sewing for my teaching exam

Well, hello there! Big news – I am now a certified teacher! For the last year I’ve been doing a practical-pedagogical course at the Bergen Academy of Art and Design, called PPU (praktisk pedagogisk utdanning). This, alongside the bachelor degrees I already have, allows me to teach art in public schools grades 5-13. I can probably teach in private schools too, but private schools only make up for 5% of the student body here in Norway, so it’s not too pressing of a matter if it turns out I can’t.

Ok, anyways! Being a practical-pedagogical program, it was only fitting that we had a practical portion to our exam as well as an actual practicum (I did 7 weeks with a 11th grade art class). First we submitted a written theoretical paper, along with a devised classroom plan based on our thesis from the paper. I wrote about how the national achievement goals outlined for the art subjects for the class I had my practicum in favored learning hand-fast skills more than it did an aesthetic type of learning (oh, I will do it injustice trying to explain that briefly, but I mean the type of “intuitive”, bodily learning that usually involves some type of creating or expressing. Like – a group of kids putting on a play about trolls can encompass and express learning about social rules and what happens if you don’t follow them. For example).

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The classroom project I outlined in my paper was pretty much the one I did during my practicum, which was to have the students work through a design process by being inspired by a painting, do some research and brainstorming around the artwork, sketch designs for a sweater, and finally make the sweater. I had a really good time doing this with the kids (well, teenagers), and they produced some nice and fun and cool interpretations of their artworks in sweater-form.

So the next part of the exam, which you see here, was to create something within our own field of expertise, that could be used in the classroom to visually aid the instruction. All the students in my class ended up using only three pretty basic sewing techniques, which were an elastic straight stitch (I insisted they only used jersey fabric), a twin needle hem, and finishing necklines, sleeves or the body with a folded band. So I made up three matching samples, which in real life in a classroom setting I would sew during a demo for the students, and then the samples would be there for them to look at afterwards as a reference.

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And then the really fun part! For my exam presentation I then made three garments using only those three basic techniques (also limiting myself to only using knit fabrics, since that’s all my students were allowed to use), which works to illustrate how many different things you can do with having the basics down. The imagination is the limit! I tried to make three distinctly different garments stylistically, but also tried to use those basic techniques in different ways. I realized the day before the final presentation that the only way I had used the twin needle hemming, was to… hem. On each of them. No necklines, no sleeves finished with a twin needle! Oops. The goal was to spark imagination by showing really different ways to use the techniques. I did manage that for the folded band though!

First up the Sherlock Holmes meets Lisbeth Salander cape-thingy:

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 Draped right on my roommate, scuba-jersey for the neckline band, which is so wide that it turns into a collar. I had fun making this one! I think draping lends itself really well to letting the fabric dictate what happens, and less conventional solutions to basic shapes. This has a couple of deep pleats around the neckline to allow for the shoulders, and the separating zipper opens fully.

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This might actually look familiar to some! It’s a jersey version of my Ireland dress, which I made a few years ago. It was nice to work with a familiar pattern, and to remember the construction decisions from last time. The armholes are finished with a technique I familiar with from the Sewaholic blog. It’s a bias binding technique, but works pretty well with jersey as well! And, of course… look how lovely the neckline falls – the beauty of jersey! The high-low hem is totally a product of minimal yardage since this was a piece of fabric from the stash, and I had to cut out the back bodice from somewhere! I think it looks perfectly nice and a smidge more casual, combined with the jersey fabric.

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 And finally, what I think might be my favorite of the three – this tropical-floral-neoprene-like kimono. I had a different plan for a more structured garment, thinking that the neoprene would really hold its shape. My fabric store totally sells garment-weight neoprene, which is a lot more drapey than the real stuff. I didn’t have a lot of yardage, but enough to squeeze out this basic kimono shape. I took everything I learned making my own kimono-style robe, and just simplified it a little. The black edge bands are from a wonderfully squishy merino-wool, and I think the rest of the metre I got is destined to be a casual raglan sweatshirt or something similarly slouchy. I bet it will be so warm – the wool fabric feels very lofty, almost a sponge-like quality to it! Which also is working well with the spongy neoprene. I really love the contrast between the neon-colored floral print and the rich black. I have a wonderfully colorful and cheerful friend, and I thought of her all while making this – first chance I get I will hand it to her, and I think it will suit her really well!

