Thursday, February 3, 2011


Well, the steampunkery has been put on hold. Since it's a project solely for me to use up scraps and maybe make something cool to wear to a con I may or may not end up going to, I've kind-of gotten into some other things. For one, I had some brainworm projects that just wouldn't get out of my head unless I sat down for a few days watching Pride and Predjudice (again) and stitched things. Here's one: Here's another:

The ideas for these have been wandering through the back of my mind for months, and since work is rather slow, I thought I'd get on them and get the stuff out of my fabric cabinet. That green bodice was particularly persistant and wouldn't let me go for a good 12 hours, not until I finished the hand embroidered knotwork on the front. The strawberry dress was also planning to usurp my sanity at one point, and I couldn't stop humming "Strawberry Fields". Fortunately, that one was a relatively quick project, and the final result is pretty, so the brainworm ideas have abated, for now.


I may have gotten myself into something. For Christmas this past year, I made my friend's son a kilt. He's seven, and he takes a highland dancing class. He's been in classes for a few months now, and has learned enough to perform little dances in school performances. I had never made a kilt before, but I had found some very lightweight wool tartan fabric on a recent trip to New Hampshire that was only $4.50 a yard and 60 inches wide. I figured that I could make him one with a deep hem so it could be let down (his current attire for dance class being a sport kilt his grandmother found, from a polyester blend that velcros in the front with an almost non-existant hem; good for practice, easy to wash, but more a utilitarian uniform than a heritage garment). I figured that I might make some mistakes and that the wool I would use was extremely lightweight for the purpose, but also knew that he'll grow out of it in a few years and need a new one anyway in his proper tartan, so I might as well make him one out of this cheap (really cheap! in a good way!) stuff, just for practice.

He loves it.

Every time I see him now, he's wearing his kilt and vaulting over the livingroom couch. Sometimes also in his pirate shirt. It's terribly amusing.

Apparently, he wears it around enough for friends-of-friends-of-friends to see it, and word gets around. A couple of people have asked me if I can make them a kilt, and how much do I charge? To which I have to reply that I'm open to the idea, but I'm not sure what I'd charge for work, fabric is expensive, though. To which they say, "Well, think about it."

So this is what I'm thinking: Work has been slow since the week after Christmas, so the cash flow has been pretty depressing. I need to do something to bring in extra cash; another part-time job right now is not an option, because I'm holding out for a seasonal job in a costume shop, starting beginning of April. I don't want to get into something just in time to bail out when I've got the hang of it. Sewing work is good, if the jobs can come through on a regular basis. I don't need too many to keep me occupied, or to pay the bills, but I need to keep them coming. One kilt would keep me occupied for a week or two (this last one took spare time from 3 weeks before Christmas). I charge $10 an hour for sewing work (really cheap, I know), but how many hours does it take me to sew a kilt? I made this as a gift, so I wasn't really keeping track. I only know it was a freakin' long time. I figured I'd probably make a few more for friends and family, including one for myself, but I didn't think anyone around here would want to pay me to make one. Professional companies in Scotland charge upwards of $500 for a kilt, and who do I know who has that kind of money to spend on one garment?

Apparently, there are a few people around here who are very proud of their Scots ancestry (and who isn't) enough to want a kilt to show it off. One of them told me they'd rather pay someone they know than send away to a company overseas. Well, maybe that local phone number is my selling point. But if I don't know the hours involved, how can I tell someone a typical price?

So: how long does it take for me to make a kilt? The only way to find out is to make one and keep track of time. So that's what I'm going to do. I'll keep track on this blog post, so I know where my timesheet is, so this post will change a bit over the coming weeks. I'll be using the instructions from Tewksbury/Stuehmeyer's book The Art of Kiltmaking. Since this will be considered a practice run, I won't be using nice expensive tartan fabric. I'll be using a black-and-white mini houndstooth weave fabric I picked up for about $8 a yard. I know, it won't be a real kilt, but I'll use the same construction method. This is mostly just for time purposes anyway (with a winter wardrobe staple as a happy biproduct).

