June 2010

Conversation

While I was working on this, I kept thinking about an orchestra.  Where the different groups of instruments talk to one another, repeating similar themes back and forth.  The challenge in this painting was to make it not be about the lights in the middle.  Instead I wanted it to be about the two sides of the painting— the scaffolding on the left and the buildings along the top right— and the conversation between them.  I like the repeating squares that appear in each, and the relationship between the reds on the left and the blues on the right.  I’m still not sure if the lights are too bright.  We’ll see when it’s dry.

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In situ

A while back, Leon asked if I would post more pictures of the paintings “in situ.”  Last weekend we went over to Joel and Wendy’s and I got some pictures of the paintings up in their lovely house.  Here’s the Queensboro Bridge painting in their living room:

I can’t believe how small it looks here!

They hung this painting of Port Chalmers, New Zealand in their bedroom.  It was hard to get a shot of it but the blues in the painting worked really well with their comforter.

And speaking of in situ, it just happened that David was wearing the purple linen pants I made him last summer, which I never managed to get a picture of.  Can’t see the contrast topstitching from here, or the funky waistband.  But this is pretty much what they look like.

Made me super happy to see my friends enjoying things I made!

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Body

I’m finding that there’s  another layer I need to think about in paintings.  I started this one the same way I’ve been doing the others.  First a pencil sketch gone over in dark gray paint:

Then I set up the tones and values in my favorite 5-color earth-tone palette:

Normally I would think, great now add the jewelry!  But clearly it needed something else first.  So I started working on the “body” layer, mixing a few drops of brighter pigment into my earth tones, and layering more distinct brushstrokes over the base.  Suddenly the painting had depth:  the sharper edges on these strokes, and the more saturated color, brought the foreground forward, letting the underpainting recede.  I guess in a way I’ve been doing this since the first rainy day paintings.  But this was the first time I really put together what was going on— and so was able to control it.  In a watercolor you always work from light to dark, adding shadows and building up contrast.  As you get better you learn to think through the image that way before you start.  In oils (for me anyway) it seems like you work back to front, first sketching in the distance and then gradually constructing the nearby world.  At least I think I will play with that idea for a while.

Here’s how the painting looked at the end of the weekend.  The white of the street needs to be toned down a little, and you can see that I’ve still avoided putting in the dreaded cars.  But I do like the feel of it, especially the sense of depth and the loose sketchiness of the brushstrokes.  I think the fact that my paintings are starting to look like my sketches is a sign that I’m getting more fluent.  Learning to paint really does feel like learning a new language.  But drawing is still my native tongue.

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Burda maternity wrap

Ok, so it’s not the finest example of stretch rayon jersey sewing technique.  Whatever.  This is a great dress.

Side view.  Yup, definitely pregs:

Unfortunately my first foray into walking feet didn’t go so well.  I ordered this one from Amazon which looks identical to the official Kenmore one:

BUT, it kept getting stuck with the lever arm at the top and the foot clamped down, causing the stitches to bunch up even more.  Talk about frustrating!  I should probably just go ahead and order the “real” one but I’m worried it will have the same problem.

I can tell sewing this kind of fabric is going to take a bunch of practice and engineering.  But it seems like it’s worth it because it’s super comfortable to wear.  Here are a couple tricks I used to finish this one:

1) Stabilized the bottoms of the armscyes with clear elastic:

(Please ignore my less-than straight stitches.)  The pattern called for vilene bias tape but I used elastic as I didn’t have any.  I added it after everything was sewn together but before finishing these seams and I think it worked well.  At first I tried stabilizing the whole neckline with elastic but I didn’t like the way it felt, so ripped it out.

2) Used tissue paper to keep the fabric from bunching:

Of course I didn’t figure out to do this till after most everything was sewed up in its nice bunchy way, but I did use this on the hem and it worked beautifully.  I just pinned the hem in place and stuck a bit of spare pattern paper between the top layer of fabric and the presser foot (I found I liked the open toed foot best for sewing this knit).  This kept the fabric sliding evenly under the foot. The only tricky part was holding the stitches down while I (carefully) ripped away the tissue paper afterwards.  Especially because this was a double-needle stitch with a looser bobbin thread and there was some tendency for the the stitches to stretch out when I pulled on the paper.

3)  I made the bodice and skirt separately and pinned them together to test how much the skirt weight would stretch out the top before sewing them together.  I also stabilized this waist seam with the elastic which I think helped distribute the weight a bit more evenly.

Again, the top of this dress is Burda 5456 and the bottom is Burdastyle 06-2010-132.  I cut a 40 for the top and somewhere between a 38 and 40 for the skirt.  (I guess this was my first time using a pattern from the magazine and I haven’t quite got the hang of adding seam allowance yet.)  I will definitely be making this again as a non-maternity dress, and probably as a top as well.  A couple things I would do differently next time:

  • I cut the skirt back with a CB seam but it ended up being almost totally straight.  So next time I would omit this and cut it on the fold.
  • The shoulders were really wide, even stabilized with bias tape.  I had to take them in about 1/2-5/8″ each.
  • I added 3/8″ to the bottom of the front bodice as a kind of FBA.  But I found I needed to take about a 2″ wedge off the end of the wrap part because the distance across the bottom of the wrap was much shorter than the distance over the top.  Next time I would take the wedge out under the bust point.  I might sew some elastic just into the wrap part as well.
  • I took about 5/8″ off the bottom of the back bodice because of the stretch produced by the skirt.  But I should have taken more.  The empire line dips down in back rather than being parallel to the floor.

