Category Archives: life

What’s worth making?

I’ve been thinking about what’s worth making and what’s worth buying. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy finished products used (or even new) than to buy the raw materials to make my own, especially in terms of common clothes and accessories. On the other hand, there are benefits to using and developing my DIY skills, such as cooking and sewing (and maybe eventually woodworking again).

Thinking about my considerations for that make vs. buy decision can help me improve those decisions. If I can make that “make” decision better, I can benefit from improved skills, more satisfaction, and possible savings. If I can make that “buy” decision better, I can take advantage of the capabilities of industries. Here are some factors that nudge me towards making things instead of buying them.

When something is much more expensive to buy than to make: Considering the quantities I use, the characteristics I want, and the cost of raw materials and time, it can be much cheaper to make things than to buy them. Cooking generally falls into this category. Sometimes sewing does too, especially if I can use fabric from sales or the thrift store.

When I want to adjust for personal fit, taste, or needs: It’s been nice to enjoy our favourite meals without being limited to what’s offered in restaurants. I also like being able to make several copies of simple blouses that fit me well in colours and fabrics that appeal to me, instead of trawling through stores to find the intersections of fit, style, fabric, colour/pattern, and price.

For that extra bit of satisfaction: I feel a little more satisfied when I enjoy something I’ve made compared to something I’ve simply bought. I’ve noticed this with the clothes I wear and the meals I make, and I’m looking forward to enjoying this even more as I learn how to make accessories.

When something is difficult to find: It’s often hard to find the things I want in store. Sometimes even online searching can be a hassle, especially with international shipping.

Independence from market trends and frustrating shopping experiences: Along those lines, it’s nice to be able to skip noisy malls and arbitrary trends.

Conversation starters and identity signallers: There’s a less of this because I don’t usually pay extra for novelty prints (well, aside from that Marvel comics one! =) ). I don’t feel the need to wear my geekiness on my sleeve – it usually comes out pretty quickly in conversation anyway. Still, it’s fun to infuse a little bit of personality into the things I make, like adding a cat-shaped pocket to a peasant blouse or making things that match each other. Who knows, maybe it will lead to interesting conversations with other crafters.

Convenience, not having to search: A well-stocked pantry lets us make something we like without having to look for a restaurant that’s open with the kind of food we might want to eat at the moment. Likewise, I want to eventually develop an organized stash of flexible, easy-to-coordinate fabric so that I can make things as needed (ex: apparel cotton, flannel, lining, knit, PUL). I haven’t quite sorted out my system yet, and I tend to do things in single colours/patterns because I’m not confident about coordinating. Someday, though!

Gifts: I’m pretty meh about giving and receiving gifts. It’s better when things are consumable or home-made, or preferably both. =)

Developing skills and appreciation: The more I make things, the more I learn about how things are constructed. This helps me appreciate the things around me, and it might even help me make those buying decisions more effectively.

Fuel for thinking/writing/sharing: Experiments in making things can often be turned into blog posts and ideas.

Ethical considerations: Although manufacturing can be good for the economic growth of developing countries, I’m not too comfortable with ethical issues in factories for clothing or other consumer goods. Besides, I like the waste reduction of repurposing things that might otherwise be trashed or turned into rags.

The intrinsic enjoyment of the activity: Cooking is fun, especially when W- and I cook together. Sewing is starting to be pretty fun too. It has its frustrating moments, but I’m starting to build up a good stash of “Look! This actually works!” memories.

In terms of decisions to buy instead of make:

  • There are things I definitely don’t have the skills or materials to make, so that’s an easy “buy” decision.
  • If I could make it, but it’s much cheaper and easier to buy things, then I might put off making them.
  • I tend to put off buying things if I know I can buy them inexpensively on short notice. I’ll wait until I have a clear need for them, since it’s often better to make do than to have more than we need.
  • I’ll buy in advance if I have a clear idea of our usage, or if there’s a good enough sale that I’m comfortable with the trade-offs.

