No joy in Mudville this week

The painters and tilers and whatever-ers are here this week making a shambles of my house. This is the current state of my sewing room. All of my rooms look like this right now. All of them.


If you look right in the middle of the giant blob of crap in the middle of this room, you’ll spot my ironing board and iron. You might also notice my seam roll atop a couple of plastic storage boxes filled with notions. My Singer is in there somewhere, too. At least, I hope it is. I haven’t ventured in there to check for sure.

So, yeah. The coat I was going to sew this week? Not happening. I’d planned to finish it for the PR contest this month, but the handymen had other plans for me. Yes, this might seem like poor planning on my part, except that these repairs are being paid for and arranged by my homeowners association (long story — you don’t want to know!), so I didn’t have any control over the schedule. I’m just grateful they’re finally getting it done. It’s a good thing. Inconvenient, but good.

You know what else this means? Knitting time this week! I’m within inches of having two finishes knits to show you, and I’ve started a new one — completely unplanned, totally spontaneous, not at all what I thought I would be knitting now, but I sure didn’t think I’d be living in Dropcloth Central this week, either. So an unplanned cast-on certainly fits the week’s theme!

I’m sad that I can’t finish that coat by the contest deadline, but things should be back to normal in the sewing room by Monday or so. And I should have my cutting counter back before then, so I might console myself by cutting a couple of new projects and having them ready to go — also not something I planned for this week, but hey, we must go with the flow! And in this case, the flow is composed mainly of putty and paint!

Please tell me you’re having a great week and accomplishing everything you planned to accomplish. Make me green! 🙂



Wardrobe architect, exercise 1

Last year, when the Colette blog ran the wardrobe architect series, I read along and did some thinking about the various exercises. But I never actually completed any of them. Now this year, they’re using the wardrobe architect series to plan a year’s worth of sewing and wardrobe adventures, and I thought it would be fun to play along.

The first exercise (link) has us answer a short series of questions as a way of setting the stage for understanding how our lives and personalities influence our sense of style. So, here goes.

How has your personal history informed the way you dress? When did your tastes crystallize? Have they changed over the years, and why?

This is one of those questions with partly simply answers and partly complicated one. On the simple side, for example, I tend to feel very comfortable in skirts because of all those years of private school uniforms. I never felt any particular urge to change my behavior when I was in that uniform — I would play kickball in a skirt just as easily as in pants. So where some people might feel that skirts have an uncomfortable or even restrictive effect, I like wearing them, especially on warm days.

Then, on the complicated side, I’ve always been drawn to art and avant-garde fashion. Don’t ask me why these things happen! When I was younger, I did a lot of “costume” dressing — the Marilyn Monroe dress, the hippie tie-dyed prairie dress, many more such outfits — and I wore a lot of Issey Miyake / Comme des Garcons / Yamamoto type garments. (Not the real stuff, of course. Couldn’t afford it.) I loved all things punk rock. Still do. I think I was drawn to the sense of playfulness in these clothes, the strength, and the sheer different-ness, if I can coin a term. Mall clothes have their place, but statement pieces make me happy in a deep way.

But then I started practicing law and all that changed. I went all-in with power suits. Sharp, crisp lines — much as with the avant garde Japanese stuff, it’s all about those strong lines. Just the result was different. My all-time favorite suit from them was a cream linen/lycra pantsuit that looked much like this.

old linen pantsuit

I wore this suit with colored scarves at the neck because I actually don’t look healthy or happy in most lawyer-suit colors. That should have been my first tip that litigation was not a lifetime occupation for me. In any case, the appreciation for crisp, fitted garments outlasted the career, just that now I wear them in colors that don’t give me that corpse-like glow.

Throw in a bit of sportiness (formed by my part-time occupation as a gym rat and my enduring love for long hikes in the woods), and that’s my basic style history.

How does your philosophy, spirituality, or religion affect your aesthetics and buying habits? Or, what aspects of those things would you like to see reflected?

Other than all those years of parochial education making me feel comfortable climbing trees in a skirt, I don’t think any of this has much influence. I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years, but I’m perfectly willing to wear leather, for example. (It’s a by-product, really.) I like making things myself, and I’m more and more anti-corporate as time goes on, but if Old Navy has the best long johns for the price, then I’ll buy from Old Navy. I’m not much of a brand loyalist, and I don’t go into nutty-crunchy raptures about organic cloth. So although I do have personal philosophy, such as it is, I don’t think it influences my wardrobe in any appreciable ways.

How has your cultural background shaped the way you look? How did the aesthetics and values you grew up with affect your tastes as you got older?

