Tuesday, November 10, 2020

A Weighty Problem

I needed "real" pattern weights. Staplers and scissors tend to be my go-to pattern weights because I keep them nearby, but they get kind of unwieldy for holding down bra patterns that have lots of individual little fiddly pieces. 

FabMo, my favorite source for fabrics (except for bras!), also regularly gets donations of tiles from high-end bathroom design stores at the San Francisco Design Center. Many of these are plain (but handmade!) 4-inch or 6-inch square tiles and 2" by 4" subway tiles, but they often get other sizes and shapes, as well as mounted pattern examples that make great trivets. I recently found a square-foot sample of hand-cut marble pieces held together by fiberglass mesh and grout on the backs, as well as a few nice small shaped tiles. They would make great pattern weights!

I pulled apart the marble squares by hand, and pulled off as much of the mesh and grout as I could. It was only after doing that for an hour or so that I realized the mesh was fiberglass! Oops. Handling fiberglass with bare hands isn't a good idea, and I had lots of little fiberglass splinters in my hands to remind me. I did manage to get most of them out with Scotch tape or tweezers. I wore medical gloves for the rest of the time I was working with the fiberglass.

I found an article on the web that suggested using plain granulated sugar dissolved in water to help scrub the grout off tiles, so I put about a cup of sugar in two cups of water, stirred, and dumped in several of my marble tiles. It also suggested using a piece of wood to scrape off the grout to avoid scratching the tile.

Plastic jar full of marble pieces, tiles, and sugar water

Here are the tiles after I had tried to pull off the fiberglass and grout by hand and after soaking in the sugar water for half an hour. The stringy stuff is the fiberglass.

Three square pieces of marble showing the grout and fiberglass on the bottom of each one.

I used some disposable chopsticks to try scraping off the grout, but they were useless (and they broke). I finally tried a razor scraper, which worked, though I did go through several blades while scraping grout off about 16 tiles. I'm not sure the sugar water helped with the grout, but it did help keep the fiberglass under control because it was slightly sticky!

Three pieces of marble showing grout and fiberglass, plus gloved hand holding razor scraper tool. Two pieces of marble. One has had the grout and fiberglass scraped off in a chunk, also visible. Razor scraper tool.raper

I soaked one scraped marble piece in vinegar overnight. I had heard that vinegar (and acids in general) was bad for marble. Yep, it is! Here is the vinegar-soaked tile on the right, with another tile (polished to a nice shine, though the shine isn't really visible in the picture) on the left for comparison. The vinegar ate away at the matrix material of the tile, leaving a pale, soft chalky surface with little harder inclusions sticking out slightly. Lesson: don't pour vinegar on your marble floors!

Polished, darker marble tile on left. Vinegar-soaked, paler marble on right.

Making the Pattern Weights

Here is how to make the simple pattern weights.

Materials needed:
  • Small tiles or pieces of marble or stone with a flat bottom, from 1 inch by 2 inches up to 2 inches by 4 inches (about 2.5 cm by 5 cm up to 5 cm by 10cm). Approximately 2 inches by 2 inches (about 5 cm by 5 cm) is ideal for most uses.
Example marble pieces, just under 2 inches by 2 inches, plus two example tiles that are each2 inches by 4 inches.
  • Cork sheet, about 1/8 inch thick (2-5 mm thick). Available at craft stores, office supply stores, and stores such as Daiso. My roll of cork sheet came from Office Depot.
Roll of cork sheet with label on it
  • Glue or adhesive. I used basic Elmer's white glue. Tacky glue will also work. Adhesive sheet or double-stick tape will also work, but I have found that those are more likely to come unstuck over time. The pattern weights do not need to be waterproof. If water gets on them while you are working with a pattern, your pattern would be more damaged than the pattern weight!

  • Scissors, knife or rotary cutter and ruler for cutting the cork.

  • Pen/pencil for marking the cork if needed. Do NOT use a marker to trace around the tile, not even a washable marker. The tile or marble sucks in the ink, and it's impossible to wash off! Yes, I found this out the hard way.

