Wednesday 25 March 2015

Garment 12: Attachment

Garden Gnome Origami Instructional Top
It took 8 years to dawn on me that my son was as attached to me as I was to him. I don't know what took me so long: his attachment didn't look the way I expected it to, but it has always been right there in front of me. And how. When he is sick he wants me near. Depending on how much he wants the contents, he will sip from my glass, but from no other's. When he's especially attached he'll let me clean the cheese factory under his chin, and maybe even one ear. Then there's the art: Lego dioramas featuring my favourite green alien, a drawing of my childhood dream bedroom, or - if he's feeling particularly loving - a little something-something garden gnome-ish. I do like a garden gnome.

I love the art both my children make for me: my daughter's Mother's Day portrait that perfectly captures the usual state of my mind*. The many, many Douglas Coupland-esque Lego landscapes, made with small fingers, slowly-but-surely improving fine-motor skills, great devotion and just the occasional fool-proof excuse to continue playing after having been asked to stop. 
"But I'm making something for you!" 
"Oh. Well. OK, 10 more minutes then that's absolutely it."
No reply.
*I worry: what if New-Mommy-Brain has become my default setting? It has been 12 years...
Family Portrait

Everyone stop talking. I need to focus!
The Inspiration

The applique on the front of this comfy, velour pullover is a replica of my son's latest love offering: an origami garden gnome head. I know: cool, right? He spent precious "tablet time" searching for just the right instructions on-line. After a failed, semi-frantic search for the appropriate-coloured and sized construction paper, necessitating an on-the-fly modification of the instructions, he settled for plain old white -- with a touch of red ink to differentiate hat from beard. The inspiration had hit, and the thing had to be made, perfect paper or no.

The replica gnome on the top is made of the left-overs from an anti-strangulation infant vest prototype (pardon?) and painted with truly old, but very usable, dye from Addie's stash. The fabric was custom-made by a manufacturer of disposable diapers for the medical-invention prototype-making-and-testing team at BCIT. (How's that for a cool job?) It's some kind of plastic-y fibre paper, and it's surprisingly durable; it can even go through the wash, though it does pill a little. The purpose of the vest was to protect hospitalized infants from strangling themselves on IV - or other - tubes and wires, by feeding these through the vest and holding them close to the baby's body. Once the prototype had been perfected, the excess fabric was donated to OSF, where most of it still awaits its next purpose in life.

Back to description of the decoration:
The origami folds were pressed with an iron, then unfolded and stitched, securing the "Gnome Instructional" to the velour, akin to a hexagon quilt pattern.

Fabric fun for the whole family!
Yeah, it's made of turquoise velour, c. 1980, cable-knit, soft and super cozy, such as what a garden gnome might wear to watch TV after a hard day standing still, hiding slugs and not blinking. Beer in hand on tubby belly, comfy chair in recline position, socks half-off. Maybe something frying in the next room, and a cat on his lap. Velour: you want to hate it, but you know you love it. What's another word for cozy? And 3 out of 4 garden gnomes can't be wrong.

Neighbour's Grandma's
Velour Gardening Outfit
Velour... I have an awesome, hot pink, velour shorts-and-top set given to me by a neighbour. It had belonged to his grandma. It was her gardening outfit. I was curious... I put it on and moseyed out to do a little weeding. Stretchy! Soft! Repels most dirt. Cleans like a breeze, is out of the dryer in a jiffy. Effective against cars careening through our alley, it shouts, "Caution! Odd Neighbourhood Lady at Play!" She was right: it's the perfect gardening outfit. Bonus: when I walk into a room with it on, conversation stops. Children pat me. (And adults want to.)

Neighbour's Grandma's Abandoned Project, De-Sewn

The gnome-coloured velour was part of a donation at OSF. It was a smallish piece, left-over from some other project. Not quite enough, so I patched in a piece of c. 1970 Abandoned-Sewing-Project, set aside by the very grandma who previously owned my velour gardening outfit!

The project was a nearly-completed, lined, empire waist, A-line dress with short sleeves and bound buttonholes on back; an ambitious project for such a slippery pair of fabrics. To make it more manageable, the polyester floral print and white acetate lining were worked as one. The ragged, colourful seam allowances showing against the white lining are jarring and home-made-looking - a far cry from the groovy frock she no-doubt envisioned when she first laid out the pattern. I could see why it had been abandoned.

I could also see why it had been saved all these years: who could throw away such happy, daisy-printed fabric? Orange and pink to boot! I carried it with me for a couple of days and un-sewed it on various buses. I use it sparingly... it's one of my very fave abandoned fabrics.

The daisy print was an obvious pick for the missing portion of fabric on the sleeve of the Gnome top. However, choosing to piece the sleeve meant sewing an oft-dreaded angle seam. Pshaw! No trouble, with a few simple pointers:

Useful Sewing Tip #1: How to Sew a Decent-Looking Angle seam, without Much Cursing and With X-Large Photos

1cm seam allowances marked with soap
Use a 1cm seam allowance. It's much easier to trim the seam allowance off a commercial pattern than deal with that extra 0.5cm. Skipping this step does not pay. Don't be tempted. Trust me.

Mark the seam line on both pieces with chalk or a sliver of dried-up hand soap which, unlike the chalk, makes a more accurate, slim mark, and will rinse away brilliantly with the first washing.

Corner reinforced just inside the seamline, and clipped
On the inside corner, run a row of short-ish reinforcement stitches just a hair inside the marked seam allowance, and pivoting at the exact corner.

