Tuesday, March 14, 2017

To The Races: Steeplechase Take II

In the data-gathering spirit, Michael and I recently started tracking our gym check-ins against one another.  The loser has to cook the winner a dinner of their choosing AND clean up that night. He beat me by 50% in January with 15 check-ins vs. my 10 and even more in February!

You can probably guess which one of us takes competition NYC-style seriously....;)

This is my second version of Fehr Trade's Steeplechase for inseam-less leggings. First version here. The fabric is a Roberto Cavalli spandex purchased at Elliott Berman.  All seams were sewn on my new Brother 1034D serger. 

Although a simple project, I did do some skill building. I discovered a new favorite way to join elastic in the round courtesy of Nancy Zieman.  Nancy uses a zigzag to join elastic over a piece of woven material here.  This method eliminates the bulk of the overlapping elastic ends, making the join undetectable. 

Sewing the elastic over a woven.  After this I trimmed the woven fabric away

I also topstitched the elastic with small vertical machine stitching at the side seams, front and back.  This prevents the elastic from twisting and is virtually undetectable in the busy print.    

Fabric cost exceeded the Danskin leggings I recently purchased on sale, leading me to question whether I will continue experimenting with me-made activewear.  Cost aside, I am always a little worried that me-mades will split down the center back in the middle of a squat!  Anyone else have this fear???     

Monday, March 13, 2017

Thailand 2017

Since high school, my friend Aneesa--originally from Singapore-- has said she would get married in Thailand.  We only had a week in Thailand inclusive of the wedding, so I focused our pre-wedding itinerary on relaxation. Good thing because I never would have had the stamina to survive the non-stop Indian wedding events otherwise!

We began in Ayutthaya, about one hour north of Bangkok.  Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam until it was toppled by the Burmese in the 18th century.  Located on an island at the confluence of three rivers, including the mighty Chao Praya which flows through Bangkok, Ayutthaya's historic wealth was derived from trade and acted as an important meeting point between the Chinese, Indians, and Europeans.

Taking advantage of jet lag, we set out before sunrise on our bikes

We had the Ayutthaya historical park mostly to ourselves

Wat Mahathat: restored ruin of Buddhist monastery

Our base was the Baan Thai House, a lovely hotel just off the island with charming bungalows around a pond.


Food is one of my favorite aspects of travel!  We tried the Ayutthaya specialties of river prawns as well as roti sai mai.

River prawns--very expensive and not so flavorful.

Roti Sai Mai:  crepes filled with angel hair cotton candy.  I didn't love it.

Next, we traveled five hours south to Sam Roi Yod National Park's Dolphin Bay, just south of Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand.  A palm-fringed beach with fishing boats, Dolphin Bay is little more than a single road along the beach bordered by a handful of small independent hotels. It's the perfect jumping off point to visit surrounding national parks like Sam Roi Yod, Petchaburi, and small islands.  The vibe reminded me of the quiet local beaches on the eastern side of Maui close to Hana.  We stayed at the lovely Long Beach Inn, located a short walk from the beach.

Kayaked to this money island where monkeys aren't at all scared of humans!  

Dolphin Bay beach:  I think these fish are drying for fish sauce.  
On our second day, we visited the Phraya Nakhon Cave.  We biked a little over an hour from Dolphin Bay and then proceeded to hike to Laem Sala Beach, which is only accessible by hike or boat.  From Laem Sala it was another 45 minute hike to the cave mouth.

Laem Sala Beach

Descending into the cave

Looking up from the cave

The temple deep in the cave

This trip we befriended an Israeli classical conductor and his consultant wife who have been coming to the Long Beach Inn for over a decade to unwind.  Not only did they introduce us to a simple beachfront Thai restaurant with the most incredible fried fish and delicate prawn dishes, but they also introduced us to their Thai friend Oote.

The restaurant, not much to look at

A lovely masseuse, Oote spoke enough English to establish a nice rapport and took care of us with the most relaxing massages, facials, etc.

Oote's massage parlor
The Dutch owner of the LongBeach Inn accompanied the Israelis, Oote, Michael and me on a day of exploration to Ao Manao beach, a secluded beach on a Royal Thai Air base and afterward to an elephant safari in Kuiburi elephant sanctuary in Kiri Khan National Park.

Ao Manao
I regret that we didn't do the overnight stay in Kuiburi, home to 250+ wild elephants.  Elephants loathe the heat so they only come out when it is relatively cool, past 4pm and in the early morning.

KuiBuri:  we saw a few elephants from a distance
The wedding took place in Hua Hin, a famous beach town an hour north of Sam Roi Yod on the Gulf which has been a longtime retreat for the Thai royal family.  Hua Hin is mostly made up of large international resorts and has that distinct vibe of a SE Asian beach town that has long since been "discovered."

I noticed Khomopastr Fabrics when we were in the well-appointed truck bed (!!) of our our taxi driving into Hua Hin from Dolphin Bay.

