Monday, October 31, 2011

Craft Activism: Book Review

Craft Activism by Joan Tapper,
photos by Gale Zucker
As a kid, whenever I would whine that I was bored, my mom would say, "Go make something."

The many contributors to this book apparently had mothers similar to mine, because they all make SOMETHING. And you can too.

Craft Activism is more than a craft book - it's a profile of the current crafting movement and includes chapters on sewing, embroidery, quilting, knitting, crochet, etc. The knitting section is as far apart as yarn bombing (tree cozies) to sweaters with political statements to amazingly accurate animal pelts reproduced as knitting projects.

Each profile is accompanied by a project inspired by the crafter's work - if you have basic knowledge of their craft, you can manage the project. It's simplified, but not dumbed-down.

The book is divided up into several sections:  Crafting a Statement, Recrafting the Past, Crafting for a Cause, Crafting to Recycle, Renew and Reuse, and Crafting a Community.  Even without the projects, it's an interesting read simply for the crafters and their various causes and organizations.

Books like this inspire me just by existing. I like knowing there are that many other people out there who get up every day, knowing that by bedtime, they're going to make something.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's all about the clothes

So of course there's more to visiting Paris than the clothes, but seeing who I am and what I do, I do tend to pay attention. A lot.

What I saw quite a bit of on the streets:

Capes, surprisingly.  The cute short ones that BWOF has been showing.  I didn't think much of them in the magazine, but seeing them on real women, moving around, I liked them.

Shorts - everything from Daisy Dukes with fishnets (on the twentysomethings on a Saturday night) to dressy wool shorts that end with a button-tab and cuff just above the knee.

Ankle boots - with pants, skirts of all lengths, and the above-mentioned dress shorts. 

As far as specific trends for women, it seems anything goes, but particularly extremes - skirts either to the ankles or barely below your underwear.  Pants skinny to the ankle or billowing wider than hip-width. 

Men wearing more - and brighter - colors than the women. As in I lost count of how many men I saw wearing red corduroy trousers. Or orange. Or yellow. Or green. It wasn't a trend Mario took to, thankfully, though he tends to notice how much sharper European men dress than American men.

And then, of course, there are the store windows.  These were my favorites.  The color-blocked dress above is going to be coming out of my workroom sooner rather than later.  Isn't it fabulous?  I might change it from tan and black to something-more-flattering-on-me and black, or I might not.  Need to see what's in the stash that will work. 

The second dress reminds me of something from one of the Japanese pattern magazines - there's a bit of origami in there somewhere, and I love it.  I don't know a lot of people who really look good in these types of garments, but I love looking at them.  The color didn't come up well (night photography with glass in between) but it's a very pale pearl gray, just a shade or two darker than the mannequin.

Look at this coat.  The first thing that caught my eye, of course, was the fur down both sleeves.  Then I actually looked at the sleeves, and the very strong shoulder that's supporting all that fur.  It wasn't until I got home that I noticed some of the finer details - the darts on the front are sewn to the outside, for example.  And it's princess-seamed.  And double-breasted.  With a lovely collar, outsized buttons and uber-outsized cargo pockets.  It's a lot of look, and one of my favorites.

I love plaid.  I love lace.  I apparently love plaid dresses appliqued with lace, even in somewhat odd places for applique.  And I wish I could have gotten a better angle so I could see what was up with those sleeves!

The black and gray outfit on the left didn't do as much for me, but it was YSL's store window, and I was in Paris, and isn't every sewist worth her thread supposed to stop and genuflect in front of YSL's store window?  There was a Christian Lacroix store right down the street, under construction.  If his windows had been filled with clothes, there would have been kneeling in worship involved.  And possibly drool on my chin.

The next dress just attracted me because of the colors, the print, the overall . . . something of it.  So many of the pieces I fall for are for the fabrics, rather than the cut; it's a weakness of mine, and one I had pointed out recently watching the lame finale of this lame season of Project Runway.  A beautiful print does not make for a great dress, nor does knowing how to use a beautiful print make for a great designer.  I need to learn to work with more solids.