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As I post-script I guess I should add that I did really well on this exam. I am relieved, happy and immensely proud of having completed this last year of study – it has been challenging and demanding and educational (hah, yes) beyond all I had imagined when I started. The first week I so often thought “Oh, my god – I can’t do this! What have I gotten myself into?!”. I totally did this, and I am now beyond a doubt totally a teacher – in heart, mind and spirit!

twisted jersey skirt

twisted jersey skirt

John’s camera did some really wacky blurring on this photo, but I thought it was still cool! This weekend Bergen has been host to 70 sailing ships in this years Tall Ship races, the couple thousand crew members of the ships, and about half a million in visitors. It’s been a lively weekend, to say the least! There has been concerts, beer gardens, activities and open ships to visit. We took a stroll on Saturday and enjoyed the sunshine and the crowds, and I made a skirt for the occasion. This was seriously a 30 minute project from start to finish! It might look like a dress in the picture above, which is of course because I’m wearing my nearly perfect tshirt in the same fabric. A belt in a contrasting fabric helps the illusion that the two pieces are actually a dress – double duty garments are the best!

Fabric: A rayon jersey from Stoff og Stil, in a heathered blue.
Pattern: Totally and experimentally made up.
Techniques: None. Well, if you count overlocking and twisting fabric, then sure, those.

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That is the Russian vessel Kruzenshtern in the background, the largest participating ship. It’s crazy big! And that is me cooling my feet on a recordbreaking warm day for Bergen. It felt so nice.  So, the skirt! I’ve been wanting to make a jersey miniskirt to fill a gap in my wardrobe – I’ve realized I reach for my striped miniskirt a whole lot, and it’s the only miniskirt I have! I’ve seen these twisting jersey skirts several places, and think it’s a great way to make a jersey skirt more interesting. The tutorials I found on the webs were really confusing to me, so I sort of went with what I thought would work.

This is pretty much just a tube that has been twisted before being joined together along the short end. Let me explain: I cut a square about 1 yard x 1 yard (that is 2x the length of a well-fitting miniskirt x a little less than the hip circumference of a well-fitting miniskirt), folded in half with right sides facing in, and sewed the long edge shut. Then I turned the tube right side out, and before lining up the two short ends to overlock across the four layers, I twisted one side so the first seam intersection was nudged about 1/3 of the way down from the top. This means that the long, first seam runs from the top edge on one side of the center back seam, around the body but spiralling very gently downwards, and ending at the center back seam further down than the starting point. Yeah, so not the easiest thing to explain, but I can expand if anyone is interested! I did have to shape the back seam a bit, to hug the waist but not be super-tight across the hips.

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Later in the evening we went back downtown to sit outside and have a beer after it had cooled down a bit. We took these pictures right about midnight actually, so that tells you 1. how warm it still was, and 2. how much light we’re still getting here at night! Love that. I did an outfit change too, so you can really see that it’s actually a skirt, haha! I call this a success, and looking forward to wearing this well into fall with tights and boots. But for now, I’ll be baring legs for as long as I can. Happy summer!

outfit: easter sunshine

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Happy Easter! We had such lovely sunshine yesterday, so we took a walk around town and took some pictures. I wore what I’ve been calling my “dotty cowl dress”, which is the wearable muslin for my Ireland dress that I finally went back and properly finished.

Fabric: Polyester crepe (?) from Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, IL. I found this poly in the discount section, but it’s been nice to work with. And the color and print is so fun!
Pattern: Self-drafted, finally wearable muslin for the Ireland dress. See the not-so-wearable in-progress muslin here.
Techniques: Self-lined bodice, fabric cut on bias, invisible zipper, bound armhole seams, understitching, bra strap carriers.

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I think my favorite part of this dress is the irregular dotted fabric in a purple-putty/bright peach color combination. It made me laugh out loud at the fabric store, and since I have an ongoing goal of wearing more patterned fabrics, I snatched it up. You might have seen this dress before, as part of the process of making a floor length gown to wear to a wedding in Ireland. The finished dress turned out beautifully, which was of course thanks to making several muslins to tweak the fit!

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One of the things the muslin helped me see was some excess fabric diagonally on the back bodice. I fixed the pattern for the final dress obviously, but since I just wanted to make this muslin wearable I wasn’t going to recut anything. Below is a picture I took while doing the fitting adjustments, and then the finished wearable muslin. I’ve taken the excess out of the side seams only, but it did help! The armholes are a little oddly shaped now (a little high and tight, and abruptly shaped from the armhole going up), but this is a totally wearable muslin. In fact, I’ve worn it several times since finishing it – while giving a gallery tour, at a nicer dinner, and at an evening work event. Success!

