Monday, June 30, 2008

What followed me home from Baltimore

Okay, so here's the goods. I would have probably gotten this up sooner, but I stopped to fondle the fabrics for a while and that delayed photography.

First up, I have to say A Fabric Place is pretty much heaven. The owner of my dinky local store, when I told him where I was going, said, "Oh, I know how you shop, you'll never find anything there. It's all high-end stuff." Maybe I don't shop like that in his store because he mostly stocks fleece and icky polyester with the occasional stunning remnant. I buy thread at his store.

So having proved him wrong within minutes of walking in, I fell in love with some buttons. And not the cheap variety, either. Turns out that these were $3.50 for the big ones and $2.00 for the small. I decided that I didn't care; these will look fantastic on a jacket. I got four big (for the front) and four small (for the cuffs). In the end, they cost as much as lunch. I probably could have gotten away with one for each cuff, but it was a holiday and I didn't want to skimp and regret it later. The buttons are resting on 3yards of leaf-patterned fabric that I debated buying until Michael's nephew told me it was $1 per yard, cheaper than muslin and I'd be crazy not to buy it. He was right.

The first fabric that grabbed me on walking in, though, was this gorgeous Diane von Furstenburg knit. Does this have dress written all over it or what? I can't wait to cut into it. Sharing the photo is some (not very photogenic) copper-rust poly charmeuse that probably is going to end up as a lining in something. Michael told us that anything 4 yards or less on the bolt would be 50% off. So I bought the last 3 yards.

Next was an end-of-roll boucle in olive, gold and rust (I'm not sticking to my colors at all, am I?) made for CHANEL. That trumped DVF in my books, and I'm not generally a label whore. But it was fluffy and soft and gorgeous, and even though there's not too much of it, I'll manage some kind of cute little jacket. Photographed with its lining, bought at the same time.

My big purchase of the day was this embroidered velvet. It grabbed me when I briefly stuck my head into one of the "expensive fabric" rooms, and I kept coming back to look at it. The price on the roll was $150 per yard. I don't actually know how I had the nerve to pick it up and drag it to the cutting table and say, "How much?"

The nephew actually fondled the fabric too. "It's Versace," he said, almost worshipfully, "that's why it's so expensive. How much did you want?"

How much is it?" "How much do you want?" This went on for a while, until I finally said, "$50. How much can I get for $50?" And he said, "3/4 of a yard." Sold. Gasp. I spent $50 for less than a yard of fabric. How come I feel both dizzy and ecstatic?

So now I have 3/4 yard (60" wide, at least) of ridiculously, excessively, gorgeously embroidered VERSACE velvet. Whatever pattern I choose is going to be muslined out the yingyang before I cut into this. Though it's already looking a little worn from being petted so often, and the photo doesn't do it justice at all.

"And it would have been the fabric that followed me home in my head, the one I would have regretted. I would have ended up calling them about it, only I wouldn't have gotten as good a price over the phone, post-sale and possibly with Michael or Monya. There's no buyer's remorse here, just a sense of shock and awe that I own a piece of Versace and I get to decide what it becomes.

What a responsibility.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

PR goes to Baltimore

Having this much fun should be illegal. Kisha and I got started on Saturday morning around 7:30, and we arrived at A Fabric Place at about 9:45. While she got hijacked into helping put snacks together for the soon-to-arrive PR ladies, I got a quick, mind-boggling tour of the store. Every time I stopped and said, "Ooh, I like that," she firmly took my elbow and said, "There's more. You can come back." I'm still not sure I revisited every "ooh" but I did plenty of damage.

The most fun thing about these meetups, even including fabric-buying, is talking to all these other women who I only know from online, but who within seconds of meeting I'm talking to like I've known them forever. It's a powerful obsession we all share, and I think we're all eager to have someone to share it with besides our patient (but not necessarily comprehending friends, family and partners). I saw people I've met before - Deepika, Cindy, Renee - and met people who I know from their blogs - Narcissaqpie, Robin Denning - and many people, including several named Chris, who I'd never met before. Plus there was Kisha. We drove together but had never met before that morning. Ah, the power of sewing.

After we finished shopping (or almost finished, I know for a fact that several of us stopped back later), we drove to the Dogwood Deli for lunch. Kisha and I thought we were following the car we had been told to follow, but somewhere along the line we lost them and started following a completely different car. We realized this only when we followed the poor man to his driveway. But he knew where the Dogwood Deli was, and gave us good directions, so it was all good in the end.

Lunch was fun - there were 22 of us keeping the waitstaff hopping - and more sewing was discussed. It's amazing how none of us managed to run out of words, though I did start to run out of voice by the end of the day.

