Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What My Vegetable Garden Is Not

We’ve been promised a slight break in the heat for the next few days, so my timing is good to get outside and take a look at the devastation that used to be my vegetable garden.

This is not my vegetable garden.
(Martha Stewart's Bedford, NY garden source)

In June, I shared my hopes that I could maintain one or two tomato plants in hibernation through the worst of the summer heat, along with peppers, okra, squash and the heat-loving Mediterranean herbs.

In fact, I lost everything except for the three-year-old basil plants (no one has told them they are supposed to be biennials). Even the oregano and thyme, strong woody plants that have endured the heat before, succumbed this year.

This is also not my vegetable garden.
(Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens, Florida source)

It wasn’t all due to the heat, though. After I pulled up the dead squash plants, I found squash bugs everywhere. They were running around, desperately looking for a new home/food source. In an instant, I went from a completely blissful ignorance of squash bugs to the certain knowledge that they were responsible for the death of at least two dozen huge squash vines and the lack of fruit on any of them. This revelation canceled out any sympathy I might have had for their little bug lives, and I stomped as many of them as I could. (It wasn’t very many – they are too fast.)

This is definitely not my vegetable garden.
(kitchen garden in Oklahoma source)

I hereby make my annual vow to never again plant vegetables for the summer. Time to move on.

I see that it was on almost exactly this date last year that I was thinking of seeding the winter garden, so I’m right on schedule. This year I’ll go back to the tried and true varieties of some of our veggies: Scarlet Nantes Carrots, Detroit Dark Red Beets, Oregon Sugar Pod Snow Peas. I’ll hope to repeat my good luck with seeding cilantro, dill, and parsley, as well as several varieties of lettuce. This year I’ll try broccoli and cauliflower too!
So with visions of lush vegetable gardens dancing in my head, I’ll hope that the temperatures really do drop to a bearable level and I can at least get outside long enough to clear the weeds and turn the soil this weekend.



Monday, September 24, 2012

Mauve Madness – The End!

I should have called it Mauve Month – it took me that long. I finished up with two easy projects.

First, the drapey cardigan in a reversible pink and grey waffle knit.
V8718 trousers from here 
This pattern is another of the Hot Patterns freebies at

Very quick to cut, sew, and finish! It’s just a back piece and the fronts that can be cut in one with the extended drapes, or cut separately and sewn together. No fancy seam finishes are required, since knits don’t fray, and even the edges can be left unfinished for a casual look, as I did with my sporty waffle knit. For a cleaner finish you could hem all the edges, or you could bind them with bias trim.
It can be worn with the front cascading down, or with a tail tossed over one shoulder, or with the ends tied together and looped around the neck. Fun!

The very last piece of the collection is another peasant-style blouse in a floral challis.
Very Prairie
A more refined look
Challis from an eBay vintage shop. The metallic gleam hints at a 1980s date.

I put a ¾ length sleeve on this one and enclosed the edges in French seams, but other than that, I followed the pattern. 
Another lovely 1970s pattern

And now ... {drum roll}...  the final review of Mauve Madness Month!
click to see larger
  • 3 blouses
  • 3 skirts
  • 1 dress
  • 1 cardigan
  • And only 1 disaster!
I worked solely from the stash, using about 18 yards of fabric and I didn't keep track of linings. I did have to buy some buttons and thread, but all together I would say this was a good stash-busting project and a very inexpensive month's worth of entertainment. And I have a lot of new mixy-matchy clothes.

That should take care of my sewing urges for the short term at least. I suppose I should get back to the neglected chores, pay the bills, and stock up on dwindling household supplies. Back to real life!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mauve Madness IV (Almost Done!)

It’s been a slow sewing week. I managed to finish this dress, but only after working on it every day, bit by bit.
click photos to see larger

This print is really the only fabric in the whole collection that has “Fall” colors, since it’s darker and has some browns and greens mixed in.
Cotton voile, a good choice for Phoenix where the transition from Summer to Fall is conceptual rather than climatic.