Feb. 5, 2011: It has taken 2 hours and thirty-five minutes to rip the fabric to the right proportions, mark it, record what all the measurements are supposed to be and fold the fabric in preparation for sewing. I am doing my marks with lines of hand basting in blue, because I know from the last one that my chalk wears off through much handling, and I don't want to have to go back and guess where I marked out the front apron. I now have a neat little folded bundle of houdstooth cloth.

I have thread, needles and pins. I think it might behoove me to make a template for the pleats before I stitch them. They taper from 17/32 inch at the waist to 27/32 inch at the bottom of the 8 5/8 inch fell. I'm thinking a template is good.

Later that evening: 2 hours and 10 minutes later, I have basted the edges of the apron, sewn it down and done 4 pleats, taking into account the buttonhole for the waist strap. The template didn't work out too well; I had to pin-baste it to the center stripe of each pleat, making sure the center lines matched up, and then I had to measure the pleat anyway to make sure I got it right. So I'm not going to use the template. I'm going to put this down for the night. The houndstooth is making me go blind.

Feb. 8, 2011: Spent 45 minutes stitching 2 pleats. Very tired. Hands are cold and stiff.

Feb. 10, 2011: Spend about 2 hours sewing in pleats before going to bed early. Have to get up early to dip strawberries.

Feb. 11, 2011: Spent about 30 minutes sewing in pleats. Got beyond the halfway point and found I had forgotten a pleat about 7 pleats back. *sigh*. Pulled apart pleats 5 and 7, sewed the missing pleat in. Now I have to figure out if I can sew pleats 6 and 7 together properly without pulling out pleats 8-14.

On another note, today I met with Steph's highland dance instructor, who had expressed an interest in knowing someone who could make kilts for students. She seems quite nice, no nonsense, with a lovely Scots accent. She has a closet full of bits and pieces of various costumes, including some skirts and a few kilts. She showed me two kilts in particular, same tartan. One of them was made by Elsie Stuehmeyer--it has her label in it, and the teacher says she knows Elsie, which is rather fun. I'm not sure what I was expecting from seeing a kilt made by someone who has made enough of them to actually teach classes in kiltmaking. I suppose from all the mass-produced clothes we wear, I was expecting something that looked so precise it could have been mass produced. When the teacher first brought the kilt out, it did look very precise, and the teacher has kept it in very nice shape. When you get up close to it, you can see the work she put into it. The stitches are very even, the pleats are all of a uniform size, the tartan on the buckle tabs match the fabric underneath, and the sett is accurately reproduced in the pleats. But it still looks handmade, in that it has a character. Handstitches vary a certain amount from person to person, and even in what one person does on varying days. The label inside is one of the type that you can order by mail or online to be made for you, one of those "Made for you" types. It was quite a lovely piece. I suppose all of us, including myself, have a picture or an ideal in mind of how clothes should be because of all the mass-produced items out there. "Handmade" or "homemade" does not equate with imperfection. It means individual, made by a real person; and because of that, every item they make is unique no matter how much that maker tries to produce two of the same thing.

Feb. 12, 2011: Sewed pleat 6 to pleat 7. Was able to do it without ripping the rest of the pleats apart, since I could just about fit my hand between the two pleats in the back. This only works because I am essentially pleating to the stripe. If I was pleating to the sett, and if I had pleated everything to look correct while still dropping a random pleat, I would indeed have had to pull out pleats 8-14 to get to the dropped pleat and then put the tartan back in right. Took about 20 minutes.

Feb. 17, 2011: Spent 3 hours sewing pleats, approximately (measured by a couple of Dilbert episodes and two episodes of Dr. Who, Tennant's first season). Only 3 pleats left!!!

Feb. 18, 2011: Spent about 2 hours stitching the last 3 pleats and stitching the last pleat to the underapron:

It's still incomplete, obviously. Now we get to stitching the join between the two pieces, hemming all 7 yards of it, then doing all the fiddly basting and shaping bits, interlining and lining. So far, it has taken 10 hours 20 minutes (approximately) to ready the cloth and stitch the 24 pleats. I hope I am at least 1/3 of the way through this.

Later, the same day: It has taken an hour and a half to trim and sew the join and fell it down. I've also spent half an hour basting up the hem, but I haven't gotten very far with it. Hemming is going to take a while.