  • Ruler

1. Trace around the tile or marble onto the cork. 
2. Cut your pieces of cork slightly smaller than the tile so the cork does not show from the top of the pattern weight. Make to cork piece approximately 1/16th of an inch (1-2 mm) inside each edge of the tile.
Hand holding a piece of marble and the corresponding cut piece of cork

3. Spread a small amount of glue onto one side of the cork and onto the bottom side of the tile. I spread the glue evenly with my finger on both pieces. You do not need much glue. If you have too much it will ooze out from the sides and make a mess.

4. Put the pieces together carefully and let dry. Clean off any excess glue if needed.

All done! 

Here are my finished pattern weights: 

Hand holding piece of marble with cork on bottom (not visible)  

Hand holding piece of marble with cork on bottom (visible)

Pattern laid out on fabric with weights on pattern

Pattern laid out on fabric with weights on pattern

P.S. If you do not have tiles easily available or making these is just too much bother, a set of heavy plastic (imitation ivory) dominoes work well as pattern weights. Alternatively, you can search for pattern weights from several makers on Etsy. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Cushy Round Cushion, Round Two

I like my new meditation cushion! I still had three of the 25-inch by 11-inch FabMo samples left of the same heavy cotton fabric, so I made another one almost the same. I used 11-inch circles, and I installed a salvaged backpack zipper across the bottom circle. The difference here was that I used a 49-inch strip (two pieces sewn together) instead of the 59-inch strip I used for the first cushion. I also stuffed it with all the teeny sewing scraps I've been saving for such a purpose. Here is the second cushion.

Slanted view of stuffed dark gray and off-white round meditation cushion

Top view of stuffed dark gray and off-white round meditation cushion

Yeah, it has pleats, it looks nice, blah-blah... so what's interesting here? 

Here are the two cushions together. The first cushion is on the right, and the second cushion is on the left.

Now here they are stacked. The first cushion is on the bottom, and the second cushion is on the top.

Two round pillows, one stacked on top of the other

The first cushion has a bigger diameter than the second cushion. The first cushion is also a bit shorter in height than the second cushion. They both have the same top and bottom circles. So what's going on here?

Since the top and bottom circles are the same, the differences have to do with the lengths of the strips that go around the sides. Let's take a look:

Figure 1 is described in the blog text

Figure 1A above shows the side strip rectangle flat and showing the original length of the strip. Figure 1B above shows the strip once it is pleated. The pleated length must match the circumference of the top and bottom circles! This is the problem I had on my first pillow: my pleated strip was longer than the circumference of my circles. The height of the strips is the same. 

Figure 1C above shows the pleated strip wrapped around to form a cylinder with the top and bottom circles. Note that I am ignoring seam allowances and overlap in these diagrams.

Figure 2 is described in the blog text

Figure 2A shows a view looking at the side of the filled cushion (an oval with a rectangle, where the rectangle shows the cylinder shape from the top and bottom circles). This side view also shows the maximum diameter of the finished cushion, which is where the side piece bends outward from the top and bottom circles. Figure 2B looks down on the circular cushion from the top. 

When I stuffed the cushion, the pleats unfolded as far as they could around the middle side but stayed folded where they were sewn to the top and bottom circles. Because the pleats could only unfold to the original length of the side piece, we see that the maximum diameter of the cushion is related to the original (unpleated) length of the side piece (Max Diameter = Original Length / Pi). Because my second cushion had a shorter original length, it cannot expand as far around the middle as my first cushion. And because the side pieces are the same height, and less of that height is absorbed by the expanding middle, my second cushion also stays taller than my first cushion. 

Both of my cushions could use a bit more stuffing, but that would not change the difference between them. And yes, there should be a formula for the cushion height based on the various other measurements, but that involves more math than I remember (and differential equations, which I hated when I learned them years ago)!

Who knew that making cushions could be so complicated and mathematical?

