Friday, December 31, 2010

The requisite year-end wrap-up

It's the time of year for taking stock.  I always enjoy reading other folks' summaries of what they've accomplished over a year of sewing: it puts things in perspective.  However, when I started to try and count up how many of what I sewed, I realized that I don't know exactly what I made when before I started this blog in April.  Plus, I need some clarity on the definition of "finished":  I completed some stuff that I considered a failure.  But I also completed some stuff I wouldn't count as a loss, but don't wear.  And there's plenty of not-so-successful stuff I really enjoyed making, and that has a value of its own.   So screw counting.   Let's say I made in the neighborhood of two dozen things, some of which sucked less than others.

This skirt has been worn a lot this year.
Even the dog doesn't like this dress.

I didn't particularly try to pick up new skills this year  (though reading the many awesome sewing blogs out there, I might have accidentally learned a few things).   However, I got better at fitting (thanks in part to helpful input from other sewists), and I am a ton more confident about what I can do than I was a year ago.  I rarely have to rip out and re-do (no doubt I just jinxed myself) and generally things come together as I expect.   I'm still sticking to "easy" cottons and rayons, but those are what I like to wear, too.   I also wear a lot of knits, and thought I'd jump into sewing those once I got a serger.   And while I've made a few tops which see a lot of use, I haven't enjoyed sewing knits the way I do wovens.  Yet, anyhow.  I think part of it is the learning curve.   Something to work on in the coming year?  Maybe, we'll see.

1960s shirtdress -- yay!
1950s sundress, and first fitting success.

For some reason, who knows why, I like to sew things that do not fit my personal style as I understand it.  I'm a pretty plain dresser in real life ... bordering on a sloppy dresser, to be honest.  And I prefer not to stand out in a crowd.   I know the dresses I've made would blend in fine with many people's wardrobes, but they're a bit of a statement for me, and for my workplace full of engineers.   For now, I've decided that I don't need a reason and I'm just gonna make what I want.  Sometimes it'll be practical, and sometimes maybe not so much.    Maybe I'll get more comfortable with dressing differently, especially as the quality of what I sew improves.   At any rate, expect more, and perhaps kookier, vintage dresses from me in 2011.  Maybe they'll never leave the house, but I'll have fun making them!  I also want to focus more on adding interesting detail to what I sew,  be it use of trim, addition of small design elements, or choice of finishing technique.  

I have other 2011 goals for myself outside of sewing, but they're not particularly revelatory: eat healthier (I have the palate of a six year old and could live on bread, cake and candy), keep the house tidier, etc.  I want to do these things every year, and rarely succeed.  For despite the wisdom of such goals, they don't make life feel richer or more interesting.  As I mentioned in my Christmas post, I also want to get back into drawing regularly.  To do that, I have to make time somewhere, so I also plan to do less photography.  And while I'm at it, sell some of my 300+ cameras.  At work, I want to be a more active contributor to the many knowledge-sharing communities that exist in the large organization I work for.  I am always reluctant to put myself out there, but I'm at a point in my career where I need to start doing it if I want to move forward.  

One final thought, on blogging ... thank you all for reading my posts!  I doubt I'll ever be a wildly successful blogger, if for no other reason than that there's clearly a social networking aspect of it which goes right over my extra-introverted head.   Sometimes I still feel unsure about what to write and how.   But I am thrilled to participate in a larger sewing world, in my own somewhat disconnected way.  Though I'm not a good commenter  (something I should try to work on in the coming year), I enjoy reading the many great sewing blogs out there, and am always looking for more.   Whether you realize it or not, y'all are great sewing instructors!

Happy New Year to you all, and I hope 2011 brings you great things!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pendrell the second

I've finished my second Pendrell blouse!   Sorry the pictures aren't so great -- it was another gray afternoon here in Houston.  I added a bow tie at the neck, side slits at the hem, and omitted the shoulder ruffles.  The fabric is rayon challis, and some of the oldest in my stash ... not sure how long I've had it, maybe as long as ten years.  I've been waiting for just the right project for it.  I made a little effort to lay out the pattern so that I'd have complete branches on the center front and back.

