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Guess Who’s Back?

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Well, it should be obvious – I’m back. Yes, after one year (give or take a couple of weeks) of hiatus, this blog is back in business for Project Project Runway Season 12! This summer I don’t have moving as an excuse, so let’s see if I can make it all the way to the finale this year. Do I still remember how to make tiny fashions? Has my creativity floundered? Can I still “make it work”? I guess we’ll just have to see!

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PPR Season 10 – Challenge 2

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Oh goodness. This week absolutely kicked my butt. Probably my worst unconventional materials challenge thus far, if not my worst challenge ever. The challenge this week was called “Candy Couture.” We had a budget of $25 and one day to create a look made out of candy. Thankfully, we were allowed to use fabric as a base.

 

Zhanna heads down the runway in a red strapless party dress featuring a fringed and layered skirt and a strapless, shiny top.

 

As you can probably see, I struggled with this challenge quite a bit.  I was just so befuddled. Scale was a real problem. Everything in the candy aisle seemed so enormous compared to my model. I had originally planned to make a dress with miniature M&Ms, kind of a cool mosaic-inspired look. But apparently mini M&Ms have been discontinued. I swore they still moonlighted in the baking aisle, but no dice. Since I couldn’t think of any good replacement for the mini M&Ms for the mosaic look, I decided I liked the idea of doing a fringe-y layered skirt. I decided that Twizzlers Pull and Peels would work okay for this purpose. But then I was at a complete loss when it came to the top. I went to two different stores and nothing in the candy aisle was all that inspiring to me. I ended up purchasing a box of Fruit Roll Ups. That’s pretty much candy, right?

Then came the nightmare of actually trying to create the look. Ugh. Not fun. The Fruit Roll Ups were so much stickier than I remember them being. They stuck to themselves and were impossible to remove from the thin plastic. It was just a mess. I was eventually able to cut out a template with kitchen shears and hot glue it down. And the Twizzlers weren’t much better. They were also a sticky mess, sticking to my fingers, each other, my work surface. It was beyond frustrating. I seriously felt like I was going to cry. Eventually I got everything glued down and then basically ran to get pictures taken because I seriously have no idea how long this will last. So my pictures are terrible this week, too. Terrible pictures to go along with a terrible look. There was just no way to achieve a good, tailored fit with the materials I chose.

 

To style this look, I wanted to make it feel a bit edgy, yet still red carpet ready. From the Lord and Taylor website I accessorized with:

BCBG Max Azria Snake-Print Ring

Franco Sarto Vanna Platform Sandals

BCBG Max Azria Tribal Beaded Necklace

Am I happy with my look this week? No, not really. It was frustrating to me at every point along the way. I didn’t enjoy my materials, I felt incompetent using them, and I feel like the end result reflects that. I think I would be in the bottom three this week. I hope I can squeak by. I’m just glad this challenge is behind me.

PPR Season 10 – Challenge 1

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Getting back into the groove of Project Project Runway hasn’t been as difficult as I expected. I thought that I would just feel creatively out of juice. Last season was quite difficult and putting together six looks for the finale was quite the undertaking. I honestly have no idea how professional designers can sustain it year in and year out. So I was looking forward to feeling overwhelmed by another season. But I’m pleasantly surprised. Maybe it’s that this week’s challenge is fairly straightforward to help me ease back into things.

This week’s challenge is called “Times Square Anniversary Party.” (Hey where did all the fun, punny episode titles go?) The challenge, as I undertook it was to choose a prior PPR “portfolio look” that represents my aesthetic and create a companion piece to go along with it. (For new participants they were to create two companion looks. Nothing like a trial by fire the first week!)

For my “portfolio look” I chose the dress I made for the tenth challenge from last season.

I chose this dress because I like the way the dress fits, I think the color scheme is interesting (although it is based on a Nanette Lepore textile as per that challenge) and I think it speaks to my inclinations towards simple, graphic design.