After lunch we split up. Several of the women were going to G Street Fabrics, and we were tempted, but we decided to head back to Philadelphia and stop at Jomar instead. But even the best made plans of sewists can go awry. We left the deli, stopped back at A Fabric Place so Kisha could get the last piece of black and white linen (the one everyone was buying to make the Michelle Obama dress), and headed on our way.

All was well until we slowed to go through the toll at Perryville. We slowed; the car stopped. And stayed stopped. After we were pushed to the side of the road, Kisha called her husband (to come get us), the tow company (to get us to the dealership) and her father (to diagnose the car problem). All of which got done in record time, but while we were sitting in the (thankfully) air conditioned car, we were very grateful that Renee had lent me an entire bag of Patrones magazines. Time passed a little more quickly when we could sit there and ooh and aah over patterns. Thank you, Renee.

Eventually we got towed to Wilmington and met up with Kisha's husband and baby girl, and by 7:00 p.m. I was on my doorstep, where Mario was waiting with a chilled glass of wine that I most desperately needed. All in all, we didn't get home all that much later than we would have if we'd stopped at Jomar! Which will happen at a later date, we've agreed on that.

There will be a separate post about my fabric purchases, which were not large (by PR shopping standards anyway), but which cost me a pretty penny and not one of which I regret. Though I bought one fabric that I surely would have regretted leaving behind, even though I could afford so little of it I'm not sure what I'm going to use it for. Yet. Inspiration will come.

Note: In adition to my own pictures, I have absconded with the photos of others to fully illustrate my tale. Some photo credits to Renee and Robin.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Into the light

Ann at Gorgeous Things did a brilliant post recently about the many easy ways to ruin a great project. I've been guilty of just about every thing on her list, and as I commented on her blog, the only reason I haven't been guilty of trimming myself up like grandma's favorite chair is the exorbitant price of home dec trimmings at my local store - good judgment and/or taste might not have stopped me, but cheapness did.

On the flip side, isn't it fabulous when you reach the point where you (generally) stop committing these fabric faux pas? I think the last stumbling block for me was using cheap interfacing, but I just ordered the sampler pack from Sew Exciting and I know I'm going to like it, just from listening to everyone else's comments. How many times do you have to put everything you've got into a project only to wash it once and watch the cuffs and collar get all ripply because you used the cheap crap from Joann's?

So when does it become clear? When do you stop taking the shortcuts that really aren't shortcuts? I've been sewing for years on years, but I really only consider that I've been doing it seriously since I joined Patternreview in early 2006. Before that, I sewed, off and on, since I was a kid, and I even wore a lot of what I made, but I was never happy with my results and the stuff always ended up in the back of the closet. I truly thought it was because home sewers could only produce a certain level of work, that the really good stuff was beyond us - RTW apparently was manufactured in some mystical place where everything just worked. They had special fabrics, better machines; they knew stuff that I didn't. (That last part was true, at least).

I didn't realize, until I started more or less living on Patternreview, that regular people could - and very frequently did - create garments that looked like RTW. Only better, because they fit exactly the way they wanted. Because they were exactly the right color, the right fabric, the right length.

Sewing wasn't just about picking out a pattern that I thought was cute, cutting out fabric that was pretty, crossing my fingers, doing whatever the pattern said and letting the machine do all the work. When I realized that, things started to change. Sewing was more than just reading and following the pattern instructions - and it really helped if I read the instructions before I started sewing. It was also about thinking. It was about reading sewing books, blogs, everything I could lay my hands on. It was retraining myself to not take the quick way, because it would show. It was the HUGE lightbulb moment that sewing = ironing. A lot of ironing. Which I normally hate like poison, and I still resent having to iron my clothes, but during construction? Hand me that iron, baby! That seam needs pressing.

Not surprisingly, the more work that I put into a garment, the better it turned out, and the more I liked wearing it. It only takes that happening a few times before you want it to happen EVERY time. Soon it becomes second nature to take the long way, to make a muslin for a new pattern, to try a new technique I've been afraid of. (My life changed when I got over my fear of invisible zippers). And I've stopped keeping the "good stuff" for when I'm "good enough" to use it. What's my motivation to become good enough if I'm sewing with cheap fabric and even if I like the result it won't survive a half dozen trips through the wash?

This isn't to say that I'm cured of short cuts or (brilliant) stupid ideas, and I'm sure there are plenty more wadders in my future, but at this point, I know that if nothing else, I'll learn something from the wadder projects, even if it's only to keep focused and resist the temptation to take the easy way out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Small accomplishments

One of the benefits of getting older is that you finally begin to understand how your brain works.

