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Lint Balls of My Life… Plus a Little Giveaway!

I’ve had a couple of freelance costuming jobs this year that I haven’t really blogged about – partly because there wasn’t much to make a complete post and partly because I just never sat down to go through some of the photos I had already shared elsewhere on the internet. Y’know, lint balls of life.

Back in March and April, I spent time working at The Dallas Opera. (You may remember me mentioning my job at the opera because it was during this time I made my Easter dress.)

The costume shop at The Dallas Opera

They did a production of The Aspern Papers, which was a complete costume build. (Yay! A period costume build!) Usually, they either rent the majority of a show’s costumes or pull them from storage, and then just build just a few key pieces for the leads.

There was lots of menswear and tailoring. But I did get to help with the construction of one dress:

Dress from the opera The Aspern Papers

Then I did some work at home (read: not personal projects) like pattern testing Disparate Discipline’s Avocado Hoodie.

In May and June, I once again worked for Shakespeare Festival of Dallas. This year’s summer shows were A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Pericles with costume design by Lyle Huchton.

I had way too much fun sewing Lyle’s designs with the amazing fabrics he bought! You may have realized this from all the photos I posted on Instagram. Here are some of my favorites:

Shakespeare Costumes

This dress for the princess in Pericles was the one I did the most work on.

At the end of June (actually the day after I finished Shakespeare), I met fellow costumer Deborah Lynn Dixon, of Colorado. She stumbled across my blog earlier in the year during a bit of random web surfing. We met for lunch while she was passing through the Dallas Area on business.

She has developed an amazing product and technique for embossing fabric with glitter and paint that can look like intricate beadwork.

The embossing is permanent, flexible, & lightweight, and it can be gently washed or dry cleaned!

You can read more about the embossing process here and here. I can’t wait until she starts marketing her embossing supplies and instructions – I want to try it! (psst! Deborah, you need a blog!)

And just before I started sewing for Shakespeare this year, I applied and was hired to work a part-time job at a local fabric store called Fabrique. It’s a nice little apparel fabric store and the owner is willing to work around my unpredictable freelancing schedule. =)

Fabrique Fabrics

Fabrique has a website but not everything in inventory is listed for online ordering – you just have to ask (phone or email) if you don’t see something you’re looking for on the site. (Right now, there is Free Shipping on orders of $50 or more until August 14!)

So far, I have been pretty good about not bringing all the fabric home with me. I’ve only bought a couple things. One being some of this outer space print chiffon:

There’s still some in stock if anyone else wants some!

I have 3 sewing projects for others in process right now, and I start another long-term freelance costuming job this coming Monday. I’ll share the details of that job and the undisclosed projects as I can in future posts.

Well, enough lint balls. Let’s talk about that giveaway mentioned in the title of this post!

Since I now work part-time at a fabric store, I finally remembered to buy myself some silk organza to use as a press cloth. It’s my favorite type of press cloth because I can actually see what I’m ironing underneath it.

A silk organza press cloth can take a high level of heat while still protecting other fabrics from the iron. And the bonus is it’s see-through!

And I bought myself enough so that I could share!

I have 3 small and 1 slightly larger press cloth to give away to 4 lucky winners!  (The small size is 18.5in x 13.5in. The large one is 18.5in x 18in.)

To enter to win:

  1. Be a sewist/sewcialist who needs a good press cloth.
  2. Leave me a comment on this post and tell me you’d like to enter.
  3. Let everyone know what you are currently sewing in your comment. (Include any related links if you have photos posted somewhere.)

Giveaway is open to all locations. Winners will be chosen at random for the smaller cloths.  The large cloth will go to the submitter of the comment that…um…entertains me the most!

Deadline for entry is closed 11:59pm on Friday, August 16, 2013 United States Central Time (GMT -6). I’ll announce the winners in a post on Saturday August 17. See who won in this post.

Press cloths are neatly serged & standing by to be put in envelopes and mailed to new homes!

If you’re wondering why my ironing board is backwards, read this post.

And one last thing that a lot of you might be interested in: the sale of vintage sewing patterns at Vintage Martini is being discontinued. They just uploaded a ton of new listings and they are marked down to almost nothing! Go check out the great patterns (after you comment of course)!

