A moment of insanity

So, in a moment of wild, reckless abandon, I signed up for the Sewing Pattern Review Surprise Sewing Bee.


This is the contest where they don’t tell you what you’re making. The challenges are announced on a set date, and you have one week to complete and post your entries. Each week, a certain number of contestants are eliminated. The prizes are superb, and the challenge is intriguing.

There are so many reasons I should not do this. There’s no information about what the patterns or projects will be — no materials lists, no information other than, “If you have a normal stash of supplies, you should have what you need.” I don’t have a normal stash. Almost everything I own, fabric wise, is earmarked for a particular project. So if one of those particular projects doesn’t match the week’s challenge, I will have to go shopping for supplies.

There are worse things than shopping for supplies! Normally, this would be a point in the “pro” column rather than the “con.” But November is a tough month for me, with a lot of annual and semi-annual bills hitting due dates all at once, and money is always tight in November. So shopping isn’t exactly something I’m eager to do right now. I can if I have to, but I would prefer to avoid it for the moment.

And I have tons of projects on the go already — two jackets under construction (the faux fleece bomber jacket and the Ralph Rucci jacket), a Missoni dress that needs surgery and completion, and a couple of random bits cut out and awaiting their turn in the sewing room. My sewing time is limited — usually just a half hour a day, though sometimes I can squeeze in a full hour — so giving time to this contest is going to be a challenge.

So why did I pull the trigger and enter? Heck, I don’t know. Poor impulse control? It looks like fun, and sewing is supposed to be fun, right? I like hanging out at Sewing Pattern Review, and I’ve picked up some great tips there over the years. And the prizes are excellent. It’s unlikely that I would win anything (odds alone, with this huge number of entrants, work against that), but it will be fun to play along and see which entries win, and why.

Did you enter?



Fitting the muslin for the Ralph Rucci coat

So, I obviously need an FBA here. Those are some major wrinkles coming from the sides and armscye.



I’m wearing the muslin over a fairly bulky sweater, but that was deliberate. I wanted to see how the jacket would close over a thicker layer. It’s fine through the waist and hips, not so good over the bust. One of the great things about a fitting muslin is that you can draw right on it. I used a green highlighter to mark the two deepest wrinkles, which is where the FBA will have to be made. If you look near the seam on the right, it’s easier to see the markings.


This means it’s back to the pellon tracing I made of this pattern piece. I’ll add a dart to that area, remove this panel from the muslin, and replace it with the darted/FBA new piece. Also, I think the jacket is too long overall, too, so I’m going to shorten the sleeves and hem while I’m at it. I’d like it to hit right at the knee, and now, it’s probably two inches below that point. It occurs to me that if I add some hidden closures below the waist, this piece can pull double duty as a coatdress of sorts. Debating that now. I think it would be a cool dress, but I don’t know if I would wear it as a dress, you know?


Choosing buttons and a brief Vogue Knitting Live report

I was at the Vogue Knitting conference yesterday, where I’d hoped to find some buttons for my Dark Pearl cardigan. It was a thin hope, I admit, because the marketplace at this show is usually on the small side — only a few vendors, and the booths always seem tiny compared to other cons. And this year was not an exception. Small show. The only buttons we saw were of the handmade clay type, perfect for children’s garments but not at all the look I want for this cardigan.

I did buy two skeins of this sock yarn. This is Leading Men Soliloquy, a light fingering yarn in a 650-yard put-up. These are big skeins, and very reasonably priced. Two skeins provide enough yardage for a sweater. I bought two in the colorway Royalty, a semisolid purple. It’s actually a bit darker than this picture would indicate, but still a true purple, not an eggplant or indigo. These will become a henley sweater with a bit of lace on the yoke, most likely, unless I find a different pattern I like better.


So that will be fun to knit, but not right away. Into the stash it goes for now. As long as I was mucking about in my stash, I pulled out my small hoard of buttons and tried many on the Dark Pearl cardigan. And hooray, I found some that worked.


That top button, a shiny silver floral thing, is just to show what a true silver looks like against this yarn. Far too bright. The black plastic buttons on the bottom are pretty, but when you step back, they get lost in the fabric. So I’m going to use the middle buttons, which are silver with scored black circles radiating out from the center. The detail is hard to see in this picture, but the net effect from a distance is about the same as you see here — visible, but not overwhelming. I think they’re perfect.

