Friday, February 28, 2014

Challenging Myself

If you take a look at my sidebar, you might notice that I've signed myself up for a few challenges in the last month. My most recent commitment is to participate in the Mad Men Challenge over at Julia Bobbin's.

To sweeten the pot, I just got a package of 80's goodness in the mail from the Scruffy Badger.

Yes, I will be kicking up the 80's by producing a pair of pleated pants! The challenge is "to make them up" (that I think I can do!) "and show how 80s styles can still kick a punch today!" This last bit will send me to the magazine stand to flip through Vogue  and Elle for styling tips. It's not just my music collection that got frozen in the last century! I do have an idea for the photo shoot that I'm quite excited about, though, so watch this space...

I might be feeling a bit over-committed if I hadn't cleverly chosen challenges that will let me double-dip. If I sew a dress for the Mad Men challenge, it would also be a dress from a vintage pattern. And 80's pleated pants also count as vintage, wouldn't you say? So two down for my Five for 2014 Vintage Pattern pledge. And anything I can cough up will count as Making a Garment a Month, and also fits in nicely with my RTW Fast. You see how it all comes together? We don't just get older, we get smarter.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cozy Renfrew

White shirts are a No, but white dogs are AOK
The February challenge for Make a Garment a Month is to make something white, something beaded, or something warm. I haven't been able to wear white near my face since I was a dewy young 40-year old, and sewing something beaded is probably a little beyond my skill level (and my patience). But I can always use another cozy garment, even though we've been having unseasonably warm and dry weather here on the Central Coast.

The Renfrew Top, by Sewaholic Patterns, needs no introduction. This is a Renfrew of the cowl neck persuasion. I've probably made more iterations of the Renfrew than any other pattern in my stash. I have at least three cowl neck versions alone, and I don't know how many round necks. I haven't even started on the v-necks yet! But who can't use multiples of a comfortable, slightly fitted tee shirt with sleeve and neckline variations?
My fabric is a mystery knit. It's very light weight - almost transparent. But the surface is brushed so it feels like a sweater knit. I pre-treated by throwing it in the washing machine and dryer along with all my other laundry and it came out as soft and drapey as it went in. The colors are pretty true to life in this photo. It's chocolate brown with polka dots in mustard, teal, sage, white and dark rose. Now that I've used it to produce a finished garment I can see it goes with darn near everything in my wardrobe. Plus it's surprisingly warm and cozy to wear.
I got this knit, along with four others, at a great little fabric store in Nevada City, California, called Backstitch. It's owned by a nice lady named Deanna Bratt. She's a designer and the store showcases some of the items she's designed and sewn. All super cute.
In the back of the store she has rolls of fabric that she picks up in the garment district in Los Angeles. She passes on the goodness at extremely reasonable prices. If you're touring the Gold Country along Highway 49 and find yourself in Nevada City, I highly recommend a stop!

My pattern review is on here.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sewing Vintage

As you can see from my sidebar, I've signed up to participate in the Vintage Pattern Sewing Pledge over at A Stitching Odyssey. This event came across my radar just as I was pawing through my drawer of vintage patterns, trying to find something for a friend. The Man and I spend the occasional weekend poking around at the flea market, or in various antique stores. Over the last few years I've accumulated a bunch of vintage patterns. Sometimes I'm sucked in by the price (fifty cents anyone?) or because I like the cover art, or because they have some design element that looks interesting. Or sometimes because they remind me of a pattern I made back in the day, before I became vintage myself. So far I've only tried out two of my many lovelies. Time to get cracking and try a few more!