Sometimes I also consider the question: “What else could I be doing with this energy, time, and money?” My life is pretty flexible at the moment, so it’s usually a choice of:

  • doing more consulting: good for building up skills and savings, but can be too tempting compared to the long-term value of other activities
  • doing something else in the real world: other DIY things, taking care of chores/errands/exercise
  • coding or learning something intangible: automating parts of my life, developing skills
  • thinking/drawing/writing about stuff: good for understanding, remembering, and connecting

There’s time enough for a little bit of everything, so I don’t worry too much about the decisions moment by moment. Still, it’s nice to be clear about the factors to consider so that I can recognize them more easily when they come up. =)

Based on our enjoyment of DIY videos on YouTube, I think I’ll enjoy a life that’s tilted even more towards making things. It would be awesome to be able to think spatially and draft my own patterns, and maybe get more into laser cutting, 3D-printing, and woodworking too.

We’ll see how things go!

Python + sewing: Making basic shapes and splitting up larger patterns

More Python and sewing. =) The first step was to make parameterization even easier by allowing command-line specification of measurements. I refactored some code from client.py and modified mkpattern to accept the new arguments, splitting up the name and value based on regular expressions (commit). That way, I could quickly generate patterns based on different dimensions, like so:

python ../mkpattern --client=../customer/Sacha/sacha-cm.json \
   --pattern=../patterns/box_tote.py \
   --styles=../tests/test_styles.json \
   -m height=4in -m width=7.5in -m seam_allowance=0.5in \
   -m depth=7.5in -m strap_width=1in -m strap_length=10in -m hem_allowance=1in \
   ../foo.svg

I sketched basic patterns for cylindrical and box-type containers the other day, so I wanted to try them out. It turned out that the Python framework I used for sewing patterns didn’t yet support arcs. Adding the arc element to the SVG was straightforward. I initially faked the bounding box for the arc, but since that made the code misbehave a little, I looked around for a better implementation. I translated the code from this post from 2011 to Python and added it to the code (git commit). That allowed me to make a simple cylinder pattern generator. I haven’t tested it yet, but it looks reasonable.

2015-10-27 20_30_11-foo.svgThe box tote was interesting to work on. When I did the math, I couldn’t believe that the calculations were that simple. I was waiting for a sqrt or a cos to show up, I think. Still, the small-scale paper version I taped up looks like it makes sense, and I’ll sew a full-size version soon. J- asked for a light blue lunch bag that would fit our standard containers, and I’ve been meaning to make a casserole carrier for a while now. It would be handy to be able to make bags that are the right size. Too small and things don’t lie flat, too big and they move around too much.

2015-10-27 20_31_54-foo.svg - Inkscape

I spent most of my time making a flexible circle skirt pattern, pretzeling my brain around circumferences, angles, multiple pieces, and fullness multipliers. I’m happy with the way it turned out. It can generate patterns for quarter-circle skirts, half-circle skirts, full-circle skirts – even an arbitrary fraction of skirt fullness split into an arbitrary number of pieces, with optional seam allowance, waist seam allowance, and hem allowance. If you give it the fabric width, it will split the pattern into however many pieces are needed. If you specify a seam allowance and you want a full-circle skirt in a single piece (maybe for dolls), it’ll leave room for the seam allowances by adjusting the inner radius. We’re heading into snow pants season, so I probably won’t get around to testing it in fabric for a while. Caveat netrix, I guess.

I also got around to writing a tool for splitting up large patterns so that I could print them on a regular printer. I had tried Posterazor and a few other tools for splitting up large images into smaller pages, but I wanted something that would add cutting lines and page numbers. It turns out that all you need to do is change the SVG’s height, width, and viewPort. I added a rectangle for the cutting line and some text for the page numbers. I haven’t figured out how to use pysvg to replace the contents of an existing text element, but since the tool prints out non-overlapping regions, I just keep adding more text elements. My script creates a numbered sequence of SVGs. I haven’t found a convenient way to print multiple SVGs in one go, but I can select multiple PNGs and print those, and I can use Inkscape’s command line to convert SVGs to PNGs like so:

inkscape -z -e output-01.png -d 300 output-01.svg

There’s supposed to be a -p command to output Postscript ready for printing, but command-line printing on Windows doesn’t seem to be as much of a thing as it is on Linux. Something to figure out another time, maybe. Anyway, now that I have a conversion pipeline, I can write a Bash script or Emacs Lisp to process things automatically.