I know not everyone is like this, but for me, I have to know I've accomplished something to be able to accomplish anything. Like dusting the house because I'm supposed to dust? Nah, but if I leave it go until the difference between clean and dusty is visible, then I'll know I've cleaned. Make a small dinner or go all out? If I'm going to have to clean the kitchen either way, then all out is the way to go. Make a mess so it's worth the effort of cleaning it up.

Same deal with sewing. I can putter along endlessly on projects and never actually notice how much I've gotten done, but this year, I decided to be organized. Most of this "organization" came about because I decided to do the Fabric Fast on Patternreview, and I wanted to keep a running total of how much I was using. But I also wanted to start keeping better track of my projects and I knew that I wouldn't keep up with a notebook, so I "borrowed" an 18 x 24 piece of foam board from my office - they use the stuff for trial exhibits and then just keep it forever - and made myself a chart. The chart had categories: start date, yardage, notions, notes/ issues, whether or not it's been photographed and reviewed, and date completed. I actually kept up with it, and cut tiny swatches of the fabric to stick on the chart.

A few nights ago, I filled it. Since January 1, I've somehow made 35 projects, and used up (or donated) 103 yards of fabric. There have only been 3 true wadders, and the projects I haven't been completely happy with (but which are still wearable) have been documented as to why I'm not happy and what I could do to fix them if I make the patterns again.

In the beginning, it was pressure to write each project into the chart as I started, but as I went along I started enjoying it, seeing how many things I'd already gotten finished and how much I was actually working on at any given time. Now that I'm done, my only project last night was to make a new chart to start filling in this weekend.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

BWOF 5/08 #121 Dress

Pattern Description: This calf-length dress in softly flowing jersey also looks great on ladies with fuller figures! A wide sash emphasizes the waist, the sleeves are cut-in-one with the garment. That's not only trendy, it's also very flattering!

Pattern Sizing: BWOF 38-46. I made a 38, which was just right.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Better, because you can actually see it. (Who takes BWOF's photos?)

Were the instructions easy to follow? I'm so glad I wasn't the first person to make this dress, because BWOF's instructions for the neckline bands were fairly incomprehensible, and the amount of fabric they thought this dress required was crazy - they suggest 3.5 meters and it took approximately 2 1/4 the way I did it. I didn't understand the faux-wrap idea to begin with - why use that much fabric if the dress doesn't actually wrap? So a round of applause to Tany for eliminating the wrap idea completely and sewing the ties into the sides of the waist. It worked for her, and it worked for me. And can I say how much I hate it when BWOF refers you to another pattern for instructions? The entire neck/sleeve/shoulder gather construction was under #120, so I had to flip back and forth, which added nothing to the experience.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I have to say (once again) that I didn't notice this pattern in the magazine except to think, "What idiot would photograph an all-black dress in a pose like that and want me to see the details? What details? Where are they?" Even the drawing didn't intrigue me, but then I saw Tany's review, and Merteuil'sand Kay Y's andSigrid's, and I was done for. I really like the all-in-one sleeve and the shoulder gathers look really graceful.

Fabric Used: Fabulous spotted stretch jersey purchased at Dreyfus in Paris with Nicegirl. We went fabric shopping on Pentecost Monday, so most of the stores were closed, but we managed, oh, yes, we did. For contrast: black jersey from Kincus in Philadelphia, purchased while shopping with Elaray. So this is definitely a special dress to me.

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made: As mentioned above, and in the other reviews, I eliminated the second layer of skirt in the front, which brought the fabric down to a manageable amount. (I also think that much fabric would really make the dress heavy and possibly affect the hang of the skirt, but maybe not). I cut the ties at half-width because I was running low on spotted fabric and I backed them with solid black. The ties were sewn into the side seams instead of BWOF's way, since I wasn't doing the dress as a wrap. I really think these changes make for a better pattern, and more wearable dress, than the original version.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I highly recommend this dress. Once you work your way through the maze of how to put bands on the neck area, it doesn't take long to finish. I'd make it again, either as a dress or as a longer top than what they have in the magazine. It's a flattering shape and drapes well.

Conclusion: This is my first dress made from stretch fabric, and all in all, I enjoyed the experience. I've yet to hem it because I'm still trying to decide on the length, but I'll get there.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Public Service Announcement/Shameless Advertisement

I've been sewing with BWOF for about 2 years now, and only finally gave in and got a subscription last fall when Borders stopped carrying it for 3 months and I missed out on some good stuff. And had to pay ridiculous inflated prices on Ebay to get the issues I missed (and paid it gladly, mind you - September and October were especially good issues).

During that time, Mario's been sitting back watching me obsess, hunt and eventually get a subscription. Now all I have to do is obsess and wait for the mailman. Whenever he saw extra issues at Borders he'd buy them and put them on Ebay, but purchasing at retail prices meant he had to raise the price to make a profit. Eventually, when he realized that the madness was not confined to me and there were people who would buy it every month, he got a deal to be a distributor for the magazine.