I signed up to make five items in 2014. Sounds do-able, right? While my pledge was fresh in my mind I did another walk-through of my pattern drawer, looking for examples I thought I might actually be able to handle. My criteria were:
  • close enough to my size that I think I can produce something wearable
  • produces a garment that I think I could work into my everyday wardrobe, and/or
  • has some feature that would be fun to play with, even if it ends up a little weird
I came up with the following selections:
Not 100% sure about wear-ability, but I want to see how the raglan sleeves work out. And I like the diagonal pockets.
Maybe a little too "ladies who lunch?" The lady in the back looks like a sassy dame though, doesn't she? I'm pulled in by the pleats at the neckline.
This one has a zipper up the front, which might be fun. And I like the square neck.
Probably too much volume for me with those gathers at the back, but I like the collar and a blouse is always a useful item. Plus I'd love to be a commanding presence like red-stripe lady.
I made myself a wrap top like this about 40 years ago and I remember liking it quite a lot. I'd rather have the body I had 40 years ago, but you have to work with what you've got.
Hard to see here, but this little number has a squared-off arm scythe that looks like fun. The cummerbund will probably be a problem for me though, seeing as how my body-type is "brick."
Another separate, which is probably the most practical option for me.
From the line drawing you can see this is a wrap skirt, but with buttons rather than a tie, which might be fun. Plus, pockets....
Not sure if 1989 counts as vintage, but I kind of like these pleated trousers.
If you are a counter, you'll have noticed I actually have eight patterns picked out. I'm giving myself a cushion in case something turns out to be too complicated. I did a read-through on the instructions, though, and so far I think I understand them all. More or less. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sewing a Suitcase

I spent the last two Sunday afternoons taking a suitcase sewing class at Hart's Fabric here in Santa Cruz. Besides selling a great selection of fabric, notions, and sewing machines, Hart's offers some really fun classes. Our class used the Weekender Travel Bag pattern by Amy Butler.

Amy Butler Weekender Bag
Why sew a suitcase, you may ask? After all, paper bags have worked just fine for me for the last 15 years. I was asking myself that same question as I was crawling around on the floor cutting out the 46 pattern pieces required for this project. Forty. Six. That's without optional interior pockets or bias strips for piping. It felt like one heck of a lot of pattern pieces.

I added two interior pockets to supplement the 4 exterior pockets. What can I say? I like pockets.
OK, technically the pattern has 7 pieces (3 of which you draft yourself). But some of them you cut out 10 times, so it all adds up.

There were 4 students, including yours truly and my best sewing buddy, Jessica. Katrina was our ever-patient and capable teacher. Some of the class had never inserted a zipper before. One student was a total bag pro with her own business on Etsy. Somehow Katrina kept us all moving along together, and I think each of us had fun and felt like we learned something new.

Diligent students hard at work
Adding a nifty secret interior pocket with zipper
So why not just follow the pattern on my own rather than take a class? I mean, besides the fun of spending a couple of afternoons sewing with 4 creative and very entertaining ladies?
  1. While I probably could have figured out the pattern instructions myself, with careful reading and many cups of coffee, it was really great to have Katrina walking us through construction. This sucker is one of the more complicated things I've ever sewn.
  2. Technique: it's not just what you do, it's how you do it. While the individual steps of the instructions more or less made sense, there were times when I was sewing through so many layers of peltex, interfacing and home dec fabric that I could barely force the bag under my presser foot. By the end of the second evening sewing I felt like I'd been wrestling an angry anaconda. I probably should have clubbed the sucker before trying to jam it through my feed dogs. There were a few moments there when, if left alone, I would have given up. But Katrina petted my head and told me it would all be OK. And she was right! By the end of the evening, I had what actually looked like a suitcase, plus I have the experience to tackle another project like this in the future.
  3. It was fascinating to see what fabrics the other students had chosen and how much difference that made in the look of the finished bag. From Mod to Zen we had everything covered, and all of the combinations were dy-no-mite.
  4. Katrina got me to think about a lot of out-of-the-pattern-box options I wouldn't otherwise have been bright enough to consider. Internal pockets. Little feet on the bottom of the bag to protect it from dirty floors and wet sidewalks. D-rings to allow you to snap on a shoulder strap when you want to. Using contrasting fabric for exterior pockets. A pop of color for piping. Oilcloth for the bottom of the suitcase. The possibilities are infinite!
Michele was our honors student. She has a business called blackcap bags. Check her out. She has an artist's eye for color and pattern, and, having seen her make a suitcase, I can attest that her creations are meticulously crafted.
This lady know how to sew a suitcase!
Half done. Well, the outsides anyway...
The whole experience was kind of like childbirth. There's a lot of structure to this suitcase and it's an awkward shape to manipulate through a narrow channel. The process required both physical and mental strength. There were moments that were painful and terrifying along with intervals of creative fulfillment.
Still needs lining, but not looking too bad from the outside!
Now that the suitcase has been brought forth and I'm playing with it's little zippers and pockets and everything, the painful memories are fading. I'm beginning to think that maybe, someday, I'd give him a little sister. Maybe something in a pretty floral print....

Michele's masterpiece
My full pattern review is here.