Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Low Marks but High on Cheer: Holiday Dress 2015

Last minute sewing for special occasions has dominated my 2015 RTW Fast...all the way to the end.  

In October, I picked up a beautiful purple paisley silk from Kashi with a simple holiday shift dress in mind.  Two nights before flying home for the holidays, I cut out view B of Simplicity 2586, only to discover the next morning that I had cut out two bodice front pieces instead of one bodice front and one bodice back.  

Don't ask how I did that!  I have no idea...

Don't look too closely.  

This is not my best work.  Even the gathering is wonky and uneven in the front.  And, don't get me started on the late night cutting mistakes that led to a bodice lining that is only 6 inches long.  Two things I am proud of:  I did a great job on the very narrow hem and on using bias binding for the armholes.  

This was my second time cutting out silk and the first time I tried to do so without laboriously hand basting the silk to medical paper before cutting.  The silk shifted while cutting. The next time I work with silk, I will try to just baste along the selvedge and 1 cut edge and sandwich the fabric between medical paper before cutting.  

In spite of the low marks on sewing, I received numerous compliments.  And from people who had no idea I had made the dress myself...Go figure.

For the holiday weekend, my brother and his girlfriend came in from Ohio and my sister made the trip from Raleigh.

There were many people to visit,  several parties to attend and still enough time for a family run and lazy afternoons dozing on the couch.   I love being home with my family.

We sure did eat well this year!  Champagne, torchon de foie gras, truffled pecorino, coq au vin, quail, mousse au chocolat, blinis and smoked salmon, les salades de Maman and so much more.  I am now eligible for a serious January diet..

Iles flottantes fait maison!!  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Camp Workroom Social 2015

What a wonderful weekend!  In mid-October, I attended the inaugural Camp Workroom Social sewing retreat at the Frost Valley YMCA in the Catskills.  Cue Dirty Dancing and pillow fight jokes (if you are ALL the husbands).

Camp Workroom Social offered six different sewing intensives:

I signed up for bra-making. Our class of 12 students was slated to make 2 Marlborough bras (one white and one black) over the weekend under the guidance of Norma and her lovely assistant Fleur.   Norma's Marlborough pattern has a contemporary and fresh look ideal for smaller chested women.  It's considered a full band bra because the cups are set into the frame. There is an underwire.

We had about 12-14 hours of sewing time over the weekend.  The class began with a private fitting session in "the fitting shed" (aka broom closet) with Norma.  Norma had prepared sample bras in every size with velcro backs.  Based on my fitting session, I cut out a 34B.

The 3 tables of bramakers!  

Norma is a very organized and thoughtful instructor.  Since ordering bramaking supplies can be tricky, Norma had us all order the supplies through her and she showed up to camp with them.  She also provided us with pre-reading from articles in Seamwork and Threads.  During class, she walked us through all of the steps and demoed the tricky parts. Truth be told, ALL the parts were tricky for me.  I had a very dyslexic moment on the first morning where I kept sewing the upper cups incorrectly to the lower cups.

It may look like Maidenform, but it's Me-Made!

Norma did a great job explaining the engineering behind the bra and the construction methods.  For example, she noted that the Marlborough employs small elastic on the upper cup lace to stabilize it and prevent it from stretching. (I have a lovely La Perla lace bra without a stabilizer that is totally stretched out.)

Narrow elastic sewn to the top of the lace on the side of the bra touching the skin

Norma also explained that the frame/band combination should be providing the bulk of the support, not the straps. She showed us how we should use the Direction Of Greatest Stretch (DOGS) across the body so that the bra moves with us and doesn't constrict.

Sewing the wire channels onto the bra.  This was tricky!

After a few minutes in the "fitting shed" with Norma and my new white bra, I sized up to a 32D for the black bra.  Norma explained that the sister sizes are 34B and 32C (down a band size + up a cup or vice versa).  Since I needed more volume in the cup, we needed to size up and out of these sister sizes.  We debated between a 34C and 32D, ultimately deciding on the 32D.  Norma explained that I am probably actually between a B and C cup in volume.

Making bra straps!

Most of the students were able to finish and/or baste the black bra enough to have a 2nd fitting with Norma.  I took my time and only inserted the cups/powerbar into the bridge/frame/band.  I plan to have it fitted by Sharon at my next lesson.  