The last photo, the coat, was taken at L'Orangerie, while ostensibly looking at Monet's waterlilies.  And I was looking at them, I just walked in behind this woman and her coat kept distracting me, so I finally got a photo of it while (ostensibly) taking a photo of the waterlilies.

Another thing that really gets me is patchwork or working with multiple prints.  I remember a few pieces like this coat from Florence 2 years ago.  Apparently the trend either hasn't gone away or she's taken very good care of this coat. 
You can't tell too well from the photo, but most of the coat is made up from multiple layers of multiple fabrics.  The large face on the upper back had a layer of black net or gauze over it; several of the lower pieces, in black, were overlaid with layers of black lace.  It didn't change the color much, obviously, but it added a lot of depth to the coat while walking behind it and mentally taking notes.

So these are my fashion highlights.  I wish there were more, but I was actually trying not to take as many photos this trip.  We've been several times now, so I don't need to take photos of the major sights anymore, and I get a little tired of trying not to look like I'm stalking someone who's wearing something that interests me.

Of course, when we were walking along the Seine and there was a woman several yards in front of us, wearing an absolutely phenomenal skirt made of at least 4 coordinating fabrics with bias-cut ruffles in leopard print, my camera battery crapped out and I missed her entirely.

It snowed on Saturday, shooting my weekend plans somewhat in the foot, so I finally renewed my acquaintance with my sewing machine.  The plaid jacket is still under construction; I decided to ease my way back in with something simple, and made myself a pair of annoyingly loud striped pajamas because it's cold in the house and I refuse to turn the heat on this early in the season.  Thanksgiving is my usual start date - something to be thankful for, is how I think of it.  In the meantime, a little cold builds character.  And justifies the construction of fuzzy new pajamas.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

From my garden

Does this look like the end of October to you?
Of course the snow outside my window doesn't look much like the end of October either.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

There's no place like home

Do you ever feel, when you walk through the automatic doors at the airport, that you're entering someplace akin to the Twilight Zone?  A place where time as you know it has no meaning, where things are going to occur in their own time - airport time - and you have no choice but to surrender and go with the flow, wherever you're bound, and hope that you get there?

That's me with airports, anyway.  This trip included, though it could have been worse.  I have to thank several very nice blonde ladies who work for Delta Airlines for making the experience as tolerable as it was.

We left for the airport on time, even though we discovered that the flight would be delayed. What if it got undelayed and we weren't there?  Trying to print our boarding passes at the kiosk, we got a message that there was a problem and to go to the desk to talk to a real, live human.

Our flight, it turned out, had been canceled and we were being re-routed through Atlanta. We get our new boarding passes and find the gate.  There's an Atlanta flight leaving in an hour on the board, but it's not the flight number on our passes.  I ask the nice blonde lady, and she says there are 2 flights to Atlanta, both delayed, and we're on the second one.  Which might or might not connect with the Paris flight.

WTF?  I take a deep breath and do not scream.  Instead, I tear up.  "We're on our honeymoon," I said.  "We can't spend the night in an airport."  She puts us on standby for the first flight, but says not to get my hopes up. 

An hour later, when they start boarding, I hear my name called.  There were 3 standby seats on the flight, and we got 2 of them.  I resist hugging the nice blonde lady, especially when she says that there's no way  the people on the second flight will make it to Paris - and because it's a weather delay, the airline isn't responsible for putting them up at a hotel.

We fly to Atlanta, seated separately, and another nice blonde Delta lady stows our bags in the staff area because after we get on the plane they ran out of overhead space.  I chat all the way there with the woman seated beside me, who sews, grows her own vegetables and is dying to get chickens.  My people are everywhere, I tell you.

Atlanta's airport makes Philadelphia International look tired and shabby.  Which it is.  We get yet another pair of boarding passes (keeping count?) because our seats need to be changed from the ones we got in Philly.  Since the second plane wouldn't get in on time, we were going to have to spread out on the plane to balance the load - we were flying at 1/3 full! 

