Friday, February 29, 2008

Comments, Comments

This post isn't about my yarn shop, I don't have one, and I don't even hope to own a knitting store one day. This was just something I scribbled when I was practicing my Spencerian Script recently. It's so pretty, that I thought you might enjoy it too, and it's somewhat related to my post for today. Ok, it's a little bit of a stretch. I just wanted something to illustrate my topic for today: the comments board, something you might see at this store or at the local Y.

Anyhow, I enjoy reading them. They're a hoot and such an insight into shoppers' obsessions. I read a bunch recently that were so entertaining, I had to write them down on a paper plate. A napkin wouldn't do. These were on the Bakery section of the bulletin board under Customer Communication:

Please add sugar-free fruit to your bakery assortment.

Sugar-free pies are available by special order. Please ask a Bakery Team Member to order for you.
(Signed) Team member, Jean, Concierge

Dated 1/19/08, this was also amusing:

I am a loyal customer and I am concerned that you're phasing out the Kashi Heart to Heart Instant Oatmeal. PLEASE don't. I went to both stores today and there was none in stock. Sincerely, Talaya J. (Evanston)

Jean ever so politely wrote in response:

Dear Customer, It's on the shelf! Sometimes the distributor or producer is out of stock. Thanks for shopping here!

There were other pleas and urgent requests posted on the produce section of the board, but I didn't get around to reading those. But I will. I must. I have to read everything that crosses my path and I was sorely disappointed that there no comments posted at my local Y where I work out. They must have cleaned them out, especially my note asking if they would be getting a Power Plate anytime soon.

Those queries and questions got me thinking. What if a yarn shop had similar kinds of posts on an in-store board? What would knitters ask? How would the owners or employees respond? (That's how my picture is somewhat related to this post.)

Here are some questions I would ask and here's how I might answer (if I owned a yarn shop):

Customer Comments

Question: Why do I find bits of wood (yes, timber!) in my Noro Kureyon yarn? It makes knitting a little difficult and I'm afraid to get a splinter in my finger.

Answer: We don't know why there's wood in your yarn. But other people have asked us this question. So you are not alone. Just get this straight: we're not chopping elm trees in the back room, so those cellulose fibers aren't our fault. Maybe parts of a wooden spinning wheel are getting swept up in the yarn. We don't know. Email the folks at Noro and ask 'em. If you're afraid of getting a splinter, don't knit with this yarn. Yes, it's that simple.

Question: Why don't you have Wenlan Chia's latest book?

Answer: We're not terribly fond of Wenlan Chia's work, to be honest. Virtually every pattern is made from chunky yarn, which knits up at about two stitches per inch and doesn't flatter any woman who wears a B-cup size bra or larger. However, don't let our opinions stop you from using her patterns if you're so inclined. We're certain that the nearest chain book store of your choice will stock Chia's book. Good luck!

A little snarky, I know. What would you ask your LYS (local yarn store) if you could do so anonymously on a board?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Letter














a letter?




Monday, February 25, 2008

A Hobby For When Your Social Life Is Really Dead

Rug-hooking, akin to latch-hooking, but not to confused with a street hooker, is not a hobby for sissies, I'm afraid. Rug-hooking involves pulling approximately 2-inch look 1/8-inch wide strips of 100 percent wool in and out of fine burlap with a tool with a crochet-like hook. Yes, you read rightly. Burlap. That scratchy stuff. And you no matter what you do to avoid having that coarse fabric abrade your skin, including putting a soft fleece blanket on your lap, your hands constantly brush against the burlap. So much so that you get to the point, you would scream at the next person who says, "So-and-so could wear burlap and still look like a knock-out." Burlap is not stylish, it is not fun, and it's not something you want anyone, including Miss America, to wear.

So rug-hooking has that going against it. At least with latch-hooking you're working with a canvas which is not nearly abrasive, and soft, possibly polyester yarns. Latch-hooking is a little more hip too. Anything from the 1970s is very "in" and making little rugs with bits of yarns was so trendy back when the Partridge Family was on the air for the first time.

