Sunday, June 15, 2014

Patience is Rewarded

Last Friday I played with fire and made a skirt.

At the same time.

You see I had this fabric that (purely metaphorically speaking) has been burning a hole in my fabric drawer for a while. A long, long while, since I bought this fabric on my honeymoon six years ago. Apparently that (metaphorical) fire wasn't burning too hot. This wasn't because I didn't like it, because it is purple and flowy and has just enough sequins to add a fairy-tale, pretty-girl touch without crossing over the border into “Bling,” which is a country that I just don't visit. I have many friends who rave about it, a cousin who pretty much lives there, but it is just not for me. Tempt me not with sequined sandals and pass me my trusty Merrells.

It wasn't languishing for want of a destiny, because I knew when I bought it that it was meant to be a skirt.

It had only two strikes against it, but those proved almost deadly.

  1. It is crepe (no idea exactly what kind, since all receipts for this are long gone) which can be tricky to deal with.
  2. I have a very wide range of textile-craft interests. I usually have several projects in process and more that I am planning. My main interests are knitting, quilting and sewing children's clothes, but I am quite good at crochet, home-decorating sewing, sewing adult clothes, cross-stitch, French Hand Sewing and scrapbooking. If you take the average day of 24 hours, subtract A for sleep, subtract B for being married, subtract C times D for two boys under the age of three, subtract E for cooking and F (not coincidentally) for housework and then divide that wee little number by the number of interests at the moment, the end result is a very, very small number that you have to peer at with a magnifying glass. I usually look at that poor little pathetic number, trying bravely to stand up by its weak little self, and take pity on it and steal a bit of time from the last thing mentioned. (What's that? Housework was the last thing mentioned? How … um … coincidental.) I can't help it. I'm tenderhearted after all, and just can't bear to see the darling thing struggle so.

So the Lovely Purple Crepe lived in the drawer for a long time, until last Friday when I opened it looking for blue flannel and was suddenly struck with a memory.

Once upon a very long time ago, I was a ballet girl in my church's fledgling ballet school and wore black leotards and pink tights and our mothers made us skirts for the performance.

They did this with fire. Literal, non-metaphorical fire.

Fun fact: polyester is basically made of plastic bottles. Funner fact: just like plastic bottles melt, so too does polyester.

Instead of hemming our ballet skirts (which would have been an enormous task) the moms set up a station with a candle and after cutting out the skirts, they very carefully passed the edge of the fabric along the edge of the candle, making a small melted edge that does not fray.

If you would like to try it you might watch this video.The key thing is to keep your hands steadily moving. If you pause and wait for the section by the flame to be melted “enough” you will melt a lot more than you actually want. Trust that it is happening, move your fabric steadily along and then pull your fabric away from the flame to run your finger along the edge (it should be cool enough) to check that you didn't miss any spots

However, I should warn you, this is a Very Unprofessional way to finish an edge for a regular skirt. (Unless you're deliberately going for a funky, burned, post-Apocolyptic high fashion look.) The reasons I thought I could get away with it were:

  1.  I was making a handkerchief skirt, which meant that the hemline isn't supposed to be parallel to the floor, it's supposed to be all drapey and flowy. This meant that the inevitable imperfections would be camouflaged in angles and drapeyness. If this hem had been parallel to the floor, the difference between the natural straightness of the floor and the meandering attempt at straightness that would be my hemline would, I know, make me twitch.
  2. I was using 2 squares of crepe, set 90 degrees from each other, like an 8-pointed circle. This meant that there would be 8 different points hanging down and there is safety in numbers. If I had done an asymetrical skirt with one high point and one low point, it would be easy to look at that simple shape and say “Hey look. That edge isn't even. What was she thinking?" With 8 points you don't stop to count and examine each one, your brain just says “That skirt has a lot of points hanging down.” And moves on.
  3. I knew that this was not going to be a high-impact, hard-wearing, hard-scrubbing skirt. This is a pretty-girl skirt, meant to be worn to church or on a date perhaps once a month. Its ok that it has a delicate edge because it's not going to get thrown in the washer and dryer all the time. I might even treat it to dry cleaning, if it behaves itself.
  4. I lack the equipment/skills to hem crepe like it should be hemmed. In a perfect world I would have a serger and be well-versed in delicate fabrics such as crepe and chiffon but this is real life and I have a (mostly) trusty Brother sewing machine and I usually sew with cotton or flannel.
  5. My standards are low. I mostly live in jeans and t-shirts. I knew that this skirt would not have to pass the exacting standards of a professional workplace. Most of the people I know are not going to examine my hem and find me, my sewing skills and my moral worth lacking.
  6. If it was hard, I knew I was not going to do it, and having a new skirt made of lovely material was more important to me than doing things As They Should Be.

So I plunged in, cut two big squares, melted the edges, measured my waist, looked up the radius of a circle that had the circumference of my waist measurement (I love online calculators) and cut a waist-sized hole. I made a simple casing from a doubled piece of fabric, and sewed it on, trusting to the seam allowances (that were making the waist-hole now slightly bigger than my waist) to allow me enough wiggle room to get the skirt on. I then made a tie cord using this very clever method.

Normally to make fabric ties I would have had to cut a 1” wide strip, measure and fold the edges over 1/4”, iron firmly, and then fold the strip in half and iron firmly, and then sew down the edge of the strip to make a nice little fabric cord with no raw edges. The ironing probably wouldn't “take” as much as I wanted and a great number of pins would be used. The end result would be serviceable, wobbly, and would have taken an hour and a half to make.

Instead, I cut my 1” strip and fed it into my 1/2” bias tape maker. This is a wonderful little gadget that does the first set of folding for you. If you are making bias tape then you pull your strip through the gadget and iron the creases as they come out of the end. If, however, you intend to immediately fold this tape in half and sew it, you can just feed it directly from the gadget to the sewing machine. I took a few terrible pictures to try to explain:

It works best if you hold the last fold with your finger: 

You only do this about 2 inches at a time, but it is lightning fast compared to measuring and ironing and pinning!

After I made my cord, I fed it through the casing and voila! A skirt! 

If I had been making it in real, uninterrupted time instead of Mommy time, it would have taken about 1 hour from first idea to final product. 

Thanks for reading such a long post! Gratuitous cute picture of Munchkin in safety goggles:  
Yes. He wears pink crocs. They were on sale and he loves them and (most importantly in both our estimations) he can put them on himself.