Saturday, May 31, 2014

More than the Sum of its Parts

A while ago, I wrote about this shawl I made. I mentioned that my knitting-partners-in-crime (they being Andrea and Sara) would also knit it. Yeah, there are photos, but let's talk for a moment...

I must extol the virtues of knitting partners-in-crime. Knitting can be a solitary act. Certainly, it has been for me. In general, I enjoy the solitude because it allows me to commune with the problem-solving centre of my brain. But please be aware, you can solve more problems, more quickly, with with more brains!

Our knitting collective is comprised of three, well-aligned, but very different working styles:
  • The Intuitive: Y'all know about me. My technical talents are not natural, but my tenacity knows no bounds. Fancy fitting appeals more than fancy knitting. I'm drawn to the texture of yarn, to patterns that appeal on an architectural level. I like LOTS of instruction. In fact, I generally rewrite instructions to suit my need for instructions, as I like them. I'm high-strung, passionate even, but I pull it back from the edge.
  • The Natural: Andrea is a natural crafter. She knits as she sews and makes bags and jewelry and furniture. It's all so freakin' organic. She's quite languid, unfussed by pace. She is truly herself in her working style, which is a beautiful contrast to mine. Oh, and all of her things finished objects are gorgeous, attributable in no small part, I suspect, to her organized and systematic process.
  • The Scientist: Sara is the knitting newbie in our group, which is hilarious since I've only been knitting for 3 years. But don't be fooled. She is a natural technician, par excellence. Her brain reads instructions like a sponge and spits them back out, in finished rows, at a pace that defies reason. She likes the hard stuff (BT 5 out of 5 star difficulty, not bourbon). She likes to make 6 things at a time. She finishes them all before I finish one thing I am making monogamously.
Imagine the enjoyment of merging those disparate skills in purchasing yarn, debating instructions, considering modifications, dealing with lost stitches (that was my issue) - and the list goes on.

I don't think any of us can say we loved making this thing (click link in first sentence of this post for my perspective), but we sure did love working together.

Check out Andrea's post today for lots of photos (why reinvent the wheel, I say). Sara's will be up in a little while, so hit her blog, later today, for her perspective too!

Friday, May 30, 2014

When Plans Overtake Planning

While this isn't a regular occurrence, it's become apparent that I've overextended myself. Yeah, I've got a great summer crafting plan. The challenge is that I've also got SO much fucking stuff to do, I'm having difficulty fitting it into the day, and that's before the crafting.

I do not like to miss deadlines. I'm a planner to my core and I take it seriously. And yet, let's get a grip, this is my freakin' hobby. Oh, it's the most robust, tripartite hobby ever (IMO): sewing, knitting, blogging. But in the next month I've got things afoot at work, a house to summer-up (and it's not going well given my total apathy and how much the winter trashed things), a kid to get through grade 8 grad, a kid to pack up for a month to go to see my parents in NC, (theoretically) some serious house repairs - or potentially big reno - to plan (no one's returning our calls) and a really big-deal birthday experience for my husband. He's about to turn 50.

Have I ever told you how much I love being the younger woman?

I can go into a small amount of detail about the party-planning, which began before my mother's illness (she's doing very well these days, happily!), shut down as I had other things to think about and picked up again after Xmas. While I was to keep a very big vacation a very big secret, in the end, I went with the Alain Botton (highly, and likely incorrectly, paraphrased) philosophy: Travel is 30 per cent in the planning and anticipation, 50 per cent in the memory and 20 per cent in the momentary experience. I've given my husband some inkling of what's to come, but not the full story.

Let's just say, I've got secrets packed within secrets and the one he knows about is Europe. We're going to Provence, Languedoc and Barcelona for an intensely-needed recharge. But what I've got to do before we get on that plane falls within the spectrum of superhuman (given where I'm at energetically, right now).

Of course, there's much more to this story. It's an epic story. And I'm sure you'll hear the fun parts over the next month and a bit.

What you may not see much of is finished objects. Which is why it's good I call the shots in this universe. Let's think of Summer Crafting as a Summer-Fall experience. On the plus side, I won't need to figure out where to store a bunch of new-made things too quickly.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Summer Crafting: Getting Somewhere with the Hepworth Dress

OK, this dress (as matronly as I EVER intend to wear) is not perfect by a long-shot, but it is, well, wearable. Moreover, the sloper, on the basis of what this muslin has taught me, is now in excellent shape:

No, I couldn't take a good photo to save my life the other day, but I've learned that people don't really care. They just like live-action shots, apparently, gorgeous or no. Alas, vanity is such a bitch.
Intriguingly, this version was almost lawn fodder. So close to being someone else's dress because, the v-neck was too long (aka puffing away from my chest and not sitting flat). Happily, some friends referred to the fix, shown below as, ahem, the deflated upper bust adjustment:

I invested precisely 10 minutes in making the alteration and sewing in 2 pin tucks on either side, where the gape was. I didn't remove the facing (just sewed it together with the outside fabric). I didn't use a ruler (I couldn't be bothered), I didn't make the stitching lovely (you can't see it). But, man, if it didn't fix the problem on the fly!

Everyone was all: I love that neck detail!

Note: I altered the pattern, for next time, to shorten the neck (closed dart) but to deepen the V, which is really still too high. This is an area where depth and length are very different things, though they seem one and the same.