Rug-hooking with wool strips is considerably more antiquated, much more Little House on the Prairie than the Brady Brunch or that other musical brood I mentioned earlier. This is a hobby that dates back to I don't know when. It's a fixation that's celebrated in the likes of Country Living and Victoria, not Craft or Readymade Magazine. I've seen examples from the late 1800s, but I'm certain that are earlier ones.

I was fascinated by rug-hooking because I'd see all these ancient examples in the Shabby Chic series of books by Rachel Ashwell. I thought, "Aren't those gorgeous?" Then my mother started making them by taking lessons with a teacher who specialized in these rugs; her name was Sally. I remember my mom made a little chair cover with a cat on it using old wool clothes. I was so impressed by her handiwork, I wanted to do it too. Then she made a paisley table runner. I was such a sucker for paisley (and still am), I had to try this hobby now.

So I started to take lessons from Sally. But I wanted to make something a little more au courant, and less pioneer-looking than what my mom made. I saw some of these old patterns from the 1940s by Pearl McGown. Plush peonies and cabbage roses spilling from Victorian urns. Very romantic. That's what I wanted to make. Sally and I ordered a pattern pre-printed on burlap, and got down to work. My social life must have been really been down the tubes, because I made two of these rugs, before I began and abandoned a very ambitious room-sized rug strewn with the florals similar to what you see above. I have to tell you that making rugs isn't exactly a portable hobby. You can't take it easily to a coffee shop to hang out with knitters. No, you have to do it at home, on the couch. No wonder I started going out swing-dancing, no doubt with bits of burlap fiber hanging off from my retro dresses.

There was another reason I liked this hobby, especially my patterns. This particular passion for textiles was all about the 1940s, which I was 10 years ago. I filled my closet with dresses, blouses and skirts from the World War II era, most of it to go dancing. I played Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey on my boom box, trying to imagine myself in the arms of a handsome soldier who could do the tuck-turn really well. Anyhow, rug-hooking was popular during the second world war with gals lonesome for their men, and soldiers recovering from battle injuries (it no doubt kept them away smoking cigarettes. Burlap and matches do not go together.)

The above rug was actually sewn onto a wood frame made by aforementioned carpenter friend. That frame is a fireplace screen, which would be handy if I ever own or rent a home with a fireplace to cover. Right now, that screen welcomes visitors by the entryway. My late cat Freaky liked to rub up against it too, so this specific artwork has much sentimental value.

Will I ever finish the living-room-carpet-in-the-making? Sure. When I'm stuck in bed temporarily and I can't get out, not even to raid the refrigerator. When I'm tired of sewing and knitting. When I have no reason to escape from home for a dinner with a friend. When I'm about ready to jump into my coffin, but I can't because I haven't finished this 20-years-in-the-offing project. Until, I'll just buy a television set to put off completing all and any projects that have no reason to be concluded.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Three Tops and a Folding Screen

It would seem that the favorite top pattern in my collection would be the Santa Monica Tee. Isn't it ironic, but I've never been to Santa Monica, California, which I imagine is a lot warmer and greener than Chicago right now. I picture the locals walking around in shorts, sandals and sleeveless shirts. The women have their legs and armpits shaved. If they're not naturally tanned from the sun rays beaming on them every day, I imagine they spend their disposable income here getting some color, after buying a cup of Starbucks coffee. And the men? I bet their coloring is just as good. They're not lily-white like their Windy City counterparts. They wander about town in cargo pants, and they might even have pedicures to show off their toes and hairy bunions. Am I right or am I wrong?

Any way, the Santa Monica Tee (not be confused with Ford Model T) is just an amazing t-shirt pattern. It only has three pieces, which is just absolutely perfect for me because fabric parts tend to migrate under my bed or sometimes even sneak into the garbage (how dare they!) once I cut them out with scissors. So just three pieces. I can count them on one hand.

Then the construction. Beyond wonderful. There's none of that "ease that here" or "pleat at this notch" silliness. Who needs that in jersey top that's just going to the grocery store for Peter's sake? Not me in any event. You do have to put a dart in the top of each sleeve, which seems really weird when you're used to stitching darts at a skirt waist or on the front of a blouse bodice. But I just listen to the pattern, and do what it says. I figure the instructions know what they're saying (they don't always do, but that's entirely another tale, and not a tall one.) These 'ole darts give the sleeve shaping (a term I learned in knitting, by the way. Why don't I hear this term in sewing escapes on this bleak Friday afternoon.).

