topic as well.

Press your seams.

For really great seams, press on the wrong side, then flip the item over and press on the right side. It’s absolutely vital that you press the heck out of multi-part seams, like French or flat-felled. Press each seam after you sew it, rather than saving them all for the end. I know all this pressing seems like a hassle, but it will make a huge difference for your garment. Your iron is your friend.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 6 July 2018 at 2:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sewing and Motivation

Dear Constant Reader,

Sewing is a big part of my life. The first project I can remember was making a gown for my Barbie out of some scraps from an outfit my mother had sewn for herself. By high school I was sewing clothes for myself and once I was in college I was making costumes for historical reenactment and science fiction conventions.

However, lately I’ve been feeling a little stalled out in my sewing. I tried to inspire myself by creating a page on my website highlighting my burlesque costume work. Mostly that served to remind me that I don’t have good pictures of most of my best costumes. (Hint to photographers: I’m available to shoot…)

I have all sorts of fabulous fabric in my stash which is doing no one any good just hanging around in bins. If you look to the right you’ll see some of the nifty stuff I really should be using, like that gold paillette and ruffle fabric or the striped peach net, the owl feather print and the artsy flower print. I have no idea what I want to do with any of them, but I want them all to become SOMETHING.

I’m going to dedicate July to getting back to sewing. Most of my posts are going to be about costuming, which will probably included Friday tips. My goal is to reduce my fabric stash and end up with some new clothes and costumes. Although I’m not going to try something like my Dress Me project, I may ask your for your input on some things through out July.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 27 June 2018 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! I’m starting to get very excited for my upcoming trip to Los Angeles. Not only am I going to Stripper’s Holiday, I’ve got some plans to visit with some wonderful ladies I rarely get to see. I can’t wait!

And you don’t have to wait any longer for your tip!

The center gore of a well-fitting bra should be snug against your chest.

The center gore is that middle bit that connects the cups. It should not be hovering in mid-air, like a suspension bridge between your boobs. That means your bra is the wrong size. Make sure it’s lying flat and completely touching you. You’ll be amazed at how comfortable the bra is!

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 20 April 2018 at 2:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Tomorrow I’m off to RuffleCon to teach my corsetry class and perform with The Boston BeauTease. If you’re an alternative fashion enthusiast, I hope to see you there!

If using a front-closing bra, replace the plastic closure with something sturdier.

At right, you can see a front-closing bra with its original closure. These are only made of plastic and many fastenings and unfastenings, as one would do in rehearsal and performance, can weaken them until they fail unexpectedly. Also, you have a contents-under-pressure situation with a lot of strain on that point, which is meant to separate. In a back-closing bra, you have a solid piece of fabric up front to take the stress.

Remove the plastic widget and replace it with a coat hook & eye, a whopper popper, or a ribbon tie. Any of these is much stronger that the original style of closure, easier to unfasten, and less likely to experience catastrophic failure.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 10 November 2017 at 11:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday. Here’s your tip!

Zipper sewing needs a zipper foot.

I have heard people insist that one can sew a zipper using a regular machine foot, and while it is not impossible, it is also not recommended. A zipper foot is like half a regular foot, so you can sew close to the zipper without actually going over the teeth (a bumpy situation) while still keeping proper tension on the fabric.

The foot on my machine (pictured) can slide to either side of the needle, to easily stitch on both sides of the zipper. It’s also a great foot for sewing piping and beaded fringe. If you don’t have one for your machine, it’s a worthwhile addition to your arsenal!

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 22 September 2017 at 2:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Zip!

Dear Constant Reader,

I’m bringing back an old number (one of my first!) for Cover Girls on September 30th and the costume needed a little upgrade. This is an unusual act for me in that I wear trousers. In the past, I just took them off, which can be kind of awkward, so I wanted to get a new pair that I could make break-away.

In the past I’ve used Velcro and snap tape, which require a sharp pull and I wanted a slower remove. Clearly, it was time for zippers. I’ve probably told you this before, but when you’re stripping, you don’t want just any kind of zipper. Forget about metal teeth or those “invisible” zippers. You want chunky plastic teeth — the kind of zippers found on winter jackets.

I was fortunate in my shopping. The black pants I found at Primark rang in at three bucks and my local fabric store had two (and only two) yard-long separating zippers in black. The store has an amazing selection of stuff when you go in with an open mind, but if you’re looking for something in particular, it’s hit or miss, so I lucked out. They’re two-way zippers, which is a feature I didn’t need, but shouldn’t get in my way.

I started by opening the seam on the outside of the legs (someday I’ll tell you about my amazing seam ripper) from cuff to waist. Before buying the pants, I had made sure that they had a seam which went all the way up through the waistband. Then I laboriously pinned the zippers in place and carefully tried on the trousers. Then I realized I had put the zippers in upside down and redid all my work. Just keeping it real, folks.

My vintage Singer made short work of sewing the zippers in place. Because the fabric had a lot of stretch, the zippers kind of undulate, but it’s not noticeable from stage. But I tell you these things, Constant Reader, so you know I’m not as perfect as I look. : )

I tested the zippers at rehearsal last night and they work very nicely. The only thing left to do is add an extension to the waistband at each side so I can put in a single closure at each hip. I don’t want the unzipped pants falling off until I’m ready!

You can see them on and off me at the end of the month!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 18 September 2017 at 3:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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