Thursday, September 17, 2015

Summer drought, then the flood

This summer has gone by so quickly - and yet when I look back toward the beginning of it, it seems like a long, long time ago.  At the beginning of the summer I had just come back from a college reunion trip to Boston.  I had successfully made a beautiful top to wear to my reunion and was very proud of myself - I might have swanned about a little, grand lady style.  I might have been a little like the cat who ate the cream.  Just a little.  Full of the glory of my own recent accomplishments, I started a wrap dress.  Then life happened.

Let’s see, I had strep throat (in June! it lasted forever! why is this still a thing?!) and then my 2yo had to get new tubes put it in his ears - on the day our air-conditioning broke.  Broken a/c in the middle of a Texas summer is nothing short of calamity so it was a full-scale miracle to me that a) we found a cool place for the baby to recuperate from his ear procedure that day and b) we found some HVAC techs who were able to get our system up and running by the end of the day.  It was still 86 degrees in our living room at 9pm that night, but the temperature was falling and that was what eventually allowed us to fall asleep.

Then in July I took a trip as a volunteer museum peer reviewer to a fabulous history museum in northeastern Oklahoma - Har-Ber Village Museum, if you’re ever near the Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees.  
Har-Ber Village Museum, OK, July 2015

It was lovely and so much fun.  It was only a 2 day visit and when I got home I told myself I wasn’t allowed to sew again until I had done my homework.  It took me a month to get my report fully written, proofed and submitted.  It was HARD not to sew for a whole month.  My plan was to put sewing on hold and concentrate fully on report-writing. Ah, the best-laid plans. Turns out, writing a report all night, every night, was not really feasible.  So I ended up on some nights not writing AND not sewing. I was too tired for either! In the end I got the report done but I felt very rusty when I was finally free again to think about sewing.

I broke my month-long sewing fast with some sports-related sewing. (Did NOT see that coming.)  My Baseball Nerd husband requested some new pillowcases and I obliged.  (Nothing like jumping back in with a bunch of rectangles.)  Spoonflower had just run a baseball themed design contest and we found some great fabrics - bats and score cards.  I think they’re pretty awesome - not too “rah, rah, go team!”  More like “can you spot the baseball theme?” which is about my speed for this sort of thing.

Bed of many colors

Am I fooling myself with how non-sporty these look...?

Then I made a skirt for my daughter’s birthday - she turned 8!  While I was at it I made one for me too.  I used the Purl Soho gathered skirt for all ages pattern.  Great skirts.  Can you detect an orange theme?  Not gonna lie, the pockets were confusing - in fact, even now I’m not entirely sure how I made them work, despite the mostly-helpful video they provided (the one I watched at least 8 times).  It was like my brain crumpled up like a wad of paper and refused to straighten out again, at least not on this topic.  I still cannot figure out how I got the pockets on my skirt out of alignment - one is 2” higher than the other!  (My skirt was made with a gorgeous vintage remnant I got at Tissu Dallas in Deep Ellum - thanks, Michael!)


Kisses for you!

Seriously considering our skirts
After all that I finally returned to my half-finished wrap dress project from the beginning of the summer.  I mostly finished it but discovered at the end that I had somehow cut it too short.  I hung it up and decided to think about it tomorrow.  (Scarlett’s philosophy has always worked for me in the past.)  I’ll probably end up just adding length to it and have to hope that an extra parallel-to-the-hem seam just above the knee won’t drive me crazy every time I contemplate wearing it.  (Pictures to follow if I ever finish it and deem it worthy of wearing.)

About this time my baby ran into a bookshelf and had to have 5 stitches put in his forehead.  I’m not going to go into any more detail than that.  For those of you who have never experienced that particular trauma, there is no reason on earth why I should force it on you.  And for those who have - you’re probably scarred enough, no reason at all for us to re-live it!!  Suffice to say, baby and I were both traumatized and lost quite a lot of sleep over the next few weeks.  The wound itself has been healing beautifully - the stitches fell out in good time and he’ll have a Harry Potter scar on his forehead, but it should fade pretty well.  
Lightning McQueen themed bandaids make everything better
The horrifying experience in the emergency room certainly left its mark on us both and we took a while to settle back down.  That was a month ago and we’re only just now returning to more normal sleep schedules.

