Thursday, September 3, 2015

Sewers, ahoy!

Okay, mere stripes do not a marinière make, but Mr. C immediately made the French sailor connection when I first wore this top. It's probably the only striped garment I own. And it's not navy blue but a very deep purple, as are the cropped linen pants, the very last bit on the bolt in this dye lot, because another bolt that was supposed to be the same color was navy blue. I envisioned this very drape-y rayon/spandex knit with a cowl neckline, and I used an old OOP Vogue pattern 9771 to achieve it. The pattern is designed for wovens cut on the bias; I simply used the neckline with my T&T knit top body and it turned out well. I first tried it out with a piece of ancient cotton knit which was not drape-y enough for the cowl neck, but at least I knew that it would work for the striped fabric.   

The linen pants are an L-pocket Frankenpattern that I've been refining for years. Everything is almost perfect, but this time I thought I needed to make the waist a bit looser and overdid it. You can see the waistband protruding under the top because it's not fitting close enough to my body. So, I'm going to have to do a bit of alteration, which I absolutely hate, all that careful removing of thread and working with tiny trimmed seams. But it must be done. 

It's already September and it seems as if I've barely sewn anything this year. In January I made a basic knit top that really wasn't special enough to blog about. Next was a knit cardigan that I was still working on when it became too warm to wear it, and it's waiting for some finishing touches. In May I botched a linen dress, sad story, wrong usage for a beautiful piece of linen and on top of that, it was too tight, even though I'd made a muslin beforehand. Now finally, sewing success! I'm amazed at all those sewing bloggers out there who turn out piece after beautiful piece in quick succession.

The person who first suggested that I start a blog meant a sewing blog, but I knew that my limited output could never fill it. As it is, I've barely posted about anything this entire year. I've read various statistics about the brief lifespan of many blogs; I've discovered some delightful blogs just as they were coming to an end. But this one isn't at an end yet. I enjoy the opportunity to do a little writing and show off assorted projects, and I plan to continue. So, to everyone who stops by, thank you for the visit and come back soon.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

It's good to be Queen

The queen I got to be was Eleanor of Aquitaine in a scene from The Lion in Winter, part of the latest show put on by The Skillman Players. Due to missing a couple of weeks of the acting workshop in the spring while on vacation, I had decided not participate this time. But when another member of our senior acting troupe unfortunately had to drop out, I couldn't resist dropping in for this choice role.

And then it turned out the King was ill. But there are always contenders for the crown, in this case my co-star from our last production, Gilbert Rodriguez, who gallantly stepped in for the first two performances. He even cleverly crafted the crown, so if anyone is in need of a royal stage prop, check out his video here for how to make one. 

I, of course, made my cape, which was simply a yard of fabric from JoAnn's. In the middle of one end of the yard, I sewed some very stiff interfacing, covering the end with gold cord. My original idea had been to make a headdress but the sequined and embroidered fabric was too heavy for that, so it became a cape. The cord goes under my arms and is pinned behind my back, hardly any sewing involved. I'm sure my performance wouldn't have been nearly as queenly without it.

Jerry Weiss, a new member of the Skillman Players, returned to take on the role of King Henry for our final performances at three senior living centers. (Fortunately, Gilbert made the crown adjustable.) Memorization being fairly easy for me, at the point I knew my lines too well, but with Jerry's help, I think I slowed down and managed to be a fairly convincing Queen Eleanor in our final performance last Wednesday. We hope we entertained our audiences; we all certainly enjoyed ourselves as always.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A perfect pairing

Vogue-1275The lacy purple knit which waited patiently in my fabric stash for close to three years has always been destined for this Sandra Betzina pattern (now out-of-print). It's not actually a knit lace, more like a burn-out; there's probably a precise technical term which I don't know.  Being so lightweight and sheer, it behaved beautifully in the top's gathered inset.  I lined everything but the sleeves with a flesh-colored tricot, truly my flesh color because the unlined sleeves look exactly the same as the rest of the top when I'm wearing it. One very good thing came of waiting so long to make it; I could use my new serger on it.  I still haven't had occasion to wear it, and I'm thinking it needs an amethyst necklace when I finally do.

More info on making this top on Pattern Review.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Learn how to do upholstery – Check

Being a life-long DIY sort of person, my response to reading a how-to article or book is usually "I can do that!"  Or, when the prospective project is beyond one-person proportions, WE can do that.  Fortunately Mr. C is also a DIY sort of person, and our skill sets are more or less complementary.  Although our working styles are much less so.  "Get it done" is his motto, while mine is "do it carefully."  So I have to admit there are frequently some raised voices, to put it mildly, but we manage to carry on.

I'm almost embarrassed to show these Before photos of the chaise and one of the two matching chairs which we bought at an auction thirty plus years ago. We'd had them reupholstered professionally back then, but when they started wearing out, I simply couldn't find the right fabric for the furniture and for the upstairs sitting room they occupy.  As you can see, the situation was getting dire: the old fabric was disintegrating and the springs were sagging and poking every which way. 