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In sewing for myself I don’t make muslins often, mostly just when I make very fitted garments like strapless bodices or blazer-style jackets. I think this is actually the first time I’ve even made a test garment out of “real” fabric instead of the standard unbleached cotton muslin! I hate letting things go to waste, so I’m glad this dress was salvagable.

DSC_5583DSC_5558I wish a Happy Easter to all – for me that includes a lot of oranges and tea and chocolates, knitting, reading, and sitting against a sunny wooden cabin wall wearing sunglasses. Aaaah!

case of leather

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One day I got the idea to make a leather tablet case as a present for a dear friend. I had a quarter hide of leather left over from my fashion collection project, and an idea for how I wanted the tablet case to look. I only knew he had an older iPad, but fortunately they are all pretty similar in dimensions so it was enough information to go by. Ready, set, start!

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It was a surprisingly quick project once I had the measurements all sorted out, so it only took me about an hour from start to finish! I knew from last time working with this leather that the feed-dog on my sewing machine would leave marks on the bottom layer of the leather, so I opted to punch holes and handsew with a denim-weight thread (wax the thread first to avoid breakage). I think it came out quite nicely, and happily my friend is pleased with his gift too!

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wedding present mittens

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Yarn: DK/Sport weight “Smart” yarn from “Sandnes Garn”, in gold (2527), lilac (4622 – I think!) and blue-grey (6162). Here is the Ravelry project page for the mittens.
Pattern: My own mashed-up pattern, based on lots of different traditional patterns. And a lot of math (sometimes poor math).
Techniques: Colorwork, tubular cast on, gusset thumb, twisted stitches for the smaller cuff.

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I bet you’ve seen that I went to Ireland a little while back, to celebrate our friends’ wedding. You know, the thing I made that wonderfully swanky mustard colored dress for? Yeah, that wedding. Even back when we got the save the date-card, I knew I wanted to make the gifts. At first I toyed with the idea of fisherman’s sweaters for each of them, but then I realized that 1. I probably didn’t have enough time to handknit two cabled sweaters, and 2. I didn’t know if that would be up their alley, style-wise.

Having lived in Chicago for three years, I knew one thing that made the brutally cold and windy winters a little more bearable – proper colorwork mittens. The wool and the double layer of yarn mean that they are surprisingly windblocking, and definitely very warm. So there it was! I would make them mittens. But what pattern, and what colors? After a quick decision to make them in a same-ish pattern in different colors but with a common neutral color, we did some investigating. I got John to probe the groom-to-be about what colors he liked to wear (orange and green, I think he said), and I snooped around the future bride’s pinterest wedding inspiration board and realized there was a lilac and grey color scheme going on. Done! Dusty lilac for her, funky gold for him (and he’s a funky dude, so I think it’s a good fit!)

wedding_mittens1I have to say, I have a whole new respect for colorwork mitten designers now. Not only do you have to consider the total number of stitches for size, but also the repeat of the pattern for the palm must work with the amount of increases for the thumb as well as the decrease for the top, and the repeat pattern after the cuff needs to be divisible too, and… Phew! I’ll be leaving this to the pro’s for now, I think! I also had to size down the main star pattern for the smaller mitten, but that actually went surprisingly smooth once I figured out where I could omit some rows.

I wanted something to make the mittens more personal, and to be a reminder of the wedding day and celebrations. I considered working the date in there somehow, but finally decided that I liked the thought of their initials better. I wish I would have been able to make the letters a bit more balanced to suit my symmetrical eye, but that’s being a bit nitpicky. All in all I really am pleased how they came out, and of course – I hope they get lots of wear in the bitter Chicago winters. I’d love to see them all worn to bits in a handful of years, from constant use!

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P.S. Wondering where the second yellow-gold mitt is? It has already made it to Chicago as a pre-taste, so these three are stragglers, destined to join the first any day now.

refashioned custom dress

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Fabric: Original dress made in a polyester two-tone satin faced taffeta. The matching fabric I think is a satin polyester, and poly lining.
Pattern: Self drafted with princess panels, dropped waist, and sewn in belt.
Techniques: Invisible zipper, fully lined, understitched neckline and armholes, sewn in bra-loops.

