Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ballgown: Day 27 (Or, Loose Ends)

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Yesterday I bound the last raw edges of the outside of the dress, which took all day - and, suddenly ravenous for social interaction, I spent the last hour or so hand-sewing in Sparklepants's classroom while she taught Illustrator. As soon as I tucked in the last end, I hoisted my dress up and went to try it on again, this time with everything together except the lining. Seeing it on the table all these days has been one thing, but putting it on is something else entirely; it's transformed from a heavy, amorphous blob of silk and seams into a living, breathing garment. I was exhausted, but it was just the right way to end the evening.

Just few days, some hand sewing, a waist stay, and a couple dozen buttons left, and my little Cutie on the table becomes Clara, brought to life - and I can't wait to meet her.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ballgown: Day 26 (Or, Finding My Unicorn)

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Yesterday, I got to try on my dress for the first time. There weren't any sleeves yet, and the skirt lining was just barely pinned to the waist seam, and it wasn't properly pressed... but it was still sort of magical. In heels, I look ten feet tall, and the skirt fits perfectly at the hips and falls straight to the floor in soft folds. The director rearranged the train and exclaimed, "It looks like a movie star from the '30s!", which is exactly what I wanted. It was a nice reminder that in the end, this dress will really exist; the illustration on the wall is getting closer and closer to becoming itself, and the list of things left to do is getting shorter by the day.

Yesterday I did the last really scary thing, which was to set in the sleeves and sew the binding on. With the sleeve and bodice just two layers of georgette in some places, and the junction between the underarm and sleeve a major detail that gets looked at during the presentation, sewing it together was stressful but also kind of great - in the end, I turned the bodice right-side out, and the sleeve seam flowed right into the side seam. Not perfect, but pretty close to it.

It strikes me, how exhilarating it is, to take on an intimidating task and not just do it, but do the shit out of it. So many aspects of this dress have been incredibly scary - presenting and committing to it in the first place; setting in the zipper and sleeves in a difficult fabric; working towards a goal whose process and timeframe was murky in places - and I had no idea if I could actually do it at all, much less do it well. So it feels amazing to accept those challenges, approach them using my process and my work ethic, and have them turn out better than even I could have imagined.

As I enter my last few days, I expected to feel stressed, but instead I feel a sense of profound calm. Everything that I've done in the last three years to prepare for this gown, and everything that I've done in the last twenty-six days to create it, has led up to now. And I know for a fact that I'm capable of everything I have left to do.

Everyone gets something different from the ballgown experience, and I think the magical unicorn I've discovered is self-trust: of vision, of process, of skills. And that is a gift that I'll carry with me for a long time to come.

Happy Tuesday, friends.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ballgown: Day 25 (Or, Dresshood)

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It's fumbling ever closer towards dresshood: the skirt is together; the hem is sewn; the godet is neatly sandwiched between three layers of silk. I have to carry the dress like a small child between my table and the machine and the ironing board, supporting the weight of the skirt. Today I set the lining into the bodice, and sew in the sleeve - then it really will look like a dress.



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Ballgown: Day 24 (Or, Seven Not-So-Easy Pieces)

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Yesterday was a big day in terms of construction: The Dress (whose secret name is Cutie, for reasons unbeknownst even to me) went from a lot of big pieces to seven much bigger pieces. I have a front and a back, and two sleeves, and coordinating linings - and today, I figure out how to put them all together.

The finish line is so close. Six more days feels both completely doable and utterly overwhelming. Seven pieces, and 50ish hours of work, and a few dozen buttons, and she'll be done. Then, what am I going to do when there's no ballgown to get up and make?

I really am going to miss this routine. Getting my pastry at the market every Sunday; laying on the couch in the magazine room watching a cluster of wasps building a nest outside the window; hugging my dress goodbye at night.

I'm sure I'll have more words later, but this has been the most incredible experience, and I'm not sure yet how to process the fact that it's almost over. While I'm excited to sleep in, hang out with my husband and rats, and have a social life again, I also know that this time will live in my memory as one of the most exquisitely difficult and fulfilling moments in my life. But I have at least six more days until I have to figure out what that means.