I’ll probably move from all this theoretical script-writing to more hands-on sewing during the rest of the week. My fabric order has arrived, so I’ve got a bit of cutting and sewing ahead of me.

Hmm. With the command-line measurement and scaling overrides, it might be interesting to use this framework for papercraft and laser-cutting too. Someday!

Programmatically rescaling and manipulating the darts in sewing patterns

I’ve been playing with the tmtp project for programmatically generating SVGs based on body measurements in order to create basic blocks and sewing patterns (see my previous blog post). I’m not yet at the point of being able to look at an image and see if it will sew correctly. However, printing and taping up large patterns is frustrating and a waste of paper. Scaling the patterns down so that they fit on a single page of paper makes perfect sense. With the measurements I’m working with, a scale of 0.2 (1″ : 5″) makes things fit neatly on 8.5″x11″ paper. It’s easy enough to cut them out and tape them up into something that resembles the form.

Here’s the commit that adds the scaling factor, and the commit that adds a very useful --scale command-line option. This lets me do something like this:

python mkpattern --verbose \
  --client=customer/Sacha/sacha-cm.json \
  --pattern=patterns/dart_manipulation_example.py \
  --styles=tests/test_styles.json --scale=0.2 output.svg

I generated a bunch of SVGs using my measurements, printed and cut them, and taped them up. Tada! They look like they make sense. The easy-fitting bodice block from Metric Pattern Cutting is, as expected, looser than the close-fitting bodice block, and both are a little bit bigger than the basic bodice block from BurdaStyle.

2015-10-26 16.17.312015-10-26 16.20.17

The basic shirt pattern from Cal Patch’s Design-it-Yourself Clothes fits over the basic blocks, as expected. It looks a little boxy compared to the blocks, but it will probably be fine in cotton, since cotton won’t be as stiff as paper.

2015-10-26 16.18.49

If I end up doing this a lot, I’ll probably look into modifying the patterns to draw an outline on a separate layer. Then I can convert the SVG for use with Hacklab’s laser cutter (see my previous experiments and fun results), so I can easily test with paper or fabric.

I was thinking about the viability of printing a small, to-scale 3D model based on measurements. Doesn’t have to be a photorealistic 3D scan of me – apparently you can get photorealistic 3D prints for about ~$120 these days, but that’s still a bit much. If it’s not from a scan, though, there’s the challenge of generating a good model based on entered measurements, or creating/adjusting an existing model of a dress maker’s mannequin. Anyway, papercraft with basic blocks seems to be a decent starting point. =)

With the scaling factor in place, I did the math for dart manipulation. Darts help add shape to fabric, turning flat pieces into slightly conical structures. If you wanted to move a dart on paper, you could tape the dart closed, then cut a new line to the apex of the dart and spread the pattern until it’s flat again. (Wikipedia describes this as slash-and-spread.)

There’s an SVG rotate transformation that would probably make it easier to handle the rotation of complex shapes. I haven’t figured out how to add an SVG group in tmtp yet, though. Instead, I:

  1. Added a pair of points where my “cut” was going to be
  2. Calculated the existing dart angle
  3. Rotated one of the dart points, one of the new cut points, and the points in between – to make things easier, I specified which points to rotate
  4. Redrew the front bodice

I added a few library functions, so now the code to rotate a dart is pretty short. It takes an array defining the dart points (start, apex, end), and another array of the points to rotate around the apex by the calculated angle.

def rotateDart(self, dart_points, points_to_rotate):
    # Determine the angle of rotation
    angle = angleOfVectorP(dart_points[0], dart_points[1], dart_points[2])
    # Rotate the dart closed
    (dart_points[0].x, dart_points[0].y) = rotateP(dart_points[0], dart_points[1], angle)
    # Rotate the rest of the points
    for i in range(len(points_to_rotate)):
        (points_to_rotate[i].x, points_to_rotate[i].y) = rotateP(points_to_rotate[i], dart_points[1], angle)
    return

When I printed out my test pattern and cut it, the new pattern matched the result of slashing and spreading the dart on the previous bodice. Hooray for paper testing!