Another problem, in this version of the dress, has been corrected on my newly-minted, hard-won (and sort of accidental) woven princess seam sloper, for the next go round:

See how the back bodice is still to long at the base of the armpit? It produces that little bubble (which is nowhere near the disaster, which occurred at the waistline, in the last version). I've fixed that by taking another dart wedge from the centre back seam tapering to nothing at the armscye. In total, I've removed 3 inches from the back length of this pattern and lengthened the front by 1.5 inches. Yes, peeps, that gives me a level waistline.

Finalement, Andrea (who took these pics at our recent photo shoot) and Sara were on about the fun photos, which was code for doing crazy things with facial expressions or arms. Given that this is the first time I've shaved my armpits in about 6 months, I'm all for showing them off: 

What do I think of this pattern?
  • I have nothing but positive feedback about it, despite the challenges I faced, given my shape and proportions. It's beautifully drafted. It's highly wearable. I believe it will work on many bodies. It can be dressed up or down.
  • Having said that, I do find this dress on the conservative side for me. It really does suit my sister's style more than mine - particularly if made in a conservative fabric (like this rayon challis). Next go, I will shorten it by an inch or two, and I intend to use contrasting fabrics for the bodice and skirt. I'm thinking of making it in more structured (vs drapey) wovens or stretch wovens.
  • This pattern is drafted for a woven fabric and, despite the fact that I like to believe this challis has 10% stretch (to make me feel like fitting will be easier), I've been advised that I'm high on drugs. All the stretch in it is mechanical and it's minimal. 
  • When next I use a stretch woven for the bodice, I'll need to confirm that it has good recovery and minimal stretch. I do have a swiss dot in black that fits that description and I think it would go well with a rayon "denim" skirt (the likes of which I used to make this wardrobe staple).
  • While it's not overly flattering in the photos, it is a very lovely dress in action. I got lots of compliments on it - on fabric, cut and fit. I'll wear it, if only for the novelty, until I have a better fitting version.
So, thoughts or feelings? Would you make this dress? Do you like the fabric? Do you find it ridiculously conservative? Let's talk!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gorgeous Knitting

I suggest you head on over to Sara's blog today, to check out her latest finished object, the Channel Cardigan by Jared Flood.

In truth, it's not her latest finished object. Somehow she's knit 3 sweaters and two shawls in something like a month. She's a speed-knitter (and I'm not using the term loosely).

If you didn't want this cardigan before, you sure will want it now. And apparently it's not as challenging as the 4 out of 5 star rating would lead you to believe.

I, for one, will admire it from afar. It looks pretty damned complicated up close.

PS: There's a rare sighting of me at the end of Sara's post - in the most absurd posey-pose - photo courtesy of Andrea. As A is moving at the end of the week (sob), we had to get together to post shots of our Spring Shawl KAL finished garments. More on this to follow in three upcoming posts... We intend to saturate the internet!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Are You Afraid of Your Clothes?

Hear me out. I know you don't shrink at the sight of your closet, like, with fear. I realize that clothing is not like, say, spiders (I can barely type that word, those things freak me out so much). But I'm amazed by the plethora of posts out there about culling one's wardrobe. Secretly, if you've been blogging/reading the blogs as long as I have (almost 7 years), those posts are all popular, all the time. They're not having a special moment.

Different blogs take a different tack: There's the professional sewing blog method (organization as art form), the blogger you know who loves all of her things and is trying to come to terms with near-hoarding, the fast-sewist, her counterpart the "evolved" sewist, the non-fashion blogger who tries to make sense, existentially, of the things she cannot part with for sentimental reasons. There's the growing-family-in-600 sq feet-in-NYC scenario. It goes on...

All of these have one thing in common: They dwell on clothing and what should be kept (on attractive wooden hangers) and what should be culled and how.

Look, I'm all for wooden hangers - which you can use even if your wardrobe is bursting at the seams. But I think the art form scenario (particularly) gets lost as it's conflated with style - not clothing-style, per se, but life style.

Mind you, I'd like to consider this from a slightly different angle - the angle I am reminded of whenever I read these posts (which I love, of course, in full disclosure).

Lots of people appear to be paralyzed in the act of opening the cupboard door. Lots of people keep buying and making the same things over and over again because they're not willing/able to see what's within. I sense a deep metaphor here, but I digress.

What's the fear?

Well, I can tell you mine:
  • Will bugs have eaten something precious? (This one's near and dear right now.)
  • Will that gorgeous thing I've loved and worn for years actually fit me this season?
I love organizing things. I'm not quite as quick as Andrea, for example, who can organize things in 3 minutes with the power of her mind (even crazy hoarder-shit), but I have my own way: It's called compulsive orderliness. I don't recommend it, but there's certainly an up side.

The reason I allowed two seasons to go buy without taking serious stock (which I always do - I'm a one-in, one-out kind of girl) is because I didn't want to address the changes in my landscape - interior and exterior. I was afraid of what I might find.

Oh, and I was right to be afraid. A ton of that stuff doesn't fit and a small subset had bug bites.