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Every once in a while I take on sewing projects for customers. A month or so back, I was contacted by a lady who wanted to have her dress resewn. The strapless gown had become too small, and she wanted somthing that would be more versatile. She liked the idea of refashioning this dress – especially since she had shoes dyed to match especially. She was picturing a sleeveless dress with a straight silhouette and a dropped waist.

I sketched out a panelled dress with a contrasting sewn in waistband, keeping a bit with the original dress. The first task of this refashion was to figure out how much of the orginal dress could actually be used for the new dress – or in other words, how much dress could I make out of the original gown? It turned out, unfortunately, that all the pieces of the new dress simply could not fit on the pieces of the gown.

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The customer lady and I decided on supplementing with a new but matching fabric for the bodice, which made for a three-tone dress. The contrast belt in the middle is actually just the back side of the main skirt fabric! The gown had gotten some bad water stains, so even with just needing the skirt and belt from the original fabric it was a bit of a challenge cutting around the worst spots. A good thing then, that I had the wiggle room to avoid them! The dress is fully lined, with an invisible zipper at the side seam.

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The customer lady was very aware of what suited her and her body, which in many ways made my job easier. She looked great in the finished dress, and I was so thrilled to see her happy with the final result!

Ireland dress, swanky and finished

Hold on peeps, this is a picture-heavy one! John and I just came back from celebrating a friend’s wedding in Ireland, and I’ve been working (well, ruminating and planning at least) on this dress for quite a while, so it’s a big sigh of relief to have it done and looking good. And so much fun to photograph in a castle (!) in Ireland! So many exclamation points!

Ireland_coupleThat’s not the castle, by the way. This is right after the ceremony at the Irish-catholic village church. Don’t we look nice!

Fabric: Mystery mustard colored fabric I got for free from a friend of a friend while living in Chicago. It has a beautiful drape to it and a subtle sheen, and I’ve taken it for a viscose rayon this entire time. When ironing it however, it smells unmistakably like polyester (though I haven’t done a burn test to confirm) – as a fabric snob (and being ok with that) I’ll chalk this up as one of the nicest polyesters I’ve met! Lining is a jaquard weave poly from Joann Fabrics.
Pattern: Self drafted with a-line full length skirt, bias cut cowl front, and v-neck back. I’m thrilled I had time to make both a bodice mock-up, and a wearable muslin ahead of time.
Techniques: Bias cut neckline drape, waist-stay, self-lined bodice, bias-tape bound armholes, and fusible seam tape at all cut edges of bodice seams.

Oh, where to start! I felt so damn swanky in this! I don’t often wear floor-length gowns, but it totally felt right for this occasion, and for this fabric. I shared this picture below a while back, of a dress from the 30’s that has been my visual inspiration for what I wanted to wear to this wedding:

wpid-20130629194618663.jpgI realized pretty quickly that as much as I wanted to take the opportunity and do a full-on replication of this dress from the 30s, I just didn’t have enough fabric to do it. And being a random mystery fabric, I certainly didn’t know where to get more! I’m ok with that though. Even if the inspiration dress is way more dramatic and stunning, I felt dramatic and elegant enough in the castle wedding setting – and looking back at this picture I’m quite amused at how similar the finished dress ended up to the super-quick draped mock-up I did back then!

The wearable muslin I made was incredible helpful. It meant that I could make the changes to the pattern, and then cut into the mustard colored fabric, confident that I didn’t have to recut, and confident that I wouldn’t have to make more alterations.

Alright, here comes construction notes – if that’s not your thing, just skip to the picture of the hat below – interspersed with somewhat non-related, pretty pictures of the finished thing (sorry about the lack of detail-shots and process, just didn’t prioritize it this time around!).

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So – the bodice is self lined – the front bodice cut on fold at the cowl neckline edge, and the back bodice cut twice. I spent a whole lot of time ironing on the fusible seam tape on almost all cut edges, which I did since I was terrified of stretching out seams so they wouldn’t sew together nicely! I’ve learned through some nearly failed projects that you can gather and ease a stretched out seam to the right length, but the fabric beyond the seamline is still stretched out, and will never lay nicely. Hence all the seam tape, haha! It really did make a difference though I think, and everything sewed together very nicely (in terms of seamline lengths). While making the wearable muslin I managed to iron on the fusible both too short on some seams, and too long on others. For this dress I actually ended up laying the fabric on the paper pattern, and pinning both of them to the ironing board (just with a pin straight down, vertically, into the board) to really make sure the length ended up correctly. I was quite pleased with this method!

