Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sewing and going

Yes, I'm still here. I was aiming for a monthly post this year, but as summer went by, my priority became planning a long-anticipated trip to France. Which, of course, involved sewing something absolute essential for my travel wardrobe. 
Here I am sewing away on a skirt before my very first trip to Europe in 1985. And here you would have seen me a few months ago, once again sewing madly away.
This time I required a lightweight jacket that could take all the scrunching up that travel often inflicts, and that was roomy enough to go over a warmer fleece jacket if necessary. And, of course, would look chic enough for Paris but not out of place while, say, browsing an outdoor market in Brittany.  

I happened to have this 2009 Sandra Betzina pattern, Vogue 1097, which, made up in a fluid polyester peachskin, satisfied all of my criteria. 


I love the raglan sleeves, the roomy in-seam pockets, the interesting seaming in the body and the placket with the concealed zipper. What I did not love was that particular hood with its gathered edge, nor the excessive fullness of the sleeve at the wrist, so those two features were modified. My jacket has a plain hood which I adapted from an old pattern.  I narrowed the sleeves and replaced the wide sleeve tab with a narrower band, as on a trench coat. You can read all the details here on Pattern Review

It was a terrific traveling companion. Although it looks better belted, I mostly wore it loose with just the button buttoned. It wasn't a difficult pattern to make, and contrary to my usual practice, I didn't even make a muslin. Well, to tell the truth, I didn't have time to make a muslin. But I'd rather be bent over my sewing machine racing the clock than racing through store after store trying to find something among all those anonymous garments. Or more likely, clicking through website after website. Once again I have to say, I am so glad I sew!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Watercolors in Photoshop

One of my favorite books back when I was young was The Once and Future King by T.H. White. In it, the wizard Merlyn tells the boy who will become King Arthur that “The best thing for being sad is to learn something.” And I have valued that advice all of my life. Set yourself to learning something interesting, and, for a while at least, worries and problems are kept at bay.

I certainly forget myself when I'm delving into magical, marvelous Photoshop. I've been using it since 2001, but there is always something new to learn. Beyond my shelf of Photoshop books, the Web offers what seems like infinite tutorials, videos, online courses. I subscribe to Photoshop Roadmap which compiles tutorials, tips and techniques on all aspects of PS. In the article "5 ways to create Photoshop watercolor effects, explained and compared," I especially liked the technique demonstrated by in this video by Marty Geller from Blue Lightning TV. 

It's uncomplicated, just a few simple steps, but you have final control of the result. I think it worked best on this image.

You can compare it with the original photo I took of ferries in Portland, Maine last fall. The plain blue sky became a lot more interesting due to the brushstrokes applied in the main step. I redid that several times until I got an effect that I liked. 

The lilies more closely resemble the original photo; I increased the watercolor paper texture to give it less of a photographic appearance. I also played with the colors, intensifying the orange contrast in the center of the flowers. 

The third photo was taken in Woodstock, Vermont. I like the way the watercolor technique softened the house and put more focus on the gloriously blooming hydrangea. Nothing dramatic, just pretty, but sometimes that's perfectly satisfying. 

Of course, with all the complexity that Photoshop offers, these steps could be just one effect in a more elaborate composition. In fact, sometimes it's difficult to stop piling on the effects because you never know when something wonderful will appear. And while your eyes are glued on the screen and your hand is clutching your mouse or stylus, you forget that it's time to fix dinner or way past time for bed. You keep going because, as Meryln concluded “...what a lot of things there are to learn.” 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A very good vintage

I have long had this 1975 McCall's pattern in my mental queue for a new knit-top neckline and when I saw this similar Talbots top while out shopping this spring, I decided the time had come to make it. Talbots calls their style an “envelope shoulder” tee; the McCall's pattern differs from it insofar as the front bodice hits about four inches below the shoulder, but the construction would be the same. As you can see from my pattern pieces, the back shoulder continues to the front and the front bodice is simply stitched across. You could easily create this using your own basic t-shirt pattern and make the front bodice hit higher or lower depending on how much of the front shoulder is incorporated with the back. 

The straight edge of the front bodice could lend itself to a variety of ornamentation. The old McCall's pattern envelope shows a lace band. I top-stitched with embroidery thread and did the same on the sleeve hems and bottom hem. 

I used the neckline and shoulders, plus the sleeve cap of the McCall's pattern with my TNT knit top body. The back neckline stood out a bit from neck, so I've altered the back slightly, which I hope will fix that. Both of these tops are “muslins,” so to speak. I've started using a cache of very old knits which I was intending to take to the thrift store, so I feel liberated when sewing with them. However, these are keepers. The heathery top with the three-quarter sleeves is a fairly heavy, not-too-stretchy cotton knit; I was a little worried that it would be too tight, but I've worn it several times and found it comfortable.

The top with the elbow-length sleeves is a very soft interlock. I should have put some knit interfacing in the hem because it had a tendency to ripple when I top-stitched it. Aside from that little quibble, I'm totally satisfied with both of these and intend to use this vintage pattern again. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Idylls of the Spring

Ah, springtime! Gardening, cleaning, repairing, reorganizing...luckily I seem to have inherited my mother's Energizer Bunny gene. Maybe a little too much so. I have to remind myself that it will all be there waiting for me to do another day, and that the only deadlines I have now are the ones I set myself. Let's go! I finally say to Mr. C who is always ready to hop in the car and drive off to see something different. And what a discovery we made a couple of weeks ago after I happened to notice an announcement for an open house at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch about 80 some-odd miles southeast of Dallas.


It's been there nearly as long as we've been here, but we had never heard of it. Although I had heard of Cleveland Amory because many years ago my mother had given me a copy of The Cat Who Came for Christmas, a best-seller about his cat Polar Bear. An author, reporter and TV commentator, he also became an animal rights activist, founding the Fund for Animals and establishing the Black Beauty Ranch as a sanctuary for abused animals, now the largest in the nation. You can watch a short video and read all about it here.

