A blast from the past

One of my major purchases last year was a digitizer.  I found mine on eBay for about $400.  A design shop in Chicago must have been going out of business as there were a number of them up for sale at that time.  I got a GTCO Roll-Up III which can be rolled up and carried around.  This makes it much easier to store than the stationary digitizers.    Even though my model was from 2008, it’s still the most current model.  A 30″ x 36″ model like a have retails for $2225 so I got a really good deal.  digitizerI discovered quite a few thing about digitizers after my purchase.  The first is that pattern drafting software is behind in technological advances.  I bought a digitizer with a USB connection because that was the latest technology.  When I couldn’t get my software to recognize the digitizer, I did a lot of digging on the web for answers.  I finally discovered that I needed to use a serial connection.  Once I ordered a serial connector for the digitizer (luckily it can use both connectors) and a serial adapter for my laptop, everything worked properly.  My other mistake was to get a 16-button puck (or cursor).  I thought more buttons were better.  I turns out that it just means more clicks to map a pattern.  Go with the 4-button puck.


One of the major reasons I wanted a digitizer is that I have hundreds of vintage patterns.  As is often the case with vintage, you take whatever size you can get.  I wanted to be able to resize some of these patterns.  I am starting with Simplicity 4354.  I was immediately attracted to this cute sundress.  Unfortunately I have it in a size 12.  A 1950’s size 12 is about the same as a current size 2.  Way too small for me.

Shoulder cutaway

First I digitized the pattern and then I resized it using my pattern drafting software. This picture shows the digitizing process but with another pattern.  I use Pad System software which has a digitizing module.  Once the pattern is digitized, it can then be opened in Pad and altered.  You can see the original pattern (black) and the new resized version.
digitizer 2
 Simplicity 4354 [Converted]I had some cotton sateen from Spoonflower in a couple of my pomegranate prints that I thought would work great for this dress. Once I had the pattern laid out, I adjusted the skirt so that it was fuller and followed the 45 degree angle of the design.  It’s a great pattern.  I added a bound buttonhole, self belt and contrast facing to make it really pop. 
front buttonbelt
 front and back views
I think it’s really cute.  I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so that I can wear it.  I also purchased a crinoline to wear underneath for a fun look.  Click here to see more pictures from this project.

Rock the Casbah!

I love camels! My sister recently returned from a trip to Morocco and had a number of pictures of the cute camels she met. I wanted to do a fabric featuring camels. I used some photos and incorporated a mosaic type of design into the layout. I then had the fabric printed on silk charmeuse by Advanced Digital Textiles. Because of the width of the fabric and the design  I had it printed with one panel in the center and one split on each side.

camel panel










I had no idea what I was going to do with the fabric until I saw this dress by Dolce and Gabbana that inspired me. Dolce & Gabanna camel dress

I started drafting a pattern using my Pad software. I decided to add a contrast band at the neckline as well as the sleeves. It was originally 1-1/2” but I changed it to 2” wide when fitting the muslin. I also wanted to include a front pocket design that would be hidden in the design.

Perfect Pocket Dress

I originally did not include a back closure in the pattern but added one while sewing. Once I created the pattern based on my basic block, I created a muslin for fitting and tweaking. After fitting the adjusted the pattern digitally and re-printed.


How great that at the same time Pattern Review was hosting the Barganista Fashionista Contest  and I decided to enter. I discovered that the dress I was inspired by retailed for $4,525! Wow. My fabric was expensive but nowhere near that much. I also found a coppery peach silk velvet remnant for only $25 that matched perfectly. Even though my fabric has camels rather than ruins, the print layout is similar and the use of photographic elements still worked for me.


Even though I had the pattern drafted, the process was very fluid. First, I discovered that I did not have enough fabric for the dress (at least with an easy layout). I was finally able to make everything fit by piecing the back.

blog-back seamHowever, this left me with a mismatch at the hip on the dress back. I decided to add a belt of the velvet that wrapped around to the front. I also had to cut the back yoke in two pieces and therefore decided to add buttons. That meant that I needed to recut my neck facing pieces as well. Luckily I had 2 yards of the velvet.  Notice my nifty pattern weight when I recut the back lining!

blog-back yokeblog-back liningSince the dress was inspired by a couture dress, I decided to do something special; I made hand-beaded covered buttons for the front pocket edge and the back closure. I was originally planning on a total of 8 buttons but the sequins I was using were spares from a purchased garment and I only had six large center sequins

blog-buttonsblog-hip detail






I really like the dress.  It went together well though I think the pocket hits a little low and will raise it about 3” when I refine the pattern. I made it low in order to get the entire camel design on the front panel.Click here to see more pictures of this project.

blog-dress-pocketblog-mirror blog-dress back

Stepping out on my own

Now that I’ve tried working with the fabrics using commercial patterns, I think it’s time to branch out into something more original. I started by making a top created by Rhonda Buss (Rhonda’s Creative Life) out of geometric shapes. I really like the simple design of the top and think it will highlight my Vodka fabric.


