Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fun Fifties Patterns

Hey! Let’s dig around in the pattern collection some more!

Today we’re looking at the 1950s. I wasn’t actually around in the 50s, so my “memory” of that decade is generated entirely by media images. I always think of big, full skirts: poodle skirts, circle skirts, broomstick skirts; and always the voluminous petticoat to keep the skirt properly poufed. My mother tells me that it wasn’t all big skirts in the fifties, it was also a time of fitted suits and narrow skirts. But the mental association remains.

Here are some of my favorite dress patterns from the fifties, all with big skirts. They appear even more gigantic in comparison to the anatomically impossible small waists of the happy women on the pattern envelopes.

Pretty rounded necklines.

Wonderful details, plus an example of the straight skirt option on many of the patterns

Some of the gorgeous Vogue reproductions

The silhouette was still going strong in 1960.

These make me want to start sewing right now!


Monday, February 27, 2012

Citrusy Cake

When life gives us lemons, we do not make lemonade. We make CAKE!!!

This is Lemon-Orange Chiffon Cake, which The Piemaker found in the March issue of Southern Living. A bit more work than your average mix-and-pour cake batter, but definitely worth it (says the person who doesn’t have to do the work!).

Recipe here

In spite of the name, the orange juice and zest outnumber the lemon by three to one, which results in a heavily orange-flavored cake. You could probably play with the proportions to make it more lemony, or even add lime.Very sweet, rich, and delicious! Also, a great way to use up citrus when your trees are bending over with the weight of the fruit.

Looks like we'll be enjoying this one for quite some time.


P.s. My thanks to Anita for her photo styling idea. So pretty!

Friday, February 24, 2012

What Do You Do with Your Arts and Crafts?

I really enjoy creating things, but I still haven’t figured out how to avoid being buried under the mountain of my creations. It used to be that I made useful things for specific purposes, like home dec projects and greeting cards. Then I branched out into mixed-media art, bookbinding, apparel sewing, and embroidery.

There’s no space left on the walls to hang art, I’ve given every one of my family and friends more books than they could use in a lifetime, and my closets are already full of clothing.

I have dozens of canvases in various sizes, stacked under beds and hidden in closets:

I tried selling the little books on Etsy, with zero success:

And I have many of the covered notebooks left, even after bestowing them on everyone I could think of:

The obvious answer is to STOP making so much stuff, but it’s the main thing I like to do!

What do you do with your “excess” projects? Rotate them through different rooms? Spring them on friends as “just because” gifts? Sell them at craft fairs? Rent a storage facility?

I would love to know!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cactus Collection: First Look

My official inventory of the cactus collection is far from complete, as it takes me a while to track down the right names for each one. What's that? A botanist who doesn't know the names of her plants? Ha ha, well, yes.
Many of my cacti started as tiny, unmarked specimens in those dish gardens you can buy. Other plants in my garden came from neighborhood collection expeditions, where I've been known to snip off an agave plantlet or two from a flower spike. Doesn't everyone carry shears on their evening walks? Some of my largest specimens are gifts from a friend who might have had the wrong plant names. That all adds up to a garden of mysterious wonders.
While I do the research, I thought I’d share a few of the photos.

Three of the prickly pear cacti, including my favorite purple one:

An assortment of columnar cacti:

More shapes and sizes of cacti:

Here are some of the agaves and yuccas on the property:

Large and small aloes:

I’ll have more pictures of the cacti later in the year when they have flowers – some of them are quite amazing.

I understand that cacti and their Old World equivalents are successfully grown in many places less conducive than this hot desert. I have a friend in the chilly climate of Northwest Germany, who has a few cacti living on a windowsill in her house. Where there's a will, there's a way!


Monday, February 20, 2012

Top Ten Things To Do When You Have a Cold

This stupid cold! I can’t focus on small work long enough to do much reading or sewing, and I don’t have enough energy to undertake any huge landscaping projects, so I’ve just been bouncing around. Here are my top ten things to amuse oneself while sick.