In the truck bed taxi for the 1 hour ride to Hua Hin!
In the Khomopastr store where I purchased several yards
Wedding events were nonstop, but I managed to sneak in a quick hour at Khomopastr for some fabric shopping.  Founded in 1948 in Hua Hin by the Royal Prince Bovoradej, Khomopastr' focus is on handmade screen-printing of traditional Thai designs, some from the Royal collection and archives.

Tablecloth. They only had it in 3.5 meters, so I cut it and pieced together for a 2 meter length.
Cotton is believed to have been chosen instead of silk because of the humid climate and more relaxed atmosphere of Hua Hin. The factory is located in Hua Hin and it can be visited by appointment only.  It's still a small operation, with only 70 workers producing about 900 yards per day.

Southeast Asia is a real pain to get to, but I love it more and more with each trip to the region.  Not sure when we will return on vacation, but Myanmar and Laos are high on the list.  Wanderlust....

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Reflections on 2016 and Onward with 2017!

It's a new year and time to reflect on my 2016 sewing! Here's the breakdown of the 14 garments I made in 2016:

I am most proud of my Bombshell bridesmaid dress.

Most disappointed by Vogue 8663, which shrunk from a dress into a top.

The award for most worn garment is a tie between my silk and wool vest and Colette Laurel.

My Asaka Kimono is the least worn.  I chose this pattern to wear as a dress, but never felt comfortable except on vacation.    

Asaka Kimono

2016 projects that I did not blog include a terrible looking hemlock tee, silk pair of winslows and versions 1 and 2 of the Eleonore pants, a cape made from a blanket, and a refashion of a dress into a top.

V2 of the Eleonore pants

Overall I am pleased with my sewing progress in 2016.  I took more care with my projects and achieved measurable progress toward more professional results. While I still find each new project daunting, the beginner pains are easing.

My sewing goals for 2017 are largely the same as 2016, with a few additions at the bottom:

Early 2017 will be devoted to sewing for weddings.  In the queue is a purple silk kaftan ("Glamorous & Fabulous" in February), the 1/2 way finished jungle bombshell (Black Tie in March), and a TBD purple bridesmaid dress (Semi-Formal in April).

1/2 way finished Jungle bombshell 

I'd like to do a better job this year of interspersing easy and difficult projects and doing more non-apparel sewing, especially for gifts. Adult gift giving has historically stressed me out given my aversion to what I not-so-lovingly call "shelf sh*t." Homemade cloth napkins are first on the list.  I successfully made some for my brother for Hannukah this year and it was an easy, quick, and satisfying sew.

Inspired by Sara in Stitches, I created a workbook in Google Sheets to track sewing projects, fabric purchases, RTW purchases and shoe purchases in 2017.  I inputted my 2016 RTW and shoe purchases and was surprised by the number of purchases. I still feel like I have nothing to wear.

Cheers to filling in those wardrobe gaps in 2017!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Adventures in Bangkok

Just returned from a week in Bangkok, Thailand!  Although I was there for work, I found time to be a tourist on the evenings and weekend.  

I have heard Bangkok described as "Southeast Asia for Beginners," a description with which I wholeheartedly agree.  As a large city (9 million) in a relatively industrialized nation, Bangkok has all the Western creature comforts + fabulous infrastructure. But it still has a bit of Southeast Asia sensory overload!

Silk & Fabric Shopping

Jim Thompson House

Spirit House at Jim Thompson.  Spirit Houses are a part of animist culture. 

The Jim Thompson House Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok.  Jim Thompson is widely credited for reviving the Thai silk industry in the mid 20th century. His home, which is now a museum, was designed to his specifications as a hybrid of the traditional Thai wood house + some Western comforts like an indoor staircase.  In traditional Thai homes, the staircase is on the exterior.

The museum is accessible by guided tour only and largely focuses on the enigmatic man himself, with a little bit of detail on the silk making process.

What I learned about silk-making:  Thai silk is made with yellow cocoons which creates an uneven slob with gold hues.  The process of unwinding the silk cocoons to make filament is laborious.  The filament of the cocoon is too fine for commercial use, so 3-10 filaments must be separately unwound before being reeled together to produce the desired diameter.  The unwinding process takes place over a pot of boiling water.  The water softens the sticky gum on the silk, making it easier to unwind.

Many tailor shops/gift shops sell silk yardage.  I purchased printed silk at Cotton House and the Jim Thompson outlet, as well as a Thai cotton from a silver shop on Chareon Krung Road.

The Jim Thompson Outlet is the only JT store that sells fabric yardage in addition to housewares and accessories.  There are 4 floors and it is worth the trip a bit out of the main tourist area.


Housewares at the JT Outlet; Prices were slightly better than the JT retail shops
I had the pleasure of meeting up with Meg of Cookin' and Craftin' for fabric shopping and a lovely dinner.  We met at Hieng Yoo Huat which is located right next to the Asoke BTS stop.  Though small, the selection was very good and I would have purchased if I didn't already have "stash guilt."  Meg also took me to a tiny button shop around the corner where I purchased machine needles for a fraction of the price in the US.