Is “white middle-class suburban” a cultural background? It’s sort of anti-culture, in its way. I don’t think that had nearly as much influence on my style tastes as the city itself. I can remember heading downtown as a child — whether for family all-day shopping trips, school field trips, or other reasons — and drinking in the visuals. That was like water in the desert! I loved seeing the stylish women hailing cabs and striding along the sidewalks in their excellent shoes. We didn’t have that in Shermer, Illinois!

I’m a lot more willing to wear ordinary clothes as I get older. I wear jeans now, for example, and they’re a lot more tolerable to me now than they were when I was in my 20s. Jeans and a sweater is my winter uniform, really. But I’m still happiest if something in the details is less “I got this at the mall with a coupon” and more “inspired by runway.” I try to look pulled together instead of thrown together. It might be jeans and a sweater, but the heels and jewelry and scarf might console me with a bit of pizzazz, lol.

How are you influenced by the people around you, including friends, family, and other communities you’re involved in?

Very little. Same as the last question, really. I will say that my sister-in-law has been a positive influence, more than any other member of my enormous family. Her tastes are very different from mine — she likes things plain and beige, which is absolutely not me. But she always looks pulled together, she always has the right shoes, and she never looks sloppy or dull. It’s all in the details, of course, the earrings and belts and so on, when you wear very plain clothes like hers. So I tend to pay a lot of attention to how she presents herself, even if it’s very different from my native style, and I have lots of respect and admiration for her. (Also, she’s not always plain and beige — she looks like a million bucks when she dresses up for a wedding reception, for example — just that I think that’s her native style in the same way that my native style is black and edgy.)

How do your day to day activities influence your choices?

I dress down a bit when I go to the family business. It’s a construction shop. I don’t want to get any of their materials on my good clothes. Mastic never comes out! And the rest of the time, I work from home, so I can wear whatever I like. In the winter, that tends to be blanket-like warm things because my house is very cold. In the summer, I prefer a dress or skirt. If I go out for dinner or shopping or whatever, this is when I tend to dress least for the occasion/environment and most to please myself.

Does the place you live inform the way you dress? How does climate factor in?

I live in an extreme climate, so yeah, dressing for the weather is important. But my 5-year plan will take me somewhere milder. Right now, I have to be prepared for -25F wind chills and +100F heat waves. You sink a lot of resources into the wardrobe just for weather conditions when you live in a climate like this. Balaclavas, thrummed mittens, long underwear, ugh, this isn’t about fashion. Let’s move on.

In what ways does body image affect your choices in clothing? What clothes make you feel good about the body you live in? What clothes make you feel uncomfortable or alienated from your body?

I’ve been through some dramatic body changes over the years thanks to ongoing struggles with endocrines and metabolism. This isn’t one of those “it’s my glands” excuses that people sometimes make when they are trying to avoid  responsibility for lazy habits. This is one of those “I know my doctor well enough to ask about his last volleyball game and trip to Ireland because I am in his office far too often” things. Right now, my weight is a little bit up after some setbacks last fall — I didn’t talk about this on the blog when it was happening, but it was bad enough to land me in the hospital in November. It’s better now, and I am just on the cusp of fighting off some of these setback pounds again, getting some good muscle tone back again. I feel pretty weak and flabby after three months of minimal exercise.

In any case, what makes me feel good about the body I live in is when this body feels good and healthy. It’s really that simple. When I’m strong enough to run and lift weights and hike all day, I feel good about the rest of it, too. Not sure this is much of a fashion thing, though. Except, oh yeah!, I do love that feeling when I can put on a pair of running tights and not feel like I have to wear a long, loose shirt to cover my giant flabby butt. Tight and toned is definitely better!

Am I the only one who feels like these questions aren’t exactly fashion questions? They’re sort of verging on fashion questions.


The new Vogues

I’m going to make a promise right here, right now, and we’ll see how good I am at keeping it. This has to do with That Thing Which Happens When New Patterns Come Out.

We’ve all seen it. The new patterns are released, and people erupt in a flurry of excitement. Before the pixels can cool on the new product pages, though, someone will inevitably turn mean girl. Here’s a random sample of paraphrased comments I’ve seen just in the past few weeks.

OMG, who would wear that? I mean, not as a joke, but as clothes.

That draping is just ugly. There is not one single body that could wear that without looking ugly.

Not even a 6-year-old would look good in that dress.

