Saturday 30 March 2013

No Side Seams Baby Pants

Got a pile of fabric scraps or old t-shirts?  Because they are perfect for making baby pants!
Of course, it probably costs peanuts to buy basic garments like these, but hey, you need to use up those scraps, right?  You can upcycle some old t-shirts and whip up a whole pile of little pants in an hour, while riding the moral high horse of only using your own slave labour.

These pants only have three seams, not including the hemming.  Freaking awesome.

For this project you will need:
  • existing pants that fit to make a pattern from
  • tracing paper and basic draughting tools
  • not much fabric or old t-shirts.  I made mine from merino and cotton scraps.
  • waistband elastic
  • twin stretch needle
  • wooly nylon thread for the bobbin on the sewing machine and one of the lower loopers on the overlocker
1. Lay flat your baby pants and trace them to make a pattern.  There are a couple of things to remember.  Firstly, you will need to stretch the waistband to get a true measurement for your pattern.  Secondly, you need to add seam allowance to the inner leg (I use 1cm) and extra length for the leg hem (2cm) and waistband (3cm).
 2.  Grab your fabric and cut on fold, twice.

3.  With the right sides together pin the front and back crotch seams and overlock.  If you're using thicker fabric that's quite stable, you won't even have to use pins, which makes overlocking quite a bit faster because you don't have to slow down to take out the pins.  I often have dreadful visions of going over a pin.  Arhhh the horror!

4. Now you can fold the Daliesque rectangle into something that actually looks like pants!  Pin and overlock the inner leg seam, making sure that the crotch seams don't shift.  Ugh, mismatched seams are an abomination.

5.  Fold and pin the top to make the waistband elastic casing.
Fold the seam allowance in the same direction to make sure it lies flat and doesn't twist
6.  Do the same with hemming the legs.

7.  Using the twin needle, hem the legs and sew around the waistband.  For the latter you need to leave enough of a gap for the elastic to fit and also leave a gap between the start and end of the stitch for pulling the elastic through.  I always make that the back of the garment.  I went colour mental here and used contrasting thread.

8.  Nearly finished!  Stick a safety pin in one end of the elastic and pull through the waistband casing. 

9.  Stitch the elastic ends together and wiggle the waistband to pull the elastic inside its casing.

Sweet.  Done.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

'71 MGB Race Car Clock

The making of an analogue time piece.
A bit over a year ago we rather ambitiously went on a frenzied but rewarding mission making everyone's Christmas presents.  I managed to document some of the projects in a timely manner, but lost steam half way through, letting the process photos gather the digital equivalent of dust and cobwebs.  Perhaps, it's time to unearth another one of those undertakings.

One gift I didn’t have to think hard about for a clock for my other half.  Well, there was a lot of thinking involved, but that involved resolving the design details as opposed to coming up with the concept.  We have a garage/workshop, which is my husband’s greasy second home.  He didn’t have a clock and couldn’t get his phone out of his pocket with filthy hands to check the time, so there were frequent issues with punctuality, especially around dinner time.  I set out to resolve this persistent concern with something of design significance to this wonderful man: his 1971 MGB race car.
MGB in action.  Photo taken by some race meeting photographer
I had the design finalised by mid November and cut the first prototype.  I gleefully patted myself on the back for being so organised with the whole Christmas whatsitnow.  The plywood clock face had the design engraved into it, and then the design was cut separately out of card and inlaid into the wood recess.  It worked perfectly, so I sent the files to the fabricator to have the inlay components cut out of brass.  After not hearing back from them for a few weeks, I got slightly anxious and called them, only to be told that they couldn’t cut brass and that they had emailed me about the issue.  The email must have been eaten by the internets because I never received it.  I really wanted the vintage look of brass, but by then it was too late to find another fabricator, so I made the decision to use stainless steel instead.  At least that would match the chrome of the car.
Plywood and card mock up.  The card pieces fit perfectly into the laser engraving in the plywood
I firmly decided to avoid a last minute mad making panic A La Design School, so I forcefully crossed my fingers in hope of getting my parts back on time.  I couldn’t work on any other components until the metal parts arrived, so when I was told ten days before the deadline that my files were unreadable (despite being especially converted for industrial CAD cutters), I developed a persistent twitch to accompany my morning sickness.  What followed was a series of phone conversations with the fabricator where I had to convince them that the design was to be cut exactly as specified – I’d already prototyped it, and it worked, and no extra bridges were needed.  Yes, yes Cut As Is, Please I Know What I'm Doing scenario.

