Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Curious How the Dress Turned Out?

Finished quite a while ago, but here are some photos from the costume ball. The dress has been on display since. I also made the costume for my friend, pictured with me. We won the prize for best costume, by the way...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Decisions, Decisions: Dyeing the Silk for My Marie Antoinette Gown

So I was very excited when my silk taffeta came today (all 15 yards of it!) until I opened the box and realized it was not quite the color I expected. I was looking for sort of a Robin's Egg Blue color, and from the description and photo, this seemed like it would be perfect. Unfortunately, it is super goldy-green, not at all a good color for an albino blonde such as myself. So it looks like I will have to dye it.

 Behold, the golden-green fabric.
What is interesting about this fabric is that it is a "shot" taffeta, which means that the cross threads are a different color than the ones that run up and down. In this case the two shades are buttercup yellow and robin's egg blue. The buttercup yellow threads are what is giving off the golden haze. The challenge with dyeing this fabric is preserving the shot. If I make it too light, then both threads will become white essentially and I will lose some of the shimmer effect of the shot. On the other hand, it is so pale that the contrast of the shot doesn't really have that noticeable an effect (compared to red shot with black, for instance). So maybe I just shouldn't worry about it? I did some preliminary test swatches using various stages of color removal, optic whitener, and blue dye and came up with some interesting conclusions.

Here you can see from left to right: 
1) 100% color removed + optic whitener 
2) 100% color removed
3) 75% color removed + optic whitener (top) and without (bottom)
4) 50% color removed + optic whitener + blue dye
5) 50% color removed
6) 50% color removed + blue dye
7) and 8) 100% color removed plus blue dye
9) (center bottom) Original color

Just looking at the colors, I can tell that whatever I do I will need to lighten it at least 50% to get a color I can work with. To whiten silk, I use a product called White Brite which you can get at some grocery stores, Harris Teeter included. It's sodium hydrosulfite and sodium bisulfite which are safe for removing color from silk. You should never use chlorine bleach on silk. First, it doesn't really work that well on dyed silk. Second, it will damage and discolor your fabric. General note, whenever you are working with silk, using very hot water (140 -160 degrees) is a very good idea. The heat won't hurt it, and it cuts down the time your fabric has to be exposed to the bleaching or dyeing chemicals.

I am also thinking that I will need to use the optic whitener if I do not decide to take all of the color out. Optic whitener is a kind of dye that adds a UV tint to whites, making them super copy-paper white. It is used to color most white fabric, as natural fibers are never this white. It's also the reason that your sheets are never as glowing white after you bleach them (the bleach takes out the optic whitener). Excited about this product? You can order it from Dharma Trading along with any and every kind and color of dye you can imagine. 

In my experiment I found that the optic whitener tends to make a big difference, but only where the buttercup color  has gotten very close to white or cream. It did not make a difference on the original color fabric where the yellow tone was still present. I really only found the difference noticeable on the super white swatch (#1) and the 50% color removed + blue swatch (#4). 

Comparing the sheen and finish on all of these, I'm now convinced that I shouldn't worry too much about preserving the shot. The silk is shiny and pretty on its own. 

So this just leaves me with one question... which one? #4 seems to be a good compromise between blue and green, whereas the two blues on the end could be pretty as well. Must keep in mind that the trim I have chosen is silver toned. This will make a difference.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Lesson 12. Let Them Eat Cake: The Making of an 18th Century Court Gown (My Marie Antoinette Dress!)

So I'm going to a Baroque themed masqued ball in Atlanta next month, which my dear friend is in charge of putting on. It benefits a French language theatre called Theatre du Reve. You can get tickets here Bal Masque if you are interested. I'm oh-so-excited about this event because it gives me an excuse to make something I have always wanted to make. A big ridiculous Marie Antoinette style court dress, comme ca:

 I rarely work from a pattern, so I've been using some great internet resources to try to plan this out. Claudine's Idle Hands Blog has been extremely useful.