So here's my shameless bit of advertising for the man who endures my absence in the sewing room every night: on his website (where he sells used books and textbooks through, Ebay and Amazon), you can also buy the current issue of BWOF, or pre-order for next month. Or, I believe, get your very own subscription and stop haunting the local bookstore - where the cover price has gone up to an obscene $12.50 per copy now. I'm putting a link on my sidebar and will go back to my regularly scheduled sewing.

I hope no one is offended by the advertising, but I know how hard it is to find BWOF sometimes, and I'd publish this link for someone not connected to me if I thought it would help a fellow addict get her Burda fix.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

It's a Miracle!

Like I said before, if I got a dress out of the 1.6 meters of Liberty print I bought in Paris, it would be a miracle on par with the loaves and the fishes, so here it is: the Loaves & Fishes dress, ever after to be called that, to the confusion of almost everyone.

I was almost done this for a very long time. After I finished the shirt, I went back to it and the skirt issues sorted themselves out immediately. Then I made the belt, pocket and finished up the sleeves. The pocket is probably one of my favorite parts, but I really like the sleeves, too.

I had button issues, because out of all the probably millions of buttons I inherited from my grandmom, two aunts and my mother, I didn't manage to have four matching vintage buttons that looked right for this dress. After much hemming and hawing, and a trip to the store to discover they didn't have anything I liked better, I went with my instinct and used some domed buttons that I think were my grandmom's - there were three blue and two tan, and I needed four buttons, so I alternated them. It's kind of kitschy, but because it's a faux-vintage dress, I think a little kitsch is allowed.

The pictures on me aren't as nice as I would like, but between self-timer and extremely hot living room, my efforts were limited because the dress kept sticking to me.

There were times I thought I'd never get this done, but in the end, it's a project I'm really glad I tackled. One of the most fun parts of sewing for me is knowing that I can (more or less) cobble together features from different patterns that I've liked and come out with a wearable dress that looks like the idea I had in my head when I started out. It was a challenge from start to finish, and I enjoyed almost every moment of it - even though it took me longer to make this one dress than it did to construct the dress, top and skirt whose pieces made up the bulk of this dress.

Part of me wants to go in and sew today, another part says I need to clean up my swamplike sewing space before I sew another stitch (the room is so messy I've lost the instruction book for my sewing machine, and since I never read it all the way through when I bought it, I like to keep it on hand), but what I'm actually going to do is finish up the demolition work on the room that's going to (someday) become a walk-in closet. It was a bathroom, now it's just a dirty little storage area, but hopefully by the end of summer it will be a nice, clean room with two Ikea wardrobes for my clothes, a dresser for the off-season sweaters and stuff and, of course, the litterboxes back in the corner behind a screen. The cats can't be inconvenienced, not even by my need for closet space.

So you can see I wasn't kidding, here's what's left of the Liberty:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Retail Therapy

Not that I needed retail therapy, but I was out walking at lunchtime and happened to pass Buffalo Exchange, my favorite consignment shop. I don't buy a lot there - I don't buy a lot of clothes these days, period - but I do like to look at stuff for inspiration. Well, what inspired me today were a pair of ridiculously cute BCBGirls shoes. White, with pink and yellow flowers and tiny little pink kitten heels. In my size. Completely unworn, and only $20. Well, how could I not?

For basically the same price, when you add on shipping, I also acquired one of the new HotPatterns today. While I loved the Carrie-d Away skirt suit (I thought SJP's "vintage" suit was so cute in the SATC movie, though if it was 2008 Christian Dior, why did they call it vintage? Why couldn't they just have found an adorable vintage suit?), I didn't think I would make it anytime soon. I do want to try more wearable HotPatterns one of these days, but going by my previous results I'm not an easy fit and I really didn't feel like making a muslin of that jacket, at least not right now.

The Metropolitan Homage (to YSL) tote bag is a whole different kettle of fish, though. That has my name all over it. I think depending on your choice of fabric or leather, that one has almost everyone's name all over it.

Here's HotPatterns description: "Celebrating the design genius of the legendary Yves Saint Laurent, and inspired by the YSL Tribute bag, this fabulous oversized Tote is designed for decorator canvas, denim, corduroy, twill or brocade-but it will also rock in real or faux suede or leather. Oversized Tote has a darted base, with shoulder straps, snap or magnetic fastening, optional luggage-tag trim, and side zipper openings at each side. Tote is lined with interior zippered, cell phone and small open pockets. This spectacular Tote will make a great everyday bag for all seasons...make it in sturdy canvas for a perfect beachbag; try it in real or faux suede or leather for work; work it up in denim and pad it with some quilt batting for a totally stylin’ laptop/notebook bag."