Here in Dallas we're lucky to have a lot of great discount fabric stores, and in my quest for that elusive fabric, I amassed quite a collection of samples.  I bought a yard of a couple of fabrics that seemed promising only to reject them when I tried them out at home.  And then I not only found a fabric both Mr. C and I liked, it only cost $70!  Yes, for all of it!

To keep it from looking too utilitarian, I made the trim out of the silky fabric; the embroidery just shows as white accents on the cord.

At this point we had decided to tackle the job ourselves. From the pile of books I borrowed from the library, the two we found most helpful were Singer Upholstery Basics Plus by Steve Cone and Spruce: a step-by-step guide to upholstery and design by Amanda Brown.  I especially like the latter book because of a visual chart which shows the pages for specific design features, such as rolled arms or a tight seat.  And after much searching on the Internet, the videos from DIY Upholstery Supply were the ones we repeatedly referenced.  That was also where we ordered our supplies; you can find everything you need there.

We began at the end of December and had it all essentially finished by the end of March.  Here are the After photos, ta-dah!

Yes, there are some flaws which I know about, but you mostly can't see.  And I found it extremely stressful.  Unlike sewing, where you can usually take apart and re-do if something goes amiss, a lot of the steps here were final.  Plus, there was no practicing, just doing. We had to do it right, or as right as possible, the first time.  But it was also interesting, and it's always empowering to satisfactorily complete a challenging project, especially one that involves learning new skills. If you would like to see some of the specific steps in the transformation of these pieces, read on. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Les Trois Mousequetaires

Indeed, these little leather mice are rugged and intrepid, boldly facing our ferocious felines.  I made them using an old Martha Stewart template. The original directions called for them to be made out of Ultrasuede and filled with catnip, but I took inspiration from an old leather mouse bought years ago and mauled by a succession of cats to the point where it's now merely a scrap.  So I wanted these to be able to stand up to  lots of claws and teeth. It looks like the template is not available on Martha, although I did find a couple of other cute rodent toy patterns.  Catnip Rat Toy and Menswear Mouse Toy.  However, if you'd like the template and directions for this particular mouse, just email me and I'll be glad to send it to you. 

Here are a few tips on making it out of leather; by the time I finished the final mouse (the one on the left), I was getting good at turning them out. The first thing I discovered was that sewing them by machine just didn't work:  too difficult to stitch evenly through the thick leather so close to the edge.  However, after cutting the mouse out, I simply stitched around the edge of the entire piece with a leather needle in my machine, but no thread, just punching holes that I could use in stitching it up by hand. Also, using a pair of jewelry pliers to pull the needle through when hand sewing was helpful.  Next, I "embroidered" the eyes (but no nose) and made whiskers out of some upholstery thread/string.  On the third mouse, I also discovered that attaching the ears before I sewed up the body was much easier, as I could match up the needle-punched holes visually.  Then I sewed up the the top seam and finally the bottom seam, inserting the tail and stuffing firmly with polyester fiberfill.  I figure the ears and the tails are the most vulnerable parts so I took extra care in stitching them on securely.  The cats do seem to love picking them up and slinging them around by the tail.  Here, a couple of our porch kitties who are morphing into house kitties are giving them a try-out.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Serging away

An impulse buyer I am not, especially where pricey items are concerned.  Plus, Mr. C and I tend to keep things forever, so buying the right thing always seems imperative.  I consider, debate, agonize and research online before I acquire a possession.  None of which I did when I bought my serger in September.  Since we were going out of town for a week it seemed the ideal time to take my beloved and ageing Pfaff sewing machine in for some preventative maintenance.  Just in time, as I discovered the couple who owned the Pfaff dealership were retiring and the store was closing.  Everything was half price!

There were three sergers, and my eye fell upon a Babylock Eclipse.  I had long wanted a serger, but I kept putting off taking the time to really find out about all their features, and which would be best for me for the money.  Two things stuck in my head: self-threading and Babylock.  So here was a serger that was both.  But was it really half price?  Was it a good buy?  What features did it have?  Would I regret not buying one with more features?  The owners were focused more on their closing business than on making a sale, and the manual for the serger was nowhere to be found. I stared at the little white machine, I fondled it, I talked to a helpful serger-owning customer.  Mr. C, who is inclined to frugality, nevertheless said to buy it if I thought I really needed it.  (Sadly, he didn't say the same thing about a top-of-the-line Pfaff sewing machine which weighed in at several thousand dollars even at half price.)

But, as I said, I am not an impulse buyer, so somewhat regretfully we left the store and drove back to our part of town to go eat.  And the farther away we got, the more I wanted that serger.  Before someone else snatched it up!  So as soon as we sat down at the table, I pulled out my phone and called the store and charged it.  It was mine!  After we returned from our trip, a day before the store closed, I went to pick it up along with my rejuvenated Pfaff.