Black bra in progress

Norma had placed beautiful sample bras on each table and I kept referring to the samples for the rest of the class.  Although I was happy to have the sample as a reference, the pattern instructions are excellent and they even include a few illustrations to help guide you through the particularly tricky parts.  I do wish that the pattern pieces had included a bit more information such as a marking of the center front on the upper and lower cups and a note on the seam allowance (1/4 inch).

When I returned home, I spent some time looking at the Bramakers Supply website (run by Beverly Johnson with whom both Norma and Sharon studied).   Norma had sourced the bra materials included in our kits from Bramakers Supply, including the tricot (Beverly calls it duoplex), lace, narrow elastic, wide elastic, wires, etc. I can't wait to finish my black bra and order supplies for the next one!  Check out these beautiful laces!  

Once I finish the black bra, I plan to deviate a bit from the fabric choices in our Orange Lingerie kits and follow some of Sharon's suggestions.  Instead of power mesh (Beverly calls it stretch mesh with spandex) for the band, I plan to try stretch satin.   Sharon says that this will provide more support.  And, I am not going to line the bridge with the power net.  Because I sized up to a D cup, the elastic straps for my black bra are much thicker.  Norma and Sharon both said that this was necessary to provide adequate support.  But, I intend to try it out with the thinner prettier straps. Instead of using narrow elastic to stabilize the lace, i am going to try silk bias tape/ribbon.

Enough sewing talk...what about the camp experience?  Jennifer did an AH-MAZING job coordinating and planning every detail of the weekend.  The foliage was at peak and the YMCA property itself was pristine.  We had fun morning and evening activities like the me-made trunk show, bonfire, yoga, etc. I even managed to go on a nice little run around one of the ponds on the property.

Can you see the horses in the distance?
But most importantly, the weekend attracted wonderful women from all over with varied sewing and life experiences.  I had a great time chatting with Amanda of Sewin' in the Rain on the shuttle bus to and from camp.  At my classroom table, Angela came all the way from Australia and had 30 years of sewing experience.  And, Kassie (Portland, OR) and Kara (NY State) had several years of sewing experience on me.  It was so fun to chat while sewing!

Bunk 12!!!
I had an awesome bunkroom (6 people) with 2 sets of friends from before camp (Christine+Jessica from Boston and Amy+Suzi from Texas and Minnesota) plus Lily (Seattle) and me. We were all taking different classes, but had a wonderful time sitting around in our pajamas drinking wine and giggling after hours.  What fun!


Dining Around the City

Gari:  Upscale sushi spot behind the Museum of Natural History.  I have been wanting to go here forever and had high expectations given all of the good reviews.  It was wonderful.  I can't believe we waited almost 2 years to eat here!  Relaxed service and the sushi was excellent.  I thought it was better than Jewel Bako and a good bit more affordable with more substantial portions. 

Awadh: This Upper West Side Indian restaurant was recently written up in the New Yorker.  The food is from the state of Uttar Pradesh.  I don't know Indian food well enough to appreciate the regional differences, but UP food is supposedly cooked over a slow flame.  Awadh's food is excellent.  Not too greasy, super fresh, and beautifully spiced sauces.  Plus, it's  moderately priced and in the neighborhood.

Richie's Burger Joint: Our neighborhood butcher, Schatzie, recently moved uptown and Schatzie's son Richie has opened a burger joint in the new space.    The restaurant is a no frills neighborhood place with beer on tap and a simple menu.  The burgers are wonderful.  Good beef really makes a difference. (Like a good legacy butcher, Schatzie grinds all meat to order and ALWAYS flirts with his female customers!) And after the meal, Richie stocked me up with sausages/pork/beef from the butcher counter.  Win win!

Huertas: Spanish tapas in the East Village.  I met a friend here recently for dinner.  The food was good, but not as good as I would expect for a place recommended by Smitten Kitchen and on the NYMag critic's pick lists. I don't seem to ever enjoy restaurants with small plates/tapas---always a bit too greasy, fussy, small and expensive.   

Fonda:  Upscale Mexican.   David Lebovitz posted about Fonda on Instagram several months ago and I immediately put it on my list.  We went to the Park Slope location with friends on a rainy Friday night.  I was disappointed by all the entrees at our table--glorified Chipotle. Definitely not returning to the Park Slope location. That said, the overpriced guacamole was very good with a smoky adobo sauce.