A few miles from our destination we turned down a narrow country road which is where we came upon a sweep of pastureland populated by an assortment of mules, donkeys and burros. It's been a mild spring with ample rain, so everything was wonderfully lush and green, especially on this overcast day. 


We were thankful for the clouds when we went on the “hay ride,” actually seated on hay bales atop an flat-bed trailer. That's Sean, our driver, who hopped out to commune briefly with the camel.


Of course, we toured only a tiny fraction of the 1,400-plus acres that comprise the ranch, but we had glimpses of a variety of the many species living there, from a trio of tigers to this handsome longhorn steer.


The horses, however, stole the show, coming up to the trailer to have a good look at the latest batch of humans who had come to look at them. 

If they could talk, they would surely echo the concluding sentiments of the original Black Beauty from Anna Sewell's classic children's book from which the ranch takes its name. “I have nothing to fear, and here my story ends. My troubles are all over, and I am at home.” A beautiful East Texas home it is. We were so glad we went.



Wednesday, March 30, 2016

See it, sew it

I have new patterns galore that I'm yearning to sew, and yet I seem compelled to spend way too much time hacking old ones. 

After seeing this top in a catalog,
I pulled out Simplicity 4076 and set about adding more draping. 

With Design Your Own Dress Patterns by Adele P. Margolis pointing the general way,


I drew some curving lines on my right front pattern piece, slashed and spread.

As I mentioned on Pattern Review, I had some confusion about how to true the (draping) side seam.

It turned out not to matter because I ended up simply fitting it on my dress form, after I had sewn on the neck band and basted the rest of the side seams together.

I had to take it in beginning around 2 inches at the bottom and tapering to less at the top, because instead of draping, I had drooping. After a lot of fiddling and frustration, I was fairly satisfied with the result, although it is still droopier and looser than the top in the catalog. (It would also obviously help to be as thin as the catalog model to achieve the exact same look.)

The red top, made out of a very old interlock, was my muslin for some wonderfully fluid teal rayon/spandex jersey from Mood Fabrics. One slight change on the teal one was eliminating some of the lower draping which helped with the drooping issue. In retrospect, I see in the catalog photo that the hem curves up much higher on the non-draping side which must aid in preventing said drooping. I did curve my hem up but only slightly. And on the second version I curved it in the opposite direction, that is, it curves up on the draping side which is how the Simplicity pattern is designed. If I were to make it again, I think I would do a higher curve on the non-draping side.

Also, when I first made this pattern up in 2008, I had scooped out the neckline, as the straighter one in the pattern seemed to cut across the bust. However, my top was forever gaping and had to be discretely pinned together. On my current version, I re-drew the neckline yet again, making it somewhat straighter like the original pattern which fixes the gaping problem nicely. I also brought the upper end of the draping side seam higher, closer to the under-arm seam. 

Obviously there's a big time and effort gap between the seeing and the sewing if you're trying to create or re-style a pattern. And despite a lifetime of sewing, I'm still bumbling along in this respect. I consider this an almost-success, and one I might tackle again in the future. But even an almost-success adds to the ability to make exactly what you want, which I think is one of the main things sewing is all about.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The world, in English

No matter if English is our only language, we are able to know what the French Emma Bovary and the Russian Anna Karenina thought and said thanks to translators. And although we can easily name the authors who brought those two famous characters to literary life, most of us would be hard-pressed to identify any translators. After all, aren't they mere conduits, turning the authors' foreign words into English ones?

Read David Bellos' fascinating book, Is That a Fish in Your Ear? and you will have a new appreciation for translators and their craft. Subtitled Translation and the Meaning of Everything, it covers an incredible range of topics, from the development of dictionaries to the dragomen interpreters of the Ottoman empire through to the demands of movie subtitling and the intricacies of simultaneous translating. While it's full to the brim with interesting information, it's not at all academic or tedious to read. (The biggest problem is that you will probably be bombarding your nearest and dearest with surprising tidbits you've just read.)

I've lauded it to my fellow book group readers because, obviously, a Foreign Authors Bookgroup has a special interest in translation. Although, as I have mentioned in previous posts, we do not read foreign authors exclusively, but rather, fiction and non-fiction about foreign lands and cultures. This year, three of our selections are translated from another language, which is actually very substantial percentage-wise. A blog on international literature is named Three Percent because, as is stated in the About section “only about 3% of all books published in the United States are works in translation.” Check out all the great resources they offer to acquaint you with those works.

Here's our literary travel itinerary for the year. Come join us, online or in person if you happen to live in the Dallas area. 


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The magical hand-rolled hem

Someone somewhere far back in the mists of time figured this out. I never would have. But fortunately there's YouTube and this excellent video. You simply loosely sew a few inches as shown in the first photo, then draw the thread fairly taut and voilĂ ! the fabric rolls inward forming a neat tiny hem. The only thing I would add is that I found it really helpful to accurately find the straight of grain by pulling out a couple of threads down the entire length of the fabric, and then to cut along this line as you go along, just a few inches ahead of where you're sewing, to minimize raveling.

I had enough fabric to cut three scarves. This is my second one. I should be an old hand (bad pun in more ways than one) at it by the time I finish the third one. I'll probably try to sell the extras in my Etsy shop. It's quite enjoyable to sit and stitch away while listening to a good audio book.

Incredibly, Mr. C, who is not at all observant of my wardrobe, found this fabric for me while patiently waiting for me to do some shopping. After all these years he has taken note of my color preferences, and this paisley with its olive green and lavender on a dusty pink ground perfectly complements several of my tops.