July 20, 2015

Cider Pants for the Boy

At last fall's annual Cider extraganza with the aid of an old electric sewing machine and some volunteers, I reformatted some of the press cloths to be of more uniform size. Over the ten years we have been doing Cider, a motley assortment of different size and thickness cotton cloths has accumulated, with some of them looking worn and herniated in spots. I propsed for fall 2015 we should introduce a new set of press cloths of uniform size and fabric, which would have the happy side effect of freeing up the current cloth set for a second life.

Ben dispatched a package to me in Somerville with a number of the old cloths and a worn paper copy of Master and Commander, by Patrick O'Brian. Despite being heavy on details ( for a novice sailor like myself) on which of the myriad regency era square rigger sails were being hoisted or lowered at which time, I quite enjoyed the book and look forward to further mining the deep seam of 20 books in the series.

The old press cloth is just sublime. Dyed to subtly different shades of oxidized apple, and made soft by years of separating juice from pulp, washing, and line drying. 

When I press it with my steam iron, it releases a light but heady scent reminiscent of dried apples. I'm really looking forward to making some clothes with this special material.

The Customer
An opportunity for such was immediately apparent. Buster is extremely picky about what pants he wears, and really only likes one pair of black sweatpants which he calls his "Dark Vader pants", since they came into the house as part of a Darth Vader halloween costume. Becky managed to convince him this other pair of gray sweatpants counts as Dark Vader pants, but he much prefers the black ones. Getting him to wear anything else down below is a real chore and often entails him pouting around the house in the morning for hours, naked from the waist down asking where his Dark Vader pants are (this happens when they are in the wash, for example).

We all know there are two main aspects to a person's feelings about their apparel: Physical and Mental. Physical is how the garment actually fits, how comfortable it is, how suitable for the activity at hand, color, fabric, etc.; what could be learned about the item by a stranger or an amnesiac version of yourself upon picking it up and inspecting it. Mental encompasses the other things you think about the garment which exist only in your mind. Things like: where it came from, who made it, how you feel when you wear it, what you imagine yourself to be like with it on, memories made while wearing it.

So Buster's obsession with the Dark Vader pants leads me to believe that the mental aspect is playing a strong role in his world of pants. He has very fond memories of going to Cider, so I thought maybe he could get excited about wearing some pants made from press cloth. 

He seemed receptive to this idea, and has remained enthusiastic about them during the fabrication process. Anytime recently I am home and NOT working on them, he asks if we can work on them instead of doing whatever else is going on. So I'm hopeful this will work out. They are very different from his normal garb however; woven rather than knit, brown rather than black. We'll see. Worth a try anyhow.

The girls and I took some measurements on Buster and sketched up a paper pattern. 

This was marked out on muslin, 


and sewn up using the Singer 99. 

The length was much too short, the legs too tight in places, and the seat and waist needed some adjustment. 

It is a challenge to get the Customer to: a) try on the pants, b) stand in normal posture, c) stand still while I fidget with things or look them over. Nonetheless I got something reasonable on fit and made a new paper pattern.

The Pants
We selected a press cloth, one of the darker ones, and cut out our four main pieces. I bound the edges with black Hug Snug using the D-9 treadle.

I sketched out some pockets and cut them into the front pattern pieces. The backs of the pocket bags are cut entirely from cider cloth, with the front of the bags being constituted from Fuji Broadcloth silk, a lovely medium duty plain weave silk from Jaquard Products (out of stock at the moment looks like). 

At the edges of the pockets, I rolled the seam a little to the inside and topstiched it down. The shape of the pocket openings and the various topstitching make the pants look like jeans, which I didn't intend and am not entirely happy about. 

For the fly, I sketched something off the paper pattern for the front and made up a short button fly. I should have got out my copy of Making Trousers, by David Coffin Page, but I didn't. I thought I could just remember or figure it out on the fly, which mostly was the case but led to some puzzling moments. 

Probably should have made the fly deeper.

We buttonholed the fly (and later the waistband) with the Greist mechanical buttonholer on the Singer 99. Buster liked cranking these out.

Next, I sewed up the inseams of the two legs and hand basted the outseams and crotch/seat seams, figuring I would want to adjust them for fitting. A try on later and I stitched these in and removed the basting thread. The construction was done with a gray Mettler Silk Finish cotton thread. I'm not completely happy with the fit, but it is ok.

After trimming the top, I traced off the profile and made up a waistband. The outside is cidercloth, the inside a folded over double layer of fuji broadcloth silk. 

Understitched so that the white silk will hopefully stay out of sight. Decided to use a 19mm dull silver cast two hole button for the top center closure, with recycled bright silver 12mm buttons for the two fly locations. 
I applied the waistband and did some hand work to bind a few stray edges and finish up some odds and ends.

Normally I'm not a great fan of elastic but it does have it's place. One of them may be little boys' pants. All Buster's pants so far that he has actually worn are elastic waisted knitwear. So I left the back waist of these pants loose, intending to deploy some elastic to bring it in. I cut down some 50mm wide heavy knit black elastic I have on a roll and stretched and stiched it on the treadle to the seam allowances in the top waistband to pants seam, then stretched and stiched in the ditch from the outside of the pants to hold down the waistband and the elastic. This worked out ok, but the layers of stiff fabric used up a fair bit of the elastic's force so it didn't scrunch up as much as I thought it would.

To compensate, I moved the front closure button over to hold the fly a little further overlapped, and made up some suspenders which I wanted to do anyway. These were done out of the heavy knit elastic, cut down to 40mm, and some leather bits cut out and punched for buttonholes. I really need to do something about my leather sewing; it looks awful!