Happy Sunday, friends!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ballgown: Day 23 (Or, Everything is Coming Up Appliqué)

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Yesterday was another long day of appliquéing, but on the bright side, I have a whole front skirt panel constructed and the last of the really difficult handwork is done! I measured and pinned and basted for hours before finally getting down to hand-sewing, and I think it really paid off. Because I'm a sucker for things matching correctly, I planned the waist seam to meet across two mirrored edging pieces to create a little sunburst design - it's a small detail, but I love how it connects the two lace sections to each other.

And today, I start putting the whole shebang together. Hooray, hooray!

Happy Saturday!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ballgown: Day 22 (Or, Playing With Lace)

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Yesterday, as planned, I worked with lace all day. I spent most of the afternoon piecing the godet together. It doesn't have a lining, so I had to carefully take two darts out of the lace by cutting around the motifs in the general area of the darts, overlapping them, and appliquéing the lace to itself. It doesn't look like much now that it's done, but it allows the lace edging to be nicely curved to fit in with the hem of the skirt.

It's tedious, eye-crossing work, but the end result is absolutely lovely in a really understated way. It's another one of those touches that will barely register if you don't look for it - but that's the overall intent of my gown: to look like the fabric has barely been manipulated at all. Like it just came into being, with no work at all.

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After that, I started draping the front panel appliqué for the skirt. In my illustration, the figure is 10 heads tall, so her proportions are a little different than mine. My intention with the design was for the lace to end around the knee, which is a lot different on my 10-head girl than it is on me. (My shoes make me a little taller, but not by that much!) It was a challenge, but I ended up with a nice angle to the edges, and a cute little touch to help fill out the intersection of the lace - which I'll share if it's successful.

I still have a lot of work to go, but it feels really good to be working on the little details of the actual, final dress! It's sort of amazing how much it looks like the original illustration - it's funny how certain things are intuitive in the design process, and you don't understand why they work until you start construction.

Today I'm finishing the front skirt appliqué and - fingers crossed! - starting to put the skirt together. I can't even describe how cool it is to see it finally turning into a dress!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ballgown: Day 21 (Or, It Might Be a Dress Someday)

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At long last: I'm finished fitting; out of patternwork; done with cutting. It's been a tiring and incredibly productive few days. I have little pile of skirt on the floor, and I'm slowly starting to connect the pieces of the dress to each other.  Yesterday I took my bodice back - which I haven't touched in over a week - and partially attached it to the skirt back, then sewed in the zipper.

The whole process took almost five hours of pinning, hand-basting, and extremely slow sewing. The georgette and the crepe moved through the machine at different rates, so in some places I had to take it (literally) one stitch at a time - turn the knob one stitch forward; presser foot up; let the feed dogs advance the georgette-crepe-zipper sandwich by a sixteenth of an inch or so; presser foot down; repeat.

Now, I have a weird, bottom-heavy flap of fabric with a zipper in it. No one would ever suspect what a pain in the ass it was, given how unassuming it looks.


Even though the zipper was one of the most intimidating parts of the dress for me, I had a really good day yesterday. The process of connecting everything and basting the zipper in was really slow and meditative: I listened to Sigur Rós while standing over the big table in the art room, hand-picking the zipper to the seam allowance, rain spattering the windows behind me.

It's been wonderfully cold and rainy the last few days, and it's been just the right atmosphere for the work I'm doing. I have to remind myself to take things bird by bird: when the thought of running my poor dress through a big, unwieldy machine is too scary, I should take a step back and start at the beginning. Line up seam allowances. Trim away loose threads. Pin. Do all the things that are quiet and meticulous, to make the big scary thing less big and scary.

As I expected, sewing in the zipper by machine was nerve-wracking, but I got into this weird mindset of authority rather than defeat: instead of frustration, I just felt this unflappable sense of purpose. So when half the zipper was just right and the other was skewed by a quarter of an inch, I took a deep breath and grabbed my seam ripper. When I stepped away from the machine at 8:30, neatly set-in zipper in hand, I felt both exhausted and triumphant.

Today, as a nice change of pace, I'm appliquéing lace to the front of the skirt and cutting out my lace godet. From there, I'm almost in the home stretch. Wish me luck!

Happy Thursday.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ballgown: Day 16-18 (Or, Skirts & Rest)

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Yesterday it rained: a slow, light mist over the city. The sky was bright, and every droplet of rain lit up in the glow of the mid-morning. I stood at the top of the fire escape for a moment, and the smell of wet dirt and dead grass and rain blew in the open door behind me.