Death of a Sewing Machine

So much has been going on since I last posted, I’m not really sure where to begin! I guess I’ll just jump right in with the most unexpected news:

My sewing machine is terminal.

If I were superstitious, I could say that Macbeth killed my machine, but I know that I’ve made my machine work harder in a day or two than most sewing machines ever even come close to working after somebody takes them out of the box.

Honestly, I’m rather surprised that I’ve managed to make a modern, overly-plastic domestic sewing machine last for almost 14 years! I’ve had to sew things I knew would abuse my poor little machine many times. But I’ve seen modern domestic machines bite the dust after only 3 or 4 years of mileage in a costume shop, so I think I was pretty good to mine, considering.

I noticed a little weirdness with it near the very end of the Nike commercial shoot. I thought it was because I was sewing so many sports jerseys. That fabric had a residue to it, which I thought might have built up on my machine, causing it to protest.

Two days later, before I could even unpack my machine from the Nike gig, I got a last minute call to go sew for some promos for the show “Big Rich Texas”. They wanted a pleather cover for a mechanical bull to look like a Chanel purse (yes, I get paid to do the weirdest things!), and my machine didn’t give me any trouble then.

When I came home from that, I cleaned my machine up a little, put in a new needle, and leisurely started sewing some mockups. It seemed to be just fine.

Then I did a 13 hour day, an 11 hour day, and a 12 hour day of Shakespeare sewing at my home shop (it became a rather big build when it wasn’t supposed to be that kind of show), and in my pedal-to-the-floor sewing, my machine started sporadically acting up – for no apparent reason.

I would be sewing a long straight seam (on two layers of cotton bedsheet fabric) and suddenly, halfway through the seam there was bobbin vomit. Now usually bobbin vomit (lots of loopy, loose stitching on the bottom of the seam) is easy to fix if you just unthread and rethread your machine.

So I did. And sew I did.

But it kept happening. On every. Single. Seam. ARG!

I just plain didn’t have the time (or patience) for it, so I put my machine aside with plans to take it to the doctor when I had a day off, and I pulled out my backup machine for the remainder of the build.

I finished the 31 costume pieces that needed to be built at home (it still looks like Scotland barfed in my sewing room), and I did a bunch of alterations at the theatre itself – they have a vintage Kenmore sewing machine for backstage repairs that I rather liked, even if it needs a little tune-up.

Plaid everywhere!

Since the play officially opened on Friday, my job on the show is finished. I have another job coming up in October for a movie shoot that will probably wrap around the first week of December.

So I suppose my machine picked the most convenient time to act up – I have work, which means I have the money to do something about it.

When I dropped my machine off at the “hospital” I was able to pick up one of my other machines that I had taken in for service recently. It is a vintage Singer Featherweight 221 that I inherited a couple of years ago from my grandmother.

My vintage Singer Featherweight 221-1 sewing machine.

When my grandmother died, I told my mom while she and her siblings were going through their mom’s stuff that I would take the sewing machine if no one else wanted it. No one did, and much to my surprise, they handed me two sewing machines – the modern one I remembered my grandmother using (which I used when I went to visit her) when I was a kid AND the little vintage Singer!

I had no idea she had the old Singer (it was probably in her closet for decades) and I *may* have squealed and jumped around for a few days after it was given to me.

The only reason I didn’t start using it immediately after I got it was because the casing on the power cord was brittle & cracked, and I was concerned I would end up shocking myself.

A couple of days after dropping off my workhorse machine, I got a call from one of the repair guys at the place where I took it.

It was sad news: my little modern machine had two “cracks” in the timing mechanism and 3 cracks in some other part I’ve forgotten. Newer Singers are essentially disposable because almost as soon as a machine is built, they stop making parts for it. So it’s not really fixable.

(Now before you start to feel sorry for me, let me just say that I had a plan and solution in motion 24 hours after I was given the grim diagnosis.)

Part of me got a little nostalgic about my machine. It was the first machine I bought for myself and it never gave me any problems until recently.

The original purchase receipt.

I used it for my wedding, my sister’s wedding, Camille’s wedding dress, and for at least 4 other wedding gowns over the years. But the very first things I built with it were two rabbit puppets I designed for a children’s theatre production of The Velveteen Rabbit my sophomore year in college.

