Monday, July 30, 2012

Down Mexico Way

There's a little packrat problem in my house.  I came by it honestly, last in a long line of packrats.  Mario's more minimal, but I think I'm rubbing off.  And our housemate, well, her level of acquisition could qualify her as a blood relative.

We've been trying to clean out a bit recently, and when she came downstairs with a few bags loaded for the thrift store, I naturally had to rummage through them to see what she was getting rid of.  (Needless to say, she was doing the same thing with my boxes).  Turns out she was getting rid of some old linens.

I have a weakness for old linens.  And because I have to choose the most difficult thing to try to make work, the one piece that really called out to me (though I took 4 pieces) was a 1950s-60s era kitschy Mexican-themed tablecloth, square, 4x4, with several spots and a nice tear in it.  But I loved the print and I wanted to try to save it.

I used Simplicity 5204, my TNT blouse pattern - it's a basic shape, doesn't use too much fabric, and it has vertical darts in the front which, as it turned out, could be finagled to lay right over the tear so that I could use the motifs around it.  Somehow, I managed to cut the entire blouse from the tablecloth - I only had to piece the under collar and the very bottom of one of the facings.  I do wish I'd been able to place the motifs a bit better, but again, the fabric limited what I could do.  When I was finished, there weren't enough scraps to make a matching dinner napkin.

Once I got the blouse constructed, I knew I had to go further.  The colors, while still good, were somewhat faded.  I decided to indulge my latest obsession and got out the embroidery floss and outlined the motifs with red, yellow and green stitching.  The final touch - little red buttons that look like candy.

And the result?  It's kitschy - good grief, it's almost choking on its own kitsch - but it makes me smile.  I think it'll be a rainy day top, something when I need a little brightening up.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Stash Building

In lieu of stash pictures, I give you Max  --- I call this
look Mr. CurlyWhiskers
I know, I'm supposed to be stash busting, not building.  Oops.  But when Claudine asked if I wanted to accompany her on her yearly pilgrimage to London Textiles in Cherry Hill, NJ, I couldn't say no.

Well, I guess I could have, but I'm not crazy.  London Textiles has great fabrics - there's some very high end stuff on rolls on their shelves, but my favorite is the remnant area in the front where you get to bin dive in what are basically appliance boxes filled with pieces of those same high end fabrics.  Heaven.

I took public transportation to NJ and Claudine picked me up at the train, so from the start I knew my shopping would be limited by what I could carry on 2 different trains and then on the walk home.  I took one of my trusty Patternreview tote bags and determined I would buy nothing more than I could stuff in it.

Easier said than done, but on the other hand, fabric is soft (even if it's heavy) and I managed to cram 11 different remnants into my bag.  A not inconsiderable addition to my stash wall.

I got knits in white, black and charcoal gray, and also a wool blend in tomato red.  Two pieces of a lightweight Anna Sui silk will eventually become a blouse.  An ivory lace with some lilac will become . . . something.  I don't know; it was pretty; I couldn't help myself.  I also got the last remaining piece of the black and white spotted fabric with cherries that anyone who went to the Philadelphia PR Weekend will remember.  Why didn't I buy it at the time?  And why is the piece I bought just under 1 yard?

There's a toasty-brown sweater knit that is calling out to be a major piece of my fall wardrobe.  An embroidered denim wants to be a long skirt.

And the last piece, the one that they threw in for free because it had obviously had pattern pieces cut out of it, is the one talking to me the loudest.  Go figure.  It's black, which I don't wear a whole lot, but it's got texture, and attitude, and if I cut very creatively, I can turn it into . . . something.  Stay tuned.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Time in Between: a book review

The internet hasn’t been too cooperative lately. You know how I feel about that. Technology and I aren’t the closest of friends, and I get the feeling that the more I swear at my computer, the harder it’s digging in its heels not to cooperate.

I’ve been sewing in a minor way, embroidering a bit more, and reading. Reading and embroidering work better when stationed in front of a fan. I read something recently that I want to pass on, because not only was it a really fun read (think vacation – I’d have loved this on the beach) but it had sewing in it. How often does that happen?

The Time in Between, by Maria Duenas, is set in Spain and Morocco leading up to and during WWII. The main character, Sira Quiroga, grew up in a successful fashion house, starting out as an errand girl and becoming an accomplished seamstress. She leaves Madrid with a man and finds herself stranded, penniless, in Morocco. At first, she is at a loss as to how she can survive, but then she realizes that her salvation is in her hands, in a skill that is so second nature to her she doesn’t even think of it at first as a means of rescuing herself from the situation she is in.

One of my favorite bits from the book, when Sira takes up needle and thread again and it all comes flooding back:

"I took a big basket of bed linen out to the balcony and sat down to mend tears, strengthen hems and tidy up frayed edges.