Finally, on the 21st of December, at the end of the work day, I had the parts personally delivered by the lovely factory manager.  I gave him tasty jam to say "thank you".  
Thank You jam
I spent the next morning frantically and painstakingly grinding off the unavoidable bridges between the laser piercing points to get my parts out of the unyielding sheet.  I wished I had a Dremmel and not a gutless little rotary tool.  Anyone who’s worked with stainless steel is familiar with its pervasive attribute for eliciting coarse language.  After much swearing, sweating and bleeding I had all the metal bits separated and laid out.  Fortunately, the parts turned out about 95% accurate to the design, which meant only minor tweaking of the original drawing to get the engraving of the clock face identical to the unchangeable stainless components.
Grinding off waste material
Steel parts ready for cleaning
Next came the inlay prep work.  Firstly, when you laser cut wood, you can't just grab the cut part and expect it to be good enough for a product.  I see those examples in the market place all the time, and it bugs the hell out of me.   A laser beams is basically a very concentrated fire.  It burns.  Intensely.  People seem to be surprised by that.  The heat causes charring on the material surface, in the direction of the pull of the extraction.  Quite a bit of sanding is required to tidy up the laser cut parts.
Sanding the clock  face

After all that grind, it was time for some serious effort to inlay the springy, shiny steel parts into the engraving without making a mess.  Getting the intricate MG cut-out to stay flat was remarkably difficult and incredibly frustrating.
Gluing in the metal parts
Oh the terrible glue mess!
Painstaking sanding the glue off the plywood without scratching the metal
Tidied inlay
Next step is sealing the clock to make sure that the wood lasts well.  I  decided on a spray lacquer.  Unfortunately I couldn't get into a ventilated paint booth, so had to do the spraying outdoors, at the mercy of Wellington wind.
Deciding between a wax and a lacquer.  Wax and metal should have been quite obviously a dumb idea.
Spray lacquering in a mostly sheltered alleyway.  The back clock panel is thick enough to accommodate the mechanism
I was on the receiving end of some suspicious looks from people who must have mistaken me for a tagging delinquent.  Several lacquer coats later the clock face was ready for its pointy hands.  I bought a cheap clock mechanism and swapped its paper thin aluminium hands for my custom cut ones.  Two days before Christmas the clock was finally complete and ready to be packaged into an insanely beautiful box made from some cardboard scrap.  
Nothing beats a brown cardboard box
Leather MGB gift tag
The clock has been a functional workshop feature ever since.

Monday 25 March 2013

RSS Panic

When Google announced the death of its Reader, I had to read the news several times to let it sink in.  I was aghast.

I heavily rely on the RSS aggregate, and the thought of losing such easy and immediate access to all my favourite design and tech blogs made me twitch with nervousness.  What?  What?  Whaaaaatt??!!  NOOOOOOOOO!!!!  After scanning recommendations from various tech publications I've transferred my RSS feeds to Feedly.  It was such a painless process that I think I'll forget about the existence of Google Reader within a week.  So much for loyalty!

Saturday 23 March 2013

Orlik the Owl Onesie

Fabric stamping using laser cut shapes.

Over the years of making of stuff using the wizz-bangery black magic of the laser cutter, I've accumulated a bunch of various cut out little shapes that started their life as prototypes.
All of my designs undergo prototyping iterations that are threatening to take over my house

This stainless steel and bamboo brooch was first prototyped in various materials like acrylic, card and styrene
Recently I had a thought.  At first I wasn't sure what that was.  My head went all funny, and steam came out of my ears.  I assumed that I was about to kick the bucket, but then realised that my grey cells were getting all excited over something creative.  I imagined using these little shapes as stamps, and the limitless textile ornamentation options that would yield, and my brain went all woozy with excitement.

