Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tips Tuesday!

I don't know if this is going to start a trend here, but it's Tuesday so I thought I'd share a helpful tip with you! I have a bit of an obsession with life hacking and get a really sinister kind of glee when I find a new way to hack my life and make myself more productive.

I was recently involved in a discussion on Facebook about burn tests. A burn test is a test one does to find out the fiber content in a piece of fabric; you burn a scrap of fabric and check the results to determine what kind of fibers are included in the fabric. It involves smelling the burning fabric, observing the ash characteristics, and observing the way it extinguishes. Most fabric shops have labels on their fabrics denoting the fiber content, but industry standards allow fabric manufacturers to be a bit misleading. The big fabric mecca warehouse outlets often do not have fiber content listed on bolts - or if they do, it's something generic like "wool blend" or just plain old "twill".

I'm lucky - my local fabric mecca will burn fabrics for me. Most people have to get swatches and burn their own fabrics, sometimes out in the parking lot (which does look a little suspect to the non-fiberfiles). Making sure you always have your burn test materials on hand when you go shopping is important, but if you're like me, that's a dicey proposition.

The best way to make sure you have all your burn test supplies on hand? Make a traveling burn test kit. Before I explain, let's remember that anything involving fire should be done in a controlled environment, with water on hand, and taking every precaution necessary to prevent burns. Fabric burns fast; fabric of an unknown fiber source can behave in unexpected ways (like melting or burning very quickly). I take no responsibility for those who perform burn tests without using common sense; try this at home, but you do it at your own risk. Alright? Alright.

First, get this flow chart from The Lovely Doll Company and print it out.

I think it has the best information and makes it quick and easy to decipher just what you're looking for. You can laminate it and roll it up so that it stays fresh forever, or fold it up as-is if you don't mind occasionally reprinting.

Next, get a small tin like an Altoids container. Bonus points if you recycle, but if you need to buy new, Specialty Bottle sells small tins as well. A metal container won't get wet, but you could use anything you find helpful - a plastic container, a small bottle, and so on.

Finally, add a child-proof lighter or matches, whichever is your weapon of choice for causing a conflagration, and a tool for holding onto the fabric, as it's a really bad idea to light any fabric while you're holding it in your fingers. The best choice is a pair of forceps from a medical supply company or, if you're lucky, your local pharmacy. You can also use tweezers, but be careful with smaller tools.

Voila! Put it in your car or in your purse and you have a burn test kit for the fiberfile on-the-go. All your supplies will be together for your next trip to the fabric store.

What other tips do you have for fabric shopping? Share in the comments!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Eulogy for My Favorite Fabric Shop

Say it ain't so...

With the end of October last year came the very, very sad announcement that Mill End Textiles, a local chain of  fabric outlets in the upper Great Lakes region, is closing for good. The rumor mill has it that the stores will be completely closed by February. To that end, please indulge me in a little bit of public grieving.

Oh, Mill End. What shall I do without you in my life? You were the first fabric shopping experience I ever had when I was 14 years old and needed cotton shirting for my first sewing project in Clothing Tech class at Johnson High School. I got the fabric for my first monstrosity of a pagoda-sleeved calico dress from your hallowed aisles. Since then, at least half of my historical dresses have come from Mill End.

You were always there. When I needed a couple yards of fabric to make up a little girl’s pinafore for a museum in Oregon, your stacks of flat-fold calicos were like the Promised Land. Whenever I needed a silk remnant for a lining, you were there. You were better than any therapist has been or could be for me. Your employees were ever-patient while I dithered over the contrasting fabric for my wrapper. They celebrated with me when I found the acorn fabric, they ooh-ed and ahh-ed with me over the Empress gown fabric, they agreed that that red and green paisley was just so ugly it was beautiful. They turned a blind eye on the quiet evenings when I laid out a variety of silks to take pictures to send to friends for opinions and further pondering. And whenever Joanns or Hancock let me down, you welcomed me back with open arms and said, “It’s alright. Have a coupon. And all calicos are 50% off this month.”

Do I even need to mention the convenience (and inconvenience) of your location just a stone’s throw from work? And yes, though SR Harris will step up to fill the large Mill End-sized hole in my heart, there will still be no beating the convenience and proximity.

At least I have your massive, massive fabric sale to console me. But I shall always regret you.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The New Year's Come

It's a new year! I wish you all the best and brightest for 2014 - nothing but lovely things and lots of happiness. And I hope you celebrated New Year's Eve exactly as you wanted. I know I did - my reenacting bestie Sarah (of the immersion event and St. Louis ball fame) came for a visit. We went out for Chinese food, then stayed in and watched movies with hot toddies. I am proud to say that we made it past midnight, though it was touch-and-go for a while.

Cruikshanks "New Years Eve"

Since the new year is a time of setting goals and making plans, I'd like to share with you some of my goals for living history in 2014. There are some other ones, smaller and/or more private, but here's a smattering:

  • Attend more events "just for me". I do a lot of events during the year that involve me demonstrating, teaching, or presenting. I like these events and I think they get best at the heart of why I do living history, but I had a lot of fun last year at events that I went to just to enjoy myself. I need to keep that balance in mind.
  • More undergarments. I say this every year - "This year, I'm going to sew more sets of undergarments." Maybe this is the year it will actually happen.
  • Branch out. 2012 and 2013 were the years I branched out into Regency. I'd like to sew more Regency outfits, and actually have the opportunity to wear them. I've also been itching for an 1830s dress for no particular reason. I'd also like to work on 18th century things too - I have the linen for a dress, and drill for stays. Which leads me to...
  • Supportive undergarments. I'd like for 2014 to be the year I conquer my fear of corsets and stays. I think I'm ready for it.
  • Travel to an immersion event. There are a couple contenders, and I'm not sure if any of them will pan out (time and money are a huge factor, naturally). But I'd like to go some place new, meet new people, and try out a new impression. Which may mean...
  • Working impression. I do a lot of things in the middle-class and upper-class end of things. I'm happy and comfortable there and I enjoy creating a really good interpretation of that. I do think it would be good for be to branch out into a working impression, both researching a persona and creating the clothing. I may have the opportunity to test out a working impression this year. More on that later.
  • Blog More! In 2013, I got back to blogging, and I have so enjoyed it. I love sharing my experiences and getting comments from those who follow me, and having a place to share some of my thoughts. It's also been fun to look back on things and have a record of where I've been, what I've been thinking, and what I've been doing. So, here's to more blogging in 2014!

To help me achieve all of these goals, I am hereby throwing my hat in the ring for the Historical Sew Fortnightly 2014! I hope this will give me some interesting new directions in my sewing. Feel free to join me!

What sort of goals do you have? Any projects you're planning? Share in the comments!