And because I still love gratuitous dog pics, here are my cushions with my little dogs Lacey and Pinto modeling on top of them.

Little white dog, Lacey, sitting on top of two cushions

Little white dog, Lacey, sitting on top of two cushions

Little brown dog, Pinto, sitting on top of two cushions

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Cushy Round Cushion

As I mentioned in my previous post, I tend to make specific things because I want or need them. This time, I wanted to make a round meditation cushion (also called a zafu). I took up meditation at the beginning of the year, doing at least a little almost every day. But I was having a hard time sitting still on my bed, and I realized it was because I needed to be lifted up a bit to be more comfortable.

I started looking for meditation cushion ideas and tutorials on Pinterest. After eventually climbing back out of the Pinterest rabbit hole, I had created a whole board about meditation cushions. I found an interesting tutorial on Buddhamind.info along with several different versions from different people, including this version on YouTube and this version on Instructables. All of these versions are pretty good, so I'm not going to do my own step-by-step version!

I used some really sturdy cotton upholstery fabric samples from FabMo. They were similar to heavy denim in weight and texture. Each of the samples was about 11 inches wide by 25 inches long. The Buddhamind tutorial said to cut two circles between 11 inches and 13 inches in diameter. Since my samples were only 11 inches wide, I went with 11-inch circles. All of the instructions said to make a strip 59 or 60 inches long for the sides of the cushion, so I sewed three samples together to get a long-enough strip. Then the tutorials provided very exact directions about how to pleat the strip, starting at the 6.5-inch point. I followed the pleating instructions, but when I went to pin the strip to the top circle, I realized that the strip, even pleated, was way too long for my circle! Clearly everyone went with the 13-inch circle and hadn't tried the 11-inch version. For mine, I did some fudging, added extra pleats, and moved a few pleats around until I got something that fit better around the top circle. 

I had actually read all the way through the instructions before starting (you know, the way they tell you to do with recipes and other instructions, but many people don't!). At the end, the instructions casually mentioned that you could put a zipper in the opening where the strip overlapped. I realized that putting in a zipper would be difficult to do once the cushion was sewn together. Instead, I cut out the bottom circle as two separate pieces with a little extra fabric between them, so both pieces were slightly more than semi-circles. I installed a salvaged backpack zipper in the circle so I would have a zipper running across the bottom of the cushion. I sewed that circle to the bottom edge of the pleated strip.

Here is the (not stuffed) cushion bottom showing the zipper.
Bottom view of not-stuffed dark gray and off-white round meditation cushion showing a zipper going across the center of the bottom circle

I stuffed the completed cushion with my kids' (clean) discarded old t-shirts (because of course I still have them!) and t-shirt scraps. Here is the stuffed cushion.

Slanted view of stuffed dark gray and off-white round meditation cushion

Top view of stuffed dark gray and off-white round meditation cushion

It turns out that when the cushion is fully stuffed, the center of the side panel loses its pleats. At least with this fabric, it's not really noticeable that my pleats aren't uniformly spaced. Of course, now that I have mentioned it, the non-uniformity becomes really obvious!

Here are the gratuitous dog pictures for today. That's Lacey (white) and Pinto (brown)

Small white dog next to gray and off-white cushion

Small brown dog and small white dog next to gray and off-white cushion

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

I'm Making What?

I like doing projects and crafts that are not quite mainstream. One of my current interests is making bras. Yeah, brassieres. Those things. Most women don't even like shopping for bras. The prospect of making them is even more daunting, even for people who consider themselves good at sewing!

As with many of my projects, this one started because I needed something. Well, actually, my daughter did. She has a really hard time finding bras that fit comfortably. She'll order half a dozen bras online (because brick-and-mortar stores rarely even carry her size, and there's a pandemic going on anyhow), try them all on, and send them all back. She's tried on a few dozen this way. It's time-consuming and discouraging for both of us.