I grabbed a onesie, a clear acrylic Orlik the Owl, a little pot of black fabric paint and tweezers.  I poured a little bit of paint into the lid of the pot and holding the plastic fowl with the tweezers I dipped it into the paint.  I was so impatient to see the end result, that I didn't even bother attaching a handle to the stamp.  Next time I'll use some double-sided tape and a bottle cork or a soda bottle lid to make a handle.

I carefully removed the stamp from the paint and positioned it on the fabric.  The paint bled a bit in places, and the stamp coverage wasn't even.  I called this a "sample" to convince myself that the imperfections were trivial.  *Ahem*.

I stamped another onesie with an acrylic snowflake, and the [low] quality was similar to the owl stamping.  The obvious verdict, which I was pretty certain of from the start, is that acrylic is an inappropriate choice of material for stamping because it's too smooth, and the paint runs straight off.  More suitable materials that are easily laser cut are cork, plywood and MDF (after a bit of scuffing).  I'll post some experiments with those another time.

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Shirred Overalls Tutorial

Adding to my recently acquired doming obsession (courtecy of a Christmas gift of a domer), I've gone on a shirring craze. Like the saying goes "when you're a hammer, everything is a nail".  Shirring is a relatively simple sewing technique, and while the elastic thread needed for it is a bit on the pricey side, you don't use that much of it for baby clothes.  One spool of elastic thread will probably shir a tube long enough to stack at least five babies in it.  However, I would not recommend this as an experiment.  Here's a detailed step-by-step shirring tutorial.

You will need:
  • Lightweight knit made from a natural fibre, such as cotton, modal or bamboo.  An old t-shirt would work great also.  I used a crinkle cotton with a thin, grey/charcoal stripe.
  • Sewing thread
  • Wooly nylon thread for the bobbin on the sewing machine and one of the lower loopers on the overlocker
  • Shirring elastic 
  • Twin stretch needle
  • Non-satin ribbon for shoulder strap ties.  Satin ribbons get sheared when sewn through
  • Domes or snap fasteners. 
1. Cut out the bodice.  Clearly I didn't spend too much time on pattern draughting here.  I based the measurements on an existing well-fitting garment, but added about 20% extra to the width.  Obviously you need a front and a back - the photo shows fabric folded in half.
cut out the fabric

 2.  In addition to the bodice, you need to cut out front and back facing for the straps, a crotch gusset (again, I used an existing garment as a size and shape reference) and inner leg facings that are not shown in the photo.  They need to be 3cm wide strips of fabric to span the inner leg seam (long edge along the grain). 
See, not that many pieces!

3. With the right sides together sew the sides of the garment.  Do the same with the facings for the straps.  Then with the right sides together pin the facing to the garment.  Extra-easy when front and back are identical.  Insert the ribbons into the seams of strap ends, pin in place and sew all the way around the garment.
Sewn sides and straps

Turn the right way out

4. Decide which side is the back and attach the more rounded edge of the gusset to the centre back of the bodice.  The most precise way of doing this is folding the gusset in half to locate the centre, do the same with the bodice back, and then match the centres with the right sides together.  Pin from the centre out and check that the gusset is pinned evenly and not stretched out of shape on one side.  Then sew together.
Attach gusset

5. With the right sides together attach the facings to the inside of the legs.  Just like in previous step, start from the centres and pin out to the ends before sewing.
Attach leg facings

6.  Turn the facings inside and stay stitch them in place using a twin needle.  If you don't have a twin needle, use a zigzag stitch instead.  This creates a stretchy seam.
Stay stitch facings

7.  Hem the legs using the twin needle/zigzag stitch.
Hem the legs

8.  Stay stitch the strap stitching to the bodice.  You can even use a straight stitch for this because the elastication of the shirring will remove any tension from it.  It's possible to skip this step, but then there is a risk of the fabric layers shifting in the next step.
Stay stitch the strap facing

9. Starting from one of the side seams sew a continuous line of shirring around and around the bodice.  Keep the lines parallel by lining up the edge of the foot with the stitching.  You will end on the same side seam where you started.  I think I sewed ten lines of shirring here.
Shir the bodice
Nearly finished!

 10. Add domes or snap fasteners to the inside seams of the legs.

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