Ironing out the Ironing Details

Ironing out the Ironing Details

Random fact: My family does not like ironing.

We’re the type of people who, if something is wrinkled, minutes in the dryer are the way to work on the issue.

We’re the type of people who, if something is wrinkled, minutes in the dryer are the way to work on the issue.

Seriously. We’re the type of people who, if something is wrinkled, minutes in the dryer are the way to work on the issue. That being said, my hobby/profession of sewing is a bit contradictory for such an I-don’t-love-irons approach because an iron can be such a significant part of the sewing process.

Pressing seams, for instance, could add to the professional look of your project, and ironing your fabric before you sew can help to create more equal blocks and pieces. All in all, if you don’t iron, your product might look less impressive than you want it to, and with all the work you invest, taking the small steps to create a wonderful product could be worth the effort!

I come from an anti-iron family.

I come from an anti-iron family.

But given that I come from an anti-iron family, the idea of embracing the step can be daunting. Even picking an iron could pose a problem because there’s such a range of options. When you literally have thousands of options to choose from, selecting that right one could be a complex process. Do I get the pretty blue one, or should I pay the extra $50 for that name-brand one? What kind of features do I need, and what ones will I never use? Is this iron going to break in a month, or will it last me for years? These are the kinds of things worth considering should you choose to buy a new — and fitting — iron for your sewing.

Note: With my nerd interests, all of this anti-iron business could potentially be overlooked if I owned an Iron Man iron like the one seen here.

Note: With my nerd interests, all of this anti-iron business could potentially be overlooked if I owned an Iron Man iron like the one seen here.

Anyway. I did some research this week on iron-related topics, and I came up with a list of what I felt were the most important qualifications for an iron and the preferred method of selecting that sewing tool.

Price

Hey, remember me? I’m the cheapskate who blogs about saving money on sewing projects! Of course — of course — cheaper isn’t always the overriding criterion for an iron because sometimes things are cheaper for a reason. Maybe the $10 iron has no special functions to help you. Maybe it’s made of bad materials and will leave an imprint on your fabric. Maybe it’ll fall apart in five minutes. The point is that this is NOT the only detail worth considering, but if you can find an iron that suits your purposes for $30, why pay hundreds?

Functions

As I said, price can be overshadowed by functions that your iron can bring to the ironing board. For sewing, I don’t know that there’s a more important function than releasing steam to better tackle wrinkles in fabric. Basically, if you see an iron that doesn’t release steam, you might want to keep looking! Another detail you might want to think about is if your iron automatically shuts itself off after a span of time. While this might be an aspect that doesn’t concern you in the least because you’re so careful with your iron, if there’s a chance you’ll forget and leave your iron going, I would recommend trying for an iron that’ll automatically shut off. That choice could prevent a fire, after all!

Build

More than one source that I found mentioned older irons — “vintage” or “antique.”

More than one source that I found mentioned older irons — “vintage” or “antique.”

In a world where smaller technological devices can steal the spotlight, believe it or not, heavier can be a good thing for an iron when it comes to pressing seams! More than one source that I found mentioned older irons — “vintage” or “antique.” And it makes sense because that extra weight could make it easier to smooth out your seams with a smaller amount of effort. So should you completely fall back on your grandma’s iron from the 1800s? Not necessarily! Remember what I said about steam? But that doesn’t mean that a secondary iron for this purpose can’t benefit you, especially since you can buy used ones for such small prices (like, less than $10). For a brand new iron though, thinking about that extra weight could lead you to the right iron, as could other details like whether or not it uses a cord. As a person who can forget something is plugged up and trip over a cord fairly easily, I think cordless might be a good option for me!

And, now that we’ve labeled some of the most important traits for an iron, the situation comes down to how you can find that perfect iron even after you narrow down your options by price, function, and build. My main recommendation for this step would be to read customer reviews and try for something that received a high average rating. You might also want to look at how many reviews the product has since a 4.5 rating over 5000 reviews provides more credible feedback than a 3.0 rating out of 2 reviews. Why? As an example, a 5.0 rating could’ve been lowered by a 1.0 rating from someone who was criticizing the seller rather than the product.

