Thursday, March 28, 2013

DIY Month: Some Resources For The DIYer

It's the end of DIY month here on Bookish Beauty, and I wanted to leave new DIYers with some resources to help you get on your feet.

We Sew Loli

This Livejournal community for lolita seamstresses is filled with crafty, creative people of all skill levels. Whether you're a beginner or a long-time seamstress, it's a great place to talk about the craft, to share your projects, and to see what other people have been doing. To me, it's one of the most inspiring places on the net.

BurdaStyle Forums

BurdaStyle is a great resource in general. Free patterns (can't get much better than free, right?) and a thriving DIY community are to be found there. This is especially good if you have specific issues or questions, because you've got a pool of people who will be able to help when you get stuck.

Other Blog and Forum Resources

Those two sites aren't everything, of course. There are tons of resources online. See Kate Sew has a roundup of a wide variety of tutorials in, aptly titled, Sewing 101. Caro of F Yeah Lolita has a truly epic roundup of lolita tutorials that will give you instructions on everything from basic elastic-waist skirts to hats and other accessories.


There are a wide variety of books that can prove very useful to the beginner seamstress, but you have to find the right ones. Craft books with patterns and instructions for specific projects are great for those specific projects, but not particularly helpful if, say, you just want to learn how to do a pin tuck.

Personally, my favorite is the old-school Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book that hails from the 1970s. It's a lot of basic information, from pin tucks to tailoring a pattern to suit a larger or smaller bust, but it's really useful for beginners. It's also extremely useful if you suddenly come into possession of a large amount of vintage patterns whose instructions are, on occasion, less than clear.

Other great books include Singer's Sewing Reference Library set for everything from clothing fitting to sewing pillows, Fairchild's Dictionary of Textiles by Phyllis G. Tortora for every fabric term you could ever want to know, Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina for more pattern fitting tips, Vogue Sewing Revised & Updated for more general tips, and the 4-H Sewing Curriculum set for a good way to start with the absolute basics and work up.

You'll notice many of these books are old, or are a long-running series; the 4-H sewing curriculum has been around for practically forever, and I have copies of both the 1990s set and the set from the late 1960s. That's not an accident. Many more recent books are more project focused and less instruction focused. I'm not saying they're unhelpful; I just prefer the older, more reference based books for my sewing library.

And, last and probably most importantly...

Friends and Family

Know somebody who sews and is patient? Have them help teach you! My mother was a home economics education major in college, so I had someone with both experience and teaching training to teach me. I also have friends, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, cousins, and several friends from my 4-H days who sew. I can tell you for a fact that nothing beats having someone physically present to demonstrate, an extra set of eyes to make sure everything goes smoothly, and a pair of ears to listen when the stress mounts.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

DIY Month: Fear, Frustration, and the Mid-Project Meltdown

There is one thing that DIY fashionistas will rarely tell beginners, and that is this: sometimes, it's scary or frustrating or downright rage-inducing to make your own clothing.

First, there is the cost. Fabric is expensive, and sometimes patterns are, too. Unless you have a lucky clearance find, somebody's clearing out their stash, or you've got a nice coupon, it could be very expensive to make your vision a reality. This is especially true in full-skirted fashions like lolita. Skirts that frilly take quite a lot of fabric.

Then, there's the fear that the vision you have in your head and what you sew will not align properly. Maybe it won't lay right. Maybe the skirt won't be as full as you had hoped. Maybe it will gap in all the wrong places. Maybe your lining will hang out. Maybe everything will end in ruination and the thing that you envisioned as this:

will end up making your life look like this:

Myself, I often have what my mother and I have dubbed the "Mid-Project Meltdown" when I am making clothing. This does not happen when I am making stuffed animals, jewelry, purses, or any other useful items. Only clothing. I suddenly find myself in fear that I have screwed everything up and that the thing that I have made is not good enough, not neat enough, does not fit well enough. Usually, this comes in after the first attempt to sew in the zipper, which inevitably ends up crooked. Sometimes, it shows up after finding a single issue with a rolled hem that forces me to rip out the entire thing. But it still shows up despite the fact that I've been sewing since I was six.

The worst thing is that this frustration is different for every person. For me, it arrives between zippers and hems. For other people, it's gathers and ruffles. For still others, it's the minor heart attack that happens when a pattern's yardage requirement reads "six yards" while their dream fabric is still nearly twenty dollars a yard.