And then everyone piles on the joke clothes and the ugly draping and the dress unsuitable for a six-year-old. It’s not a positive dynamic. I love a good snark, but sometimes this all starts to feel, well, a bit too low. Even when I agree with the original criticism, at some point, it can start to make me want to defend the design. “Oh, come on, you guys, it isn’t THAT bad.” Because there’s a difference between pointing out a style line or design feature that might not work, and the kind of mob mentality that starts to feel a bit like snack time in a piranha tank. It’s the piranha thing I’m not so proud to be a part of.

In any case, the new Vogues came out this week, and I saw the pile-on begin almost instantly on one discussion board in particular. It wasn’t any better or any worse than any other pile-on, and I thought some of the criticism was valid. But nevertheless, it got me thinking. Why do we do this? Why are we so quick to mock things we don’t like? Isn’t it maybe just the slightest bit possible that something one of us hates would be pure dynamite on someone else?

Well, I’m going to do my best to avoid the pranha mentality. I’ll talk about patterns I like, and I’ll skip the ones I don’t like, and I’ll try to remember that someone, somewhere, probably can’t wait to sew that pattern I think is awful. Why rain on that person’s parade? I don’t see the point. But even as I say this, I know that sometimes the snark is irresistible. I’ll try to be positive, but hey, sometimes I’m a wise-cracking asshole. It just happens. Road to hell, good intentions, etc.

So, anyway, here are the new Vogues I’m really excited about, starting with Vogue 9076, which might very well be the first one I sew from this batch (though I will skip the string tie). I had this dress in khaki green a few years back. Loved it. It showed off my shape without being clingy or obvious, and now I’m envisioning it in a print — like two layers of silk chiffon print, with the print showing through the layers. How fantastic would that be? I might even have something in the stash that would work.


Vogue 9076

I’m also intrigued by this little summery sheath, Vogue 9079, which is very definitely my style — a trim silhouette, a bit of asymmetry. The pattern envelope calls for linen or crepe, but somehow I keep imagining this in a light denim or chambray. Of course, I don’t have so much as a scrap of either light denim or chambray in my stash, so this would require fabric shopping. Such a sacrifice! Forced to shop for fabric!


Vogue 9079

Then there’s Vogue 1437. I’ve blogged before about my unholy love for Ralph Rucci’s patterns, and this one is no exception. I end up buying all of his patterns even if I’m not sure I’ll ever make them. Maybe if I sleep with them under my pillow at night, I’ll absorb some of his genius? I mean, look at these sleeves. Fantastic. It’s another cut-on, round-shouldered sleeve, and I’m still tinkering with the muslin on my other Ralph Rucci cut-on, round-shouldered sleeve, so I’m not in a super big hurry to tackle this jacket. But I want to. I want to be good enough to whip out a snappy little jacket like this without having to stare down the FBA and fret that I’ll never make it fit. This is aspirational pattern acquisition, pure and simple.


Vogue 1437

And I have big swoons for the Tom and Linda Platt dress, Vogue 1431. This design team has a great knack for color blocking, and I love the way the jacket lines continue to a V-point above the back waist. I think that would be very flattering. I keep imagining wearing this to the theater or ballet (even though my theater buddy just moved to the west coast, sniff! sob!). But isn’t this the perfect downtown day-to-night dress?



Vogue 1431

I was also a big fan of the Anne Klein patterns — she has a way with classic blouses and jackets, for sure. And there were a few others that made me sit up and pay attention, too. But the four pictured above, those are the four I will definitely add to the pattern stash, and I expect to make at least two of them sooner rather than later. Maybe if I make them sooner, spring will arrive sooner? One can hope.

Which new Vogues did you like best?


When first impressions are wrong

Okay, so I made this sweater/coat/cardigan thing, and I was a bit iffy when I first finished it just because it’s really, really big. Crazy big. Like, I made the size medium (12-14), which is my normal sewing size, and I had to take 4″ (10cm) out of each side seam. And it’s still very generously sized, even with that extra 8″ removed. Here, this will give you an idea–


McCall’s 7057 View B minus 8″ in girth

This thing has so much more volume than most of what I wear these days. I like a trim silhouette, and this is far from trim.

But check out that collar! That’s the detail that made me rush to make this garment in the first place. It’s actually a convertible hood. It drapes around the shoulders, as shown, or you can wear it up, like this.


Goal for 2015: I will get a decent camera and learn how to use it

That’s like a magic trick, right? Such a fun design detail, and I really liked sewing it. With the hood down in collar form, you can’t really see how huge the shoulders are. The big proportions are a little more apparent with the hood up. So at first I was worried that this would feel like one of those enormous snow jackets our moms all made us wear when we were little.