I ironed the blouse, and then proceeded to get it all wrinkly again as I wrestled it onto the dress form.  Oh well!   I made the one fit modification I wanted, which was to make the mid-back a little narrower, by taking out a smidge (1/4 to 1/8 inch) from the sides and the princess seams in the back.  I didn't even alter the pattern, but just marked where I wanted to start and stop tapering as I sewed.

Adding the neck tie was a simple change: I cut two of the neck binding, and sewed the ends together to make an extra-long binding strip.  Then I did the binding as the pattern instructed, except on the other side of the fabric, so that the binding's on the outside.  Of course, you have the extra fabric hanging loose: I treated it as double-faced bias tape (edges folded to the inside) and sewed it closed, then tied my bow.   I didn't take pictures as I went, but it seems likely that I'll make another soon, and if there is interest, I could do it then.

I initially wanted to do a black binding/tie, but couldn't find any material of the right weight in black.  I had some white rayon challis, but I feared that wouldn't look too keen.  So I went with the boring-but-safe choice of self-fabric.

Next up: probably a dress.  I'm still mulling over exactly what I want, but I'm leaning toward something nice and impractical for daily wear, possibly using this pattern:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My sewing-related Christmas

Hello everyone -- I hope you had (and are still having) a happy holiday!   I am looking forward to a full week off work.  For me, the transition to the new year is a meditative time, and in addition to sewing, relaxing, and cleaning my messy house, I'll also reflect on the year that's ending, and think about what I want for 2011.  I don't worry so much about making new year's resolutions, but around this time I like to take stock of things.   But for now ...  let's talk about presents, shall we?  I got a few sewing-related gifts I thought I'd share.

Clearly the world is not a fair and balanced place, because though I gave no handmade gifts, I did get some!  My parents gave me a Kindle, a totally unexpected and wonderful present.  I'm already halfway through my first downloaded book and I'm really enjoying using it.   I like that it'll fit in my purse or backpack, which means I'm more likely to read when I'm out and about.  Anyhow, on to the point:  my mother, appalled at the prices of cases for the Kindle, made a really cute one!  It's slightly padded, so it'll do a great job protecting the Kindle from the cruel world.

I also got some sewing-related items from my husband that were on my wish list.  First off, The Party Dress Book, by Mary Adams.  I'm about halfway through this already, and it's an interesting read. Mary Adams describes the evolution of her design aesthetic, which tends toward fluffy, layered, colorful party dresses.  What I find interesting is how strongly focused her body of work is.  It's more what you would expect from a (fine) artist, whereas I tend to think of fashion designers as covering a broader range, since they typically put out an entire line, and are attempting to ignite new trends.  (Not to say that fashion designers aren't also artists, but it's a different niche.)  Adams is working with a very simple silhouette for the most part, but she finds lots of interesting ways to add creative detail that fit with her own design "rules".  Anyhow, interesting book, and even if you don't want to copy her style, you might be inspired by the way she works. 

I also got a pleating board and pressing cloth from Clotilde.  On the last season of Project Runway, Andy South used a pleating board quite a bit in his final collection, and it seemed an interesting and fun toy.  It took me a while to find one, but when I did, onto the wish list it went!  I tried it out on some scraps yesterday, and while I did not do a perfect job the first time out, I was happy with how it looked, and will be finding ways to incorporate this sort of embellishment into future sewing projects.

Finally, my husband chose a handmade pincushion from Details by Des' Etsy store for me.  I have been using one of those ubiquitous tomato pincushions, which serve the purpose, but not much more can be said for them.  I know there are some good patterns out there for making pincushions (and they do look fun to make), but there were already so many pretty ones on Etsy, and I'm focused on clothes sewing at the moment.   Anyhow, I love my new pincushion -- it is so big!   It's already full of pins, and I expect to spend lots of quality time with it today.

Finally, my husband got me this fancy set of markers.  This doesn't have much to do with sewing (unless I start drawing my sewing plans ... ) but I am trying to get back to drawing after many years of neglect.  It's a painful process, as I don't yet know what I want to draw, or how, after so long.  I need to start sketching more consistently, if I want to make progress.  I am finding these markers support color layering and blending quite nicely, and I really enjoyed using them in the test doodles I drew yesterday.   Hopefully they will help me find my artistic groove.