Two days ago, I had eight huge pieces of skirt muslin and a misthreaded machine and too many days without rest. I cried pinning a godet to a perfectly reasonable piece of skirt. I cried to my mom on the phone. I went home and slept for twelve hours. Then I went to school and emptied my garbage cans and said hi to the director, and I hugged my dress, and I went home again.

I've always known that rest is important for me. All the knots that tighten in my head as the week progresses are gently pulled apart in the hours between work. I know this, and I was still fighting it, thinking I could beat it back. I should know better.

So finally, Saturday, instead of sewing a skirt, I rested: I vacuumed the living room, and did laundry, and decimated some morning glories that had taken over the front yard. I drank a beer in the middle of the afternoon and sat on the couch in the sun.

It felt weird, remembering the world outside of ballgown. It was as if, for a day, that my little room didn't exist - which made me a little sad, to be honest. I already know that someday in the future, I'll live and relive these moments over again: this feeling of purpose and triumph, and even these moments of failure. There's something in this process that reaches deep, that challenges your strength and skills and willpower. It forces you to look in the mirror and know yourself. To push through when it's important; to walk away when it isn't. And that clarity is...sort of amazing.

So Saturday I rested, and yesterday - with renewed energy, with a pastry from the market and the rain at my back - I sewed my skirt together. And it was easy.

Imagine that.

Happy Monday.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ballgown: Day 14 (Or, Mental Health is Important, and So Are Friends)


Yesterday was rough from the beginning; I got to school and immediately had to rip out and fix some of my work from the day before. Then, bleary with fatigue and frustration, I accidentally cut a thread I shouldn't have, and hours of hard work began their unravelling before my eyes: where no machine could possible reach, where little threads of georgette happily shimmied out of their weave. I stood there for over an hour, sweating and painstakingly hand-sewing over the damaged area to fix it, praying with every stab that this would be the one that would make it right.

At the end, with the crisis under control and the binding safely tacked back in place, a wave of anxiety and nausea washed over me, and I had to stop for lunch and a walk around the block with the director to calm down.


Letting go is hard for me. It's both my strength and my weakness. It makes me meticulous; makes my work better. It also causes a lot of stress and anguish over things that may or may not matter. Sometimes the overwhelming fear of failure can actually paralyze me in my tracks, and I often struggle with the choice between executing something imperfectly and not executing something at all.

I think maybe the difference is in the motivation: the work that inches towards greatness is the work motivated by joy; the work that falls flat is, ironically, motivated by fear. It's a funny thing, to have to learn how to temper my need for control. It constantly pushes me forward if I put it in a reasonable gear, but left to accelerate of its own accord, it can destroy me and everything in its path. And I was in full self-immolation mode for most of yesterday, which felt pretty fucking crappy.

So it was a nice change of pace to go visit with a new friend after such a terrible day. We chatted about things we care about - feminism, tv shows, yarn, pets - and I left feeling like my heart had been filled back up. It probably sounds weird, but I feel like the universe sensed I was in a bad place, and sent me this gift - a feeling of connection, of gratitude - to knock me back into orbit and remind me of things that matter way more than a sleeve cuff.

And hopefully, today will be better.

Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ballgown: Day 13 (Or, Sleeves!)




The last two days or so have been all about the sleeves - and they are, hands down, the most technically difficult part of the gown so far. The fabric is a whisper-thin chiffon-weight georgette, so it's incredibly slippery and sheer with just a little bit of texture: it snags pretty easily, falls apart at the cut edges if handled too roughly, and as far as sewing goes, it's a mess. The feed dogs of my machine refuse to catch it, so it just wiggles around haplessly underneath the presser foot. I've resorted to sewing it on drafting paper and tearing the paper away when I'm done, because I've played this game before and it always ends in yelling and tears - that, and I'm a dirty, shameless cheater when it comes to sewing.

Despite being a total pain in my ass to work with, it also gives the most wonderfully soft, floaty silhouette. Where the crepe back satin is liquid color, the georgette is mist; the two together are a wonderful balance of sweetness and depth.

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Working on the final garment has made me think more about my skills and enjoyment of the design process as a whole. Among my realizations: I have a tepid and mostly tolerant relationship with sewing, but I'm in mad, passionate love with construction.