Look for irons that have a lot of reviews, read through them for details that fit your needs, and pay very real attention to the average ratings. If you do, you could have the right information to find the perfect iron for your products.

It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village

I was thinking about writing a post this week about some of the favorite things that I’ve made throughout the years. But, once I really started trying to decide, I realized I had way too many ‘favorites’ to put in just one post, mainly because I’ve made a ridiculous amount of stuff. Truth be told, I can’t remember a lot of it.

Also, ‘favorite’, is a bit of a shifty word. I have favorites for all kinds of reasons: favorite fabric, favorite pattern, favorite last minute construction miracle, favorite vintage piece, favorite thing made without a pattern, favorite complicated pattern, favorite funky design detail, favorite sewing technique.

So, I decided instead to write a little about some of the most memorable things I’ve made. Most (perhaps all) of them listed here were for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, designed by John Dunn and Lisa Padovani.

And speaking of designers…

I just want to clarify that every show and movie has a Costume Designer. Sometimes, on low budget and indie or college productions, the costume designer is the same person who also makes and shops the clothes. This is not the case on any mid to high budget shows. It takes a village to create the finished product. I didn’t design anything for Boardwalk Empire or any of the other major television shows and movies I’ve worked on as a tailor and pattern maker. I just make what is in the designer’s head.

How do I know what’s in the designer’s head?

Sometimes I get a sketch, sometimes pictures and photos from magazines and catalogues, sometimes vintage garments to use as a starting point, and sometimes it’s just a conversation with a scribbled line drawing on a manila oak tag.

And one other thing about the village: I made the patterns for all of the pieces to follow but, most times, I had the help of very talented tailors in the construction of the finished product.

A (partial) list of most memorables:

Outfit from an existing vintage pattern.

Outfit from an existing vintage pattern.

I used an existing 1930s vintage pattern for this ensemble. I altered the pattern slightly for fit. It’s a bit hard to see in the photo, but the jumper has an asymmetrical over lap opening in the front (that button is functional.) If I recall correctly, I did put together the blouse but I know that the jumper was constructed by one of the tailors in the shop, Amy.

Showgirl ensemble:

Showgirl ensemble.

Showgirl ensemble.

We made quite a few showgirl ensembles for Boardwalk but the sailor girls were my favorite. The trickiest part of any of the showgirl things was always the time constraints. We routinely had a week (at most) to construct the outfits, and this was on top of all the other things we were making and altering. Thankfully, the actresses playing the showgirls remained the same throughout the season so once I had their measurements I was able to pattern (relatively) efficiently and go straight to fabric without doing any sort of mock up. Any showgirl extravaganza was always a true group effort, as in the day before the costumes were needed, almost every single person in the shop was working on them.

Costume involving fish:

Costume involving fish.

Costume involving fish.

We made two of these for the final season of Boardwalk Empire. The fish have batting and wire in them to make them slightly three dimensional, and there are two more on the back. These took an especially long time as all the pearl trim had to sewn on by hand.

Complete outfit in shortest amount of time:

Complete outfit in shortest amount of time.

Complete outfit in shortest amount of time.

I will always remember this one. I had literally two days to get this done. On the morning of the first day, the actor came in for measurements. I started patterning as soon as he walked out the door. John (designer) found fabric he wanted to use that we already had in house so I was able to cut as soon as my patterning was done. I handed off the jacket pieces to one person and the pants to another and I put together the vest. The very next afternoon, I did the fitting. As you can see from the photo, the only changes needed were a sleeve and pant hem. This illustrates the importance of proper (and extensive) measurements.

Strangest costume:

One of the oddest costumes I’ve made were these lobsters, again for Boardwalk.

One of the oddest costumes I’ve made were these lobsters, again for Boardwalk.