But, y'all know: there's nothing to fear but fear itself. The net result of my ripping everything apart (including the ever-burgeoning fabric and yarn stash, egad!) is this:
  • Everything smells gorgeous. That's what happens when you wash everything in cedar.
  • My creativity was stimulated. I upcycled fabric to make delightful sachets of lavender - see bullet above.
  • All of my beautiful garments are easily accessible on those wooden hangers.
  • They all fit beautifully.
  • They're all in perfect condition. 
  • They're entirely aligned with my emerging aesthetic (one based on my changing shape and new instincts - got to love evolution!)
I sense that there are many issues at play when it comes to culling the closet - but perhaps the most paralyzing is sentimentality. I am extremely fortunate (IMO) in that I can (mentally and actually) recycle everything. If I don't need it, it goes on the front walk and it's gone in minutes. I don't care if I spent 200 hours making that thing (unflattering suit, anyone?), if I don't want it, it's gone.

Mind you, one has to take the first step, opening the door and reviewing, and that's where I was stuck. In full disclosure, my wardrobe was not disastrously full on the basis of the space I have to keep things. I am very tidy by nature. I don't want to make this seem like I was in for the purge of the century, as many others likely should be. When it was time, I sucked it up. A moth helped to motivate me.

And yet I got rid of 40 items with nary a second thought. Better yet, I decided that there are certain things I'm never buying or making again (famous last words, I realize). There's a time and place for the plastic-coated leggings and I feel I'm not there anymore.

So, I'd like to know if you're afraid of your clothes. And, if yes, why? Please, do let me know! It will enrich our organization post-reading all the more.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Knitting Patterns: What I've Got My Eye On

Let's switch gears and talk about knitting. Let's not dwell on the Aisance Cardigan which continues apace. (I was getting all smug about being ahead of schedule on this project until it occurred to me that I'm 33 per cent finished in 3 weeks. That means I've got to kick some butt if I want to get it finished by June 27 - not an artificial deadline. Anyway, we can dwell on the features of the cardigan another day...)

I love to read posts about new-to-me patterns. In fact, it's one of the predominant ways in which I discover designs, which I later go on to knit. On that point, other ways in which I discover new patterns include the ever-enjoyable Recently Added Patterns feature in Ravelry, the Ravelry Projects and Queue pages of my Friends, samples at knit stores, and electronic magazines (which, amazingly, one can "borrow" from the Toronto Public Library - and once borrowed they are the Borrower's forever. There aren't licenses for emags, apparently, so when you check it out, you keep it.)

But on to the eye-candy. Here are some patterns that have caught my eye, lately, not necessarily because I'll ever make them, but because they're highly intriguing:

Maja-Kiito by Marita Rolin
I love the asymmetric lines of this vest/sleeveless top and the use of colour blocking. It seems so elegant and easy to wear. Mind you, it could also make me look like a tent, if not perfectly fitted. As I appear to be moving away from my fitted-knits comfort zone - I'm tending towards the avant garde in handknits, these days - the Maja-Kiito is on the table as a potential future project.

Enchanted Mesa by Stephen West
OK, I'm never going to make the Enchanted Mesa. It's entirely nutty (click the link to see other versions). This kind of asymmetry would make me insane. But I find it interesting to see how attracted to asymmetric knits I happen to be. And it sure is imaginative. Moreover, it's a perfect design for using up ends of skeins.

Nearly Chanel Suit by von Hintern Stein
Just in case you think I've abandoned my highly-structured roots, let me introduce you to the lovely Nearly Chanel Suit. I love it. But I sense it might be more trouble than it's worth.

Mariposa Top by Americo Original
I recently wrote about my new attraction to Americo. A couple of weeks ago, when Andrea, Sara and I wandered in there (when I bought the Abrazos for the Karner Shawl linked to above), Andrea was all on about this sweater (the Mariposa, pictured above) she'd seen in the window, which was no longer on the shop floor. Happily, it was in the back and, when the owner brought it out for our perusal, we three tried it on and it looked amazing on each of our very different body types.

Andrea bought the yarn immediately - that's the only way to get the pattern btw. Americo is outrageously short-sighted, IMO, in this respect. Cuz, in the absence of the ability to touch the yarn, are you really going to pay the high-price for it - and then to have it shipped? This woman could be making a real dent on pattern sales via Ravelry and it would really increase the profile of her brand. On a related note, Americo is offering free shipping within Canada till May 31. On another related note, I am as irritated by Canadian vendors who ding international clients as by the Americans who do the same.

At any rate, it took all of my willpower not to buy 4 extra skeins of the Abrazos (I'd already bought one for the Karner Wrap) but I decided to exhibit restraint. I do that occasionally. Especially when the store is down the block. This sweater will cost 100 bucks plus tax (or tax and shipping) - probably about 120 once all is said and done - so it's not a cheap knit. But I can assure you, it's worth it.

So, today's questions: Which is your fave of these? Have you made any of them and, if yes, tell us about it! How do you source new knit ideas? Let's talk!

Monday, May 19, 2014

What Do You Call A Non-Success (When You're Not Interested in Failure)?

Work with me. This version of the Hepworth Dress is not, forgive the phrasing, worth getting hepped over.

What's worse is that the error is all mine. I altered the back bodice (removing the wedge from the centre back, tapering to nothing at side seams), and somehow thought it would be a good idea to add the length back in below the (smushed out) dart. I don't know why. I've never done it before.

So, amazingly, this thing fits pretty perfectly on me in the front bodice (sadly, not on the stupid waste-of-money dress form):

I modified the neckline to a high V. The dress, as drafted, has a very high jewel neckline.
The reason it's so gapey at the underarms parallel with the bust is that the bust on the dress form is not as projectile as mine. It's not exactly observable, but the bust needs more padding (than the dress form's) in order to fit at the side underarm.