The first step is of course the pannier hoop skirt, which gives the dress its distinctive shape. To make it you need stretch free fabric and steel banding to make the hoops. The easiest way to get the banding is to go to a lumberyard and ask for steel lumber strapping. They will give it to you for free if you can use the stuff they have taken off of wood bales and are going to throw away, or you can buy it from them new for about $0.30 cents a foot. It comes on a giant reel and you have to wind it up and tape it to transport it. I cut up an old bed sheet for the fabric component, although you can splurge and use silk or something like Claudine did.

Working without a pattern means one thing, of course, lots of math and some trial and error. I started just by making an ellipse on the floor with ribbon to decide what the bottom perimeter measurement needed to be. I settled on about 120", not wanting it to be too terribly big. Then I started graphing using some graph paper I generated online. Graph Paper Generator

To get the measurements, I basically drew out the shape I wanted the finished product to have, then I measured the distance across the skirt at 5 evenly spaced places. Using these figures, I created a set of ratios to represent the relationship of these measurements (with the bottom rung equalling 1 and the smaller ones equalling a fraction of 1). Then I multiplied the fractions by the number 120, which represents the desired size of the bottom. This gave me the sizes for all of the hoops and the information I needed to cut the skirt, which was just 2 identical bell shaped pieces.

This is my first shot of the pannier with the hoops installed. One thing about a pannier as opposed to a circular hoop is that the hoops have to be secured inside the skirt to make it elliptical. Otherwise it will tend to pop into the round no matter how you have cut the fabric. In this photo the bottom 3 hoops have yet to be secured, and the top two have just been tied into shape with embroidery floss. All of this while I was coming up with a good way to do the stay strings. It looks like Claudine used strings tied together, but I completely lack the coordination to tie things together which are under pressure, so I decided to engineer something that would be a little bit more controllable and adjustable.

What I came up with was kind of a string clasp mechanism like you see on brown envelopes. I attached a 1/8" ribbon to one side of the hoop and a button to the other side, allowing the string to be tightened and attached by winding the end of the string around the button.

 Shot from under the skirt looking up at the left side. Strings running from the front left to the back left part of the skirt. You can see the closure area for the hoops at the back.
Final product...


Not too bad, I think. Looks a lot like Claudine's, which was my goal.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Life Unnoticed?

So I suppose it has officially been long enough that I owe the internet world an update. Let's begin:

Ribbon Store: 
Check. I'm still just selling online, but I'm shipping at least 100 orders a month, which is enough to keep me from going nuts from boredom and gives me some small reason to get out of bed every day. If you're dying of curiosity, it's

Still standing. I don't think I've made any major unreported improvements, unless you count the shelf build-out I did for the laundry room (post later).

Personal Life:
Still married (apologies to all of those who lost big in my mother's "will they last a year?" office pool). Still have the kitties. Haven't de-friended anyone... yet. And I've basically decided that instead of trying to become a lawyer I should have gone to Hollywood and tried to become a movie star.

That last thing I said is actually not as far off base as I had originally intended it to be. I used to be quite involved in theatre, and if you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said that my ultimate life goal was to become an actress or a costume designer. But alas, the lie drew me in as is has so many others.  I speak of course of the promise that a law degree will serve as an instant passport to success and riches, cutting out all of that corporate-ladder-climbing nonsense, whilst also not demanding any particular kind of human talent. It all sounded so perfect. Guaranteed. Easy. Formulaic. For once, something I would not have to struggle to be better than everyone else at. It's science: take A, add J.D. get sexy 6-figure job on Easy Street. Yes, the lie. You know, I used to feel cheated by the lie, but now I have almost a fond sense of compassion for the whole ordeal. I try to look at the three-year life pause as a well needed break from my lifelong quest for indomitability. Law school did sort of coincide with my last real urge to try very hard at anything, so I'm not sure if apathy begat law school or vice versa, but there you have it.