And that day something unexpected happened.  I never could have imagined that the feeling of a needle between my fingers would be so pleasing.  Those rough bedspreads and coarse linen sheets had nothing in common with the silks and muslins of Dona Manuela's workshop, and the mending of their imperfections was a world away from the delicate backstitching that I had dedicated myself to in order to assemble clothes for the fine ladies of Madrid.  . . . But the rhythm of my wrist was just the same, and the needle was once again moving before my eyes as my fingers toiled away to get the stitches just right, just as they had done for years, day after day, in another place and for other ends.  The satisfaction of sewing again was so pleasing that for a couple of hours I was taken back to happier times and managed temporarily to dissolve the leaden weight of my own miseries.  It was like being back home."
Sira quickly establishes a customer base in Morocco which, prior to the start of WWII, is full of Germans and Spaniards and Italians and everyone else, all jockeying for position and power in an unstable world. She is content to build her business, but she makes powerful new friends in Morocco, and when one of them volunteers to help bring her mother from war-torn Madrid, she discovers that there is a lot more going on in the world than she ever imagined.

Soon Sira is back in Madrid, setting up her own fashion house, with a new name and very similar clientele. But there’s more to her business than making dresses; Sira listens to her high profile clients and reports on their activities to the British government, which is very interested in the direction Spain intends to take in the war.

And her reports are written in code, on pattern pieces – how cool is that?

The Time in Between is a fairly hefty book, but it turns out, a too-quick read. I thoroughly enjoyed, and would have happily followed, Sira’s fashionable – and dangerous – exploits for a few more years of the war.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Small Potatoes

Quite literally.

I got ambitious this year and planted 2 kinds of potatoes, Russian banana fingerling and Yukon Gold.  They came up well, grew and kept growing.  I had hopes.  High ones.

Then some neighborhood kids climbed my fence to trample my yard on their way to stealing something from the yard on the other side of mine.  By the time they grabbed my neighbors' go-kart and dragged it back through my yard, the fingerling bed was trashed.  

I tried to tie the plants back up, but most of them were flattened and snapped off at the dirt.  You don't even need to know the language that floated out over my garden, but all the other plants started growing in fear, in case it was directed to them.

After I (mostly) got over being pissed, I worked out what I wanted to plant next in that bed.  No point in letting it just stay like that, aggravating me every time I saw it.  Today I went out and started tearing up the dead potato plants.  And found potatoes.

Not a lot of them, but apparently the potatoes had set before the plants were broken off, so while there aren't as many as there would have been, and while they aren't as large as they could be, I got about 2 pounds of fingerling potatoes out of the yard, when I thought I was going to get nothing.  When I found the first one, I felt like a kid at Christmas.  I put it in a nearby flowerpot, thinking it was a fluke, and then I kept finding them.  Eventually the pot was full, and I grabbed another one.

Looking forward to tomorrow night's dinner.  Now, what to choose as the supporting actor to my glorious tiny potatoes?

Back in the Saddle

And back at the sewing machine.

The heat wave didn't exactly break, it just sagged down in a corner, exhausted from its own effort at trying to fry us all.  But the other night it was cool enough to get into the workroom for a couple of hours, and damn, but that felt GOOD!  It felt so good, I made a knit dress and a skirt.

Obviously during the time I was unable to sew, I was not going stitch-free.  I can't; the heat made me crazy enough, but taking all forms of needlework away from me isn't wise.

So I started embroidering again.  Mario's spaceship reminded me how much I enjoyed it once upon a time, and after PR Weekend I ordered Diana Rupp's book, Embroider Everything Workshop, which, if you're just starting out or need a refresher (as I certainly did) is a great book.  I'll do a full review soon if anyone's interested.

I decided to make an embroidered denim skirt.  We have jeans day every Friday now, and I don't do jeans in the summer and I'm tired of hearing that they finally relented and gave us jeans day, and hey, where's your denim?  This skirt is basically intended to say, "It's denim, get over it."

I found a nice remnant on the shelf, eyeballed it, decided it was enough to make a skirt and cut it in half.  I chose a design from Embroider Everything and transferred it to the denim and started stitching last weekend.  It was over 100 degrees on Saturday and I spent it in front of the fan, stitching a few miles of split stitch, satin stitch, leaf stitch and conquering the dreaded French knot.

Of course, being me, I got only so far before I decided to change the pattern.  The book's design is much more folk-art-tulips and I decided that wasn't the direction I wanted to go, so I used the stems and leaves and then changed the blossoms.  I stitched most of Saturday, in between runs to check on the chicken-cooling-system and emergency tomato watering, and I finished on Sunday.