The pattern is just 4 rectangles and 2 triangles (I added a waistband.).  I used the cotton knit fabric from Spoonflower for this project.  I really like this fabric.  It needs to be washed by hand with a gentle detergent and sews like a dream.  Since I wanted to highlight the crystalline nature of the design, I added clear sequins sewn with gold metallic thread to the front and back of the top.  I really like the outcome.

detail vodkaDSC00981

Now it’s time to move on to my designs. I while back I designed a dress to use my dandelion fabric (see details here) and even had the fabric printed up. I used the cotton-silk from Spoonflower for this fabric. It is beautiful. However, it does not hold up to washing. The color will come off with just water. I discovered this when I bled on my fabric and tried to wipe it off. Not good.

When we last left off, I had draped the dress but needed to true up the pattern. It’s been a really long time since I’ve done that. I started with drawing in all of the seams on the muslin with a colored sharpie and making any notes directly on the pieces. Once I was done, I took the muslin apart to make the pattern. I usually use the left side of my pattern since I do my fitting myself and that side is usually pinned more accurately. I then transferred the muslin pieces to paper. Then it was time to cut.  I almost always cut on a single layer of fabric as I feel its more accurate and I can plan my layout better.

pattern cutting

I lined the bodice with white cotton-silk so that it would be easier to make the neckline and armholes. I found a wonderful set of vintage buttons that reminded me of dandelions for the waistband. Overall I really like the dress and think it works well with my fabric.

buttonsFor this dress I did everything manually; draped the pattern, trued the pieces, drafted the pattern, then finally trued and cut the pattern. I would like to be able to create my patterns digitally so that I can grade them to other sizes and easily adjust them. That’s the next step.

wearing dress dress


One year later…I’m off to a good start

It’s been almost a year since my last post. Last year was really busy. I’ve learned a lot about patterns and pattern making.  I started out slowly but am expanding my skills all the time.  I bought a pattern design program and a digitizer.  I’m also working to create designs that work well with my fabric. I’ll start off by sewing with fabric that I designed using commercial patterns and then move forward.

I designed a number of fabrics for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago’s 50th anniversary. I made a couple of them into garments. My first foray was a poly-knit that I had printed at Advanced Digital Textiles. I really love the design which is a play on the club’s initials.


The fabric is a little to “plastic” feeling for me but it sews and washes well.  It worked for the dress I chose, Vogue 1194, a DKNY dress. I added some shoulder pads and a contrast waistband.  It was very simple to sew up and I can even wear it to work.

065Vogue 1194


I also planned to make a jean jacket using the border print from my pomegranate collection (pomegranates).   This was printed on white cotton twill from Spoonflower. Unfortunately, I neglected to fully read the care instructions for the fabric and put it in the washer. The print faded horribly. For some reason, Spoonflower’s cotton twill is not washable. This really doesn’t make much sense as I generally like to wash cotton twill to get a softer hand. I scrapped the original idea and cut the jacket from the plain portion of the fabric. I added a lining to the pattern and embroidery on the collar and cuffs.  I made the Stacie jacket from Style Arc.

Style Arc Stacie

I used my pomegranate seed print on Kona cotton for the lining. The fabric was from Spoonflower. The kona cotton washed well with minimal fading.

front lining

back liningI had some adventures when I decided to embroider the collar after I had already cut it out and had to baste it to some extra fabric in order to hoop it. Here you can see the original border print that I used for hooping.  The sleeves for this jacket have a fold-up cuff so I placed the embroidery on the inside of the cuff where it would show when folded.

sleeve collar 2


form 2 jacket

I top-stitched with red thread and added red snaps to the jacket front. I found that the Snap-it snaps did not work with the thickness of the twill and kept falling out. I had to order a special set with a sturdier setting tool. Though I was unable to feature the border print as planned, I’m happy with how the jacket turned out.  I’m going to move away from commercial patterns next time around.

Fragile, Breakable Items Inside

Happy New Year!  It’s resolution time and I’m ready to share mine. Resolution #1 – keep my blog up to date.   I have not posted in 2013 but have actually been very busy.  My main focus has been on improving my pattern drafting and draping skills so that I can get a start on a line of patterns to compliment my fabric.  That’s Resolution #2Design patterns

Swirl Twirl Dress
Swirl Twirl Dress


Puffball blouse

Puffball Blouse

Zigzag dress

Zigzag Dress

Here are three designs that I created in 2013. I finally purchased a pattern drafting program and I working through all the nuances of pattern drafting, pattern conversion and creating a final product.  I’m currently working on digitizing these patterns so that I can grade them and then create both PDF and printed patterns – more to come as I continue to work on this.