Another 1940’s shirt dress. This one buttons all the way down the front, rather than using the side closure that many similar styles have.
Lots of inspiration on this one pattern! How about those pockets on View 1? And I would love to do something along the lines of the beautiful saddle stitching in View 2 if I thought my hand stitching was up to it.
For this fabric  I thought that the little bitty view 3 was perfect.

It’s interesting that many vintage dress patterns include the matching belt. I don’t think that’s as common in modern patterns.
I intended to make a self-fabric belt for this dress, but decided instead to go with this dark purple one I found in my closet.
A few changes to the pattern:
  • I added a couple of inches to the skirt length.
  • I added interfacing to the collar and front facing. 
  • I lined both the bodice and skirt.
Now I just have a couple of separates to finish and the collection will be done!


Monday, September 17, 2012

Mauve Madness III

If you’re already tired of mauve, bad news for you – this is going to last for at least another week!

First, a report on the iron situation. I still don’t have a new one!
Cracked base from one too many crashes onto the floor
This is my old iron, a Rowenta DM 880 at least 10 years old, maybe as much as 15. The funny thing is, even with the huge crack at the base and pieces missing, it still works! With longevity and reliability like that, my first inclination is to just get another of the same model, but as we all know, that is rendered impossible by manufacturers’ continually phasing out the old things and introducing new “improved” things.
I have several recommendations, and many thanks to those of you who gave me information. Still, I can’t make a decision. It is so stressful to look at all the different options, compare prices, functions, ratings, and still not know which is the best investment. The models that got high ratings from Consumer Reports have low ratings on Amazon and Epinions, so I’m in a quandary. I’m just glad I can press a few seams flat with the old iron while I try to make a decision.

Now, back to mauve. The nice part of today’s update is the skirt.
No pattern, just a simple half-circle of this uneven plaid. It did take a lot of fabric, since I like my skirts long, usually 40 to 42 inches. Since this was 60” wide I was able to do the half-circle in one piece. One seam, with back zip and a waistband – easy!

The not-so-nice part is the top.

Of all the views on B4347, I liked the neckline on view D the most.
For some reason, I focused on the gathered-collar effect and completely ignored the lower portion of the front, which essentially forms a sweater-halter. Very odd.

Here’s a prettied-up version of my top, with all the pieces pulled and pinned into place to “fit”.
I don’t think anyone would wear this.

Here’s what it actually looks like.
Two sizes too big, with floppy edges on the collar portion that sag lower and lower until I’m tempted to use them for groceries, or… 
First aid! source
A baby! source
Tiny dogs! source
Overall I made three mistakes with this top: a) I chose an uncomplimentary style based on a drawing, b) I selected the wrong size, and c) I used a fabric that was too loose and stretchy. If I were to do anything at all to this top (other than toss it) I would cut an entirely new front from the small amount of fabric I have left and convert it into a V-neck tee. For now it’s going into the time-out basket until I’m done being mad at it.

I happen to have an old J.C. Penney top that’s a similar color. Unfortunately it’s faded, pilled, and generally in bad condition, but I still love it, so I can’t seem to get rid of it. It got to stand in for today’s mauve outfit photo.
Next in line is a dress which is more on the plummy side of mauve but it’s still in the collection. Have you noticed how cleverly I’m avoiding any gardening or other work while I’m working on this project? It’s all working out very well for me.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Mauve Madness II

This September (Sewing Month!), I wanted to challenge myself with something new, or at least brush up on some sewing techniques that don’t get much use. I’ve been taking Gertie’s Starlet Suit Jacket course on Craftsy, but my jacket needs are still a few months off, and so far I have only watched the lessons.
I decided to toss a few challenges into the Mauve Madness collection. Here are two big ones: a silk blouse made from a vintage pattern almost four sizes too small, and a fitted, pleated skirt. Whew!