I started poking around the Internet. Have I mentioned that I LOVE the Internet? I found a whole subculture of folks who make their own bras, sell bra-making supplies, design patterns, teach lessons, discuss bra-making on Facebook, and even record YouTube videos about making bras. Yay!

After reading discussions and watching videos, I soon settled on ordering supplies and patterns online from a shop in Canada called Bra-makers Supply. I ordered a couple of patterns (Shelley and Ingrid by Beverly V. Johnson, the "Fairy Bra Mother"), a fitting book, and a couple of kits. The Shelley pattern had been mentioned in multiple places as a good pattern for beginning bra makers. The Ingrid was wire-free, so I thought I would try both. Here is a picture of the bra kits, Ingrid pattern, and book that I got (the Shelley pattern is under the book):

Bra kits, pattern booklet, instruction booklet

I made the Shelley bra first. I had found a YouTube "sew-along" video on the michoumakes channel from a woman who was making her second Shelley bra. I watched the first of six(!) parts of the sew-along, and that combined with the multi-page pattern instructions gave me enough confidence to dive right in.

Hand holding piece of bra in progress next to pattern instructions

Beverly Johnson has devised her own sizing system for her patterns. You need just two measurements to determine what pattern size to use (and the pattern includes a huge number of sizes). Unfortunately the measuring instructions say something like "start by wearing a well-fitting bra...", which my daughter didn't have! Chicken-and-egg problem. We measured as best we could, and I figured the first bra would be a prototype anyhow.

The pattern and kit were both great! Although it took me about 10-11 hours of work (including sewing, ripping out, and resewing), I made a bra that looked both pretty and professional. 

Lavender underwire bra (front) on grid cutting mat

Lavender underwire bra (back view) on grid cutting mat

The underwires are sticking out because I was trying out different underwires to see what fit best, so I didn't finish the underwire channel. I had already been keeping hardware and underwires from old dead bras because I might find a use for them someday!

My daughter tried the bra on, and... it didn't fit. Not even close. Oh well. It did give us a basis for figuring out what size would be closer, though. Fortunately I got a second kit for the Shelley bra. Back to the sewing machine!

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Tragedy of an Abandoned Blog...

 ... Oh my... has it really been almost six years since my last blog post? Time flies! I never meant to abandon my blog!

A lot has changed since my previous post. Blogger.com now has a new user interface (better, so far). Europe now has the GDPR privacy law that requires that I tell you this site uses browser cookies (I don't, but Google does), and California has a similar law. Somewhere along the line, Google rearranged their servers, and a bunch of my pictures have disappeared from a few of my older posts. I'm going to have to go back and fix those if I can find my corresponding ancient pictures.

The addition of Pinterest and Instagram to the online social media world have created major changes in the world of blogging and the ways that bloggers are now expected to interact with those. I have been spending lots of time on both (follow me on Pinterest and Instagram) instead of blogging! But with Pinterest and Instagram, blogs now include jazzier graphics, multiple title pictures, and more professional photos so they appear better in those media. I may or may not try to do that later.

Because I am a professional technical writer, when I'm NOT working at a "day job", I tend to be more interested in blogging because I feel a need to be writing something. Since my previous post, I continued working at my longtime employer, then I took a 6-month leave of absence for a volunteering gig in 2016. I returned to that employer in January 2017, and I got laid off three weeks later! I guess the universe was telling me I had been there too long (many years). I did some local volunteering, and I made a lot of doll clothes for a local annual boutique and Etsy (with a corresponding Instagram).

Late in 2017, I got bored and wanted to be around people, so I got a part-time job at a coffee shop. Total mistake: I'm terrible at that type of work (poor short-term memory, being on my feet), and it wasn't at all social. And I actually don't like drinking coffee, which was the primary perk. I quit that job in three months (yes, I should have been blogging instead)! I soon I got my dream job working at a startup. I was learning fun new nerd stuff, writing documentation, and doing training, among other things. That lasted almost two years. Unfortunately the company shut down. I looked (unsuccessfully) for a new writing job, and then the pandemic hit. So here I am, needing to write blog posts again.