In 2012, I had two dresses expertly made at Cotton House. This trip I wanted to try a new tailor to copy a much loved dress purchased in the south of France several years ago.  On the hotel's recommendation, I made an appointment at Peninsula Tailors but left the store within a few minutes after they quoted me TBH 8000 (approximately USD $235) to make the dress with the Anna Sui fabric I had in tow.

I headed back to Cotton House to get a competing quote.  The owner, Mrs. Reed, offered me coffee and kao tom mud and agreed to do the job for TBH 3000 (approximately USD $80).  Completed in 36 hours, the dress is a perfect copy.

Cotton House: Inside the Retail Shop

The workshop is around the corner from the retail shop and also houses overflow fabric

The copy dress in Anna Sui on the left; Original dress on the right

While I am no expert on custom clothes, I have learned a few things from my experience with Cotton House and Hoa Fashion (in Hanoi and blogged here) as well as the stories I have heard from colleagues in the region:

  • Most tailors primarily work in men's suiting.  If you want to have women's clothes made, ask in advance.  
  • Always look to see if the tailor has their own workers located close to the retail shop.  Most tailor shops send out all the work to a "sweat shop" in a lower rent area and any alterations, no matter how minor, will take a half day or more.  Both Cotton House and Hoa had their own staff on site and made alterations quickly as a result.
  • I had very little success in bargaining at Cotton House and Hoa.  Although no prices are listed, both tailor houses did actual calculations before providing a quote.
  • If you want to bring your own fabric, ask the tailor in advance.  While Hoa and Cotton House were willing to work with my fabric, many other stores will not.  In particular, the tailor houses for menswear.  
The best street food I had this trip was Burmese.  Burmese food has strong Indian influences.  It tastes and feels very different from Thai/Vietnamese food.

On the panga headed to Mona's

Mona's is located in the Phra khanong market close to the clothing section.  It's your typical street food joint with plastic chairs, folding tables, and no menu.  Finding this place was sheer luck and involved no less than 10 people, a high speed panga down the canals, taxi, a translation app,  a random guy on a motor scooter that scouted the market for us without finding Mona's, and a hefty bit of profiling when I saw a woman wearing a headscarf and correctly assumed that we were close to the Burmese section of the market. (Although Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist, I believe the Burmese in the Phra Khanong market are Rohingya muslims.)  Mona served mohinga, a traditional breakfast fish soup,  and my favorite khao swe thoak, rice noodles with peanuts, tomato sauce.  Here is a great video and interview with Mona.

Directions to Mona's :  Take the BTS sky train to Phra Khanong.  Exit the station and make a right on Sukhumvit Soi 71.  Continue until you see this street sign on the right side of the street.

Make a right at this street sign off of Sukhumvit Soi 71

There is a gold jewelry store on the corner.  Continue down the street and into the market.  Ask for Mona's restaurant (Mona? Myanmar?)  It's very close to this market entrance.

This is the gold jewelry store next to the street sign for the turn to Mona's

Night Market!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Cozy for the Holidays!

It's a shame I didn't sew this up last year when I purchased the Italian wool knit from Emma One Sock with McCalls 6844 in mind.  Better late than never...and just in time for the very late arrival of cool weather in the northeast.  I think this may quickly become my most worn garment of 2016!

Based on Pattern Review, I cut a size smaller (XS) and graded up to a small in the hips.  Reviewers also noted that the sleeves were tight so I graded those to a small as well.  Even though I abandoned the sleeves in favor of a vest.

The vest is as beautiful on the inside as the outside.

I used this tutorial for the continuous bias tape and this tutorial for a hong kong seam.  I catch stitched all seam allowances down. Quite laborious but worth it.

After finishing all the seams with the bias tape I was inspired to incorporate the black silk charmeuse into the collar as well.  I love the result.

It was tricky to reduce bulk when sewing the collar because the wool was so lofty. I graded the seams a good deal.

It was a busy fall with visits from family + weekends away in Atlanta, Philadelphia and California.   California was extra special because it was a girls weekend to wine country. Highly recommend Hanzell Winery in Sonoma for its picturesque and secluded location in the Mayacama mountains, chateau inspired by Clos Vougeuot in Burgundy, and informative tour of the production facilities and cave.  The tour + tasting is by appointment only which is nice because you don't have to deal with the crowds at the commercialized wineries along the wine trail.  We dined at Frances in San Francisco, Girl and the Fig in Sonoma and Michael Chiarrello's Bottega in Yountville.  Girl & The Fig was easily my favorite. Can't beat California produce + French cuisine....  

I am traveling to Bangkok, Thailand on Friday on business, but have extended my stay for a short weekend to sight-see.  Top of the list when I escape the conference room is a visit to the Jim Thompson House silk museum + custom clothes.  On my last trip to Bangkok, I had dresses made at Cotton House but would like to try a new tailor this time. On the off chance anyone reading this has had clothes made in Bangkok, any tailor recommendations?