If you run into this sort of road block, do not freak out. Breathe. I have some tips I can offer, especially for beginners, to help you work through those moments of panic. They certainly help me.
  1. Remember that "Mr. Seam Ripper" is your friend. There is no straight stitch that you cannot undo, no accidental pleat you cannot fix, no bobble that cannot be smoothed out. Yes, I know that you don't want to have to go back and fix it, but the fact is you can. That in itself is a blessing.
  2. Take a break. Just a short one to clear your head. Take a walk. Watch a funny youtube video. Do something to take the edge off the stress.
  3. Don't give yourself too close of a deadline. Give yourself the time you need to make a mistake and fix it, because if you don't you'll end up doing up a hem with masking tape and promising yourself that it will get sewn later. (Yes, I have done this. It's an old 4-H tradition that is usually explained away with "It's 2 am and fashion review gets judged tomorrow, but the craftsmanship doesn't get judged for another two weeks")
  4. Shop around when it comes to fabric. Wait for sales. Look for other fabrics to make sure what you buy is really what you want.
  5. Start small. If it's your first project, start with something simple. Start with straight seams and elastic waists and work from there. I know we all have big sewing dreams, but big projects are built on a foundation of basic skills. Build those skills first.
  6. Have backup. This is really important for me, because I will never know absolutely everything and I like to have people around me who are willing and able to help, even if it's a small thing. For me, it's my mother first and foremost, but I the women of my family all sew as do many of the men. For you, it might be family, friends, or even an online forum. Have a support system. It helps more than I can say.
Don't let the frustration get to you. Take a break. Take a breather. Call someone who might be able to help or who will understand when you rant about wanting to throw your sewing machine out a window.

You can do this.

For those who are extra stressed, please take a moment to giggle at the homemade pincushion who has accompanied me on many an away mission. I modeled him off a voodoo doll, but nerdier. He's one of the most helpful relievers of sewing stress I've ever had, and I call him Lieutenant Leslie.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

DIY Month: Square Dance Patterns are Your Friends

I know, I know. Stop wincing, lolitas. Hear me out.

Square dance... everything... gets a bad rep in the lolita community. Even while many western lolitas are happily wearing Malco Modes petticoats, you still hear many shouts of "Wrong shape!" and "Ugly fabrics!" and, my favorite, "Too many ruffles!" And it's true that many square dance petticoats flare out too much at the bottom to be good with lolita. Some of the dresses are hilariously bad, even modified. And, in the spirit of honesty, here are a couple of my favorite "What the hell is that even..." dress patterns.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

DIY Month: Your Starting Point

DIY gets a bad reputation sometimes. It's often associated with shoddy workmanship, poor materials, a bad fit, and all sorts of other negative things. In alternative fashion, especially, we get judged based on some impossible scale that tops out at perfection, and handmade clothing tends to fare even worse under those conditions.

But it doesn't have to.

I've been sewing since I was six (almost eighteen years!), but other people are just starting out. This month is for them, really. But, folks with experience, I want to welcome you into the discussion. Have something to add? Want to make a post of your own covering a similar topic? Join the discussion. I'd love to have you here, and I'd be proud to link to blog posts if you make them.

To start this month, I think it's best to talk about starting points. When you're making your own clothes, it's important to start somewhere, and, the way I see it, you've got three options.

1. Your fabric
Fabric is probably the best starting point. Sometimes, you'll see a fabric and have the whole idea for something pop into your head. This one happens to me all the time. I'll see a fabric on a shelf and suddenly know exactly what kind of garment it needs to be. That blue and gray small plaid over there? Clearly it needs to be a jumper, worn over a blouse with a Peter Pan collar. That cotton printed with a floral modeled after Russian folk art? It needs to be a dress with contrast trim at the neck and hem. That subtly tweedy suiting? A pair of wide-legged trousers waiting to happen.
And, once you've got your inspiration, you can go searching for the pattern. Patterns are the easiest thing to modify, really. You can draft your own. You have years and years of patterns to look through. You can modify one of those preexisting patterns.

2. Your pattern
Patterns can be a really easy starting point if you want a simpler outfit. Solid colors and basic patterns (houndstooth, plaid, stripes, etc.) are easy to find in all different styles.
Sometimes, though, finding the perfect fabric can be tough. I once wanted a simple black and white polka dotted cotton fabric for a 1950s style sundress. I found it in satin and jersey. I found bigger polka dots than I wanted and smaller polka dots than I wanted. I found it in pink and green and brown. But it took six months and sending out the message to the extended family to find just the right fabric.

3. Your concept
This is the hardest starting point, especially for beginning DIYers. It's like trying to hit a moving target from a moving platform.You have a vision in your head, and you not only need to find a pattern that works but a fabric that works, too. It's kind of maddening when this happens, but what can you do?
Well, there are several things you can do. You can sketch it and sit on the idea until you find something perfect. You can design your own fabric with companies like Spoonflower. But, I must admit, this is the hardest one because you need to have many skill sets: fabric design, sewing, pattern drafting, maybe even screen printing or applique or painting.

Personally, I find the design process to be either the easiest or the most frustrating part of a sewing project. Sometimes, you get this image in your head and spend days, weeks, or months chasing the perfect fabric or pattern to make your vision a reality.

And sometimes, sad to say, you never find it.

But other times things just fall into your lap. You're not looking for the perfect tweed suiting for a pair of wide-legged trousers, but it just happens to be on the sale rack and machine washable, for example.

The real point is that you need to start somewhere and I most recommend starting with the fabric. Wander through the fabric aisles and find something beautiful. Then, be brave and make it into something wonderful.