There was a knit glove sewn to the back of each puppet’s head
so the girl who played the rabbit could animate the head.

I let some of the other theatre majors at the time do the distressing of the “older” version of the puppet and then I “patched” it up. They literally had to run over the poor thing with someone’s car just to make it look loved enough to be seen from the audience. (I’m glad I wasn’t there to watch!) Ahh, memory lane…

Anyway, back to my dying sewing machine. (Maybe like the velveteen rabbit, a fairy will come save it from the trash heap.)

But another part of me was really excited because this would be the first time I would be looking for a machine after having sewn on countless machines both new & old in a variety of industrial & domestic versions throughout my career.

Now I can confidently say what features I like and what I dislike in a sewing machine. And because I am so sure about what I want, I can almost immediately narrow down my choices by about 80% leaving only a few options to research fully.

My grandmother’s vintage Singer isn’t a good replacement option because it cannot do a zigzag stitch – it’s a straight stitch only machine (unless you use a fancy attachment). And I absolutely MUST have a zigzag stitch.

It’s also really tiny, which would make it difficult to do some of the bulky costume work I’ve been called to do – like, oh, pleather mechanical bull covers.

Sewing machine size comparison.

Who knows what it was that caused me to damage my sewing machine in the first place. I may have been sewing for years with cracked parts – they just weren’t bad enough to cause problems until now. My machine served me well and it worked hard for as long as it could. Even in the end, it kept trying.

I have my plan in motion to replace my workhorse machine – I’m just watching my mailbox for my next paycheck at this point.

Stay tuned for And here’s my solution… Even if you don’t sew, I think you’ll like it. =)

More Costuming “Glamour”

So I was in the middle of (and making decent progress on) lots of my own projects last weekend when the phone rang. And suddenly my schedule is completely different! That’s the life of a freelancer.

I was offered a job helping the costume designer for Shakespeare Dallas’s fall show – it’s a modern dress version of “that Scottish play” (aka Macbeth for those of you unfamiliar with theatre superstition). It opens in just three weeks and between the two of us, we have to come up with around 75 costumes. Ahh, the joys of low budget theatre!

Luckily, we have some costumer friends at The Dallas Theater Center and the University of Dallas who let us pull what we could use from their costume storage places. So we have spent the week digging through piles of clothes & shoes and then lugging it all back to our space.

Shakespeare Dallas also has some stock of its own; unfortunately, it’s in an old warehouse with no electricity or water. Ahh. The joys. Of low budget… theatre…

I was rather shocked that there was so much in SD’s storage! And sadly, it’s not exactly ideal conditions for costume storage. It was a bit depressing to see so many items (including bolts of fabric!) exposed to the elements knowing that they would eventually become unusable.

(I would like to apologize for the following crummy cell phone photos – no electricity and bad lighting make cell pics look even worse than normal and I cleaned them up as much as I could.)

So we walked into SD’s storage warehouse and it was a bit of a scavenger hunt:

Shoes were in bins somewhere behind all of this.

I started pulling shoes and the designer went sifting through the racks of costumes in the far back corner:

The racks of costumes.

My biggest goal was to find matching pairs of shoes – they weren’t all attached in pairs and it was dark. I pulled a bunch of shoe bins out of the dark area and closer to the door and began pairing them.

The laces of many pairs had been knotted together on the ends – one of my biggest pet peeves! This meant that they tangle around other pairs in the same bin and are impossible to pull out without grabbing a giant clump of shoes all at once.

I retied the pairs in bows as I extracted them from the bins.

If a pair of shoes is tied in a single bow, it is easier to untie, can be picked up with one finger, and doesn’t become tangled with other pairs in a bin.

After I pulled a bunch of shoes, I joined in the search through the racks for clothing:

I have no idea what the yellow thing on the left rack is, but it reminds me of Big Bird.
Maybe it’s from a Sesame Street version of Shakespeare, hehe.

I’m glad we only spent about 2 hours in the hot warehouse before we stuffed everything into the car and took it back to the theatre space. Ahh, the joys of… yeah.

I will be making a few simple things, and fittings are coming up next week – I hope most of the costumes we pulled will fit the actors!