The leather bits are made from ~1.5mm thick veg tanned leather, skived a little at the edges, then moistened and rubbed down with some all purpose home made lib balm/lotion bar/boot grease. The burn marks are from where I was holding the pieces over an open flame on the stove with metal tongs. Yee-haw.

I applied some more two hole metal buttons to terminate the suspenders on the waistband while Violet and Buster ate leftover pancakes.

I forgot to put in some interfacing in the waistband where the buttons were going to go. I did put an extra layer of cloth in where the waistband buttonhole is formed.

Next I marked and hand hemmed the pants. As you can see I need more improvement on the uniformity of my hem stitch.

A crucial feature is the ability for Buster to slip the pants off without having to do the button fly (i.e. just stretching the elastic). But the button fly is there to look good, and maybe to get used when he grows a little bigger.

There were a few details inside that needed some hand finishing, like hand binding the edge of the inside pocket seam allowance, which I didn't hug snug before assembly.

We adjusted the length of the suspenders and I stitched on the back tabs, then stitched the X together in the back after pinning it in the spot it wanted to be during a try on. 


Buster has been liking the pants during the try-ons, and he was pleased with how they came out. 

He asked me, were they trousers? Indeed they are, I replied. His sisters told him he was super cute in his new pants.


Right after this picture though, he decided what his new pants really needed were Dark Vader pants UNDER the new pants.

We went outside to dig garlic, cut some bushes, and sweep the walk.

It was 32C and humid, so we were both drenched in sweat before long. We came inside for a glass of water, and I convinced him to go with one layer of pants when we went back out.

Those pants came out quite well! I've got to make myself a pair.

June 13, 2015

Foraging the Minuteman Bike Path - Spring

Most days I commute by bike to work, year round. Lucky for me, most of the distance from Somerville to Bedford (through Cambridge, Arlington, and Lexington) is on the Minuteman Bike Trail. This is great because there are few road crossings, which increases both speed and safety, and I get to see some greenery and wildlife along the way. Flowering wild apple trees are more scenic and multiflora rose more fragrant than the ass end of an MBTA bus. Downside is that plowing of the path by the different municipalities along the route in wintertime can sometimes be spotty.

Given that for 7+ hours a week I am travelling along the path, I spend a lot of time looking at plants. In the winter of 2013/2014 I checked out a slew of foraging books from the library, which were neat to read. I find nature much more interesting if I can eat it!

June 4, 2015

Herb Basket from scrap Red Cedar and Canvas

We were going to a saturday afternoon party at my work friend Branden's house, and I planned on bringing along some spring garden stuff as a little gift. But what to bring it in? An old plastic bag? Hmm... I've got all those scraps of clear red cedar in the basement which I'm generating by building our fence...

May 27, 2015

Birthday Party for Mice

We typically do a big combined party for the two older girls, but so far just small affairs for the youngest child. He had a lot of fun at the girls' party last fall, and this year for his fourth birthday he asked for pinatas and many friends. So we decided to switch the big party to the spring and make the fall events smaller.

Buster is insanely into mice. His favorite game is pretending he is a mouse, and his favorite video entertainment is classic Tom & Jerry. It's amazing how dated those seem now, but our kids think they are absolutely hilarious. He was delighted when I found a family of mice nesting in our compost bin this spring, and would often open the hatch to catch a glimpse of them.

April 27, 2015

Backyard Grain Maze

Our backyard, while big for a built up urban area, at about 240 square meters it is not very large in absolute terms. After renovating the back yard in late fall 2013, we were left with about a 9x12 meter space that wasn't already spoken for; this was frost seeded with ecolawn mix and covered with a thin layer of salt marsh hay at the end of the renovation.

Over the winter I read several books about small scale grain growing. As I am wont to do, I got unreasonably excited to make some efforts on this new project.

April 16, 2015

Cutter Family Clothing Archive: 18th Century Red Silk Brocade Frock

Becky's friend Becca comes from a family which has been in the Boston area for many generations. Last year her mom was downsizing out of her house in Cambridge and Becca was helping her clear out the attic. She asked us if we would like to take on the duty of storing and caring for some articles of antique clothing she came across. Even though they are not actually useful for anything practical, we agreed with enthusiasm to assume stewardship of these beautiful pieces of history. I'll be posting pictures and thoughts on the items over the next few months.

The most interesting piece is a dress in red silk brocade. Partly because it is a fantastic garment, and partly because it has a little documentation with it and some latter day alterations to puzzle out. The photo card at the top of the post was in the box with the dress, with notes indicating it was worn by Miss Thankful Hubbard of Boston, 1759 (1748 crossed out).

March 24, 2015

Best garden tool for 2014: Austrian Scythe

My favorite new garden tool from 2014 is an Austrian style scythe from Scythe Supply. Over the winter I read The Scythe Book and watched some internet scythe videos, of scythe wielders beating men with gas powered trimmers in competition, barefoot young ladies elegantly and speedily mowing meadows, and the like. So I ordered myself a scythe outfit, mostly for cutting the grass in the front of my house which is unpleasant to do with a normal lawn mower. The kids thought this was awesome and were really excited to try it out.

March 10, 2015

Making LED Grow Lights

I want to grow leeks and alpine strawberries this year, and would like to try tomatoes and a few other things from seeds rather than seedlings. The only convenient place to start seeds at my house would be the basement. It is dank and dim, so some grow lights were in order.

March 3, 2015

Felt Legion Cap

One day last fall, I could not find my felt gnome hat I made a few years ago. With cold weather closing in and no silly looking home made felt hat to wear, I urgently set to work to make replacement. 

February 21, 2015

Urban Micro Orchard: Year 1

The narrow strip of bed was planned and built, covering about 15 square meters of bed area, or roughly equivalent to the area covered by one mature semi-dwarf apple tree. The back fence was put up, and the seven apple trees and a bunch of companions were planted.