In designing the companion look, I knew I wanted it to speak to those aspects: fit, color, and creating something graphic. I wanted to create something that would look like it came from the same collection, as that’s how I interpreted the challenge directive. I also knew that I didn’t really want to do another dress, as that seemed like it could be a bit repetitive. I considered making a gown in honor of having done so for the first challenge in the last two seasons, but I just didn’t feel up to it. But I did know one thing;  I wanted to make a pair of red skinny pants.

 

Zhanna heads down the runway in that pair of red skinny pants paired with a tank featuring asymmetrical stripes in red, lavender, and orange.

Whereas the original look was graphic, yet sweet, this look was intended to exude a bit of an edge. My main concern with this look was achieving a well-fitting skinny pant. It’s hard to sew pants at this scale, but unlike a real human body, dolls don’t need to move, so pants are nowhere near as difficult to make as in real life. After I had conceptualized the pants, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to pair them with. I wanted something that would incorporate the colors from the original piece, but I didn’t want to reuse the same technique as in the panel on the dress. So I decided to make a simple tank, in part to add to the almost-androgynous silhouette I was creating with the pants. I decided to do the strips of color asymmetrically to keep the eye moving and to avoid highlighting any particular area of the body. I had considered creating a stripe panel as on the dress across the bustline, but I determined that it would add too much bulk and stiffness to the top. I wanted something light, slightly drape-y and summery.

To style the look, I wanted to evoke that summery feel.

 

First of all, I did not use the items provided from the Lord and Taylor Accessory Wall. I found it way too difficult to navigate and the choices severely limited. Instead I simply chose items from the Lord and Taylor website.

In the bright summer sun, the look definitely needed some sunglasses. I chose Michael Kors Caicos Plastic Aviator Sunglasses in orange. I promise I’m not sucking up the the judge, they really were the best option for the look. For shoes, I chose some breezy sandals that look sophisticated but not too fussy: Pour La Victoire Faine Strappy Leather Sandals. I chose the sandals in a similar red to the pants to avoid a jarring transition between the pants and the shoes. Finally, I added a House of Harlow 1960 Etched Stacked Bangle Cuff to bring in a touch of metallic, for interest.

Overall, I think the look is solid. I think the pants are well-made and pretty much exactly as I had envisioned them. The top doesn’t excite me as much, but I think it’s passable. And I do think that the companion piece works well with portfolio piece. They do look like they could come from the same collection, which was part of my goal.

 

(Yes, I keep all of my previous designs.)

Don’t forget to check out the other designers on the Project Project Runway Flickr group. I can’t wait to see who is participating and what they’ve designed!

PPR Season 10 – New Model

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I’m kind of at a loss as to what to call this season of Project Project Runway! It could be called Season 10 to match the show, but it hasn’t been in existence from the show’s inception; it’s really on Season 4. But calling it Season 4 is confusing, too, since the show is on Season 10. Adding to the confusion, this will be my third season participating. Ahhh! But I guess I’ll keep it simple and call it Season 10, just for the sake of clarity, even though it isn’t technically correct.

I can’t help myself and have decided to pick a new model for Season 10. For me, there’s something about having a new model that really inspires and excites me. I totally see why real designers get so competitive about models or use them as muses. I can see how a model’s personality could have an effect on the designer’s output. My first year of participating, my model was Gia. Gia had strong features and a quite serious look about her. My second year of PPR, my model was May, who had a more sweet face that looked like she was always on the cusp of smiling. This year, I’ve picked Zhanna as my model.

Zhanna is definitely the edgiest model I’ve worked with. I was drawn to her nearly-white platinum blond hair and her piercing blue eyes. Her bright red lips were a bold choice for her pale skin and hair, but she looks great.

She’s also a bit of a change for me because she’s a bit more flexible than my previous two models.

 

I’m not sure how much this will effect the way I pose and shoot my garments, but it is something new and different for me and I enjoy a challenge.

I’ve been hard at work on my first challenge. I thought I’d be able to have a photoshoot today but the day is thus far too overcast to get good shots. See you on the runway!

