Blog

STEAM in Sewing

Starting the week of September 17th, you will be able to find articles weeklyish about the various ways all five factors of STEAM are in sewing. It’s time to dispel the myth that sewing is some nimby-pimby little craft for idiots who “can’t do anything worthwhile, like technology.” (Dears, I used to be an email security analyst and was a tech geek back when that still got you beaten up, and Bill Gates making geekery cool was years away, way back when it was still acceptable to literally tell a little girl, like me, “Why do you like science and math when that’s for boys?”…) Well, even if you think that sewing doesn’t involve anything “important,” knowing how to mend and properly launder clothing will save you a lot of money, and who doesn’t like to save money? Aside from that aspect, knowing how science, technology, engineering, art, and science are all a part of sewing can help that budding designer find relevance in school classes that seem irrelevant, and it’s just plain cool to learn stuff.

See you soon!

Raw pics: Jareth

I have no clue why some of these posted sideways. Please let me know if they show sideways for you and I’ll try to figure it out. I’m hoping it’s just showing this way on my end. Sometimes the published version of a page looks different with WordPress.


 

Princess Projects: Belle update

It has been a while since I’ve updated this project. It fell by the wayside because I just knew I wasn’t every going to wear it, and so everything else took priority. But now it will have a home, and so back to work I go. ūüôā

The skirt has come together. ¬†At first I didn’t give as much thought to the back as I should have, and when I twirled the dress form, it became a mess.

So I took it all apart to start over.  The new formation falls back into pretty folds.

Much better!  And the front?

It’s a full circle, and it twirls like crazy!

I’ve also been working on the bodice.

Yes, right now it looks very different than the finished bodice will look.

In addition to the boning and binding, the trim pieces still need to be applied, and those are still in the making. ¬†I need lots and lots of the pieces shown in this video. ¬†But it’s coming together. ūüôā

(I said chiffon, but meant organza. I was in a lot of pain, still am, after busting my foot. The pain is distracting.)

 

“New” photos of the Belle ballgown…with a twist

I recall when Disney came out with the 17″ live-action Belle doll, and something fans and others noticed right away, other than that horrid face (sorry, y’all, that face was so poorly done that I actually feel a bit bad for Emma Watson), was that the gown was different than in the movie. ¬†In some of the many, many Disney groups I’m in, people speculated that Disney was getting cheap with their doll ensembles and couldn’t be bothered to embroidery three layers (not that they bothered embroidering anything in the movie, but I digress…). ¬†Here is the limited edition Disney 17″ doll, and one of the Hasbro dolls.

 

There’ve been a few promotional photos floating around of Emma in a gown with a single embroidered layer, with them all being longer, but those have appeared to be digitally changed, and that gave pause to some, that perhaps some photos were changed to match the doll dress. ¬†I’d heard rumor that that was the first gown used, and that it wasn’t eye-catching enough when dancing, and that it was changed after the dolls had gone into production. ¬†Now, it is true that the lead time on dolls is easily a year. ¬†So this hypothesis was plausible. ¬†But where was that original gown? ¬†Well, I found a photo. ¬†It definitely exists. ¬†And it has the same number of layers as the Disney limited edition doll.

The theatre that displayed this gown quickly changed to the film version. ¬†Photos taken opening night of the gown on display were of the three-layered gown we all know. ¬†This gown must have been on display for the media. ¬†Fortune.com (apparently they host their images on WordPress, which is strange) and Getty are the only outlets I’ve found with any images of this version, and even then, the versions in their articles are of the three-layered gown.

I thought this was an interesting little thing to share.

The devil went down to Portland, he was looking for a soul to steal

He was in a bind ’cause he was way behind. ¬†So he was lookin’ to make a deal.

And whoever lost that deal doomed Vancouver as well.  It is HOT.  Miserably so.  It is after night night and still almost 80 outside. My makeup melted off ages ago. When I got up off the leather couch in my sewing room, it hurt because I was stuck to it. My grandma always said that horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow. I’m not sure which could be blamed for me being glued to my seat so that I had to painfully pull myself off of it. I’m a Californian, and this heat is reminding me of being a kid and cursing the existence of summer.

Hot Aria says bonjour au monde!

Not sticky and icky now, so almost time to resume sewing. Finishing a corset, then a fitter for the Belle bodice, then to redo part of the elevator gown, the part I had finished right before finding new photos. ¬†Because that happened. ¬†Years of no new photos, only low resolution photo with the original white flower, and the flash in the movie, and then there is a new photo. ¬†In the words…word…of John Oliver,

 

How I got my start

I’ve often been asked how I got my start, what got me into sewing, and how I learned. ¬†Well, I may as well give a brief history.

