Monday, November 28, 2016

Behind the Thread: How I Embroider the Towels

One of the most common questions I hear these days is whether I make my towels by hand or machine, and how much work they are. To answer that, I thought I would write up a detailed blog post, with a combo of photos and videos.

First of all, I start with the design. My machine is a Brother SE400, which means I can only use designs available in a PES format, 4x4 inches or smaller. My absolutely favorite website to get my designs is UrbanThreads.Com which offers some really lovely designs, and often has sales (I pay between $1.29 and $3.00 per design, depending on sales).

This month, Urban Threads released a Dala Horse design and I could not purchase it fast enough! I am of Swedish descent, so this is an iconic and special design that I am very excited to offer in my Etsy Shop. I thought it would be a fun design to use as an example. At 8 thread changes, it is one of the more involved designs (most designs I do use between 2 and 5 thread changes), but doesn't require too much thread snipping so it evens out.

The first thing I do is figure out what threads I am going to use. Sometimes I follow the suggested colors closely, but other times I like to mix it up. Here, I decided to try doing a green horse. I'd already tested out a red and blue horse, so I was able to see how the shades variated over the design, and try to approximate shades and tints of green here.

Each towel gets hooped to keep the fabric nice and taut.

On the underside of each towel is a piece of water-soluable stabilizer. The actual piece is tucked into the hoop here - I am holding a second piece so you can see how thin it is.

On my white towels, all of the bobbin thread is white. In order to avoid stopping and winding bobbins all the time, I have a separate bobbin winder, that can run at the same time as my machine.

Video #1 - illustrates the threading process I go through for each color change.

Video #2 - my machine comes with an automatic needle threader which is SO helpful.

Video #3 - Selecting the design (my machine can only store 12 designs at a time, so I have to frequently upload and switch out new designs from my computer via a USB cable)

Video #4 - here's what happens if I forget to lower the presser foot!

Video #5 - starting the second thread change

I'm sparing you a video of each thread change, but I did want to show you photos of what the design looks like after each new color is added.

Video #6 - one last video, showing the white detailing stitches

After the design is finished stitching, I snip off all of the threads left between non-connected designs of the same color thread.

I then take the towel out of the hoop and  tear off the excess stabilizer. The stabilizer in the design will wash out with the first washing.

I then give that corner a quick iron, fold up the towel, and (if applicable) photograph it and upload it to my etsy shop.

I am so addicted to machine embroidery, especially since my fibromyalgia prevents me from hand embroidering these days. I'm delighted to have had enough interested in my etsy shop to be able to continue making flour sack towels (which I personally love to use in my own kitchen).

Find this design and more at  Whimsical Kitchen!

Want to get a design embroidered on something other than a towel? Shoot me a line at elenatintil[at]gmail[dot]com

Friday, November 11, 2016

Steampunk Pirate Evolution

CONvergence, 2014
When Nathan and I started work on our Steampunk Pirate costumes, we knew that they were going to be long term projects. Well-done steampunk requires so many layers and details, that to some extent, it can always be improved. This isn't a bad thing, because it means we can keep wearing them over and over again without getting bored, since each incarnation is slightly different.

2nd Wedding Reception, Late Summer, 2016

Halloween, 2014
That said, between 2014 and 2016, although we wore the costumes several times, we didn't change much about them. Part of this was due to my looming health problems, which made sewing nearly impossible for a long time.

This summer and fall I have ventured back (cautiously) into a few costuming projects. One goal of mine was to add a few new things to our Steampunk Pirate costumes, so that we could have a 'fresh' look for Halloween. I decided to start with making myself a proper petticoat.

I didn't have enough of any one cream fabric to make the entire petticoat of the same material, so I decided to make each tier a different texture. Thankfully, this is very much a part of the Steampunk aesthetic, so it worked well.

I made a deep, semi-fitted waistband...

...with a bit of elastic in front for comfort and stretch on those inevitable 'bloated' days most women deal with.

Then it was time to add the tiers!

This tier is of cream satin. I had several squares and rectangles left over from making my wedding centerpieces, so I stitched them together for one of the middle tiers.

Of course, all of those seams didn't look very pretty, but I'd already decided to add as much lace as possible to the petticoat, so I just sewed a strip down over each seam!

I also sewed various lace and ribbon over the gathers of each tier. I've been saving up cream lace for a LONG time!

The final tier is some lace I ordered from Greece awhile back. Although the petticoat overall isn't historically accurate, the bottom tier can work as a peeping out layer on a more historical project.

I also really wanted to add something new to Nathan's outfit, so I utilized all my years of making vests and pulled together the fastest vest I could manage! To my surprise, I had enough energy and knowledge to  finish a vest in three hours - and it turned out better than I expected!

Part of what helped was having all of the materials on hand already, AND having Nathan nearby for frequent fittings. But vests are also just plain forgiving, especially if you have lacing in the back, as I did! (I didn't bother to put gromments in. I just folded over the edge of a piece of leather to stabilize it, and then punched out holes for the lacing. Easiest method ever! Might not last the longest, but it'll do the trick for the infrequent wearings this piece will have).

I added a few new pieces to my own costume as well. I'd picked up the hat at a thrift store in 2015, and then I added some scarves and jewelry from my extensive collections.

It was just warm enough for my mother-in-law to snap some photos...and we took some selfies too.

It was super fun to get dressed up. I'd gone into cosplay withdrawal!

Here I am holding Nathan's compass, which is one of the very first Christmas gifts I ever gave him.

One of my favorite parts about the vest is the high collar! I used buckram and interfacing to get it as stiff as possible. We've been watching a LOT of "Once Upon a Time" and after seeing so many of the awesome collars on that show, I really wanted to try making one myself!