All this led to us getting into Paris about 3 hours later than expected, but considering the alternative - a night in the Atlanta airport - 3 hours was fine by me.  We checked into our hotel on the edge of the Jardin de Luxembourg, and meandered around the neighborhood before going off in search of food.  We ended up on the Quai des Augustins, along the river, at the Bistro des Augustins, having several glasses of wine and a creamy, cheesy gratin and a basket of bread. 

What airport?  What frustration?  Give me wine and sufficient dairy products and I can forget almost anything.

And a little Tina Turner. When we got to the bistro, it was around 3:00 p.m. - the wasteland between lunch and dinnertime. There were no other customers, just the waiter and a few friends hanging at the bar. American music is all over Paris, and they had some good stuff going on. The highlight: when the really fast version of  Proud Mary came on, and all 3 men, very French, very white and very skinny, started dancing at the bar like Tina in her fringed dress and singing along, very loudly, to boot. None of them actually spoke English but they knew all the words.  I couldn't help but applaud.

We kept going for a while, but our policy on vacation is to try to put ourselves into the local time zone as soon as possible, go until we can't and then fall down. 

We fell down at about 8:30 p.m., woke up at 7:00 the next day to a bright blue sky and only minimal jet lag. 

Much more to come - obviously - including highlights of the clothes, the amazing food markets and our trip to the Orangerie to be surrounded by more Monet water lilies than I thought humanly possible.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook

This little lovely arrived in my mailbox the day before we left for Paris.  How much did that suck?  Not only was I leaving behind my unfinished plaid jacket - still unfinished, sigh! - but I had to flip through this book and leave it on the table until I returned, unreviewed, undigested . . . do books feel neglected?

This one doesn't deserve to.  Let me say, full disclosure, that while I'm a member of the Burdastyle website, I don't think I'm their target audience.  I like some of their patterns, and a few of their downloadable freebies have become go-to pieces, but the forums and other features there leave me a little cold. 

I think it's a mindset thing; you're Patternreview or you're Burdastyle.  You may be fluent in both, but one place is more comfortable.  Know what I mean?

Which isn't to say anything negative about the book.  On the contrary, spending time with this beautifully illustrated book is making me rethink my feelings about the website.  If I didn't already spend so much valuable sewing time on the computer reading sewing blogs and tutorials, I'd be getting better acquainted already.

But enough about me.  On to the book. 

Chapters are: Getting Started, Using Patterns, Let's Start Sewing, The Skirt, The Blouse, The Dress, The Coat and The Bag.

The Amazon blurb is short and to the point, and I'll quote it here for expediency: 

The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook is the most comprehensive, hip and creative guide to learning to sew clothes with style. With more than 430,000 members around the world, BurdaStyle is the largest online community of sewing enthusiasts, fashion designers and DIYers. In their first book, BurdaStyle celebrates this vibrant, global community as they teach readers everything they need to know to design and sew an entire wardrobe of fashion-forward looks using the five fully customisable sewing patterns enclosed with the book. Filled with gorgeous photography, step-by-step instruction and contributions by 78 designers from 22 countries, The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook will be the go-to guide for every fashion sewer.

As the blurb says, the book comes with 5 patterns.  Why yes, yes it does.  And what I truly appreciate is that in addition to showing you the Burdastyle version made up, they also do variations dreamed up by 2 of their members (some of whom we all know pretty well from sewing blogland), complete with illustrated instructions on how to accomplish the changes to each pattern. At the end of each segment - dress, skirt, blouse, jacket, bag - they show a bunch more versions of each item, just to whet your creativity.

The photography is great, the illustrations are very clear, and the tone throughout is friendly and encouraging

One of the things I really, really appreciate about this book and others like it - and all the young sewing bloggers out there who've had no real sewing training - is that thinking and stepping outside the box is so easy for them. 

The most valuable thing I'll take from this book is that reminder.

And those 5 customisable patterns.  Mustn't forget about them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bon Voyage

Nine months and four days ago, there was a wedding.

Today, there is a honeymoon, if somewhat late.