Mile End:  Artisan Jewish bakery on the lovely (and very posh) Bond Street in Soho. I had been reading the glowing reviews for months, but didn't want to face the queue. We slipped in without a wait on a rainy Saturday at 3pm.  Michael had the reuben and I had a turkey/mustard/turkey rillettes sandwich. Excellent all around.  I love that the portions were appropriately sized and the smoked meats are not processed.  We didn't try the Montreal style bagels...couldn't quite cheat on Barney Greengrass and their amazing NY style bagels.    

Westville:  Soo good.  There are several locations in the city.  We dined at the Chelsea location. The market vegetable plate is so fresh and tasty and lives up to its hype.  The service is relaxed and the wait isn't too bad.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

MADE UP: A Southport in Southport!

Greetings from Bald Head Island!  My favorite place on earth.

My family has been vacationing on this North Carolina barrier island for 30 years. With no cars on the island, everyone uses electric golf carts and bikes to get around.  It's bliss!

It has been a perfect holiday weekend with my husband, parents, and brother + girlfriend.  During the days, we kayaked, crabbed, sailed, read, biked and swam.  And in the evening we drank too much rosé and ate the perfect mix of local cuisine (boiled shrimp, homemade crab cakes, homemade peach ice cream) and la cuisine de Maman (cake salé, tagine d'agneau, Strawberry Cake).  

I am already looking forward to next year:  same time, same place, same people + my sister!  

Morning run on the beach! 

Never tire of this view...

Although we are always eager to get on "island time," every trip to Bald Head begins with a stop in Southport for boat passage.   If you follow the Indie pattern scene, you can probably see where this post is headed...

Here I am wearing my True Bias Southport Dress in Southport!

This dress is my submission to Did You Make That's  Made Up Initiative.  Karen challenged the sewing blogosphere to donate to the UK National Literacy Trust and commit themselves to something by September 10.  My self-set challenge was to wear my Southport in Southport over the Labor Day holiday weekend.

The buttons are repurposed from an old shirt of my husband's!


I cut out a straight size 4.  The cotton voile (?)  print is from Metro.

Using this tutorial, I made continuous bias tape and applied it to the neck and armholes.  Following the lead of others on Pattern Review, I made a faux button placket and used 1/2 inch elastic instead of a drawstring.  I did add decorative drawstring to preserve the "drawstring look."  The cotton is prone to raveling, so I finished my seams with a little hem.

En route to Southport in my Southport Dress after a great weekend!

I enjoyed making this dress, but did not feel a great sense of accomplishment.  I first became interested in sewing because I wanted to grow my skills to make the designer clothes I admire but cannot afford.  So, why did I waste precious time making a "fast fashion" copy with cheap fabric?  I am a bit torn as to the answer.  I have two competing voices in my head:

Whooa...Slow down Claire.  You are a newbie!  You haven't even mastered the invisible zip... Grow your skills and then cut into $$$ fabric and invest 40 hours in a couture jacket!  And, be practical and make the clothes for your lifestyle!
This is a hobby!  It's your free time!  Go with your gut and challenge yourself! (Try to) make the clothes of your dreams out of the starting gate! 

Both voices are equally emphatic--as you can tell from the uninterrupted stream of explanation points.  ;)  The answer probably lies somewhere between having a bit more patience with my current level of proficiency AND actively drawing inspiration from the haute gamme clothing I aspire to one day make.


Speaking of patience...Let me brag on my talented Mom!  She is well on the way to DIY slipcovering the beach house sofa.  Hasn't she done a beautiful job so far?

4 cushions done! Only the slipcover left to do! 

Beginnings of the slipcover!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Touchdown Anna

Deadlines are my best sewing motivator.  I had 8 days till an Atlanta bar mitzvah celebration and no options I was jazzed about in my closet.  So, what's a Goodbye Valentino RTW Faster to do?  I cleared out my weeknights and hunkered down to make a dress, of course!

The sports-themed invite specified a dress code of Club Level Attire.   I had to ask my husband what "Club Level" was even referring to!  (Sports-fanatic I am NOT.)

I chose to "play it safe" with another By Hand London Anna.  This is my third Anna of the summer (see here and here) and I think I finally scored a touchdown on both fit and construction!

