Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sewing Tool: Frixion Gel Pens

I want to share a little tip with y'all.  I've recently been using Frixion pens as a marking tool and they are really neat.

I heard about them from other corsetmakers who use them to mark bone channels and seam allowances.  They aren't designed as sewing tools, but as erasable gel pens.  They erase from the heat of friction, which means the heat of an iron makes the ink magically disappear.

See what I mean:

 Here I've drawn a straight line with the blue pen on some scrap white coutil.  I've been using this to mark the stitching lines for all the channels on my 18th century corset and it's really useful.

And here's what happens when you hit it with an iron.  It's instant, so you have to be careful if you're ironing something and don't WANT to erase all your lines yet.

And here it is completely ironed.  You can see the ink totally disappears.  Here you can make out the white line where it was, but it's not something you'd spot from any distance and it doesn't show up on most fabrics.  Always test your fabrics first, of course.

The only problem with these is they don't work on black so I still have to use chalk a lot of the time.

I also was recently making some little storage bags and realized how super useful they were for marking all the pocket lines and zipper lines, etc.  So I thought I'd share since they are so useful for all kinda of sewing.

Monday, May 18, 2015

State of the Baroness May 2015

So, what have I been up to?  Well, as I mentioned previously, my husband and I have been doing a lot of home improvement projects.  We painted our kitchen cabinets and are just finishing painting one of our bathrooms.  We had a big yard sale to get rid of a lot of stuff.

And I've been rearranging and organizing my sewing room.  We got rid of a computer desk and a sewing cabinet that was in there in the yard sale, and Justin (my husband) just finished some big shelves in their place to hold all my STUFF.

I've been working on a few corset commissions here and there, and also doing some sewing for myself.  I'm still working on my steampunk stays, if you remember my post about fitting back many months ago. They're almost finished, but I'm hand-sewing the binding on, which is a PITA and taking forever.  Here's a photo of them without binding or straps.

I've made myself a few quick pieces as well.  I realized I had a real hole in my steampunk wardrobe for casual steampunk clothing.  I had only two yards of this awesome Tim Holtz measuring tape fabric that I originally bought for a bag.  But I used every last inch of it, and made myself a skirt.  Then I used the Laughing Moon underbust pattern and made myself a lightweight waist cincher out of faux leather.  Here's those two items together.

The top is a silk thrift store top and the hat is a vintage one I picked up at an estate sale last weekend.  I bought 4 black velvet hats!  I'll be selling the rest of them.

I have several things on the horizon.  I haven't attended any cons FOREVER, partly for health reasons, partly for financial reasons.  I've had to reevaluate my business and if vending events is really a good financial decision, in many cases deciding it isn't.

But I am super excited because I WILL be attending A-Kon in Dallas in June.  A-Kon was my very first con, and my first time dressing steampunk, but I haven't been able to make it back for years.  I was offered the opportunity to vend at the steampunk ball on Friday night of the con, so I'll be doing that, and also enjoying the rest of the con as an attendee for once!  This means I suddenly need to get finished with some projects I've been meaning to do for a while.

I also am planning two corset making workshops this summer, and I've been doing some prep work for those, but the details aren't firm yet.

So that's what I'm up to.  Mostly.  :)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A few more new Steamy Patterns

Today and tomorrow Joann's has Simplicity patterns for $0.99.  So naturally I'm going to pick up some things.  I don't even care I will probably never use so many of my patterns.  WHAT IF I NEED THEM ONE DAY?

Simplicity has a couple new patterns that might be of interest for steampunk.

First is Simplicity 1138, which they call a "Dark Faerie" costume.  It definitely has steampunk potential.  I like the vest and jacket (and that they don't call the vest a corset!).

Next it seems they are re-releasing their Civil War Undergarments pattern with a new pattern number.  The photos at least are the same as they were.  It would be nice if they had changed the sizing of the corset to be more accurate, but assuming they haven't remember to go down two sizes from whatever their chart says.

I'm not sure if this was out-of-print for a while or not, but it's a decent pattern for period clothing, so it's good to have.

Butterick has one new Victorian era pattern, a rather boring maid outfit or plain dress.  I mean, if you want to do a maid, you're in luck!   But it's probably more useful for theater than steampunk.

I have some exciting things coming for this blog and happening behind the scenes; don't worry about the lack of frequent posting, I have not given up, I'm just reorganizing my life right now.  :)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Can You Put A Corset in a Washing Machine?

So, one of the most common questions about corsets is how to clean them.  Usually the answer is Dry Cleaning, because that's a safe option for most everything.

But if you're like me, you're way too lazy to take a corset to the cleaners, and you want options.  First, I recommend always laying a corset flat, with the inside facing up when you take it off.  This allows  moisture and odor to evaporate instead of setting into the fabric.  You can freshen a corset by spraying it with a mixture of 50/50 water/vodka to remove odors.  (You could also use Febreze, but it tends to leave a residue some people dislike.)  For stains you can spot clean a corset with water/soap/stain remover, depending on the outer fabric.  (Silk may permanently stain with water.)

I tend to keep my corsets in shape with a combination of the above techniques and it works fairly well for my occasionally worn costume corsets.  But for my daily wear corsets, those are not enough.  I wear my corsets around the house, on the outside of my clothes, and I do a lot in them.  I try to wear an apron when doing something messy, but I often forget.  I cook, sew, and craft in my corsets, so there are often things spilled or sprayed on them.

