Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Local Kentucky Derby celebrations?*

Is it just me but are there a surfeit of Kentucky Derby celebrations going on this weekend? I got two emails from local pubs with parties tomorrow. If you buy a drink at one, you can eat all you want at the buffet. That's terribly tempting. A Guinness doesn't sound like a drink appropriate for the festivities, but a mint julep would.

It does sound like the real deal will be a tad more subdued this year. Women continue to buy pricey but not extravagant hats. Another newspaper article online talks about how
attendees are restyling hats or making their own. If you're going, what are you wearing? Are you making your own cheapau (intentional misspelling)?
* The above hat Image is Windswept, Karen Henrikson, 'Mistral' Panama Cap.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring/Summer 09 Vogue Knitting Cover vs. Arden B version

When I saw the latest issue of Vogue Knitting, I did a triple-take. Could it be? No way, it couldn't! Well, maybe...? Sure enough, a little comparison between the two shows that the Arden B vest does indeed strongly resemble the one on the latest Vogue Knitting cover. The major difference is that the ready-made pattern appears longer. I do like them both. (I saw the Arden B in a white on a Vogue Fabrics customer; she looked fantastic!). What's not like about the chain-store's price? And the color choices? Still, I relish the idea of making mine and getting all the bragging rights of saying, "I made this!" Now, I haven't read the vitals on the couture one, but the AB vest is all acrylic. Ick or not, friends? To make or not?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

All Board: Next Stop, Vogue Fabrics

I've often talked about how I hop onto the train to go to Vogue Fabrics. My stop is super-close: a block away. If I time it right, I can get up to the platform in five minutes from the time I lock my door. Really. Then I board the train. I barely sit down in a seat before I get off on the next stop: Main Street, that's a half a block from Vogue Fabrics. It couldn't be more convenient. Really.

It's funny because when I originally moved into my current home I wasn't a sewing fanatic so I really didn't visit Vogue Fabrics. In fact, I'm not sure what got my rear end in gear to start going there (which I've visited as a kid with my mom). Perhaps it was the store flyer with the all the descriptions of the free sewing demos? That must have been it, because before I knew it, I was boarding the 6:52 p.m. northbound for the 7 p.m. demonstration in the sewing machine department. That has been at least 100 fabric acquisitions ago (according to my calculations, approximately 5 years ago). When I moved into my neighborhood, I was psyched about the possibility of getting downtown in 20 minutes, now I'm more jazzed about the chance to be in Evanston in mere minutes.

I try not to take my easy access for granted. There are few places in the U.S. that have the network of commuter rail lines that the metro Chicago area does (New York has a comparable set-up). In fact, you can take commuter trains (not Amtrak) from the heart of the Windy City to Wisconsin and Indiana. Absolutely amazing. Even better, on the weekends you can buy a $5 unlimited weekend pass (good for all Metra lines, except the South Shore) that you can use to your aorta's content all day Saturday and Sunday.

Another cool thing is that the El tracks runs parralel to the Metra rail lines. They're so close that sometimes I wave to passengers in the El cars when I'm on Metra. So far no one has waved back. I'm ever hopeful, however. I often think about how few places in the country even have two completely separate train lines, one diesel (Metra), the other electric (the El) running next to each other. Little kids on the trains with their parents get a kick out of this and smush their little noses on the windows, watching the other train go by.

So, often I'm like those children, waving to the train engineer, trying to get him to toot his horn (he usually does). There's one key difference. I'm carrying bags of fabric from Vogue, they're not. Smart kids!

How easy is for you to visit your local fabric shops on a train or a bus?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Leggings, the $5 version

So I finished up my first leggings class for teens this past Sunday. Talk about multi-tasking! This makes me think of the times I've been in the kitchen making lentil soup, pesto sauce and filling up the ice tray all at the same time. If you can handle cooking multiple dishes at once, you most certainly help four students who all need your help now. That was certainly the way I felt during my leggings class on Sunday. I had to go the bathroom, but I didn't leave the classroom once during the 3-hour workshop. And I'd just had an iced coffee to boot! Somehow, I just got in the Zone of super-concentration for the afternoon. I focused on my students, what they needed and getting out on time, more or less.

So I moved from the cutting table, to the machines, asked a student to assist another, and did some magic with the seam rippers. Four pairs of leggings of varying quality emerged completed by a little after the end of class. I even managed to sew on some stretch lace by request from my youngest student, a 9-year-old (who incidentally seemed to have the least fear of the advanced Viking sewing machines. She put down a whole of straight stitching on her fussy fuschia knit while I was with one of her peers. It wasn't perfect, but she did it!)

I didn't end up doing the twin-needle stitching on the hems after all. It's just too complex to set up individually. In a future seminar, I might set up a machine or two with these needles in black and white threads. Then, we could just pick the thread that best matches the chosen fabric and get it done and over with. Or I could suggest in my materials hand-out a fabric that has some white or black in it. I'd also make my class slightly longer. It's so difficult to complete any project in 180 minutes, let alone a pair of leggings. So all workshops - hats, underwear, t-shirts - are going to be 3.5 hours at least. It makes my life easier and less stressful. Everyone's more likely to walk out with a completed project. There's nothing less like leaving a one-time class with a project that's not done and you don't have a clue on how to finish it. None!

But I loved how my students were just so enthusiastic: they all had previous experience on the Vikings. The entire class had learned how to make pajama pants, one had even made a simple dress. I think it also helps that they're used to computers, so a sewing machine with a glowing display and up and down buttons are kid-friendly.

Even if they never touch McCall M5512 again, I hope they wear their leggings. To me, that's primo! If you don't wear what you make, you're less likely to sew. No one's going to see the crooked stitched, the less than perfect waistband, so why not just wear it. Besides, you spent money on it, you might as well as get some wear out of it. For example, I've got a short sleeve top on today underneath a Sandra Betzina tunic. The short sleeve top is a little big, the neckline wonky, but the fabric is so soft and comfortable. It's suitable as the extra layer that I need during this damp, cold day.

Back to Sunday. I was able to finish my leggings after the students left. I'm wearing them now beneath my black yoga pant.

I've since ordered this pattern, because I prefer my leggings long ankle-length. This accessory is so inexpensive, you can easily make it for less than $5, which makes it much cheaper than the basic black one I got for about $15 at Marshalls recently. I'm incredibly thrilled with this easy-to-make accessory, that I just want to share my knowledge with other women. How likely would you be to sign up for a how-to-make leggings workshop? You can not only make pairs for yourself, but children too. It's practical!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Oilcloth: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

This is an image I found in a Google search on oilcloth. Who wouldn't want some of those retro prints you see on the wall? I want to be an oilcloth rep dressed in a black dress with a white collar.
This is a picture I took recently at Vogue Fabrics, no lady in a dress in sight. A lot of fruit and gingham prints, not quite the way cool stuff you see above, but it's still great stuff that would be great for totes, table covers, lunch bags tomorrow. Take a look at this collapsible pet bowl. Very cute. The strawberry print oilcloth is $7.50 a yard, and you wouldn't even need a yard for this project.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

There's Still Hope for Hatless Chicago

I want to thank PhantomMinuet for her kind words in regards to my Easter bonnet rant. There's still hope to get women at my church to wear hats on Easter. I had this fantasy that I could round up a gaggle of ladies in hats for next year. Bribe 'em with free Starbucks coffees afterwards. We'd be the talk of the town! Little children in the pews would stare at us and remember us forever. That would be cool by me. Of course, it's still better in my book for my hatty self to bring a handsome man in a suit. That would set more tongues wagging, don't you think?

Wearing hats might not be Chicago's strong suit, but making them is. The Windy City is one of the few places in the world where you can study millinery, namely at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Advanced headwear artists from that program are exhibiting their work at the Flatfile Galleries, beginning April 22. This is the same place where Eia exhibited a few years ago. If the closing reception is half as much fun as Eia's party on the premises, I'd go (but I will be out of town this year, sadly). Let's hope for an online gallery. I plan to visit one day next week.

Monday, April 13, 2009

White Women Don't Wear Hats to Church On Easter: My Annual Rant*

Can I say I'm disappointed once again in my fellow sisters, especially the white ones who attend my church? Yes, you. Once again, you've broken my hearts. You didn't wear hats to Mass. Why not? I thought for sure this year you would. You know, I concluded that with the economic crisis/economic downturn/depression/recession/whatever you want to call it now, that you wear something on your head besides your hair. I pictured all of you reaching back into your closets, past the mom jeans, the silky black work blouses, the 1980s pleated pants and into the dusty hat boxes, pulling out broad-brimmed hats from your Princess Diana period, or maybe a 1950s cocktail hat from your Aunt Helene that you just can't bear to let go for a song on eBay. I had this idea that you wanted to forget, just for a little while, that you're having trouble paying your mortgage or that you're getting bored eating oatmeal prepared exactly the same way every morning. I thought maybe you were thinking about the good old days when you and mom would don matching hats and coats to Mass on the big day that allows Easter Bunny to criminally trespass the premises.

But I was wrong. Way wrong, once again. White women don't care about hats, tradition. They just want to wear a nice coat, dress, and pretty shoes. That's it. Wait. Lady who looked like she had purple roving on top of her head? I know I stared at you while I was in line for Communion. I just wanted to get a closer look at your headwear. At first I thought you had dyed part of your locks a royal hue, but on closer inspection, I realized that couldn't be the case. Your hair was lilac in only two spots, atop what looked like two clear plastic eggs. That was different, unique. I bet I wasn't the only ogling your head while on the way up to the altar. Sorry.

Next year, ladies? I'm not wearing an Easter hat. No way. I'm not going to that much effort again. Ok, I'll do it if a special man in my life begs me. Begs me! Or I go to a church that has a reputation for festive hats on Easter. Otherwise, I'm just blending into the masses. That's right. Ripped jeans, flip flots, a blouse that's open to there, no deodorant or make up. You won't be able to find me afterwards. I'll just slip out. Bye!

Anyway, here are some Easter hat related stories. One, two. Yeah, if I sound sore, I am. Give 12-hours and a Guinness, I'll perk up, I promise.
* These pictures were taken late in the day with my nieces and nephews. I'm wearing a strawberry-shaped cocktail hat I sewed - all by hand. True couture!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Teaching Teens Twin-Needle Stitching? Easy McCall's M5512*

I'm quite proud of these leggings. They look so ready-to-wear. Actually much better than anything you would find in the Bloomingdale's legwear department, which really is the best place real-time to find something for the part of your body that enables to walk. Can I just say how pleased I am with these? My main objection is that they're a bit high-waisted for my low-rider taste. My fear is that my teen-age students will say the same thing. But I've no clue about how to convert them into low-rise leggings. Absolutely none. Hey, maybe my pupils won't care. High-waisted jeans and skirts are back. Why not leggings? I'm not sure even Hilary Duff, whose name is on this pattern, would dare to wear belly-button hiding accessories. I understand that bare midriffs are out of style unless you are Britney Spears up on the stage singing "Womanizer." I understand, sympathize and have no interest in showing off my naval to the masses. Even teens who don't want to wear cropped teess might have a problem. I mean, these might feel like a girdle to them! They don't wear full-coverage underwear, why would on the planet would they opt leggings cut the same way?

So I'm nervous about this. The complaints, the groans, the sighs, the shrugs! But I'm not about to alter the pattern, at least in a three-hour timeslot. We need to start and finish on the dot, which can be done because I did this past weekend. If you stick with the pattern. Ignore the instructions though. McCall's would have you make a casing and slide the elastic through with a safety-pin! That's just plain dumb. I cut a length of elastic, which I stretched out to fit my post-high school hips. Stitched that into a loop. Marked the elastic and the leggings waistband into quarters with blue chalk. Matched up those on the sewing machine, using the three-step zig zag. I'm not going to tell you how I finished it, because I think it looks bad. Here's what I'd do next time. With the sewn elastic flipped to the wrong side, I'd anchor all that down with a straight stitch (tension 4) on the outside, getting as close to the raised edge of the elastic as possible.

Here's another thing I'd do differently. I'd use the twin-needle straight stitching at the bottom (right now Steam-a-Seam is holding the hem together). Now I know how to use a twin-needle, but it took me a long time to figure it out. I had to get over my fear of breaking the dang things. I still get nervous about that even now. Anyhow, I know how to set up a twin-needle stitch, but I'm thinking this would be difficult for a teen to do in what's being pegged as a beginner's class. What do you think? Should I just tell 'em to use a zig-zag instead or are they going to get all cranky on me about it looking homemade? Please advise now, before I head off to a local pub for a pint of Guinness Stout.

Perhaps you're wondering about the flocked appliques. Those are iron-ons! Two of them set me back 50 cents. Such a bargain. I only wish there were more of them left at Vogue Fabrics, but last time I looked there were about three hanging on a wall hook near the business office. I'm heartbroken because I can envision these appliques on a gazillion other things - blouses, jean pockets, more leggings even a wool felt hat.

One more complaint about the leggings. I prefer mine longer, closer to the ankles. I could lengthen them (I think) by simply splitting the pattern at the calves, adding some inches with extra paper and them taping the whole shebang back together, right? For those of you who like to wear leggings, what style do you prefer? Fabrics? Embellishments? I'm toying with the idea of offering this workshop for adults in the fall. What say you?
* I made these leggings using a 1 yard remnant of supersoft jersey. Set me back all of $1.99!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Yes, We Have No Bandanas: McCall 6185

About four years ago I deserted my collection of vintage sewing patterns and old cotton fabrics for the exciting world of new patterns and modern jerseys. I made the switch after I bought my Viking Husqvarna. This machine changed my life. Finally, I had a machine that would tell me how to set the tension, what kind of needle to use, all the stuff I found hard to do on my own. What's even better, my new acquisition wouldn't eat my fabric. I cannot tell you how frustrating it was to pull (really, yank) my sewing project out of the bobbin case again and again. This happened enough that it killed my love for sewing. If my Singer was going to single-handedly destroy my work, why bother? I only reconsidered when I got the new machine. It was like I was going on an adventure to someplace I hadn't visited before. Somehow, sewing became a 'new' skill to learn, and once I got beyond the fear of fabric being swallowed up by my machine, I jumped into the abyss, and the (home-sewn) parachute followed, lifting me aloft. I discovered knits. Pre-Viking, my collection was mostly old cottons acquired on eBay. Now? It's mostly jerseys, with the cottons still unsewn.

Anyhow, I've donated more than a few patterns since I started collecting to the Columbia College Study Collection. I still have a few, and I studied them recently after I decided to enter the vintage contest. It was refreshing to look at them again after sewing so much with modern fabrics, instructions, accessories, etc. What was previously viewed as "hard" doesn't look so intimidating after all the projects completed in the past few years. Now what's looks merely complicated. For example, I've one 1930s bolero jacket that has all this embroidery on it. That's the 'hard' part. The construction? Doable. Ditto the princess-style housecoat. The fit, not so hard, just time-consuming. And the zipper (new at that time) would make the dress easy to complete.

Even so, for competition purposes I opted for something cute, fairly easy to finish on short notice, but still challenging. Hence McCall 6185, which was intended for a teenager, which boggles my mind in a way. I don't know a 16-year-old who could tackle this pattern. I mean, even mature adults might struggle with the lapped zipper. But I've learned how to insert a zipper on a blouse, I thought this might be a good project to work that skill. Since this pattern actually suggests using two big scarves, I kept thinking about the bandana prints you see above. There are actually marks on this print to show where you would cut if you want to make a kerchief. I don't, so I'd leave them alone and consider them as part of what makes my blouse-to-be charming and cute.

Now, the next few weeks are busy. Easter, next week. A leggings class, the following, a quick trip to New York City for a conference, the last...all of which brings me to the end of April and this contest. So. I.Must.Get.To.Work. Wish me well.