Sunday, October 30, 2011

If you really want to know.....


Marina of Frabjous Couture included me in her list of new-ish blogs that should be checked out.  Thanks Marina!  It was so great having lunch, shopping and having dinner (and drinks.  too many drinks.)  with you in NYC.  There were so many of us on the meet-up that we each only had a short time to talk; all the more reason to go back again, talk about sewing and learn more about each other.  In that vein, I am supposed to describe 7 interesting things about myself.  Hmmmm........

1)  I am a travel addict.  I've traveled independently in:  Canada, USA, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, UK, France, Belgium, Germany (both pre-and post unification), Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Italy (many times; worked there one winter), Greece, Austria, China, Hong Kong (both pre-and post handover.  That old arrival into Kai Tek airport was a true nail biter, but I'm glad I got to experience it before the new airport was built in 1998), Macau, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Bhutan, South Africa, Botswana....I think that's it.  My dream trip would be overland from Kashmir, north through Pakistan and over the Karakorum pass into China.  However, I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon.  

2)  I have a phobia of flying.  I know, I know...it's totally illogical, but it's been a monkey on my back for about 10 years now.  It doesn't stop me from flying; it just makes the process very uncomfortable.  I actually took a course at Montreal Trudeau airport in 2001 that included desensitization exercises, tours of the facilities and a "graduation flight" from Montreal - Toronto - Montreal.  It helped.  I never would have been able to travel alone as much as I have in the past 10 years without it.

3)  I studied sciences at University, but have always taken fine arts classes on the side, just to balance things out, so to speak.  I've taken classes in photography, graphic arts, sewing, fabric arts (batik, silk screening, dyeing), illustration and pottery.  I've also studied French and Italian at night, although I'm far from fluent.  I would love to find the time to learn pattern drafting or some higher level sewing skills, and Montreal would be a perfect place to do it.  What am I waiting for?.... 

4)  I am an atheist, but I've spent lots of time visiting cathedrals, temples and other places of worship all around the world.  Often the most astounding architecture is found in these places that were "built on faith".   (to quote Mr. Emerson of A Room with a View, "it just means the workers weren't paid properly!")  I've heard all the arguments that religion gives you a set of rules with which to live a good life, but those rules have to make sense in order to achieve those aims, don't they?  I've seen so much suffering and cruel behaviour done in the name of religion that I have a hard time swallowing it.  I know I'm probably going to deeply offend some people by saying this and lose some followers, but I never "unfriend" people on Facebook or stop following someone online when they make a religious statement that I flatly disagree with.  I think it's important not to close your mind to anyone, especially those with whom you don't agree!

5)  I learned to sew at around 6 years old on my mother's Singer Featherweight.  My parents are recently retired and doing a big clean-out of their house, so I asked her if I could have it.  Turns out she just gave it away to the thrift shop this spring!  Damn damn damn damn. 

6)  I grew up in a small rural town in Nova Scotia called Head of Jeddore.  It was less of a town than a stretch of houses along a road, but close enough to the capital, Halifax, to have had some city fun too.  I think it gave me a valuable mix of running-wild-in-the-country and learning-to-navigate-the-city skills.

7)  I love great food, high-end couture garments and a spotless house, but never make the time to create any of these things.  I guess I don't love them as much as I think I do... 

I'm going to link to all the Canadian sewing blogs that I read, because we may be few in number, but we're all awesome!  ;)

Tanit-Isis of Tanit-Isis Sews lives in Calgary and is also a sewing scientist (grad student) 
Heather of Sewing on Pins lives in Winnipeg now I think, and is definitely a sewing scientist
Erica of Experiments and Accidents lives in Halifax and is not a sewing scientist, but let's not hold that against her  ;)
Farah of Farah Makes Stuff lives in Toronto and posts great things made for herself, her daughter and son.
Suzanne of Beau Baby is an NYC transplant from Canada who posts great tutorials and patterns. 
Genevieve of Myrtle and Pearls lives here in Montreal and sells her collections at Unicorn (Montreal), Convent (NYC) and Victoire (Ottawa).  And just happens to be my cousin.  I'm waiting for her to make me a Black Mold Afternoon Tea Dress, and this is my passive-aggressive way to see if she's finished  ;)  If Genevieve doesn't read this, I'm sure Aunt Arlene will and pass on the message!  hahahahahaha

Go have a read and tell them I sent you. 




Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lounging around

While some would argue that we've become more of a lounging culture over time, I disagree.  I mean, what embodies lounging more than the late '60s-'70s?  Girdles gave way to shift dresses which gave way to swing dresses etc. etc. etc.  And if Simplicity magazine is to be believed, by 1967 even the constricting house dress had had its day:


Wait a minute.  Is that Martha Stewart modeling for Indian Head Fabrics?


