Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Beehive Wrap Top

Here’s another project that’s been waiting around for ages. It's finally finished!

I love bees, beehives, and bee lore, but I find it difficult to use the very literal bee-patterned fabrics unless it’s for home dec (as in bee pillows!)

So when I saw this ITY knit at Fabric Mart, called “beehive” but not at all obvious about it, I could not resist. I only got one yard, though, since I was unfamiliar with ITY and unsure about its sewability vs. my sewing ability. I agonized for a while about what type of a one-yard top I could make of it, as a plain and simple tee just didn’t seem special enough for such fabulous fabric.

Then I ran across Hot Patterns’ All Wrapped Up Tank, which is a free download at (they have some other nice patterns there, too). I liked the look of the top, and someone else on the blog had made it out of ITY, so I made the big decision and cut the fabric. Then I went into one of my production slowdowns and the whole thing went into a box in the towering stack of to-do sewing.

After the pink sewing pile was out of the way, this was unearthed next. It went together quickly, partly because I never even turned on the iron. (Much cooler work, too!) My machine is lacking in advanced stretch stitch options, so I just used a short and narrow zig zag.

Back when I cut this, I was aware that I rarely wear the tank tops I have, and I had cut the shoulders wide on the back, front, and wrap pieces. This worked quite well, giving me much more shoulder coverage. I think I might even try for a bit of a cap sleeve next time.
It actually looks nothing like a beehive, it's more of an abstract mosaic, but now it will always remind me of bees! This is already a favorite top.

What do you think about ITY – sewing or wearing it? (ITY = interlock twist yarn, a jersey fabric that is very smooth and stretchy; usually poly/spandex, although there are some rayon/spandex versions)
P.S. If you use one of the Hot Patterns downloads, don’t forget to check your size! They use a different sizing system (I’m a 10/12 in Hot Patterns, a 14/16 in the Big 4). If the sizing charts are not readily available at, go to Hot Patterns here.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Cactus in Color

Happy Memorial Day to my US readers, to all others I hope that you’re enjoying good weather finally!

We, of course, have gone so far beyond good weather that we’re a living example of “be careful what you wish for.” Sun! Warm temperatures! Yeah, right.
Okay, to get me off that track, let’s look at flowers. The cacti start doing their thing starting in March or April, and then the different varieties bloom at different times through September or so. Here are some of the beauties we’ve had in the cactus collection so far this year.

Santa Rita Prickly Pear (Opuntia violacea var. santa-rita)

Cow's Tongue Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmannii var. linguifomis)
another species of Prickly Pear

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii)
Mammillaria troharti?  Not sure about this one.

Lady Finger Cactus (Mammillaria sp.)

Another mystery: I thought it was the famous Organ Pipe Cactus, Stenocereus thurberi. Now I don't know.

Interesting flowers on the other succulents too:

Aloe barbadensis

Hesperaloe parviflora

I think I might have missed the big barrel cactus flowers this year, but I hope not. I'm watching them closely.

This is a far cry from your daffodils and cherry blossoms, isn't it?


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pink Week: Finally Finished

I finally managed to get a grip on the pink cherry dress. The odd facing required a couple of pinnings, bastings, and head-shakings, but I finally got some dots matched to other dots and the whole thing seems to look okay. I stitched up a partial lining and inserted it before I tacked the facings down, so everything is nice and neat.

I think it’s a quite nice 40s or 50s housedress look. I love the fabric and I’m glad I used a bit of the sage green print to tone down the sweetness of the pink cherries. The only visible (to me) flaw is the odd placement of the buttons; I thought I compensated for the horizontal pull by moving the buttonholes slightly to the right of center, now I’m wondering if I accidentally moved them in the opposite direction! Not a big deal though, and the buttons are not very prominent.

I thought of posting a pattern review for this but I checked and found that that were already 29 reviews! It was funny to see that half of the reviewers were, like me, big crankypants about the collar and/or interfacing and the other half were perfectly happy with the whole thing. I probably won’t make this one again until I run through all the other shirtdress options in my collection.

To finish off pink week, I used up the last yard of the pink striped jersey for a top.

When I first started draping it, my vision for the top was to have horizontal stripes at one shoulder and vertical stripes at the other. In the finished garment, the transition actually gets a bit muddled with all the layers and folds.

Look what I found!

Staring at pink and blue stripes all day reminded me that I had something like this, so I had to go searching. I have a couple of drawers full of old costume jewelry collected over the years. Unfortunately I can’t remember when or where I collected this cute thing, but I know it must be more than 20 years old.

I think I’m all done with pink for a while, but I still have a stack of UFOs to get through. Plus, I think there may be more garden photos coming up soon.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Version of an Eclipse

Thank you so much for your well wishes! I am starting to feel a bit better. The new medication is making me very sleepy, but at least I'm catching up on my rest.