Wednesday night, when I got to spend that quality time with my machine, it occurred to me there really might  not be enough denim to make a skirt.  Thankfully my panic was for nothing; there was just enough for the skirt and the yokes.  I got most of the skirt constructed Wednesday night and did the facings and hem last night.

I also managed to knock out a quickie knit dress that I wore to work on Thursday.  No photos of it on me, because I forgot.  So here it is on Evelyn, and it's one of those times where I can say in all honesty it looks better on me than on her.  But you get the idea.

It's KwikSew 3036, the kimono sleeve t-shirt that I just made, lengthened into a dress.  Fabric from Metro Textiles, PR Weekend 2012.  Nothing complicated, but like I said above, damn, it felt good to get back to it.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Summer of my Discontent

The unintended consequences of May's PR Weekend (aside from fun, friendship, fabric and wine) were a total and complete discontent with my work life as it currently exists. After listening to both Kenneth King and Diana Rupp talk about how they started their businesses, and how they could just no longer work for other people when what they wanted to do was what they loved, well, I have to say I found that the most inspiring part of an already inspiring workshop day.

I'm not quite sure how I'm going to go about liberating myself from desks and lawyers and 9-5 responsibilities, but it will happen. I'm 48 now. I'm giving myself until my 50th birthday (unless I can achieve it sooner) to transition from office to workroom doing something that I love.

Right now I'm spinning with ideas, none of which I think will make me enough money to get by. And because I'm not 20-something, like Kenneth and Diana were when they started out, I can't just stop what I'm doing and throw myself at it head on. Much as I'd like to. I have 10 cats, 2 chickens, a mortgage and a man who understands a lot but who might not understand suddenly carrying all the bills while I go merrily off to follow my bliss.

But I've been thinking, and I know how much I need to make to live comfortably, and it's less than I'm making now. This is combat pay, money to keep me semi-content and glued to my chair doing something that means less and less every single day. No one in my office is happy with their work, and I'm tired of being part of that crowd.

I'm looking into sewing lessons in my neighborhood, placing more items at the local craft/consignment store, stepping up the Etsy shop (there's still a mountain more family stuff to offload), and dancing as fast as I can to find something that isn't what I'm currently doing.

(And I admit, more than a small part of me would like to get out of the city, move us to a smaller house with enough ground for me to have chickens and goats and plant everything that it strikes me to plant, and see what comes of that, but that's a dream for another day.  I think.)

It's amazing that just setting that 50 or bust deadline made me smile at work for the first time in ages.

And it scared them, seeing me smile.

I like that.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Random Inspiration

No idea where it came from, but I LOVE this dress
Since the heat's been preventing me from getting much sewing done, I've been going through my inspiration files to keep my brain busy and thinking about sewing.

Here are a few things that I've squirreled away over the years.  Designer/sewist credit is given when I've retained it; if you can put a name to something I show here, please let me know. 

No idea, but LOVE the jacket

Mondo Guerra, Project Runway

Schiaparelli - circus jacket
Ralph Rucci

Not a Mad Men fan, but this . . . ?

Giambattista Valli 2010 on Nina Garcia
Valentino - love that sleeve!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Month End Review: June 2012

The heat's still on, and I'm still not sewing a whole lot as a result.  Of course not being able to sew is making me want to sew unbelievably badly.

Since the workroom is 110 in the shade, I've been hanging out with the fans, reading, practicing embroidery stitches and plotting future projects.  I've also ducked in and out to work in the garden - outdoor work in short bursts won't kill me, but sustained gardening might just cause me to melt into the compost pile.

Bonnie's still clucking away; I really think Gilda had an underlying problem because even though she's gotten hot and panted a few times, Bonnie's managing just fine with the fan I installed and the occasional freezer pack in the coop on really bad afternoons.  And the patio umbrella angled so she doesn't bake.  Bird has it better than we do, when I think about it.  (I try not to think about it too much).

All this blather leads up to the month-end review for June.  My output is larger than what's pictured here - I did a stack of baby dresses to take up to the consignment store, but I haven't gotten the photos uploaded yet.  I may wait until I finish the next batch.  When I can sew.

So, June. The Burda 9/11 #128 white linen blouse, which I think is finally getting worn tomorrow.  I haven't worn it.  I'm not sure why.  And I'm curious how crisp those pleats will be after walking out into 96 degree, 100% humidity.

Also, KwikSew 3036, the kimono sleeve tee.  I like it.  A lot.  I like it so much there's a version lengthened into a dress lying half-completed on the sewing table.  I'd like to at least work on that soon.

Last but not least, and not really sewing, but at least stitching, the spaceship applique for Mario's shirt.  Which I really enjoyed doing, and even if I didn't, he's worn the shirt twice since then.  That's more than he wore it the last 2 summers.