It is!  Though I'm not surprised, considering who else is in my 1967-1969 Simplicity magazines:


 Ali MacGraw
 Cheryl Tiegs
 And if I'm not mistaken, that's Jodi Foster, isn't it?
(Again, sorry for the crappy photos of photos, but I don't have a scanner)

Where was I?  Oh yeah, lounge wear.  So over at TSW the theme of the week (actually, last week, but who's counting) was sleepwear / lounge wear.  I don't wear PJs, so I thought something in the ultra-sexy caftan department was called for.  Behold the couture challenge that is the caftan:




Bet you're all flustered over the skill required to construct this masterpiece, not to mention the ultimate hotness embodied therein.  I'll try to keep the detail of my construction simple, so as not to overwhelm the beginners amongst us:
I bought this length of blue batik cotton over the summer at Value Village.  Before you get all, "Here she goes again with the blue batik", please note that this one has beige too.  HA!
When I spread it out to examine it for flaws, I had one of those "work with the fabric, not against it" moments.  It measured 3m long, with batik elements that reversed at 1.5m.  Since the pattern wasn't running width wise, it didn't appear to be a sarong; It seemed like it was made to be folded over and used as a caftan.  And since I measure exactly 1.5m from shoulder to floor, there was no arguing with this batik.  Become a caftan it must.
It had this sticker on it:

I understood the Irian Jaya part, but the rest was a mystery to me.  I wonder if there is anyone out there who could translate it for me?  Oh, yeah....there is!  Novita was nice enough to answer me and translate this as "original product of Irian Jaya people/youth".  Thanks Novita!  Now it's just a mystery how this turned up at the Boulevard des Sources Village des Valeurs....

Now here comes the hard part; see if you can stay with me:  I put my Good Morning Starshine Tunic on top and pinned around the sleeves and bodice, extending down to the little white bonhomme second from the bottom.  Then I sewed along that pin line. 

I cut a wide neck hole and bound it with premade bias tape.  Then I tried it on.  Whew.  I'm exhausted just writing about it.  I'd better sit down and have a hot drink.




Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Long overdue

I'm sure you know by now that I've been on strike.  We're into WEEK 7 of what I thought would be a quick couple of weeks of demonstration followed by a couple of conciliation meetings.  Nope.  There is no end in sight.  While the lab is struggling to keep up with the screening program, I'm spinning my wheels at home.  Well, I was, but it turns out that after 6 weeks at home, you kind of fall into a new routine.  Get up at 6:30, get the big one ready for school, get the little one up, drive the big one to maternelle, go back home, get the little one ready for daycare, walk her to daycare....then the rest of the day is mine.  I tackled a big pile of paperwork I'd been avoiding, did some fall-cleaning and organized all the kids' clothes in storage.  I've already gone through a 25lb. bag of flour (and put on a couple of pounds!), so I think I should lay off the baking, but there is still a lot of organizing and purging that needs to be done around here.  Case in point:  my sewing corner.  I can't believe I'm posting photos of this, but here we go....

Before:
I have basically commandeered one end of the TV/playroom/living room.  


This is an old table that we used to use in the kitchen of our old rental places, but with a nice large house, we have upgraded.  Well, we now use two of these, properly varnished.  We can push them together in various configurations depending on how many guests we have.  Anyway, back to the sewing corner:

Eep.  Under the table are three diaper boxes bursting with patterns.  Not the best storage method, but I was making due.  In the centre is a bag with scraps, and to the right is a laundry basket full of things that need mending and alterations.  Ahem.  I'm sure we all have a pile of these.

 
  Looking in the other direction, here is my stash of fabric.  I thought that putting them in two see-through storage containers was the height of organization.....until I needed something in the bottom one and was too lazy to lift up the heavy box on top and put it back, so just threw it in the corner.  Again, we're all friends here and have nothing to hide....

I realized that this gradually evolved because I started sewing bit by bit and didn't really plan a space.  I just took stuff up from the basement pile as needed until I had an embarassing nest in a very public part of the house.  Time to attack.


One 9-cube shelving unit courtesy of Ms. Martha Stewart.  I had planned to install shelves on that wall, but some investigation revealed that there are no wooden studs.  This was the best solution I came up with.

One Billy bookcase from Ikea.  