When I was 3, I wanted to sew since I watched my mom do it, and so she let me sew some buttons. ¬†I can still see the blue corduroy overalls I sewed a couple buttons onto, and the green wall of our living room in Ceres, California. ¬†That’s where it started. ¬†From there, my mom showed me just a couple basic embroidery stitches, i.e. running stitch and split back stitch. ¬†I started making outfits for my Barbies when still a wee thing since it frustrated me to no end not being able to get the exact dresses I wanted. ¬†So I’d find old outfits that didn’t fit me anymore, and cut those up. ¬†Sometimes I’d incorporate cellophane or something else not usually considered clothing material. ¬†But why not? ¬†It was fun! ¬†When you’re a little kid not yet in kindergarten, no one tells you “that’s not for sewing!” ¬†So you get to be more creative.

I wanted to figure out more than just making doll clothes, and so my mom got an embroidery hoop and fabric, and I drew a picture on the fabric, then spent a bit of time trying to figure out how to emulate different fabric stitches I saw in magazines.  It was the 80s, and embroidery on stuff was still cool.  I was in Modesto, California then.

After a spell, I started making cloth dolls after finding panels for them at Fabricland.  The first fabric store I ever went to was Fabricland and the Vintage Faire Mall in Modest.  It was huge.  Such fond memories, I have, of how overwhelming that store as.

Then my mom got a sewing machine. ¬†Oh, yeah, everything before this was by hand. ¬†That’s why I can hand-sew so well and don’t think twice about it. ¬†But anyway, that machine ended up living in my bedroom. ¬†I put it on my desk in front of the window so that I could look outside while sewing. ¬†Now, that sewing machine lives in my sewing supply room. Between the my mom got it and when I was in the hospital again at 21 and got a new machine, that old machine much have seen thousands of miles of thread.

Anyway, over the next few years, I started sewing a few small clothing items, always with patterns at that time. ¬†The thought of drafting didn’t really cross my mind. ¬†When I wasn’t sewing, I was painting (I also had an easel and paints and all set up in my room) or reading. ¬†And then back to sewing.

When I was 13, I had to take a hiatus from sewing. ¬†13, 14, and 15 were all spent trying not to die. ¬†Not good times, and I lost some organs in those years. ¬†I remember almost nothing from the year 1995. ¬†A lot of not fun. ¬†Thinking about it too much upsets me. ¬†So let’s just skip that.

But when I got back in the saddle, hundreds of pounds heavier (80mg of prednisone a day for 3 years will do that to you–I reached 400), I found that sewing patterns just plain didn’t go that big. ¬†There’s more variety in sizing today, yet patterns for larger people are still scarce, and still top out smaller than I was. ¬†So I sewed for other people. ¬†One year, I made my brother a ninja-White Ranger (Power Rangers were a big thing) type costume. ¬†But when I needed an old-fashioned-looking gown for a drama final (last two scenes of the second act of Phantom of the Opera), my choices were scant. ¬†Nothing was made anywhere near my size, patterns weren’t big enough…

Then I got the idea to make my own pattern. ¬†And let me tell you, internets, that first pattern sucked so bad that¬†it’s embarrassing. ¬†But I would show you if I knew where it is. ¬†It’s in the garage, which is a disaster. ¬†When I find that dress, I’ll take a picture and share it. ¬†It’s not great, but it was a start, and that’s what matters! ¬†That was May or June of 1997, whichever month finals were.

Then, several months later, right after I turned 17, this obscure little movie came out. ¬†It was this little flick called Titanic. ¬†Some of you may have heard of it. ¬†ūüėČ I saw it the night it opened, before the entire world found out that Jack died. ¬†When I got out of the theater, I was still crying my eyes out, as were so, so many other people.

That opened a new chapter for me. ¬†I desperately wanted one of those dresses, but I was still a good 300 pounds and out of the range of patterns to alter, and couldn’t afford paying someone else to do it for me. ¬†By the time I started senior year of high school in 1998, I had sworn off patterns. ¬†It never crossed my mind to check Silverton’s tiny library for sewing books, but I was dead-determined, and sewed all the things.

Through a series of events that were entirely not my fault (my dad getting a job transfer, an assistant principal messing up some information, moving to a school district that required such different credits than my old high school and would have delayed graduation by a whopping THREE YEARS), I ended up being pulled from school altogether in December 1998. ¬†Let’s not get into how devastated I was to get to within six months of graduation after striving so hard to still finish school on time, despite those years of extreme illness and still dealing with ongoing illness (I still, all these years later, deal with illnesses, and this will never get better because organs don’t regrow and the medical focus is on the organs you’ll die without, not the ones you’re inconvenienced without). ¬†I went from Oregon back to California and out to Massachusetts in a matter of one month.