To me, the experience of sewing is haphazard and somewhat mundane, and usually on the machine: straight seams, fiddly curves, stitching blind. I hold my breath every time I sit down to sew opposing curves together, praying that the machine doesn't pull a gather where it shouldn't, cursing every time I flip my seam over and realize I have to rip out inches of work and do it again. I like my machine for how easy it makes things for me (it's a Pfaff, and I do love the crap out of it) and I admire anyone who can wrangle a machine to do what they want. But in the end, there are limitations to what the machine can do in terms of detail and control, and it can never totally satisfy my pickiness.

On the other hand, construction is careful and slow - usually by hand - in preparation and execution; construction is tailoring and grading seams and hand-sewing miles of bias binding. Construction is seven hours of appliqué. Sewing is about the big picture; construction is about the minute details that build a greater whole - and I'm a detail-oriented kinda person.

I think that's why I'm not totally comfortable calling myself a sewist, because the sewing isn't the part that makes my heart sing with joy - it's waxing the thread, it's tying tailor's knots, it's balancing halfway on my heels on the rungs of my stool, craning my neck to pick tiny stitches in a long, wonderfully not-quite-perfect row. I get lost in it in the best way, only emerging hours later in the frozen section of the grocery store, wondering what the hell I even went there to buy, dreaming about the flash of my needle and all those little stitches.

Soon, I'll be moving on from the sleeves, and I can't say I'm sorry - I just hope there will be lots and lots more hand-sewing yet to do.

Happy Wednesday.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ballgown: Day 11 (Or, Appliqué All the Things!)

This is what I did all day yesterday. Wheeeee!

Happy Monday!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ballgown: Day 10 (Or, Ballgowns & Hipster Headphones)

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First off, thank you to everyone who has reached out to me on the blog, in person, or otherwise, with your encouragement and kind words - it's so great to know that you enjoy hearing about my process, and I hope my photos and thoughts inspire you as much as sharing them does for me!

Last night, I left my room a mess for the first time. I worked from the morning into the afternoon, taking breaks to help Sparklepants and Rockett with a few things to set up for their ballgown presentation. I hand-basted the back of my bodice together, and cut into my lace for the appliquéd front panel, and not much else: the end of the day came fast, and I left everything mid-thought to go watch the presentation.

Both of their gowns were absolutely stunning, and perfect for their design aesthetics, and so incredibly different from each other. It was really cool to see the gowns go from pieces of fabric on the table all the way to full outfits with hair and makeup, and both dresses really came alive on the body. I'm so proud of my ballgown buddies! I'm also excited (and slightly apprehensive?) for my turn to come up next.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying hand-basting things together. Someday the random pieces on my table will be a dress, too...


I looked like a total hipster yesterday, with my vintage shorts and crocheted top, Keds, and my big dorky headphones that I stole from Lumberjack so I don't disturb classes by blasting my music. Something that I've really appreciated about this process is how much music I've been getting to obsessively listen to, since I can't stream music at school and have to consciously choose new albums to load onto my phone every day. (Rdio saves my life omgggg)

I'm not sure I've ever mentioned it, but part of the reason this blog is called indie.knits is because of my love of music. Lumberjack and I used play guitar and sing together between classes, and go on dates to little indie music concerts around Seattle when we were in high school. (D'aw, our friendship is so old.)

I associate certain albums with very specific times in my life: finals of my freshman year of college was snowdrifts, calculus, and Radiohead's In Rainbows on repeat; the show at NYFA was steaming red wool crepe while listening to Sin Fang's Flowers; Iceland was insomnia and Phantogram's entire catalogue. I have an emotional - almost visceral - connection with good music, and the albums I've listened to while working on ballgown are almost like friends keeping me company. And, like friends, there will always be room in my life for a few more.

Happy Sunday!


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ballgown: Day 9 (Or, Puzzle Pieces)

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After a much-needed day off on Thursday, I got back to it yesterday. My bodice is cut, and I've started the long, slow process of construction. I marked darts and tucks in chalk, and sewed - very slowly - skittery chiffon-weight georgette so light it barely exists. I hand-basted crepe-back satin to its underlining; sewed the lining to the back panel and understitched to give it a soft, clean roll; stood on the back steps in the sun for a few seconds before sewing the next seam.

Laid out on the table, it doesn't look like much, but I have almost all the puzzle pieces made as of last night; now I just have to put them together. Tonight is Sparklepants' and my good friend Rockett's ballgown presentations, so I'll be taking a few hours off of sewing to cheer them on.

Happy Saturday!