My Work Space: Behind the Scenes

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As I alluded to last week, I thought it would be fun to show a bit about how I work, what my setup is, etc. Every week for Project Project Runway I show pictures of my finished products and talk about my inspiration or how I made a particular piece. But up until this point, I’ve never really shown what my work space is like.

WARNING: The following is an uncensored, true-to-like depiction of my work spaces. I decided not to tidy up or anything; it’s not very real “behind the scenes” if everything is tidy, well-organized perfection!

My husband Joe and I live in the Washington, D.C. suburbs where cost of living is quite high. We live 2-bedroom apartment. I just wanted to give a bit of context about how my work spaces fit into the whole of our living space

First, a look at my work space:

My work space and sewing area

1. My “studio.” If you haven’t guessed, this is supposed to be the dining room table, but I have commandeered it. As you will see a bit later, I do have a more dedicated work space, but I prefer working in the main part of the apartment. It has better light and feels a bit less claustrophobic. The stuff that’s out now was for hand-painting the bodice of PPR Challenge 9. More often I have a cutting mat in this spot.

2. My sewing machine, a Bernina Record 930 Electric. I’ve named it “The Beast” as it pretty much entirely made of metal and weighs 40 lbs. It was a generous gift from my mom when she received a new (to her) machine from my grandma. I come from a line of sewists. The machine is older than I am and is a wonderful workhorse. I love my machine.

3. My ironing area. Sometimes I pull out a full-sized ironing board when working on bigger, non-PPR projects.

4. Garbage can. For threads, tiny fabric scraps, and unsalvageable project attempts.

5. (Beyond scope of photo) TV. Possibly the primary reason for my moving my craft space out of the “office.” I like having something going on in the background while I work. I typically have on The People’s Court, Judge Judy, or The First 48 while I work. Very high brow.

For context, the door at the top of the photo is the coat closet; our front door is at a 90 degree angle to that. Also directly behind the work space is our microwave.

So that’s where I do my work. It works for me.

Now, I thought I would show where I do my photography and maybe talk a little bit about my camera and its settings.

Photography area

This is really where I should be doing my sewing, but after last season of PPR I got tired of having to switch the space from work space to photography space and vice-versa every week, so I moved to the dining room. This shows about a third of the space in the second bedroom which we call our office. This is “my side” of the space, Joe’s desk is on the other.

1. Background for photography. The background I use is a piece of poster board on the surface of the desk and a second piece of poster board Scotch taped to the hutch of the desk. It creates a great neutral backdrop and it only cost a couple of dollars total.

2. “Runway” for photography. This is a box that I wrapped (like a present) in a white plastic tablecloth. It also is nice and neutral and only cost about a dollar (for the plastic tablecloth.) And I’ve gotten two seasons worth of PPR photography out of it.

3. Lighting. This is an Ott Light I purchased at Costco a while back. Ott lights are full-spectrum bulbs, so this works really well to help light my photography space. When I’m taking pictures, I drape a piece of white jersey fabric (it’s actually a piece left over from last season’s PPR Challenge 4.) This helps diffuse the light a bit. Without this drape, my “model’s” face reflects the light too much and looks really shiny and weird. The Ott light doesn’t run too hot like an incandescent bulb and I don’t spend more than 10-15 minutes photographing, so it isn’t going to burn.

4. Brush. This is a pet brush I picked up at the dollar store during this season’s PPR Challenge 1. It works really well for taming my “model’s” hair which helps give my photos a more crisp look

5. iPod and speaker. I listen to podcasts while I work.

6. (Beyond scope of photo) Window. Brings light from the side not lit by the Ott light. Having light from both sides avoids too many shadows in my pictures. This side of the apartment really only gets light from about 8 am to noon, so I have to make sure I am ready to take pictures during that window of time.

On days where it has been really dark and rainy, I sometimes move my photography area to the kitchen where at least I have a fluorescent ceiling light. I prefer my photos to have a cooler feel to them, so I try to avoid shooting under incandescent bulbs. When I shoot in the kitchen, I create my background by putting a piece of poster board on the floor and taping the other piece to the refrigerator. I also bring in the Ott lamp to help with lighting.