So now it’s January 1999, and I was again obsessed with a Titanic gown. ¬†I scoured the baby internet for all the photos I could find of the Jump gown, and still have all the pages I printed out somewhere. ¬†It’s funny to look back on my notes and what I thought was what. ¬†Then I started sewing and beading my heart out, and made a rather decent Jump dress. ¬†That dress is somewhere in the garage as well. ¬†But it was popular enough that I was encouraged to offer to make them for people. ¬†So, in March 1999, I launched a webpage back when AOL Hometown was still in existence. ¬†Oh geez, the old days of the interwebs.

From there, it’s just been learning a new method here, what a new fabric is there, and acquiring different machines and supplies as I went. ¬†Rather than saying “I can’t do that!” I was stubborn and said “Eh, I can figure it out.” ¬†That’s the huge thing right there. ¬†Be stubborn. ¬†Don’t say you can’t. ¬†Sure, at that exact moment, you might not have the skills or know-how, so can’t at that exact moment, but you CAN learn how.

There’s nothing really new or exciting. ¬†Just doing more sewing and taking on new challenges to figure out. ūüėÄ

 

Effects of tariffs on textiles

Well, I woke up to some greeeeaaaaat news from a few of my fabric suppliers.¬† Since I like to run Aria Couture with as much transparency as possible, here is another oh-so-fun business post.¬† Sarcasm is dripping. ¬†March of next year will be 19 years that I’ve had my small business. ¬†It has been through a recession. ¬†It’s been through me being homeless. ¬†(Try sewing without a home–it’s incredibly difficult.) It’s been through me being very sick. ¬†This is the first time I’ve genuinely worried for the future of Aria Couture.

Due to anticipated new tariffs, pricing of fabrics is going up, or, in a couple cases, went up overnight.¬† The National Council of Textile Organization is actually pushing FOR tariffs, despite the lack of infrastructure in place in America to take over production.¬† The list of items about to be hit with new tariffs is disheartening.¬† It includes not only fabrics, but a lot of supplies, including things like bobbins, plastic spools,¬†cardboard spools, thread,¬†all kinds of eyelets, yarn (do you like to knit or crochet?), and more.¬† Even diaries and journals and notebooks are on the list.¬† Companies and importers aren’t going to eat these costs.¬† They’re going to get passed along to the next in line.¬† This means that I will pay more to buy supplies.¬† Small things like extra tariffs on needles (they’re metal, and metal is already hit) and corset boning (steel, also already hit)¬†are not overly difficult for me to absorb due to the relatively low cost (an extra $20–steel is a higher tariff–for corset boning¬† isn’t a make-of-break for me), but fabrics are another matter.

Fabrics are already expensive, and when using many, many yards (I’ve used as many as 300 yards in some gowns), even a dollar per yard very quickly adds up to quite a hit.¬† That would be the added tariff on fabric that is $10 per yard at a tariff of 10%.¬† Unfortunately, most fabrics I use aren’t as low as $10 per yard since I use mostly natural fabrics, like silk, which is already notoriously expensive, and I use high quality silk.¬† No, all silk taffeta isn’t the same.¬† The bolt¬†pictured is silk taffeta that is sitting in my supply room.¬† Let’s say I use that fabric for a regency gown, and use five yards.¬† At a 10%-tariff, that’s an extra $50.¬† Remember when I broke down the costs of a dress to figure out the hourly wage?¬† Let’s do that again.¬† There is a huge reason for this.

Since I compete with seamstresses who use the cheapest available (I don’t because quality is a huge issue for me) and are willing to take just a few dollars per hour, I can’t charge more than I already do.¬† Typically I charge $400 for a regency round gown in silk taffeta.¬† At $50 per yard for five yards, this is $250.¬† At a payment processing fee of 3.5%, that’s $14.¬† Social security tax is 12.4%, for another $49.60.¬† ¬†I’m down to $86.40.¬† Due to how much hand-sewing silk taffeta needs, such as hand-sewn hems, I can spend 8-10 hours on a gown fro drafting to finish.¬† On the lower end, 8 hours, That’s $10.80 per hour in a state with an $11-minimum wage.

But…increase the cost of fabric by 10%.¬† That’s an additional $25 out.¬† So I’m at $61.40 for labor, which is $7.67 per hour.

I said there is a huge reason for this breakdown.¬† Textile companies are already raising prices in anticipation of tariffs being approved.¬† And it’s not at 10%.¬† Here is the old versus new pricing of one of the lower-priced fabrics I use.