Sleep is a vital ingredient in my sewing life - if I’ve been up 3 times in the night with an anxious toddler and have to get up at 5.30 to start the day, I usually don’t have any oomph left at the end of the workday for a little evening sewing.  I began to get back into the swing of things last week and decided to reward myself with a try at the Sutton blouse from True Bias.  I quite like this pattern - all those French seams and that adorable little pleat in the back are lots of fun to sew.   And I love the different lengths in the front and back.  I picked a beautiful fabric from Girl Charlee - look at those colors!  Aren’t they gorgeous?  

And yet, this fabric nearly did me in.  It WOULD NOT be told.  It would not cooperate.  It was basically the recalcitrant teenager of pretty fabrics.  Neither pin nor steamy iron could fully convince it to cooperate.  All the pouting, sulking and swearing going on?  That wasn’t just me!!  Even sewing the french seams failed to tame it entirely.  There’s a lot of weird puffy stuff going on here.  And somehow I lost some length in the middle front of the top - gah!  The day I wore it to work I spent the whole time yanking it down at the waist.  I got compliments though, which was fun.  I’m going to have to try it again with a more cooperative fabric.  Perhaps one with a few natural fibers in it…

So that’s how my summer went.  A sewing drought followed by something of a sewing torrent.  Have you ever put yourself on a self-imposed sewing fast?  How did that work out for you?!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Intentions and Inspirations

This summer has been… full.  In greater and lesser amounts there’ve been short trips and long nights, strep throat, a broken A/C (in Dallas in the summer this is a crisis of the first order), fireworks and barbecue, visits with old friends and distant family, fun work and hard work, swim lessons and new ear tubes, a little turmoil , worry and heartache, a great deal of fun and laughing and more.  What has there NOT been?  Sewing.

Sigh.  I got partway through a McCalls 6884 wrap dress.  I was rockin’, I was rollin’.  And then all that other stuff happened.  I think longingly of the day I can pick it up again and finish it.  But that has not yet happened.  I think I last made progress on it in early June.  I may not get back to it until next month.  

In the meantime, I’m letting my mind fill up with all the things I’m going to sew AFTER I finish my wrap dress.  This is a fabulous mental exercise because I can entertain myself endlessly by pairing different patterns with different fabrics.  I do not let myself focus on practicalities such as when exactly I think I’m going to fit all this marvelous sewing into my current daily menu.  Said menu is demonstrably full up.  But I’m an optimist and I’m just going to keep thinking about those future projects.  Right now they’re all shiny and mistake-free, nary a swear word or seam ripper in sight.  It’s really pretty dreamy.

These are earmarked for my soon-to-be 8yo daughter.  I usually make her a skirt for her birthday.  I’m also thinking of making her an orange sherbet dress (it is both eyelet AND flocked! so awesome).  It will look fabulous with her Strawberry Shortcake red hair.

And here are some other delicious fabrics I'm enjoying mentally whipping up into various things:

Mmm, intentions.  In a slightly different vein, here are some of the inspirations I’ve found online these past few days:

Oh mercy this swimsuit.  It is divine.  I love it when someone makes something that is so perfectly an expression of themselves.  

Speaking of always being herself, Oona has made another daringly gorgeous skirt - with the fabric that is somehow woven into her destiny, Anna Sui of course.

In non-sewing terms, this story had me thoroughly entertained.  There are many things I love about it - what’s not to love about a rude theatre-goer neatly schooled by famed diva, mid-performance?!  But my all-time favorite thing about it was this quote:  “I did it with such grace and panache, I surprised myself!”  The moment I read it I vowed to use that line in my annual performance review self-evaluation next year. And maybe in all coming years.  HR managers, take note.

