Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Nash's Dream Project: Norse Goddess Metal Helmet

      This week we're giving into Nash's geeky side and working with metal. Specifically, he's welding a Super Hero helmet for Loki's wife. While we normally do sewing projects on here, it seems right with DragonCon coming up in a few weeks to do some fun projects for the blog. Many people have been asking for requests to see some design and sample work the office does. So, here ya go.
     The process for welding sheet metal into a helmet is similar in many ways to sewing if your needle is a spot welder. First you sketch your design. Ideally it should be a technical sketch. I am snagging Heather's picture here because she did such a good job putting this together as a starting point. My friends are awesome. Drawing abilities get you a long way in custom design work. Next, you cut a test cut in oak tag on the model to test how it looks. You can move the pieces around by holding them together with magnets before finishing any corrections. If you like how it looks to proceed to the next step, working in your real substance, in this case Nash is making his sample in steel next. This is mostly because steel is easier to weld than aluminum.
     One important part of custom work is the need to make samples to test and discard for quality control. This is a large part of what drives up design cost for me is the fact that I have to go through several iterations before settling on a final design. Nash is much the same way. The whole measure twice, cut once type. It's especially important when your final material may be expense or you only get one shot to do it right. Have a great day! Next up, sheet metal.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Belts 101: How To Pick A Leather Belt

        After much ado....I am posting a belated guide to picking a quality leather belt while I work on other projects this week. I'm running short of time so I apologize in advance if correspondence is slow.  Leather belts were the first men's clothing accessory my old boss Herb Eckerlin taught me about when I started as a lowly sales associate in childrens at Belks a decade ago, and his advice has always served me in good stand. So I am passing on his wisdom to you today. I've got a couple more posts I'm working on for sales associates looking to increase their sales, but right now I want to focus some on sharing the practical basics for my customers. I always have more ideas to put on paper than time to do it.  Herb's currently the store manager at the Belk's store on Capital and remains the wisest manager I've served directly under in retail. There's flashy accessories, most people start with shoes, others sexy underwear, but Herb started with belts. So that's where I will start.
       The first distinction many people make is to switch from cloth belts which last a season to leather belts which can last from a year for a cheap one to a good belt which can last 15-20 years. Many people also pick up that metal belts will often scratch or tarnish in a year or two from wear. But one of the harder distinctions people fail to make is leather belts have significant quality differences for the same price so a few easy rules allow a small amount of knowledge to stand one in good stead. To help you, the consumer, choose more wisely, I am opening up my belt collection today to help demonstrate the major differences. Belts are usually best purchased in January when they are at their lowest prices, but you can get a good belt any time of year for $20-80 simply by using your eyes to pick through the selection. The best belt will rarely be the most expensive, though a better brand belt will often be better quality. I paid less that $5 each of my belts as I bought them at the end of the season. One of my continuing pet peeves is the best belt I own was a Goodwill find so I have no idea who made it or how to buy another. Moral of the story, mark your goods people and don't use cold-press in leather or it WILL come out over time.

In order from lowest to highest quality they are with original retail price:

Woven Ralph Lauren Belt $97.50
Metal Calvin Klein Belt $69.50
Pressed Calvin Klein Belt $69.50
Stitched and Pressed Reversible LeatherBelt by Ralph Lauren (White and Black) $59.50
Stitched and Pressed Reversible Leather Belt by Ralph Lauren (Brown and Black) $59.50
Stitched and Pressed Leather Belt by Brighton Belt $66.00
Stitched and Pressed Brown Leather Coach Belt $98.00
Stitched and Pressed Lizard Skin Belt Unknown Goodwill $1.99

General quality can be summarized as follows with the following 4 rules:

1. You need two belts or one reversible belt in black and brown. If you are light in the wallet, make sure to get a reversible belt to stretch your dollars further at first until you can buy one in each color. Be aware that a reversible belt will wear out in the pin before a normal belt so it will only last 3-4 years compared to 15-20 from a good solid belt. Reversible belts have swivel point in them which is the first place to break. The twisting motion tends to also work the screws out of the leather so it's a popular, but flawed design. To see if a belt in the store is reversible, grab the top right below the buckle, pull down the base to separate the buckle from the leather.

2. A stitched belt will outlast a simple pressed belt by a minimum of 3-4 times. To see if a belt has been pressed look around the edges to see if the belt has been sewn. If you do not see this, pass on to another belt. You'll be glad. Compare the cheap pressed Calvin Klein belt to the better quality belt by Ralph Lauren. These were originally the same price in the store, but vastly different in quality. You will often see this the hand-tooled leather crowd where they will do all this handwork, and never bother to stitch the outside for reinforcement. Drives me NUTS.