It stayed in its box for about a week until I sat it and myself down in front of the TV and tried it out while watching the DVD that came with it.  What it does is so final compared to a sewing machine: It cuts off fabric!  It lays down a thicket of thread!  But after serging scrap after scrap it was time to try it out on an actual garment. I had cut out this Marcy Tilton knit top before I bought the serger, and the directions even say to sew the seams first and then finish with serging.  Perfect!  And, yes, that's just how it turned out.  So easy to use!  Such lovely little seams!  The inside of the top is as tidy as can be.  I love it!  I also love this top with its neckband that adjusts by means of little pleats on the outside as decoration, as I've done here, or more subtly on the inside. You can read my Pattern Review here. Then I immediately whipped out the pants I'm wearing here in ponte knit.  They're from an OOP Sandra Betzina pattern, Vogue 1061. You can see them better below in the black version that I made years ago and have worn often.  They're pull-on pants and what's unique about them is the waistband that uses negative ease instead of elastic, so very comfortable.

The purple top is the same Marcy Tilton pattern with the neckband made in a sheer knit burn-out, with the adjusting pleats sewn on the inside.  I also added cuffs of the same knit burn-out.  This is from another project that I'll post here soon.  The burn-out was a perfect match for this very inexpensive, lightweight knit.  Unlike the green top which is a very drape-y, stretchy rayon-spandex knit, I think this one is all cotton and doesn't have a lot of stretch, so I would have been better off cutting it a bit larger, but it's okay.

 I signed up for a basic serging class on Craftsy, and then Craftsy offered the advanced serging class for free, so I've signed up for that also.  I've watched the introductions, but I've yet to proceed any further with either one.  When I do I'm hoping to expand my serging repertoire beyond the basics, but for the moment, the basics are just fine.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ready to read

Last year's eleven books have been read and discussed, and now a new slate awaits.

I appreciate being part of a group of readers who are willing to read out of their comfort zone. Occasionally there are some grumblings about the number of "depressing" books we've chosen over the years.  So why do we choose to read them, these stories about desperate lives, dangerous places?  Interestingly, if you do a Google search for "depressing books" you'll find a host of responses, some arguing for their various benefits, others swearing off of them altogether.  One blogger said she was glad she read "tough" books when she was younger, because they improved her in various ways, but now all she wants is to be entertained.

Well, don't we all like to be entertained?  I like mysteries, which usually involve a violent death, not really a pleasant subject when you think about it, yet definitely entertaining if well written.  But what I want out of my precious reading hours more than entertainment is enrichment. I want to fill my mind with knowledge and understanding of other lands, other cultures, other times.  I want to see them, experience them through narrators and characters different from myself, or sometimes much like myself.  And often that world within the book is one where I would not want to be in actuality, but that may be exactly the point.  Why is this world the way it is, and what do I learn from that? 

I came across a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article in the Telegraph in which the author suggested that dark and depressing novels ought to make people glad about their relatively benign lives.  " Try 400 volts of pure Thomas Hardy and count your blessings that you're not Jude The Obscure."  I think that all of us in my bookgroup would agree with that.  After reading about a slum community in contemporary India in Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a memoir of life in war-torn Vietnam in The Eaves of Heaven by Andrew X. Pham or the settling of Australia's New South Wales in Kate Grenville's The Secret River, we certainly have a greater appreciation of our own good fortune, as women living here in this time and place.  We also believe that these books are important for opening our eyes to and increasing our empathy for the infinite variety of other lives. 

Do I feel like all the books that we've read have been "worthwhile?"  I must say that there have been some I'd only force my worst enemy to read (except  he or she might like them!), but, once again, the great thing about a book group is that we can discuss things in the books that disturbed us, that we disagreed with, that we disliked.  And someone else's point of view might just give us a different and illuminating perspective on a "difficult" book.

 Of course, who would really like reading if reading were only about books that were "good for you"?  I also found in The Telegraph a list of 100 novels everyone should read, of which I've read about half.  Some, such as My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk and Austerlitz by WG Sebald, were bookgroup selections, but many others – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki – I read because I wanted to know what was in those renowned books, and I read them enthralled from first page to last.

Some books do take getting into, adjusting to their unusual rhythm, altering your expectations.  And sometimes a book just plain disappoints. Even when that happens I tend to slog through to the end.  (Maybe there's a correlation between that and eating everything on your plate, something I happily did without being forced to.)   As always, I'm looking forward to reading all of these books, even the ones I didn't vote for.  Discovering a good book that I would never have considered on my own is also one of the pluses of being in a book group.  I invite you to come join us on our reading journeys, in person if you happen to live in the Dallas area, or wherever you are in the world online. 

 Here's a look at our selections for the past three years.