Jan 31, 2011

Coming soon: Slope-along, Step-by-step!

 I'm short-waisted. There. I said it. It's out there. And it's the reason I often end up wearing empire-waist dresses — because they're the only ones that don't end up fitting me strangely through the shoulders. But I'm 32 and I'm not pregnant so why would I want to rock a baby-doll style line all the time?

Enter my good friend, the sloper (that's my back bodice pictured at left).

A sloper is the key to flat patternmaking — but it's also a handy thing to have around if you use commercial patterns. The basic building block from which all designs build upon, the sloper is based on numerous measurements taken either from a dressform or your own body. It's cut in thick brown paper or lightweight cardboard so you can keep it hanging in your studio or sewing room to take it down to trace every time you make a new pattern or to adjust a commercial pattern to insure a good fit. Drafted properly, a simple garment made from the sloper pattern should fit you like a glove — with darts that create a close fit around your bust and hips, and seams that fit exactly where they should.

I learned how to make slopers at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where I am slowly working my way toward a certificate in flat patternmaking. This week I return to the overheated halls of FIT (they have to keep the anorexics warm, I guess) for a class called "Misses' Sportswear."

We're assigned a new dressform at the start of every semester, so the process of making new slopers begins anew for me this week — which makes it a perfect time to pass along some of what I have learned there to you.

Starting next Monday (Feb. 7), I will walk you through drafting your own bodice sloper custom made to fit your body. I'll start with taking exact measurements (in more directions than you ever thought neccessary). Then we will draft the sloper on paper, cut it in muslin, adjust for proper fit, and finally cut in heavy paper or light cardboard for prosperity. The process will be blogged in a number of entries because it takes a few steps and careful attention to detail to make a good sloper. So bookmark this page and come back when you're ready. There will be lots of photos. Probably video when needed. I'll take any and all questions. And hopefully I can help you get on your way to a better fit in just a few weeks.

Jan 27, 2011

Make it: Chiffon Flower Corsage!

It's yet another snow day here in NYC, with schools, bus and subway service suspended. Libraries are all closed. Many museums are too. The streets and sidewalks are a mess. So what to do with a toddler who hates playing in the snow? I wish she were movie-marathon age, or read-Harry-Potter-while-mommy-sews age. But instead she's needs-to-be-entertained-at-every-second-of-the-day age. I love winter in New York because it's not sweltering hot and I don't have allergies. But when the snow is this frequent and heavy, we're going really stir-crazy. 

If you're stuck inside today like we are, maybe you should make something. Like this springy chiffon flower brooch in a peachy orange, which if the Golden Globes were any indication, is going to be a hot colour this spring.

I started making these flowers because I thought they'd look pretty grouped on the sashes of the flower girl dresses I'm making for a wedding in the fall. The colours are green and orange, which clearly look beautiful together when done in the right shades (see left)

It will take you only about 20 minutes to make one of these.

Jan 26, 2011

These aren't sacred undergarments, they're Spanx! Really

My husband in his sacred undergarments on the set of Law & Order: SVU.
(Just kidding: that's an old undershirt!)
There are these people in my building who I am convinced don't like us because they think we are Mormon.

This would sound totally absurd to anyone who knows me, but if you are a white lady pushing a stroller down the street in our corner of a not-very-diverse NYC neighborhood made up mostly of Dominicans, chances are you're a Latter Day Saint. Oh, and my kid is blond. Damn, are we Mormon?

Anyway, it really gets me because these people who don't like us seem cool and smart and totally like people we would usually get along with. It's not like they're rude, but when I say hi to this woman, she says hi back and then always looks just a little disgusted with herself.

But short of inviting this couple to a coffee-fueled orgy at our place I can't really think of a good way to convince them otherwise. Also, I never see them in the laundry room, which is too bad because then they would see that I'm NOT washing load after load of temple garments. (Also of interest: apparently attending temple is a little like a P. Diddy party; everyone wears white on white! It's a little creepy though. The online stores that sell Mormon temple duds have names like White Elegance and Dressed in White. But just try to find some Mormon undergarments online. I've been searching for 20 minutes and I can't find any)

Anyway, I told my husband that I thought these hip neighbors didn't like us because they think we're Mormons, and he said: "No way, we're not good-looking enough." And he's right! We walk by their church on Sunday morning on the way to brunch or the playground or whatever, and it looks like a casting call for The Bachelor. Everyone going into that place is at least a 7. In fact, my husband said, he would be super flattered if someone thought he was a Mormon. It would be a compliment, he reasoned, because they're so hot (and not in the literal my-sacred-undergarments-are-giving-me-hot-flashes kind of way).