3. Next, look at the belt to see if it is flat or raised which is an indication that the leather has been reinforced in the center. The old school leather makers will not only use two pieces of leather instead of one, but also put stiffener in the center to improve the wearing of the belt. The stiffener will generally raise the center and the edges of the belt will occasionally be turned under instead of burned to finish it. Not all stiffeners are created equal. Good stiffener will be soft and bend smoothly. Cheap softener (often cardboard or paper instead of cotton fabric) will crunch and move unevenly. Coach makes a lovely reinforced belt for a reasonable price.

4. Lastly, check to see if the belt buckle is solid metal. The best belt buckles are solid brass and generally come from England. The second best belts are solid nickel and often come from Germany. The rest of all belts are plated and the cheap coating comes off with wear in a year or two of wear. It's a waste to buy a good leather belt with a cheap buckle. This is a harder thing to test for since some manufacturers have gotten clever at anodizing or bonding paint to the metal. To test in a store, flip to the back of the buckle. Next make a small scratch in the surface with a small sharp instrument. Many people will use their fingernails or small pocket knife. You don't want ruin someone's hard work, but check to see if a millimeter depth changes the color or not. If it doesn't, you have a winner. My favorite are brass buckles as they last forever, but it often raises the cost of the belt by $5-10. Personally, my taste is pretty static so I think that's a reasonable investment, but belt manufacturers will surprise you with wide shifts in quality unrelated to prices.

Hope this post helps you. Have a great day. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Yawy: We Will Be At SparkCon!

                          I just heard back from SparkCon and we will be at the BazaarSpark September 13th-16th. Come see us then at the Triangle's large talent call for artists and designers. I can't wait to see you then.

                           This is one of my favorite events to go to as you can really feel the sheer joy and enthusiasm from the crowd. The musical talent is particularly over the top awesome!

                          Yeah! Now to get back to work sewing fun product for the show. :-) Can't wait to surprise everyone in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cooking with Dog: My Favorite TV Show

             Alright, today I am roughly 2 1/2 months out from my wedding and let's just say it looks like I may be doing some crash dieting. Part of this involves the traditional 2 Ws (water and walking), but part of it is also going to have to involve some lifestyle changes back to being more healthy in terms of eating more fruits and vegetables. While Nash has many wonderful qualities, he definitely is a meat and potatoes guy which plays havoc with a skinny girl's diet plan. I'll never forget on one of our first dates he asked what a cooked onion was.
              Me, I love asian cooking. Specifically Japanese. So while I get ready pack some yummy bento box lunches this week, please enjoy my favorite cooking show: Cooking With Dog. This is the most popular Japanese cooking show and just plain awesome. I lost 20 lbs the year I found this youtube show which makes it the best weight loss plan I ever been on and realistic as most of the recipes are very fast to me as I'm lazy and like fast cooking. One of my major beefs with Weight Watchers is I've never cared for cooking in ovens as it blows your electricity bill through the roof. Plus, I don't like to wait that long to eat. There's only so long you can eat stuff that has the consistency of cardboard. Cooking with Dog's been on hiatus for a while due to the cook being injuried in an accident, but it's back up and running which seems apt for me to hit the kitchen. So enjoy! May you too have a great coming month and if you have any diet plans, I also wish you success there.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Costume Designers: The Exhibitionists

          In the last 100 years since the invention and acceptance of the washing machine, there has been over a 1,000 fold decrease in bespoke and handmade clothing. Beyond the initial higher design cost for something made-to-measure, there is a higher regular use in terms of maintenance both from dry cleaning and ironing. It is something that I give a lot of thought to as Liz Claiborne built an empire that her successor burned to the ground in a few years on the idea that clothing can and should be both good quality and easy care. But that is a discussion for another day.
            Today we are talking about THEATER! Specifically, how amazing I think that costume designers who design for the stage are. My favorite guilty pleasures often come to me thanks to my girl friend, Heather, who let's me borrow her brain from time to time. She's completely into custom and bespoke wear and if I came back rich and didn't have to sing for my supper, the first thing I would do is kidnap her to set-up a custom clothing shop where we made over the top fashion every day with no thought of money. Well, everyone has to have a fantasy. Since I don't see anyone giving me 100k to create works of beauty, I will stick to the practical for now. It's also hard when a custom suit made-to-measure takes roughly 20-30 times more to create plus fitting time compared to a ready-to-wear version.
            However, I always respect my fellow designers who seem to be able to manage what I never could which is making theater and costume one-offs pay. So, I get to watch these beautiful people on tv make things I dream of having the time to do a full-scale production run of. My current favorite is the popular tv show Game of Thrones costume designer, Michele Clapton. I encourage you to go check out her as she's done masterpiece theatre for years for all you snobby types.
She even weaves her own fabric....wow...hardcore.Yum, however...while her pieces have inspired collections, most of the other series I watch for clothing in them generally have to do with the specific quality in cut, not a specific designer. This is mostly because there are several great costume houses which farm out their period collections so it's sometimes hard to detect if you are seeing the actual work of the costume designer's needle trade or simply their ability to beg or borrow from the great houses.