10. Find someone to blame. I haven’t had a head cold for years, and I’m disappointed that my one souvenir from my trip to California is this mess of sore throat, stuffy head and watery eyes. With my recent visits to airports, planes, taxicabs, and hotels, along with sudden close contact with fifty or more people at a party, it’s not too surprising that I picked up a virus, but I’m not happy about it. I think I’ll blame air travel in general.

9. Sleep. This actually should count as items 2 though 9, because it’s practically all I can do. I am such a wimp.

8. Do boring tasks. I’ve paid the bills, vacuumed, done loads of laundry, looked up tax information. Yawn.

7. Organize. Not quite in the category of boring tasks, but not always my favorite activity, either. I reorganized the closets for the umpteenth time. I never quite meet my goal of having all wearable garments in one closet, visible and organized. This time I managed to get all tops, jackets, and pants into one closet, skirts, dresses, and coats into another, and items needing repair into a third. I also did a bit of cleaning and organizing in the sewing room.

6. Shop online. Somehow, I can lose half a day scrolling through vintage kitchenware, fabrics and patterns, and dresses and shoes. So far I’ve resisted the urge to actually hit the checkout button on any of my shopping carts. Good thing I went through all my closets and supplies first!

5. Work outside. I managed to weed three of the four vegetable beds before my energy ran out. Then I decided to inventory my cactus collection. I want to photograph, map and label everything. Some of them I know by sight, others have plant tags around here somewhere, and others are a complete mystery requiring research online and in my cactus books. All this is because a local cactus salvager stopped by my house a few weeks ago and offered to buy some of my specimens. I declined the offer but thought it would be prudent to create a complete record of everything just in case someone decides to collect my cacti without my permission.

4. Play with dogs. My pups are always willing to play or sleep, whatever the situation calls for. Manny the terrier takes things very seriously and understands that I’m not feeling well. He has temporarily abandoned his independent ways and has been sitting on my lap to let me know how much he cares. Dolly the chi mix thinks that continuing her regular antics is the best medicine for me.

3. Drink juice. I can’t taste much with my nose stopped up, but fruit juice is the most delicious thing on the planet right now. I also enjoyed the three grapefruit that our baby tree gave us this year. I’m happy to see it has plenty of green shoots coming out so it can grow big and strong.

2. Plan projects. I have so many things in progress right now: embroidery to finish, cut fabric to sew, zippers to replace. And I can’t stop thinking about linen pants and knit tops I want to make for spring and summer.

1. Eat Pie. I know, you already guessed that one. The Piemaker has been too busy to bake, but we had buttermilk pie and tangerine pie from the backup supply in the freezer. I hope there’s some pumpkin pie in there!

Hoping that you get through cold and flu season safely!


(all graphics from The Graphics Fairy)

Friday, February 17, 2012

You Can Go Home Again

When I visit "home" I like to tour around some of my old haunts, but I rarely seem to have the time. While we were in CA last week, I really wanted to get out to the coast, even if it was to get just a glimpse of the ocean. Unfortunately I got a migraine and we didn’t quite make it all the way to the beach, but it was still a nice drive and I got a few pictures that I think are representative of the area.

Miles and miles of dairyland lie between Hwy 101 and the coast.

The black and white cows are my favorite.

We stopped in Point Reyes and ate lunch at the Pine Cone Diner.

Pt Reyes is an old and diverse community, with some unusual public art.

This is "Our Lady of the Harbor" in an empty lot just off the main street.

Closeup: she has birds, feathers, shells, fish, plants and other accessories and offerings

I could not resist this mossy, falling-down shack on the road to Petaluma

Of course, the common theme in my photos is the lush greenery. We had rain for two of our four days, and the air was humid the rest of the time. It was quite a shock to my desert-adapted system, but so pleasant. I hope to get back there again soon!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Things We Don’t Often See

On our lovely trip to Northern California, we saw many things we don’t get enough of in Arizona:

The color GREEN!



Dew (and a little friend)

Ancient oak trees covered in moss


Yes, we see plenty of jackrabbits in AZ, but they’re usually moving fast. This guy was happy to sit and eat while I took his picture.