From there, the rest of the sewing is easier than rescuing a cold Pepsi from the refrigerator. You twin-needle stitch the neckline. I frequently feel sweaty at this point. I'm afraid I'm going to break a needle. My heart rate goes up and I press my foot down on the pedal slowly. I'm also fearful that I'm going to get this bunchy knot on the bottom of the fabric, and I'm going to have to start all over again.

That's the hardest part of this pattern - the spot where your neck is going to go. Then you attach those sleeves I mentioned earlier to the bodice, and zoom with your sewing machine up from the hem, all the way past the spot where your armpits will meet the fabric, past the elbow part and stop at the sleeve hem. Guess what? You're almost done. You hem that baby with either a cover-stitch on your serger or a zig-zag on your sewing machine. Yes, this pattern is that quick, which is probably why I have so many Santa Monica tees on the top of my grandma's Art Deco blonde wood dresser.

Back to the above picture. In no particular order, there's a Kwik Sew surplice top on the right, and then two tops I just discussed in length. I'm incredibly proud of the fabric I used for these tops. I nabbed (and I mean nabbed) the galloon-edged stretch lace from the remnant section at Vogue Fabrics. Galloon-edge means there's a scallop on each side of the fabric. You want to hazard a guess what that might mean? No, pirates are not near. It means yYou don't have to hem this piece of apparel! Can you believe it? That makes this pattern even faster, in fact, you could probably speed sew this top faster than a Bel Aire could cruise through even the busiest McDonald's drive-thru. Anyhow, I'm extremely proud of the fabric finds. I nearly never find this stuff in the remnants. It just doesn't happen. I think Victoria's Secret uses it all, and rarely has scraps for us home sewers. That's just what I believe. So what you see on your screen are two tops saved from being sewn into underwear in China and Viet Nam. (Those would be the two hangers on the right). Lord knows we have enough sexy underwear on our planet.

If you wondering about the folding screen, here's the story. The screen was made after I saw a quite expensive antique version in this store. I just didn't have the cash to buy that one, so I thought I would make my own. So after a carpenter friend delivered on this project to my Wicker Park pad, I set to decoupaging it with Victorian scrap and cut-outs from old books. This was in my Blue Period (as in I was blue over a guy who married another woman not me.). So I spent many nights in my drafty living room pasting tiny pieces of paper to this screen, just as I imagined my corseted 19th century peers might have done beneath smoky gas lanterns on cold, cold winter nights. Although I envision these ladies of yesteryear breaking for a sniff and sip of brandy now and again. Me? I just continued on in my misery over this guy.

Now, more than a decade a later I have this wonderful screen, the pride and joy of my Rogers Park pad. The Blue Period is done and I think I might be entering my Yellow or Red phase. I'm not sure just because I need to check with the Pantone people before I made a final decision. This is nothing I take lightly because it could have serious ramifications such as affecting the color choices of others.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fill in the Blanks, Please*

I'm a huge fan of Bob Newhart, so I couldn't resist reading his book, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This! Other Things That Strike Me As Funny. Anyhow, there's a chapter titled, "Comedians See Life Through A Different Lens." It occurred to me that some of what he says applies to milliners. I subtracted a bunch of words and added a few to what he says for a little fill-in-the-blanks fun. There are no wrong answers!

People frequently ask me what is a milliner. I tell them, "________." I remind them that a milliner is not a ________. Most milliners are _______. People say that I'm the most ____ of all milliners and I'm still ______. Milliners by nature are ________. Even if a milliner is ________ and she _______, he or she will say to herself, "______________." When I was a child, I remember watching a ______ with the name _____ on the side. Subconsciously, I filed the name away for later use. I actually ended up using it for ____.