2015-10-26 18.27.54

The next step would probably be to make an SVG slicer that converts large patterns into segments that can be printed on a home printer. It would probably move/clip the image, add cutting lines and labels for convenience, and export a series of SVGs. If I’m lucky, I might be able to find a Python library that will let me easily create a multi-page PDF.

More thoughts on sewing and programming: it would be nifty to be able to easily program variable seam allowances, so that I could say that one seam has a 1/2″ allowance and the other has a 2″ hem allowance. Lines should be pretty straightforward – just offset a parallel line by the specified distance. Bezier curves might be a challenge. In “An offset algorithm for polyline curves” (Liu, Yong, Zheng, and Sun, 2006), the authors describe a algorithm involving trimming the offset curves of a polyline curve. I should check out the approximation algorithms mentioned in their literature review – might be an easier thing to start with, especially if I can wrap my head around the way the existing code’s curveLength function interpolates curves. Or I can leave the addition of variable allowances as a human step. It’s not that hard with a seam allowance ruler. Still, it would be neat to have laser-ready SVGs… =)

Anyway, now that I’ve got a simple way to test things on a small scale and a bit more of a handle on the math, I’m looking forward to playing around with generating actual patterns instead of just basic blocks. Whee!

Fabric from the thrift store

I’ve been raiding the thrift store for 100% cotton sheets with patterns or textures that appeal to me. After a trip through the washing machine and dryer, they’re ready to be turned into other things. It’s easier to imagine what they’ll wear like with the softness of well-washed cotton instead of the stiffness of fabric on the bolt. There’s so much fabric that it’s easy to take risks on sewing experiments without feeling like I need to worry too much about maximizing yardage or avoiding mistakes. At the moment, I’d rather buy fabric than finished clothes, if I think I can sew what I want. Every piece is an opportunity to learn something.

Value Village is a bit higher-priced than the other thrift stores, but it has the advantage of being the largest one within walking distance. The price differences aren’t large enough to justify going on the subway. My limiting factor for sewing certainly isn’t a lack of fabric in my stash!

It took me a while to realize that I could get lots of material from the thrift store instead of from the fabric store. When I started getting back into sewing last year, I sewed the same pattern in different solid-coloured fabrics, and then moved on to some of the patterns that I liked: gingham, floral, and even a Marvel Comics print. (Mwahaha!) The more I browsed through the selection at fabric stores, though, the more I felt that I didn’t need to find a specific print or colour in order to make something I would like. If I happened across something I liked at the thrift store, I could add it to my stash. If not, it was a good walk anyway, and there’s still more to sew beyond that.

I suppose it’s a little like how we plan our groceries around the weekly flyers. If diced tomatoes are on sale, then it’s a good time to stock up. If not, we can cook from storage. If we’re out, there are plenty of other things we can cook.

I’m now reasonably confident that I can turn fabric into something simple that I can comfortably wear, and that I might prefer wearing more that something I could buy either used or new. I’m also happy with the kind of fabric that I can easily get, with the occasional splurge or special order here and there. I could spend more – there’s room in my budget, considering it’s part utility, part entertainment, and part education – but I don’t need to, and I like not needing more.

Learned how to replace a zipper

One of W-‘s winter jackets had a zipper that started to separate at the bottom. In retrospect, I should’ve tried squeezing the slider with pliers to see if that simple fix would take care of it. Then again, W- had probably already tried that before checking out zipper replacement tutorials on Youtube. Besides, replacing the zipper would also let us swap out the coil zipper for a plastic molded zipper (or what YKK calls Vislon zippers), which W- wanted.

There’s a tailor near us that charges $1/inch for replacing zippers, but I figured I’d give it a shot first. Free opportunity to learn a potentially useful skill, after all. I used a seam ripper to open the zipper-related seams. One of the sides came apart pretty quickly, but the other side required reaching through the lining of the jacket in order to loosen a few stitches before I could cut the rest of the threads.

Since I had the lining open anyway, I figured it was a good time to unpick the over-zipper flap’s hook-and-loop tape segments so that I could replace them with snaps. (Velcro is not a good idea when you have three cats.)