I have also been experimenting with a number of different companies to print my fabric designs.  I’m hoping to create a new collection every other month.  Resolution #3Design fabric


I recently created a line of designs for the Haute Couture Club of Chicago to celebrate their 50th anniversary. I used both Spoonflower and Advanced Digital Textiles to print the fabric.  I think that Advanced Digital has a better quality of fabric but they do not have a lot of garment weight options.  Their fabric is also much more colorfast than Spoonflower’s.  However, it is also more expensive.  I was happy with the fabric I received and will continue to do more testing with it.

I also tried out DPI.  They have a great option where you can provide your own fabric and it is cheaper to print.  You can ship bolt fabric from Dharma Trading or Exotic Silks directly to them to use for your prints.  I have been working on a line of photographic morphs

Austrian Moon

Austrian Moon

Misty Ferris Wheela

Misty Ferris Wheel

Moonlit Traffic

Moonlit Traffic

and used them to print a sample.  I selected their silk twill.  Unfortunately, their equipment broke down right after I placed the order so I received it about a month late.  The fabric I received was quite stiff as if the dye thickener had not been removed.  When I washed the fabric, there was a definite fading.  I’m not sure if this was because of the rush job or not. I plan to try again and provide my own fabric.

And my final resolution is to have FUN doing this!  I want to let myself be inspired by as many things as possible and have a sense of excitement about making my inspirations a reality.  This is always easy at the beginning but sometimes hard to keep the momentum going.

Where do I go from here?

I’m preparing for another Spoonflower fabric design contest.  This one is based on the new pattern generator feature in Adobe Illustrator.  I’ve been experimenting with using the pattern generator and really like how quickly I can create a  repeat pattern.  The theme of the contest is arrows.  I created a few quick drawings of arrows and then manipulated them using the program.  I started by just creating a simple design with some arrows.

I then used the pattern generator to create some repeat patterns from the design.  For the first pattern I used a simple mirror and glide repeat.  I made the background a little darker for this one.  For my second attempt with this design I added a couple of circles to the original design and used a kaleidoscope effect.  I think it’s really fun.



Next, I decided to see what happened when I used a more complex pattern.  I created a design with multiple arrows and then applied a pin-wheel repeat effect.  For the second pattern, I don’t actually remember how it happened – I just kept applying effects until I got something I really liked.  This is my favorite design and I’m leaning towards entering it in the contest.  Note to self – next time write down the techniques so that you can recreate the pattern!


For my final attempt I created an initial design that incorporated a lot more line and fill techniques.  This makes the pattern take a lot longer to render and if you use too many, your computer may not be able to display the final rendering.  For the first pattern I used a graduated repeat and a simple vertical brick repeat for the second one.








These contests really inspire me to experiment with new techniques and start designing patterns.  The pattern generator is a really fun and quick way to create a repeat pattern from a seed image.  I created all of these designs in one day.  It would also be a good way to create a cohesive collection from a couple of basic images. – That’s my next project.  I just need to come us with an idea for a theme!

Get me a drink!

The Huffington Post had an article on Michael Davidson who has taken a number of photos of various beverages under a high-powered microscope.  The result is gorgeous!  I have started creating some fabric designs based on these images.

My first attempt is to create a large-scale border print based on an image of vodka.  I can really see this on a wrap dress.  I pretty much used the background image, with an overlay of the dots.  I had to do a lot of preliminary work in Photoshop on the background image in order to create the repeat.  I discovered the stamp tool!  I created the dots in Illustrator using different line types and gradient fills. This was a new technique for me but I like the result.

The actual image

My fabric design

I then worked on a design based on Iced Tea.  This was not as literal a translation.  I decided to create a stripe using the color scheme and basic shapes.  To do so I first separated out an area for each major color using Photoshop and then imported them into Illustrator.  I had to clean up the images a bit but then it was just a matter of duplicating the image to create the stripes.  I’m pretty happy with the end result.

Photo of Iced Tea

I think I’ll try an interpretation of Tequila next.  I think that the angular shape will make a fun design.  Now I need to find a source to print knit fabrics.  I would like to medium weight slinky jersey with a good drape as that’s how I envision these fabrics being used.

Photo of Tequila

Dazzled by the microscope

I’ve discovered a site (tumbler.com) that hosts a number of wonderful photos of microscopic images.  They are gorgeous.  I’ve been trying to recreate some of them as repeating patterns and translate to fabric.  Here’s what I’ve got so far.  I’ve used a number of different techniques to create the images.  Some I just used portions of the original image and some of them I recreated while trying to keep the spirit of the original.