I am baking these cookies right now.  Because I cannot leave well enough alone (and also because, to be perfectly honest, I have no idea where to find “instant milk powder” in the grocery store - I’m not even sure what that is), I changed it up a bit.  I don’t yet have one in my mouth, so I can’t tell you if it’s good or not.  Although licking the spoon was certainly satisfying.

I loved this post about the sewing community, blog rolls and supportive comments from Diary of a Sewing Fanatic.

This.  It is awesome.  All it needs is a giant inflatable beer stein - and maybe a small inflatable tub of “cheez”.

There are a hundred other bloggers out there demonstrating sewing projects and patterns and fabrics that inspire me on a daily basis.  This really is a fantastic hobby and a great bunch of people!  

I hope your summer is full of good intentions, sources of inspiration, finished projects and reliable A/C!  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

My 20th Reunion Top

In March, Mood Fabrics online had a St. Patrick’s Day sale on any fabric that had green in it and I bought the most delicious cotton-silk voile as soon as I clapped eyes on it:

Isn’t it gorgeous?  As soon as it arrived I got excited and a little nervous.  This fabric feels so very soft and airy and lovely, and being pretty sheer it’s not a very practical fabric for day-to-day clothes.  I was going to have to get FAN-CEE with this stuff.  A daunting prospect.
My last attempt at a project with woven fabric was disastrous so I thought about this a LOT before I made any moves.  I decided whatever I made had to be as simple as possible, in part to match my skill level and in part to showcase the pretty colors and drape of this yummy fabric.
The Salme Kimono Top seemed like the perfect solution.  Originally the pattern called for cuffs on the sleeves – I thought that would be too casual so I decided against them.  And then I proceeded to make the top just as plain as it could possibly be.  The pattern called for visible hemming at the bottom, bottom of the sleeves and a top-stitch around the neckline – all of which I eliminated.  Instead I chose to do invisible hand-hemming on sleeves and the bottom hem as well as to understitch the facing to make it stay in place.

I made a muslin (two words: ugly, useful) and had to adjust a bit for size - nothing difficult since there are no darts or fiddly bits - the pattern is two pieces and two facings!
I tried many new-to-me things with this project.  New techniques attempted (if not fully mastered):
-          Underlining.  Goldilocks that I am, I ordered swatches of potential lining fabrics in white, gray and black and ended up choosing grey.  The other ends of the spectrum made the colors of the main fabric either too bright or too dark but the grey in the middle was juuuust right.  Basting the lining and the main fabric together was a bit nerve-wracking since both fabrics are so airy and they tended to float around independently.

-          Understitching.  I used The Sewtionary to figure out how to get my neck facings to stay hidden without having to make a visible line of machine stitching around the neck to hold the facings in place.  (I also used fusible interfacing on the neck facings - thanks Shannon! - and then tacked them to the shoulder seams.)  I am particularly pleased with how the facings turned out.

-          French seams.  For the shoulder seams, I tried French seams (another hallelujah for the Sewtionary!).  I was afraid to try them on the sides since they had a bit of a curve to them – and right after I was done sewing my top By Hand London did a blog post on how to do curvy French seams! A technique I will keep in mind for future projects.  Instead I just serged the side seams together.

-          Hand-hemming.  Now, I’ve been hand-hemming pants for years – this short girl is accustomed to hemming new pants to fit.  But in this case it took me a day or two of pondering to figure out how to do the hem because of the underlining.  
 I eventually decided to snip up the side of the serged side-seam about a quarter inch on the grey lining fabric and then trim a quarter inch off the bottom of the lining, then ironed the main fabric over the edge of the lining, stitched in in place with my machine, folded it up again and hand-stitched it in place.  My hand-stitching is not beautiful, but it is functional and that’s okay for now.  I spent a lot of time making sure none of the stitches went through the main fabric, so the hem would be invisible.  