I just had a birthday and I'm feeling old now. But of course, I've always felt old. It is so strange to look back on days where I had no clue what would become of me. It was an unsettling feeling then, but a positive one, I think. It made me at least believe that whatever happened and wherever I landed, it would be at the end of some kind of adventure - one that, of course, never happened thanks to my flirtation with the path of least resistance. Now I'm feeling like I have to redeem myself and my lost time. But I'm helpless. I fill my days with these little amusements and projects, but they never make me feel like it's anything I can be proud of. So much of it is accomplished within my little home world and I'm convinced that doesn't count. I think I'm letting my hermit tendencies get the best of me. It's always been a battle though. Socially, I tend towards lonerism, but I have this incredibly strong urge to be around people and, more than anything, to perform. Tricks, feats of trivia, comic musings, works of art and song... it doesn't matter I guess. Will work for recognition. And all because I am so painfully aware that my worst fear is a very real possibility. What if I can't help but lead a life unnoticed?

One of my favorite paintings. Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer Over a Sea of Mist. It's so lonely and full of longing, yet promising at the same time. I feel that way sometimes. Like the whole world is laid out at my feet but somehow obscured from me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lesson 11. Spiders Suck

Dear Spiders,

I think you know that I take a very compassionate stance on most issues. So you'll forgive my candor if I just come out and say it. I hate you. I hate you blindly and without reason. My hate is simple and pure. There is only one prerequisite, and you've got it. 8 legs.

Now some people will stand up and defend you and say that you're a vital part of the ecosystem or some enduring symbol of God's devotion to all creatures big and small. Bullsh*t. You and your kind are a public menace. Street thugs. And I'm not going to take it any more.

You come into my house and spin your little webs and string up some fluffy pod full of 1500 or so of your disgusting evil progeny, and you think I'm not going to notice? You think you can just waltz in here and take over the joint? And I'm supposed to be thankful? Because you eat gnats and other small winged insects? No way. I've got the Orkin man for that, so if you want to dine chez Juliet, you're going to have to take me down first. And I'm not going down without a fight.

And furthermore, tell your friends in the liberal media, that their propaganda campaign is NOT going to work on me. As soon as you start spinning multi-syllabic verbal delights on those repulsive little death nets you like to leave all over my basement, then we'll talk. Until then, my can of Raid Max and I will be here... waiting for you.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lesson 10. If at First You Don't Succeed, Scream and Break Things: The Ribbon Carousel

Yes, I'm back. And you can probably guess what I've been doing all this time. With the exception of a few therapeutic ribbon dyeing breaks and a whitewater rafting trip (more on this later), I've been trying to finish the mythical ribbon carousel. And here it is. In my not-so-attractive basement, aka The Lab. It's where the magic happens, what can I say.

So it's made. But not without a good story, of course. You see, the item that appears before you is not the only one of its kind. No, about 5 days ago another identical one was born, but as it came to pass, was exactly 1/2" too large to fit through my basement door. So I had the fun experience of busting the whole thing apart with a rubber mallet, cutting everything down an inch, and putting it all back together. Which was not fun, because it has about 150 pieces. Now it just needs to be painted and mounted on the base. I was thinking about doing a square base about 30" tall with storage drawers for extra ribbon not on display.

En train de making this beast, I also had a fun adventure of learning to make silicone molds. The little ribbon carvings are actually plaster casts I made of a wood carving I ordered from Van Dyke's Restorers. Originally I was going to put them at the top and the bottom, which would have been pricey, so I decided to cast many from one original. I ordered the original then went down to my local art supply store to get materials. I ended up getting both Smooth-on Oomoo 30 and Rebound 25, which are pour on and brush on mold silicones, respectively.

 I tried both, but I'm not sure I'd use either formulation in the future. The pour on kind made a good cast, but finding the right size container was a pain and my wooden carving wanted to float, letting the silicone get underneath. The brush on kind was a hassle because it takes 4 coats to get the mold thick enough, and I'm not sure the impression is quite as nice. What I really wanted was silicone putty, but it looks like I might have to order that from the internet. I used ordinary plaster of paris to make the carvings. I might rethink this too. They seem strong now but they were super fragile when I took them out of the molds. Maybe I should have just ordered the wooden ones.

And now for the whitewater rafting pic.

Yeah, you can't really see me in this picture and there's  reason for that. I had just taken a massive wave to the face and gotten knocked back into the seat behind me. Front left - you can kind of see my head.

