Thursday, May 29, 2008

Polls and other stuff*


The "editor" goofed on the (How has the economy affected your sewing habits poll ). The "mistake" should be obvious if you follow the link. Actually, I might give the topic another shot now that I think about it.

I've got a new knitting-related poll in the left sidebar. Please vote if you're so inclined, which brings me to the results of the "How Likely Are You To Join a French Knitting Club?" poll. It turned out two readers voted yes; two, no and three never. I've seen at least two women knitting (one was making a sock, the other looked she was embroidering a knitted hat) while they were waiting for class at Alliance Française, so they and other Francophiles could be members of my club if I ever decided to start one. I think we might need to show a movie at the same time, and have at least brie cheese and some French bread. There's already a meet-up.com group that goes to local French films, but the group I envision would meet at the abovementioned building, where we could at least control the lights so we could see our needles. I'm not about to try those lighted needles while I'm in the theater, but I could do with some low lights (at least enough to see some basic stockinette stitches, I can't be multi-tasking attempting to make lace). Which brings me to another knitting-related question, for those of you on Ravelry, how many of you would put your ID on a business card? I've found I write mine (thelazymilliner) on ripped pieces of paper, napkins and other ephermera when I meet fellow Ravelry members. I'm thinking that I might actually put my ID on future business cards to save some hassles. Would you do the same or have you already?

Phantomminuet doesn't mess with knitting needles as far as I know, but she did tag me. So here are six things you didn't know about me:

1. I have ten brothers and sisters (two sisters, seven brothers) and twelve nieces and nephews. Maybe I said that in a previous post. I dunno. Now you know definitely. This crop of youngsters makes for some noisy family get-togethers, which I'm glad are thrilled are held at my mother's. Let her deal with the broken picture frames.
2. I shouldn't speak too soon. I might have to deal with my less than fair share of broken items, now that I will be the foster mother of a cute little dog named Hamlet from Blessed Bonds (see above picture) beginning Monday for at least 14 days. I grew up with dogs (beginning with Beulah, a basset hound, to Chico, a furry mutt, and then Toby, I forget what breed he was).
3. I don't wear any rings. Zilch. Not even a Claddagh ring, which I keep thinking about doing since perhaps it bring some new love options my way. But I do like having hands barren in a way. A ring might feel confining.
4. I like making lentil soup from scratch. Two weeks from now I'm going to get the chance to can vegetable broth with two sisters I met recently at this event.
5. I have an air conditioner in my apartment, but I never use it. Instead, I just on any one of three ceiling fans, and crack open the windows when it gets really hot.
6. I've never downloaded anything from iTunes even though I have the ability to do so.

For those of you who like to dye fiber (I would think this would include fabric, although the following information is addressed to Chicago knitters), here's a free event. I'm thinking of going, but I'm not dying any yarn.

Worna Haywood and Judy Chan are hosting a dye day on Saturday, June 7th. No previous experience necessary.

If you are interested please RSVP to Judy or Worna and say what time you plan to arrive so they know how many people to expect.

When: Saturday, June 7, 2008, anytime between 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Where: Judy's workshop at 8217 N Elmore St, Niles, IL 60714
(2 blocks north of Oakton, west of Milwaukee just past "O" streets)

We will supply:
Dyes, burners to heat water, stock pots, steamer,
yarn swift, niddy noddy, microwave, etc.

Supplies you will need to bring:
Animal-based fibers or yarn to dye
Gallon of white vinegar (such as Heinz)
Bottles of water with sport caps (squirt bottles)
Plastic bucket
Plastic wrap
Plastic baggies to take home wet fibers/yarn
Gloves: plastic, vinyl or disposable
Apron or wear old clothes and shoes
Foam paint brush (about 2" wide)

Finally, this weekend I plan to tackle a little knitting (I've abandoned the tank top for now, and plan to make this instead). Sunday I just might do some sewing at Vogue Fabrics, but there's some work I also need to address as well. I've found that I've done very little sewing lately. I think it's because I spend so much time in my apartment so I'm eager to spend as much social time outside of it as possible. At least at Vogue Fabrics, I'll have a sewing machine, no computer distractions, plus I can talk to shoppers if I start feel a little lonely.

Ok, I'm going to tag the following: Svetlana at My Knitting Island, Peacock Chic, and lower your pressure foot. I'm off to email these folks....
* The skirt you see above is another version of the New Look skirt pattern I posted yesterday.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Vogue Fabrics, part 1 of a primer*




For those of you who don't live nearby, there are directions here on how to get there. I don't see any instructions on how to get there from Mars, Venus or any of the other planets, but it must be well worth the visit if Mennonites from Iowa and Indiana travel miles upon miles to come here.
Anyhow, here are some highlights of a quick, 10-minute visit today. (I went to make a payment on my serger, alas, I left my wallet at home so I will have to return another day. Darn!)

On sale in the silk room:**
  • 28-inch wide Artisan silks, $3.99 a yard. The colors are a bit somber, but perhaps the greatest limitation might be the width, which is less than the circumference of my waist. If I had my druthers (and I often do along with Doritos), I'd buy a couple of yards for his-and-hers vests with a matching bowtie for both. I know this looks very "A Chorus Line", so what? Other than, this fabric might make for some great trim on a wrap-style dress.
  • Sixty-inch wide Designer wools, $9.99 a yard. Fantastic deal, I say. This would be a great place for those of you participating in the Great Coat Sew Along (which by the way, is already closed to the public. Apparently 75 sewers have signed up...giving Burlington Coat Factory a run for its money. I do hope that Marji at least re-opens so the rest of us coatless schlubs can at least live vicariously and post comments. But I digress). Anyhow, the abovementioned wools are poly/lycra and machine washable (moms should especially like that). Actually, I might like that since I dearly miss my princess-cut cream-colored coat which I tossed because it had been to the dry cleaner one too many times. I didn't see a cream wool, but there has to be at least one....
  • Soft Touch Jersey, 60 inches wide, machine washable. A mere $2.99 a yard. This stuff is delectable - incredibly comfortable. I wore this skirt you see above this past Sunday on what feels like the only warm day we've had five months into 2008. This fabric comes in array of colors - lots of bright colors if you're so inclined. What's really nice is you don't have to finish the edges, the raw edge is very ready to wear. Like Gigi's poly, this jersey wears really well in humid weather. I could also see it used like this.
Ok, onward and upward. Now for a few things that are not marked down but I couldn't resist writing about just because I like 'em.
  • 100 percent cotton galloon-edged eyelet, $11.99 a yard. If you love eyelet and really don't like to do hems, this fabric is your friend. What is a galloon you ask? It's this, and not this. I know, I know a galloon makes me think of Johnny Depp in Pirates of eh Caribbean" (by the way, dear Johnny is filming "Public Enemy" in Chicago as I write). Galloon is just a fancy-schmancy way of saying "scallop." Yes, this fabric has scalloped edges, perfect for a blouson for Mr. Depp for the next Pirates movie. I've always wanted to dye eyelet, but somehow I just want to sew the eyelet so badly, I leave the color alone...and end up with another eyelet dress that doesn't stand out on the streets. Anyhow, I wonder how eyelet dyed with Kool-Aid would look? If any of you have undertaken this experiment, I want to know. One last thing: if you do actually visit Vogue to buy the completely natural, be sure you read the labels. The pure cotton variety is parked right next to the poly/cotton blend, and it would extremely easy to pick up the wrong bolt and get it cut. While it's cheaper, the poly eyelet is a lot more lightweight and looks cheap to my contact-lens encased eye, and it's virtually impossible to dye.
  • Metallic sheen linen, 56 inch wide, $12.99 a yard. I'm pretty certain that hails from Italy. Last week there was rust and indigo versions of this linen. Now I only see an off-white and taupe, both still very nice, but not nearly as lux as the colors I mentioned. But if I get to the point where I've run out of fabric, I'd make a pair of slouchy full paints in either....top stitching with gold thread. I'm fairly certain this fabric is dry clean only, but I wonder how it would hold up if you were to hand wash or gasp! even toss it into the laundry machine. I'd love to test out a swatch....
  • Church Brocade, $11.99 a yard. Sorry I didn't write down the exact width. In any event, this stuff is parked along the wall, not far from the exquisite eyelet. I often wonder who uses this fabric. It is just sewers making church vestments, does anyone else use it for any other purpose, say like a skirt or a coat? Or would that be sacriligious? There were a few bolts, but the only one I remember is the gold and white one, very traditional.
Finally, if you can't visit in person, you can buy yardage over the phone. Just be prepared to describe the yardage in question in great detail.
* The fabric above is sewn up into a New Look skirt.
* *The silk room, so named for all the silks on the tables, is in the middle of the store. The main room is the first room you see when entering the store at the street entrance closest to Lake Michigan. It's stocked with knits and other less pricey fabrics. The home decorating department at eastern end of the store, has its own. If you're not sure if you're in the silk room, it's the only part of the store that doesn't have a public exit.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Quite a Bit of Creativity This Weekend*

But I don't have much to show for it. I feel unproductive compared to some other bloggers, who completed projects during these past three days. I see pictures here of dresses completed, skirts stitched and scarfs made...it's enough to make feel like I didn't do anything just because what I worked on isn't done. I was half-hoping that I would start Saturday and finish this tank top by last night, at the latest.