AND THEN: Last week a friend of a friend mistook my husband for a Mormon. The reasons being geography (our apartment's proximity to the church), whiteness and the fact my husband refers to himself as an "elder." OK, joking about that last one.

My husband was pretty horrified, having grown up in an equally evangelical church where speaking in tongues was totally the norm but the Mormon church was seen as a cult. What can I say? He's from the midwest. I'm Canadian. We're wholesome looking. Oh, and I love to sew and shit, and I blog about it, which apparently Mormon housewives do too, as explained in this Salon.com column on one feminist's obsession with crafty Mormon moms' design blogs. (Thanks to my friend Danielle for pointing that out).

OK, to recap: blond kid, a husband who wears white undershirts every day (see photo), and I wish my blog were as cute and popular as the Mormon moms' blogs. We may as well convert. And the first people I am inviting to our sneaky Sunday post-church meet-and-greet are the artists upstairs.

Jan 20, 2011

Make it: Ruffles!

 You know how on amazing design blogs people post these incredibly well-lit pictures of little corners in their home where everything looks fresh out of an Anthopologie window display and you think to yourself: "Dude, my apartment looks like crap. Why am I reading this when I could be cleaning?" But then you click anyway....that's called procrastination.

My home doesn't look like that. It looks like this (see left). Piles of toys and in the far left corner the foot of a child who is screaming at me, "Mama, I need a tissue!!" Thus, my is-it-over-yet face.

Anyway, this isn't about how messy my apartment is, though as I type it is getting messier by the moment. It's about ruffles!

Jan 12, 2011

Why I love freecycle (Hint: it's not the free stuff)

This is not the actual free cake
I love freecycle for two reasons:
1) to clean your closets and your conscience at the same time by handing off that which you don't need to someone who will use it, keeping those items out of the landfill for a little longer. How it works: when you have something you want to get rid of, you post it and your location so 20 people can reply that they want it, and then 19 of them don't show up when they say they will. Eventually, you get rid of that thing you no longer need.

2) to see all the weird things that New York wackjobs think others may actually spend the $2.50 on a subway ride to pick up. It's a like a little window into a world of crazy.

For example, this:

OFFER: 3/4 flourless cake (Chelsea) From: kamtress17

A partially eaten cake? You think someone is going to come to your apartment to pick up a Trader Joe's cake that's missing a couple slices? Wait, this sounds familiar....oh yes:

OFFER: 1/2 chocolate bar (Chelsea) From: kamtress17

It's the same person!! Someone should intervene because kamtress17 totally has a problem. She impulse buys junkfood and then tries to give it away after she's had her share. Don't ask freecycle to do what any good roommate could!

Also, someone should tell her there are some things you just shouldn't get from strangers. See also:
Wanted: Bris Pillow (UWS) From: stanvin22

I'm not Jewish, but I've lived in New York long enough to know you should buy your kid his own damn Bris pillow.

Moving on, I also love looking at the hopeful WANTED postings. Some requests are very reasonable:

WANTED: bridal/wedding magazines From: silygoosp

Others are kind of spooky:

WANTED: Matches/Lighters: U.E.S.

(I don't know about you, but I would feel really bad when some nine-year-old arsonist shows up at my door to collect his free matches.)