Yup...i finished the hem on the plane.  

The fabric is from Metro.  It boasts an overlay of decorative straight stitching that creates a nubby texture.  According to my instructor Sharon, this is a sign of higher quality.   Cheaper fabrics would just uses a chemical solution to approximate a similar textured look.

I underlined the bodice with silk organza and fully lined the dress with cotton batiste. I chose cotton batiste for its breathability. (It is August in "HOTlanta," after all.)  Cotton batiste is known for stretching, so I stay stitched immediately.

Pattern Modifications:

With the Andover Anna, I felt that the back gaped a little, causing the bodice to feel like it was slipping off my shoulders.  To address this, I added back in 1 inch along each shoulder seam piece and blended it back into the original deep V at the juncture of the bodice back and skirt back.  For a more fitted look, I took out another 1/2 inch from the bodice side seams on each side (1/4 inch on each pattern piece). Finally, I cut the front of the skirt as one piece.  (The skirt front of my original "Show(er) Me Anna" was 3 panels and the "Andover Anna" was 2.)


The pattern does not provide instructions for a full lining--only for fussy facings.   My instructor Sharon taught me this RTW lining method for the bodice, which I have used on all three Annas:

1. Sew the pleats on the fashion fabric bodice front and darts on fashion fabric bodice back.  Repeat for lining.

I had basted the pleats and darts before sewing by machine.

2.  Sew the fashion fabric bodice back to fashion fabric bodice front at the shoulder seams with right sides together.  Repeat for lining.  Attach the lining to the fashion fabric with right sides together, sewing continuously along the neckline and back V.  Clip corners.

3.  With right sides together (lining to fashion fabric), sew the sleeve hems continuously from back sleeve to front sleeve in the flat.

4. Edgestitch the neckline, back pieces, and sleeves.

Edge stitched!
5. With right sides together, match the side seams of the fashion fabric and side seams of the lining and sew up the bodice side seams continuously from fashion fabric bottom to lining bottom.

All pinned and ready to sew up the side seams.  

Area of Improvement
  • My skirt lining didn't seem to match perfectly with the bodice lining.  I had excess skirt in the lining and had to make a few small pleats in the skirt lining to remove the excess.  What happened?   At first I questioned whether it was bad cutting (i don't think so)? Or did the skirt lining pieces stretch (doubtful because I stay-stitched immediately)?  But, then I realized that I had taken more than the 5/8 inch seam allowance for the zipper enclosure--more like 1.5 inches.  I did this so that the zipper would match right at the Deep V juncture of the 2 bodice back seams.  Since I forgot to take out an equal amount of the skirt lining, the skirt lining circumference was greater than the fashion fabric skirt circumference. When I went to fell stitch the lining skirt to lining bodice, I had excess skirt lining.  
  • In spite of my additional modifications, the back pieces are still gaping a bit.  
  • The top of the invisible zipper is visible and I need to fix it before i wear the dress again! 
Invisible zipper needs some help!  

I am so glad I gave this pattern a 3rd try and FINALLY experienced a stress-free sew! I think it's time to retire the Anna to the TNT Hall of Fame, bring out the muslin bolt, and start on something new.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Quick Sew for Male Pattern Boldness Day 2015

With Carol of Make it Anywear

Saturday was Male Pattern Boldness DAY! 

Peter Lappin of the Male Pattern Boldness blog has been organizing a sewing meetup for 5 years running. The big day had been on my calendar for months and took place this past Saturday! Unfortunately, I wasn't able to join the group for the early events, but I did meet up  with Carol for the fabric shopping and Bryant Park rendezvous.

At Bryant Park

Kashi graciously opened on Saturday for the MPB shoppers.  I purchased shirting for my husband,  a silk print I have been eyeing for over a year,  as well as a raspberry tissue-weight wool knit.

Purchases from Kashi!

What did I wear for the occasion of my first MPB Day, you ask?  I was running low on time, so I whipped up a knit Grainline Hemlock dress the night before!  The blue knit is a silk/wool blend from Kashi. The cashmere knit is from Chez Fabrique in Columbia, South Carolina.

