Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bobbins in her hair...bobbins everywhere!

Not only do I make bobbin lace, I also make bobbins I use to make the lace. A few months ago, when I was showing off a pair of birch bobbins I’d made, a couple of my friends thought at first that they were hair sticks. Since I’ve always thought that the beautiful spangled bobbins I use are just as elegant as the lace they make, I was inspired to make a pair of hair sticks based on the design of my bobbins.

The components of the Spangled Midland style bobbins I use are: the thistle top, the neck, the…well, I’m not sure what the technical term is, but we’ll call it the handle, and the spangle. The neck is where the thread is wrapped, the thistle top is shaped to facilitate a special knot that holds the thread in place, yet is easily unwound when needed. The handle is the part of the bobbin that is picked up and moved to manipulate the thread, and the spangle serves as a weight to provide proper tension on the thread, keeps the bobbin from rolling around on the pillow, and looks pretty. Bobbins are almost always used in pairs, but the pairs generally are not identical. I like to use coordinating bobbins as my pairs to start, although depending on the design of the lace, the bobbins are frequently mixed up into different pairs by the end of the project.

For the hair sticks, I decided to make coordinating sticks with no attempt at making them identical. I selected oak, since I’ve had some sitting around for a while, but hadn’t gotten around to cutting any of it yet. I determined that the decorative portion of the hair stick should be based on the handle of the bobbin, complete with spangle…trying to incorporate the neck and thistle top seemed unnecessary.
It’s a little tricky to turn a long, narrow spindle, so I generally start at the tailstock and work my way toward the headstock, so that the narrowest sections will be closest to the stability of the chuck. After turning each stick, I sanded it down through several sizes of sandpaper, down to 1000 grit for a very smooth finish. Cutting off at the point is always an adventure…I usually end up using a skew chisel from my miniature tool set one handed, while loosely holding the stick with my other hand. Spinning objects have a tendency to go flying when set free, and I prefer not to damage either the item I just finished turning or my parent’s car, which is parked very close by (I did mention my lathe is in my parents’ garage, right?). After the cut-off, I sanded the point.

Back at home, I treated the sticks with tung oil, wiped them, and left them overnight. Well, longer than overnight, actually. I turned the sticks on a Saturday. I prefer not to do anything work-related on Sundays, so after I woke up Monday morning, I lightly sanded the sticks, then rubbed on a second coat of oil. By the time I got home from campus, the oil was dry and the sticks ready for the next step—spangling.

First, a small hole had to be drilled across the end of each stick. I used a small rotary power tool (like a Dremel, but off-brand) with a drill bit larger than the brass wire. Next, I cut a length of wire and threaded it through the hole. In order to allow the spangle to move freely, and also hide the connection, I arranged the beads on the wire, with the stick hanging in the middle, so that the when the ends are fastened together, the join could be slid inside the largest bead. Just as the sticks were made to coordinate, but not match, the purple beads on the spangle also coordinate without matching.

Ta-da! Lace bobbin inspired hairsticks!

Oh. And I have short hair and no personal use for hair sticks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why Did The Kids Put Lace In Their Ears?