See you all in a week with vacation photos, Parisian fashion commentary and a couple of good book reviews that I don't have time to finish off before we fly.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Contagious Inspiration

One of the other fabrics I brought back from the NY shopping day in September was this fabulous black sweater knit with gray ruffles. I got a remnant at Kashi (another remnant . . . do you see a trend here?) and it's just under 2 yards. Of course, since 2 yards is enough to make almost anything sweatery, I'm thinking about doing something cut on the bias to take extra advantage of the interesting ruffles and to give myself the challenge of making something - again - out of too little fabric.

What got me started? Andrea sent me a link on Friday morning and it turns out that Lori of GirlsintheGarden used the very same sweater knit to make a beautiful cardigan. She got her fabric at FabricMart, but it's the same lovely stuff, and it made me start thinking about mine all over again.

Thanks, Lori. Thanks, Andrea.

New sweater, coming soon to a sewing room near you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What is your time worth?

I was doing the hand finishing on one of my craft show pieces at work yesterday (baby dress in a tiny floral corduroy with 2 kinds of trim and a lace collar). A co-worker (with a small child) stopped past to look and asked if I was selling it. I said that I would be, once I finished enough pieces to submit to the craft show.

She asked if I'd set my prices yet. I'm pretty much there, but I don't like discussing it with co-workers unless we're actually negotiating over me doing some sewing for them, which rarely happens. I said that I hadn't.

She closed her eyes and thought. "I'd pay $15 for that. Maybe even $18. It's really cute."

This from a woman who keeps telling me I should quit my job and sew for a living.

I point this out. I tell her that the dress took about 2 hours to complete, including the hand sewing, and that there were costs for fabric, trim, thread, and wear and tear on my machine. And, most importantly, my time.

"I'd be making less than minimum wage if I asked $18 for this dress," I told her.

"But I can get the same thing at Gymboree on clearance for $10," she said.

And there you have it, folks. Why most of us who sew constantly, think about it obsessively, and work a non-creative 9:00 - 5:00 job will NEVER sew for a living.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Planned Procrastination

This is what I'm currently NOT working on. 

And I really, really want to be working on it. 

But I'm participating in the craft show again this year, and I've been procrastinating on working on the show items (in a completely unplanned way).  So I decided the only way to apply the boot to my own butt was to force myself to postpone working on a project that really excites me just so I can work on the pieces I need to at least get started on.

The first piece is done.  Three more are cut out, and I was going to sew tonight but I was cross-eyed tired and decided that might not be a good idea. 

The fabric of my postponed jacket is a green/brown/red plaid (not as vivid as the fabric photo - much more like the collar pic) that I purchased last month from Metro Textiles as a remnant. It's a wool, I think possibly with some cashmere or something else that makes it obscenely soft, and it takes steam like nobody's business.  I originally wanted to line it in red, but I decided to take the understated route and use the last of my olive green silk charmeuse instead.  Oh, the hardships of a silk charmeuse lining. 

Much as I'd like to think I can knock out a few more craft projects by mid-week and be back to my jacket by Thursday, I'm not sure it's going to happen.  A few other things have to happen this week that can't be put off, and that will push my sewing to the later evening, when the likelihood of energy and success happening at the same time go sharply downhill.

But it'll happen, and soon.  I can hear it calling to me from the back room . . . "Come back, come back. . . don't you want to cut out my sleek and slippery lining and attach it to my matched plaid facings?  Don't you want to choose buttons and swear at buttonholes?" 

Yes.  Yes, I do.

Gratuitous Cat Photo

What do you mean, it's not a cat bed?

Sewing has occurred, but I have nothing to show yet.  Actually, several things are being worked on - the jacket that I really, really want to sew, and several projects for the looming holiday craft show.  To make myself do the craft show sewing, I'm not allowed to work on the jacket until I complete 2 pieces.

One is done except for some hand sewing; the second is cut out.

I really want to work on my jacket.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thought for the day

I'm not a tech person, but it's hard to avoid Steve Jobs' influence on the way we live, especially since most of us are either competing with an iPhone for someone's attention or downloading an application on one to organize our pattern collections.  In the endless loop of obituaries on TV tonight, this phrase stood out: 

"You're here for a limited time, so don't waste it living someone else's life."