But there are a lot of people in this city who apparently believe if they just tell everyone they really want a laptop, someone will send them one. Good luck with that. See also:

WANTED: ELLIPTICAL MACHINE OR TREADMILL-11209 From: dny_bklyn
WANTED: Mini DV VIDEO CAMERA (ANYWHERE) From: Marie
WANTED: Serger From: PEACH
Wanted: Size 6 Dress Form From: PEACH

Keep dreaming. Maybe you could settle for something more realistic, like:

OFFER: Yankees Knapsack filled with older issues of ESPN magazine - S From: trooblue2u
Offer: About 40 Empty CD Cases (Upper West Side)

or 

OFFER: Script of the Cosby Show (East Village)

And finally here is my favourite. These five freebies were all posted within minutes of each other by the same person :

Offer:  Leopard Jacket in size XL/1x ( Manhattan-10018) From: smartisneverinnocent
Offer:  Books of Spirituality and New Age Philosophy ( Manhattan - 1 From: smartisneverinnocent
Offer: LIKE NEW / Thigh high black boots in ladies  7.5  ( 10018 Man From: smartisneverinnocent
Offer: 2 bottles of Hair Remover ( unopened) ( Manhattan - 10018) From: smartisneverinnocent
Offer: Cordless HP mouse in Green ( unopened box) ( Manhattan - 1001 From: smartisneverinnocent

My best guess is smartisneverinnocent was put out of business when Craigslist pulled its adult listings last year. Anyone care to hazard an explanation? Remember, the thigh-high boots are LIKE NEW and the hair remover is unopened.

Jan 10, 2011

Help! Fabric suggestions, please

So we're going to a couple weddings this year — both of them in the midwest and both in my husband's family. Our daughter is going to be a flowergirl in both (though I have my doubts she will actually walk down any aisle, no matter how many lollipops and jellybeans she is promised. But that is for another day. This is about dresses).

I was thinking of what I could make for a spring wedding in Wisconsin. Wedding #1 is not far off — April 2. Wedding #2 isn't until the fall. Anyway, I think I have the design nailed down, but I need some help choosing fabrics. If you have any suggestions (with links!), please comment. No one ever comments here, though I can see how many pageviews I get. I know someone is reading this somewhere.

Anyway, I'm thinking the bodice of this dress (the Coffee Date Dress from Burdastyle.com):


On top of the fuller skirt below here (the Linda Skirt — also from Burdastyle.com)

I want to make the bodice in a bright print, maybe with a little retro appeal, and the skirt in a solid neutral, and then finish it with a nice wide sash in a colour that contrasts the print. Oh, and maybe a few layers of tulle (the same colour as the sash) peeking out underneath the skirt for fullness.

I already wasted 40 minutes of my daughter's precious naptime searching online fabric stores, and still can't decide. I thought I'd try outsourcing this. Suggestions?


Marriage and Taking Direction

No matter how much your husband loves you and says things like, "I'm so lucky you married me. You're amazing and beautiful, and so smart and such a great mother," he still won't believe you when you tell him things like, "You shouldn't wash blueberries and then put the back in the fridge wet. They'll go bad."

We had this fight arugument last night. When I told him not to wash the entire pint of berries — instead just the ones he was about to feed our toddler who ate only constipating foods all day, he sneered: "That sounds like an Old Wives Tale," by which I believe he meant "something women made up solely to create more work for men." 

"I'm an old wife," I said. "Does that make everything I say bullshit?"

"I just want to know where you heard this," he said, all fake wide-eyed. "Is there any proof?"

Now this is a man who once made Annie's Mac & Cheese with banana yogurt because he was out of milk. And he's asking me to provide scientific evidence on the proper handling and storage of berries? He's the guy who can't, no matter how many times I explain it, remember the difference between salted and unsalted butter and which one should go in the butter dish (hint: one is salted) , and he's requires a citation beyond my "everybody knows that you shouldn't wash berries until you plan on eating them."

I make dinner for our family almost every night, and my husband is always wholeheartedly appreciative of this fact. His amazement at what I can do with a few vegetables, a legume and a grain is seemingly sincere. In fact, I don't think I have ever made a meal he didn't enjoy. But still he doubts me when I say, "Don't wash all those damn berries; they're going to go bad, dummy."