The bodice I'm wearing here is a temporary piece. I couldn't locate my waist corset that I wore originally, alas! But I have plans to sew something awesome eventually...just determining the exact design! There are SO many options.

Here you can see Nathan's loooooong hair. Normally he wears it in a ponytail or manbun, but we thought it looked best down for this cosplay!

Ironically, after all that, we didn't get a single trick or treater! But we had fun dressing up and watching "Once Upon a Time" with Nathan's mom. (And candy. I ate candy. I haven't had much over the past year, so that was awesome.)

Want more Steampunk Pirate? Check out this commission I made for a client before I got sick!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

"Beauty and the Beast" - First Costume Look!

We've gotten a few tiny sneak peeks so far, but today Disney released the first large group of illuminative photos, via Entertainment Weekly. So far, the reaction is quite mixed, and I'm afraid this review is going to be no different. However, it is a real delight to have some solid stuff to review, so let's dig in!

Point of interest - I did serve as a costume designer for a community production of "Beauty and the Beast" so this is definitely a subject dear to my heart, on which I've spent a good deal of time and thought!

Also - I should note - "Beauty and the Beast" is one of those Disney films that is actually fairly tied into a historical place and culture. So while it is a "Fairy Tale," it has always been more open to talk about historical accuracy and such. Many of the designs below do follow through on this direction, which leaves any choices to the contrary that much odder. But more on that in a bit!

First off, let's discuss the interpretation of Belle's iconic blue dress. Interestingly, the film so far seems to be sticking closer to the iconic designs from the animated film than "Cinderella" did. My guess is that this is somewhat connected to the stage show, an additional cultural status that the Disney "Cinderella" didn't have. The overall silhouette of the new interpretation of the blue dress is actually closer to the film than I was expecting - although with each closer inspection, new differences come to light. In the photo above we can clearly see that the bodice and the skirt are separate pieces made of entirely different fabrics. 

Here we get a much better look at the details of the dress and the bit of red incorporated into the design really sticks out. I'm not sure what to think, honestly! Part of me likes the natural, home-y textures and prints we are seeing here, and it really evokes the feel of the French countryside. However the red also throws me off, as it is such a departure from what I am used to seeing with Belle. I do wonder if they are trying to evoke the colors of the French flag and allude to the coming Revolution?

Not much costume detail in this photo, but it is a beautiful shot, and we can see Belle's petticoat, and the fact that she appears to get a new apron after arriving at the castle.

And in this shot Belle is wearing a headscarf, and a pink tuck which looks a little weird in this shot. Also, her sleeves appear to have embroidery on the sides here, so she may have a new blouse as well. Was her old one torn in the wolf fight?

And... the Beast! No, I'm going to reserve critique of his design for after I see the movie - a still shot just isn't a good way to judge CGI. I do like his costume design, however, as it looks pretty much perfect.

Gaston and Lafou! I'm not a fan of the beige, but I do like the historical designs going on here.

I want to love this picture more! Because in some respects, this is exactly what a historically inspired costume for Gaston could look like... but man, that coat just seems too "Captain Hook." Also, this is high quality clothing, as worn by a member of the upper classes, so is Gaston wealthier in this version? I guess this is a costume critique we'll have to hold off on until the film releases. My instinct is that I would love to see Gaston in something more like hunting leathers, not so much a dandy, but a lot depends on the script.

Also not a fan of the weird bows on the silly girls heads. Bows in theory should work, but these look like bunny ears... 

Otherwise, the other setting and costume designs on display here are great. 

The good news is that Cogsworth and Lumiere look MUCH better here than they did in the first (creepy!) released photo. Mrs. Potts I will have to see in action and Plumette (yes, that is her name, apparently) looks so weird but... maybe it works in motion. We'll see.

But the most iconic costumes of all?

Well, the Beast's coat looks AMAZING. Oh my goodness. LOVE it. And Belle's skirt teases us with some great embellishment that looks promising, even if the style of layering is so anachronistic as to cause most costumers viewing it to cringe.

Up until this point, all of the other costumes on display have either been on the "historically accurate" side, or "feel" accurate enough to pass. Belle's gold dress, unfortunately, pulls the viewer completely out of the historical framing.

In the animated movie, her gold dress was not accurate to the period, but it was historically inspired (mid-Victorian). Even though it clashed a bit with the rest of the design of the film, it still had an aura of days gone by. This dress, as worn by Watson, does not. Even though there appear to be plenty of gorgeous details to be revealed in further shots, the overall silhouette adds up to a very modern-looking prom dress.

Now it is possible that we are seeing the dress from the worst possible angles, and that better photos will reveal a happier picture. There is just enough margin in the shots to envision a more Victorian shape in the shoulders and neckline, which would be difficult to distinguish at these angles. However, it's a shame, as even a mid-Victorian dress remains a century away from the style worn by every other character pictured thus far.

"But maybe the dress is magical," one might argue. "Maybe is created out of fairy dust and is supposed to be this totally other-worldly gown."

Maybe. But, personally, I don't really associate modern prom dresses with otherworldly fairy magic.

And it's a shame, because it is a beautiful, beautiful dress...just, perhaps, not a good fit for this story. But who knows? I'm hoping that future interviews with the costumer/director/actress will reveal a bit more about the direction taken for this gown. After all, we got quite a lot of detail on the construction and design of Cinderella's ball gown, so we have good reason to hope for the same here.

EDIT: a new interview with the costume designer addresses a few of these points and details Emma Watson's involvement with the design. I'm still not thrilled with their decisions, but it is interesting to get some 'whys' answered.

Anyhow, final judgement will be reserved for the film, as the script, the live motion and more complete viewability will affect everything.

I love reviewing costumes! You can check out my previous posts on a variety of movies and TV shows here, or those specific to my perennial subject, "Once Upon a Time," here!