One of the oddest costumes I’ve made were these lobsters, again for Boardwalk. I think the over bodice and sleeves were attached to the tail bit and it was put on like a coat, snapping and tying center front. I do remember the use of quite a large amount of wire.

Most adorable:

Most adorable.

Most adorable.

I patterned all of the boys’ things for Boardwalk. The principal men’s suits were made by Greenfield’s in Brooklyn but the in house shop that I ran always did the suits and jackets for the younger boys.

So that’s a short list of some of my most memorable projects. There are definitely many more though. One of the best things about my job is that there is always something new to make.

Pretty Little Things

Pretty Little Things

I was thinking about all the things you can make with fabric. Depending on your sewing skills and your motivation, you could make just about anything your heart desires.

Let’s see. My first sewn article was a red twill skirt in high school. My efforts had very good intentions, but I remember getting frustrated when I could never use the “best” sewing machine in the classroom. I had to rush to finish it so the teacher gave me a “C” grade on it. I couldn’t believe I put the zipper in the back just perfectly. (I’m still scared of zippers, by the way). But the hem of the skirt was about 3 inches in the back and maybe and 1 inch in the front, and very irregular. That was long before the days of the high-low hem which arrived on the scene by stylish fashion designers in the twenty-first century. Oh my, I’m dating myself now.

I learned it from watching you

I watched my Mom sew clothes for me as child, so when I got off on my own, I asked my Dad for a sewing machine. I picked one out from Sears, a basic machine with a couple of stitches. I made a knit T shirt out of multi-striped material and fell in love with stretch fabrics.

My dad called it my “$150.00 T-shirt.” I knew he was thinking I would be done with sewing after finishing that comfy, wearable T-shirt. I proved him wrong.

I went on to make dresses, suits with vests, skirts with zippers, a strapless bathing suit, and other clothes that were worn with pride when I thought, “I did this- I made this jacket”.

So fast forward today, after several years of non-sewing, I have found my passion again with other types of articles. The last couple years, I have made quilts, bed runners, napkins, baby articles and even Korean Quilting called “Pojagi”.

And now for something completely different

Today, I want to share with you my latest project. First off, I love the Victorian Era.

Laces, satins, silks and velvet. I have accumulated many boxes of vintage lace, ribbons, and trims and struggle to find ways to use them. So, I am trying to bring back something that were used by ladies of old. It is something that is considered vintage, or antique, but I still feel the idea is a good one. Many stores carry things similar like paper envelopes filled with lavender seeds, or other dried herbs, but I wanted to design something that was original to appeal to women who love frilly little things like me.

When I made these, I thought the Mother of the Bride & Groom may need the hankies to wipe away their tears during the wedding ceremony!

When I made these, I thought the Mother of the Bride & Groom may need the hankies to wipe away their tears during the wedding ceremony!

So, I designed a Handkerchief Sachet. The idea is to spray the handmade handkerchief with your favorite cologne or perfume, or fragrance oils. Place it in dresser drawers, on the bath counter top, or even your handbag, so you can enjoy your favorite scent as aromatherapy.

I thought these could be used as a keepsake bag for a special piece of jewelry, a lock of baby’s first haircut, or just a place for a tube of lipstick in your handbag. Just a little frill to enjoy & remember a special time or event.

I thought these could be used as a keepsake bag for a special piece of jewelry, a lock of baby’s first haircut, or just a place for a tube of lipstick in your handbag. Just a little frill to enjoy & remember a special time or event.

The last picture is the third set of sachets I made with 5” squares, lace, silk ribbon, and some metal vintage ornaments. These are stuffed with eco-friendly snow filling and will absorb your desired scent. Just respray when the scent fades and enjoy!

The last picture is the third set of sachets I made with 5” squares, lace, silk ribbon, & some metal vintage ornaments.

The last picture is the third set of sachets I made with 5” squares, lace, silk ribbon, & some metal vintage ornaments.