Sure, my lace is pretty, but what do you do with it? So far, I’ve mostly made bookmarks. I use my bookmarks in special books, such as scriptures and my Jane Austen collection. But…for books I’ve borrowed from the libraries, I either A) use a highly advanced method of looking at the page number before closing the book and remembering it later on, or B) leave the book open, face down (I’d better dodge heavy objects being thrown by librarians angered by my flagrant destruction of spines). Plus, of all the books I’ve read this year (86 & 3/2 at current count), at least half were ebooks I read on my Palm TX. All I have to do to bookmark those is press a button! I know that many of my friends and coworkers listen to audiobooks instead of reading printed books…but when tried taking an informal poll of my friends to prove my point, I kind of dramatically failed (one (1) listens to books, one (1)—me—reads ebooks, and twelve (12) read traditional books). Probably I should have asked a wider range of people…
Anyway, the point is that if even I don’t have much use for the bookmarks I make, why should I expect anyone else to? I wanted a way to make my lace a little more accessible for everyday use, so I decided to try making some earrings. I started with an earring based on a white and yellow bookmark with a fancy type of spiders. I drew up the pattern by tracing sections from the bookmark pricking. This design uses 12 pairs of bobbins, including 4 pairs wound with yellow thread to outline the edges and the fancy detail of the spiders. I made a prototype, but the yellow diamonds around the small spider looked…off.
I made a second pricking (a pricking is the pattern used for creating bobbin lace. It consists of holes where pins are inserted to hold the lace in place, and lines drawn as guides for the movement of the threads. I sometimes use paper directly on my lace pillow and don’t pre-prick the holes. When I want a more durable pricking, I draw or trace a pattern on paper, which I then tape to a piece cut from a file folder, and then poke through at all the dots marking pinholes). This time, after tracing, I placed the new card directly under the bookmark pricking and poked through the existing holes. This was particularly important for the two pinholes that place the fancy detailing, and resulted in spiders that were much more like the ones in the bookmark. The placement of those two holes make a huge difference in the appearance of the spider!

When I finished creating the body of the earring, I tied square knots at each of the terminating pins, being careful to place the tiny knots where they won’t easily be noticed, and tied the middle threads into a tassel. After removing the piece from my lace pillow, I applied Fray Check to all the edges, particularly focusing on the edges with the knots. I rolled the knots to the back to make them unobservable, then pinned the lace to a pillow covered with a towel, and sprayed a nice puddle of starch over the lace.
I made another pair in black and red, with a longer tassel and standard spiders, and also created an earring pricking using 16 pairs and a honeycomb ground. I worked that one in blue embroidery floss and white thread. Fitted out with sterling silver jump rings and ear hooks, I’ve turned bookmarks into pretty jewelry!

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Nightmare Dress

No, the dress itself was not a nightmare to make. The title of this post just refers to the origin of the design. A friend of mine was feeling a little stressed about the prospect of making/finding the costumes for herself and her daughters for Halloween this year. I was feeling up for a challenge, so I took on one of the more intimidating costumes: the Sally dress. Here is the image my friend’s daughter provided for me:

The basic requirements for this dress were that it should look like the dress from the movie, both in color and fit, and that it should be made well enough to be worn more than once and be passed down to the younger sisters. Many commercially available costumes bore more of a resemblance to a circus tent—garishly colored and shapeless. My plan was to make the dress using patchwork and appliqué methods, using as a base pattern the design for a dress I made for Eve in The Diaries of Adam and Eve (performed at an extremely family-oriented theatre, hence the need for the title characters to wear clothing). Fortunately Sally had pretty much the same measurements as Eve, so that simplified matters somewhat!

First, I drew out the overall plan for the front and back, including using my 9th grade geometry skills to draw parallel grain lines on each section. The dress is bias cut, to allow for a nice fit without excess construction seams—there would be enough seams in this dress anyway! I traced each section, along with the grain lines and any placement markings, to individual pattern pieces, and added seam allowances where necessary.

Next, the fabric. There are a lot of pieces, and a lot of colors, and I didn’t want to waste money or fabric by buying strips of cloth for each color, and then end up with a bunch of extra. Plus, I wasn’t sure how well I could find fabrics of the right colors. So I bought a couple yards of unbleached 108” muslin and some dyes. After prewashing and drying the fabric, I laid out the pattern pieces roughly, and drew section lines (all lines I drew were either parallel or perpendicular to the selvedges). I also marked each section with a code indicating which color it should be, and sewed around the edges to prevent fraying. Then, armed with Dylon cold-water dyes and a number of white dollar-store wastebaskets, I set up a dye shop in my bathtub.

I chose the Dylon dyes because they seemed much better suited to multiple small batch dye jobs than the other dyes in the stores. Almost none of the sections were supposed to be the colors indicated on the dye packets, so I mixed powders, dyed lighter sections for shorter times than directed, and dyed and redyed darker sections. The sections I had the most difficulty with were the maroon and brown. I ended up getting some navy blue dye and overdying those sections to try to get them a little darker. The end results were not quite the colors from the movie, but coordinated well together and were still much better than the circus-y commercial dresses!