We had a great but too-short trip. Our friend’s celebration of life was colorful, joyous, and sad, as it should be. My parents are doing wonderfully well, or else they are very good at hiding whatever may ail them. They entertained us with stories and good meals and loaded us up with books. (Probably the greatest fear known to anyone in my family is being trapped on an airplane for hours with nothing to read.)

Between family and friends we squeezed in a nice drive to the coast, and I will have a few photos to share with you next time.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Going Away; Back Soon

I’m leaving on a short trip tomorrow – just a couple of days in SF to attend a celebration of life for the dearly departed D. While I’m there, I’ll also visit my parents and maybe have a bit of time to take in the local color. Going back to the Bay Area (my childhood home and home of my heart) is always frustrating because there are approximately 8000 things to do and we usually only have time for two or three.

I’m not going to fool myself into thinking I’ll be able to visit the blogoverse from any of my destinations. The last time I traveled, my laptop refused to boot up. The time before, I could not get a wi-fi signal. So I just won’t worry about it. I figure if I bring a couple of embroidery canvases with me, I won’t even think about the internet.

And I'll be back next week with news and pics. Have a lovely week!


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Revisiting the Pattern Collection

After yesterday's serious topic, it’s time to lighten up and share another selection of goodies from my burgeoning pattern stash!

Today we have 1940’s dresses. The styles of the decade ranged from the tea-length, flared hems carried over from the thirties, to the narrow, fabric-conserving dresses triggered by wartime shortages, and then to the voluminous skirts of the post-war New Look. Shoulders grew and shrank, hemlines went up and down, but a common theme of tailored fit and ladylike refinement ran throughout.
The shirtdress or shirtwaist is the style I most strongly associate with the 40s. Even the simplest dresses had special little details.

Some more casual styles. The dress on the far right is from 1950, and shows the transition to a fuller, longer skirt.

I could not resist these gorgeous reproduction patterns. A bit beyond my skill level at this point, but maybe some day…

The shirtdress continues its popularity. In the 80s the silhouette was supersized but recognizable (left and center). The modern shirtdress (2005 pattern, right) looks like it could have come straight out of 1942.

I haven't yet tried sewing any of the original 40's patterns. Some are unprinted, which I think takes some getting used to, and some are missing minor pieces and will require a bit of ingenuity.

Have you tried sewing any of these older patterns, and if so, what's been your experience?


Monday, February 6, 2012

Stalking: Have Things Changed?

How interesting that Patti at Not Dead Yet Style mentioned her run-in with a blog stalker the other day. I’ve been pondering this topic for some time, and two other recent events made me decide to write about stalking and related offenses.

First, let me give you some background on my own experiences.
• From the first through eigth grades, I was periodically the target of bullies, both male and female, who took delight in my unwillingness to fight back or speak up for myself.
• During my college years, I acquired two stalkers, former boyfriends who refused to let go. This allowed me and my family to develop a close relationship with the police department, but I would have happily forgone the experience.
• In my 20s I was sexually harassed at work. This was a truly disgusting and demeaning experience, magnified by my then-husband's assumption that I was encouraging it.

Like anyone who has had weird experiences, I often wonder why. I think part of it was the way I presented myself. It still surprises me that with strong female role models all around me, I spent so much of my life being meek and non-confrontational. I was never able to reconcile the two prime directives for female behavior in my generation, politeness and assertiveness. These contradictory modes, combined with extreme introversion, gave me the outward appearance of weakness, in my opinion.

Please, do not think that I subscribe to the “blame the victim” mentality. I abhor even the suggestion of that, and violently oppose anyone who believes that women can in any way cause crimes against themselves. However, I think (and you will tell me if I’m wrong) that women who are physically intimidating or have an aggressive demeanor are less likely to have weirdos parked outside their homes every night or receive threatening letters and calls.

I certainly don’t have anywhere near the problems I had when I was younger, but the occasional nuisance does arise. A few years ago a man approached me at the gym, asked me what I was doing later, and said that he was just in town for that night but he had his truck parked outside. Although I couldn't help laughing at his creepy stupidity, I said no, very clearly, and quickly pointed him out to the front desk to let them know he was bothering the customers. Last week a man followed me all over Jo-Anns Fabrics for almost an hour. After the fourth or fifth time that I looked up to see him hovering and leering at me, I told him to go away, and he did. Note that both of those instances occurred during the day; if it was nighttime, my responses would have been quite different.