Happy Sunday everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pendrell, you're swell

I just finished the Pendrell blouse from  It came together really fast: I traced off the pattern and started cutting on Saturday night, and had it complete by Monday evening.  I was eager to try it, because I have never before been able to cut a straight size -- usually I have to grade up one to two sizes (depending on era and design) between bust and hip.  Next time around I may take it in a little in the middle back via the princess seams, because I'm not going to wear it tucked in, and I want it to have a little more shape.  Otherwise it was pretty much spot on right out of the envelope.  When does that ever happen?

Sorry, photos on the dress form only for now.  It's so hard to coordinate availability, presentability, and daylight!   I plan to do lots of sewing over the break, and may just have a photography session at the end for whatever I complete.  

I had enough left of my bargain plaid fabric, and it was a decent choice for a wearable muslin for this pattern.  (A very wearable muslin, as it turns out!)  The material is a lightweight cotton blend of some kind.  I proved that there's definitely a touch of polyester in there when I got the iron too hot at one point and the frayed edges of the fabric in one place kind of fused together.   Oops ... but it was barely noticeable, thankfully.   Anyhow, it was easy to sew with and has an acceptable (if not super) drape, which this blouse needs for all those ruffly bits.  I at least attempted to match the plaid, and was mostly successful except on the left side seam ... oh well.  If you look at the plaid at the hem, you'll see I didn't *quite* get it straight, either.  This didn't need lining, so I did French seams for a nice finish on the inside.

Pretty on the inside.  As are we all, I suppose.

I made view two, the ruffly one, and followed the directions from start to finish, which is so very unlike me!   However, they were clear and concise, and I probably did a better job for actually using them.   The pattern is also well drafted.   My one point of confusion may be a mistake on my part -- I had "cut 2" written on the neck bias binding piece, yet you only need one.  However, I HATE folding up pattern tissue, so I can live without knowing whether I erred when tracing.   Probably I did.

This top fits nicely into a big honking gap in my wardrobe, so I think I'll be making several more variants.  (My layering tops are mostly those "wifebeater" style ribbed tanks.  Hey, they're cheap and come in lots of colors!)  Anyhow, I have some china silk that seems like it would be perfect for this!   I don't see all that many blouse patterns I like, that fit with the way I actually dress:  I don't wear bottoms that hit at my waist, or tuck in tops.  Ever.

Now I'm dreaming of the other Pendrells I could make!  It's fun to think of different ways you could tweak the design, and it even inspired me to dust off my drawing skills.  Er, well, tracing skills, anyhow -- I enlarged the line drawing from the back of the pattern to use as my starting point.  Apparently I like little bows on my shirts.   On the color-blocked one, I'm not sure I have a good arrangement of blocks, but you get the idea.

I have fabric picked out for v2, but haven't decided on the design details yet (though that hasn't prevented me from cutting it out already).  I'd like to get some velvet trim, if the fabric store is open tomorrow ... if it's not, I don't think this project wants to wait, so I'll make do with whatever's on hand.

Happy holidays, everyone!

An anthropologist* at Anthropologie

I am off work until the new year, so that means lots of time to sew!  I also plan to do a few boring, practical things, like shampoo the carpets and clean out the attic, but mostly I just need some time to chill after a very busy year.   Now that I'm done rushing around, I starting to look forward to Christmas, too.  I got my first presents already: my husband went ahead and gave me a book he'd gotten me after starting to feel unsure about whether I had already read it.  (I hadn't!)  And last night, we went to Anthropologie.   Like many people who sew, I love Anthropologie, but I can't afford to shop there often.  So, it's a special occasion treat.

We agreed that I'd shoot for about two items, and then ended up blowing the budget and buying four.  However, one (black knit top with asymmetrical ruching) was a clearance item and was only $30: a steal in the land of Anthro.   Two were pants, a constant need in my wardrobe since my office is so cold, and for some reason I have trouble finding pants anywhere but Anthropologie.  Clearly I needed them both.   The final item was an embellished cardigan ("Blooms above the snow" -- naming the clothing must be someone's full-time job).  My other embellished cardigans are my favorite wardrobe items, so I just couldn't put it back either.  Fortunately I have an indulgent husband!