Click on any pic to see larger version

I purchased this size 30 pattern as part of a large lot, and really, I probably should have put it aside for sale or to give away.
B3495, mid-40s?
The sewing experts suggest that you should not try to grade a pattern up more than two sizes, and this was at least three sizes. I just could not resist that diagonal yoke panel-bow tie. I set about enlarging it to a size 36.

The back and lower front pieces each have a center and a side seam which can be expanded by ½ inch without losing shape.
New front piece (on muslin)/Original front pattern
That gave me 8 x ½ = 4 inches already. I added a larger wedge at the lower back edge since I needed to increase the hip measurement by, let us say, a lot more!
MUCH larger back piece
With the front bodice gathers and the waist tucks at the front and back waist, there was also a lot of fitting flexibility in the torso.

I decided my biggest concern would be across the shoulders in back, and where the diagonal yoke stretches from the sleeve across to center front. If these areas were too small, any arm movement would tear the blouse apart. Therefore I spread the back another ½ inch all the way from the middle of the shoulder down, and did the same with the tiny triangular front shoulder piece and the yoke/tie piece.
Larger front yoke and tie pieces.
I diverged from the pattern instructions a couple of times. The pattern did not mention any interfacing, but I interfaced the front and neck facings to help them stay put. In addition, the instructions called for the yoke-tie piece to be faced only to center front, and for the tie to have a narrow hem. I thought it would look better to have a two-sided tie.

This is a silk-cotton blend, but it was as sensitive and slippery as 100% silk. I hand-basted any seam on a curve or bias, because the fabric would slide in all directions as it ran through the machine.
I got lots of practice on finishing with this project. My French seams are nice and neat on the side seams, but I still haven’t gotten the hang of French seams on the sleeves. Maybe you’re supposed to use another finish on sleeves? The sleeves and hem are hand-sewn, and I did nearly go blind trying to stitch with dark grey thread on dark grey fabric. Not as bad as black but almost!

And one more thing about the pattern: it is not dated, but I place it in the mid-40s due to this public service announcement on the envelope flap:

Isn’t that interesting? Have you ever seen this on a pattern? Do you have an idea of the date?


On to the next big challenge!

This fabric is a loose-weave silk or blend.

It has that raw-silk smell, a nubbly texture, and the threads are easily snagged. I first stabilized it by fusing a very lightweight interfacing to the entire yardage. This skirt requires a surprisingly large amount of fabric because so much of it (20 inches) is inside the pleats.
1930s style skirt adopted by the 1980s in this pattern
It’s a very simple shape with simple construction, except for these pleats! I can NOT believe how difficult it is to sew seven parallel straight lines! Twice! (The front and back have the same pleats.)

Normally a skirt with sharp pleats would be made of wool or a synthetic blend in order to hold the crease, but the interfacing allowed this floppy silk to stay sharp.
Then would you believe I decided to line it? Yes, I lined it with Bemberg and I used the same pattern, pleating it in the same places. Fourteen more pleats! The only difference was that I cut away the extra fabric in the stitched-down portions of the pleats to reduce some of the bulk.

It has its share of problems, but they are all minor and overall I’m so happy with the pleats that I can overlook the other stuff. Of course, it isn’t hemmed yet…

I was making progress on the next item in the Mauve series when my iron broke. Hmmm. Are the sewing gods trying to tell me something? I will be back on the job as soon as I can get a new iron, but that means I have to decide which one I want.

Any suggestions for a good steam iron?


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mauve Madness I

Measurable progress can finally be reported on the Mauve Madness collection. It had a slow start and several interruptions, including, of all things, a thread shortage! That has to be a first in hoarder history. I am now properly stocked with several shades of mauve thread, and have a couple of completed projects.
First up, a simple peasant-style combo. It’s always good to start with the easy stuff.