Milliners are innately __________ to pick up oddities like _____, ________, and ______ in everyday life. Many milliners, otherwise known as hat designers, would probably agree that you start off doing _____ while ____ evolves. Elsa Schiaparelli started doing ___ and then she ____. Coco Chanel did ____ and then ____; _____, ballet, _____. Let's not forget ____ who made many ____ in her life. She was ______! For me, my models were _____, ____, and of course, _____, who made the biggest impression on me because _________. I knew I made it when I received an accolade from ___ and a gold metal for _____. When I die I hope friends, family and colleagues remember me for ____, but they will likely remember me for ____. But that's ____, I'm still ____ at heart. I'm going to make sure everyone knows by _______.

* The hat above is what I sent to Craft Magazine to illustrate my story on pantyhose petals.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Little Wednesday humor...

Spring Me

There's something to the power of imagination to make day-to-day life a little more delightful. I think I used to live in the world of make-believe a lot more than a do now. I even had a pretend friend in eighth grade, a time when I really needed one. Then my acne was so unbelievably bad I was so incredibly insecure. I don't even remember the name of this pal, which makes me believe that this being wasn't very helpful. Real amigas are better. I also used to read a lot more books then, now I occasionally read novels, and more often waste my reading skills on magazines and the Internet, and all that nearly drains all "let's pretend" ability.

In returning to the world of the not-so-real, I've started drawing again to see if that doesn't stanch the loss of this most important skill. See the above? That's the spring version of Me. It's the gal whose legs and underarms are shaved and she's even in pretty good shape after spending a whole Winter consuming Cuban black bean soup and Doritos, among other things. I dissect this picture from top to bottom just as I did in yesterday's post. It's a good way to distract me from the good draft currently in my office.
1. The hair. This is the Katie Holmes haircut, the bebanged-bob that Tom Cruise's wife-of-the-moment wears. I like the girlyness of this cut, the fringe of hair above the eye is great for hiding pimples, lines, even eyebrows. My bangs don't seem to be quite as thick as Mrs. Cruise's, but I try, fighting the cowlick that wants so badly to to divide my hair follicles like olive oil and Lake Michigan water. Still I persist with my hair dryer, a brush, and some gel. This cut is superb for spring breezes, but a killer on the neck in the current wintry climate. But I'm talking about spring, right? Forget about the cold and snow.
2. The coat. I know it looks like a dress, but it's not. Although it could handily pass for one, the skirt is so full. No, this is pattern no. 117 from Burda World of Fashion, the February edition, which at least one person has recreated so well. I especially like the shirring detail at the waist. They've got four rows of smocking, I've only three in my drawing, because I just couldn't sneak in another row. And the raglan sleeves! These are perfect for me with my small shoulders. You can't see the top-stitching detail on my girl's sleeves, but there are rows upon rows of stitches, just like at the hem. The abovementioned sewist made her coat in a glowing midnight-blue taffeta. I'm not sure how I'd do mine, if I ever get around to making it. A grassy green dupioni silk would be beautiful even if it does fade after a couple of outings.
3. The shoes. I show pumps, but really I'm a wedgies, peep-toe kind of gal. If you're going to go for height and you need some room for your big toes, this is really the only stylish way to go. But I definitely don't see boots or flats with this coat. Why hide the legs on an outfit meant to show them off? No pants or shorts either. Only a dress or a skirt will do. The only thing I might add is a soft silky scarf at the neck.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Winter Ensemble

Winter is in full bloom here in Chicago. The sidewalks are icy, tempers are short, the nights are especially long because you want to avoid the aforementioned sidewalks and tempers. The only reason to go outside is to take out the garbage, go to work and walk the dog, if you have one. If you don't own a canine, this is not a good time to get one because you will be spending more time outdoors at this time of year than you care to.

