Archive for June, 2011

The costume I am currently working on calls for a stretchy, shiny, wet-look fabric. I choose to work with PVC for my Laura Kinney costume because I think good quality PVC looks gorgeous! Though there are some very helpful tips and tricks already on the internet to help  beginners sew with this challenging fabric, I would like to add to the existing pool of resources with my on experiences.

PVC is a plastic fabric. It is shiny and smooth on one side, and on the other, it has a woven fabric backing, normally of polyester. It comes in not-stretchy, 2-way stretch, and 4-way stretch.  The not stretchy kind is known as Patent Vinyl. PVC most often refers to 2-way stretch, which means it stretches more on the horizontal than it does on the vertical, and 4-way stretch is called stretch PVC, which stretches equally in both the horizontal and vertical directions. Patent Vinyl can be is a heavy-duty fabric which can be used to make purses, belts, faux-armor and as upholstery. 2-way stretch PVC is good for raincoats and clothing that need a little stretch, but less stretch than a spandex or lycra would provide. 4-way stretch PVC is very stretchy and is typically lightweight, making it appropriate for swimsuits and lingerie.


For my costume, I worked with a light to medium weight 2-way stretch PVC. Here is what I’ve learned…..

PVC is both slippery, and sticky. PVC will slide against itself, and unfold very easily, but it also sticks to sewing machines. This sticking to the walking feet under the fabric, and the presser foot above it causes the top and bottom layers of fabric to go through the machine  at different speeds, resulting in ugly bumps, unintentional gathers, and the fabric getting sucked down into the machine. I’ve seen it recommend online that you use a teflon presser foot, tear away tissue, and a special PVC lubricant to help solve this problem. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t about to order an expensive fabric lubricant, and wait for it to get here just to make one costume. Maybe if I worked with PVC all the time I would try it out, but I find that there are other ways to get around this problem.

Here’s was I did: first of all, I used a lot of pins. Because PVC slides against itself so easily, you need a lot of pins to hold it in place. I also like to position the pins perpendicular to the path of the sewing needle so that the needle can get really close to them before I take the pins out. I also used tear-away tissue (really I use tissue paper for gift wrapping) to prevent the PVC from being sucked into the machine. The tissue reinforces the bottom of the fabric to prevent it from stretching out, and getting thinner and weaker. The tissue is also a not-stck surface for the walking feet to grip and move at the proper speed. My actual step-by-step pinning process is pin parallel to fabric seam with no tissue, place tissue under seam, and re-pin perpendicular to seam. The ready-to-go-through-machine seam looks like this:

Now, the fabric will occasionally stick to the presser foot because I do not put tissue on top of the seam. You may put tissue on top if you really need it, but I find that this blocks my view and my seams come out crooked. Instead, I keep a taught grip on the top layer, and sew slowly, always checking for ripples and puckers to smooth with my fingers as I go.

PVC does not heal. Because PVC is made of plastic, and not woven like a normal fabric, the holes that you put in it do not heal. That means every hole that you make, whether it be by a pin or needle, stays there. If you make enough holes in one spot, the holes will become very visible, and if you make even more holes,  you actually compromise the strength of the seam!!! This means you don’t get a lot of second chances with PVC. If it all possible, it’s best to get it right on the first try. This is why its important to have a scrap piece for practice. Use a test piece to check that the machine is threaded correctly, that the fabric won’t stick, and that the tension is how you want it. (Mine is between 3 and 4 for PVC but every machine is different. See your machine’s manual). It is also important to use a sharp needle, preferably thin needle. The sharper the needle, the smaller the hole that it will make. However these sharper needles are far more brittle than the heavy-upolstery needles that I normally sew with, so you need to be careful not to hit any pins or the needle will break. Because PVC is not self healing, you should not baste, or stay-stich, even when the pattern calls for it. Use low-tack tape like scotch or masking tape, or a few pins for basting, and skip stay-stiching all together.

Tear-away is hard to tear away, but it works. The point of tear-away tissue is to stabilize the fabric while you sew, and then to tear it off the seam when you’re done, leaving a perfect seam behind. The problem is, when you tear away the tear-away, a lot gets left behind. This can make your seam look terrible because it’s filled with tiny fuzzy paper fibers, which are a different color from your fabric. (You should use a paper that contrasts your fabric so that you can see it) But don’t panic, you CAN get this tissue paper out with patience. First of all, when you tear away the tissue, tear towards the seam, this will get more paper out on the first try. Now get out your tweezers. Yup, tweezers. You will now sit in front of the Tv, and extract each and every remaining fiber. It works, it’s time consuming, but it will look good in the end.

Soap marking is great. Because PVC doesn’t heal, tailor’s tacks are out of the question. So I use soap to mark my fabric instead. It can be found in your bathroom, sharpened to a point, and rubbed off with a damp cloth when you’re finished. Or if you don’t rub it off, it will fade to nothing anyway in a few days time if the fabric is in use.

PVC smells when it’s new. When I first opened the envelope with my PVC fabric in it, it REEKED like a plastic factory. This is because when plastic is made, it smells bad, and this bad smell clung to the fabric. Not to worry, its very easy to get rid of. If you want, you can gently hand-wash your PVC by letting it soak in some cold water and just a little gentle detergent. It will be okay, just don’t use water over 170 degrees. But the even easier way to get rid of the smell is to just air it out. I hung my fabric on a chair outside, and in about 4 hours the smell was gone.