As you know, I generally avoid the sun. If I’m outside, I’m wearing big dark glasses and a hat, and running for the shady side of the house. So in spite of fond memories of making pinhole viewers in primary school, I wasn’t that interested in viewing Sunday’s eclipse directly. Still, I couldn’t resist going out to see what kind of light and shade patterns might be created by the solar phenomenon.

I was well rewarded!
 Thousands of crescent shapes were projected onto every surface in the neighborhood, as though the sun were shining through a wall of coke bottles.

Where the light filtered through branches, it gave a lovely Japanese brushstroke effect.
In some places it looked like a ghostly crowd of people waiting for something. 
Did you get a chance to see the eclipse?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pink Week: To be continued…

I didn’t quite get my last pink thing finished. Here’s a sneak peek:

These fabrics:

  For this pattern:
M4769 from 2005, still in print
Although this dress should be the nicest and most wearable of my pink projects, it has also been the most problematic.

It all started in September, when I got the fabric, cut out the pattern pieces, and started pinning some of them together. I then realized I was not feeling pink for fall, so I put it aside in favor of a million other projects.
Lesson learned #1: Do not cut fabric and set it aside for seven months!

For whatever reason, I had cut a size 12 in the bodice and 14 in the skirt, instead of my usual 14-16. I discovered this only after sewing together the bodice and sleeves and wondering why I could barely move my arms. I was able to reduce the seam allowances all around and release the back darts enough to move, but it’s still smallish. Luckily the skirt is flared, so the smaller size was not a problem for my size 16 hips.

The next problem I ran into was the most confusing collar and facing construction I’ve ever seen.
Lesson learned #2: Read the entire pattern instructions before starting sewing!

For one thing, why does McCall’s want us to interface both the front band and the front facing? If I can ever get the two sewn together, it’s going to be like having a wood plank hanging straight down from my neck. If I had read enough to realize which pieces went with which, I probably would have skipped one layer of interfacing, or used something tissue-thin.

Here is the explanation for attaching the facing to the front and neck:

The entire step takes up less than two inches of the instruction sheet. Couldn’t they spare another inch or two to give a better close-up diagram of that mess up in the corner? And why do they have to have a large dot, a notch, and a small dot all in the same area? (Question for those of you who sew: how do you distinguish your large and small dots on your fabric? By the time I get to the sewing machine, all my dots look like the same.)

While the facing/band problem was enough to put me in the dirt, as The Piemaker likes to say, I also had issues with buttons and lining. I had decided against a lining, thinking of summer comfort, but it is already clear that I will have to wear a full-length slip. That puts the comfort factor on a par with using a lining, so I must ponder the issue for a while. Then there were the buttons, which I swear I bought specifically for this fabric, but which now cannot be found.
Lesson learned #3: Keep project supplies together!

I checked all the button jars, and I even looked at the other things I’ve sewn in the past seven months, to see if the buttons somehow got onto another garment. Still no sign of them. Possibly it’s just as well, because they were pink, and I’ve decided to use shell shirt buttons to coordinate with a greenish-gray belt buckle.

So, while I work on the facing and procrastinate on the finishing details, here's a little preview (ignore that puckered sleeve cap!):

And because I didn’t finish all three pink things this week, here’s an extra bonus – the pink skirt I made a few weeks ago.

Full length (comes to ankle), soft rayon jersey, made with two full widths of fabric sewn together at the sides and with a wide elastic waistband.  Easy and so comfy!

In other news, I’ve had a setback in my fight against migraines. During the first half of May, I had 14 (FOURTEEN!) migraines. A lot of pain, a lot of nausea, very little sleep, and extreme frustration. Since I’ve now fallen into the realm of “Chronic Daily Headache”, I have to undertake some measures to stop taking the pain medication so frequently, which means I’ll likely have an interim period of even more migraines. Sigh.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, since I’m also starting on another preventive medication which I’ve had some success with in the past. We’ll hope that it works again and I’m soon down to a more manageable level.

All this is just to explain that if I don’t visit your blogs as often as usual, or if you don’t see me posting much, it’s just because I’m feeling a bit poopy. I will be back soon!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pink Week: The Caftan is Back

More pink! This lovely creation dates back to December, when I started on a huge caftan adventure and cut out four garments but only managed to sew up two of them.

I love this pattern and I knew I had to make something of it, but I was torn between a cool, Mediterranean look in white cotton gauze or sheer linen, and a bold, bright print.

Of course BOLD won out, especially when I found this rayon print for $2.50/yard at my local discount fabric store.

It’s a very dark pink, with a brilliant design in green, blue, brown, gold, and white.

The construction is your standard bodice-gathered-into-yoke design. The stand collar is a single straight piece, easy to attach to the neckline now that I’ve figured out the theory of curve-clipping enough to put it into practice. Side seam pockets, elastic at the sleeve cuffs, all pretty straightforward stuff. But it does make a dramatic statement with all that bright color!

It’s such a versatile garment! Anything from apr├Ęs-swim to breakfast with the Golden Girls. And, in case you were wondering, I did manage to resist purchasing that amazing wedge-shaped caftan pattern featured yesterday.