Techie or Luddite, words to live by.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Vogue 1250 - Take 3

Vogue missed the mark with this pattern.  They should have marketed it with the slogan, "Bet you can't make just one." 

This is my third version of this dress, and there will be a fourth, simply because I have to have one in black, eventually.  It's the perfect little black dress.

That being said, this time around it's the perfect little black, white and gray dress. 

This fabric followed me home from Metro Textiles on September 17th at the NY shopping day.  I was pretty well behaved that day - only 13 yards in all (not counting a painful stop at Pacific Trims) - but this print called to me from the chaos that was Metro filled with a dozen or so fabric-frenzied women. 

I made a few tweaks this time, changing the shoulder tucks/pleats into gathers.  It makes for a softer look on the body and the drape actually works a little better for me.  I think it's a personal, body-shape issue; depending on the weight of the knit, looking down at that pleat cascading into a drape over my chest feels more like I'm wearing a valance, and I've never wanted to be Scarlett O'Hara and wear the drapes!

I also made one other minor change, this one out of hard-headedness on my part.  I ended up with a bit more fabric than I asked for (Kashi does cut generously sometimes) and wondered if I had enough left to make myself a top.  I decided that I would, if I conserved just a bit and cut the back bodice as two pieces instead of wasting fabric by cutting on the fold.  Considering there's already a center back seam up the skirt, I didn't think it would make much of a difference, and because of the print, it's barely visible. 

So, a dress and a top from this fabric.  Even better.

No sewing last night or today.  Yesterday we went to NJ for a belated family birthday dinner, and stopped at Tractor Supply so I could get chicken supplies to last us until spring.  I like a little added value to a family visit; I'm still looking for one when we visit my aunt.

The chickens are doing well, despite literally almost 2 feet of rain since they moved in.  They lay pretty regularly (we get between 6-9 eggs per week, so I'm learning to make quiche) and don't require much in the way of attention.  5 minutes in the morning for water and feed, the same in the evening plus our kitchen scraps or some weeds from the garden to perk up their diet.  On Saturdays I scoop the poop, which makes the compost very happy.  It's interesting watching the tempered glass lids on my compost bins steam up after I make a deposit.

And last weekend my handyman came over and installed an outdoor outlet so I can put a light in the coop this winter for warmth and to keep their water from freezing.  Not much else to report on the poultry front - I have to say, I like having their eggs, but I don't find them tremendously interesting.  I think they feel the same about me, so at least we're even.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Month End Review - September 2011

Even though it doesn't feel like fall (except maybe today, October temps magically dropping even if the rain hasn't gone away), I'm thinking fall sewing. 

Switching sewing seasons seems to have gotten me out of my rut, even if one of my projects won't win any prizes for fit.

September's numbers: 5 projects, 11.5 yards.  Not bad, and only a little less than the amount of fabric I brought home from New York mid-month.

My favorite project for the month (I think) is the Ottobre Autumn Watercolor dress.  It turned out much better than expected, and I can see getting a lot of use from that pattern in the future.

Mario's Dr. Who shirt gets the prize for most appreciated sewing for others EVER.  At least until the Hendrix jacket materializes.

More mundane sewing: KwikSew 3740's cowl neck top, made up in cream sweater knit and at great risk to life, limb and thumb.  It's healing, and the sweater turned out well.

Colette's Clover pants were project #4.  Thumbs up for the pattern, if not for the result I got.  When I recover from looking at those photos, I'll try it again.

Last up, and to be fully reviewed when I wear it, is my third take on Vogue 1250, made from a black, white and gray knit from Metro Textiles, purchased on Elizabeth's shopping day on September 17th.  I love it, though I might have given up the fabric in exchange for her burnt orange cashmere corduroy.  If she'd only let go of it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Miracle is

that I get any pressing done at all.  With Lily (left) and Katie (right), jockeying for position on the small ironing board, I'm reduced to the sleeve board for most pressing, or setting up the big board in the living room.

Since the big ironing board is old and metal and screeches when I set it up, they leave it alone.

Something in this house that's mine, all mine . . . and it's the ironing board?  That's just wrong.