In any event, since venturing in the Great Outdoors is a requirement at some point, it does help to dress stylishly as possible. It makes the frigid landscape a little more bearable. So here's what I've come up with, and it's outfit that I'm pretty happy with and warm in for the most part.* So, take a look at the drawing above. That's me, circa February 2008. We'll start from the top, the smartest part of my body, to the bottom, the dumbest.
1. The hat. Now this earflap hat (which is, according to the label inside, "Original-Custom, Lilliput Hats, Toronto-Canada) is my favorite winter-time headwarmer, even though it's a bit too small. The black, make-up smudged grosgrain ribbon always pulls out every time I put on this hat, that's how tight it is. Even so I love this hat. It's pure silliness with the tuffs of dull platinum-colored fur protuding from a a soft, short white base. Somehow my day goes better when I wear this hat. Men do double-takes while driving down the street (even rolling down the windows to get a closer look) and I get compliments all around. It makes having frozen fingers much more tolerable.
2. The sunglasses. When I drew the above picture, I was thinking of my highlighter-orange DG (Dolce Gabbana) sunglasses that are just perfect year-around as long as they coordinate with whatever you're wearing. I bought these two years ago at a boutique on Division Street here in Chicago. I feel like I'm ready to go skiiing when I wear these glasses. Wouldn't you know I lost one of the lenses on the train last week? The glasses jumped on the floor while I was sitting down (now why would a pair of glasses want to be on a dirty, sandy subway train surface is beyond me.) I picked them up, not realizing that one lens decided to stay in the train. I actually wore the glasses off the train for a few minutes, not realizing that there was only one lens. Surprisingly, no one said anything to me. But that's Chicago for you, nothing is strange here, although a cat wearing a pair of one-lens sunglasses might get some funny looks.
3. The cowl neck. Ironically, this is something I knitted using a Noro yarn called Silver Thaw. Now if that's not ironic, I don't know what it is. (I actually thought it was Spring Thaw, when I first wrote this post. That must be a sure sign that I'm yearning for Spring.) I made this cowl neck using a 40-inch size 10 circular needles. I didn't realize that I was using the wrong length of needles until I asked for help sizing this tube at a local yarn shop. Since I couldn't knit this piece of apparel in the round because these circulars were too long, I was nearly whipped by the needles each time I finished a row. I'm relieved I'm finished now because I've saved my eyesight. I adore wearing this scarf replacement. Just slip it on, brush down the fuzzy hair, and you're good to go.
4. The jacket. I love wearing white during the cold, dreary months of winter. It's bright and cheery, a contrast to the dirty snow everywhere. I had a cream-colored princess-cut coat for a couple of years. I wore that coat just about everywhere. Yes, that coat had to spend a lot of quality time at the dry cleaner, but it was worth it. I even had the lining replaced more than once because I couldn't even begin to think of parting with this coat, which I incidentally I got for free from a family clearing out an estate that included hundreds of sewing patterns. (Yes, I took the patterns too.) Anyhow, back to my new winter coat: it's made by Blanc Noir, and I bought it at Nordstrom Rack. It actually has a belt to go with it, but I decided it cut me in half in the most unflattering way and now that belt resides on the carpet in my bedroom. Since I was ditching that piece of hardware, I carefully picked out the belt loops with my seam ripper. You can't see it on my drawing, but there snaps on the collar, which come in handy when it's really windy and the hat isn't keeping my head warm enough. Then it's just Snap! Snap! and oops, there's no snap here, and suddenly I look a character from a 2001: A Space Odyssey, all white from nearly my knees to the top of my head hairs. One more thing: I love the pockets, although I seem to pull more than my fair share of threads each time I dig in for my keys. Does this ever happen to you?
5. The mittens. I have to tell you I drew mittens simply because it's easier than sketching out gloves. But I don't wear mittens. I don't remember the last time I wore them. I just wanted you to know because it's important.
6. The pants. We'll skip these because they are generally a pair of stretched-out faded black Target yoga pants or a pair of well-worn Juicy Couture tan draw-string pants. Both of these need to go to Goodwill now, but I'm just too attached for the moment. I layer these with a pair of thin-weight long underwear, which has also seen better days.
7. The boots, which are actually a black knit at the calves, and then something artificial everywhere else. I bought these at Payless Shoes on the advice of my shoe repair man (you don't have one? You should. They'll help you keep your favorite shoes alive longer.) But they were a mistake from the first puddle I stepped in. Wet socks. There are worst things in life than wet fabric clinging to your feet, but still it's enough to ruin your day. Not even carrying around an extra pair of socks can help you reclaim your day because they'll get soaked too. Now, I've a pair of Sorel boots that are seamless and can beat back water like you wouldn't believe, but I think they're ugly and not something I want to be caught wearing in downtown Chicago. In the meantime, it's the Payless boots and a lot of jumping over pools of water that are beginning to look like ponds on the streets of my hometown.
* The only thing better than this get-up right now would be a weekend in Mexico, sipping a margarita at an outdoor pool in my bathing suit. Now that's the life.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Name of the Blog...