When I shoot on the desk, I don’t use a tripod. The desk isn’t deep enough for one . The camera I use is a Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS3 which is a small-sized point-and-shoot camera. I love this little guy so much. Settings-wise, I put it into a Macro setting for full shots and Macro Zoom for detail shots. I also generally give my pictures a slightly longer exposure time. I have to hold the camera very steady to avoid blur, but the colors come out a lot crisper and true-to-life when I do so.My photo shoots take 10 – 15 minutes and I generally shoot 30-70 pictures.

After I take pictures, I import them onto my computer, pick the best ones, and do some light editing with Photoshop Elements. Up until recently I was using the 5.0 version, but I have upgraded to the 10.0 version. I’m still getting used to the changes between the versions. Photo editing software can be really intimidating and potentially quite expensive. For free, I recommend GIMP. Generally, I start by resizing my photos down to a more manageable size. Then I level correct and sometimes mess with the contrast a little bit. I also play with the “remove color cast” feature to get my whites nice and bright. Then I sharpen my images slightly. I find it just crisps them up a bit and makes them more appealing to me.

So that’s my process for photography.

Finally, I’m going to show you my set up for last week’s PPR Challenge 9; the Glow-in-the-Dark challenge. My usual set up wasn’t going to work because instead of lots of natural light, I needed as little as possible. So here was my set up.

My "dark room."

So I needed to find the darkest place in my apartment, and figured out that the master bedroom walk-in closet would be the darkest location for this photo shoot.

1. Black backdrop. This is actually a large bag I use to hold my cutting mats. You can see the back of the mat up at the top. It is hung onto the top two drawer knobs of my chest-of-drawers, which is shoved into the back of the closet.

2. Plastic Shoe Box (full of paper cranes.) As my backdrop did not reach to the ground, I needed something that would add height to my photo area. So I grabbed this box I had on hand which happened to be the right size.

3. Black “floor area.” This is actually a box lid from Ikea. It was one of the few black surfaces I found in the apartment. It worked.

4. Tripod. Since I knew I would have to try really long exposures for these photos to work, I knew I needed to use my tripod so my pictures wouldn’t be blurry messes.

5. Tripod base (cake pans.) Since my tripod is just a short thing, I had to raise it up somehow. I found that three cake pans stacked on top of each other became the perfect height for my camera to be directly across from my “model.”

I brought in my black light (it was plugged in outside of the closet, as the closet has no outlets) closed the door behind me and shoved a sweatshirt across the crack under the door to keep light from interfering. I set my camera for different exposure intervals, hit the shutter button and waited there in the pitch dark. I felt so silly, but I think it was worth it for some of the great shots I got.

So those are my studio and my photo set-ups, mess and all. I sometimes get into a bit of a funk wishing I had more space, or a more personalized, organized, fancier space. I read magazines and sigh over the gorgeous sewing studios, the amazing craft spaces, the dedicated art lofts. As much as I dream about someday having something so amazing, even in my smallish apartment, my work can be pretty solid. The quality of work doesn’t have to be reflective of the amount of space one has to work in or the level of personalized decor or the perfect organization. Those things are convenient, helpful, and wonderful for those who can manage it, but there is also something to be said for making do with what limitations one has. I feel some level of pride for my slapdash way of doing things, my cobbling together something that works and turning out a passable product. That’s not to say I wouldn’t still love to have nice things, but for now, this works for me, and I should be happy enough with that.

This Week

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Unfortunately, this week I will not be participating in Project Project Runway, and my Project Runway recap will be greatly delayed (if posted at all) due to a death in the family. I hope to be back on schedule next week.

I’m Here Now!

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As we’re getting closer to the premiere of Project Runway All-Stars and therefore another season of Project Project Runway, I decided it was time to make a proper blog, rather than just posting on Tumblr. Although I have quite a few followers on the Plastic Runway Tumblr, I felt like I wanted to have more possibility for discussion and comments. So today I ported over all my Tumblr posts by hand and from now on, my new posts will be here, too!