To create the bamboo design I created a fill pattern from the background of the original photograph (converted to a high fidelity photo) and used it for the background.  I then drew the quatrefoil image on top and arranged them in a drop repeat pattern

Close up of bamboo

For the diatoms, I selected individual items from the original image added an outline to each image and arranged them in a pattern over a black background.


The super-saturated solution was the easiest, it was so beautiful that I just selected one of the sections, trued it up a bit and used it to generate the pattern.

I traced over sections of the image of a moth wing to create this design,  I added a number of layers of color and made the major sections transparent to create depth.  I really like how this one turned out.

Section of a moth’s wing

When I saw this image of kelp, I immediately envisioned a fabric using that pattern.  This was the most time consuming of the fabrics.  I convereted the image to a six color drawing and then needed to adjust all edges in order to create a seamless repeat.  Very time consuming but worth the effort.


I think any of these would be beautiful in a silk charmeuse so I designed a blouse that would work with them.  I am currently sourcing new avenues to print fabric and think I have discovered one that has a good selection of charmeuse.

Here’s a look at the design for the blouse.  The sleeve is rather amorphous, as I couldn’t figure out how to drape a sleeve.  I think I’ll be better off just drafting it once I have the body pattern drawn.  I’m not sure which fabric to use but I’m leaning towards either the moth wing or seaweed design.

Dandelions in the wind

I have created a new design based on dandelions.  I used a number of images of dandelions that I then manipulated using Adobe Illustrator. I started with photographs, traced them, picked out the parts of the images I really liked and then applied some effects to the drawings.  After getting my flowers done, I drew out some dandelion leaves and created a background using my Symmetry Works plug-in.  Here’s the best part – after almost a year of struggling to make repeatable patterns, I found this video on You Tube that walks you through the process.  It’s extremely simple and I can’t believe how much I’ve been struggling with this.  I’m really happy with the design.

I ordered a sample of the design from Spoonflower and decided that the print was a little too big and that the green of the leaves needed to be brighter.  It’s really cheap to order swatches from Spoonflower and I recommend it.  I usually wait until I have 5-10 designs and them order a group.  After making these changes to my original design, I ordered the print from Spoonflower on their cotton-silk blend.  It’s really beautiful!  The fabric has a great hand and body.

I decided to design a dress to showcase the fabric.  Yes, I mean design – as in skteching, draping, drafting, and sewing up a design from scratch. It’s time to move away from using commercial patterns and start making my own designs.  The print has a vintage feel so I decided on a 50’s inspired sun dress.  This shape always fits me well.  I haven’t draped a garment in over 20 years so I’m really rusty.  Here’s the design I came up with.

It has taken me quite some time to figure out how to put this together.  I now have to take the pieces apart, clean them up and convert this to a paper pattern.  Everything is ready to go.  I found a white cotton-silk blend to use as a bodice lining and some wonderful vintage buttons at Soutache for the belt.  Unfortunately I have a number of projects to complete so it may take a while…stay tuned.

Pomegranate frenzy

I’m back after a hiatus from sewing and screen-printing.  I’ve been challenging myself to take the time to create more digital patterns.  I started by entering a contest on Spoonflower.  The goal of the contest was to create a fabric featuring pomegranates.  Amazingly enough I had so many ideas that I decided to create a collection of fabrics.  I started by collecting a variety of pictures of pomegranates.  Not sure of the best way to proceed, I created some sketches based on the photos and scanned them back in to the computer.









I really liked the way my line drawings of the flowers looked.  I  just got a new Symmentry Works plug-in for Illustrator and am dying to try it out.  It allows you to automatically create a pattern from a seed design by just selecting a layout.  After a bit of experimenting I created this yellow and white print.  The plug-in is a little tricky to use so I’ll need to read the manual (Ugh!)

I’m also fascinated by the way the fruit develops.  They look like funky pods as the fruit gets bigger and rounder.  I like the idea of incorporating a take on the pods into a plaid.  I played around with elongating the developing pods until I got a linear design.  I then scanned the image into my computer and created a simple plaid.  I ran with the plaid theme a created a couple more using the actual pomegranate fruit (this was the challenge after all).  I really like the pod design.

I also did a design using just pomegranate seeds.  I’m going to use this fabric in a jacket later this year.  We’ll see how it turns out.

I liked the challenge of creating a cohesive collection of fabric.  I’m trying to think of how to use many of these fabrics in garments.  These are definitely summer fabrics and I don’t usually start major sewing until fall.  Still, there’s no reason I can’t start sewing something for next year.  I’m rather happy with how they came out.  Next challenge – create a summer collection showcasing these fabrics. See the full collection here.