Even later that same day: I've spent an hour basting up the hem. I've gotten near the first pleat, and there's a little bit of hem shaping there that I want to do when I'm fully awake, so I'll stop for the night.

Feb. 27, 2011: After a relatively bad week dealing with insurance adjusters, car rental agency and car fix-it shop, I have finally come back to the kilt. Spent 3 hours basting up the last little bit of the apron, then hemming it to slightly past the halfway point. At this rate I'm estimating that a hemmed kilt takes about 1 hour per yard of kilt to hem. I'm trying to figure out if there are some general steps in this process that take a predictable amount of time, like sewing each pleat or hemming. For instance, if it takes about 20 minutes to sew one pleat and an hour to put up each yard of hem I may be able to create a simple formula to estimate the total time it takes me. I know some things will just take their own time and I can't prepare for them, but if this gives me a better idea of the time commitment or some step I need to streamline, it'll be good for my work in the long run. Hopefully I'll be basting the pleats in place before I go on vacation.

Feb. 28, 2011: Spent another 3 hours hemming. Still have a little left.

Mar. 20, 2011: Spent half an hour hemming up the last of the kilt, then took about an hour to baste the darts in the inside of the inverted pleat and get the last little bit ready to baste the pleats down.

Mar. 23, 2011: It's taking a long time to baste these pleats in place. I started it out wrong at first and had to take a few out before I finally got it right. I've done 4 lines of basting and need to do two more. Four hours. This is taking forever. The thinness and monotonous uniformity of the pattern is slowing things down, I think. With a tartan, I can at least see visually where a stripe runs all the way down the length of the kilt. With this fabric I have to follow the stripe down with my finger, all the way, or else I lose it.

May 9, 2011: Two jackets, 6 pairs of slacks, 14 shirts, 10 vests, and a pair of curtains later (and several alterations)... I finished basting the pleats down, including the deep pleat and inverted pleat, cut out the backs of the pleats and did the steeking. This took about 4.5 hours. I had to stop when I got to the bit about the stablizer, and realized I didn't have any in my bag (I was out of the house at the time).

May 12, 2011: Spent about 3 hours stitching the canvas interfacings to the apron and underapron backs (as well as other miscellaneous basting). Had to stop when I ran out of hair canvas to back the pleats.

May 13, 2011: Spent about 2 hours sewing in the canvas in the back of the pleats, then moved on to finishing the edges of the apron and underapron. I've pulled the piece of fabric for the apron fringe and basted it into place, now I just need to sew it in.

May 14, 2011: It took about 45 minutes to sew the fringe edge of the apron down permenantly. This took me longer than expected, as sewing with a headache is not as productive a time as when one is feelin' fine.

Later that day: I've spent 4 or so hours stitching on the waistband, detailing and basting the buttonhole and pressing the kilt, and then cutting and punching the holes in the straps. I need 3 buckles.

Some observations: I've been wrapping the kilt around me from time to time. I was a little dismayed at first to see that the apron edges in the front didn't line up. I feared I had gained some weight since the time when I measured myself for it. When I pressed it, though, the edges seem to come together fine.

Wool is quite wonderful. When I basted down the inverted pleat I was getting lots of rippling and bubbling, but careful pressing has seemed to solve this.

Using a presscloth is good: I got a lot of buildup and rust out of my iron when I was pressing, and I'm glad it went onto my muslin scrap instead of the wool.

Using a micro-houndstooth weave is perhaps harder than using a boldly striped fabric with a nice polite repeat. Whenever the instructions say to stretch the fabric and line up the stripes I have to keep track of the woven line very carefully or things don't tend to line up right. If I had to do this again with a non-tartan fabric I'd probably hand-baste in several stripes at different intervals in order to match up to important points. I know this would mean a lot of hand basting and take hours to do, but it might result in less fiddling around later.

I think I put the waistband on with the weave going in the wrong direction. If I was making this for someone else I'd be more concerned and probably pull the thing off to reset it. As it is, it's such a small band, and this is for me anyway. I'm just going to leave it.

May 15, 2011: Spent three hours sewing on buckles and one of the straps. Actually, I sewed on the strap the right way, thought it was the wrong way and pulled it off. I sewed it back on, but the wrong way this time. Discovered I had done it right the first time and had to redo it. Bother.