I may put together a fabric version as a test run and give it to someone as a gift, but to me it's definitely a statement bag and needs to be made up as such. I'm going to stop in at Leather Suede Skins next time I'm in NYC and buy enough leather to make one for myself in screaming red leather. Now that's a statement.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

BWOF 6/08 #124 Knit Top with Gathers

Pattern Description: T-shirt with "clever gathers and mock wrap over front." I don't think it looks like even a "mock wrap," but I'll agree on the gathers.

Pattern Sizing: 34-42. I made my standard BWOF 38.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Surprisingly so for BWOF. The pattern was also pretty intuitive, so I just checked in with them every so often to make sure I wasn't lost.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I didn't give this pattern a second glance in the magazine - the description sounded interesting but the photograph really didn't show any of the details. I decided to give it a shot because of the drawing, and then before I'd even gotten mine cut out the reviews started appearing on PR and I knew I'd made the right choice.

Fabric Used: Poly lycra jersey from Gorgeous Fabrics called "Me and my Medallions." Yummy, and the perfect weight - the really lightweight jerseys get sucked into my sewing machine and sometimes fight back when I use the double needle, but this was not only gorgeous but cooperative.

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made: None, really. Like Gelbean, I didn't like the facings, but I think I finally got them to stay put. There's always topstitching, which may happen in the end. I was planning on making this as a sleeveless top, and I saved cutting the sleeves for last, but it turned out I had enough fabric for sleeves after all. In my air-conditioned office, that's probably a plus.

It went together really easily - sometimes BWOF patterns have a little too much personality of their own but this really wanted to be sewn up. Also, lots of BWOF tops lately have been too short, but this one was a great length and I didn't need to add to it.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I would definitely make another one of these, maybe in a solid color. The top has nice details, and the gathers on the sides are flattering - and fairly concealing.

Conclusion: A quick and easy top that doesn't look particularly quick or easy.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A little (more) shopping

Not that I needed any more patterns, but I was blog-wandering today at lunchtime and saw KS 3575 on LooHoo Originals. What a pretty, simple dress! I loved that she did it in a stretch instead of the recommended woven and immediately thought "Hey, I should buy something for this pattern when I’m in Baltimore," except that I just placed an order with Gorgeous Fabrics, and when it arrived today, I realized I bought the perfect fabric before I found the pattern - the absolutely gorgeous Burning Bush Jersey.

But since I bought the pattern through Patternreview (of course), I couldn't just buy one. There were a few other goodies on my wish list, and I always wait to order until I have enough patterns on my list to qualify for free shipping. So today's other purchases were KS 3614 (I loved Dawn's shorts and I need a few new pair to fit the new body), KS 3620 shirt (the tie variation reminds me a lot of the BWOF blouse I keep meaning to make) and New Look 6774, because who can resist a pattern with this many options? Not me, anyway.

Tonight I'm laundering the fabrics I bought Saturday with Elaray and the rest of my Gorgeous acquisitions, but while that's in the washer and dryer, I might just cut out BWOF 6/08 #124 - there were two adorable versions of this on PR today, and it looks fast and easy, which is right up my alley at the moment. I'm going to use another fabulous fabric - Me and My Medallions jersey. I loved this on the website, but I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the box to find out it was even prettier.

Still in shirt recovery, I need a few fast and easy projects, and I don't want to hold off sewing tonight until my fabric is dry so that I can work on the BWOF 5/08 #122 dress. Tomorrow is another day for that one.

My last Gorgeous fabric is the one that originally caused me to place the order, a stretch twill called "Perambulating the Piazza." (I would have probably bought it for the name, even if it hadn't (a) been a stripe, which I love right now, (b) been all my favorite and most flattering colors, and (c) been priced so as to be hard to resist.

So I didn't.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

I hadn't planned to do an entry for Father's Day, since my dad passed away when I was 9 years old, in 1973, but we went to visit Mario's family this weekend and his mom wanted to stop at the cemetery and leave flowers. His dad has only been gone a few years.

It got me to thinking about how much someone is still in your life, no matter how long they've been gone from it.

I was an only child, and my parents were married for 10 years before I was born. My dad was 20 years older than my mother, and one of 12 kids. He always wanted a big family, but it never happened, so when I came along, he was thrilled.

My dad worked as a fireman and also did maintenance at a local college (it probably took two jobs just to keep me in toys), so I didn't see a whole lot of him, but I don't think I noticed because the time we spent together was so memorable.