Anyway, I'm not showing this to get praise. I will never wear this thing. My sister, if the other Hepworth fits, is about to inherit a second. Otherwise, it's lawn fodder.

Have a look at the back:

Yup, that's a dealbreaker.

Here's the thing - this (hopefully) will illustrate clearly the rationale behind my swayback adjustment as mitigator of the full bust adjustment:
  • I need more length in the front bodice than the back. I actually added 1.5 inches to the front bodice and (when I redid the back alteration after this debac(k)le (ha!)) I removed 1.5 inches from the centre back length. That means that the centre front is 3 inches longer than the centre back. Of course, they come to the same length at the side seam or this alteration wouldn't work. BTW, the waist seam lies completely horizontal to the floor, so it works.
  • My breasts project immediately and are very close set. My body, esp. my upper back, is narrow. They offset each other, to some extent - making my fitting issues easier than they otherwise would be. Mind you, if I were wider, the standard FBA (which doesn't work for me) would likely work much better. So maybe it's no easier...  Let's say it is a useful proportion for me in the absence of the one that suits the standard FBA.
  • When I "FBA" princess seamed garments (only necessary with a woven or stretch woven bodice) I have to add a ton of extra width on the side front piece at a very specific area that quickly tapers to nothing above and below. I add practically no width to the front because my breasts are close-set and I don't want the move the seam off the apex. (Talk about nightmare easing. Trust me people, there are few who can ease a bust line seam like me.) What I do to offset the width on the side front is to is add a ton of length to the centre front. That way the seam that connects the side front to the front piece (the princess seam) is of equivalent length on both pieces. You've got to walk the seams to confirm...
I don't have a sway back at all. Years of yoga have beat that out of me (not that it was my shape tendency in the first place). But I do have a much longer front torso than back torso because my boobs are the inverse of the swayback - and then some! Sure, if I were wide or long waisted, I don't think this technique would work. But I'm not.

So, if you are short of waist, have proportionately close-set large breasts of immediate projection and you're narrow, consider this alteration and do let me know if it works for you!

But let's talk about the dress...

Now, onto Hepworth number 3. I've already cut out the fabric* and I'll sew it up next weekend. If it doesn't fit, after I threaten suicide, I imagine I'll make it again (though I really hope it doesn't come to that). I'm actually very close. And I'm simply not prepared to wear anything that doesn't fit almost perfectly. (Perfection is an illusion and I'm not into magic tricks.)

Now, do I like the dress? I don't know. It's borderline "suburban soccer mom", though (as drafted) it fits (sexily) 2 inches above my knee and I'm short. (BTW, if you are even of moderate height or long of leg - or you don't like showing off your legs - add at least 2 inches to the bottom...) Also, the V neck and boobs do downplay the suburban soccer element.

Here's the thing: I think I can work it. I don't know that this pattern does much to obviate the twee, but I can make it in another fabric once I perfect the fit. In a stiff fabric, this could look kind of Jetson. In a lace overlay, it could look very elegant. As is, with a slim cardigan and the right shoes it looks quite urban. Alas, I don't wear those shoes much these days, but that's not the point.

So here's to non-success that isn't failure!


* Here's where having bought 3 yards of that rayon challis is going to stand me in good stead. Sorry to be utterly wasteful, but it's the cost of producing garments that fit well. I did have to cut out the back facing in another fabric (and I could care less, truthfully, it's the fun of handmade to be quirky). Anyway, I bought 3 yards of challis to muslin the Rosie top and I've used every square inch on the Hepworth. Hmmm...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Summer Crafting: The High-Level Plan

I could probably craft from now till October and not finish all of my imaginary projects. Alas, one's got to make choices - even with the leisure activities - so I've put together a list of sewing and knitting to take me from here till summer's end. 


Hepworth Dress (Sinbad and Sailor):  

OK, this one was NOT on my list until last weekend. But, having made Allison's dress, and finding that the fit was unintentionally close to my dimensions, I cannot resist giving it a go. It helps that I've got a fabric I believe will work very well. I'm going to lead with this garment since I've just tackled a version and it's fresh in my memory. Also, it's very useful for summer weather. With a cropped cardigan, it's perfect for work or weekends.

Rayon Challis with 10% crosswise stretch from Fabrications Online

Rosie Top (StyleArc): 

Well, you know this one's been in play for quite a while. I ran out of fabric, then I had to make the "bridesmaid dress" (if we can call it that)... But it's time to return to this "reverse princess seam" top. (Note how the lines are convex rather than concave to the centre front of the top.)

I'm at the next muslin moment but, if this top fails again, I may well put it away for the summer. I'm not interested in arguing with my creative endeavours. Five muslins is enough, IMO.

Silk Crepe with 15% crosswise stretch from Fabrications Online

Originally, my intention was to muslin use the rayon crepe (above), and I likely still will. However, my intended fabric is a beautiful silk crepe, reminiscent of the one gifted to me by S, my fitting friend. Be assured, I will not cut into this until I'm confident about the garment fit.

Rachel Comey Pants - V1323 (VoguePatterns): 

These are the pants I've been dared to make by Sara. In truth, I like them, so I'm game. Really, who doesn't like elastic waistbands when they're used intentionally, and as a design feature. My hope is that the fitting isn't too tricky given that I've done some work on crotch curves with other stretch woven pants patterns.