Oh, I almost forgot tip #4) I used Mikhaela’s trick to keep the gathers on the skirt the right length when sewing.  After I pulled the gathers together I put pins at the ends and wrapped the bobbin threads God’s Eye-style around the pin to hold them in place.  Thanks Mikhaela!

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Virtual Sewing

I keep meeting and hearing about women who continue to do amazing things while they are pregnant.  Those who keep jogging through month 8, those who continue to dance, jog, do yoga, stand on their heads.

Me not so much.

I finished the blue jersey dress but haven’t gotten around to taking a picture of it yet.   And I sketched out the drawing for my next New York painting last weekend, but I’ve been too tired in the evenings to break into the paints yet.

Mostly I come home, stretch out on the couch, and spend the evenings fiddling around on the computer:

Yes, there are some summer/maternity things I’d still like to make.  But mostly I’ve been thinking about fall/post-maternity sewing.  I’ve been eagerly following Mary Nanna’s non-planned SWAP, and Amanda’s post-maternity sewing.  I’ll admit I’m jealous that she knows exactly how long it will take for her body to return to normal.  Personally, I’m not even sure what “normal” is anymore.  And it feels like too much of a risk to make things to fit my old shape.  Do I really want to find in October or November that the skirt I made is never going to fit and I’ve wasted a perfectly good piece of fabric?  Not really.

The pattern review wardrobe contest calls for 4 tops, 4 bottoms, 1 free choice, and 1 “topper” that can be worn with all the others.  I think, though, that a better wardrobe for me is 2-3 tops, 2-3 bottoms, and 2-3 cardigans.  I wear a zip- or open-front sweater pretty much every day, summer or winter, for the temperature control and the extra pockets, and I am always looking for more.  It has to be stretchy (not a woven jacket) to give me enough arm mobility for experiments.  Hip-length seems to be the most versatile.  Oh yeah and I might have washed and shrank my black cafe cardigan from last year so I am down one hip-length open-front black top.

This layout was mostly about playing with colors.  I’m not really sure about the patterns.  Probably I will end up making 3 of the same mid-length A-line skirt, since that is my favorite shape to wear, and 3 more cafe cardigans.  (The teal one is going to be a cafe cardigan with a hood, and I might go ahead and make that this summer since it is open in the front and can be worn just fine with a large protruding belly.)  Also the tops may all turn out to be drapey tunic-length cowlnecks.  But I thought I’d make an effort to branch out into some more different shapes, at least in my hypothetical sewing.  The poofy-lapel jacket for the orange wool in the top right is the biggest departure.  It’s from this year’s February Burdamag and probably too dramatic for me, but I keep turning back to it so maybe.

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New colors and fighting with knits

Before I got addicted to buying fabric I was addicted to buying paints.  Watercolor paints, specifically, and mostly from the Daniel Smith website, which once upon a time had the nice feature of listing their well-photographed colors in order of color rather than alphabetically, and letting you select and arrange color swatches before you bought them (sound familiar?).  After a while I found myself converging to a basic palette of about 16-18 colors.  And when I switched to oils a couple years ago I kept more-or-less the same set of pigments:

As you can see my palette is heavy on the earth tones and primaries.  Not a whole lot of really bright colors and very few secondaries (orange, green , purple).  I find I can mix most of the colors I want from here, but lately I’ve been running into a few that are hard to get to.  Specifically, stoplights, which appear in all of my city scenes, and whose greens and reds form the “jewelry” in a lot of recent paintings.  So Sunday I went down to the art supply store and picked up these:

I’m kind of looking forward to playing with some new colors.  I also picked up some damar varnish, which I thought I would try using to mix a glazing medium.  I usually just use linseed oil and OMS (a more refined turpentine) to make my mediums, but I always find that my glazing mediums break up when I try to lay them over another layer of paint.

In case you think that all I do these days is buy stuff for projects without using them, here’s my progress so far on the burda maternity wrap dress (a hybrid of envelope pattern 5456 and magazine pattern 06-2010-132):

Overall I think this is going to be a great dress but sewing this stretchy jersey knit is driving me crazy!  I feel like I must be missing the appropriate tools.  I have a stretch needle and a twin needle, but the fabric keeps bunching up as it is squeezed under the presser foot.  The center back seam is all bunchy (after 3 attempts to sew it properly.  The neckline kept pulling in as I was trying to topstitch it:

And the hem of the wrap part got all stretched out:

Then of course there’s the problem of the fabric stretching out under its own weight.  Having run into this problem before, I made up the bodice and skirt sections separately and pinned them together to see how it stretched.  It was pretty ugly— the back bodice stretched by about two inches!  I tried two things to fix this— taking about and inch out at the horizontal seams, and pinning elastic into the waistline seam so the skirt could rest a little on my belly and not all hang from the shoulders of the dress.  Both helped, but the bottoms of the armseyes still look all distended.  Ugh.

I’m wondering if getting a walking foot will help with the fabric bunching since it seems that the main problem with bunching is too much pressure from the presser foot (I don’t think the pressure can be adjusted on my machine).  I was also thinking of getting some fusible bias tape because I keep reading about this stuff on sewing forums and blogs and it seems that lots of people swear by it (can you also use this stuff on seams that are intended to stay stretchy?).  But any advice you can offer would be really appreciated.  I do like this pattern and plan to make this dress again, at least in a non-maternity version.

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