It didn't happen, but not for lack of effort. I do believe I deserve some Gold Stars for buying yarn, casting on 165 stitches on a pair of 29-inch circulars that constantly threatened to gauge out my eyeballs all in one 72-hour period.

Anyhow, my eyes did survive the dangerous cast-on. Then I knitted, purled, did the latter and former again just to get to the fun part: lace. So I did the requisite yarn-overs, K2s, ssks in the proper spots repeatedly. The first time, I came to the end of the row with something six extra stitches. I was sitting inside a tent in this park when that happened, a gentle warm breeze blowing on me, while my three nieces bounced around me, begging for yet another chapter in my unpublished masterpiece, "Ashley & Blake Go To Scotland." But I had my priorities in order, knitting, especially when it's frustrating, takes precedence over a pair of fictitious boy-crazy characters. So I took off five rows of stitches from those wicked knitting needles. And cast on yet again.

So last night having survived a terrible rainstorm that nearly flooded the inside of our unanchored tent, I tackled the knitting one more time. I got the foundation rows all done while I was taking a crowded train back from Highland Park (minus the Aerobed mattress, which just too much to carry when my soggy belongings felt heavy enough).

So while sitting on my couch surrounded by my stuff, I bit the bullion and I did the lace row a second time, which was one stitch short of knitterly perfection. What to do? What to do? What to do? Of course, log onto Ravelry, which I did....and to be extremely frank, I'm ready to cast off yet again (no, not on a rowboat, but all those stupid stitches already on the needle)...and take a break from the whole blessed thing. Maybe in another day or two (when it's warmer and feels a little more appropriate to making something for summer) I'll feel different about this project. I'll be ready to try again with renewed zeal. I dunno. What I liked Best About the Project So Far: I really did enjoy sitting inside the tent blissfully knitting with my bare feet, enjoying what felt like the first day of summer (brutally cut short by Old Man Winter today), I wish I had something to show for this extra-long weekend. Why didn't I sew? I have bundles of fabric happily waiting for me in my bedroom closet. For sewing, I don't have to laboriously count the stitches in the fabric, it just leaps onto the table and wants to be cut into pieces and sewn into something wearable, it doesn't matter what, just something. Even if I just finished up putting the foldover-elastic on a sleeveless top yesterday than I could have something to photograph and show for my 72-hours of no schedule, no nothing and no news. Instead I have a pair of circulars sitting on my couch, waiting for me to pick them up yet again. They'd especially like it if I took off the yarn so they could get another chance to whip me in the face. Now tell me do scissors attempt that? Certainly if they're sharp, you could nick yourself, but attack you while you're holding them with both pair of hands? I think not. Sewing is much more civilized. Trust me I'm not afraid of sharps on my sewing machine, but knitting needles? Talk about the potential for bodily harm. Of course, it is my quest to be busy and truly happy with I make or am I just overly keen to have something photogenic to blog about today? Would I care as much if I weren't blogging? Probably not. Time for some almonds and a mug of green tea.

For those of you who blog - how often do you feel compelled to write about finished projects?
* The fabric above was for this dress. Incidentally, I see Target has also used the same jersey for this dress.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Favorite Stores for Inspiration*



With the Internet, it's easier than ever to browse online to find ready-to-wear that can inspire new sewing and knitting projects. I do that too, but there's something about the serendipitous discovery of seeing something in a window display at a local boutique or even a chain store that can spur creativity in a way that a web link doesn't. It's kind of like buying a vintage pattern at a local thrift store versus doing the same on eBay. I find I'm much more likely to use the Vogue, McCall or Simplicity pattern if it was this amazing discovery...for one thing, I'm more prone to remember that I even have it. When I buy lots of patterns online they jumble together like spoons, knives, forks and twisties in a kitchen drawer. But if the pattern's sufficiently unique with this way-cool story behind it, I'll recall it first before the dozens of others in my collection.

So when I see a dress, skirt or sweater at a store, I'm just more jazzed to recreate it on my own for far less money (isn't that nearly always the goal even if it's not achieved?) than when I see it on my MacBook. Enough of the observations, here are some favorite stores for inspiration:

1. Presence. This is actually quite a large store located here in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood. It rivals, I think, Forever 21. It even has similar clothes - lightweight dresses, tops, jackets, and tons of sunglasses, hats, and jewelry. Since I don't live far from this store, I'm quite afraid that if I actually buy something here I will see on someone who lives nearby. As someone who thrives on being unique, I don't like this idea at all. But I do like being to browse in Presence to seek out inspiration. It's interesting, but I don't even see a web site for this shop, which makes it even more unique than the competition. I'm going through all the drawers in my brain, but I don't think I've ever bought anything here. But I still like to look, and then go to Hopleaf for a beer or Ann Sather's for a sweet roll. Nothing like celebrating all your newfound ideas with something to eat and drink in that order. I don't think I could shop for clothes on a full stomach. Better to work up an appetite clacking through all the hangers, picking up dresses and tops that manage to fall to the floor. Final observation: You could probably skip this store and still dress quite nicely.

2. Active Endeavors. This store actually closed its Evanston outpost recently, much to my dismay. Great stuff: Anna Sui, Tibi, Tory Burch, and many, many others. Apparently they're going to focus on their online business, which is fantastic for Europeans looking for a good deal, but bad for locals like me who enjoy the whole business of browsing, clucking at the high prices, and then scooting out the door empty-handed but determined to recreate these pants on her own at some point in time. Final Observation: I miss the actual store badly.

3. American Apparel. I've never ever in my short life have bought anything here, but I can build on sewing confidence just walking past this place. "Oh, I can't believe the price of (that top/piece of fabric/too tiny brief/scarf/hoodie). I could make it so better for a lot less." Yeah, right. I'm still working on recreating the neon green skirt tube that I saw on a American Apparel mannequin in December. Final observation: Is it my imagination but do the fabrics used seem fragile, like they might not last more than one season?

4. Francesca's Collections. This chain is probably along the same lines of Presence, but with a lot more picture frames, hand cremes, and palm-sized how-to books than the latter. But I still like the eye candy. Somehow, when I see something I might like to try on inside, the smaller sizes are gone. Oh, well. Less temptation to add to my wardrobe that way. Final observation: There's a definitive emphasis on tops and dresses that show cleavage.

5. Nordstrom's. This is probably my hands-down favorite place to come up with new ideas. The sheer selection of clothes is other-worldly and so much of seems to have cute details and fabric that the lower-priced shops don't. For example, there are the CC California, Three Dots (Textile Studios actually carries Three Dots fabrics), Seven jeans (which I don't think I'll fit into anytime soon, but I still like to look). Final observation: a trip to this magnificent store is not complete without at least looking at the shoes. All of 'em, even if it's a quick, once-over before you head to Starbucks.

6. Anthropologie. I'll admit I'm often on this company's web site, ogling the store's latest and dantiest creations. I like the zoom feature, so I can examine every little corner, stitch, and misplaced thread. As much as the on-line store is well-organized with any easy interface, it's so much better to see all the products in the store. You see stuff you wouldn't see otherwise, and all the soaps, the vintage memorabilia, the wallpaper, everything that makes this chain so widely and the topic of discussion on Craftster, Ravelry and Patternreview. Everyone wants to recreate the Anthropologie for less greenbacks, better fabric and stitching. It seems to be the clarion call of how much you look making clothes if you strive to make at least Anthropologie-inspired outfit in your life. I haven't specifically done that yet, but I wouldn't put that pass my circa. 2009 self. Final Observation: Even if you don't ever make something with an Anthropologie 'look,' that doesn't make you any less creative.
* I'd review Urban Outfitters, but I feel lazy. If you can make it past the really loud music and the tables of books suitable for college students only, then this store can be a great source of ideas. Also, the top you see above? Another Santa Monica Tee shirt made from a knit from Vogue Fabrics while I was living in Des Moines, Iowa.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Memorial Day Sewing To Do List*



Ah, the weekend beckons. Here it's still cold enough to warrant wearing a sweater coat, scarf, stockings and a hat. And that's attire that would probably be suitable for watching the Memorial Day parade in this town, except I think red, white and blue might be more appropriate.

For me, there's this push-pull quality to Memorial Day weekend. Do I clean? (Perhaps. The dust-mites need to be arranged.) Do I explore? (Metra's $5 weekend pass is an extraordinary deal because there's the bonus holiday on Monday.) Or do I sew? (I've a slew of patterns waiting ever so patiently in my bedroom. They want to be loved and used sometime soon.)

Or do I do all three? I think something in each category would make for a satisfying entry into summer. It actually promises to be 80 degrees here on Sunday, so Memorial Day in this part of the world could be warm for once. It's usually bone-chilling, teeth-chattering cold.

Ah, the cleaning, this is such a challenge (or a brick wall if you want to use "Last Lecture"-speak) because I spend so much time around my apartment right now. I'm much more willing to scrub pots, pans, sink and anything else when I'm not around as much. But when I see dirty appliances almost on an hourly basis, all I can think about is getting away as quickly as possible. But when I don't spend my waking hours here? I look forward to coming home and sprucing up the place. I find that odd. Clearly, I need to do more work out of the home just to keep it clean and put me in a house-keeping mode. Since that's not the case currently, I figure I'll aim for a bare minimum of cleaning the bathroom and doing the laundry, and do any major cleaning after a week away, which might be a while.

Even eight hours away in this space on Saturday might be the Mr. Clean ticket. For $5, I can sew all day long, spread my stuff all over, cut, cut and cut lots of pretty fabric, and then not have to worry about sweeping when I'm done. With a little luck, I could crank out another version of Valerie's top in a soft blue white jersey. This time I'd omit the darts. Another t-shirt or two? Or maybe this dress using some of my leftover stretch lace for a modesty panel? I could start summer with a new wardrobe.

A little travel. Actually, I could be content at this campground. But it looks like I'll be going camping with some siblings and my nieces elsewhere somewhere close enough that it won't deplete the gas tank. Since I lack wheels (even of the Razor variety), I'll likely board a Metra train with my Aerobed, a pillow, a change of clothes to meet my brother at this depot. I'll squish myself into between the nieces, and off we'll go camping. The best part about camping? Getting away and then coming back. I find sleeping in a tent slightly claustrophobic, and I never get a decent night's sleep usually due to a combination of rocks on the ground and noisy neighbors, but at least I have a story to tell upon my return. Remind me to buy some batteries for my flashlight, which I frequently forget to bring.

Shopping! What Memorial Day weekend would be complete without adding to my stuff? I could see myself hopping on the Red Line to go to Hancock's, but Jo-Ann Fabrics tends to have better sales, but I really don't like going to the mall where this store is located. It has to do with snarl of autos that try to kill me as I cross busy intersections plus the assorted buses and trains I must take simply to get to the darn place. But if I do go, I'd love to stock up on thread, particularly Guttermans. I'd also add some patterns to my collection, but no fabric. Zilch! I virtually never buy any fabric from the department stores, unless I plan to stitch up a fleece blanket or hat. Now what would really be fun would be to hit up some antique stores this weekend, I haven't done that in a long while. That would be a different type of shopping...I'd look for vintage patterns, hats, or a vintage display model. Oh, the other fun thing: going to a antique show like the one in Sandwich, Ill., although with gas prices being what they are, you could easily spend more on fuel than on actual antiques. Oh well, it's fun to pretend. What are you doing this weekend? Any sewing, knitting or crocheting on the agenda?
* The shawl you see above? It was supposed to be a skirt, but I knitted a flounce inadvertently at the waist, and I refused to rip out. Anyhow, I get so many compliments on the shawl, and it's sooo warm even now at the end of May. I'm wearing it with the sheer sweatercoat I sewed. It's so cool that you can see what I'm underneath.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How Do You Make A Fabric Swap Work?*

The reason I ask is because I participated in a yarn swap with the Windy City Knitting Guild (WCKG) last night. I brought a plastic shopping bag's worth of yarn. It included a somewhat spartan spool of gold crochet cotton, some 1930s vintage yarn, a designer's wad of black-red plaid flannel cut up in strips for knitting. I didn't include any yarn that I might need to patch up another existing project munched on by a moth or that I sincerely want to write up on Ravelry. So it was a piddly pile, but very portable. It was made a little heavier with the plastic container of used batteries that I wanted to drop off for recycling.

Anyway, piddly is putting it mildly when I arrived at Sulzer Regional Library and saw the huge cardboard boxes of yarn that some women brought. I could only admire their stashing ability, since my yarn collection amounts to a mid-sized clear plastic shopping bag's worth on a hanger in my front closet. When I saw that the swap organizers were giving points to each yarn set based on rarity, the amount and type, I feared I might only get a handful of yarn "dollars" in exchange for my puny pile.

Surprisingly, when all was said and weighed, I was given 20 paper bills, which made me happier than a clam on Lake Michigan's shore. I figured my wad of "cash" had to get me something substantial beyond one or two skimpy skeins.

So anyhow, 50 or some yarn-meisters brought their collections. All the yarn was spread on tables tagged with points. Stuff like rare and pricey European blends went on one table, acrylics, on another, cotton, and worsted weight on still another surface. So that everyone would behave reasonably well when in a room filled with free yarn, each donor got a raffle ticket. When the yodeler called out your number, you could race up to the front and grab whatever your pacemaker desired.

I thought this was a great system. Overweight women and skinny Minnies all got equal opportunities. No one could bodily land on a lone Muench yarn and claim it as "mine;" the bean poles couldn't squeeze up between table crevices to snatch up a possum yarn blend (when I saw that in someone's hand, I thought for sure that manufacturers had gone crazy. I've heard about cat-, dog- and you-name-it yarn, but possum was a new for me. It turns out it's not the American critter by the name, but the very desirable and soft Australian version. Phew.)

So after what felt like an eternity spent on the no. 22 bus, my number "123" was called out. I flew faster than a hummingbird to the front. I aimed my body mass for the cotton table, looking specifically for Lion Brand Cotton-Ease, 3 complete skeins-worth, in one color. Unfortunately, I only saw two in the same hue. I'm thinking about making this top, but I need enough to cover my Lincoln car-long torso. When I didn't see what I wanted, I moved on. I had no secondary goals (You need to aim for the Stars as Ad man Leo Burnett says). I decided to focus on what looked pretty, felt soft in my dry hands (thank you water aerobics) and had a complete label on it. In no time tummy-flat, I had a cone of lace-weight indigo yarn (about 1,500 yards) and four skeins of Peruvian Collection Highland Wool that match these shoes (actually I just realized that this morning. I must have this color locked into my grey cells.)

When I sat down with my jackpot (which you need to take to the "cashier" - you turn in your mula, and you can claim your fiber finds as your own) I just looked at them. To no one in particular I said, "I don't know what I'm going to do with this." A far more worldly woman next to me said, "It doesn't matter. At least you have them now." Gosh, when am I gonna get that wise? When I'm 105?

Then I pondered the wisdom of these words. She's absolutely right in a way my sisters never are (you know how that goes. Yes, Memorial Day family plans are also taking up some space on the server upstairs). I'll study the yarn - show it off to friends, look it up online to see what might work with the newest closet tenants. Another yarnster suggested a hat and mittens might work with the orangy yarn bundle. I've got this pattern in mind for the Indigo Blue closet inhabitant, but there actually might be enough for a shawl. I dunno. But the thought of a spider-webby thin triangle of perfectly executed yarn-overs, slipped stitches and Heavens-Knows-What-Else backbend doesn't thrill me right now. Maybe never. Yarn this slender scares me more than the prospect of standing in long lines for the new Indiana Jones thriller (but you know what I'd do if I had to do that, right? You guessed right. Your prize? You get to read the rest of this post. Ha!)

So, right now I'm a happy pre-Summer camper. But this whole Yarn Swap got me thinking about how this could work in the Fabric planetary system. (By the way, this is apparently the first time that the WCKG has organized a swap on this scale. Seeing that no one died or attempted to maim a knitter in the process, I don't see what it won't be repeated. No beefy security guard is necessary!)

Here are some preliminary thoughts on how to make a Fabric Swap work. Add your thoughts in the comments if you like or simply vote in my brilliant "How Has the Economy Affected Your Sewing Habits?" in the left sidebar.

1. You need a big room and lots of table. This swap was held in the meeting room at a local library so there were a plentitude of tables, chairs, and lights.
2. Free food makes the shoppers happy while they're waiting in line. Actually, the prospect of complimentary Chex mix, cheese and crackers, green grapes and watermelon was what got me to the book-center in the first place. I'm always hungry, and I plan my days around what eats I can get for nothing or next-to-nothing. I actually bagged up my yarn thinking about what munchies might be at this meeting.
3. You Need cashiers who know their stuff and how to weigh things. This is important in a world where half of the store employees know not a wit about the stuff they're adding up on their computer registers. How does that box of Orbit gum taste? Huh? You know what I mean.
4. You also need lots of post-it notes, tape, and clear baggies. The latter is extremely important, because there can be absolutely no co-mingling of fiber. That furry yarn might make for a nice trim on a completed 100 percent wool sweater, but they cannot be giggling and whispering together beforehand. Even a lone Red Heart skein goes into a baggie. Post-it notes are for the price tags, tape, so no one removes a tag and replaces it with another...
5. You need someone willing to take the leftovers home or at least to a school or shelter. This is the hard part. It's one thing to fill your auto with yarns you love, but to take the unwanted icky stuff is quite another, and then to spend some precious gasoline to take it to school that actually wants is another. Bless the person willing to warehouse it for future teaching projects.

Anyway, I think this shopping system could apply to fabric and I'd love to help organize a store like this. It's just a matter of where and who's willing to participate and co-organize. Any thoughts, anyone?
* That's my very-expensive label (it was made in Germany) on a kimono-style wrap top I made. Totally unrelated to my post, but there you have it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fabric of the Week No. 2


I exhumed this from a tattered white cardboard box filled to the brim with fabrics underneath my antique mahogany bed. What I particularly like about this particular yardage is that it has a history to it. I actually kept a print-out of the email receipt that came with this vintage 1930s/40s fabric that I bought on eBay. This piece of white paper has seen better days but here's what it says:

Subject: ebay vintage fabric win 445348665 Daisies
Date: Thu, 20 Sep 2000 14:46:05 -0700
From: keepcroft@uswest.net
To: mbk2001@megsinet.net

Hello Mary Beth
Thank you for your email regarding your winning bid, and congratulations. Your total is $15.50 + $3.20 shipping = $18.70 total (please add 85 cents if you would like optional insurance)

My mailing address for a check or money order is...(seller, Nan, spells it out)

Bottom of the email is from me, circa. 200o:
>I just won Vintage 1930s Fabric ~ Small Daisies #4445348665. Let me know the total and >where I should sent it.

Then in a pretty blue ink, Nan handwrites: Paid ck #2662 $18.70. Thanks, Mary Beth - Nan-

Anyhow, I love it that I can date the acquisition of this fabric to the day. I've no idea what I was doing on September 28, 2000. But I was likely recovering from a night of swing dancing the night before at Liquid, a local club. I do remember thinking that this fabric would look adorable in a 1940s little short-sleeve playsuit trimmed with orange rickrack that I could wear with my white retro-style Bleyers swing dance wedgies. (I still have the shoes although they're falling apart.) I had this real zest and enthusiasm then for making 1940s clothes. I made an entire 1930s long-legged, scoop-necked pair of overalls with a matching bolero jacket...all from a copy of a Vogue pattern from the era, and this huge, gorgeous length of 1930s pond sludge green silk shantung with a repeat of white and navy blue polkadots clusters. It was quite the sexy outfit, since I couldn't wear it with a bra, and it wasn't supposed to be worn with a t-shirt either. I nervously wore it out on the dance floor at Camp Hollywood in Los Angeles, California. I do remember wearing those adhesive bra cups underneath but that was for support, not coverage. I had some close-calls with my straps, which continually threatened to fall down to my hips, but I managed to swing out and not lose my top. Phew. That whole entire ensemble, I believe, is in the Columbia College Study Collection.

I also sewed a couple of wide-leg, waistband-less pants, one in a white cotton, the other in denim. The former was grand for those hot summer days, but since it was unlined, I had to be careful about what I wore underneath. The denim version looked cool swishing around on the dance floor, but they were heavy. I practically had to pick up the fabric at the knees just to walk around. I think I've given both pairs away, but I have happy memories of stitching both on my grandma's silver green Singer sewing machine, which I'm certain is sulking in my storage unit downstairs.

I have still more vintage fabric sitting in boxes, waiting to be sewn up into something lovely. I can honestly say I've enjoyed acquiring all those old fabric, a good chunk of it from eBay, others acquired at estate sales, even thrift stores. There was a time in my life when I would root, root and root for fabric that had a definite 1940s graphic element. I adored any kind of cute polka dot in cotton, which I discovered quilters also liked too....for different purposes. Where they envisioned recreating Depression-era quilts, I had dreams of saucy Ginger Rogers numbers that I could use to get the cutest man at Liquid to ask me to lindy hop.

I don't wear the vintage attire that much anymore, and I've been slowly donating a lot of it to the aforementioned study collection. I wear a lot more jersey, knits, and jeans! It's funny but I probably wear more of my home-sewn clothes now than eight years ago when I was feverishly watching eBay like a hawk on a chocolate martini and sewing on that balky 1950s sewing machine. Then, I wore what I made for nights outs and special occasions. Now? What I make on my Viking Husqvarna, I wear just about all the time. Yesterday, I was wearing three things I'd made, which would have never happened in 2000.

I haven't entirely lost my interest in vintage clothes. These days when I'm on eBay, I'm trolling for old knitting patterns. I just won Sweatertime, a 1940s instruction booklet, which I wanted for the skirt patterns. I bid on it, and then completely forgot about it until I got an email telling me that I won. Who knows if I'll actually make those skirts?

I continue to swing dance, although not nearly as often. A lot of my energy back at the turn of the century (I think I safely say that without referring to the 19th century) was directed toward this Metra train of thought: "XXX usually comes out tonight. Maybe I should go, then I will see him. " Actually there were a couple of crushes that circulated a couple of times a week at the venues I frequented. One has since married, the other, well, you don't want to hear about him. Anyhow, suffice to say that since my heart doesn't pound for any particular dancer these days has lead me to do other things....like knitting and attending a book club. Boring, I know. Who knows? Perhaps with the warmer weather, I'll be doing more swing-outs in search of a new "luv" connection.

Back to the fabric. If I were to cut it up today, I'd probably make into this Wendy Mullin pattern (Simplicity 4112). Of course, I'd still dress it up with orange rick-rack to match the daisy centers. I'd wear it, with a pair of swingy jeans or a white gabardine pencil skirt.

What would you do with this fabric? It's a lot more overcast sky blue than it appears in the scan. What fabric have you bought years ago for one purpose, and then ended up using years later for something entirely different?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Excitement Brewing...

I don't have a picture right now to upload, though there's always something being made, unmade or just even thought about in this household. Just ask the dust-mites. They're used to the patterns being tossed upon them just before I turn off the lights at night time. I am completely enthralled with possibility even if it's only because it's Friday and we've got decent, summer-like weather for the first time in what feels like weeks. Windows are being pressed open, socks tossed, feet are being bared by the thousands all across the Chicagoland area. I'm not quite there, although I want to ditch the boots and embrace my sandals. I'm just waiting for my toes to grow pretty, ok? I did shed a layer of winter leggings this morning. My pants have not felt this loose in a long time, it's almost like I've lost a few pounds when in reality, I've just gotten rid of what wasn't there in the first place. So I am thinking a loud of things to do, places to go and one closet to clean.

1. A bike or a Razor scooter. There's been lots of chatter all across the Internet about bicycling. Who's doing it and who's not to save gas money. I'm not, only because I have ready access to public transportation, and an unlimited rides pass on local buses and trains. If I didn't have this, I probably would get a two-wheeler and get truckin'. It's too bad I've experienced my share of bicycle parts (I had a back wheel stolen while I was in college and I'm still scarred from the experience), or I'd get a retro-style bike with an old-fashioned daisy-decorated basket and a bell to warn everyone to get out of the way because I'm coming. Actually, I'm more likely to buy a Razor scooter, which would get me to bus and train stops fast. I like the idea of racing one of these things with a kid in the 'hood, although there's an athletic adult in my building who owns one of these things and I'm sure would gladly contest me. That'll have to wait until I go to Target to buy one though. In any event, is it my imagination but are culotte skirts coming back? (Please don't tell Erin. You might ruin her weekend) I have this super-cute cottony lemon green culotte dress from the 40s. It has the most adorable purple and belt. I have to wear it with a pair of Spandex underneath. I haven't worn it in a while. I now have an excuse though, if our Mayor ever gets the rent-a-bike plan off the ground then I won't have to buy my own wheels.

2. More random-ness. There's also have been articles and more articles about Americans cutting back on meals out and even meals in (Maybe that's where the In-and-Out Burger gets its name) to pay for those aforementioned gas bills. They're still buying television sets from what I read and see when I visit the mall. I was wondering if stores like Jo-Ann Fabrics, Hancocks and independent yarn shops are feeling the effects of the new frugality. Are you still hitting the pattern sales? Or if the stores are too far away, are you joining online clubs like Club DMV to get your cheap pattern fix? If you're all set on patterns and fabrics for life on this planet, are you feeling like you're great-grandma Milly during World War II and diving into your fabric collection to make your next set of clothes? Me, I haven't bought fabric in what feels like eons, which is unusual since I'm usually in this store at least once a week. Then again, I haven't been going the free sewing demos like I usually do, so I'm less likely to add fertilizer to the fabrics in my closet. Here's another question. For those of you who have hundreds (perhaps thousands) of patterns, are any of you selling some of the more prized ones on eBay so you can pay your bills? Just curious, but then again I don't prowl eBay the way I used to so I can't tell if listings are up, down or sideways in this category. I've got a new weekly poll on this topic. See the left sidebar for more information.

3. Summer knitting. It's funny in the past when I was really into crochet, I'd been lining up my crochet hooks and my yarn for the-skirt-of-the-summer project by now. This time around though, I think I'm more likely to do some knitting. I've gotten used to the way knitting needles feel in my hands and in my purse. I'm a little more comfortable with patterns, but I still feel lost a lot (just ask the dust-mites again. They hear me talking about all this constantly.) I'm actually thinking of winging this pattern in a Lion brand cotton from Jo-Ann Fabrics, which means I wouldn't get all the handy input I'm used to from the local independent stores (they'll help you if you buy their yarn, otherwise, you're kind of on your own unless you participate in a class). I think I'm just going to attend a Meet-Up and or this Stitch N Bitch Group. Or probably both if I do decide to embark solo. Which brings me to another related question. I'm going to a silent film tonight. I don't have any knitting to bring with me. How rude would it be to knit something while you're watching a film with others? I read in a knitting book that while it once common for women in the 1930s and 40s to knit while they're were at the movies, it might not be so socially acceptable now. What do you think? I might have a poll on this topic in the future.

4. Sewing Summer. I'm also thinking about what I want to sew. Mostly t-shirts, since I have this Jalie pattern and a couple of $1.99 Simplicity patterns that jumped on me while I was at Jo-Ann Fabrics recently. I'd also want to make some bathing suits since I'll need at least a few, even if only for my water aerobics class. (An aside: would you believe the life guard asked me today if I was in the class? I felt insulted. I guess I shouldn't be, I was like the youngest person in the waters. I think the instructor, who's my age or thereabouts, was happy to see me. She asked me what my name was. I didn't tell her The Lazy Milliner. ) Even when Lake Michigan warms up finally in July, I'm still more likely to plunge into a pool inside then outside. Yes, an indoor pool is more accessible, and I'm far too lazy to walk six or seven blocks (this is where a scooter would be helpful) to go to the beach. One of my favorite things to do when it gets really hot is to go to Vogue Fabrics, where it's air-conditioned, and sew all afternoon long, or at least until the heat breaks later in the day. I get something done, save on my cooling costs, and I do something social (you'd be surprised how many shoppers come up to me and ask me what I'm sewing while I'm in the classroom at Vogue.)

5. Closet Cleaning. I frequently think about my closet, and how rarely I wear what it's inside. I actually go into it more often to exhume fabric from collection to get a dress off a hanger. Time to give all that and more to Columbia College's study collection. I actually have a box ready to go...I'm just waiting for shipping expenses to drop. Do you think that will be any time soon?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Sweater Ta-Da!

Here's my sweater, all made from Noro self-striping yarn (yes, the yarn is so pricey that it comes with an elf who will make the sweater stripes while you sleep). I'm actually fairly proud of this sweater, if I ignore the extra purl row in my garter edge-stitching on one sleeve. I've had this internal debate with myself: "Leave it alone, no one will notice," 'Rip it back and you'll ruin the sweater and you'll never wear it" and "So-and-so (not really her name) will help you fix it." To be dishonest, I'm over this sweater, flaws and all, and if I wear it on a regular basis, it will be a success in my notebook, even with the extra P1. It is an itchy sweater (it is 100 percent wool), which I plan to remediate at some point by making an extra-long camisole in a stretch lace or even a cotton jersey trimmed with lace. None of the camisoles sitting on my dresser fit me. I do that tugging-down thing constantly because I've an extra long-torso. Here are some of the pattern changes I made:

1. I made the top portion of a bit longer to accommodate my well-toned arms (I had no idea my thrice-weekly water aerobics routine was paying off).
2. I added an extra 5 inches in length for my abovementioned torso and to cover any flesh that just might make a Britney Spears appearance when I wear this sweater with low-rise jeans as I do in the photograph above.

I should note there's an instruction mid-way to "Resume the garter ridge" which is extremely puzzling given that not one mention to start the garter ridge in the beginning. So be aware of that (this is for all knitters who are reading this post, sewers, skip over this post for other more juicy blogs in your RSS feed.)

Would I make this pattern again? Probably not. While this sweater fits me reasonably well, it's not perfect. There's a bit of a roll on one side of the neckline, which could come out after a little blocking (which simply involve a lot of steam from my iron, but no pressing! no stick pins! on both sides). Anyhow, if I did make this again, I wouldn't use this particular yarn, it's kind of uncomfortable. Besides, there are little bits of wood in the yarn that you have to pick out as you knit. Very strange. I've never even encountered any fabric like this.

Another close-up: you can see some little pokey holes which again I think some steam will close up nicely. I really do like the garter ridge at the hem. I think this top will look really cute with a flouncy short grass green skirt I got from Marshall's.

One last shot. I do like the v-neck, and its the kind of neckline that I like to make when I'm sewing too. It's very flattering.

Thanks all, for participating in my polls. As for the Unfinished Sewing Projects Poll in the sidebar, it looks like lots of you have lost count of what projects you've started and haven't finished. Some you know exactly what you've got on sewing plate. I congratulate you both. I'm fascinated by the one person who only has one to two sewing projects set aside. Amazing!

As for the other hat-related poll, it looks like lots of you have think just like me. No. 2 looks to be the hands-up winner! I've got to find the book Romantic Knits first. I went to the library last night to get it. Unfortunately, it's checked out. So it's going to have wait a while...but I could start looking for some yarn. Maybe you can help me find something suitable. Since so little yarn is called for, I might be able to get away with using a skein or two or three of yarn on sale at the local knitting shop. That way I could use a really high-quality yarn that's won't break the credit union. So I'm really excited about this. I just even post a poll on the possible yarns for this project. Stay tuned. This would be a fantastic project to start during Memorial Day weekend and abandon sometime around July 4. Just kidding. I've always had a fantasy of dressing retro and riding in old auto for the Independence Day parade. This would be the hat for an event like that.

Finally, I realize I've been tagged...I just need to reach for the nearest book and turn to page whatever. It's all on my to-do list resting under my free Dunkin Donuts iced coffee.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Love/Hate Relationship with White Fabric



There's just something utterly compelling about straightforward white fabric. It could be a stretchy, it could be a woven, but it's all just the same color of the Blogger post field I'm writing on it. A blank canvas.

And that's pretty exciting in some ways. It's like, wow, I can do a thousand things with this. If it's a lightweight woven, like a batiste, I can dunk it in a pot of Kool-Aid dye and make it something non-white. Or, I put some chizimi thread in the bobbin of my Viking Husqvarna sewing machine, regular thread in the spool and just do some random, free form stitches here and there. Steam it with a little iron (no pressing though) and the stitches pucker up to resemble the center of a daisy. Or I could put some matching elastic in the bobbin, and do some wild and crazy stitching all over the place with my darning foot on the machine. Just move the fabric in a circular motion and sew like you're creating this a maze with no way out!

My point is that white fabric has a lot of promise, it's kind of like the blank sheet of paper back when people (including myself) used to create wordy masterpieces on typewriters. You'd insert the paper, crank the roller, center it, set your tabs manually, and then stare at the vast whiteness in front of you for a while before you started typing because you couldn't undo what you wrote unless you used White-Out, which also used to threaten to gunken your keys.

Sewing white fabric is a little like that, I think. A bit intimidating and exhilarating at the same time. The plainness of the fabric is just so full of possibility, kind of like life. You can approach the fabric with the attitude of "Oh, this is so boring. I don't know what to do with it." Or you can say, "Wow. There are a kazillion things you can do with this."

It's funny, I don't have that same attitude about black fabric, although the same principles apply. It too is a void eager to be filled with something, with life. Somehow darkness isn't nearly as compelling as light. Just like its antonym, black can
be embellished to your heart's content. You could do smocking, applique, twin-needle stitching, spray it with glitter, draw on it with fabric paint to create this incredible designer fabric unlike anything else in the universe.

Another thing about white is that I feel a little daring with it. I kind of feel like, "I"ll conquer you, yes, I will!" It's a bit of challenge. Not only will I pretty you up, but I'll keep whiter you than the sheaf of paper sitting in the paper tray of my Lexmark X73 printer. Black batiste and indigo denims don't test me in the same way. I don't have to worry about mussing up the canvas. Fading I might have to contend with it, but dirtying up, no.

Which brings me back to white. It's a test of wills to keep it pristine. Even during the sewing stage, I furrow my brow wondering where a brownish smudge came from. I wash my hands before I set the fabric underneath the foot. I might even use handwash, or rub my hands silly with one of those antibacterial gels.

Once I actually finish my white garment, the struggle to keep it unsoiled escalates. I swear ketchup practically leaps on the fabric, so I stay away from hamburgers. Ditto pizza. Greasy tomato sauce just wants to land on my blouse right at the bustline, never at the hem. Why is that? Sipping a red wine is equally challenging. Sweat stains? Didn't I just read in Lucky Magazine about soaking all your whites in a bucket of water with an aspirin tablet and then wash as usual? Weird.

Mud likes white and so does grass. I've no idea why, but I've noticed the two (turf and dirt) enjoy play dates with white apparel.

Getting back to white, there's a certain appeal to wearing it. There's the lure of wearing something that will reflect the sun when it's hot. The untested promise of a piece of clothing that appears to be comfortable and airy. Something that will make you look great. There's a certain uniformity about it too. It goes with everything, jeans, skirts, shorts, and just about any shoe you put on your feet. It's no wonder French designer Anne Fontaine has built an entire business around white. She knows women can't resist it.

Besides, white does make you look sporty. It is the color of choice for tennis players and golfers, so it has a reputation that's well earned. And if you're tan, white can make you look you have a well-funded savings account.

So what's white in my wardrobe? This. I think that's the only thing at the moment. But there's more of this same eyelet in my collection. I'm thinking of another top. But I don't really like messing with holey fabric and buttonholes, so whatever I do has to slip over my shoulders. I might even do something with some red top-stitching. White really likes red thread. They make nice sand castles in the sandbox together, don't you think?

Funny as much as I like white fabric, yarn of the same hue isn't nearly as intriguing, although a knitted white sweater, especially in a medium-weight cotton, looks refreshing, reminding me of the short-sleeved, scoop-necked summer top I wore for years until it got too stained for my liking, and I got rid of it. I could probably use something like that again. But I'm more likely to buy it, then to make it on any one of my knitting needles.

How about you? How do you feel about white? Do you have a lot of it in your wardrobe?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Who Cares About Symmetry?*



I do. It's a bit of hang up for me. Everywhere I go...everything I look at, I think about whether it's symmetrical, balanced. Houses are a big one for me, and it's an easy one for me since I spend an inordinate time on a bus watching the world go by at a stop-and-go pace. Of course, now that I'm Twittering while I'm in transit, I'm not looking at the places that surround me nearly as much unfortunately.

But when I'm not texting, I look around and speculate about buildings and how they once might have been. I can look at an old brownstone and see that the entryway isn't quite "right." There's a new 1950s overhang that replaced something more substantial. Or there's this Victorian house across the street from my place that has a more contemporary porch that hides a doorway that must have an "eyebrow" design that matches the 1880s windows on either side of the porch. What's more, there's all lackluster ugly avocado siding that's got to be covering beautiful, original wood. Each time I walk by, I 'fix' it up in my mind, making it housewalk-worthy. Right now, it looks a tad ho-hum next to the 1920s spiffed-up 1920s red-brick apartment building turned condo and its grey painted brick Victorian neighbor.

I can either count this obsession with symmetry as a blessing or a curse. I chose the former, because while on the outside, it appears that I'm superficial, on a deeper level, I'm truly passionate about beauty and aesthetics. It matters that there's just the right number of tulips in a vase or that there should be something in the background of a photo to draw your eye in. I don't always accomplish this in my own photography but I do think about it. It's why I even like this picture a lot because I can't help but smile at the duo waaay in the back.

So anyhow, my love for balance is a blessing because A) It keeps me entertained when I'm sitting in snailpace traffic whether I'm in a car, a train, a bus, or even on the back of a moped (which hasn't happen in a long time, but I digress). It makes me quite content. It feeds the inner architect, designer and urban planner within me. I might not act on my impulse to re-arrange a garden, a house, or a park, but it fortifies my imagination for free. It's likely I won't have a chance to fix up that aforementioned Victorian, but I can pretend. Who knows? I might even bump into the homeowner one day, mention my thoughts, and he/she just act on my design modifications.

My little design world is great to for those days when I don't have a book or my knitting to keep me bored. In my mind, I can "restore" missing windows, lentils, and portals as I'm making my way to a particular destination.

B) This little knack for balance also helps me as I'm coming up for story ideas. It gets me asking "What if...?" and "I wonder who might know more?" and gets me searching on the Internet, and in some cases, local archives for information on actual paper.

On the flip side, my preoccupation can get me a little overly attached to the past. For example, when I board this train, I can see the old tracks for this line, which was kaput a couple of generations ago. Still I mourn the loss of this commuter rail, wishing it still existed as a viable means of transportation. "If only if ...!" I often say to myself, "Maybe they could bring it back...." in a more wistful tone. All about something thousands of commuters don't even know about as they make to their way to downtown Chicago.

All this a bit of long introduction to my nearly finished sweater. I looked at it this morning. I noticed that the garter stitch and bind-off on the sleeves is uneven. There's an extra row on one side. Of course, I see this error glaringly, and I'm certain others will notice it off the bat. Do I fix it? Or leave it alone and move onto the next project? So I go back and forth on this conundrum. I'm at the point where I'm nearly finished. I've got the DPNs (double-pointed needles)all set up on the neckline. Four rows of stitching, and I will be finished! Unless, I decide to fix the edging on the sleeve.

Here's the thing: I wear a lot of clothes I've sewn that are not quite right. For example, I'm wearing this top. When I made it, I wasn't thrilled with the ridge-like twin-needle stitching on the sleeves. The top itself feels a little large, and the shoulder seam looks, to my dark brown eyes, a little 'off.' But I still wear it, flaws and all. Perhaps I'm not as consumed with perfection as I think. Besides, I find that wearing my projects with their little designer touches tends to be keep me moving forward, completing the unfinished projects, and starting new adventures. If I ditched all those clothes that weren't quite "right," I'm certain that I would have abandoned sewing and knitting and crocheting by now. I really do tell myself all the time that anything I sew/knit/crochet is all about the journey, even if I "goof" up on pricy fabric. If it's wearable, that's all that matters. I think a knitting shop owner in Iowa told me once is that most expensive knitting is the stuff you don't use. She's right. My favorite and warmest "shawl" is a skirt with a flounced on the wrong side that I couldn't bring myself to rip out because I was afraid I'd rip the somewhat fragile yarn.

So here's to a little symmetry if it makes you happy. But if it makes you overly sentimental and pouty, forget about it and get over it already (and I'm speaking mostly for myself). For those of you who make apparel, how do you reign in perfection? Where do you draw the line in the white sand?
* I know I've been tagged...I'll get to a post on it, I promise. You can read more about the top above here.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Thinking Ahead....

I'm thinking about my next knitting project. I'm eager to get my hands back into doing something lacy. I want something that's portable, and won't bulge out of my purse like a big, lumpy bag of candy. I also want something challenging, but yet it won't cost me a small fortunate like knitting a sweater or a skirt might. So I'm leaning toward making a knitted hat with a wired brim. It's been a while since I've wired a brim, the last one was so wonky I just gave up and stuffed the whole expensive experiment in the linen closet, where it remains nicely squashed between some picnic clothes and pillow cases. I'm willing to give it (making a hat) a shot again because the hats below are so pretty and besides, I know you all will hold my hand and help me through that part if necessary. Please help choose which hat to make. There's a poll at the end of this post. Suggestions on yarn and trim are welcome. By the way, these are all Annie Modesitt patterns. She's an ace milliner, if you can't already tell!

1. I'm more enamored with the color of this hat than anything else. But I'm not trying to get attached to the papaya orange, because it might actually to be hard to find this yarn. But there's something utterly compelling about the style because it knitted up in a such a cheery yarn. It just makes me want to go out there and get a Jamba Juice smoothie. How about you?

2. I like this one, it's got that nice early 1930s vibe going. I feel like my hair is perfect for this topper. My bangs are Katie Holmes-short, if you get my drift. This hat would be so much fun to trim. You could switch the embellishments around in a couple of heartbeats too. The downside: not much of a brim if I'm looking for a little sun protection. Actually none of theselacy hats will protect me from the sun very much. All those holes! These hats are strictly just really decorative - and guy magnets.

3. The wiring on this one scares me. It looks too perfect, too hard. Why does that intimidate more than the actual knitting? Egads! But you do really get to see the lace very well. I know this one would score high in the "Ooh, you made that? Wow" category.

4. Talk about gorgeous. This masterpiece is from the book, Romantic Hand Knits: 26 Flirtatious Designs that Flatter Your Figure. I love the blue and white theme, so retro. I could see this with a pair of sailor pants and a fitted white tee shirt as well as with a full-skirted 1950s dress. The only other color combo I can see is perhaps navy and burgundy like the hat below. What do you think?

5. Sorry, this picture is as small as it is. It's from the book, Lace Style. There are some other views of the hat if you follow the link. My concern about this hat is two-fold. A) The hat looks ready to fly away. I suppose you could anchor it with a hat pin, but I'd be afraid to damage the knitting. B) The hat doesn't seem to really fit, in my opinion. I'd want my hat to sit firmly on my head, hat pin or not. I think pins are extra insurance, not the only insurance. I suppose you could put in an elastic band in the back (after putting in a grosgrain ribbon on the inside). This one is pretty too, but again I'm scaaaaaaaaaared of the wiring.

What do you think? I'm leaning toward the first two; they just look less tasking.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Sweater All Sewn Up*



Who would have thought that the one sweater I wear over and over and over is one that I sewed up on my sewing machine, not on my knitting needles? Actually I don't have any completed knitting projects that have long sleeves. Not one. I've a sleeveless top made out of a cotton yarn that will be more appropriate mid-June, but not now. I've some shawls and shapeless skirts, but nothing hand-knitted that remotely approaches what we call a sweater: a warm top with three holes: one for the head, the other two for the arms. The limbs are covered by something called sleeves. I've plenty of warm fuzzy things that meet the above description that were made overseas on knitting machines, but not here in the U.S. by me.

So back to the sweater you see above. The v-neck isn't perfection, and look that hem! Assymetrical! I've no idea how that happened. Methinks maybe Donna Karan, who's got plenty of designs with unusual zig-zag hems in her portfolio, got her hands on this mid-way. Did this fuzzy fuschia pointelle knit stretch after I cut it? Or has wearing it made the hem wobbly? I don't think this is a situation whereby I could block the sweater back into shape.

I don't care. I love this sweater. Better yet, it adores me and that's all that's important. We give each other love pats. I tell it, "You go with everything; you're the best." It tells me: "Baby, I'm going to keep you warm, really warm and I'll hang out with your friends. It's cool."

And the v-neck sweater keeps it word, even when I pair it with things like my Santa Monica Tee, or a jersey camisole. The Santa Monica Tee (the blue/brown version) goes especially well (I feel like I'm talking about wine, but I'm not. At least not today). I like the contrast of textures and colors. You've got the flat texture of the lace right there next to the lofty, slightly pilled knit. Both have blue tones - the Tee is more icy with some coffee thrown in for good measure. The sweater is bluish pink. so they complement (and compliment) each other well.

I wore this sweater when it was so cold the sparrows wanted to come inside. I don't think I'll be wearing when it's so hot that that aforementioned birds want to take a bath in my kitchen sink, but I will push the limit. I could easily see myself wearing this still at month's end after Memorial Day, when more often then not, I'm still tempted to wear gloves when I walk outside. (Which brings me to a minor pet peeve: I lost a pair of nice leather gloves a month or so ago. When I try to replace them at local stores, nobody, and I mean nobody has gloves in stock. They do have bathing suits out. Surely, I wouldn't like to try one on?)

I don't think this sweater will become an office staple: you know the one sweater you can constantly hang on your chair and you wear when it's so cold inside you need to dress like it's winter. This v-neck is not easy on, easy off that way. You have to slip it and off over your head, not something you want to do when you're heading into a meeting and your hair is standing up cornstalk-straight thanks to static electricity.

No, this is a sweater that needs to some forethought. You can't really wear it by itself because, well, that would be indecent. So this is the sweater I wear when I'm sitting in front of my laptop and no one's around. Or I'm about to go to a movie. It's a fantastic top to wear with my frayed-at-the hem jeans. It's got the casual look nailed.

This is Kwik Sew pattern 2900. I actually tried making this same exact sweater in another fuzzy aqua knit and it was a complete disaster. The V-neck was actually more like a U! I've no idea what happened. I was so mad...because I was so infatuated with the knit (which I've since seen in a local boutique stitched up in a funky tank top) that I wanted the whole project to work smoother than canola oil from the get go. The neckline didn't cooperate. So that sweater? It made friends with the kitchen trash can, I'm sorry to say. I still have more of the aqua knit, but not enough to make a fraternal twin for the fuschia sweater. So sad, very sad. Oh well.

But that Kwik Sew is going into the time-out corner. It needs to be disciplined. I'm telling you that's terrible behavior for a pattern that never goes on sale (at least in my corner of the world - it might be less pricey online). I mean - have you ever? It seriously made me want to try out other V-neck possibilities. For one thing, (and you don't have to tell the Kwik Sew pattern this), I'll find something with more shaping on the sides. No more of this boxy, I have no-waistline stuff on my sewn sweaters. If I can shape knit objects with my knitting needles by increasing and decreasing like somebody's business, by golly, the sweaters that come to life underneath the sharp needle on my Viking Husqvarna will look just as good if not better!

Why such trouble with one sweater? Who knows. I surely don't. I'm not about to dissect it in detail either. I've got more important matters to dwell on. Like, what am I going to have for dinner? Can I sneak out to Jo-Ann's for the Simplicity pattern sale? (I went last night, found out the extravaganza starts today, left the store only to get drenched in the rain when I attempted to walk to the bus stop without an umbrella) I'm more interested in the next great adventure. If I can wear the experiment, wonderful. If not, I'll go shopping, but probably not for sweaters. Maybe hats, shoes, or the gloves. I'll find a pair if it's the last thing I do this summer.

So shopping as solace. Isn't this the best strategy?. Have any of you tried sewing a sweater? If so, how did it turn out for you? How comfortable are you sewing thick knits on your machine?
* I included that middle picture without me because I'm not wild about the ones that I'm in.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fabric of the Week...

I'm not sure how to describe this fabric, which I bought from Kashi at Metro Textiles last year. It's a super lightweight corduroy, humongous black fuzzy-textured flowers on a white background. I got about two yards of it...in retrospect, I wished I'd gotten more, in retro-retrospect, I wish I hadn't ruined what I bought. Oh well. It's all about the journey, that spectacular trip full of twists and turns that not even Mapquest could accurately predict, right? Oh for heaven's sake, let's get the sentimental hogwash out of the way. Here we go: I'm not much for pre-treating fabrics because I sew a lot of jerseys which don't need to be shrunk. Well, when I got my long-nailed fingers on this fabric you see above, I thought, "I better get this pre-treated." I promptly dunked the whole shebang in a sinkful of cold water in my bathroom. Almost immediately I saw the water turning blue. I thought, "Oh, that'll come out when I rinse the fabric." I didn't realize it at the time but my massive black blooms were dying. The water had released the inky dye into the water and it was spreading all over the white portions on my fabric.