It holds all my patterns and s**t!  
From top left: patterns from 1920s-1960s; 1970s; notions
Middle row:  patterns from 1980s-1990s; 2000-2011; tools
Bottom row:  patterns for kids and costumes; Burda patterns and magazines; sewing books


 I even had time to organize the fabric appropriately, from the bottom up:  cotton sheets and muslin on the bottom where I won't care if the kids and/or cats get at them; broadcloth and cotton blends; silks and silky synthetics out of snagging reach of little fingers and claws; jerseys; exotic fabrics I bought around the world and don't want anyone to touch; and finally scraps and small bits on top.  (I know that you're not supposed to keep small pieces because they just become hoarded scaps, but these are really good ones.  No, really.)  I still have one garbage bag full of fabric shoved in the corner, but I have a very good explanation for that.  I bought a bag of wool suiting at an estate sale, but the woman had been a heavy smoker.  The fabric was stinking up all the other fabric, and so until I get around to laundering everything by hand, it is sealed for safety.  Maybe if this strike lingers on, I'll get it all freshened up and it can live with its buddies in the shelf of textile lust.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Good Morning Starshine" Tunic

The Sew Weekly Challenge is Broadway / Musicals this week.  Having never seen a musical (and not being the biggest fan of theatre in the world), I thought I'd skip it.  Then I was vacuuming the other day and started singing "Good Morning Starshine", and it clicked how much I love the musical Hair.  I know it's cheesy, but I've seen it so many times.....  I have both the original Broadway and the movie soundtrack.  I can sing all the words to "Frank Mills".  I guess that makes me a fan of one musical at least.  


And I had just the pattern to use:
I got this groovy pattern at the NYC meet-up pattern swap.  I'm going to guess it came from Lisette because she's a big '70s fan, but please let me know if it came from you instead because I absolutely love it.  No really, I love it!


I had to scout around in my stash for a while for a piece of fabric big enough to accommodate those bell sleeves.  I bought this length of fabric this summer at Value Village for $4.99.  It looks like half or a third of a sarong panel.  I've seen them for sale in S.E. Asia for only a few bucks for the whole length, but lacking the funds to fly to Asia and buy fabric again, I think I'll accept that I got totally ripped off by Value Village and leave it at that.  


Yeah, it's another blue batik fabric.  We all know about my obsession


I've never used a "How to Sew Pattern" before, but imagine that you've never cut or sewn, and this would be the pattern to use.  There is a simple straightforward illustration for every step, and there is even an extra tissue sheet included that explains exactly how to sew the slashed front.  This is honestly the first thing I've ever sewn that I didn't have to rip even once.  Score. 


Here's an exploded view of the cut pieces.  There was just barely enough fabric to get all the pattern pieces because of the directionality of the print (and because there was a spot of something crusty I'm going to call glue that I had to cut around).  The sleeves don't match, but what'r ya gonna do?


(I call this the "Get Out of My Shot, Lulu" pose.  It's been featured here before.  I had planned to take some photos outside in the pile of vivid yellow walnut leaves in my backyard, but it's raining icicles today.)
I added a few inches of length so I could wear it as a minidress in the summer or with tights now that the cold rains of autumn have arrived. 


(Experimenting with a new pose, here's a Mena shot.  Sorry; I won't do that again.....)

Close-up of the slashed front.  It's actually not lopsided; it just looks that way because I was taking a photo with one hand.
I am in love with this tunic and I know I'll be wearing it out.  I am going to wear this tomorrow.  And probably next week and the next and the next until everyone is sick of it.  Except me!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cape Town to Canada: The Skirt of Indecision and Disagreement

So the Thanksgiving weekend is over, the living room is shoveled out, the leftovers are eaten and the kitchen is degreased.  Seriously degreased.  You would not believe what percentage of a duck is pure fat.  In case you don't believe me, here's a picture of what was left over, and that's after we used loads of it to roast the pumpkin and poured some extra over the dressing that was a bit dry:
 Anyway, I finally had time to do some sewing yesterday and the skirt of indecision and disagreement is complete.  It was a very straightforward pattern and it went together very easily.  It would have been one of those elusive 1-hour patterns if I hadn't run out of serger thread and then rethreaded it incorrectly and send broken needle bits flying.  Why is threading a serger such a pain in the ass?  I have actually zig-zagged seams rather than serging because the machine was threaded in the wrong colour and I didn't want to rethread. Eeep.


I carefully read all the comments, weighed everyone's opinion, and then decided to ignore the majority ;)  Since I had spent so much time trying to match the print, I had to go with matching panels rather than constrasting ones.  

What I like about this fabric is that from a distance, it reads as a light denim.  Then you get close and see the intricacy of the print.  I'm glad I decided to use such a simple pattern because it lets the print speak for itself rather than getting lost in complicated construction lines. 