Sometimes he would come home from a late shift at the firehouse and if he couldn't sleep he'd wake me up. Like a lot of firemen, he was a good, basic cook, but for some reason that I never knew, what he really liked was to make candy. So we'd go downstairs at midnight and make candy, old-fashioned stuff that all the relatives liked: fudge, taffy apples, peanut brittle, sponge candy, turkish delight. My mom would wake up the next morning to a trashed kitchen, a chocolate-smeared kid and an offering on the table. She dealt with it pretty well.

As an only child, I got showered with more love and more stuff than any kid really needed. Both my parents had grown up poor, and to them doing right by me meant getting me every new doodad that Mattel produced, particularly if it came in a pink box and had blonde hair. I had enough Barbies to people a village. I had enough dream houses to build the village, come to think of it.

And still it wasn't enough for my dad. Christmas, birthdays, holidays: there weren't enough gift-giving occasions in the normal calendar, so he created non-occasions, and came up with the Surprise Man. According to him, the Surprise Man was a nice older man in a trench coat and a fedora, who liked to give presents to good little girls. Jeez, try to sell that nowadays! He would come home with gifts out of nowhere, and the Surprise Man would get credit, particularly if my mom sighed and said, "Oh, Ed," in that 'She already has 38 Barbies, 10 Kens, 8 Skippers and a stable of horses for them to ride, does she really need a beach house?' voice. He would just blink at her and say, "But the Surprise Man gave it to me. I couldn't say no."

I even got to see the Surprise Man once. It was dusk, and my mom and I were waiting in the car by the firehouse. My dad got out and walked up to the corner, and then I saw him - from behind a tree came a tall man, wearing a long coat and a hat that shaded his face. He pulled out a shopping bag and handed my dad a wrapped package and then walked quickly away. Thinking about it later, it was probably one of the other firemen helping him out, but seeing the Surprise Man was more exciting to me than whatever was in that wrapped package.

So here's to my dad, the original Surprise Man. Still surprisingly missed, after all these years.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I had a play date!

Nothing beats fabric shopping with a friend.

After talking about it, and emailing about it, Elaray and I finally got together on Saturday morning to do a little shopping on 4th Street. We both like Kincus and PA Fabric Outlet, and both stores gave us a little something we wanted.

Kincus has beautiful stuff but I generally think of them as out of my price range - unless, as it turns out, you go in looking for something specific that's not too pricy. I've been looking for leopard-print cotton since we got home from Paris (there was a black-with-leopard-accents shirt that impressed someone) and they had Alexander Henry cottons for $7.95 per yard. I also picked up 2 yards of an Alexander Henry novelty print with wine bottles and travel posters which is going to be a Hawaiian shirt and a gift for a friend.

For myself, I picked up 2 yards of black stretch jersey. I was working on BWOF 5/08 #122, using the spotted jersey I bought in Paris and I wanted black for the contrast bands. It turned out that the black jersey I had was navy blue, so our shopping trip came just in time.

PA Fabric Outlet provided some buttons and a discontinued pattern. I stayed below my self-imposed budget for the day and had a fabulous time. Thanks, Lee!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bragging Rights

I have to post this, after all the work (and blogging) that went into this shirt. Not only do I love how it turned out, as does he, but it also served its intended purpose by clearing the clog in my brain and allowing me to think about other projects. I won't post the whole review because I said more here than I did there.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

BWOF 5/07 #123 - Dress with Gathers

Pattern Description: A mid-summer night's dream in fabulously fluid silk ... This frock flatteringly follows the figure, with a retro-style belt cinching the waist. The feminine effect accentuated by the slight flaring of the skirt. This style will particularly please rather flat-chested women because the gathered bodice charmingly enhances the bust!

Okay, for those who haven't drunk the Kool-Aid, that means "cute summery dress with center front gathers, side front gathers under the arms and gathers across the shoulders." Not sure sure about the "charming enhancement" bit, but it doesn't make the girls look too big, so I'm okay with it. There's an invisible zip down the back.

Pattern Sizing: BWOF 36-44. I'm almost always a straight 38 in BWOF, and this was no exception.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Like the drawing, anyway. The photograph doesn't show most of the interesting detail. Isn't that usually the case? My changes, such as they were, are mostly invisible.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Meh. I read them, but a lot of the instructions didn't apply because of my changes. However, their instructions for lining and turning the dress confused the heck out of me and I was glad that I'd already decided not use a lining.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I traced off this pattern not long after I got the magazine but never got around to making it last summer. The other day, since the weather was in the 90s and the only cool place in my house was the sewing room, I decided that what I really needed were a few more airy cotton dresses to beat the heat. I wanted a dress without a lot of pattern pieces because I didn't want to break up this fabric more than necessary. That being said, it was also an adventure in cutting to make sure I didn't end up with a big heart in the wrong place! This dress only has front and back pieces, seamed down the middle, with darts in the back. I liked the gathers and how they appear to make the dress more fitted than it is; they also make it look more complicated than it really is.