I can’t put my arms down!

But then I wore it. Tuesday was warm for Chicago in January, a tick above freezing. So I threw on dark jeans, a black long-sleeved tee, some heeled boots, and my favorite long silver statement necklace, seen in the photo. I added red leather gloves, my red bag, and a black fedora, and I was out the door — and this cardigan coat thingie was absolutely perfect. It kept me warm enough outdoors without overwhelming me with heat indoors. Comfortable. I could let it drape open if I became too warm, and wrap it close if I became too cold.

But just because a thing is comfy, that doesn’t mean it looks okay. I had to pick up my nephew from high school that day, and I heard more than one MILF called at me — not that we encourage these things, but at least it’s some evidence that I didn’t look like I was wearing a big sloppy bathrobe. One of the sports coach teacher men was rather friendly with me, too, more evidence that it wasn’t completely hideous. And I liked wearing it. Of course, I like wearing some pretty awful things in the name of winter warmth, so I know better than to think this is evidence of style. But I didn’t scare off children or sportsball men, so how bad can it be? That was my logic, such as it is.

That was Tuesday. As I woke up Wednesday, my first thought was, “I wonder if it will be warm enough to wear the big thing again.” And today, Thursday? Same thought. I woke up hoping I could wear it. I think I might have a new trend here. I don’t know what it is about this cardigan, but I know I’m going to wear it until it is dead from overwork and exhaustion. One wear, and I was hooked. It’s like the crack of sweater jackets.

The fabric is this black wool sweater knit shot through with silver lurex threads from Mood Fabrics. It’s right around sport or DK gauge, just under 6 stitches to the inch, so it’s fairly heavy for a milled knit fabric. It sewed like a dream and feels incredibly good — warm and cozy, but it’s definitely wool, just a mere touch of rusticity in the hand. I loved sewing it and would absolutely sew it again.

I only had two minor quibbles with the pattern. One, there are no belt loops. I made the belt and didn’t even notice that a belt loop pattern piece was nowhere to be found. I might just do a crocheted loop at some point, but honestly, I doubt I’ll ever use the belt. It just feels bulky and awkward when it’s belted, and the belt kind of ruins the line of the garment.

My other minor quibble is that the instructions have you sew the pieces together in an unusual order. Instead of sewing fronts to backs at the shoulders and then sewing the hood/collar thing on, it calls for you to sew the fronts to the hood/collar, then sew the backs, then sew the shoulder seams. That seemed like it would be unnecessarily fiddly, so I didn’t do that. I couldn’t think of a single reason why anyone should!

But neither of these quibbles is really anything to detract from an overall great pattern. I already have my eye out for some red wool sweater knit, because OMG, this thing in red? I NEEEEEEEEEEEED one!

Have you ever had a wrong first impression of one of your creations?


Hitting a snag

My Holsten sweater picked a fight with a studded leather moto jacket. The jacket won! So I’ve had to do some snag repair, and I thought I would show you my favorite method. First, the damage.


There are two snags here. The first is  where that long string comes off to the side, and you can see the pull in a horizontal line on the sleeve. Luckily, none of the yarn plies broke here. It’s just a very long snag.

The second is just above that, a spot that appears sort of rough in the middle of the fabric. That snag is actually the trickier of the two, in terms of repair, because one of the plies in the yarn snapped. It also distorted differently than the remaining plies. It’s fixable, but this one will probably never look 100% perfect because of the broken ply.

There are snag repair tools on the market, but I prefer to use a plain old knitting needle. This sweater was knit on size 4 US needles, so I grabbed my trusty Signature 4s and started picking up the stitches where the snag distorted them.


It’s almost like reknitting the row. You’re aiming to pull one leg of the stitch over the needle and resettle it around the needle at the size 4 gauge. As you work the needle along, you pull a bit of the loose yarn through, and eventually it will look like a fabric instead of like a snag again. In this case, I had to tinker with the broken ply quite a lot, and it looks sort of rough on the wrong side, but it’s pretty much okay on the right side.


The needle tip is pointing to just where the snag came though. You can still sort of see where the stitches were a little distorted, but after I mist it with water and let it reblock, it will be fine.

This method takes a little time and care — the Signature’s stiletto points are particularly useful for trying to pierce the center of the distorted stitch, but it can be very easy to split the yarn in the process. So a careful, slow approach is best, but despite the extra time it needs, this method gives really good results, almost invisible.

I’m so glad I was able to rescue this sweater! I love wearing it!