               Take Downton Abbey which I was so into, only to find the pieces were in large part borrowed by Susannah Buxton from various houses instead of all assembled by her. I can't blame her as that show is full of costume changes, but it did make me decide to look less critically at costume designers for stage as few of them probably have the time or inclination to draft hundreds of costumes from scratch every few weeks. I try not to judge people for working smarter, everyone makes sacrifices to pay the bills. I have a portfolio of discarded projects I loved that got tossed for more practical ones. So I love to watch shows as it lets me dream. Alright, besides Game of Thrones, here's 3 more shows I love to watch for the clothing previews:

     Sherlock Holmes which I watch for Holmes's clothing, specifically his coats

     Suits which I watch for all the male lawyers suits. The women's wovens on the other hand are horribly unflattering and seem to result in boob wads which is so prego. BUT the suits are yum.

   Covert Affairs which is all about some hot shoes and zipper dresses. Those things look so impractical, but I love how this show takes risks.

Ok, have a great day and enjoy a little theater from me to you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


              I meant to post this up last week, but first I want to say THANK YOU to all our friends, customers, and family. I am pleased to announce tentatively, that our shop is booked again for full-time production for the month. However, if anything the past month has taught Nash and I, it's that we need to pay more attention to our bottomline so we are planning to both spend the rest of the month organizing and instituting some order. A little growing up is never a bad thing. Have a great week everyone, I'm off to sew awesome!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Textile Friday: Shirt Tailor Kabbaz

       So I keep meaning to post practical Textile Friday posts, I've had this really great one on how to pick out a good quality leather belt for 2 months, and instead this youtube video fell into my lap. I'm going to blame my friends for feeding this crack addiction of mine for old school tailors and classically cut clothing. So today, I am throwing away my practical self to take you to the tailor section of New York. There's a number of famous tailors in NY and also in London, but one of my favorites is Alexander Kabbaz. You can watch an old-school tailor at work. His work is just LOVELY! Ah, if I were 18 again, I would show up at this man's doorstep dripping wet with a backpack and refuse to leave until he taught me. Well, it's probably a good thing I was in my 20s before I heard of him. Saves me the trouble of that level of stupid. While making a dress shirt was one of the first projects I learned on an industrial machine, there's an art to it that's definitely left out of the popular David Coffin "shirt making book." One of the things that I would like to eventually get my hands on is a shirt knife like in this video. Oh well, I have no idea where I would find something like this. So just sit back and enjoy the video! Have a great weekend!

       And while I may never be Alexander, one day...I would love to make dress shirts too!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 26th: Counting Metal: Cash and Jewelry

         Alright, weather permitting, we will be talking about money infrastructure and practicing casting jewelry in kilns this coming week. Of all the things the business does, one of the things I consistently struggle with as a business owner is accounting. When you're getting started, the money part is easy, mostly because you don't have any. As you grow it becomes headache inducing stomach flip-flops.

7-8 Show Me the Money: There's some basic steps you need to take as a business to make sure you are pulling a profit

First, you need to buy some accounting software. The industry standard is Quickbooks. You can buy the basic software for $26 off Amazon, you can also upgrade up to $186 for the deluxe package. Most people just use the basic stuff. Some banks offer this for free to their businesses. The major advantage of using Quickbooks is it is cheap, industry recognized, and most accountants love it so they're easier to work with. Win-win for everyone. The downside to me is I hate bookkeeping. I've tried to hand it off to Nash repeatedly for a year, and he doesn't like it any more than I do. I'm in the process of getting an accountant to help with our growing pains.

Next, you have to use the actual tools. Ah, the hard part. For this Quickbooks and Excel are your friends. But they can only help you if you use them. There's a great number of accountants, banks, and people to reach in the area that can help your business grow. We will be touching on some. This is by no means a complete list, just the most well-known. For banking we will be talking specifically about Federal Coastal Credit Union and Harrington Bank.

8-9 Jewelry Kiln Pouring: We will have some wax molds for people to practice making into jewelry. If you are planning to do this part, you will need to come back later to pick up your final piece. :-)

 Note: If it is over 85 degrees, we will reschedule for later.