I also tried on lots of cute dresses, but the waistline of every single one hit up on my ribcage, a common dress fit issue for me.   It's for the best -- they wouldn't have been good buys in terms of price-per-wear.  In fact, it would have been a struggle to find places to wear the ones I liked best, which tended to be a little dressier.  They do provide good sewing inspiration, though -- these two in particular:

You can't see it well in the picture, but that navy dress (the Peggy Sue dress) is made of the most amazing basket-weave fabric!  And there's a tulle under-skirt to give it some fullness.  The second dress (the De Chelly dress) I saw featured in some magazine, and I knew even then that it wouldn't fit me (plus, I'd freeze to death in it), but I when I saw it in the store I just had to try it on.  I would love to find some fabric like that: it's just gorgeous.  And, it's cotton!

I have a finished Pendrell blouse to show you, as soon as I get some photos.  I like it a lot, and am already planning to make more.  I need cute tops to wear under cardigans!

* I have a degree in cultural anthropology -- shouldn't this get me some sort of discount?  :D

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Knowing when to say when

After several weeks with no time for sewing, I finally returned to my project-in-progress: McCalls 7985 (the much-coveted Pauline Trigere pattern), this time in a blue-based plaid.   I love the fabric, I love the pattern, and I think (well, thought) I'm getting close on the alterations.   I had cut out the dress weeks ago, so I dove straight into sewing.  First I pieced the back pieces (the fabric is 45" -- you need a 60" wide piece to cut this dress without piecing, as the skirt is cut all at once).   And what do you know ... the plaids actually matched.    Wonderful!  Amazing!  And for me, definitely far above par for the course.  However, this was the last good thing that would happen for this dress.  When I went to piece together the angled side pieces ... well, I kind of lost control of the thing.   I wanted piping to accentuate the seaming details, and used my piping foot for the first time.  That part actually was fine, and the piping looked pretty nifty if I do say so myself.  Definitely want to pipe more in the near future.  But clearly something about my updated alterations to the bodice did not add up, and so neither did the front and back pieces.  I tried trimming off the weird excess in the back bodice piece that shouldn't have been there, but I just couldn't wrestle the two sides together.  Plus there are sections that are gathered, and some that are eased, and all of them were jumping around, or so it seemed.  As I was trying to wrestle the material through the machine, it occurred to me that I was working way above my skill level.   And when I saw the sad mangle I had produced, all doubt was removed.  Yeah, I could try again, but I think that would result in nothing more than a slightly different configuration of mangle.  I don't normally feel this way about sewing failures, I promise.   This is an acceptance of fact.    
FAIL. (And that's OK.)
So, wadder.  But I feel fine about it.  At least I realized it early in the project, before too much time was invested.  And through I love the pattern,  there was no doubt I was in over my head when it comes to the necessary alterations.  I love the fabric too, but it was cheap, and there was a big ol' bolt of it, and I intend to scoot back to High Fashion Fabric and try to get some more.   Plus, I was able cut out a muslin for my next project from what was left, and I'm hoping that it'll turn into something wearable.  I could tell you about it, but the plan is to just finish it soon so that I can show you.

On an unrelated note, my Burda magazine showed up yesterday.   You might not realize that I subscribe to Burda because I haven't been inspired to sew a single Burda design in 2010.  So, now that my subscription is up, I think it's time for Burda and I to part ways.   We've grown apart style-wise.  I have no love for drop-crotch pants or weird drape-y sack-dresses.   I live near the Gulf coast, and don't need to make coats.  This latest issue did have a 1940s-inspired spread, but the blouse from that I liked wasn't offered in my size, which seems to be another Burda trend.   I might pick up Ottobre again instead -- there's less pattern bang-for-buck, but they're usually nice patterns.