After cutting and marking the pieces, I drew swirls, stripes, and dots on several pieces (using a black permanent fabric marker), fused the brown dots and pink square to their sections, then taped my master plan of the front to a door by my sewing machine and got to work. If pressed, I could recreate the order in which the sections were sewn together, but for now I’ll just say it was a logical progression. The front went together very quickly and easily. The back was a little slower…because I’d forgotten to put notches on any of the pieces. Even so, it still went pretty quickly. When I sewed the front to the back at shoulders and sides, I left a section under the left arm where a zipper could easily be added, if necessary. Since this is a bias-cut dress, and bias needs to settle, I hung the dress overnight at this point.

The next day, I hung the dress on a door, set up my laptop nearby with the concept image displayed, grabbed my scissors, and started cutting. I have seen other versions of Sally’s dress where the lower edge was cut at angles and hemmed, but I felt that, A) that method looks awkward and bulky, rather than ragged and torn, and B) That method looks like a pain in the neck. So I just cut the hemline and sleeve edges, mimicking the concept image as closely as possible. After I finished cutting, I applied a healthy dose of Fray-Check to all raw edges. Fray-Check is supposed to be washable, but I did advise my friend that it may need to be re-applied in the future.

So, the dress is sewn, the edges are finished…should be done, right? Well, here’s where I started to get a little carried away. In the movie, the black thread used to sew the patches together is visible. Now, I did use black thread when I was sewing, but even if I had, say, zigzagged along the seams on the outside, tiny little black threads just wouldn’t show up. So I dug out some black yarn and a fairly large-holed sharp needle…and started hand-sewing big black stitches along the seams.

After a few, enough to get the idea across, I sent a picture to my sister and asked what she thought. She liked it, but said I’d better do the same thing across the rest of the seams. My fingers were a little sore by the time I was done, but it really did look good!

As I mentioned before, I left a spot in the left seam for a zipper, just in case. My plan was to try the dress on my friend’s daughter, then put in some darts and a zipper if she wanted it more fitted. However, I think I scared her off of that idea when she tried it on. I mentioned that the darts would probably give a slightly off-set appearance to some of the designs and seams. So Sally, weighing the designs against the fitting, opted not to have the darts.

So, lessons learned:
1. It is harder than I thought to get deep colors on cotton using cold-water dyes.
3. Maybe a thimble wouldn’t be such a bad idea next time I’m trying to stab worsted-weight yarn through muslin.
4. Probably would have been better to fit a plain muslin shell to Sally, then use that as the basis for the pattern. If I had incorporated the darts from the beginning, we could have had both the designs and the fitted look.

All in all, though, I like the dress!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Who is this La Beq person, anyway?

Hi. I'm Beqi. I make stuff. It's what I do and who I am. I decided to start this blog to keep a record of some of the interesting projects I've attacked.

First, though, a little history about me that should explain what kind of stuff I make:

When I was a kid, my mom taught me to sew, crochet, and cook. My dad taught me to use a beading loom and aided and abetted my interest in photography. In middle school and high school, I picked up some basic woodworking skills. When I got to college, I majored in Manufacturing, and therefore learned machining, welding, and casting. Through electives, I learned to throw pots and other ceramics skills, as well as bookbinding (I loved that class so much I took it twice!). During a summer break, a friend of the family taught me to spin. I got interested in lacemaking, and, using books, have taught myself to make bobbin lace. I am also pretty much self-taught in wood turning, using the midi lathe my parents gave me for my birthday a few years ago. They gave it to me so I could make my own bobbins, but I have been branching out a bit, as well.

My basic philosophy is that I can figure out how to make anything that can be made. My ability to actually make what I figure out is limited only by availability of resources. Some items I discuss here, and others I don't, are available for purchase. Projects for my personal use, for family, or for friends, will not be sold, but will still be discussed in this record of just what can be Made By La Beq!