Have a great day everyone!

Monday, July 9, 2012

New Instructables Up: Building Security How-to-Rekey Locks

          Alright, this week we are taking a break from the normal and catching up on spare projects that I've been meaning to do for a while. Nash is also stretching his teaching abilities on Instructables. He just put up a new post on how to re-key standard locks if you lose your key (this would have saved us $150 when we first moved into our new place) off of existing locks or random keys. For all you forgetful types out there like me, getting over a bad break-up, or landed your new dream gig: this one is for you. I really love how Nash's teaching and writing sides come out in these. Thank goodness I am marrying a much more patient man than I. Also, this week isn't my typical bread and butter large clients, so many of them have agreed to share their hopes and dreams with you. I hope everyone has fun this week seeing some wacky, wild repair and design projects. Often I feel as if I have these really great projects...that I can't talk about. So enjoy a fun adventure week as we fill in our blog with the unusual, practical, and fun. We've had an odd turn of events the past couple of weeks in landing a dream client who bought us out for full-time production only to have them go under.  It was somewhat a surprise to me as they seemed to have much of the things Nash and I have struggled over all lined up, but skinning one's knees involves getting back up and keep going. This business seems to teach resilience and  I'm well-loved so Nash and I look forward to a busy week making our current customers happy and lining up replacements.  Every season seems to bring it's own challenges, and one of the major challenges for clients this season seems to be matching wallets to dreams. There's a saying in this business that the only good products in manufacturing are those that sell and everything else is a fantasy.
         Hard to know if that's true, but please enjoy a little thriller spy magic while I get caught up on work. I am waiting for my locks to get re-keyed now for April Fool's next year. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Textile Friday: Wilde Hunt Corsetry

            Well, I originally had another post planned for today...something practical. But a friend sent me this amazing artisan corset maker: Wild Hunt Corsetry which is a custom shop out of Ohio. There's a number of custom corset makers, we have two shops in our area. But when you see stuff this beautiful, you just want to share it. Larissa takes custom commissions from around the world and plys her trade as a seamstress.

     As anyone who knows me knows, I hate doing handwork so I'm always most appreciative of the skill levels involved to produce a masterpiece like this. The average piece will often take a week or more to produce making them one of a kind. This to me is amazing in our world of racing towards the bottom and ever cheap, shoddy clothing, that these gems of art still exist brought to light by a needle and thread. Happy Friday. May you enjoy a little beauty in your weekend too.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 10th: Acorn to Oak Handmade Meeting: Building an Online Presence and Microwaves

  Have a happy July 4th everyone. We are cleaning up the shop and getting ready for next week's Etsy meeting at Roth Brewing. They have been kind enough loan us their taproom for the summer meetings. Mostly because I need a beer to talk about some of the business soup, nuts, and bolts. Last time we talked about Creative Cash and the big picture. Now, we are rolling up our sleeves and getting down to business. BTW, thank you everyone who has drop by their shop to get their own place up and running. I am excited to see some new stores hitting the internet streets. This seems a really nice counterpoint for a long two weeks, I've watched two large design/textile shops go under the past month that I've respected and looked up to for years. The kind with 10 years experience, all the equipment, and clients. It's been both humbling and challenging. A reminder that no one is either without fault or incapable of failing because they are too established, big, well-funded, or smart. It's why I feel so strongly about the Etsy group in that if our group members are to be successful (including myself), we will need to not just to gain the knowledge to fill out forms, but the wisdom necessary to be successful at what we do. That's why I am encouraging everyone to not just read the blog posts or acquire knowledge, but to actually show-up to gain the wisdom. Because, wisdom seems to be the type of thing that is so simple it gets lost in the daily grind unless you take the trouble to really stop and reflect on it. And it's easy to miss the mark if you only listen to yourself all day.

7-8 pm: Setting Up Your Online Presence: Alright, there's a lot good advice on how-to-do this. There's a lot you can do quickly, and a lot that takes time. Like many things, building a web pages are quickly set-up and slowly revised. You can set-up a website with store, blog, and gallery for free to $10/yr. The most popular services are: weebly, ipage, wordpress, and google. Some of the artists around here use Shopify which is a less common knock-off. For your money, Big Cartel or Etsy are considered better for getting started, but eventually you need to grow up and get your own landing. The most popular places to register a domain (online address where you can be reached) are Big Daddy and Dreamhost. There are roughly 2,000 different services you can use in the area as storage space has gone down so much in price many of the old search engine companies have reinvented themselves as hosting sites. You can also set-up one yourself. Feel free to bring a laptop as this is a virtual tour.