And now, a word about swearing.  (Not that word.  Tsk.)  Do you swear when you sew?  I totally do.  (I know, I sort of leaked that info a few months ago.  Now you’ll never believe I’m really a very good girl.)  I was a knitter for years before I started sewing clothes and I swore then too.  My favorite knitting projects were usually small – gifts for friends’ babies, scarves, hats, etc., although I’ve tried the occasional adult-sized sweater and baby blanket.  So much swearing!  All made with love and a fair bit of the potty mouth.  It’s part of the creative flow.  Catharsis!
The bad words accompany my mistakes, but they disappear when I’ve learned whatever lesson it was I needed to learn from that particular oops.  It’s nice that the mistakes usually aren’t (that) visible in the finished product and the swearing leaves no permanent marks.  (My husband thinks it’s all very entertaining, although he knows better than to laugh about it where I can hear him while I’m still mid blue-streak.)

I wore my new top to my 20th college reunion in Boston last week.  
I spent the whole night very comfortable in my clothes and very proud of what I’d made – I didn’t even crow about it to any of my former classmates!  (Saintly, positively saintly.)  I simply beamed and enjoyed the party. (Literally the only photo of me from that night - I was too busy to take pictures!)

Weird photo of me pointing to my awesome new pants.  On the recommendation of a friend I took a deep breath and bought them at Athleta.  (The deep breath was not because Athleta is a yoga store but because the prices there are a bit heady.)  I love these pants and wear them all the time.  They’re a bit swishy and they have lots of zipper pockets and they’re stretchy so they’re comfortable – PLUS they have approximately the same cool factor that parachute pants had when I was in the 5th grade.  They’re just COOL!!

This one is me pretending to hold a glass (a snifter perhaps?) 
while talking at my reunion cocktail party.  
Striding purposefully through our side yard, heading nowhere in particular.  (I’m terrible at posing for photos.)

No matter how many years have passed, you simply cannot take the show choir out of a girl.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The one with the stripes, Orson Welles, Snoopy and Cookie Monster

Does anyone else remember this Orson Welles/Masson wine commercial?

For some reason that last line had been echoing around in my ears for a few weeks and I finally figured out why:  my head is a cask of wine.  Wait.  I mean, like a cask of fine wine, aging until just the right moment, some ideas in my mind have been fomenting until they were ready to come forth.
And they finally have!

First up, I made a striped #Sewaholic #Renfrew top.  Yay!  

I love how the perpendicular stripes on cuffs, neckband and waistband give it a vaguely retro air (without referring to any particular era, as far as I can figure - actually this "vaguely retro" thing may all be in my head).  This is the first truly successful top I’ve made.  I’m very pleased with it and even wore it to work this week (my newbie nod to #MeMadeMay) and managed to refrain from shouting things in meetings like “That’s a good point, and I MADE THIS TOP!”  Heroically, I also avoided pointing out the few kinks I need to work out the next time I make a top from this pattern.  Really, this stripey top may have magical powers of silence because I was uncharacteristically quiet about it.

More details, showing cuff and neckband.  

I love it but I will certainly not choose to sew up anything in tiny stripes again for a while.  That was a challenge that made my brain hurt.  I love the pattern though.  I should make myself a slew of Renfrews and Cocos and never buy another knit top again.  
This striped success was the jumping off point for another project I’m working on – a simpler pattern but also somehow a more complicated project.  I’m holding my breath and going slowly and hoping I have another Yay! to share in a week or so. Before I even approach a sewing machine with this other project, I wanted a success under my belt, something done well that would give me the confidence to go forward with the other, more intimidating project.

I like these neutral stripes with bright red pants. Do you see the tiny pink fingers in the lower right corner?  I was playing peekaboo with a maniacal 2yo.  He popped out right after I took this picture and shouted “Me did that!”  I love the talks-like-Cookie-Monster phase.  Also, I kind of feel like pointing out any clothes I make with the same proud credit line:  “Me did that!”  I could easily get addicted to that feeling!
*Title of this post is a nod to “Friends” - the finale aired 10 years ago this May.  Let’s not speak of just how old that makes me feel.  Somehow, it makes me feel older than the reference to Orson Welles - and that commercial apparently first aired in 1979!!!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Baby steps - in a skirt!!