Grainline's hemlock pattern is essentially 2 rectangles + dropped sleeves.  It's a one-size pattern (Bust: 44.5 inches; Hips: 46.5 inches).  I modified the pattern into a dress using tutorials from  Notes from a Mad Housewife  and Sweet KM:

  • Created waistline shaping using my french curve, removing 4 inches in total.  
  • Removed 1 inch from the center back and a corresponding 1 inch from the center front.  
  • Added 5.5 inches to the hemline to make it dress length.
Original Hemlock T is on the left; My modification to make it a dress on the right

I don't have a serger, so I used the "stretch stitch" on my Bernina with a jersey needle.  I broke several needles until I switched out the jersey needle to a regular 70/10 needle.  Is a jersey needle not appropriate?

This was a simple sew:  2 shoulder seams, 2 side seams, and a neckline finish.  I used Megan Nielsen's tutorial to sew the grey cashmere knit to the blue knit around the neckline.  As Peter pointed out at the meet-up, this method basically creates a facing out of the grey cashmere knit.

My husband quite cheekily remarked that the dress was a bit shorter than I normally wear. Yes, it's short and I'm quite aware.   I chalked it up to the "wearable muslin" and decided to wear it anyway...

I am learning that even the simplest of sews benefits from a wearable muslin.  For my next iteration, I have already made the following adjustments to the pattern pieces:

1) add back in 1/2 inch to both the front and back pieces along the center
2) lengthen the hemline by 3.5 additional inches
3) remove 1 inch from the neckline along the shoulder seams.

Culture in the City

Several goodies over the past few months...

David Sedaris:  We hauled ourselves all the way to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to hear David Sedaris. Having only read one of his books (Me Talk Pretty One Day), I can hardly call myself a groupie.  We enjoyed it, but I wouldn't schlep out to Brooklyn again on a weeknight for his readings.

Gad Elmaleh:What a special night!  Only in NYC can you sell out the Beacon Theatre with a stand up performance in French and fill all 3000+ seats.  With American stand-up I often find myself not understanding the references or I find the jokes too vulgar.  Not so with Gad.  His humor is intelligent, racy but never over the line, and just plain fun. Since it was a majority expat audience, the show touched a good deal on the cultural divides between France and America.  He hit the nail on the head EVERY single time. The crowd loved it!  It had been a long time since I laughed so much.

Heisenberg:  I'm not quite sure why this received such rave reviews, except for the fact that it starred Mary Louise Parker.  We enjoyed it, but I found the writing to be a bit wanting and superficial.  Heisenberg is the story of a chance encounter in the London tube between a single crazy American (Parker) and an older London butcher, and their ensuing relationship.  There was no set and we were in a small black box experimental theatre of under 100 people + the 2 actors.   Neither character ever directly mentioned the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (physics), but I guess we were supposed to infer it from the plot.

Preludes: This short musical theatre piece at Lincoln Center brings the audience into the mind of the great Russian composer Rachmaninoff and all of his insecurities in the face of his creative pursuit. It had a bit of a 4th dimension/non-linear element to it--jumping from the 19th century to the present.  Michael loved it, especially since Prince Humperdink from the Princess Bride was among the cast!

Debutaunt:  This was my first interactive/immersive theatre experience.  The "show" (if you can even call it that) is essentially  a 90 minute debutante ball during which time the audience is treated as guests of the ball.  It is intended to be a social commentary on the concept of "coming out," gender equality, the role of ritual and tradition in today's society, etc. Hard as the production team tried, a warehouse in Red Hook (aka hipster-ville)  isn't exactly a Southern country club!   This was definitely an amateur performance and I cringed at all of the one-dimensional southern stereotypes.  I was disappointed to see a southern-born woman (the writer/producer was a deb in Texas) perpetuate stereotypes about the relative intelligence, superficiality, and social priorities of Southerners. 

Summer Shorts:  59E 59 is one of my favorite off-broadway theatres!  There are no obvious tourists, the price is right, and the shows are always thought-provoking.  The show was comprised of three one-act plays taking place in or near NYC in modern day.  The first was about a near extra-marital affair between 2 suburbanites that meet on a running trail.  The second was about an encounter between a Native American woman and a black youth at a bar outside of Grand Central during the height of the police brutality protests.  The third was about three 9/11 widows meeting on the anniversary of the death of their husbands. I'm not sure which was my favorite!

Antigona:  Hmm...flamenco meets Sophocles.  The flamenco was incredible, but the acting not so much.  Either way, it was a good refresher on the Oedipus story!