You're probably wondering how I gave my blog the name, The Lazy Milliner. It's a moniker that's been sitting in the hard drive on my body for the past two years. In fact, it's the name I was going to give my other blog. I should have gone with my original instinct because here is twenty-four months after I gave birth to the other weblog, which came about after I ended the earthly life of still another site on 1930s hats (now how's that for a limited topic? But people actually did stop by, mostly likely because I was on a few webrings.) You would think the name the Lazy Milliner would be somehow restricted the author to writing about hats all day. But I don't intend to do that because I'm the Lazy Milliner. I'm lackadaisical when it comes to making hats, remember? So I won't talk about what I don't do very much. Doesn't that make perfect sense? It does to me, especially since it's early Friday morning and I have many other things to do before the sun bites the dusk later today. Like what, you say? For example, I must finetune a story before turning it in, make a least a dozen work-related phone calls, run some errands at lunch time, take a nap, make another call related to a fellowship I'm applying for, reduce the inbox, eat dinner, dawdle a little bit and then ring up a few friends post-supper. If I'm feeling somewhat productive, I'll sweep the living room and perhaps hem the orange paisley-blue leopard spots knit dress that's clinging to my dress form for dear life. Then I'll call it a night to get a jump-start on my action-packed weekend (well, it has to be since I have no car right now and must walk everywhere I need to go.) What about you? How did you name your blog, if you have one?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

An Introduction

My name is Mary Beth. I'm really am lazy about making hats as I mentioned in the "What You Need to Know About Me" section on the side of this blog. I can't tell you how many hat patterns I have collected over the years...bundled up in folders, stacked in cardboard boxes; these patterns are sitting just itching to be made. I see them wiggling each time I rifle through them looking for a dress, skirt or a top to stitch up. I know the hat patterns feel a little insulted when I ignore them. Trust me, I feel guilty too. I feel like I'm forgetting my children. At least I wear hats. Not every single moment. You won't find me wearing a night cap (or drinking one for that matter.) But I do love hats. My favorite one at the moment is a fluffy fur flap hat that I picked up at this show. It cost well well over a $100, but it keeps me warm and gets me attention (although yesterday, I had it on when the bus sped past even though I was waving my arms wildly.)

Aside from my growing hat collection, you need to that I love to

. I learned how to crochet about six years ago. It felt quite intimidated holding the yarn in my left hand while I wielded a crochet hook in my right paw. It felt so foreign, like I was drinking 2 percent milk with brandy in it. I did master the basic stitches, even if I was making them all in the same hole, creating this little, bunchy thing. Soon, I was making Fourth of July colored cotton pot holders. Now, I've made skirts, ponchos, and berets.

You should also know I like

. Notice I didn't say I love knitting. You've got to be kidding! Knitting is so slow. There are days I rather walk from walk from Chicago to my alma mater and back rather than pick up two needles and a ball of yarn. Somehow I've managed to knit a couple of skirts, a sleeveless halter top and a wonky skirt turned into a shawl. Knitting is torture, but I'm still doing that instead of crochet right now.

Even more than crochet and knitting, I love

. I have a stash of fabric that's bulging out of one of those black-mesh laundry units in my closet and a huge collection of Vogue, Butterick, McCalls, and Simplicity patterns. I'm also a proud owner of a Viking Husqvarna 735. I love that baby sooo much. I've made at least 12 tops (that kind you wear, not spin), a few dresses and a lot of designer touches that I've just tossed in the garbage. Some of the more wearable designer items I wear to bed if they're not too scratchy. But's so quick. Or it can be, if you so choose. I love the insty-ness of it. From cutting out the fabric to stitching up the hem, I can have a new piece of clothing in boom! 2 hours. Or thereabouts.
Enough about me for the moment. Tell me about you. What do you like to do?
* If you are interested in learning more about the calligraphy: it's Spencerian Script, popular during the Victorian era. I wrote these words, using a White Sharpie peel-off China marker on Strathmore Artagain black paper, which I just noticed is ideally suited for soft pastels and charcoal.