And to make up a little for the not so great photos, here’s one of Wensley when he went to work with my husband earlier this week:

Hey, Dad, the computer is boring – let’s play!

Apparently, this wasn’t a one-time thing and he likes to migrate from lap to desk.

Random Bits and Bobs

Bits and bobs seemed like an appropriate title for a post about miscellaneous things. (It is a favorite expression of my Scottish-born costumer friend Rona, so I always hear it in my head the cute Glaswegian way she says it.) Bits & pieces (the American version) just isn’t quite as colorful to me.

Currently, I am helping build the costumes for The Dallas Shakespeare Festival’s summer productions of Twelfth Night and Coriolanus. Costumes for both shows are designed by Leila Heise, who I have enjoyed having as a co-worker on many occasions, but this is the first time I have had the pleasure of sewing her designs.

This production of Twelfth Night is styled in a historic setting with turbans and such a-la-Spartacus. For the last couple of days, I have been embellishing the Duke’s fancy coat using pieces of beautiful hand-embroidered and sequined net fabric – it’s so bee-U-tee-full it cost $92 a yard! (Good thing Leila only needed one yard for her design!)

My in-progress photo of the Duke’s coat.
Notice the net is trimmed away from the pieces of embroidery that have been stitched in place.

I still have at least one more day of hand-sewing the fanciness (it will be mirrored on the other side). Here’s a close-up of the ornate fabric:

Pretty sparkles!

Besides the coat, I’ve had a blast sewing things like capes and harem pants, and just generally enjoying the company of my fellow costumers in the shop. We have way too much fun talking and laughing as we work! =)

Speaking of good company, a few weeks ago, I was bestowed the honor of the “Versatile Blogger Award” by fellow blogger A Girl in Winter. She is very sweet to think I deserve such a thing, and I am touched that she finds me interesting. =) I have enjoyed following her first sewing adventures and seeing the wonderful fabrics she chooses for her projects.

I’ve seen the Versatile Blogger Award on other people’s blogs in the past, yet it never seems to have the same “rules”. So I hope no one will be terribly offended that I have decided not to pass it on (I’m not very fond of chain-letters either – I always break them!). The rules that come with the award remind me a little of the “telephone game” where a friend whispers a phrase and it gets passed on so that everyone can laugh at how badly the original phrase gets distorted at the end.

Speaking of rules, Cindy of Cation Designs recently wrote a post about getting a prom “do-over” with her husband and how much more stylish she was the second time. (Luh-kee!)

I left her a comment about my own thrifted senior-year homecoming dress that I didn’t think was all that bad (considering all the dress-code rules we had to follow) but my husband (who met me a little over a year later) thinks it was awful. He deadpans his Napoleon Dynamite impression every time he sees a photo of me in that dress – “I like your sleeves. They’re real big.”

Napoleon (Jon Heder) and Deb (Tina Majorino)

(Things are about to get embarrassing…)

So, Cindy, since you asked to see it, here’s the photo!

High school senior-year homecoming with my friends
Fall 1996

I absolutely HATED my hair that night. My mom took me to have it done at a salon, and the hair-stylist didn’t really listen to what I wanted in an up-do. I wanted it to be a softer and looser style, but I got a tight French-twist and crunchy hair-sprayed curls instead. (This is the main reason I did my own hair on my wedding day!)

Later that school year, I had an opportunity to have a better photo taken in the same homecoming dress (with my normal hairstyle) for Senior portraits. I didn’t use this formal look for my official yearbook photo, but I liked it in black & white and it’s currently hanging in my hallway among other family photos.

I still don’t think the dress is all that bad!
It’s not horribly dated, even if the sleeves are kind of biggish.

Speaking of red dresses, today was the Festival of Pentecost (celebrating the birthday of the Christian Church) and red is the color associated with Pentecost. So I wore my slightly retro 50’s-style dress and coordinated with red heels and red headband this morning.

I bought this dress 6 or 7 years ago and always try to remember to wear it for Pentecost Sunday.

These days, I have a variety of looks when I dress up, but overall, I would say that my style is slightly retro, ranging from the 40’s to the 70’s, without being too costumey. I promise my style sense has greatly improved since the restrictive dress-code days of private high school! I wish we’d simply had uniforms!

Speaking of uniforms, I hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day!

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