Why do I lump all these experiences together? Because bullying, stalking, and harassment all have a similar emotional impact on me, the victim. I start to doubt my own intelligence and/or instincts. I am fearful of overreacting or being thought of as paranoid. And even though I have not been physically harmed, I feel disturbed by the unwanted interaction, and it colors the rest of my day.

What about stalking in the cyber world? There are both similarities and differences with the real world scenarios.

I think the biggest difference is that cyberstalkers feel protected by their anonymity, and this makes them bolder, meaner, more threatening, or cruder in their harassment. Like obscene phone callers, online stalkers are likely to say infinitely more horrible things than they would if they were talking to you face to face. I had a message from a facebook weirdo recently, and although there was a name and photo, it’s unlikely that either belonged to a real person. I did not respond, but dumped him into the spam bin.

The separation provided by cyberspace goes both ways. We can choose to ignore the stalkers, toss them in the spam file, delete them, and go about our business. If they are foolish enough to accost us on a platform with a reporting facility, we can sic the security police on them.

The main similarity between old-school stalking and the online version is that no matter what, we have been negatively affected. Whether it is just a brief inconvenience, or something so ugly that it makes us feel sick, our lives have been touched by something bad and it takes a little time to recover and move on. It’s good to share the experience, as Patti did, so we do not feel alone.

Because of my past experiences, I do not use my real name in my blog. I also do not post pictures of myself here. I like to be able to chat freely about things that interest me without wondering if so-and-so is suddenly going to show up in my comments. I guess I just feel more comfortable having a degree of separation between the real me and the online me.

If someone’s intent on finding me, they can certainly do it, but that’s true of everyone these days. I learned from a quick Google search that anyone can get my personal information including credit report and criminal record (that must be exciting!) for $49.95 or less.

I would like to ask you, dear readers, who I believe are mostly female, what is your opinion on dealing with stalkers? How would you have responded to some of the scenarios I’ve described here? And what experiences have you had with unwanted attention either in person or online?


Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Finished Winter Wardrobe

Thank you, readers, for your encouraging comments on my little project! I also should thank Carolyn of Diary of a Sewing Fanatic for showing that it could be done, and Mena of The Sew Weekly, whose sewing output is astonishing.

Here are the two final pieces of my brown wardrobe-in-a-week.

Item #4: seamed trousers.
The fabric is a taupe wool blend, 6 yards scored for $5 at Goodwill a few months ago. I’ve been in love with this 2002 pattern since I got it (also at Goodwill). It's hard to see in the envelope picture, but the line drawing shows the neat seams and topstitching. I decided to just make the pants, and I have plenty of fabric left if I want to try the jacket another time.

This no-waistband style is bound on the inside with grosgrain; first time I’ve used this method, and I like it. I used up some of my expensive Bemberg for the lining because I didn’t want to deal with static, perspiration, or other weirdness in these nice pants.

Why is it so difficult to photograph pants? They fit well, although the photos indicate some problem at the crotch. I’ll know for sure after I wear them for a few hours! The vertical seams made it very easy to fit to the booty, and everything else just followed the basic pattern lines for a size 16. It’s hard to believe I made a size 8 top and size 16 pants in the same week, but that’s why we sew, right? So we can deal with all these little quirks.

Item #5: plaid coat. This is the fabric that originally inspired my brown “wardrobe in a week” project. Chocolate brown, magenta, orange, yellow, tan and white – it’s like a fudgy ice cream sundae with all the toppings! I don’t have any content label for it, but I think it’s acrylic or a blend, and it has a loose, fuzzy, chenille-like weave.

It's the same pattern I used for the pullover top. The coat was quite easy (3 pattern pieces!), although I did make a slight error when I sewed the hood seam too far and lost 8 inches of the section that was to be the back neckline. (If I had read the pattern reviews BEFORE sewing, I would have known to watch out for this! Duh.) Chenille and seam ripper are not a match made in heaven, especially since I was flat-felling every seam to prevent the entire thing from unraveling. But eventually everything got put together, most of the plaids match, and it fits.

