Sunday, September 12, 2010

More Serger Action

Even though today was supposed to be dedicated to a "deep clean and re-org" of my apartment, I ended up doing a bunch of dorking around with my new serger instead. So it goes.

Yesterday was wildly productive, and I'm not sure if it's just a newfound burst of enthusiasm linked to the new machine, or if it's just the fact that the machine is so darn efficient that I can get all kinds of stuff done.

What's kind of funny is that with this new serger, it is not the machine that is the long pole in the tent. With my old machine, I would basically spend MOST of my time rethreading it, re-sewing, stripping out bad stitches, etc. Just a real piece of agony. But now I find that the bulk of my time is spent on refining the pattern, tracing onto material, cutting and pinning. The actual sewing takes just a minute or two per seam. Just amazing.

After version 1.0 of the top part of the suit, I found a lot of places that needed to be improved upon. I took my existing pattern and made a series of modifications to it. Along the way, I also learned a lot about how the pattern is SUPPOSED to work, and the things that are wrong with it that hinder this. I think I mentioned this in an earlier post, but overall the pattern is pretty sloppy. The seams do not line up quite right, nor do they match. I originally thought this was just me, and I didn't know what I was doing. But the more I play with the pattern, and the more I put samples together, I realize that it's just a tad sloppy. Kind of a bummer, but it has proven to be a really great learning experience.

Here is a picture of the modified pattern that I came up with. You can see where I've grafted on new sections. I've also removed some material here and there to get a better fit.

Here's the finished version 2.0 shirt. The collar is a million times better than the last, but still not perfect. Still some research to do on that one, but it's getting there.

In general, my modifications were about half and half, hit or miss. Some of the stuff I did worked, and some of the other changes did not. As I said earlier, I'm learning how the pattern works, and figuring it out more and more as I go along. I'm very happy with how things are coming together so far. By my estimates, it's really just a matter of refining the pattern until it is exactly where I want it to be.

With that said, I percieve the main barrier to this effort to be momentum. Or lack of it. I can TOTALLY see myself getting burned out on this, as it is taking HOURS to put together just one top. With that in mind, I started looking for ways to improve my process, and make the entire thing go faster.

Some of the things I did were simple. For example, I was using a fine point sharpie to mark my fabric. I switched to a regular point. It glides much better, and goes WAY faster. Technique is also important too. The tip of the pen is the trailing edge of the pen, not the leading one. This stops the fabric from bunching up, and lets me go way faster. Having thicker lines also makes cutting much easier. Before there was a lot of squinting. Now I can just cruise along.

The real breakthrough came from the cutting technique. I switched from scissors to a cutting wheel. This allows me to go so much faster. I also get much smoother lines, which is a big plus.

Before, I would lay my fabric down on the kitchen floor, tape it into place, then lay my pattern on top of it. Then I would draw around it with my fine tip sharpie.

The new plan is that I just lay the fabric down on my cutting board, place the pattern on top of it (no tape involved anywhere), lay a couple weights on top of the pattern, and get to tracing with the regular tip sharpie. Without even picking up the fabric, I then go in with my cutting wheel and get my final shape.

To reposition, I just spin the cutting board with the fabric on top of it. That way I'm not crawling all around the kitchen trying to get it from the best angle.

Aw jeeze, and I forgot to mention that previously, I was ironing the fabric before cutting it. The new batch of fabric I have is folded, and not just thrown into a bag, so it doesn't need as much attention. But not ironing cuts a few minutes straight off the top of the process. So far I have not had any problems with unironed fabric. When it gets laid on the cutting board with the pattern on top, it flattens out nicely.

These changes to my technique were both thought up during the night, and also just kind of came together accidentally. I forgot I had a cutting board and wheel, but remembered when I was snoozing. Go figure. Some of the stuff like not moving around the kitchen, and not switching from kitchen to living room just evolved out of the process.

Newly equipped with my sped up process, I decided to start again from scratch with the pattern, but hit it hard with the modifications. My first two suit tops certainly showed me a lot, and I knew where I needed to change the master pattern. As you can see from the photo above, I tweaked the patterns so much that it became sort of hard to work with them much further, so I am just starting from the beginning.

I went with the sleeve first. It was a little short, and didn't quite fit snugly enough on my forearm.

Five tries later, and I had a perfect pattern for my arms.

I can honestly say that had I not gone through that process improvement cycle and gotten my technique refined, I probably would have given up after sleeve number three. I didn't time how long it took me to make each one, but there's probably not more than a couple of hours work here. I would say that using my original process, it would have taken an hour per sleeve. With the new refinements, I'm down to about 20 minutes. It is a significant difference.

I guess the lesson/point from this post is that process is everything, especially for something like this that is very labor intensive, and where there are MANY different approaches and techniques for each step along the way.

No comments: