Monday, October 31, 2011

A Day of Many Celebrations

Halloween is here!

Isn’t that the cutest little owl on her hat? I love owls! source

Halloween represents many different things to different people. Like many of our modern holidays, it originated in ancient history as a celebration of the changing seasons or a harvest festival. Today, some people love Halloween because of its aspect of play and make-believe. Others take the idea further, becoming someone or something they daren’t on any other day. There are religious groups that hold the day as a high holiday, while other religions revile it as primal and evil. Here in the Southwest it is the eve before El Dia de los Muertos, a reverent and lively celebration where families honor their late loved ones.

In the past, Halloween has included wonderful childhood traditions of pumpkin patches, trick-or-treating, and scary haunted houses. Some of those traditions are still alive and well, and even though the parades of small monsters through our neighborhood have trickled to only one or two children, or even none in recent years, I still buy a few big bags of candy just in case.

Whatever its history, religious meaning, or social implications, I like Halloween for all the nostalgia. I remember so many cold October nights, skipping through my neighborhood in a cheap nylon costume and plastic mask and ignoring the chill biting at my legs. Usually I would go with my two little next-door friends and one or two of the parents would follow along behind. We would walk for hours, up and down hills, giggling and shrieking, and finally get home with entire pillowcases full of candy. Good times.

Here’s a another cute owl for you!


Have a safe and Happy Halloween.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Countdown to NaNoWriMo

It’s only four days away! National Novel Writing Month is when you finally take pen in hand (figuratively) and pour out that novel that’s been in your head or your heart for so many years. Start at 12:01 a.m. (if you really want to) on Nov. 1st, and keep writing until midnight on the 30th.

If you’ve always wanted to write but could not get started, use this campaign to give you the push you need. Even if you’re not interested in writing, it’s worth reading a bit about the background of the program because it really is amazing that so many people can write an entire novel in one month. The event started as a combination write-in and block party with only 21 participants in 1999. Through the magic of digital word-of-mouth, the number of participants has increased exponentially each year until there were more than 200,000 people writing in NaNoWriMo last year. A lot of camaraderie will develop builds up during a month when that many people are feverishly working on the same thing at the same time. I expect hilarity to ensue, along with sleep deprivation, inability to recognize loved ones, and glossolalia.

Of course at the completion of NaNoWriMo, you have to deal with what you’ve written, which will probably be 90% incomprehensible crap and 10% good story. But many people do go on to edit their NaNoWriMo works and get published. So that possibility is always out there. I will do it for the enjoyment of writing and the excitement of knowing there’s a huge community of people out there doing the same thing.

And, since I will be writing for six to eight hours each day, I may not be blogging quite as regularly. I hope to give you some sort of update at least three times a week. Plus my word tracking widget will show on the right side of the blog, to keep me honest. (That's if the administrators get the widget working.)

Are you a writer? Are you going to participate in NaNoWriMo? Think about it!


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Crazy About Caftans

I know those of you north of the 35th parallel are experiencing cooler weather verging on cold. In the Northeast you’ve brought out your tights and boots, and in the Midwest you’re preparing for the nightime lows with your down coats.

Here in Phoenix we still have the A/C blasting much of the time and I would honestly pay someone to cool this city down. I admit that we did finally get out of the 100s this week, and last night we had a wonderful cool breeze. Today the temperature may not even top 80, for the first time in about seven months. Still, I've been too dang hot for too long, and I’m just not in the mood for fall clothes just yet.

Instead, I’ve reignited my caftan obsession. Maybe it was my penguin pajama fabric that made me think of long robes, or maybe it's because when I grow up I want to be Anya on Project Runway with her long, breezy, elegant silk dresses. I love caftans, muu-muus, and any long, full, gracefully flowing robe-like garment. They put me in mind of ancient goddesses and 1960s party hostesses at the same time.

I wanted to find out about the history of these graceful garments, but was disappointed by my two fashion history books. A Survey of Historic Costume goes into some detail about the garments worn in ancient civilizations, but refers to all these styles as “tunic” except for a few references to words we no longer use such as chiton, peplos, and calasiris. African, Indian, and Asian clothing are all but ignored. In The Chronicle of Western Fashion, the same omission occurs but is at least explained by the title. So I was off to the infinite, unreliable mass of ever-changing information that is the Internet.

The caftan originally comes from the Middle East. We in the US tend to think of everyone in Arab countries as wearing robes, but there are many, many different types of robe-like garments with different purposes, and they vary by country. There are different forms of caftan or kaftan worn in Turkey and Morocco, for example, and other styles are popular in some areas of Southeast Asia.

The burnoose is actually a hooded cloak, not a closed garment like the caftan. It originated in the Arab countries as well.

The Indian kurta is similar to the caftan in that it is very long, loose, and collarless.

Also from India is the salwar kameez, in which the salwar is the pants and the kameez is a long shirt or knee-length tunic of silky, flowing fabric in a slightly more fitted style than the caftan.

The dashiki is a long tunic which originated in Africa as a sleeveless shirt for men. When it reached the US fashion scene in the 1960s it morphed into the rectangular pullover-style shirt with sleeves. If made in an ethnic print or decorated with heavy embroidered trim, it is still recognized as an “African” garment.

The muu-muu is a Hawaiian dress, originally devised by missionaries to get the lovely ladies to cover themselves up. Without getting into a big discussion of the impact of colonialism on an entire race of people and their body image I will just say that the garment is beautiful and comfortable. It is a very full dress which floats loose around the body. The standard construction is a square or round yoke or band neckline with the entire dress and sleeves gathered into it.

It’s possible that my interest in this apparel style is not coincidental: each of these originated in a hot or humid climate, and I myself am in a hot and sometimes humid climate. I would love to wear a caftan every day!

Of course I would like to wear the very elegant ones, in silk, or bejeweled velvet, or lightweight rayon batik. Sadly, these are not well suited to my messy lifestyle. So when I decide to make up some of these lovely robes, it will probably be in an inexpensive cotton gauze or a rayon poly blend.

I have a few caftan-type patterns which I’ve never tried. I enjoy looking at them, because the pictures themselves are evocative: cool elegance, psychedelic parties, ethnic history, or simply comfort.

My collection of 70s-era caftan patterns.

Here are some I don’t own (yet). (All images are from the vintage patterns wiki) So elegant!

Note on S 6060 - I don’t really love the pattern but how about that blond guy with the 70s mustache and glasses? Cult leader?

And two beautiful Vogue styles – As usual, Vogue blows everyone else out of the water with elegant details.

Folkwear has some beautiful designs, like the Syrian Dress # 105 and the Gaza Dress, #101. Source

And there are several Hawaiian pattern companies that will have you dreaming of palm trees and hibiscus:

Basically just WOW. source

So, will I actually make some of these beautiful caftans? I hope to, in the near future!

How do you feel about caftans and muu-muus?


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Demon Migraine - Part II

Last week I mentioned that my mother has had migraines most of her life, but I thought I had dodged that bullet.

Then, at age 28, genetics caught up to me and hit me with migraines that haven’t let up appreciably for 24 years. I’m still luckier than most – I’ve had my share of trips to the hospital and bouts that last for days, but often I can continue to function at a lower level while I have a headache, rather than spending a day and a half in bed. Still, it renders me incapable of sitting at a desk in an office or working at a job outdoors. Think of this multiplied 300 million times to get a general idea of how many people have the same challenges, worldwide.

The most common question I get, when I report that I just had a migraine, or ten in a row, is “What caused that?” It’s a perfectly good question, but one that has no clear answer. There are causes, and then there are triggers.

source (I love that "Good Health" is represented by pretty matching hues! Maybe my brain is full of clashing colors.)

The cause of migraine can be from the muscles, blood vessels, nervous system, or a combination of all. It used to be common knowledge that the pain of migraine was due to the contraction of blood vessels in the head followed by a sudden expansion. Now that’s not so certain. Neurotransmitters figure heavily in the equation, but which ones, and what are they doing? Muscle tension can be a contributor, but which muscles and why are only some people affected by it? Everyone has their own theory; my assertion is that it is an as-yet unidentified combination of linked physiological mechanisms.

The triggers are both simpler and more complex than the causes. A trigger is, very simply, any stimulus which results in a migraine headache. Food, weather, sleep, light, stress, smells, chemicals, and exercise are a few of the categories of triggers. The complexity arises from the fact that there are thousands of potential triggers in our modern environment, each person has a different subset of triggers that affect them, and sometimes it requires extraordinary measures to avoid them. Bright light, for example, is something that is almost impossible to avoid in daily life.

And then there is the question of a cure. A lot of supposed cures are floating around out there, plus a lot of actual proven cures that work for some people and not others. There is a huge research effort to find new drugs or other treatments for migraine sufferers (interestingly, most of the research seems to occur in the UK), and almost every healthcare specialty has something to contribute to the migraine question.

Tie a crocodile to your head! Your headaches will disappear!

There is also a lot of misinformation, sadly, even within the healthcare industry. Some professionals have gone so far as to tell me there is no such thing as migraine per se, it’s just a tension headache. I had a personal trainer some years back who insisted that I had to keep exercising through a migraine because it was the only way I would ever get over them. That’s taking things a little too literally, I think! A TMJ specialist told me that I would stop having headaches and I would look much prettier if I used his jaw splint. Uh, what? One neurologist yelled at me because his favorite medication didn’t work for me. Another one kicked me out of her office because I hadn’t updated her headache calendar (in fact I’d created a headache tracking spreadsheet that I was keen to demonstrate, but that didn’t happen).

I can only assume that these are well-meaning people who want to find a solution just as much as I do, but they just can’t deal with the complexity of the problem, and therefore they insist that there are very simple answers. I do not believe there is any simple answer.

Still more next week in the Demon Migraine - Part III!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Polyester Penguin Pajama Party

You might remember that a few weeks ago these penguins swam up to the top of the fabric heap and begged to be made into pajamas: This is a polyester knit that I got in a big batch of vintage fabrics on eBay, back in March or April this year. I think it’s from the 70s because it reminds me of those tightly fitted knit shirts with the wild prints and big collars. But it could just as easily be something from Joanns from last year. I am not good at identifying what is really vintage.

I can say that this knit was one of the easiest materials I’ve ever sewn. It has a good one-way stretch and is very smooth, but did not snag, run, unravel or curl up at the edges. It was happy with regular poly thread and a size 11 ballpoint needle. The only time I had issues was in topstitching over several layers of fabric and piping, and there are some crazy thread bubbles in a couple of the corners.

My first instinct was to go all funky 70s housewife and make a long, zip-front caftan-style housecoat, which I would wear all day with big fluffy slippers while I watched TV and ate bon-bons. (This seems to be a recurring theme in my imagination. My mom never wore stuff like that, so I must have gotten it from television.) However, I have eight bathrobes currently in rotation, and the Piemaker has two which he never wears, so adding one more robe to the closet seemed excessive.

So pajamas it was. I like the 1940s style pajamas that look like men’s, and thinking of men’s pajamas made me think of piping, and all I had was dark red piping. So that’s how we ended up here:

I used two patterns: B3210 for the top and B5571 for the pants and sleeveless shift. Having no actual men’s pajama shirt pattern near my size, I adapted this oldster (formerly of the fish shirt) to a pajama style:

The nightgown was actually an afterthought since I had a bit more than a yard left over after the top and pants. The knit made for easy neck and armhole bands: I cut on the stretchy cross grain instead of bias. I added piping here too.

I don't usually care for brown or red, especially not together. But I have to say these are some of the cutest pajamas ever!

Now I need to get off this pajama and underwear kick. What's next?


Monday, October 24, 2011

Crafty Weekend

This weekend I actually crossed a few things off my list rather than adding more. Some great results, some okay results, lots of crafty fun.

First, I got my holiday cards done. I used to make a special card for each recipient, with a lot of stamping and painting on the cards. Now I'm not as inspired to do that kind of art, so these are just decorative papers with a greeting stamp, done assembly line style.


Then I finished up a project that I started a loooong time ago: covered journals. The idea of the fabric-wrapped notebooks was born of necessity: I wanted to make fabric book covers but I didn’t have a working sewing machine at the time. I thought a permanent fabric cover on a plain notebook was almost as nice.

Sometime in the pre-holiday season last year, I had cut out dozens of notebook-sized fabric pieces and started gluing them onto plain composition books. Then something came up, I dropped the project, and the books have been sitting in a box with all the tools and supplies for almost a year. This may be a procrastination record for me.

Now they are all done!

inside covers in contrasting fabric

old jewelry, ribbon, and other baubles gild the lily

And now that I finally have a functional sewing machine, I will also make some of the slide-on book covers that I'd originally wanted so many months ago.

Next up on the craft scene: closet accessories. I'm thinking maybe an over-the-door shoe pocket thingy, and definitely some covered hangers. More great ways to use up those fabric pieces lying around the place.

How are your holiday projects going?


Friday, October 21, 2011

Writing By The Seat Of My Pants

Where does that saying come from, "by the seat of my pants"? So silly! Apparently it does have its origin in aviation, and I suppose it's better than saying "I'm navigating this aircraft according to the sensations in my derriere" or similar.


Are you a planner or a pantser? It’s a popular question in any writing class, and has come up a lot in the past few weeks among those preparing for NaNoWriMo.

Planners plan, obviously. They outline, create character sketches, and complete their research prior to penning the first word of the novel. Pantsers leap in and start writing, and see where the story takes them.

The same generalizations apply to life. I’m a planner, have always been a planner, and will probably always be a planner. All my life I’ve made lists, detailed agendas, 1-year, 10-year, and 30-year plans. These natural tendencies served me well in my many careers, which included scientific research, accounting, auditing, and more research. Nothing in science or finance gets done, or even started, without an extensive detailed plan thoroughly illustrated with graphs and backed up with pages of references.

Thinking creatively is not expressly forbidden, it’s just irrelevant. What would be the point? Results of a strictly controlled experiment either prove or disprove a hypothesis. Financial results are either correctly or incorrectly reported. These are worlds of yes and no, right and wrong, and staying inside the lines with your single-color crayon.

Even though my left brain was able to excel at these rigid requirements, my right brain chafed. Why is it this way and only this way? Why can’t I just observe nature instead of subjecting it to a series of tests? Why does every corporate filing have to be done at the last minute? Why can’t I have a plant on my desk?

I always had some creative outlet – collage, cardmaking, sewing. I took classes in everything - languages, mathematics, ethics, sciences, writing - to keep my creativity alive. But these short bursts were the gateway drug to an entire life of thinking and acting outside the corporate box. I eventually left the mind-numbing monotony of corporate finance, and soon after that I left the rigid structure of university research.

It was funny, then, that when I started writing, I applied the same structured, regimented approach. Each novel had a detailed outline, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. I charted the high points on wall calendars to track the pacing. Each character had a life history outside of the story, some of them several pages long. It was very effective, and after that much planning, the stories almost wrote themselves.

But, in recent months, I’ve been practicing flexibility and spontaneity. I get up in the morning and do whatever feels right, whether that is cleaning out all the kitchen cabinets, or sewing up another new dress, or sitting on the couch reading all day. Why not try being spontaneous in my writing?

I’m ready to go entirely plan-free, fly by the seat of my pants, and write an entire novel completely without a plan. I’ve stubbornly refused to create an outline, timeline, character sketch, or any other type of plan. I’m trying to become a true pantser, even if it’s only temporary.

I do have the central idea of the story – it’s been nagging at me for years. So it’s not as though I’m starting with a completely blank slate. And admittedly I’ve jotted down a few ideas here and there. With a memory like mine, I have to write reminders to myself or that ingenious idea will disappear in moments. But I don’t think that counts as a plan, so I’m still 100% pantsing it!

Any pantsers out there?


P.s. And is there a smidgen of irony in my planning not to plan?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Demon Migraine - Part I

We have a grim but important topic today: Migraines. I've got them. So do a lot of other people.

The condition is more significant and more detrimental than most people realize. Many people equate the word “migraine” to “a headache”, when actually it is a syndrome that can seriously impact a person’s well-being, sometimes for his or her entire life.

Percent of population reporting migraine Source

The World Health Organization tells us that migraine sufferers are found on every continent, and include both genders, and all social classes, ages, and ethnicities of people. According to various statistics quoted on WebMD, 28 million people in the U.S. have migraine (and more than 300 million world-wide), and each one suffers not only the pain and associated physical symptoms of the headaches, but also potentially experiences difficult relationships, social isolation, challenges finding or keeping employment, financial loss, and other health issues resulting from chronic pain.

Migraine also translates to a huge loss to society through missed school and work days: a study several years ago estimated the financial impact to business at $13 billion annually.

Interesting historical figures such as Van Gogh and Monet, and Lewis Carrol and Edgar Allen Poe, were reportedly migraineurs.

Migraine explains a lot (source)

Today, migraine sufferers can be found everywhere, including the entertainment industry, professional sports, politics, your neighborhood, your place of business, and of course, your family.

When I was a teenager I felt lucky that I hadn’t inherited my mom’s migraine condition, which put her in bed for more than a day with each episode, and afterwards left her nauseous and hyper-sensitive to light, sound, and smell. My best friend’s migraines were so violent and disabling that she had to spend up to a week in the hospital on an IV drip to recover each time. Even then I didn't realize how awful the condition really was.

Do you or someone you know have migraines?

More next week in Part II.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Inundated with Undies

What’s happening with the sewing? You might well ask. I haven’t posted any sewing projects for a while because I started on A Few Threads Loose’ lingerie sewalong, and I had different pieces of different lingerie sets in progress all the time. This has actually been a bit of self-discovery for me. I’ve always been a bit impatient, but I now find that my impatience + lack of sewing experience + vintage patterns does not equal a well-made garment. I should probably stick to modern and/or extremely simple garment sewing until I develop some maturity.

I’ve finished most of the items and they can now be shown in their proper pairings.

The blue flowered fabric is a very lightweight cotton blend. Both pieces are from Mrs. Depew’s 1940s Pauline patterns and this was my first attempt at both pieces.

For the cami, I used the front pattern darts as drawn, and enlarged the original 34” size by an inch in both front and back. I forgot to address the tiny 1940s waist and ended up having to shift the back piece around in order to have enough room. Also, I did not account for my weird low back/high butt mass which requires something like a swayback adjustment. I ended up putting an odd seam in the back waist – kind of a horizontal dart. I didn’t have just the right blue ribbon or bias tape so I experimented with 3/8” elastic instead for the top edges and straps. The tiny buttons on the straps are decorative.

I made every possible mistake on the tap panties. First, I neglected to enlarge the pattern! Why I would forget this, I do not know. Since the pattern is for a 28” waist, I would have had to add at least 2 inches for a comfortable fit. I did cut the panty pieces on the bias because I like the drape, so the bias stretch provided a teensy bit of extra width. Then I slashed the sides because I hadn’t yet read the instructions which say not to do that. Then, I added a 5/8” seam allowance when cutting, but when I realized that I hadn’t made the pattern big enough, I only sewed with 3/8” seam allowances (like ¼” on each side is really going to help!) To further compensate for the size issue, I also left the back darts out, and you can imagine what that looks like. I did not create a back facing but I inserted elastic around the back waist to take up the slight gap from not having the darts. I thought some decorative topstitching over the yoke would be pretty but I must have had my stitch length too high because it looks like a sloppy zigzag instead of the delicate scallop I was going for. The front and back did not line up at the sides because of my 3/8” seam allowance in the yoke.

By the time I had the pieces sewn together and ready for the side closures, I was having a good laugh at myself.
I didn’t add a placket for the closures because, having never sewn lingerie before, I thought these little strips of hooks and eyes on tape would create their own placket. I’m embarrassed to even post these photos because my stitching looks so messy, but I wanted to show how I did the front and back. The eyes are sewn right side to right side on the back of the panty, then turned so the eyes point toward the front. The hooks are sewn to the wrong side of the front (actually the yoke facing). Once the hooks and eyes are engaged, the white tape is (mostly) invisible.

Here’s the amazing thing: after all that, they fit perfectly. I think it must be the combination of all the slightly weird measures I took during construction. None of which I recommend! Overall, I think this is a cute set and it’s completely wearable.

I also made a couple cami and half-slip sets.

The aqua half slip (self-drafted from one I own) is cut on the bias in cotton lawn, sewn with 2 side seams, 3/8” lingerie elastic at waist, and pieces of vintage lace at hem. Cami is from Mrs. Depew’s Pauline pattern. I cut the cup down 1 inch, replaced the darts with gathers, widened the back and shortened the length to just below the waist. It’s a bit shapeless, but fits fine and is very comfortable. Trim and straps are 3/8” satin ribbon, and I had one more piece of the aqua lace left for the neckline.

The peach is a slightly crisper fabric than the aqua lawn. It is definitely 100% cotton, lightweight, but I don’t know its name. Both the slip and the cami are self-drafted based on garments I already had, and both are cut on the bias for wearing ease. I have yards and yards of the peach lace so I used it around the entire hem of the slip and put some inserts in the center front and back of the cami. If I do this style of camisole again I will cut it a few inches larger – this one fits me well, but I like cotton underwear to skim over, rather than fit to my form.

Note that everything is cotton! This has been the hardest thing for me to find here in Phoenix, where you’d think everyone would have converted to cotton lingerie back in the 1800s sometime. But no. In my 15+ years of living here, all I’ve been able to find is one cotton half-slip. Everything else is good old nylon, poly, or a stretchy blend. The synthetics are great for the smooth look under clothing, but really terrible for sweating and sticking. So I thought I’d stock up on the cotton pretties, and now I have a whole collection to rotate through!

All that took almost two weeks of sewing! It’s time for another sewing break as I assess the holiday card and gift situation. The materials for my holiday cards are already cut but they need to be assembled. My gifts for my friends and family – fabric-covered notebooks – are also started but much remains to be done!
Are you sewing lingerie? I hope you are having fun and learning a lot!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Comments About Blog Comments

Do you ever feel too shy to comment on a blog you like, so you lurk and keep all your witty responses to yourself? Maybe you think no one will see your comment way down at number 35 or 82 on the list. Or maybe someone else just said exactly what you wanted to say but got there just ahead of you. Possibly you are bursting with clever, insightful comments but you’re afraid of getting rejected by the cool kids, those commenters who are always there first and sometimes even get responses back from the blogger?

Left out of the fun

I have certainly done all those things in the past, and it turns out that my worries are not completely unfounded, according to a post by Nathan Bransford earlier this year. I follow Nathan’s blog because he’s a literary agent and published author himself, so he has a lot of insights into the publishing world that I can certainly use. Here are some of the highlights from his blog post, "How to write a good blog comment" that resonated with me.

“Get there early”: That is one thing I strive for but it seems that most of the blogs I follow originate on the East Coast. I’m in the Mountain Standard Time zone which is either 2 (winter) or 3 hours (summer) later than the Eastern. Even if I get out of bed at 6AM and go straight to Google Reader, by the time my brain is up and running, most of the day’s entries have been up for an hour or more, and the comment tally has topped 30. Bransford recommends trying to get your comment into the first five or ten “to get noticed.”

A race to get there first

“Scan the other comments”: I agree with this one, even if it is one of the things that prevents us wallflowers from joining the dance. When reading a popular blog, I do find it rather silly when eighteen comments say exactly the same thing. Unless the blogger is surveying the readers on a particular question, in which case they want to know how many people have the same response.

“Read the post”: Well, that makes sense. Why would you comment if you haven’t read the post? Apparently lots of people forget that step, or they read it so carelessly that they miss the answer to their question, or completely miss the point. Along the same lines is Bransford’s exhortation to “Give the blogger the benefit of the doubt”. So often a writer has an idea clearly in mind, but their words miss the mark or even say the exact opposite of what they intended. Don't jump to conclusions or create unnecessary squabbles.

There are several other suggestions in Bransford’s list, but I thought the most relevant and scary part was “consider a blog comment an audition to show off your own personal awesomeness.” If you’re a new blogger aspiring to grow a career from it, that’s good advice. But for the rest of us, the pressure to be awesome every time we set finger to keyboard is too intimidating. It would be nice if we could just enjoy reading blogs and commenting on them as a way to have conversations about the things that interest us.

I’ll also add one more: “Be civil!” Most blog comment fields have a request from the blogger to please be polite, etc. But I do see insults and attacks, not only against the blogger, but even between the commenters! On one style blog I used to like, the comments became so alarming that I just stopped following after a while.

Where do you place yourself on the blog-comment continuum? Bold first responder, shy follower, or somewhere in between? Or no comment?


Monday, October 17, 2011

Mid-October Round Up

It’s a mixed bag of good news and bad on various parts of my life. I always like to get the bad news first, and then ease the pain with the good news.

1. Blog! Bad news is I am not very tech-savvy (being from the age of manual typewriters), and when Blogger goes wacko on me I never know whether it’s just one of their endless glitches or if it’s actually user error. I love that Blogger is free and it’s easy to use in so many ways, but whenever I have to go into their help page I just get discouraged. Good news: I’ve managed to keep up a blog for more than a month now, with relatively regular entries. And it’s fun!

2. Pies! Pies are never bad news. Good news is we had these pies recently.

recipe here

I had never heard of buttermilk pie before two weeks ago, but now I’m a huge fan. They might not look like much but they are delicious – the closest description I can come up with is a combination between lemon meringue and vanilla pudding. So good!

We also had this, another amazing find in Southern Living Magazine.

The cake was gone before I could photograph it, so you'll have to settle for the magazine photo.

Apple-Cream Cheese Bundt Cake with Praline Icing? Yes! Actually the cake and filling are so moist and rich that it doesn't even need the icing, but I ate it anyway.

And soon we’re heading into pie season! (Although… if I eat pie every single day, is there really such a thing as pie season?)

3. Health! Bad news is I still haven’t gotten on anything resembling a regular exercise program. And hello-oo? Pies? My summer heat excuse for not exercising is gone; I need to get out there and get moving. Good news is that the headache frequency has decreased somewhat. More on that topic next week.

4. Stash! Bad news is I made two fabric-related purchases already this month! First, I somehow found myself in Goodwill in the material section, and could not believe there was 5 yards of 60” wool-blend suiting in a dark taupe. It reminded me of a delicious cafĂ© mocha, and it was only $4.99. So I bought it. Of course that commits me to making something out of wool, but it’s good for me to have a challenge. The second incident was when I bought the 60+ yards of lingerie ribbon and elastic, but that could also be considered good news since I managed to walk by miles of fabric and not buy even a scrap.

The big good news is I’ve already used 23 more yards from the stash, not counting linings and trim. So at least I’ve accomplished a net decrease.

5. Garden! Bad news is the weeds are already coming up, right in the middle of the seeded areas. That always makes it impossible to pull the weeds without harming the seedlings.

Good news is there are lots and LOTS of sprouts – parsley, cilantro, radishes, beets, beans and lettuce so far.

6. Writing! No bad news on that front. The good news is I’m still planning on doing NaNoWriMo, and once they get the word count widgets working, I’ll post one here so we can all follow my progress. There are regional chapters of “Wrimos” all over the world, and the one in Phoenix will be having a few write-ins during November. I haven’t been to one of these before but I think it will be inspiring to meet some of the other wacky writers who like to do this sort of thing.

I hope you are having a wonderful month with lots of Good News!


Friday, October 14, 2011

Elegant Ensembles

A couple of days ago, Anita gave us some beautiful early 60s sewing inspiration on her blog, and it got me to thinking about that time in fashion. I tend to remember the 60s as all miniskirts and gogo boots at one end of the decade and tie-dyed dashikis and flowered headbands at the other. But before all that there were a few years of elegant dressing carried over from the 50s.

One of my favorite modern movies is “Down With Love” for no other reason than I sit there drooling over the costumes. Released in 2003, it’s set in the early 60s and the designer, Daniel Orlandi, went to incredible lengths to capture some of the fashion trends of the time. There are more than 100 costumes, and in some cases the results are way over the top, as is expected for a spoof on the Doris Day – Rock Hudson romantic comedies. But a couple of the ensembles have burned their images onto my retinas for all time.

I can not stop thinking about this:

I need a friend who will dress up like this with me!

The coat and dress ensemble as a discrete style comes and goes like other fashions, but in any decade they have a timeless look of someone with a well-planned and maintained wardrobe. Why, a woman who wears a dress with its own matching coat probably also knows how to accessorize well, and likely owns a usable pair of gloves!

I guess I don’t have to say how much I love this style. I have two coat-and-dress sets in the hopper, in fact one is even cut already, but so far I’ve felt a bit intimidated by them.

Project 1, started

For this peachy-gold set, I am actually using another dress pattern with fewer seams, since I didn’t want to lose any fabric details in the waist seam and darts. I hope to get a similar effect from a simpler dress style.

Project 2, still waiting

I like the idea of the wrap dress under the coat by Talbots, but maybe without so much bulk in the skirt. B4723 seems like a good compromise.

I feel more inspired to get to work on these garments now. I just have to get through the stack of other projects already waiting on the sewing table. Maybe I should skip the teal for now and try to get to the gold one. Then it MIGHT be done by next Spring.

Have a happy weekend!


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Boxers Gone Wild!

I made my first two pairs of boxers on the MPB’s Men’s Boxers Sewalong!

Since they are for my partner, I used two conservative shirting fabrics. Well, one conservative, and the other a groovy retro print but in a conservative color. I think they came out perfectly, but I don’t know whether they will fit him. I have a McCalls unisex pattern and the medium fits waist 38 to 40. In this loose-fitting short, the waist and hip are the same, so I’d expect the waist of the pattern pieces to be a bit larger than 38, for ease. But for whatever reason, the actual pattern for the medium makes a short that has a 48-inch waist/hip. That is 10 inches of ease! I didn’t know exactly what to do, since the Piemaker is actually quite slim in spite of the endless pies. So, I made one pair in the full 48 and cut one down to 44. They might both end up being too big! But it was a fun experiment.

Then, since I was on a roll, I got into my novelty fabrics and pulled out a few 1-yard pieces. Cutting down the boxers pattern to my size, I can just squeeze it onto a yard of 45-inch fabric, with some creative cutting.

And I went a little nuts with the embellishments! I’m just going to wear these as PJs, not underwear, so they don’t have to be smooth. I added lace, buttons, ribbons, and bows. I love them!

UPDATE: I forgot to put the info for these great quilting fabrics! Blue dogs: Free Spirit’s Boys will be Boys, from Stone Mountain & Daughter; Roman Numerals: Quilting Treasures’ An Appointed Time from; Chartreuse Owls: Fabric Editions’ Bugs & Friends from

That put me right into the mood for more cute undies, so I’m getting ready to sew along with A Few Threads Loose. We are making a gorgeous lingerie set from a 1940s pattern. I'm using some nice lightweight cottons from the stash, but I ended up going to the fabric store anyway. I didn’t buy any fabric though. Yaaaay for me! I needed elastic and satin ribbon, so I went to my favorite fabrics-by-the-pound place. I came out of there with six 10-yard bundles of elastic, trim to match all my lingerie fabrics, and some hook-and-eye tape, all for less than ten dollars. I know it’s an overused saying, but really I couldn’t afford NOT to buy it!

I’m also finishing up a few UFOs and alterations. I haven’t decided what’s up next after lingerie, and I probably should hold off until I get some of these other things finished. But I did some digging in the stash and unearthed some really fun penguin print knit that is looking like it would be an adorable set of jammies and maybe a robe.

More pajamas? I guess you can’t have too many.

Have you made lingerie or pajamas? Anything I should know before I start?


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What Not To Wear - For Nine-Year-Olds

You’re stupid, you’re fat, you’ve got Kmart shoes, your hair is ugly, you wear old lady clothes. These are some of the comments that fourth-grade girls sling at each other on any given day. My niece is nine and a half years old and can never get it quite right - she's got the wrong tee shirt, the wrong hairstyle, her bike is the wrong brand, her mom wears the wrong pants; it's always something according to these classmates of hers. Sounds harmless to an adult, but the effect builds up over time.

I know my memory is failing, but I don't remember things being quite that bad when I was that age. Yep, we’re going to reminisce about the good old days! For me it was the 1960s.

We might not have liked the clothes our parents chose for us, but most of the kids I knew were in the same boat. We had our choice of Montgomery Wards, J.C. Penneys, and Sears. When we got the big catalogs in the mail, I would page through the toys first, and then the clothes for juniors. I always wanted more grownup outfits for school. One year I remember being obsessed with a pink miniskirt and matching coat, which would have looked perfect with white vinyl boots, which I also did not have. Further, I wanted my stringy dark blond hair to magically transform into a perky brunette pageboy, and I wanted blue eyeshadow and white lipstick. My mother was having none of that. I had to dress appropriately, which meant stiff and uncomfortable little-girl fashions from the little girl fashion pages.

If you were nine years old in 1969, you hoped your mom would get you one of these groovy jumpers and matching polyester pants. source

The kids at school didn’t much care about each other’s clothes. My biggest concern was that girls had to wear dresses, and I was always either skinning my unprotected knees or accidentally showing off Paris and France when I was jumping, swinging, and sliding on the playground. And outside of school, the only unrealistic image threatening us was this:


Now I realize how lucky I was to be born decades before sexed-up teen rock stars, preteen cosmetics, and beauty pageants for 5-year-olds. How do today’s little gals ever learn how to be real women?

My dear niece is not even 10 years old, yet she’s already bombarded with pressure from peers, media, and family to look or act this way or that. Put aside for a moment the inflammatory topics of the Pretty Baby-esque theme happening in French Vogue, and the tendency of young pop singers to dress like… I don’t know. This is just the regular, middle-class, mall-shopping American elementary school children of today, viewing one another’s logo tee shirts with a viciously critical eye.

This girl lives far away and I don’t get many opportunities to see her. But we talk, and I pick up tidbits of information here and there about her life at home and at school. There’s so much conflicting information, she doesn’t even know what she herself likes anymore. She can only try to conform to the strongest influence. One minute that’s her parents, the next it’s her school "friends." And as we all know things are probably just going to get more difficult for her, at least on that front, for another 10 years or so.

During my high school years, I was never close to the “in” crowd, and so I didn’t even try to keep up with the latest makeup and clothes. I had a choice of blending in with the brainiacs or the parking lot crowd. Although I’d never be able to completely shake my geek image, I chose the parking lot, which made getting dressed in the morning especially easy: the uniform was baggy jeans and plaid flannel shirts (we were so ahead of our time!). Conformity was easy; competition was nonexistent. I kept my interest in hairstyles, makeup, and colorful matching outfits to myself, and although I was sewing at the time, I never wore any self-sewn creations to school. And in college we were all just too busy, uh, studying, to think about what anyone was wearing.

But my niece is growing up in the age of designer fashions, celebrity obsessions, and constant, instantaneous access to the latest must-have item. Mean girls have always been around, but cyberbullying is a relatively new and dangerous phenomenon. Body weight, social connections, and money used to be the concerns of adults, and now children obsess about these things they barely understand.

I know these are huge, complex issues for parents and children everywhere. I’m not a parent and so my understanding is very superficial. I don’t have any answers, although I wish I did. I don’t know what parents can do to counteract all the confusion and conflict their children are subjected to every day. Many books have been written on the topic, but I’m not sure any one of them has the answer, either.

But I really identify with my niece and her struggles. It’s hard to be a female of any age, but I think the pre-teen and teenage years just keep getting more difficult with each generation. My fervent hope is that my niece and her contemporaries can find some inner strength to push back against all the influences, find individual styles of their own, and feel comfortable with themselves.

How have you helped your daughter/granddaughter/niece/sister or other young woman with self confidence and self image? Any tips for me?


Monday, October 10, 2011

Good Things in Tiny Packages

The seeds are planted! The annual miracle is imminent!

Every year it amazes me that this… (source)

… Grows into this

The temperature dropped about 30 degrees last week so I was able to finish planting without too much anxiety about tiny sprouts perishing in the heat. It will get hotter again, we can expect a few more bursts of summer before the end of November. But the days of highs around 110 and lows around 95 are thankfully over for now.

The garden is ready, now I just have to be patient.

clockwise from upper right: large bean seedlings and tiny beet sprouts, just-seeded carrots and spinach, basil leftover from February planting, oregano and rosemary. Dogs love veggies!

The beets and beans have already germinated, and there are hundreds of little sprouts. The lettuce is taking its time, and the carrots and spinach just went into the ground so they probably won’t pop up for a few weeks.

I’ve had varying success over the last six years of vegetable gardening. Some years my tomatoes died by June, other years they survived the summer and kept producing right through until Christmas. I planted the same carrot seeds three years in a row with no results whatsoever, but on the fourth year they sprouted and we had carrots bursting out of the ground for months. Even with a degree in Plant Biology, the actual cultivation of plants remains a mystery to me.

My favorite vegetable gardening guide is called “Extreme Gardening – How to Grow Organic in the Hostile Deserts” by Dave Owens.

The title might seem like an exaggeration, but anyone who’s ever tried to keep a plant alive in this environment knows that “hostile” is an accurate description.

The book is written in layman’s terms and organized in the order that the everyday home gardener will understand, not by plant family or genus, but by food group: vegetables, fruit, herbs, etc.

The best part of the book for me is it takes each vegetable separately and breaks down the details of which varieties to plant, what soil temperatures must be reached, the water requirements, the feeding schedule, and so much more. It helps me get the right seeds in the right locations at the right time of year, and that’s all I can ask.

A couple of random facts from the book:
• Beans like warmer temperatures and peas like it cool. It’s good to soak peas overnight before planting, but you can’t soak beans (they’ll rot).
• Beets, potatoes, and radishes can grow in 100% compost. But don’t put carrots in compost; they will get hairy!

And then there are the funny tidbits of wisdom that you would never even think to ask. For example, did you know that cabbage loves carrots and radishes love lettuce, but potatoes do not like sunflowers and peppers can’t stand onions? It sounds silly, but you need to know that if you want your plants to grow.

So now it is time to sit back and wait. Here’s hoping for a mild winter with lots of rain!


Friday, October 7, 2011

Silk Practice Skirt

I just love the feel of silk. Who doesn't? But it's difficult for me to wear in this hot climate unless it's a very loose weave. Just when people in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere are gearing up for coats and sweaters for the coming snow, I can finally consider wearing some silk.

I have a few lengths of silk in the fabric hoard, some that I purchased and some that came through free gifts, bonus packs, mystery bundles, etc. Fabric Mart is especially generous when it comes to these fabric deals, and I’ve been able to get their “10-yard mystery bundle” on two separate occasions for free. You would not believe the gorgeous fabrics! I’ve received silk jersey, heavy crepe-backed satin, polished cottons, chiffons and many other wonderful things. Definitely not some old junky stuff from a dusty back room. (Although if they have a back room, I would love to dig around in there.)

One of the excellent freebies was 2 yards of this lightweight, nearly sheer, black and white rose print silk at 45” wide.

Although the luxurious feel of the fabric was very appealing, I was kind of meh about the pattern, and black and white doesn’t inspire me, so I decided to make it my silk experiment: learn how the fabric behaves, see what I can get away with in terms of lazy sewing, and make all my mistakes on a fabric that I wouldn’t mourn too much if it was ruined.

I did my go-to easy garment – the one-seam gathered rectangle skirt with selvedges at waist and hem. This time I did a maxi skirt, inspired by Lorenna on BurdaStyle. She has a lovely pattern and instructions on her site here, although I didn’t really follow it myself. I decided to use the full 45” width for the length and hem it as necessary after it was assembled. An alternative is to leave the nice selvedge edge unhemmed, but you have to think ahead to decide how long you want the skirt.

I gathered one entire selvedge edge of the silk. That’s a LOT of gathers – 72 inches shrunk down to 30 inches! I took some black lining and cut a shorter piece – about 50” – and gathered that. My thinking was that the lining should be slightly less bulky than the fashion fabric to prevent a gigantic bubble under the waistband. This made for a lot of duplicate work with the gathering though, so next time I might just cut, gather, and sew the fabric and lining as one. A long scrap of the black lining, reinforced with heavy interfacing, became the waistband.

(The waistband looks wrinkly because it’s straining to fit Maxie. She keeps growing!)

Once I finally managed to coerce all the gathers in both layers into the waistband, I took a long break and then went back and did the back seam and zipper. Nothing fancy, just a regular zipper in a centered placement which I took all the way up to the top of the waistband instead of the usual buttons or hooks. I’m lazy!

I took it for a spin around the house, and gauged that a 3-inch hem would be about right. I stitched that up, hemmed the lining slightly shorter, and it was done.

After finishing, I belatedly decided to try to find out what the fabric actually is. I’d initially assumed it was chiffon, but I don’t really know silks (or fabrics in general) so I checked in Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide. I put a couple of threads to the flame test and they bubbled into beads like proper silk. I’ve now decided it’s charmeuse: smooth and tightly woven, shiny on one side, dull on the back, extremely lightweight (blows away with the slightest air movement) and semi-transparent.

I hand washed it a few months ago when I received the fabric package, and there was a small amount of dye loss in the water. This was probably due to the fact that I can’t get cold water from the tap during the summer – even underground, the pipes heat up to 80 or more. But the fabric held up well in the lukewarm water, although I realize now it would have been a good opportunity to test for shrinkage as well. It presses nicely with a steam iron on high.

I did not use silk thread, silk lining, or even silk pins, but I did use the smallest needle I had, which was a Schmetz 65/9. That seemed to work fine, but with the regular weight poly thread poking big holes in the fabric, it was probably not necessary. I also “softened my hands” repeatedly while handling the silk, because I have gardener’s hands and my rough nails and chapped skin catch on fabric all the time. Claire Shaeffer actually recommends a sugar and oil scrub to soften the hands prior to handling silk! I didn’t go quite that far, I just used a regular hand lotion.

The lining is an interesting problem. The Fabric Sewing Guide recommends rayon, microfiber, or silk linings for silk, but I work with what I have. This one was thrifted, (8 yards for $1.99!), so I didn’t get any content info. It’s probably poly or a blend, and I've been using it for all of my darker-colored garments. In this case, it has an extreme affinity for the silk and the two of them seem to have bonded for life. I don’t really mind the clinginess as long as they cling to each other and not to me, and as long as the lining stays where it is and doesn’t start climbing. Wearability will be the next stage of the experiment.

A successful project: 2 more yards out of the stash, a nice new skirt, and some lessons learned (I hope!). Now that I know a little bit more about silk, I should do something a bit more challenging…

What are your experiences with sewing and wearing silk?


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beginning Boxers

I am slowly but surely making my way through the construction of two pairs of men’s boxer shorts. I’m glad Peter is taking this step by step, because I had no idea of the complicated details involved.

navy double stripe shirting from, navy car print from Denver Fabrics

The fronts are finished, and I made my very first flat-felled seams! (They were only 3 inches long and crooked, but still!)

I figured out how to convert a “mock fly” from my silly McCalls pattern into a functional fly. (Hint: don’t sew the fly closed!)

The pattern I’m working from is for sporty shorts that people would evidently feel comfortable wearing out in public. The fly-like panel is sewn closed, they are much longer than underwear-type boxers, and have pockets! Not at all what I wanted to make, but it’s easy enough to use the basic shape and just add and subtract the necessary features.

It’s a lot of fun to make these, and I think I’m going to love them when they’re finished. I will be proud to give them as a gift!

That reminds me that it's time to start thinking seriously about all my other holiday gifts. And cards! I have to make the cards!

I'm just not ready to start the holiday countdown yet. Maybe in a few weeks?