We spent very little time on the show floor at Vogue Knitting Live, mainly because there was very little to see. That’s okay. I don’t need any yarn right now, and the two purple skeins were a splurge. I also bought some needles I needed, and some decadent lanolin body lotion from one of the regular vendors, but that was it. I think we only spent an hour and a half in the marketplace, and a good bit of that time was spent browsing patterns. It’s a small show floor, nothing at all like Stitches, but there are a few vendors we really like — Sophie’s Toes, Grinning Gargoyle, Leading Men. Dragonfly was there, and I had hoped to pick up some of their silk fingering yarn, but they didn’t bring any to the show. Oh, well, don’t need more yarn anyway. My stash runneth over.

I wouldn’t mind that the vendor list is small except that the admission is so steep. They want to charge $20 admission. Yes, you can get discount coupons, but it’s still way too expensive for a show this small. Every year, I say that I won’t bother again next year. And I’m saying the same thing this year. I wouldn’t have gone this year except that all my local area yarn stores have closed and I really did need those needles.

Also, it was an opportunity to do a bit of shopping downtown. I usually avoid shopping on State Street because we have all the same stores at my local malls, so why bother. I go to Michigan Avenue for the upscale department stores or to the neighborhoods for boutique shopping, but usually avoid State Street. But I’ve been on a hunt for good, warm leather gloves for a couple of years, and I heard from a friend that Nordstrom Rack had a good variety of leather colors all lined in cashmere. My hands are super tiny and hard to fit, but I got lucky there. I found two pairs, one red and one pink, that are perfect.


These will be great for the milder cold — Chicagoans know what I mean by this. Upper teens and twenties is mild cold weather, and you can get away with some sleeker outerwear on days like that. For a really cold day, though, I’ll need heavier gloves. No way a bit of fine leather and cashmere will stand up to a subzero day. But I’ll likely just get some ugly, bulky snowmobiling gloves and not worry too much about it. Some days, function trumps style.

This is a really ramshackle post with lots of disconnected ideas, but that’s sort of how the day went yesterday. I shoehorned a lot into one little Friday, and I’m pleased with the results.


Ah, that’s better

You know how it is when you order supplies online. Most of the time, you get exactly what you expected. The color, texture, weight, and hand are exactly as pictured and described by the vendor.

But every now and then, something goes wrong.

I wanted to knit the Dark Pearl cardigan in a semisolid gray, and I ordered three skeins of sock yarn from an online vendor that appeared to be just that. However, what I received was a self-striping sock yarn in two shades of gray and black. This is how it looked when it was knit up.


You can see that the stripes pool differently on the body than on the sleeves. And in the lace panel along the front (unblocked, so it looks rather lumpy), there are large pools of different shades along the right side of the lace.

This is not the look I wanted. Not at all. The yarn is mostly wool with dashes of alpaca and nylon, so I knew I could do a very simple Rit dye treatment to even out the color. I was able to do that today, and this is the result.


That’s so much better. Now it’s a very dark charcoal, almost black, with slight (very very slight) tonal variations. I’m in the process of mounting it to the blocking boards this afternoon, and it should be dry and wearable by Sunday.

Now all it needs are buttons. I’d been planning to use silver, but now I’m wondering if black might be better. What do you think? Black or silver?


A quick tip for sewing curved seams

I’m working on my fitting muslin for the Vogue 1419 Ralph Rucci coat — this beauty, remember?


Anyway, I’m doing a fitting muslin rather than a construction muslin — that is, the purpose of my muslin is to work out any fitting issues rather than any construction issues. On the sew-along blog, they advocate making a construction muslin to practice all the construction techniques on this masterpiece pattern, and now that I’m actually looking at the instructions, I can see why. There are loads of techniques in this coat that we don’t often use in run-of-the-mill garment construction.

I have to give Vogue Patterns a lot of credit for these instructions, though. They throw in lots of small details to make the process easier, including a note to “clip seams if necessary” in different places. Here’s one of the place that clipping seams is necessary. Here we join the side panel to the front panel along the side seam.


Here, both pieces are face up — right sides showing. You can see the red notches that have to match at the seam lines. The top red notches look about parallel, but the bottom red notches are staggered by at least an inch. The curves on the raw edge are pretty smooth and fit together almost like a jigsaw puzzle. But look what happens when you put the right sides together to make that seam. I’m just going to flip the piece on the right on top of the left side piece — pay attention to the two small red dots between the notches, which will help you distinguish between these two muslin pieces.