I really didn't see the damage until I hung the fabric over the curtain rod in my bathroom. The flowers were no longer no longer basically black...they were paler, and had a definitely blue pen ink colored shadow. Uh oh.

I let the fabric dry out, and bagged it up in a Barnes & Noble green bag and visited the folks at Vogue Fabrics to see what remedies they could suggest. Someone recommended dying the white parts purple. Unfortunately, that would hurt the black flowers (can't you see them wilting now?) further. Another suggested putting rhinestones or doing some free-form embroidery on the accidentally dyed parts. That didn't excite me in the least...it just felt like more work. To be honest, a good chunk of me just believes I should leave it alone, and just sew it up as is, damage and all. After all, brush-work fabric is in now what about starting a new trend with dyed-damaged fabric?

Here are some other ideas I have for this yardage:

1) Stitch it up into a curtain, and let the sun bleach it until it's grey. Really, that great orb in the sky is quite good at doing its own magic with fabric. You know how it sucks out the sheen out of shantung rather quickly. I'll let the sunrays have fun with my fabric. It'll look rather Shabby Chic in a matter of weeks.

2) Make it into a Sound of Music playsuit that looks like it's been dunked in the water. I wouldn't have to make the outfit look like it's been worn, it will already have that appearance. Now, the only danger is more H20. Whoever wears this and gets shoved into Lake Erie by mistake might not only begin to feel blue, he or she will actually begin to look like they've got hypothermia.

3) Cut It All Up and Turn It Into Hats. I'm thinking a big, squishable hat with wire in the brim. Probably by the time I cut out the massive brim, I'll be close to using up all my fabric. I'll just hide the stains with a large, matching grosgrain ribbon or some of those huge vintage black coat buttons I sometimes see in antique stores. What's leftover will make for a cute vest.

4) Drape It Over my Couch. I've got a cream-colored couch that was only that hue on the day it was recovered more than six years ago, it's getting kind of brown. It has some oil marks on it from the time it was moved into my apartment. My brothers scooted it across some street pavement without covering up the fabric touching the ground. I never did get those marks out, I think I'll just add some green grass marks and get one of my talented toddlin' nieces or nephews to add their handiwork on the sides. But the black, white and grey fabric might draw the attention away from the couch damage.

5) Stick It Back into My Fabric Collection, Never to Be Seen Again. This option is warming up on me. There are plenty of fabrics crowded into my closet that are in good shape that would be easily and handily sewn up in jackets, tops, skirts, and whatever else grooves me. I'll simply pull this black, white and grey beauty out whenever I want to revisit my New York trip, circa 2007. What do you think?

I just remembered another fabric that bled all over the place when I dumped it into water. I got this exquisite 1940s sheer floral rayon from an older woman, a friend I met through this organization. She knew that I loved to sew, so she gave it to me. I'm not sure why I thought it needed a little water love, it certainly wasn't going to shrink. Well, the dye shimmied out of the fabric in no time. It was one big mess, I can't even remember what color the water was. Red? Blue? Pink? Green? It's a big blur in my mind. I let the fabric hang out to dry, and got some opinions in the meantime. Kim Grant of onetime Silk Poppy website fame (who sometimes still resurfaces at the Sewretro Yahoo group) emailed me to tell this sometimes happens with old textiles.

After that email exchange, I just tossed the whole mess.

Somehow I'm not ready to do that with this particular find. For one thing, I bought this with hard-earn but sickly American dollars. The other fabric was a freebie, so nothing was lost, in a sense. This Metro Textiles Beauty? I want to salvage it. It's got a great story already, I just need to give it a few more chapters and great sob-worthy finale. Any ideas? What have you done with fabrics where the dyes have gone amok? Given it to Goodwill? Turned into a cover for the dog's bed? Do tell, I want hear and be comforted.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Summer Dresses Vs. Winter Dresses*




It's not quite what you think. The summer dresses are not duking it out with their winter counterparts in the closet. I was just pondering aloud about what I like in summer dress versus the same kind of garment worn the rest of the year.

Summer Dresses
1) Will it breathe? Fabric has to be supremely comfortable - 100 percent cotton or linen is ideal, but a blend is ok, although I will bypass the poly/cotton eyelet that I see parked on the walls at Vogue Fabrics. I can spot that stuff an armslength away along as I have my contacts on. The giveaway? The shiny, polyester thread. Blech. This fabric is just flimsy, and has no heft like the completely natural eyelet does. Besides, it just looks cheap. Another cottony fabric I like a lot is lawn - one sprinkled with bright and cheery florals is perfect. Ok, I'm walking through the store mentally right now. Another fabric I've my brown eyes on is this gold metallic Georgia mud dirt 100 percent linen from Italy. I think this particular fabric is like $14.99 a yard, not bad considering it's from a country shaped like a shoe with prices that feel like a kick in the pants. I could see that made up in a floaty strappy dress that will feel awesome especially in mucky August.
2) Can I layer it? This is also quite important since you can go from 90 degree weather to a 60 degree weather in a nano second, and that's not just because you're inside an air-conditioned office. If a particularly cold breeze blows through town, you need to be prepared. If you're near the lake (Michigan), you're going to feel colder than an ice cube in a freezer tray. Sitting in the shade will do the same thing. Layering for me in the summer usually means whipping on a jean jacket, but I despise carrying around the same. I'm not one to wear sweaters in the summer, not even lightweight cotton ones. For me it's a jean jacket or a straight-jacket.
3) How about a hat? Can I wear it with a hat? Yes, a lid of some sort is probably the quickest, easiest, most sane way to get warm in a hurry. Besides, it's so portable. If it's squishable, you can just put in your purse and go. If the temperature drops, pull it out. Now, it might not keep you warm in the same way a jacket or a sweater would, but it'll at least keep you from getting too cold. Or at least keep you from freezing until you can get somewhere warmer like a car or a campfire. A hat is also handy if it starts raining, and you're caught without an umbrella. It will keep your hair somewhat dry while the rest of you get damp. It also insulates you in the event you become wet and cold. If I wear hat that doesn't fit inside my purse, I make sure to bring a plastic bag, in the event the sky dumps water on me unexpectedly. That way my super-cute straw hat can stay dry while the rest of me is drenched. Yes, I'll be shivering but at least my pricey sun hat will remain in shape and dry.
4) How cute does it look with sandals? This is a fairly important question for me, because I live in sandals and wedgies nearly every day during June, July, August and sometimes September. So anything on the top of my body has too coordinate with what's on the bottom. Now that I really think about it, most dresses I own would look cute with sandals, especially my Borns which have interchangeable flowers. I probably need to deliberate more about whether my feet have a decent pedicure more than about whether my footwear goes with my dressware.

Winter Dresses
1) Can it Be Layered? During the cold winter months, I'm more like to put layers beneath my clothes than on top. I'll start with a tank top and put on tights. I'll slip on the dress over that. If that's not enough to keep me from quaking like a leaf, I'll put on a shawl on my shoulders or a sweatercoat. If that doesn't do the trick, clearly I need to move somewhere warmer. I won't quibble with the fabric quite as much during the month of my birth (November) as long as I can bundle up and keep my teeth from chattering. That said, it's not likely you'll find me in eyelet or linen on December 1. But I might still wear a jersey knit wrap dress, but I won't wear it the same way I might wear on July 1.
2) Does it look good with boots? Not all dresses can be worn with boots. I find I can wear virtually anything, including burlap, with sandals. Not so with boots. I don't like when the top of my boots clashes with my dress hem or worst yet, its beneath the dress. When I walk you see the bulge of my boots beneath my dress. From afar, it looks like I've got shin guards on, or I'm going to kneel down and do some garden work. I'm not opposed to wearing boots during summer but they have to stay a good distance away from any hems, particularly those on dresses and skirts. There will be no fighting between leather and softwoven goods. Not even flirting.
3) Can I wear a coat with it? Now I really don't like to wear a long dress with a three-quarter length jacket. It just looks like I fled a fire and I don't have anything else to wear. If I'm going to wear something floaty that skims my ankles I'll wear a wrap, shawl or even a lengthy sweater coat.
4) Who cares how it looks with a hat! It's nice that by this time of the year, I don't give an owl's hoot about how my hat looks with my clothes. By now, any dress I don is hidden underneath my coat. You can barely see it.

What about you? What's important in a summer dress?
* The dress above? It's another surplice-wrap dress, made from fabric from Metro Textiles in New York. The shoes are a well-loved 1940s pair of suede platforms.