8-9 pm: Speed Art with a Microwave: Generally, I use microwaves to reheat soup or last night's dinner. But microwaves can do much more than reheat your dinner. Because they work by exciting the molecules, you can also use them to speed all kids of drying for flowers, salt dough, paper, you name it. It's great for last minute arts and crafts when you have a show the next day to make or a kid's recital. My favorite things to make are paper masks and custom bowls, but I look forward to being surprised and working with the paper arts. To some craft magic.

Have a great day everyone! Can't wait to see you next week.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Flexishirts: Move'em Shirts

      Yesterday, we released our Flexipants. Today, we releasing our Flexishirts. Similar to our Flexipants, these are long-sleeve shirts we have converted to short-sleeve for summer and added fabric inserts to allow for a full range of motion without flashing your bra. Yeah for fixing one of my pet peeves which has been the fact that if you are a woman and wear a button up shirt, you have a tendency to flash people when you raise your arms as you chase after small children, move boxes, or generally kick some butt. And small children are too much fun to chase to give up on of those raw pleasures in life. This fabric insert system is also good for anyone who believes in kicking butt and taking names. The most popular use has actually been guys who want to get more summer shirt selection as short sleeve dress shirts are always a bear to come by in color selections, plus adding fabric inserts makes for cooler clothing as it is easier to breath at the seams. Thank you 12th century fishermen for teaching us this great trick. And you thought cable knit clothing was just for show. This can also extend your shirt's life by another season if you have frayed or worn cuffs. Just drop off your shirts and we will turn them around in 7 days. $15 per shirt for women, $20 per shirt for men. You can also check out our Etsy shop as we post up fun samples. Mostly, I just love putting movement back in clothing.
               We have a shirt and pair of pants sitting in front of our sales office for anyone who would like to touch the difference in person. Because tailoring is often one of those things that is best appreciated by the wearer in the extras no one necessarily sees, but enjoys. Have a great day and escape the hot summer! Happy July 4th everyone. It's been a wild ride the past few weeks and I've enjoyed spending it all with you. May you enjoy the fireworks, cook-outs, and moments with loved ones tomorrow. I feel really blessed this year to get to spend the day with someone I love. I hope that you are having a great season too.

Monday, July 2, 2012

FlexiPants: Pants that move with you

                             Do you wish your steps were easier? That your strides were longer? That your pants didn't give you camel toe? Or crotch wad? Or having have a gaping waistband, tight thighs, or other pesky misfits in the caboose area? That the seat didn't wear out before everything else in your wardrobe? 95% of all pants on the market today in Ready-To-Wear are noted for their poor fit. Today I am happy to announce the first of our tailoring series, FlexiPants. After a lot of research, our shop has designed a series of fabric inserts that you can put in off the shelf pants purchased at your local retailer to restore the lost 20% extra freedom of motion pants used to have in the 1920s and 1930s due to different construction techniques. This helps you move faster and stretch farther than typical pants and as an added benefit can alleviate many of the typical problems associated the fact that most Americans have a larger than normal thighs, posterior, and in men's cases...family jewels...than the rest of the world. You can check-out our online store as we post a jeans and pants series this summer or drop by our Sales Office to get your own favorite pair done for $20/each women's pants, $25/each men's pants. We promise complete satisfaction or we'll restore your old fit within 30 days! 
                               If you would like to see these pants in motion, Nash will be wearing them indefinitely in the future as a former football player with large thighs he's struggled for years to find pants that fit him. Now, he no longer has this problem. To alter your pants properly we will need the following 3 measurements if you are a woman:

1. Natural Waist (Narrow Part where your belly button is)
2. Hip Measurement (How big you are at your widest point)
3. Upper Thigh Measurement (How much bigger than average you are around, this is especially true to active people such as runners, cyclists, martial artists, and anyone who is very active.

For a man, we need the following 4 measurements:

1. Natural Waist (Narrow Part where your belly button is)
2. Hip Measurement (How big you are at your widest point)
3. Upper Thigh Measurement (How much bigger than average you are around, this is especially true to active people such as runners, cyclists, martial artists, and anyone who is very active).
4. Family jewel size for international mens is 5 inches long and 1 inch around. 98% of all American men are larger than the international pants average. If you do not tell us this, we will fit for the pants as if you are an American sized 6 inches and 1 1/2 inches around because you are probably constricted on a daily basis without you realizing this just buying pants off the shelf. If you are more than this number, you can simply tell us by inch instead of specifics.

Have a great day everyone, check in tomorrow as we tackle shirts. I'm so pleased to finally start getting to release the results of a decade of research. I hope all of you can benefit from better clothing fits! :-)