The skirt is slightly gathered at the top with a wide ruffle at the bottom, from this pretty 1976 pattern.
This is a heavy cotton gauze, and I pressed the fabric completely flat before cutting to avoid going off-grain.  After sewing, I washed it to get the wrinkles back, but I might wash it a few more times to get it nice and crinkly.

The top is based on one of the hundred or so Anthropologie pages I have saved.
Anthropologie, Spring 2011 or 2012?
It doesn’t look much like the inspiration garment, but I like the colors and the loose shape anyway.

Instead of the drapey rayon knit of the inspiration top I wanted to use leftover cotton voile from some of my other projects.
I divided the front piece of this pattern to use multiple fabrics, then replaced the pleats with gathers, and bound the neck with contrast trim.

Next, a big project worthy of Sewing Month: Grading up a pattern! Hand sewing silk! Lining a pleated skirt!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Patriot Day

Tomorrow is the eleventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. I have been living in a cocoon of denial for those eleven years, refusing to watch video footage of the planes, unable to even consider seeing one of the movies about that day, and avoiding conversations on the topic. I just recently discovered that I can finally approach the subject without breaking into sobs.
The World Trade Center was my home away from home for the month of August, 2001.

The Marriot was in WTC 3. A walk through the lobby of the North Tower and across the bridge got me to work each morning. source

While I worked at the Financial Center across the street, I stayed at the Marriot WTC, a twenty-two story hotel that was completely dwarfed by the 110-floor towers on either side. There were coffee shops everywhere, and it was nice to get a big cappuccino and sit in the plaza and people-watch. There were so many good restaurants in the hotel and the WTC complex that I didn’t even have to leave the building on busy working nights. There was a huge shopping mall below the WTC, and a big clothing store across the street, so any last-minute necessities could be procured immediately (and late-night shopping urges could be satisfied).
It was not uncommon to find a tourist sprawled in the middle of the plaza with a camera pointed upwards, trying to get as much of the towers as possible. source 
The WTC was also the perfect base of operations for weekend activities – located nearly at the southern tip of Manhattan and with access to train and subway stations, the hotel was my launching pad for four weekends of non-stop shopping, dining, and sightseeing.

I had the subway figured out, at least enough so that if I got off at the wrong stop once in a while I didn’t worry, but either got back on the next train or just explored a new area. I walked miles and miles of city streets and was forever getting turned around. I found more neat little shops, tiny churches, and colorful neighborhoods than if I’d somehow found my destination the first time. I dined on caviar at a Russian restaurant, drank sangria at a Spanish restaurant, saw a Broadway show, and found kindred spirits in the Village. I shopped for linen suits (August in New York City!), and shoes to replace the ones I wore out. By the end of my time there I was pretty sure I could stay forever. I enjoyed that assignment in NYC more than any other during my nearly 20 years of on-the-job travel.

A familiar sight: approaching the towers at street level. source
I’d been back home for a little more than a week when my radio alarm woke me with the babble of panicked voices talking about the World Trade Center, and of course, I thought it was a dream. Just in case it wasn’t, I detoured toward the television, just in time to see the second plane crash into the South Tower. Not a dream, but definitely a nightmare. So many people lost.

Why did I have such a prolonged emotional response? It’s common enough that there are popular theories: survivor guilt, misdirected anger, generalized anxiety. I think it is simpler: just plain grief.  It was a strange, terrible day, and it’s been a strange eleven years, but I seem to be waking up from the nightmare finally.

Patriot Day, as we call it now, does not make me feel patriotic, it makes me feel sad. But it also makes me nostalgic for a wonderful summer I had once in New York City. Tomorrow when I take a moment to remember the victims, the rescuers, and the survivors, I will also remember what was there before. 



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

This Is Usually A Good Sign

After a grueling couple of days with a broken air conditioner and yet another expensive repair, we were treated to a beautiful, hour-long downpour, followed by a rainbow.

And then a double rainbow!

Hope this means things are looking up for everyone!