Fabric Used: Cotton batiste picked up in Paris on my recent vacation. This was a purchase from one of the "coupon" (remnant) stores, 12 euros for 3 meters. Backed with chocolate brown cotton because the batiste was so lightweight that I was afraid it would stretch out of shape as I sewed. I tried backing it with white and it just made the colors more vibrant.

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made: If I'd used a different fabric, I probably would have sewn this as is, but with the batiste, I decided that rather than making a separate lining, I would underline the batiste in a slightly heavier cotton so that the dress wouldn't get all baggy the first time I sweated in it. Losing the sewn-in lining left left me with the issue of finishing the neck and armholes, so I cut facings for them out of the dress fabric. The batiste was light enough that I could cut a one-piece facing for the front and have no problems pressing it down for the v-neck.

The pattern is very well drafted. The instructions give measurements for the gathered areas, and everything lined up perfectly. I didn't gather the shoulders until after I added the neck facing; I thought that having the extra layer of fabric there would give more support in a stressful area - the front and side gathers are sewn into seams which anchor them, but without the lining, I had visions of the shoulder gathers ungathering. Just to be triple-safe, I made a loop/band to sew over the gathers. It maybe overkill, but it looks like a design choice, so that's even better.

My one quibble with the fit is that the armholes are just a titch too snug. Not uncomfortable, but if I make this again I'll cut them a little bigger. Just an FYI, 'cause most of us don't have those wonderful thin little arms. I know I don't.

I didn't make the belt. I'm not big on belts; they emphasize my lack of defined waist, rather than define it. I think the dress looks better as a smooth line rather than being yanked in at the middle.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Absolutely, on both counts. This was a fast and easy dress, and I'd like to make another one. I don't think it's so distinctive that I couldn't use two in my wardrobe. You could also definitely add sleeves to this one to take it into fall.

Conclusion: I love this dress. It's fitted without being tight, sexy without being obvious. For BWOF, the neck isn't low at all, and the full shoulders guarantee that straps aren't issue. I don't have a bad thing to say about this one.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The heat is on

Apparently the creative part of my brain is heat activated. The whole reason for making this shirt for Mario was because I got stuck on the dress and needed a break. So yesterday afternoon, after solving the heat issue in the workroom by installing the air conditioner I always said I didn't want in there, I did all the buttonholes - and the only one that gave me any trouble at all was the buttonhole on the collar stand, which is a matter of a small area, too many layers of fabric and not enough patience on my part.

I was so pleased about the buttonholes that I went on and did the hem. The buttons, however, have yet to be sewn on because I was going to do them last night while we were in the living room but it was too hot in the living room (the air conditioner having been put in the workroom window instead) to turn on the lights. So I browsed my new issue of BWOF by tv light and then, at about 10:00, I decided I needed to visit my dress.

Where does it come from, when all of a sudden your mojo comes back? I walked in, took a look at the skirt that I couldn't get to hang properly from the bodice, took a handful of straight pins and it went right together. I just didn't have the angle of the skirt back hanging properly, and I needed to raise the front a little more, a waist seam smack at the widest point of the hip not being anyone's best look. Within minutes, I had it basted together and it actually resembled what I had in mind all along. It did seem to sit a little awkwardly compared to my idea, but I decided that was because the skirt was flat-fronted and I needed something to define my waist. So I made a sash, Liberty on one side and tan cotton on the other.

After breakfast today I retired to my nicely cool room and made magic. I doublechecked my work from last night and the skirt still worked, so I sewed the joining seam and pressed it. Then I started thinking about the sleeves.

I'd wanted to do something with a gather that would tie into the collar, but I couldn't think exactly how I wanted to do it. Claire suggested a small sleeve from Butterick 4799 in response to my post Pattern Recycling. Thank you, Claire!

What I ended up with was a combination of her suggestion and my original idea of a gathered sleeve. I measured how far over my shoulder I wanted the sleeve to come, then doubled that measurement and cut out a sleeve-shape. A sort of sleeve-shape, anyway. I machine gathered the top back to the original 9" measurement and pinned it to the dress, which was resting comfortably on Evelyn.

Once I had the shape I wanted, I hand-gathered the bottom of the sleeve so that it lightly cupped the top of my shoulder. I checked how much fabric I had left and there was enough to make (non-bias) tape for each sleeve. Since the dress is lined with white batiste, I simply turned the rest of the armholes under and will hand-sew those seams.