I did a lot of craft stuff along the way, of course, and I have recently tried my hand at sewing machine repair. I have also been spending time volunteering at FabMo, a nonprofit that rescues unwanted fabric and similar materials and distributes them to the public, diverting many tons of goods from the landfills. FabMo gets a lot of its materials as samples from interior design houses in San Francisco: fine upholstery and drapery fabrics, designer tiles, luxury carpet samples, and more. Darn, I'm drooling again!

I'm still a dog fanatic. We've adopted two new rescues (Pinto and Kona) to keep Lacey on her toes, and our older dog Tulip went off to college with my son. I also spend a lot of time with my mom's two standard poodles, Sugar and Spice, who have their own Instagram

Four dogs sitting, waiting for a treat 
Left to right: Spice, Sugar, Pinto, and Lacey

Pinto Beans is a heavy chihuahua mix at 17 pounds, and he likes to chase the biggest dogs at the dog park. Amazingly, he can keep up with them, barking his fool head off all the way. He's FAST.

This is Kona the Destroyer, looking very pleased with herself! She's the scrawniest little pit bull terrier mix I've ever seen, full grown at just 20 pounds. 

Black and white dog with tongue out, leaning on a gate

That's it for now. I hope to put up my next post MUCH sooner than six years from now!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Paisley Purse, Please

Well, I almost managed to get a second purse done before I went back to work, but not quite.  It took me an extra two days to finish.

My second purse is very similar to the first one: same shape, same upholstery leather.  For this one, though, I was mostly playing with how I could make a filigree-punched Paisley pattern for the main decorative design. I have a set of filigree punches from Tandy (triangle, diamond, moon, heart, flower) as well as my circular drive punches that I usually use for punching holes for rivets and such.

I started with a paper sketch of the Paisley shape, and I started punching right through the paper into the leather.

It got kind of zen-like as I just started punching one line of shapes after another, just following the sketch lines.  By the time I was done I had my punched leather layer and a really cool paper doily.

I used diamond chisel punches (forks with attitude!) to punch holes for all the stitching.  I have three of them: six teeth, two teeth, and one tooth (which helps you get around curves).  I embroidered the blue lines to hold the punched layer to the gold leather layer.

I laced the purse together with a different type of lace this time.  It's something called EcoSoft Lace from Tandy, and it's microfiber!  You know, the stuff "high-tech" cleaning cloths are made of.  It's nice and soft and comes in more interesting colors than regular leather lace.  The one downside I found is that it's difficult to skive (shave off) the ends into a tapered shape for splicing two pieces together.  You are only supposed to work with about two yards of lace at a time so you avoid wearing out or fraying the lace by the time you get to the end of the piece (since you pull the whole piece through each lacing hole).  Since the double loop stitch uses a lot of lace per inch of leather edges, I ended up having to do several splices.

The last big different thing I did on this one was to do saddle stitch along the two edges of the shoulder strap. Saddle stitch is like running stitch with two alternating needles, or what my husband calls "racing stitch". There are lots of videos out on YouTube for learning to do saddle stitch.  I punched all the holes first with my diamond chisels again.  It added several extra hours of work to the project to do the stitching, but it does really improve the look.  The strap is made of two layers of the upholstery leather glued back to back.

Here are the two finished purses, along with the usual gratuitous dog pose.  Lacey and Tulip will endorse anything for enough treats!

Well, leatherwork was a good way to while away a good chunk of four weeks off work, and now it's back to my day job!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nevermind Netflix--I'm Too Busy Making Leather Stuff!

I recently had some surgery that requires some time off work to recuperate (and it's going just fine).  I had originally planned to use the time to catch up on all the various TV series that I never get around to watching during my regular life: Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and so on.  I had a list all lined up. Yeah, so much for that idea!  The wi-fi isn't good enough, and there are just too many other things that interest me.