Royal Blue Stretch Broadcloth with 50% crosswise stretch
This broadcloth has a lot of stretch, though it is a woven (so it's suitable for these pants). As it happens, I am not overly thrilled with the weight of the fabric, or the quality. But I think it will work well for pants that need a very light hand.

Leather Tote (Making Leather Bags Craftsy Course): 

Well, I've talked this one up a lot. Now I've just got to make the thing! All of my notions, materials and gizmos are amassed. I'm truly excited to use my new roller foot. It's like Lego!

Read more about these materials here...

Leather Skirt (from TNT high-waisted pencil skirt V8640): 

I've decided to cut my teeth on leather (as it were) with the bag (above). But once that's done, my goal is to make a sexy leather skirt. What better pattern to use than my standard high-waisted pencil? No need to reinvent the wheel...


Read more about this lambskin from King Textiles in the Garment District
This absurdly gorgeous leather has a LOT of give because it is very soft lambskin. I do intend to line the skirt (at least partially) but that adds another element of complexity.

And if there's time...
My bonus pattern is the compelling Nettie body suit, which is SO my scene:

I seem to be very into the electric blues, lately, because this is the (long-loved) stash fabric I would likely use:

Jewel Blue modal (really, it's more purple than blue...) from Fabric Mart (I think)


Aisance Cardigan (Kristen Johnstone): 

As you know, I'm currently working on this cardigan, a pattern I hope to complete before the end of June. As such, I'm including it in the Summer Crafting category. I figure, it spans the gap between spring and summer - and it is a substantial project.

Shibui Staccato in Caffeine
Karner Wrap (Americo Original Design Team): July will be a wildcard month for me, from a crafting perspective, due to some interesting adventures I'm not at liberty to discuss (yet). Nonetheless, I do hope to have this stockinette shawl to keep my hands busy. Apparently it takes a very long time since it uses 1000 yards of laceweight yarn... Really, the pattern is not exciting. Mind you, the yarn is spectacular…


Americo Original Abrazos Lace in Blue Ink from the Americo store in TO (the only one)
I never realized what a hub of amazing knitting options Toronto happens to be. Really, when it comes to yarn and leather, we have it going on! Americo, a store I've gone into on a few occasions, has never called to me the way it did on a recent visit. In the past, textured fibers have been a turn-off - as has cotton (a prevalent fiber in Americo yarns).  But I've lived to regret saying never, craft-wise, on a variety of occasions. Let's call this one of them.

See that amazing texture built into the yarn? It creates a distressed, almost burnout effect. And the colour is special - moody grey with blue subnotes. As you know, cotton is my least favourite knitting material on the planet (other than linen), but somehow, this cotton/bamboo blend has a beautiful drape (without being limp). It also has a nice feel – it’s not stringy.

And if there's time...

I'm utterly intrigued by this (small) garment, even if it is lacework:
Die Cut Vest by Sara Morris from Knit.Wear (the only knitting mag consistently worth buying, IMO)
It calls for a linen. That's not happening. I hate linen. It's like knitting with kitchen string. So who knows what I'd use instead? 

The Proviso
Needless to say, I reserve the right to change my mind. I mean, it's my freakin' hobby. In fact, since first I envisioned this list (a month ago), I've added to it, moved stuff around and removed the outliers. And who can say? I may decide that I don't feel like working indoors if the weather actually one day goes summery. 

Today's questions: Do you make a list of summer crafting projects? If yes, do you stick to it? And, while I'm asking... What do you think of my chosen projects? Which of these is your fave? Let's talk!

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Reveal: Bridesmaid Revisited

Apparently, this will be another of the posts wherein I will allude to my summer crafting plans, only to sidestep with another topic.

Here's the (hideous) bridesmaid dress I made for Allison:

Sorry, but it didn't fit on my (useless, wide-shouldered dress-form)...

Thanks to the backlight you can see the following booboos:
  • I was correcting dart placement on the fly, so the left skirt dart is slightly misaligned from the princess seam bodice. This is NOT noticeable at all when the dress is being worn. Man, though, that's rookie.
  • I misread the instructions for inserting the invisible zipper - in my defense, I've never made a dress like this before - so I didn't insert the zipper under the facing. I thought it seemed weird to face the garment and then reveal the zipper. It was only on second perusal of the instructions, that I realized I'd misread. Alas, given that there was no time or material to fuck with, I was loath to pull out a zipper that had already been picked once out of the original dress. Instead, I catch stitched the zip to the facing for a flat, if less than professional, finish. It's not noticeable when worn, of course.
Other Interesting Features of this Project:
  • I forestalled near disaster on cutting the skirt too short (for boring reasons). I didn't have enough fabric to recut the skirt pieces, so I created a faux-waistband (the element that screwed with dart placement). I actually think it gives the dress a bit more of a "bridesmaid" feel. Note: It's not my fault that the bride opted for "Appalachian milkmaid" fabric. There's only so much one can do with it.
  • I love this pattern. I love it so much that I'm making this dress for myself, with slight alterations (see below) next weekend. It's beautifully drafted and simple. The instructions are terrific - especially if you read them in a focused fashion.
  • In an irony, while I haven't yet been able to draft a princess-seam sloper with the zest all of my mental energies and numerous attempts - and given that my body is available for fitting?! - this dress fits me almost perfectly in the bust. The apex, perfect. Seam alignment, perfect. Adequate room (but not too much) - perfect.
  • This is the fabric I'll use:

  • It's a lovely rayon challis from Fabrications Online. It's got a bit of heft, fantastic drape and about 10 percent of crosswise stretch. I got three yards to muslin the Rosie as many times as required, but it's a very nice fabric to (likely) throw away and it would be perfect for this pattern.
  • I've made the following Kristin-required changes to the pattern I originally altered for Allison (a size that grades from a 10 to a 12, with many mods, of course). For me:
    • I made the upper bust slightly less full.
    • I lowered the V neck by another inch. The original pattern calls for a high-jewel neck, which I like, but as I'd already altered the neck to suit my sister's preference, it's just as easy to stick with it.
    • I raised the front armscye slightly and wedged out a bit of fabric - like a tiny dart, which then I closed.
    • I increased the waist size by an inch.
    • I kept the bodice and skirt length of the version photoed above, but I got rid of the 3" band. Instead, I added 1.5 inches to the bottom of the bodice and 1.5 inches to the top of the skirt.
    • I removed a wedge of fabric from the lower back, tapering to nothing at the side-seams. I don't have a sway back, but I do that adjustment because it allows me keep length in the bodice (where I need it). It's like an inverse FBA, that allows me to be less extreme in my FBAs.
  • Here's the deal, peeps: That bodice is drafted for a projected bust that isn't overly high. If you're flat and young, keep that in mind. If you're my age, happy day! I should say that the alteration I made for Allison (whose full bust is 36" - 2 inches smaller than mine - and it fits me nonetheless) was to increase the size of the side front piece both at the side seam and at the princess seam side. I also included a tiny bit of extra fabric on the front piece, at the bust apex, but the majority of my changes were on that side front piece. That's what moved the princess seam front and centre - something that's necessary when your boobs go straight out, not towards the sides. I went off-road with that side front piece, effectively it's a size 12 at the armscye, approximately the largest pattern size at the apex (that's a 16 I think), tapering to a size 10 at the bottom. However, it was a very easy fix because I graded between sizes using the available multi-size cut lines, something I rarely do. Of course, I also had to lengthen the front pieces to allow for curve below the bust apex.
  • Truly, it is so easy to overdo an FBA. Less is more, especially if you are narrow and projected. The less you alter the front piece, the better. Let the side front piece pick up the slack. I also find it completely bizarre that I used someone else's measurements, not myself, to fit this dress. I think it's fair to say, my fitting skills have much developing to do :-)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ties that Bind

Yesterday late afternoon, Sara and Andrea came by for an impromptu knitting-with-Rioja session in the back garden.

Yes, you read that correctly. We sat in the outside world. For 2 hours. And the sun was shining. And there was a vaguely green quality around us. And the wine was delicious. The snacks were gobbled heartily (always a good sign). So often, I am reminded that life is good. What's better than excellent conversation with friends, food, wine, sun (but shade to sit in) and occupied hands?

Well, there were gifts!

Andrea presented us with the most gorgeous knitting bags I've ever seen:

This one's mine - stupidly I didn't photograph Sara's...

The bags are plush with batting (to protect knitting) and big enough to hold a sweater - though somehow they are so compact.

And just to blow your freakin' mind, Andrea silk screened the fabric to create those gorgeous images. (And each bag was made with completely different silk screened art?!?!?)

I have to say, I've received many beautiful and wonderful gifts in my life, but this one has a special place in the pantheon. Not only is it utterly creative, perfectly-made, practical and lovely - but it was hand-crafted for me with forethought and kindness. This is something I'll use every day, and every time I use it I will feel the friendship with which it was made.

Honestly, I seem to have so many big-feeling reasons to cry these days...

I'll leave you on a more trivial note. The bridesmaid dress is coming along:

Isn't this a treat fabric for a 41-year old bridesmaid??
I did have a near disaster (for stupid reasons, too boring to discuss): I cut the skirt too short (from the original reclaimed skirt). I then realized I didn't have enough fabric to recut it. So I got imaginative and added a 3-inch strip to the waistline of all the skirt pieces. You'd think it would look horrible, but it's actually an interesting design feature - skirt darts notwithstanding.

I sense this thing is going to be too big in the bust for Allison - in an act of extreme irony, I may have nailed my own princess seam woven bodice while trying to make one for someone else... (It's unclear at this point, I used her measurements!!, so Allison - if you're reading - don't freak out. It would be a miracle if this thing fit you perfectly. I'm aiming for slightly too big over too small, however. Just so you don't look like a sausage...)

Furthermore, I love this pattern. It's so nicely drafted - and the instructions are excellent. It's not complex but the results are elegant (or they would be with a fantastic fabric).

That's my weekend so far...

Saturday, May 10, 2014

In Which I Invoke Rolling Stones Lyrics as a Herald of Sewing Good Fortune

Have you ever sewn something fitted for someone whose body you did not have access to for fitting purposes?

That's where I find myself at the moment, about to cut into a precious small amount of irreplaceable (if hideous) fabric for that bridesmaid dress my sister needs.

To remind you, this is the pattern I've modified to suit her dimensions:

Here's the thing, I got ever conceivable measurement from my sister. Nipple to nipple span, check. Height of bust apex, check. Side seam to nipple, check. Width and length of everything, check.