I made a skirt!  

I was so excited and then once I finished it and tried it on I sort of deflated a little bit.  There may have been a teeny-tiny gap between my initial creative impulse, surge of accomplishment and then the donning of the final product.  

It’s a nice basic skirt.  McCalls M6654. (Pics below.)  Knee-length straight skirt, elastic waistband, no frills whatsoever.  I went off-road a little and top-stitched the side seams and the waistband, just for fun.  Even made it look mostly okay although there are some wobbles that won’t bear close inspection.

I bought the fabric and pattern together as a project kit on Craftsy and was excited about the color of the fabric - it reminded me of the deep blue-green of the waters off the south coast of Australia.  Or of blue spruce.  But once I got the skirt made up it sort of said more about a late-model Ford Taurus than a natural wonder.  It’s a tiny bit bigger than it needs to be - I’m still trying to figure out the whole sewing and then serging (or is it the other way around?) process and I ended up using ⅜” seam allowances on the sides rather than the full ⅝”.  Not a huge difference but enough that I notice it when I’m wearing the skirt.

But aside from these little things my eagle eyes cannot help but note, it’s still a pretty color and I’m thrilled to have made an actual honest-to-Pete skirt.  I’m really so excited to have finished a garment I will willingly and unselfconsciously wear in public - I wore it to work the day after I finished it!  Now that I have made one tiny step in the direction of success (and away from that last disastrous project), I am excited to try something else.  

My 2yo agreed to help me model the skirt.  He just likes getting his Rangers gear in photos.

This was my first, solo, wildly awkward attempt to document the skirt.  Nothing screams “success!” like upside down selfies of your own knees and toes.

If I make this pattern again I think I will try to add short little side slits at the hem, about three inches on each side. I had a knit skirt like that back in the nineties and loved it with all my heart. Really, the love I had for that skirt was a bit over the top.

(The same night I finished the skirt I also made a batch of blondies from an Alice Medrich recipe I hadn't tried before. Delicious. Although next time - definitely more bourbon.)

Friday, April 3, 2015

My imaginary friend

It is kind of a funny little trick of current circumstances that most of the time I spend sewing is actually time in my head spent imagining my next steps, plotting projects, or researching things online.  Being able to sneak in an hour or two of actual sewing time of an evening is totally unpredictable so in the meantime, sewing is more like my imaginary friend.
Meet my imaginary friend, Sewing!  She is AWESOME.  She’s full of super interesting stories and adventures, knows a lot of cool people, is constantly surprising me, and can make time zip by in a flash.  She has a wicked sense of style that’s never the same from one day to the next, and her presence on social media is wildly entertaining.  Also, she always sees the best in me – in my imagination, the things I sew are flawless and comfortable and exactly what I had in mind every time!
My one tiny little complaint is that Sewing never seems to get tired.  There I am, dragging my tired self off to bed at the end of a long hustle and bustle, and there she is, tweaking my mind with more questions:  how *do* you sew with stripes?  What is a good lining for silk voile?  Is that new fabric place in Deep Ellum online yet?  When are they open?
It can be very hard to go to sleep at a reasonable bedtime, an hour that will allow me to sleep enough to pop awake at 5.30 a.m. tomorrow like I need to, when Sewing is pushing me to look things up online and twist certain things in my head to see what they’ll do.
In that regard she has a lot in common with my other good friends Books, Instagram and Melissa.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wadder #1 (husband's title for this post was "DAMMIT")

V9006 | Misses' Top | View All | Vogue Patterns

Very Easy Vogue 9006.  Such a nice drapey blouse.  Looks so easy.  And it’s there in the name:  Very Easy Vogue.  Ah, Vogue.  So full of the sly humor.