Still to come, more pink. I’d like to get one more piece done this week!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

So Tempting!

Oh no, look what I found during my compulsory morning review of new postings at the online pattern shops:

Is this far out or what? I wonder if the pattern comes with instructions on how to strike an Egyptian pose.

It's at MOMSPatterns. Hope someone snaps it up before I lose my self-control.

Have an Egyptian day!


Monday, May 14, 2012

Pink Week: A Wearable Muslin

I’m going to sew all pink this week! I know that The Sew Weekly did their pink thing last week, but my upcoming adventures in pink are completely unrelated to that challenge, and in fact are pretty much accidental.

The whole thing started with some weird fabric that I put into my muslin pile because I couldn’t imagine wearing the stuff. It’s odd. Closer to hopsacking than anything else, it has a slightly rough, loose weave. Due to the open weave, it’s also somewhat transparent. I initially thought it might have some rayon, but the threads are slightly stiff and shiny, so I'm leaning toward polyester. 

The color is also odd. I think it started out as fuchsia or flamingo, but it had some faded streaks. Since it was only $1.99 for a couple of yards (sale at Savers!) I didn’t worry about washing it several times in bleach, which faded it slightly and toned down the streaks. The color now is a sort of light raspberry, lighter than what is showing in these photos.

The pattern is also a bit odd. Culottes would never have occurred to me, if I hadn’t been seduced by the cuteness of this pattern art: 
No date, maybe early 80s?

Don’t the cartoon ladies look beautiful in their culottes? I especially love the white pair with the cute little espadrilles.

The fabric suggestions are varied – you can use anything from challis to corduroy. My pink mystery fabric looked like a good candidate for a muslin.  

This is an EASY pattern! I cut the front and back of the size 14 with no adjustments, assuming the pleats would add enough ease for my size 16 hips, and added several inches to the waistband, to be fit later.
the back is pleated like the front

They went together just like any trouser pattern – pleats, inseam, crotch seam, outer seam – which was lucky since I misplaced the instructions at some point. (I know I will find them in some other pattern envelope, years from now.)
The waistband was even easy to do, including the point at the front. Maybe I’m finally getting good at this stuff!

The only real trick is the side opening which is incorporated into the pocket. This was not a big deal since I had just done the same opening on the sailor pants

Yes, things are looking a bit sloppy inside; I was using up old thread and whatnot since it was meant to be a muslin.

The surprise came when I finished these and decided I really like them.
At first the pleats stuck out and were very puffy, but I pressed them down (an advantage of synthetics) and they look pretty good.
Now my problem is I have a nice wearable muslin that is a bit too see-through. I suppose a set of tap pants is in order.

Next up: I still have pink thread in the machine, and lots of pink fabrics in the UFO pile! How much can I get through?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Free Tomatoes Taste Better

Looky what I got!
 I have to harvest this many every other day so the birds don’t eat them all.

I’m sure you’ve all read about the $64 tomato, or experienced the problem yourself when trying to create a sweet, juicy, home-grown tomato from scratch. During our first couple of vegetable-growing years, our tomatoes were running in the $50 to $80 range (each!), factoring in the cost of building materials, soil, seeds, and water, plus volumes of blood, sweat, and tears. We tried to grow the big traditional plants with big juicy tomatoes, like Beefsteak and Brandywine. After months of waiting, we were lucky to get three or four thick-skinned, desiccated fruits on each plant.
This is all we got in 2008.

I gave up for a year, giving both the soil and myself a rest from tomatoes, and then tried again. This time I went to the heirloom seed catalogs and the native seed suppliers. Surely our predecessors must have grown tomatoes successfully, long before genetic engineering, hydroponics, and high-efficiency commercial greenhouses. I tried four different desert-adapted varieties and four Mediterranean varieties over the course of the next few years. Most plants didn’t survive to flower, and those that did had a few fruits but nothing better than we’d seen in the first round. The one remarkable success was with the yellow pear tomato vines, which grew to six feet in two months, and bore hundreds of tiny fruit.
This year I took another break from tomato growing, and was surprised to see the little tomato sprouts growing right up in the middle of the winter beans last November. When they shot up in all directions with the first warm weather, I thought maybe they were more of the yellow pear tomatoes, reappearing from seeds tossed in the compost pile.

But here are the tomatoes:
They are not pears, and they are not yellow.

I think these are Sun Gold tomatoes. I might have tried planting a Sun Gold in the past, but I don’t remember anything coming of it. Did it take three years for the seeds I planted to wake up and germinate, or are these different seeds contributed by our wild bird population?

Anyway, I’m calling these free tomatoes. I didn’t plant them, feed them, or encourage them in any way, but the plants are already pushing through the top of the 5-foot shade cover on the bed. And they are good and sweet. Not very convenient for slicing on a sandwich, but perfect for salads or just snacking by the handful.

Maybe things just taste better when they’re free!