Trying the dress on with the sleeves and the belt, I really liked the look but still felt that something was missing. I decided to add a pocket. Of course there wasn't enough fabric left to make a pocket, so it's a three-parter, bottom, stripe of gathered accent fabric, top, the whole thing lined in batiste and sewed to the right hip. The top of the pocket is right at the seam line, which looks more flattering than it sounds. Once it's all together, I'll post pictures on me.

I love working flat-out like that, when it's hard for my fingers to keep up with the ideas my head throws at me. I worked up a sweat sewing in air conditioning, and it feels fabulous.

Tonight, those shirt buttons, so that I can start thinking about the finish work on the dress.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Button, Button

I've got buttons! I really didn't think I'd manage to find something I liked at my very first stop, but sometimes you get lucky. On Friday lunchtime I walked down to Karlin's at 8th and Filbert Streets. It's a fairly small store, but the only place in center city where I can buy thread. I buy other things, too - they get decent remnants from manufacturers and other stores - but it's ridiculous that my only source for thread is over 4 miles from my house.

Anyway, I went down with a scrap of my shirt fabric and the two buttons I'd picked out as color samples. While one of the girls was pulling down anything they had in the same general color range, I went digging through the box of sale buttons, and I found the perfect buttons. Go figure.

I still wasn't 100% certain - I was pretty set on something in the purple range - but my better judgment, and the opinions of 5 customers, male and female - pushed me over the edge. So I bought 2 bags, 7 buttons in each, for $2.50 total. That excited me so much I came home and finished the shirt.

Had a little time on my hands yesterday at work and I spent it usefully, doing a little blog-browsing. Pam at Off The Cuff Style very conveniently had a recent tutorial about shirt cuffs and collars, and I printed them out and stuck them in the pattern envelope for future reference.

The collar advice I used immediately, because every time I sew a collar on a shirt, I have to pick it off and sew it again. Which is something that the ends of the collar stand really don't like. This time I took her advice about pinning the center, then pinning each end of the collar stand exactly, and sewing inward from the end for about an inch (reasoning that an inch isn't too much to pick out if something goes wrong). Then sew the other end, and if that's working, keep going until you reach the stitches at the end where you started. Then you take the inside of the band, which was already folded and pressed, and topstitch from the bottom all the way around the band.

Trust me, she says it much more clearly than I ever could.

Let's just say it worked. Really well. This is probably the best-looking collar stand I've ever done, and it's partly because I didn't wear out the fabric sewing and picking, sewing and picking. But whatever, it looks good.

I was so pleased that I got the collar done without too much bloodshed (negligible straight pin vs. finger incident, but whatever) that I started right in and put on the cuffs. Which behaved equally well.

Today, if my workroom drops below 100, I might get to the buttonholes. Right now, it's a sauna in there, and that's not the most relaxing condition in which to try not to screw up a dozen buttonholes. So it may wait until evening.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Yipes, Stripes

We went out last night (Ethiopian food with a group of 20 neighbors), so not much got done. When we got in, I sewed the shoulder seams, but that was about it. There's nothing like being prevented from working on a project to make you absolutely desperate to get at it.

Tonight I sewed the sleeves and pin-fit the body of the shirt. Mario was patient, probably because I didn't stick him with any pins this time. Side seams are now done, including the topstitching. Not that the topstitching shows, but I read my David Page Coffin, I know what I have to do.

The sleeve plackets are also attached, and the pleats basted down. The horizontally-striped plackets are my absolute favorite part of this shirt so far. My liking of the plackets made me re-cut the collar band - originally it was cut so that the stripes ran longways, with the collar, but I decided that the collar band also needed to be short stripes. I like it better this way, and it's not a part of the shirt that's really visible anyway.

Once again, though, I got a late start, so I ended up just sewing the collar and topstitching it, and then attaching the collar to the collar band. No way am I going to attempt a collar band any time after 10:00 p.m. I've learned from that mistake. More times than I care to remember.

Tomorrow night is going to be quiet; after we make dinner, I'm retiring to the back room to wrestle with the collar and maybe, just maybe, interface and attach the cuffs. Did I mention the cuffs? Did I mention that since the sleeves were cut on the straight grain, I felt the need to cut the cuffs on the bias? Did I mention it takes a brave and wonderful man to wear a shirt like this?

Before I meandered my way out to the computer, I sifted through the button stash. I knew that despite having the accumulated button stash of the ages, I wouldn't have anything exactly right for this shirt, but I was looking for a color match more than anything. I found two - a mid-range lilac and a light gold. The gold is kind of scary, but scary in a good way. I like it with the yellow stripes (which are just not as visible in photographs as I would like), and the lilac is pretty. Maybe a little safe, but probably the best choice in the long run.