Among other things, my older daughter and a friend got me hooked on Pinterest.  Now I'm wondering how I ever lived without it, and how I will live without spending hours on it after I go back to work!  So much inspiration!  Dyeing, leatherwork, fashion, shoes... I've been caught in a frenzy of wanting to pin more things and wanting to run off and do a project right away based on something I see.  I was really drooling over the amazing Russian leatherwork at kooc.livejournal.com.

I have a leather stash like some of my quilting friends have a fabric stash (yes, I've got one of those too...), and I figured I should use some of it.  Since my favorite color is blue, I have a good selection of blue leathers, as well as other colors.  A lot of it is upholstery leather, odd-lot whole hides that appealed to me even if I didn't have a specific project in mind for them.

I thought I'd try out making a purse with a couple of the techniques I saw in the Russian bags (especially this one).  Specifically, I wanted to try out lacing and hand stitching as well as the cut-out techniques, all techniques I haven't used in previous projects.

I made a pattern for my purse.  I wanted the bag itself to be simple since the decoration would get most of the work.  I cut one "figure-8" piece (the pattern is two same-size circles overlapping like a Venn diagram), two "half-8" pieces that were half of the figure-8 piece (circles missing top sections), and a rectangular strip to form the gusset section of the purse.  One of those half-8 pieces is a gold-dusted leather that will peek through the cutouts of the front flap of the figure-8.

The Design

I can't ever make a "creative" project exactly like somebody else's (even if I had the skill of the Russian leatherworker!), so I did my own design of a sky with clouds.  I used a half-inch drive punch to make the cloud cut-outs, and I cut slits in the leather in a fan design to create the sun rays.

The Clasp

A while back I had ordered a bunch of strong and small neodymium magnets from K&J Magnetics for some other project that I had then abandoned, so I used some of those to make a hidden magnetic clasp to hold the bag closed.   I initially sewed one magnet between the blue and gold leathers on the front flap (adding the gold "sun" piece on top to hide that stitching).

I sewed the lines around the clouds and the little bird motifs in lockstitch using a sewing awl after watching an instructional video on YouTube (have I mentioned that I LOVE YouTube for learning how to do things?). Lockstitch is the same type of stitch a regular sewing machine makes.  I also used some contact glue between the cut-out blue leather and the gold piece to hold everything in place more firmly.

I glued and sewed the matching magnet under the moon motif on the inner front piece.

When I got those done, I found that the magnetic clasp hardly did anything.  There was too much leather between the magnets.  I skived down some of the leather between the magnets, but it wasn't enough to help much.  I then took those pieces back apart and added another magnet to each side (so 2 neodymium 3/4" x 3/8" x 1/32" block magnets on each side).  It works, but it doesn't have the reassuring "click" of those magnetic clasps where one piece clicks into the other.  On the good side, it doesn't show at all, and the magnet does have the handy advantage of holding my metal lacing needle for me!

The Lacing

I glued the gusset panel to the front and back pieces, and then it was time for the lacing step.  Back to YouTube for a lacing video!  I followed that video, tried it on a practice piece with my lace and lacing needle, and off I went to the real thing.  I used "Superior Calf Lace" from Tandy Leather Factory for this.

I really like the double loop lacing style.  However, if I were to do this again, I wouldn't use the brown color (too jarring a contrast), and I would only do the double-loop lacing on the flap.  The double-loop lacing is too stiff for the upholstery leather body of the bag, and it juts straight out from the gusset panel, making an odd raised rim around the front and back of the bag body, though it is less obvious if the bag is full (which it will be!).

For the strap, I glued two strips of the leather back-to-back, riveted it onto the sides of the gusset, and added a strap buckle and keeper loop.


So now I've got a fancy new cross-body bag, and I've learned some new techniques!  I've still got some more time before I can go back to work, though.  Hmm, what should I do for my next project?  Back to Pinterest!


If you want to find me on Pinterest, I'm the Sara Woodhull with a profile picture of two dogs wearing tie-dye (of course)!