My previous daily wear corset got particularly grungey.  I had gotten flour on it while baking, as well as who knows what else.  Spot cleaning wasn't going to work.  So I figured What The Hell and threw it in the washing machine.

The reasons usually given for not machine washing corsets are that the water will cause the bones to rust, and that it may shrink the fabric.  If you have a corset with fancy exterior, like silk or with any embellishment this is obviously not recommended and you're going to need to head to the dry cleaners.

But this corset was a one layer cotton coutil corset, so I wasn't really worried.  When the wash cycle was finished I threw the corset in the dryer, too.  Let's go for broke.  If it had been a nice, hot day I would have set it out flat in the sun to dry, but it was cold and rainy.

So what happened?  Well there was some shrinkage of the coutil.  Coutil is generally not pre-washed because the fabric contains sizing to make it stiff.  I didn't do any scientific measurement of the corset before/after but it fit a little more snugly.  It felt a big like an un-seasoned corset again.  As it had been worn daily for several months at that point, I didn't mind.  It had started to feel a bit stretched out.

I wore the corset for another six months, and machine washed it a second time in those months.  (I didn't notice any shrinkage the second time.)

And finally the corset reached the end of it's life.  I had already patched a couple of worn spots and one of the flat steel bones at the back snapped in two.  So I took the corset apart, and inspected the bones.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

New Steampunk Sewing Patterns, umm, yeah...

Sooooo.  McCall's has a new steampunk pattern out.

It's umm, interesting.

It includes chaps, harness thing, some pouches, gun holster thing, piece of leather tied to your arm, and two sizes of top hat.

I mean, I get that leather is a big component of steampunk, but I think someone got that confused with a leather fetish scene or something.  This really feels more Leather Bar than steampunk to me.

It could just be the obviously shoddy material used for the sample, but...seriously?

Why is there a piece of leather to buckle on your arm?  Just a rectangle of leather.

The hats are not really bad, though I doubt the actual construction instructions are worth much, judging from the way his hat looks about to crumple in permanently.  But it might be worth paying $1 for some top hat patterns.  And usable pouches, I guess.

I just really hope poorly constructed faux leather chaps are not something I start seeing everywhere in steampunk.

None of the other major brands have released their summer patterns yet, so if there's anything to report I'll post again.  But I HAD to share this ASAP.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Review: Prudence by Gail Carriger

 Prudence by Gail Carriger

On Saturday I had the chance to go to a signing by Gail Carriger at Murder by the Book in Houston.  Gail is one of my favorite authors, not only of steampunk but in general.  I've been hugely pleased with her most recent books in the Finishing School series.

The signing was delightful, with Gail being her amazing, charming, and stylish self.  It was the second signing of her I attended so I got all the Finishing School books signed as well as Prudence.

And then I got to actually read this book.  Prudence is the first book in a new series called "The Custard Protocol."  Prudence is the daughter of the Alexia Maccon, the protagonist of the Parasol Protectorate series so this is a "Next Generation" type series.

As such it spends a lot of time introducing the reader to the cast of characters and setting up the premise.  Prudence ("Rue") is given a state-of-the-art airship by her adoptive father Lord Akeldama and sent on a mission to India to secure rights to a special breed of tea.   She assembles a crew and heads off, fairly unprepared for the complicated political climate she's entering.

Gail said in the signing that this series is intended to be an ensemble cast, and she's done a good job giving us four interesting main characters.  Rue and Primrose are best friends from childhood, Rue being the impetuous, adventurous one, and Primrose being more proper and fashionable.  Quesnel Lefoux is the romantic interest for Rue, a cocky French engineer.  Percy is Primrose's twin brother, an easily distracted intellectual snob.  They're well suited for adventures and comedy of manners.  I wish they had slightly more diverse backgrounds, though, as they are all privileged, upper class young adults raised by supernatural parents.

The actual plot of this book is a little thin and feels squeezed into the second half of the book.  There's not all that much that actually takes place in India and very little of that takes place in Indian society.  Pretty much all of the interactions Rue and friends have are with British citizens or native supernatural species.  So it's a book that travels to India that has pretty much no Indian people in it.  The native supernaturals are Indian, but don't really get much in the way of personality or development.

This series is meant to be all about travel through the British empire, but I'm not that comfortable with how it engages with British Imperialism.  It comes down decidedly on the side of imperialism with the justification that England is better than other countries, essentially.  While there is an attempt to show how imperialism leads to problems with native populations the solution to that problem is to strengthen the Empire and forge new treaties between Britain and the natives, essentially to impose British law more forcefully on India.  Frankly all of this earns this book a massive side-eye from me, especially with the total lack of Indian characters.

This is the only photo I took Saturday, of my tentacle nails.
I gave Gail a sheet of them as well.
  If you need some, email me!
Furthermore this book feels very similar to the Parasol Protectorate.  I was looking forward to seeing this universe 20 years later and looking forward to new technology, advancements, etc, but really I can't think of any that were showcased.  The Finishing School books felt like they took place in a distinct social, technological, and aesthetic environment from the Parasol Protectorate, but this feels very same-y.

So ultimately I have to count myself disappointed.  I had really high hopes for this book and it didn't live up to them.  I feel like this is the weakest book Gail has released, and she seems to be really struggling with this new series.   On the bright side I enjoyed the characters and the budding romance, so I won't be abandoning the series or anything.