Clip just to the reinforcement stitching.
The mighty Magic Pin, keeping it all under control
From the wrong side of the fabric, stick a pin exactly beside the inside corner stitch, right on the seam line. Poke the same pin in to the "inset" layer, exactly at the outside corner, right sides together. 

Holding the magic pin snug against the two fabrics, arrange and pin the raw edges at both sides of the corner. The pin is the secret weapon, keeping the pivot points perfectly aligned for accurate results.

    You stay right where I put you!
    Keeping the magic pin through both layers at the corner, stitch the first leg toward the corner.

    Angle pin toward you to keep feed dogs safe.
    Remove at the very last moment, revealing the Magic Hole.
    Be careful not to interfere with the feed dogs. Just before reaching the corner, remove the pin, but keep your eye focused on the exact spot it left the fabric. Don't even blink. Stitch right into the hole the magic pin left in the fabric. 

    Stop with needle down in this hole. Lift presser foot. Turn the work.

    Piv-ot, rearrange bulk. Home free!
    Rearrange the bulky fold of fabric out of the way, lower the presser foot, and sew the second leg of the seam. 

    A well-sewn angle seam is a thing of beauty and a badge of sewing honour.
    Now's the time to serge the seam allowances, then do any optional edge or top-stitching. Since the stitch at the pivot occurs just a hair's width away from the clip, it's not a seam that works well in battle (as Blossom would say); a decorative stitch will add some strength. 

    Useful Sewing Tip #2: Testing the tension helps sewing not suck! (or: It ain't the machine, it's the operator)

    The hardest thing about the sewing of this garment was all the monkeying around with the serger settings. The seams are serged with 4 threads, but the edges are finished with a narrow, 3-thread stitch. With only one serger, that means removing and replacing a needle, and having to switch settings back and forth several times while sewing. Taking a photo of each of the machine settings (tension, stitch width and length, differential feed), once perfected, can make all that switching (almost) painless.

    It's worth the time to test and perfect the tension before sewing a garment. Every time. Incorrect tension looks bad, forms unstable seams, and wastes the time spent sewing, since I guarantee the finished product will be unsatisfying, and won't be worn much. If it even gets finished. The testing can, at times, take longer than the sewing, but should never be skipped. It's something to be endured. Or! with a few simple tips, it can be almost fun. Or at least not painful.

    To test serger tension:

    Test needle tension with a pin: firm = good!
    Loopy: needle tension = too loose
    Looper threads meet right at the raw edge = good!
    Perfect sewing machine tension -
    threads all meet between the layers

    • Use a reasonable piece of the garment fabric. A little snippet won't do the trick. A different fabric won't do, either, since tension can vary wildly, fabric to fabric. You need enough length to sew a 20cm seam, and enough width to do this 4 or 5 times without running out of room. Sometimes 10 or 15 times!
    • Double the fabric if you are testing a seam. Use single layer if testing an edge finish.
    • The stitching has to be able to handle the maximum strain the fabric can take, so on stretchy fabric do the test on the stretchiest grain, which is usually the cross grain. Give the sample a good pull after stitching - a little more than the garment will ever be tortured with. If the stitches break, adjust the needle tension and try again. Keep trying until you get it right. Don't give up. You will be the stronger for it, and the garment will be the better.
    • Balanced 4-thread serging: after stitching the sample seam, take the flat head of a pin and give the two needle threads a little tug, one at a time, from the top side of the serging. If the tension is too loose, the thread will easily pull, forming a loop on top of the seam. Tighten the corresponding tension disk until it cannot be pulled loose easily.
    • Next, check the cut edge to make sure the looper threads meet right at the raw edges. If not, the tension disk corresponding to the "longer" thread needs to be tightened and that of the "shorter" thread needs to be loosened. Adjust only one of the tensions at a time. Test after each small adjustment, until the threads meet equally at the cut edge.

    To test sewing machine tension:

    • Use a goodly scrap of garment fabric, about 20cm long by 20cm wide. Fold it in half on the straight grain. (Remember: all sewing is about the grain, even testing machine tension.)
    • Set the machine to a medium width zigzag stitch and sew a line near-ish the folded edge.
    • Gently separate the layers of cloth and inspect the intersection of the top and bobbin threads. They should meet right at the space between the two layers of fabric. 
    • If the threads meet too near the bottom layer, the bobbin tension is probably too tight. Remove the bobbin and turn the little screw on the bobbin casing 1/4 turn counterclockwise to loosen. A thumbnail works well. Next, without letting the bobbin drop out of the bobbin case, gently dangle it from the tail of thread. Give a gentle, tiny, but sudden, flick (see video, left). The bobbin should drop just a little. If the tail lengthens a whole bunch, the bobbin tension is too loose. If it doesn't budge, it is too tight. Adjust the screw accordingly, insert the bobbin into the machine, and do another zigzag test.
    • If the threads meet at the top layer, either the bobbin tension is too loose, or the machine tension is too tight, or both. Do the bobbin case flick trick. If the bobbin tension seems OK, loosen the machine tension a titch, and do the zigzag test again. 
    • Bobbin tension is most often the main culprit with really bad machine tension.

    Note to the small army of garden gnomes in my house, folded, drawn or otherwise crafted: Thank you. I got your message.

    Size S-M. Available
    For a hand-copied pattern, please contact me.
    Good photography by Jeff Minuk
    Video production by Ben MacPhail


    1. I've been telling for quite a few years Leah that as far as moms go, you are my hero. And as my mom often said, " the proof is in the pudding"

      Your pal, Peter xo

    2. By the way Leah, balanced 4-thread serging is something that I can help you out with if you get confused.