Those curves don’t line up so smoothly anymore. It becomes tricky to sew and tricky to keep the seam smooth there. The solution is clipping the seam. That would be the bottom seam — the curved piece to the right, the one without the two red dots. I always confuse the terms complex and compound, so forgive me for not being able to use to proper terminology here. But that curve on the right piece, without the dots, will feel tight if you try to pull it into a straight line. Frequent (1″ or less) clips into the seam allowance will let the piece stretch a bit so that you can match it to the other curve more easily.


Just make sure you don’t clip through more than the seam allowance. You don’t even have to clip all the way to the seam line, as that picture shows. I find a notch of around 3/8″ is usually enough, but on particularly tight curves, deeper and more frequent clips might be necessary. And as you can see in this photo, I only clipped one of the two pieces. The other was fine as it was.

In any case, once those clips are made, the notches are easier to match and the whole piece fits together just like a perfect jigsaw puzzle again. Just thought I’d mention this because we don’t always see the “clip where necessary” instruction in patterns, but we still might have to know when to do it. Curves, baby. It’s all about the curves.


Goodnight, Oscar

I woke up this morning to the news that Oscar de la Renta had died, and I’ve spent most of the morning thinking about his work. He’ll always be king of the ballgown in my mind. Gowns are tricky business because there’s so much fabric involved, and a woman can easily look overwhelmed by the dress. I think this is why most gowns are fitted through the bodice, strapless, and sleeveless — this helps reduce the impact of fabric to the feet. And solid colors dominate because that much printed fabric can really work against the woman wearing the dress.

But Oscar had the knack for breaking these typical rules and making it beautiful. Take, for example, this showstopper from Fall 2013.


The scale on the print suits the scale of the garment, and the end result is that the print is appealing rather than overwhelming. And that pink! What a gorgeous color. The first time I saw this dress, I thought of bright pink flowers climbing a weathered garden gate. The overall effect is gorgeous and sophisticated without being dull.

He did amazing things with florals, too. In my mind, he’ll always be the guy who could make a floral ballgown that didn’t look mumsy or silly. There was sophistication in the way he handled these prints. I was always partial to this one, Spring 2011.

oscar_de_la_renta spring 2011

Check out the matching gloves and the detail on the shoes. I’m not big on matchy-matchy looks, but this one feels fresh instead of labored. Love it.

Few of us have the occasion to wear these kinds of dresses, but even so, it was great entertainment to see these works of art come down the runway or red carpet. We lost one of the greats yesterday.


A couple of new beginnings

Yesterday, I finished the knitting for my Dark Pearl cardigan and wove in the ends. It still needs to be overdyed and blocked, and it needs buttons, but this one is basically done.

So it’s time for something new. Yay! New projects! (Yes, I do still have two other projects on the needles, even with Dark Pearl completed. Forget about those for a second. It’s not hard — I’m doing it myself. *ggg*)

I cast on a pair of footies in this amazing chartreuse Another Crafty Girl sock yarn. The color is so bright that it’s hard to capture accurately, but this is pretty close — semisolid and almost blinding. 🙂 This will be my handbag project, the thing I knit when I’m out and about and need to keep my hands occupied.


My socks are so bright, I have to wear shades

And then I cast on the Pickles sweater in this luscious silk-mohair from Artfibers. I’ve been guarding this yarn for a few years, waiting for the right project to pop up, and this is it. This stuff is as soft as a cloud, very lightweight for a bulky, and almost mesmerizing in the way the silk and mohair shades play off each other. I’ve barely started to knit the collar on this, but I’m already in deep love here.


The lighter color is the silk, and the darker color is the mohair. The way the light shines on the silk through the mohair is beyond lovely. I have a feeling this is going to be one of those special sweaters that I save for events and days when I need a pick-me-up. It’s pretty magical so far.

I do still need to knit sleeves on the green Stoker cowl sweater, but that requires me to think through some details on the sleeve shaping — because, as so often happens with my knitting, I’ve decided to veer off the pattern and do something a little different with the sleeves. This requires some math, and my head has just not been feeling very mathy lately, so it will have to wait.

In the personal news department, some of you know that my dad has been staying here this year as he goes through treatments for stage four lymphoma. It’s been going very well, as these things go — he’s sick as anything from the treatments, but he’s beating the cancer. Today at the cancer center, they decided to skip the chemo this time. They wanted to give his body a chance to bounce back from some of the side effects. I take this as very good news. If he needed the chemo, I’m sure they would give it to him. It’s too big a risk to skip it if they aren’t sure they can get away with it. So I think maybe the end is within sight. We’re all feeling a bit brighter today as a result.