Back to business. In other news I took some time out today to learn how to ombre dye ribbon. This was a bit tricky. You are supposed to get the gradient of color by dipping the ribbon into dye multiple times. The problem is that when you are working with a piece more than a few inches long you have to fold or wind the ribbon so you can hold it. As I found out this can create pattern problems as more dye soaks in on the outside layer because it is more exposed. The solution I found was to fold the ribbon really loosely and wiggle it vigorously into the dye. This seemed to drive the dye up in between the layers a little better.  I've been dyeing velvet but I would like to move on to some kind of taffeta if I can find one. What I really need is rayon but its not really produced in the US, which makes me crazy. I would have to import it.

I ended up sending this batch off to the mother of one of my friends. She is a florist and probably has a good eye for ribbon critiquing.

But alas, that's what I have been up to. I'm thinking about starting on the base for my carousel. Or maybe I should go exercise. Going to a charity ball on Saturday. Tried on the evening gown I bought last year during my pre-wedding fast-fest and let's just say it wasn't pretty. I kind of looked like a sausage in a too-tight casing. Depressing.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Major Plot Point Revealed

I didn't want to say anything until now. Perhaps because I wasn't sure myself if I was really going to do it. But now I think it's official.

I'm opening a store.

A ribbon store.

Photo of a cute ribbon store in San Francisco. My design will be a little bit different.  More 16e arrondissement, less Paris Flea Market

How me is that?

Somewhere between building that wall, repainting, making those curtains, and relight-fixturing every ceiling in the house, I developed this strange desire to branch out beyond my own familiar environs. Thus began a few month long search for my beruft, my true professional calling. I didn't know at first. The horrible thing about being fearless and moderately capable is that you quickly find out that you can do almost anything. So what should I do with myself? Build chandeliers? Decorate houses? Plan weddings? Design stationery? Bake cakes? The mind reels. So I sat down and used the reasoning skills that I paid so much to acquire.

What do I really want?
To have a place to go and share pretty things with the world where people will get to know me and notice what I do.

How should I do it?
As cheaply as possible in case I fall flat on my face?

What do people like?
Colorful things; low cost impulse purchases that make them feel happy for a few minutes.

And who doesn't love colorful grosgrains?
So I decided. I will open a ribbon store. But not just any store. This will be the Neiman Marcus of crafts. No fabric, no sewing machine parts, nothing to intimidate the novice crafter. All the icing, none of the cake.

So I decided to do this in earnest about a month ago and the weeks have flown by as I've plunged myself into planning and construction. I have thousands of yards of ribbon in my living room. I've been buying in great bulk and selling off my excess stock on ebay to finance the venture. The thing about ribbon is that you need variety, an overwhelming and carefully selected variety. Committing $50 to a huge roll of ribbon is tough. That's where ebay comes in. I sell off 2/3 of it, and I've paid for the quantity I will sell in the store. At least this is the plan. Hopefully my sales will catch up with my purchases.

I've also been building all of the fixtures for the store. I've decided that everything has to be custom and absolutely beautiful if I am going to create this sort of ribbon wonderland that I have in mind. So about a week ago I set off building some draft ribbon racks. This was the first prototype, built last Thursday.

Not really very beautiful, but it was more a utility draft. I figured I needed to see what worked structurally first before worrying about the aesthetics. I can always use it for overflow storage in a back room or something.

Then the next morning I built this:


I think it captures the look I'm going for, although when I build the real ones I'm going to make a larger version. This one is 72"x25" and I think I should go for 84" in height at least and perhaps a bit wider.

As we speak I'm working on kind of a cool project. I decided I want to have something flashy in the center of the store, so I'm building a large hexagonal ribbon carousel. I'm going to mount it on a storage cabinet base, and hopefully hang a pretty chandelier above it. A great centerpiece I think. Construction is  still in its infancy though. You know how in school when you are learning geometry you think you will never use it? Well I did (with a refresher from google, of course). Believe me, cutting the angles for this 12-sided beast was quite tedious.