Ireland_stair3Deer caught in headlights descending stairs in beautiful shoes, while holding glass attempting not to spill any more drinks on herself (total tally by the end of the night was 2 plus a broken glass, which was a total fluke, and a dress rinsed out in the sink that dried to look pristine).

I knew I wanted a waist-stay on this dress (you must know by now how much I adore trying new techniques and adding little touches to what I sew!), but it took a lot of internal debate on how exactly to do it! Most often the waist stay is sewn to the waistline seam-allowances, both self and lining fabric layers, and is visible from the inside. I don’t mind the waist-stay being visible, but this alternative would mean an unfinished waistline seam that I would want to bind in bias tape, which I was afraid would get too bulky with 5-6 layers right above the waist-seam, and only the 2 layers of the skirt below. Also, it would mess up having a clean zipper finish on the inside. Alternative 1 nixed.

The next alternative I considered would be to sew together all waistseam layers but the bodice lining, attach the waist-stay, and slipstitch the bodice lining to the seam. That would be better than the first alternative, but I was still worried that any little difference in the grain of the fabrics would end up pulling weirdly by being solidly attached at the waist, in addition to the issue of bulk. Alternative 2 nixed.

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Ireland_dress_backPosing in the rose-garden, swoon! I can see the draglines from the wearable muslin ar still there somewhat (probably exaggerated a bit here), and I’m pretty sure it’s from the straps having slid down too far on my sloping shoulders. A bra sitting further in plus bra-loops keeping it anchored should fix that.

This was honestly such a long back and forth conversation in my head, where I kept forgetting why I had nixed the different options! I’m sure I considered other approaches, but what I ended up doing was to attach the skirt and bodice layers separately for the lining and the self, sewing the waist-stay to the outside layer waist seam allowance (pressed upwards), pressing the lining waist seam allowance downwards, and loosely slipstitch the seamline together at center front, center back, and at the side seam. I did that to keep the layers together where they were supposed to be, while allowing everything to move a bit too. I couldn’t get around this little oddity of having to leave a gap in the lining by the zipper, right where the waist-stay comes together with a little hook. It’s a trade off to not having exposed seams, but I’ll admit a little fiddly to avoid loosing the ends of the waist-stay, since they aren’t attached all the way to the zipper tape! Oh well. I found Tasia’s multiple posts on waist-stays very helpful, such as this one sewn fully to the waist seam allowance, and also this more traditional one.

Who knew I would have this much to say about waist-stays? Ok, moving on… sewing really was quite easy, there aren’t that many pieces to this dress. But making sure that they don’t stretch, and that they’re on grain, that is the tricky part. I had such a hard time hemming the skirt – the lining especially. I totally recommend having a second person helping you when hemming these types of long dresses! At the bridal shop I used to work at, we would mark the skirt with pins set in vertically where the fabric touched the floor. Then we hemmed a certain amount up from those marks, based on the type of fabric the skirt was made of (generally cutting at the pins and aiming for a finished hem about 3/8″ off the floor, but for chiffon you’d cut less since it tends to crawl up and shrink in length when cut). Anyways, I think my lining must have been a bit off grain because it was waaaay longer in one spot off to the side. Oops! It took several rounds of trimming but turned out ok. Having made myself very few floorlength dresses, it’s a new way of thinking for me that this dress is hemmed pretty much only for these shoes, and these shoes only! (loved, loved, loved, loved my shoes by the way!)

purple_suade_shoesMy purple suede peeptoe platform patent leather wedding shoes! Crappy cell picture, but none of the other pictures really showed these beauties.

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Ireland_dress_stair2So glamorous!

Finally, let’s admire the beautiful fascinator that my talented and lovely Sara custom-made for me! She knew the color and style of the dress I was making, and she knows me and my style. Then she took that and melded it with her aesthetics to create this smashing headpiece. I loved wearing it, and got lots of compliments on it all day long. I don’t think this outfit would have been complete without it. (Thanks Sara, you’re so lovely!)

ireland_fascinator Alright, that wraps it up! I made a mustard-colored fancy dress, I wore it, and I loved it. It’s a win.

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