I did consider lining it, but decided I would get more use with the lighter version. I think the chunky belt keeps it from going too far into the realm of plaid bathrobes.

With a scarf and a bright sweater, it's a wardrobe!

There are still a few brown fabrics left in the stash, but I made quite a dent. Fifteen yards plus thirty hours of sewing equals five new pieces to go with my brown skirt and pants, which will no longer live as orphans at the back of the closet. I’m pleased that I took the extra time to fit everything properly, finish seams, and put in the small touches that will help these clothes look good and last well.

My favorite part of the project: no buttonholes! I didn’t consciously plan this, but none of the items have buttons. What a relief.

My least favorite part: flat-felling the thick seams on the jacket while the edges tried to unravel.

Easiest: surprisingly, the princess-seamed top, since the fabric was so easy to work with.

Most difficult: the slacks, which required some fitting, topstitching, lining, and a lot of hand-sewing. Definitely worth it!

Now I have to clean up my sewing mess and think about packing, petsitters, and other travel arrangements.
I’ll be back here once or twice before I leave. Have a wonderful weekend!


Friday, February 3, 2012

A Wardrobe in a Week?

After planning my fall color palette, and then the winter one, mooning over patterns for months, and digging through my fabric bins, I ended up sewing nothing winter-weather-worthy except for two skirts and a dress. This is perfectly okay since the temperature is back in the 70s now, and we don’t expect much in the way of cold fronts or rain here. Ever. (This is not meant to taunt those of you still digging snow and scraping ice. Rather, it is for us to remember come summer, when I can’t leave the house for three straight months due to the heat.)

But there’s hope! Next week I’m going to San Francisco! It might be cold there! It’s my last chance for a winter wardrobe. I threw out all my previous ideas for color palettes and coordinates, and went to my least favorite color: brown. I don’t hate it, it just doesn’t seem to look very good on me. Yet I have accumulated many fabrics in shades of brown, plus I have a long knit skirt in light brown and wide-leg corduroy slacks in a dark chocolate color. This past Sunday, I decided to see what I could do with all the brown in a week.

I was very organized and focused: I cut all my fabrics at once, got all my notions ready, and even wound all the bobbins ahead of time. I sewed all the knits first so I wouldn’t have to remember to change the needle over and over again. I did a couple of small projects first – a T-shirt makeover and a scarf repair – and then I was ready to dive in.

Item #1: the drapey knit top. This is a very soft rayon jersey from Mood. A wonderful earthy print like tree bark, in gorgeous grays mixed with all shades of brown (Mood calls it “Grey Rocks”). This pattern is for wovens, and very loose fitting, so I cut it a full three sizes smaller than my usual 14. Easy to sew, fits perfectly, and looks great with brown, gray, black, white, tan, etc.

#2: the fitted pullover. This is a fantastic polyester double knit that I got on eBay. Probably from the 70s, it does have that vaguely grainy feel of the double knits of that decade, but it’s not at all stiff. I think the design is little Foo dogs, eagles, and turtles, but it could be something completely different. I love this Vogue pattern! I scooped the neckline an inch lower instead of doing the keyhole cutout. I like the cutout but I didn’t trust that it would look that nice when I was done with it. The vertical seams are not visible in the busy print, but they make for a perfect fit for me (cut a 12 at bust/14 at hip). I’ll be making this one again, and may well try the dress version.

#3: the wrap blouse. Another amazing 70s fabric find, also from eBay. I had to have it, even though it’s weird slinky poly, because of the teal and coral parrots hidden in the flower print. This has enough brown in it to count as part of the wardrobe. Of the dozen or so wrap tops in my pattern collection, I decided on this 1993 blouse because I liked the coverage (most wraps are pretty skimpy on the top). It’s kind of floppy if it’s not tucked in, so I also made a tie belt. This blouse screams “Grandma” to me – the polyester, the flowers, the pastels. I think it will be okay as long as I don’t start wearing peach polyester stretch pants with it.

Next time: two more pieces to round out the winter wardrobe in a week!