This little gem from the current Burda issue is worth sharing, though.   It leaves me positively bemused.  There's something disturbing about the way the kid's face is squished in there between the octopus eyes.
I have only a few work-days left in 2010, and will wrap the year up with a nice long holiday at home.   Which, needless to say,  I am really, really looking forward to.   Sewing is definitely on the agenda!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday preparations

No sewing going on here, I'm afraid.  This time of year finds me rushing around trying to get Christmas together.  Our families doesn't live nearby, and my husband and I prefer not to travel on Christmas, so we have a lot of gifts to get in the mail.  I am happy to say that said gifts are all purchased, wrapped, and in boxes awaiting tomorrow morning's trip to the post office.  As much as I admire the beautiful hand-made things many sewists turn out this time of year, I don't have the time, and I'm not sure it's what my family would most appreciate.
I enjoy wrapping presents ... in moderation, anyhow, and while it doesn't compare with a hand-made gift, I think it does show care and consideration.  My wrapping paper preferences lean toward the more abstract evocations of the season, and I use fabric ribbon rather than paper stick-on bows, which I find don't want to stay where you put them.  I didn't count how many gifts I wrapped, but it took most of yesterday to get it all done!

For co-workers, I made dipped pretzels in white and milk chocolate.  I don't have much inclination to cook or bake, but these are simple, so I make them most years.   My husband and I will each take a tin with us to our respective offices next week, before people start to leave on vacation.
As for decorations, we just put up a little tree in our bedroom, which is where we unwrap our gifts Christmas morning.   Haven't gotten it out yet, since we need to clean up first, but the ornaments stay on the tree so setup is a two-second job.  Even with the shopping and wrapping done, somehow it's hard to believe Christmas is only two weeks away!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weekend plans

Another long week with no sewing in it for me.  That's becoming the norm, but I try to catch up on my hobbies over the weekend.   This weekend, my primary goal is not sewing, but to finish my three rolls of Kodachrome film.   Kodachrome production ceased earlier in the year, and Dwayne's photo, the last place on earth that processes it, will no longer do so after December 30.   A few months ago, I thought I would plan something special photography-wise for these last little pieces of history, but now I'll just be happy for them not to go to waste.  So I headed over to The Heights (an older neighborhood in Houston, known for its few remaining traces of Victorian architecture) this morning to get some shooting done, and will finish up tomorrow.

Bye bye, Kodachrome!

I'll have some time for sewing this weekend too, so I plan to work on round two of the Pauline Trigere pattern.   I'm not sure y'all thought much of the first version, but I still love this design, and I'm making a few more tweaks to hopefully improve the fit of the bodice.  This is what I'm working with, this time around:

The fabric is some poly-cotton (I think, anyhow) I found in the clearance area of High Fashion.  It's only 45" wide, so I'll have to piece the skirt, since the whole thing is meant to be cut at once.  I'm not sure how matching the plaids in the back is going to go -- knowing me, probably badly.   And admittedly, the plaid will not showcase the angled side seams.   That's where the pink piping comes in, though installing it may make me crazy.

Finally, I might have bought some fabric in the past week or so ... I hit High Fashion to look for coordinating fabrics for the Trigere dress, but came up empty.  But of course, I didn't come home empty-handed:

I also hit a sale at Quilt Home -- they have an ever-changing 30 percent off section, and the alignment of sale fabrics was favorable.   Who am I to argue with fate?

And then had a Black Friday, or Cyber Monday, or whatever you want to call a post-Thanksgiving sale, and I picked up some rayon challis there.  I love rayon challis, and I don't see a lot of it I find pretty.   Often it seems like they have been smacked with a circa 1980 ugly stick.  I actually bought mostly solid colors.  They're in the washer now, so no photos.  Just picture red, (lightish) navy, yellow, peridot green, and white.  And red speckled with black.   And yeah, enough fabric already.

While I was out doing the photography thing, I stuck my head into Sew Crafty Houston to check things out, and lucked into some vintage zippers and buttons:

Last but not least ... my wrist pincushion from The Cottage Cupboard on Etsy arrived!  (Though alas, I don't see any others for sale in her store right now.)  One of the designers on the latest season of Project Runway had a wrist pincushion and that made me realize I needed one.  My pincushion always seems to be just out of reach.  Anyhow, this is so comfortable to wear, I almost forgot I had it on.

OK, I think I have enough sewing supplies to last me well into the New Year now.  If only I had a big bundle of free time to go along with them!