  

This is what I woke up to.¬† Depending on whether I buy 1 yard or a full bolt, this is an increase of between 29% and 44%, and yes, it is in response to the tariffs according to the emails sent out about this. ¬†Yes, this¬†is higher than 10%. ¬†A little known fact is that the US is one of the world’s top exporters of raw cotton and raw wool, and when that goes into some of these countries, like China, it’s getting hit with tariff, which raises the costs for manufacturers there. ¬†Even without US-added tariffs, this alone would increase prices here. ¬†But when the finished yarn and fabrics are sent back here, it’s getting slammed with higher tariffs (textile tariffs are already typically between 14% and 62%…yes, 62%…and these new tariffs are on top of that) on a higher cost. ¬†This is double-tariffing, if not triple in some instances. ¬†Tese higher rates are potentially disastrous.

Let’s apply a difference of 29% to my little breakdown above on the assumption that this will be the new normal.¬† Instead of $250 for fabric, that would be $322.50 for fabric.¬† That leaves $13.90 for labor, which is $1.73 per hour.¬† My options would be to work for that little, or to raise the cost of that gown by $72.50, or try to find middle ground.¬† Commissioners don’t take kindly to increases in costs.¬† I’m still competing with people using the cheapest supplies and who are willing to work for peanuts.¬† For some brevity, $13.90 is enough to Amazon Prime a container of peanuts¬†with $1.81 left over.¬† Literally peanuts. Wages for most Americans is either stagnant or falling.¬† How can I raise prices when wages aren’t going up?

Thankfully, I have some time to figure things out thanks to doing something that other seamstresses told me was a waste of money.  Why buy more than is needed for current commissions?

This is some of my stash.¬† The case to the far right there is all silk, and the rest are cottons, all bought at prices not yet affected by tariffs.¬† So I can keep my prices stable for a while.¬† But after that, I just don’t know.¬† If I’m lucky, fabric suppliers will only raise prices by 10%.¬† I can justify doing this for $7.67 per hour.¬† But $1.73 per hour is too close to the line that there’s a risk I’ll lose money, especially on Etsy sales (the fee just rose to 5% and includes 5% of shipping, so take out $20, and I’m losing money out of pocket).

By the way, don’t think that store-bought clothing is safe.¬† These tariffs apply to¬†that as well.

I don’t know what to do, folks.¬† I can keep prices as they are until I’ve gone through my stash, but beyond that, what should I do?¬† I just don’t know.¬† Since this has the ability to affect everyone reading this, I think it’s only fair to welcome input, whether through comments below, through my Contact page, or through my Facebook page.¬† Should I raise prices?¬† Keep them the same?¬† Compromise on quality of fabrics or production?¬† Keep everything as is and hope for the best?¬† Please let me know your thoughts.¬† Thank you.

Decreasing quality in supplies

In the past, I’ve alluded to declining quality in fabrics and trims as the options dwindle. ¬†Well, I have a very clear example of that that I think shows up in photos. ¬†See, usually, when I know I will use a lot¬†of a supply, I will buy full bolts of fabric or rolls of ribbon or trim, often enough to last for a couple years at least, if not more. ¬†This is how I’m able to provide the same lace for many corsets, or the same fabric for many robes. ¬†So I miss the small, incremental slips that acclimate people to changes over a longer time, and get to see the full leaps.

Tonight I didn’t have enough of¬†an eyelet trim I needed for a corset, and ran off to the store. ¬†I managed to find the same patterned trim, but it felt…thinner. ¬†I bought just what I needed for this corset. ¬†If the quality was slipping as much as I thought, I didn’t want to buy a full, pricy roll as I’d rather find something newer and high enough quality to meet my standards.

Well.  Well, well, well.

The lace is indeed much thinner. ¬†The lace on the right is the older lace. ¬†There are three notable differences. ¬†First, yes, the cotton is definitely thinner. This isn’t meant to be delicate, in which case thinness can be good. ¬†The second is related to the first. ¬†Take a closer look at the space between the flowers. ¬†In the newer trim, there is more pulling. ¬†The cotton fabric isn’t substantial enough to handle the embroidery without stabilizer, though the older fabric could. ¬†The third irks me to no end. ¬†The edge of the older lace is pretty clean while the new lace has frayed edges.

Here is a closer look at the fabric and the embroidery.

I’m pretty sure that you can tell which is which.

Do you think the cost is going down to reflect this, or even staying stable (which would amount to the price going down due to inflation)? ¬†Either of those would be mildly acceptable. ¬†But no. ¬†The price has nearly doubled. ¬†Since I usually buy full rolls, the rolls I have in my supply room have the prices on them. ¬†So I’m not relying on memory for this. ¬†Fairly recently, I shared how the cost of fabric is drastically increasing as choices shrink.

Fewer choices, rising costs, decreasing quality.  Sometimes I want to rip my hair out over this.