Yesterday I went on a long walk downtown to pick up supplies, since the fabric warehouse near us didn’t have the zippers or snaps I was looking for. I wasn’t sure what length to get and I forgot to bring the old zipper along, so I bought a 24″ zipper and a 26″ zipper from Fabricland – both one-way separating locking plastic moulded zippers. I bought rust-resistant snaps from a small store on Queen Street near Spadina.

I spent most of today learning how to replace the zipper. I took the time to baste both sides, which worked out well. I was a little concerned about the holes for the bottom snaps letting in wind and water, so I hand-sewed some polyurethane film behind the bottom snaps to catch some of that. My machine-stitching was a little wobbly because of the thickness, and there were parts I still needed to hand-stitch with the help of a thimble. Maybe next time I might hand-stitch the whole thing so that I can line things up better. The underside of my machine-stitched zipper wandered a bit. Still, I’m sure W- won’t mind!

Sewing the zipper and installing the snaps took me about five hours, but I’m sure that will get faster with practice. It was good to see things take shape, and the time passed quickly enough with Youtube videos in the background. I might take future zippers to the tailor if I’m pressed for time. Today, though, it was good to cross off another unexpected addition to my bucket list. =)

Pattern-making: Generating SVGs for sewing with Python and tmtp

I like sewing simple clothes, and I’d like to be able to continue doing that even as measurements change without having to rely on commercial patterns that would need to be manually adjusted anyway. I also want to experiment with computer-assisted cutting, like the way the laser cutter at Hacklab.to made it super-easy to precisely cut the same top in different fabrics.

In sewing, there’s the idea of drafting a pattern based on a set of measurements and a few calculations. You could do this with a large roll of paper, a ruler, and some way to draw a smooth curve (French curves, hip curves, or even tracing around the edge of a plate). There are software programs to do this as well, but the commercial ones tend to cost a lot if you want one that automatically drafts the rest of the pattern based on your measurements. Still, you can translate the manual instructions to digital form by drawing the appropriate lines and curves in a vector drawing program such as Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator.

While researching open source options for pattern-making, I came across Tau Meta Tau Physica (tmtp). At its core, it’s a Python script that produces an SVG based on a programmed pattern and a set of measurements. With a little fiddling (downgraded pySVG, fixed some case sensitivity issues), I got it working on my system.

Both documentation and actual code samples were pretty sparse, but I figured out the basics by reading the library code and the test patterns. I spent the day working on translating some of the basic patterns from Cal Patch’s book Design-It-Yourself Clothes: Pattern Making Simplified. So far, I’ve put together plausible-looking replicas of the A-line skirt and the basic shirt.

One of the nifty things about writing programs to draft patterns is that I can use the library functions to calculate the lengths of the cubic Bezier curves I’m using for necklines and armholes. This is handy when calculating collar length or adjusting sleeve caps. In particular, it’s neat to be able to use a loop to adjust the sleeve cap by offsetting the bicep point, although I’ll probably tweak the algorithm because it might be good to balance that with other ways to adjust that sleeve cap length.

I still haven’t tested the patterns, though, and I’m not even sure I’m collecting all these measurements correctly. At some point, I’ll print them out and sew a muslin yet. It would be good to test the sleeve cap. But the patterns look reasonable, so that’s a start.

Here are some screenshots based on my current measurements, and some links to the patterns on Github:

A-line skirt: My default measurements have this skirt sitting at my natural waist, although I’ll probably drop the waistline a bit lower before sewing it.

2015-09-29 20_57_39-foo.svg

Basic shirt: Totally untested. Would be interesting to see if this sleeve actually works, or what needs tweaking.

2015-09-29 20_59_55-_foo.svg - Inkscape

I’ll work on encoding the Burda bodice block, and then I can use that to sanity-check the shirt. Then there’s figuring out poster printing, taping up the pattern, and trying it out. Looks promising, though! I’m still boggled that the math I did for squaring lines seems to actually work. Now if only I can figure out proper seam allowance calculations instead of leaving that as a post-processing step in Inkscape or on paper…

My Github fork of tmtp