Friday, March 14, 2014

How To Find And Follow An Idea

One of the workshops I teach is called Self Expressions. It's about moving away from pattern based quilting into independent textile art. In it, I tell my students to start and do one thing and then another and then another until the piece says it's finished. It's a fun way of working and completely transferable to creative everyday wear so I thought I'd illustrate how to find and follow an idea and see if sharing the process starts any tickles for you. I hope so.

After I put away the skirt, I sorted the bits and pieces of men's shirts into individual piles. There was also a pile of painted lace bits, one of pieced scraps, and one of spaghetti-like cut-off serged seams. When I'm working on a project, I don't throw anything away until I first decide if it might be useful in another project.

I didn't think making the skirt pushed me as much as I'd wanted to be pushed so I decided to use the project remnants to sew a child size garment with Simplicity 2526, view A. This idea comes from the question what can I do with what I have? It encompasses two decisions - to use the remnants and to use them in a child's size garment. What can I do with what I have? is often the beginning of a project. Another equally valuable starting question is what do I want to learn?

One of the things that disappointed me with the skirt was not incorporating obvious bits of the shirts like the collars or cuffs. I wanted anyone looking at the garment to stop, be surprised, and realize that a man's shirt had been used. That was what delighted me about the original inspiration - Helen's skirt - and that's the push. The lack of specific learning - of reaching my goal - in the previous project became the starting point of this new project. The next question was how can I incorporate an obvious part of the men's shirts?

The width of the men's cuff was the same as the width as the girl's sleeve hemline even though it doesn't look like that in the earlier picture with the pattern piece. Underneath, by the side seam, the cuff is not lined up because of the way the underarm seam of a man's shirt angles away from the cuff. The pattern piece has a 3/8" seam allowance. I cut the sleeve by aligning the side seam of the pattern with the side seam of the shirt so the excess width would be at the top of the cap curve and could be pleated or gathered into the cap. The button closure and the placket of the men's shirt will be at the back of the little girl sleeve.

The rest of the garment is built around the original idea of using the cuff of the men's shirt sleeve as the hem of this garment's sleeve. Because the fabric is relatively light and I won't be lining the dress, I chose a loosely woven cotton for a foundation and marked center front with a chalk line.

Next, I auditioned different ways of using the strips of shirting - vertical or horizontal or diagonal - to build a collage on top of the foundation only there weren't nearly as many strips left over from the skirt as I'd thought and I would have needed to cut more. Needing to cut more strips led me to ponder ideas for utilizing shapes other than strips and that led to...

... playing with the spaghetti-like serged bits. Deciding to use them, I next thought about how much of the front did I want to cover and how would I join the bits to the foundation. Then I sampled joining using a long zigzag, a short zigzag, and a straight stitch with a shiny rayon thread only the thread wouldn't co-operate and kept catching, bunching, and pulling so much so that I finally substituted a cotton thread in a similar color that was far less frustrating to work with. Figuring that out took at least a half hour and a lot of ripping.

When determining how much of the foundation to cover, I also made the decision to add a yoke above and a line between to neatly finish the serged bits. Black was the obvious choice since it's the neutral colored solid in the mix. I didn't measure a strip. I simply pressed under the edges of a remnant and good and enough. There are more remnants. I can easily match the width if necessary.

After experimenting with the different shirt fabrics for the yoke, I chose a piece of the lace because it blended the colors and textures well and allowed the grey of the foundation to show through and because...

... it went best with the purple button-hole band that I wanted to incorporate. At this point, I've made six decisions but haven't started sewing yet. Sometimes it happens like this and sometimes I make and stitch one decision at a time. I start stitching when my artist starts happily jumping up and down excited that "we" have a doable idea.

The seventh decision was to include the collar of the purple shirt. It's too big and that's okay. Later on, once all these other decisions are stitched, I'll figure out whether to shorten the collar and how or whether to alter the shape of the neckline and how. It doesn't matter right now, nor does what will happen in the back. The next step is to stitch these elements in place and the next decision is whether the left front should be identical or different? I'm off to stitch. Have a great weekend.

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - an encouraging message


  1. I am AMAZED. Enthralled and amazed! I bought a shirt from Goodwill that had strips (fabric? Grosgrain?) sewn down the front and different buttons at each buttonhole. It's too big for me but I have yet to "play" with it. I am going to try to make it fit since it's so interesting.

    I cannot wait to see this dress!

    1. OH - your shirt sounds very interesting. Too big is a fabulous perspective to refashion from. Much easier than too small. Happy playing.

      LOL - I'm making the other side match. Just about ready for the decisions for the back.


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