Whereas, the handkerchief can be washed if necessary if a change of scent is desired, these can also be utilized as a pin cushion in your sewing room. Who knows, you may fall in love with Victorian Vintage as I did.

All seams were sewn by machine except for adding flowers and ribbon, these items can be found at NaturaDomani on Etsy.
Shopping in the New York City Garment District

Fabric Shopping in the New York City Garment District

Shopping in the New York City Garment DistrictWhen I first moved to NYC a lifetime ago, I worked for very little money as an assistant to a crazy hat designer in the heart of the garment district. The only upside to the job was that I spent a good part of every day out on the streets gathering fabric swatches and button and trim samples. There was another assistant who had been there for almost a year already and she took me around with her and introduced me to all the people and stores. The two of us had a great time digging through bins of buttons, wandering deep into the back corner of NY Elegant Fabrics, and convincing the nice people at Mood to let us into their “secret” warehouse (it really does exist).

I only stayed at that job for about a month, though it felt like a year, and the other assistant (who has since moved back to Korea to head up a fashion company there) and I still keep in touch. I don’t go to the garment district as often as I once did but I do have a list of must visit favorite places.

Mood – 225 West 37th Street

I’ll get this one out of the way first since most people at this point have heard of Mood which lucked into some amazing advertising when it became the fabric store featured on Project Runway. One of the coolest things about Mood is the building its in and the old elevator, still manned by an actual man, that you have to take up to the 3rd floor. Once up there, the rows and rows of fabric reach from floor to ceiling. Things are pretty well organized, the selection is large, and most bolts have swatches already cut and attached to the ends that you can take.

One little note about swatching in most all the stores in New York City: If someone asks if you are a student, say no. They’re asking because most stores have specific hours for student swatching and won’t allow you to do so if its not during those hours.

Also of note: Mood has a public restroom in the back right corner. 😉

NY Elegant – 222 West 40th Street

I love NY Elegant for its selection of light weight cottons, organdies, and batistes. NY Elegant is a family run store and is the last standing fabric store on 40th St. They also get a lot novelty fabrics – fake furs and things with glitter and sparkly threads.

Paron Fabrics – 257 West 39th Street

This is one of my absolute favorite family run fabric stores in the city. Sadly, they closed their doors for good just last month. I’m only including it to remind everyone to try and support their local fabric stores and if, you have the chance, come to NYC and shop in the garment district. You really can find almost any kind of fabric there by visiting the larger stores and just wandering down 39th street and stopping in to the small stores that still remain.

B & J Fabrics – 525 7th Ave #2

B & J is your best bet for high end linens, lace, and silks. The store is extremely well organized and always seems extraordinarily well lit in comparison to other garment stores. They are a little pricier than some of the other stores but the quality of the fabrics they stock is superb.

Lou Lou Buttons – 69 West 38th St

Lou Lou Buttons sells only buttons. They have bins and drawers and barrels full of buttons. They have wood buttons, shell buttons, mother of pearl buttons, and every funky, unique kind of button you could imagine. The people who work there are helpful and friendly and don’t seem to mind if you spend hours looking.

M & J Trimming – 1008 6th Ave

There are a lot of small trim stores in the garment district with beautiful things but M & J has by far the largest selection of trims in the city. And, unlike a lot of the garment district stores, they’re open on Sunday (you know, for those weekend trim emergencies.)

Tinsel Trading – 828 Lexington Ave

Shopping in the New York City Garment DistrictTinsel Trading recently moved out of the garment district to this new location on Lexington. They stock the most amazing unique vintage and new trims you’ll find (unless you’re shopping in India or Southeast Asia). Their stuff is expensive but much of it really is one of a kind. If you like metallic thread, fabrics, and fringes, this is the place to go.

If you’ve never had the chance to shop for fabric in New York City, I encourage you to plan a trip if possible – you won’t regret it. And, if you come during the month of December, you can also go visit the holiday windows at the retail stores along 5th Avenue – Bergdorf’s (always my favorite), Saks, etc.