And now for a close up of my fairly amateur* pattern matching:

Side seam:
 Back seam:

Not perfect, but I'll take it.  I didn't line it because shwe shwe is quite stiff and won't cling to tights (I tested it out), but on the other hand is soft against the skin and doesn't need a silky lining to feel good against bare legs.  Win-win.
There was a seam down the centre back and I decided to add an alteration seam.  Actually, I have no idea what to call this, but you know how men's trousers have one long seam all the way up the backside and through the waistband?  That's what I did here instead of the usual solid waistband.  Since my waist size has fluctuated up and down by several inches in the past few years, I wanted to leave myself the option to take it in (or you never know, let it out).  And while we're talking about it, why don't women's trousers have this seam too, since, let's face it, we're more likely to need alterations than men are.  Men usually only need to let out gradually over the years, whereas women grow and shrink and grow and shrink!   


*I had to google the spelling of amateur because I kept spelling it in a frenchy kind of way (amateure) and couldn't remember the correct spelling.  Don't ever google the term "amature", by the way.  You'd be suprised what sites come up.  Or maybe you won't be suprised.  That's your business.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Help! Some expert advice needed

When we were having lunch at El Centro during the NYC meetup last week, we started talking about sewing hits and misses.  I confessed that I still feel like too much of a beginning sewist to cut into my precious shwe shwe from Cape Town, so it sits unused in a storage box.  I realized how ridiculous this is, because even if I did completely botch it up, I'm going to be back in South Africa and Botswana in February and can always get more for a few $$$.  

     Full of renewed enthusiasm (and new patterns), I pulled out this Butterick 3509, AKA Rita Thomas.  A nice simple pattern like this would work well with the very complicated print of the shwe shwe.  I don't know who brought this pattern at the meet-up, but my money is on Marina.  She brought loads of great vintage patterns. 



Shwe shwe is printed on the reverse as well: 

So I cut, remembering to try to match the print.  There wasn't quite enough yardage to match exactly, but take my word for it, it's pretty damn close.  As you can see in the first close-up above, there are 8 elements that repeat, and I just about went blind last night trying to figure out which element went where.  Then I lay out the pieces to get an idea of how it will look.....

.....when I realized I could switch the side panels to show off the reverse print.  I've seen this many times in S.Africa, but I'm not sure which option looks best.  Also, to be frank, would I look ridiculous in a skirt that said, "Designed for African Women"?!!!?

So this is where I need an objective eye:  I like the idea of alternating panels because it looks more authentic to my eye, but I think that the matching panels would look better on me... less costumey.  

What you do think?


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

NYC meet-up, continued

So, in the rush to post about the meet-up, I forgot to show any of the treasures I picked up.  Because you know, it was supposed to be all about sewing, not eating and drinking.  When we all threw our patterns into a pile in the centre of Worldwide Plaza, I tried not to look, thinking about the three diaper boxes full of patterns I already have at home.  That's right, three diaper boxes.  They hold about 40-45 patterns each.  Yikes.  But then I saw that people hadn't brought along their fugly '90s patterns, but some lovelies like these:







Well, some of you may not think that those caftan/dashiki patterns are lovelies, but think of them as tunics.  Yeah, tunics.  

And here is my relatively modest fabric haul.  First up, the wovens:


From left to right: cotton broadcloth which will probably become something for my daughter; blue silk which was in a pile of nylon lining fabrics priced at $2/yard = score; silk charmeuse with an art deco feel. How beautiful is that?  It was $12/yard, which is a bit out of my comfort zone, what with being cheap thrifty, but how could I pass this up?


Next up: the knits.  It's hard to find reasonably priced jersey here in Montreal.  There must be some place, but until I find it, I'm not willing to spend $14/metre for icky jersey at Fabricville.


1m each of the striped, the mixed blue and the pink jersey; 3m of the black, because unlike Oona, I can never get enough black jersey.


This blue knit has the potential to turn nasty if I choose the wrong pattern.  Maybe just a very, very simple T with few seams.

And just so this post isn't all sewing and no scientist, here is what I did when I got back to Montreal.  We were invited to hear this talk and speak a bit about our project.  Lots of cool projects going on in Canada and the developing world that always make me wonder, "how the hell did I get this dream job?!  And when is my strike going to end so I can get back to 'taking life-saving science from lab to village', so to speak"  ;)


On another note, my man was taking some kind of online survey this morning to determine whether he was a nerd or not; he got a "not nerd" verdict, which led to a discussion about how our perceptions of what is and isn't a nerd has probably changed a lot over the last decade, what with the technology used in everyday life, when I realized what my shirt said:

Perhaps I won't take that survey.  
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