But as we know, in sewing, the end is not merely the sum of mathy parts.

I haven't yet cracked the code to make a woven princess bodice for myself. It seems grandiose to imagine I'll be able to do it for someone else, in another country, even if that someone else has a bust measurement in the realm of the original pattern dimensions (concurrent with her upper bust size).

The thing about princess seams is that they have to fall in the right spot. If you're fairly straight, you won't diverge much from the pattern-drafter's original schematic. But when you have curves - and my sister, while not outrageously bust-curvy has an interesting array of shape considerations in the bodice due to a proportionately wide back - then you're best served by trying and altering (as many times as it takes). Guess who doesn't have that luxury?

Look, no point in having cut paralysis. This dress has to get made and go back to America asap. If it doesn't fit well, too bad. Allison already made the choice to trust my version* of this dress over the one she received from an Etsy dressmaker who made a dress style other than the one my sister ordered, with inappropriate lines (in light of the measurements the dressmaker had originally requested). Those measurements weren't suitable for an empire-waisted, gathered skirt, high v neck made of freakin' quilting cotton. And not even the good kind. You can only imagine how horrid that end result was, if I'm willing to a) sew for someone other than me who b) isn't on hand to fit and c) to use a fabric that offends my every sensibility. Note: I like quilting cotton just fine - for baby dresses and, um, quilts.

I'm not naive. Good will does not a fitted garment make. Even the kind of good will supported by numerous measurements reflected (sewing goddess willing, accurately) in an altered paper pattern. If this does not succeed, it will not be for lack of effort on my part. I've spent hours debating the numbers, purchased a pattern, modified the pattern, resuscitated half of the pre-existing dress by painstakingly picking out seams. I haven't even started making the thing, which as we know, with my pace, is bound to take the full weekend. Mind you, if it doesn't succeed, effort won't matter. It'll still be a half-assed looking dress. And let's face it, it's not starting on a high note.

So, I'm hoping for a bit of providence. I would be so grateful for a gentle breeze of sewing kismet.

As my classic rock partners in craft so often remind me: You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

*This is sister-lingo for: she begged me relentlessly until I couldn't possibly say no without being the worst human being on the planet.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Spring Knitting: Aisance Cardigan

It would serve us well were I to put together a detailed post to tell you all about my spring and summer crafting plans. But that would take organization, and I'm more busy doing things than writing about them these days.

Needless to say, there will be sewing and knitting and this summer, my express goal is to learn new skills. The leather bag is one sewing project (techique: sewing with leather). Completion of the Rosie top (one that fits) is another (technique: fitting woven bodice sloper).

As it happens, I am overwhelmed with creative ideas. Maybe it's on account of moving from the kind of dead winter that wracked the back off of my century home (let's not talk about what that entails and how much it's likely going to cost to fix) into a spring that still feels a bit like winter (but with more light). Maybe it's because I haven't had a headache - of any description - for 3 months, the longest I've gone without being addled with head pain in more than three years.

I'm loath even to mention that because I cannot bring myself to get attached to a pain-free head. But just to keep it real, in the exact moment my headaches disappeared (on a dime), I discovered a new symptom on the bumpy road of perimenopause. I've been dealing with rather wretched digestive issues that impinge on my physical freedom in a totally new-to-me way. Estrogen balance influences serotonin levels and serotonin lives mostly in two places: the brain and the gut. On the plus side, everyone agrees that it's better to go from having crushing migraines to digestive misery than the other way around. And we have a game plan for dealing with the latter.

But I digress...

Here's the sweater I'm knitting right now:

Aisance by Kristen Johnstone
After finishing the Svalbard - a sweater I had misgivings about on the basis of shape - I realize that it's my go-to hand knit these days. Sure, the shape may not be my most naturally flattering, but it works in my wardrobe.

This is another yarn hog pattern - one which I have not cheaped out on. I've gone with this silk-merino blend:

Shibui Staccato in Caffeine
BTW, this is another project that Sara and Andrea and I will undertake as a mini-KAL (in our own time). They've also bought this yarn, which is phenomenal, for what it's worth. I have to wait to see how it wears, before I weigh in definitively, but the bloom and drape of the fabric it makes are perfect for the Aisance. It's fantastic looking yarn that does not grow overly when blocked, that doesn't get cloudy (a propensity of silk yarn which I hate), and that looks like a million bucks.

On the topic of local sourcing, the three of us got this yarn from Ewe Knit (our LYS) which stocks an array of colours (intriguingly, at the best price we've been able to find for the brand). Claudia, the owner, has special-ordered out-of-stock colours for Andrea and Sara, which is why I've got the head start.

A couple of things I'll say about the Aisance:

This pattern is delicious to knit - a bit interesting, but not overly. Perfect for TV or chatting with friends... I will say, however, that I wish I hadn't followed the directions at the start - those for making the neckband. As far as I'm concerned, provisional cast on is a terrible method to use with rib - as, by nature, it always creates a jog in stitches (see this useful post for information about why that's the case). You won't notice it with blocked stockinette, but this method is totally observable on the rib back-neck of this sweater - in much the way a seam would be. Mind you, at least a seam would make the join strong! Furthermore, this method means that one creates two different slip-stitch edges on each side of the cardigan - something that offends my sense of order completely. I've strongly recommended to Sara and Andrea to simply seam the centre back,which will mitigate both of these issues. Too late for me, alas.