In which I am a puffy gray blimp

This bit of lounge wear makes me laugh at its sheer ridiculousness, but despite it being wildly unflattering and adding a good two dress sizes to my appearance, I have worn it every day since it came off the machine on Tuesday.


Simplicity 1731

I made a size medium, which turns out to be very big for a medium. I want to say the bust measures about 45″ or 46″ — really, much bigger than I would ordinarily sew for myself. But I wanted to be able to pull on this thing over whatever I happened to be wearing — in this photo, it’s sweat pants and a worsted sweater, not that you can see them. But that ought to give you an idea of how big and roomy this is: big enough to wear over bulky clothes and still look loose. I swear, it adds 20 pounds to my frame.

And I don’t care how puffy and huge and silly it looks. This thing is so incredibly warm and cozy that I have been wearing it nonstop around the house since I finished it. I come in from the cold, take off my wool topcoat and boots, and zip into this thing. My house is cold (though we just had new windows installed on the two front rooms, and the house is appreciably warmer now — still cold, just no longer igloo cold, more like the interior of a refrigerator than the interior of a freezer). So I’ve sewn quite a few fleece garments here recently in a desperate attempt to stay warm without wearing a hat and coat — which I’ve been known to do. I really do hate this house.

In any case…

The pattern is Simplicity 1731, a gigantic unisex all-sizes thing for small children through very large men. It covers everyone in the family, even the dog, in a warm blanket of fleecy goodness. See for yourself.


Check out the shape of the hood on the dog’s romper. See how pointy it is? The human versions are pointy like that, too, and that’s really my only issue with this pattern. Next time, I’ll change the shape of that hood so it’s more rounded. You know, like an actual human head.

I think I might make another one. I’m already dreading the thought of having to take this one off long enough to launder it, so a second one might be a boon to health and hygiene. Unfortunately, the only other fleece I have in stash right now is snowy white, and the thought of wearing this in white — gack. Can you imagine? I would look like this guy, except without the jaunty cap and scarf.


Not a good look. I’m willing to laugh at myself, as the gray version proves, but even I would lose my sense of humor while wearing this thing in white. So I think I’ll just make do with this one until I’m willing to go fabric shopping again. After seeing the yardage total from my recent stash inventory, that could take a while!

So that’s another 4 yards out of the stash, making my yardage-out total since 12/1/14 a little over 30 yards. That’s a good start!

What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever made for yourself?


The stash inventory

fabric stash rhyme

One of my goals for my semester break was to inventory my fabric. I didn’t think this would be a tremendous job, maybe just a day or two, until I remembered that I had possibly stored some fabric in the basement nook where my yarn stash lives. I thought maybe there might be a bit of coating fabric and possibly some acrylic felt for a coat muslin. I wasn’t completely sure, but the nook needed to be cleaned anyway, so I went to check it out.

Aaaaand this is why I needed to do the inventory. I found two bins and about five bags of fabric down there. And a box. A big box. All of which I had completely forgotten about — because, in my forgetful little head, all my fabric was upstairs in close proximity to the sewing machine.

So. Yeah. I have way more fabric than I’d previously estimated, more than double the running tally in my head. That running tally included only the upstairs fabrics, and I was within 20 yards of my guess on those. So that was good, I guess. I was doing a good job with the stuff that hadn’t completely fallen out of my consciousness.

Anyway, the inventory is complete. I got myself a big old sturdy binder and a pack of heavyweight card stock. I chose card stock because I knew I wanted to staple swatches to each page, and card stock holds up better to this kind of abuse.


I use tab dividers to group fabrics according to type — or, I should say, according to the broad types I use most frequently.


Each sheet indexes one fabric. I included dimensions, fiber content, source, any notes about what it matches, or which pattern I plan to use, or what notions I’ve already purchased for it, or where it is stored, etc. I didn’t get fancy with these sheets — just stapled a swatch in place and scribbled some notes, and added the shipping record if it was available.


And that’s it! I’ve already used the binder once to check my notes about a gorgeous embroidered silk taffeta that really wants to be a circle skirt when it grows up. I’ve been mulling over patterns for this fabric, and it was so convenient to be able to just flip to that fabric’s page and compare my notes to the pattern envelope.

In any case, I know that not everyone has the organizational urges that frequently seize me, and to be honest, I dithered over whether to inventory my fabrics at all. When I thought it would take only two days, that seemed like a big time commitment for the project — and it actually took much longer than that, thanks to the island of forgotten cuts in the basement. But I’m so glad I did it. I think this is going to prove to be time well spent in the long run.

How do you manage your stash?