I have sewn things off and on for more than 20 years but let’s be honest:  far more off than on and usually only of the most basic variety.  My recent interest in sewing clothes I would actually want to wear stems from two motivations:  first, reading sewing blogs to the point that it was useless to resist the power of inspiration.  I had to try it for myself.  Second, having a baby.  Pregnancy was not a fun ride for me but I LOVED the wild and crazy shape I became during that time.  My shape after pregnancy?  Feeling much less love.  I’m learning to appreciate the new me, but I want to sew clothes I like that are specifically made to fit all my new assets and flaws quirks so I don’t have to deal with dressing room frustration any more.

So this top looked like a home run:  few pieces, no tricky collar, flattering drapey thing.  Score.  I didn’t get very far into it before I learned two lessons the hard way:  first, my fabric had a pattern that was slightly more orderly than random.  This did not strike me until *after* I had sewn the two back pieces together and realized that now the back looks… bisected.  It’s all right.  I tell myself I’m going to feel like a blue and white ladybug, and move on.  I’ll remember this next time.

And while there’s no tricky collar in front, there is evidently some sort of facing/collar thingy in the back.  I say evidently because when I reached this part of the instructions it was like waking from a restful sleep to find myself in a foreign land, where all communications are conducted in hieroglyphics I can *almost* make out but not really and text in a language I cannot make head or tails of.  I read and re-read the instructions. I turned the pictures 360 degrees.  I consulted my crafty, spatial friend Katie.  I emailed Vogue.

I hooted with laughter at the response I got.  I was thrilled, delighted down to my little toes, to get a response at all, much less a reply within an hour of sending my query.  But the information contained within it was in the same foreign language as the actual instructions.  I was thoroughly amused.  I think we have demonstrated in black and white that “very easy” means something different to Vogue than it does to me.

I found a blog in which a sewist named Amanda made a bee-yoo-tiful version of this top.  Oh so pretty.  She breezed past the tricky collar situation in her explanation, however, confirming my suspicion that my inexperience is what makes it so tricky.

Finally, I took my pattern, fabric and questions to the Jo-Ann Fabrics on Forest Lane.  I visited with a lovely expert named Rosa, who snorted at the title “Very Easy Vogue” in a way that endeared her to me forever.  Then she and I talked through the pattern, the steps for assembly, and decided on a method for creating the collar which made sense to both of us.  It did not in any way resemble the instructions or the hieroglyphics provided by Vogue.

And here’s where I thought things had taken a turn for the better - only to discover that no, in fact, we had taken a turn for the disappointing.  I struggled through the rest of it - the feeling that I was breaking a code, WWII windtalkers style, never left me - and finally got to the point where I had a garment in my hands that mostly resembled the picture. Victory! (Except for the unexpectedly Laura Ashley in the 80s puffy sleeves, but I decided I'd worry about that tomorrow. Channeling Scarlett has worked for me for years.) So I decided to try it on to decide how deeply I needed to hem it.  And discovered that the whole thing is too small!!!

Sweet mercy.

I got so infuriated at that point that I wadded it up and stuck it in a dark, forgotten cabinet.  (With some restrained violence.  I would have banged that door closed with a resounding boom if only the kids weren’t already in bed.)  I know that logically I need to go back and figure out if I measured myself incorrectly or if I mis-read the pattern or if there is, in fact, an error in the instructions.  I need to learn from this mistake, that’s for sure.  But logic be damned, I’m too annoyed to do the level-headed thing.  I’m going to steam with irritation for a good long while and re-visit it when my red fury has faded to a pleasant pink.

So there it is, my first official wadder.  I think I will stick to simple knits for a while.  And independent pattern makers.  And an obsessive habit of measuring myself 48 times before cutting any fabric.

(And in the meantime, just to end on a cheerful note, good books.  Have you read the Code Name Verity books by Jennifer Wein? I just finished the second one.  What a fabulous way to teach history!  Stories about daring, brave young women pilots in England during WWII?  Um, YES and thank you.

It really does feel better to have written the sting out of this experience. And also to gush about my current read.)