PVC is tough on thread. I don’t exactly know the reason why, but PVC breaks thread like crazy. I think the thread might be sticking to the fabric. So if you’re going to work with PVC, get a good thread, go slow, and check often to make sure you haven’t lost your thread. There’s nothing worse than finishing a seam and realizing you lost your top thread about 3 quarters back.

Use a stretch stitch, but don’t stretch while you stitch. Lots of PVC is stretchy, and so people get the urge to stretch the fabric while they sew. Don’t do this! It will not recoil to it’s original shape because the seam you put in it will hold it in its stretchy position. Instead, just let the fabric be, and pin it at it falls. Pin it flat, but don’t pull at it. Use a stretch stitch, but don’t stretch the fabric while guiding it through the machine. The stretch stitch will allow the fabric to stretch once you take off the tear-away tissue, and it will recoil and hold its shape nicely.

Do NOT apply heat. Do not, under any circumstances, press your seams. Heat will melt your PVC, turning your garment into hot slag. That’s a technical term for burnt plastic mess. For this reason, darting PVC is not recommended. The seams will not lye flat and there is nothing you can do to get them to lye flat besides top-stitching, which will look funny next to a dart. Top stitching is a good way to get other seams to lye flat, like hems. Top stitching looks great on hems!  PVC does not fray so there is no need to finish your seams other than for looks sake. You can use a surger or a stretch zig-zag stitch to finish your seams, but remember you can’t press them, and finishing seams often makes them bulky and stand upright. Consider this and proceed with caution.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today. I hope that helps. If you have any questions, please, don’t hesitate to ask. Happy sewing!!

Read Full Post »

My costume for Connecticon requires that I make some really sturdy, metallic looking hand accessories. I’ll just tell you now, I’m Cosplaying as X-23 from the X-men, and I need to make four adamantium claws. I decided to try my hand at resin casting, because my Boyfriend made a sword with resin with AMAZING results. I thought, claws are a lot smaller, so they’ll be a lot easier, right?


We started with four pine wood stakes. My boyfriend sanded them into rough claw shapes with his fancy dremel, then left me to do the casting myself. The idea was to coat the wooden claws in a thick layer of resin, and then re-sand them down to a perfectly smooth, non-pourous paintable surface, capable of obtaining a high-gloss finish. I choose Polyester resin, because it was conveniently located at A.C. Moore. I thought, if it’s in a craft store, it must be more user friendly than the versions at a hardware store, right? Not so.

Boyfriend and I with beautifully crafted resin sword

Before I began my casting, I got a book from the Library, “Casting for Crafters” which give detailed instructions on a number of casting methods and projects. This is an excellent book, and I would recommend it to anything who is thinking about casting in Polyester or Epoxy resin.

This book informed me that my Polyester resin, while very beautiful and bubble free, is very toxic and gives off some pretty nasty fumes. So I decided that I needed to take some extra precautions, but I wasn’t going to let the word “fumes” scare me away from the project all together. I am after all a painter, and Gamsol gives off some pretty strong vapors and I survived those just fine.

So I set up my work area outside, with pre-measures cups and mixing sticks and my wax paper. I laid out my claws, put on my mask, goggles, and gloves, and pried open the resin container.

What a smell. I felt like my mask did nothing to filter out the mind-spinning vapors. I mixed and poured my resin rather quickly, taking frequent breaths of air several feet away from my project. It was incredibly messy. The top of the resin container was not meant for pouring, it seems, and resin spilled all over the side of the can. This just created more fumes. By the time I had everything under control I felt sick.

The labels on the container are down-right scary. This stuff causes blindness, can stop your breathing, if you ingest it you’re pretty much dead, and too much exposure can cause depression of the nervous system. Did I also mention that it can burn you from coming in contact with your skin? Honestly, if the pour was simple and easy to control, I wouldn’t have that much of a problem with the scary warning labels. It’s the fact that the stuff is so messy that scares me. You don’t know what the resin is going to get on. There could be poison on any surface! I am a very neat and orderly individual, and I feel like I took every reasonable precaution to get my materials all organized and ready to go before I began the casting. But still, I felt like I was making too much of a mess to make playing with deadly liquid plastic worth it.

I don’t know how the claws have come out yet; they aren’t fully cured. I’m sure that they will look fine because resin really does look awesome.

I don’t know either if I will attempt casting again. It would be a shame to waste all the supplies I got together. I wanted to make all sorts of things. But what is more important? Putting dead flowers inside a glass paperweight, or keeping my braincells? We’ll see how my claws come out.

Read Full Post »

In preparation for the Silver Kingdom Renaissance Festival this June, I have been spending considerable time making jewelry by hand. I went to the library to look for ideas on things to make, when I stumbled upon a book on Celtic knot-work. I have always thought that knot-work is absolutely beautiful. I love decorative art, and knot-work is perfect for decorating boarders, stationary, clothing, and the body itself. This book that I borrowed, also showed how to tie some of these beautiful knots. So I decided that I would buy some hemp and black nylon string, and try my hand at this craft.

It took a bit of time to learn each of the knots, but once I got the hang of it, I could crank out a knot in a few minutes. My favorite knot is the square knot, shown in the jewelry above. But I also experimented with different types of braided knots and beading.

Most of these accessories are fastened with a large bead and loop to pass the bead through. I made a square knot bracelet for myself, and I must say that it is the most comfortable piece of jewelry I own. I could wear it all day. And even though it is only held on with a bead through two loops of string, it has yet to fall off of me, even after long, and active days.

As with the stone jewelry that I’ve made, anything that doesn’t sell at the faire will be put up for sale on my Etsy.

Read Full Post »