Re: provisional cast on - and I taught myself to crochet for the privilege of completely irritating the crap out of myself - I can imagine that there are times when this method is just the thing. However, I think those times are far and few between. I've used it twice in the 3 years I've been knitting and I've been unimpressed both times...

Having said all of this, I do appreciate the way the sweater comes together - not dissimilarly to the Svalbard in its construction (though FAR more easily). You don't need to knit the band at the end - a very tedious way to finish a sweater, I assure you - instead you knit it as you go. And the back of the sweater has both rib stitch and shaping, to give it an excellent stability and an elegant line. I'm really hope I called the size right, and that this finished garment will become a summer staple.

Today's questions: What are your thoughts about provisional cast on (doing it, the result it achieves etc.)? What do you think of this sweater pattern? And have you worked with Shibui yarns? Thoughts or feelings? Let's talk!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Dress Up

Sometimes, when you need a simple, armscye-princess seam, sleeveless A-line dress pattern, you get lucky:

New Sinbad and Sailor Hepworth Dress
I thought I was going to have to hack this from a variety of patterns, for the bridesmaid dress I'm remaking for my sister, given that I never make woven dresses so I have no relevant patterns lying around. The wedding she's going to is on June 7 and I've got to finish this and get it back to North Carolina in time. That means I have to send it back by May 15 at the latest. Don't have time to order a pattern, I thought (given that they all take 2 weeks to arrive, somehow). No pattern stores remain downtown anymore.

But here we have a nice pdf, all ready to go. I do hope that this process goes smoothly. I've only got one shot to get it right...

Monday, May 5, 2014

Making a Leather Bag: An Intro

Shortly I will compose a post about my summer sewing plans, but in the meanwhile, let's have a look at one of the projects on the list. I know it's putting the cart before the horse but, hey, it's my horse and my cart and I can do what I want!

After being sucked in by the lure of leather-working - and on the advice of many, I signed up for the Craftsy Course: Making Leather Bags, taught by Don Morin. Fun fact: He's a TO guy. Apparently, when it comes to the bag-making community (independent vendors, teachers etc.), Toronto is where it's at. Who knew? What I will say is that this is the best course I've ever taken from Craftsy and it's worth it to buy at full price. Mind you, wait for a sale.

The happy accident is that many of the resources, required to make a bag, reside within my city.

Sara, Andrea and I have decided to make the tote that Don teaches in the Craftsy class. It looks like this:

Do I like totes? No. Will I use it? I don't know. But I do sense that the best way to learn something is to follow the instructions. I don't want to complicate what might be a complicated undertaking by going off road with a different pattern.

Besides, I think I've fancied up this boring bag by choosing some sexy materials:

  • The main bag will be made from that textured, snake-skin style pigskin.
  • The trim will be made from that awesome slate blue lambskin - the colour is insanely gorgeous but you can't see it here. Sara and I are going to share this skin because it's much larger than is required for the bag and the leather store doesn't cut into skins.
  • The lining is nylon (which you need because leather will rot natural fabrics and threads). I think it gives an extra layer of style-complexity to the main skin and it's perfectly in the colour family...
My walking foot has now arrived. The roller foot is on its way - as is my stabilizing cold tape and my brayer and a few other gizmos. I still need to procure certain other tools before I begin and natch, I need to make that bridesmaid dress for Allison, but I'm hoping to get started over the long weekend, if the stars align.

So, whatcha think?

Sunday, May 4, 2014


I had no idea that going to my 25th high school reunion would have an impact of extreme emotional - nay, psychic - recalibration. Trust me, if I had, I would most definitely have stayed away.What an irony, that the place which made me the articulate intellectual that I am, has reduced me to mush. I'm going to call this an opportunity and turn my mind to other things for a while. Crying incessantly is SO bad for the face.

I stood amongst my peers - amongst generations of St. Clement's girls - the ones still in uniform transposed against the women who graduated in 1944 and I felt a connection that caused physical pain. The present merged with the past - as in some fantasy film about the quantum multiverse - in such a way that I could not repress emotion. I could not. I was powerless against the surge and I am (for all my extroversion) extremely emotionally composed. I have to be, because the table of emotion I generally restrain is so gripping that it takes me under hard whenever it has the chance.

My former classmates are just what they were raised to be (though stating it is entirely reductionist): iron-strong, intelligent, insightful women affecting small or large changes in our world. They also continue to be (to a one) hilarious, pragmatic, honest women who cannot shut up. Lord, at dinner, 17 of us sounded like a convention of hundreds. How often does one have the luxury to experience a small nervous collapse amongst others, having not seen those others for a quarter century (in some cases), and be met with total comprehension and the perfect response.

I'll just say this, if I can squeeze it out in some sensical manner: The penalty for infinite potential is action. You make choices in life - many great choices, some bad choices. I am not speaking about judgement or regret. I'm speaking of the reality of finite possibility, of which we are so blissfully unaware in childhood. Time goes by and you can't keep everything close in your heart. There are too many things competing for attention. But occasionally, something forces you to see the things that have fallen away. To truly see them for the losses they are - just as you see all you have maintained and accomplished for the gains. Grief and joy merge and you are brought into the fold.

This, after the worst winter ever. It's amazing I can string together a sentence. And I truly hope I can make some sense of this over time. Because where I'm at now is the chasm.