Why? Because husbands, even actors, can't take direction. See this face:

 That's the face of a man taking direction from his wife. We have the same fight argument every time I need him to take a photo of me in something I made for this blog. We are not blessed with good lighting in our New York apartment, and so indoor photo shoots require using what's available and then fussing with the camera settings until you get something half-way useable. My husband knows next to nothing about taking photos, but acts like I'm the intern and he's Annie Liebowitz when I suggest he, maybe, uh, actually looks at the photos he's taking to make sure the lighting is OK. Let's see that face again:
In these two shots, I'm making him pose where I will be standing so I can check light levels and adjust the settings, and show him the angle I am hoping to achieve. (The angle that makes me look skinniest, duh). I didn't, however, tell him to stand with his hands on his hips like that. That's just the way he stands.

Doin' Just Peachy Now

I just had that kind of week last week. Everything I did was a failure. (I know you kids like to say "fail" as a noun these days, but I just can't do it when there already is a perfectly acceptable word to do the job. Failure. Look it up). So finally I abandoned all efforts toward making new items for my Etsy store (not to mention dinner for my family) and made something for myself for a change. And it was the only think I managed to get right. See above.

I had a couple yards of soft peachy pink jersey from Mood (I know, I actually found something that cost less than $25/yard), which nicely matched this chiffon handed down to me from a neighbour who was culling her fabric stock. I used the ultra-easy Batwing Top Pattern from Burdastyle.com. I would recommend the pattern to any novice sewer who is comfortable working with stretch knits. If you had a serger, this top would take you about 25 minutes to make. 

And then I sewed on these chiffon flowers I made, inspired by the lovely final project in Grosgrain's "Embellish Your Knits" month. I love stuff like this because it means you don't to wear any jewelry to look done up. Essential for me because I own, like, one pair of earrings and a couple necklaces.
 
 


The pattern can be downloaded at Burdastyle.com. To see how to make the flowers, go to Grosgrain

Jan 7, 2011

Snow Day

It's another snowy day here in New York City. And they only just picked up the mountain of trash that had collected in the week and half since the Boxing Day blizzard (no garbage collection due to the snow. I know, what? It's like it's the first time it's ever snowed before. ) And thankfully: it was getting gross out there, though it's hard to be happy about it when the garbagemen are hollering at each other under your child's bedroom window at 11 p.m. (Let it go, let it go....)

Anyway, I've been sewing, but everything is going wrong so I have nothing to share. I'm working on a pattern for a child's hooded cape, but now that I'm putting it together it just looks...not right. And my fit model is too darn recalcitrant to try it on again for me to figure out how to fix it it. Grrr. Plus  I laboured over this amazing apron only to have red thread bleed though white cotton when I washed off the dissolveable stabilizer I used to make this super cute applique...it's the kind of project where, as great as it turned out, you think to yourself: I love it, but never again. Like children.

Still, the apron will likely be saved. Everytime I wash it, the pink comes out, only to reappear when it dries. One of these times, though, I think it will stay white. And then I will give it away here — sometime soon. So check back to enter.

Jan 5, 2011

I Hate New York...but I have to live here, so

One of my resolutions for the new year is to not let New York get to me. In the three years I have lived here I have unfortunately found that this city — so universally loved by everyone but me, it seems — just brings out the worst in me. An afternoon spent running simple errands makes me positively hostile and misanthropic in a way I haven't experienced since my waitressing days (and then only when dealing with the worst customers, who are few but memorable). I wish this year to become the sort of unflappable person who can shrug off all the day's tiny rudenesses.

Five days in and I am failing. And winter is my favourite season here, so I'm really going to have to work hard if I want to make living in this city work for 2011. I thought maybe one way to help would be to get it all out of my system. Spring clean my hatred for NYC by naming and accepting and then releasing each thing that makes me crazy about living here:

-The rent is too damn high. According to the Real Estate Group NY's most recent Manhattan Rental Market Report (Dec. 2010), the mean rent for a one-bedroom apartment in a non-doorman building in Manhattan is $2,794. A two-bedroom (what you would expect a small family like ours to live in) costs $3,732. Of course that number is skewed to the exorbitant because of luxury rentals downtown,  but even looking at the average for Harlem (the closest neighbourhood to ours that is included in the report) is depressing: $1,574 for a one-bedroom in a non-doorman building, and $2,035 for a two-bedroom. In addition, rental companies here usually require proof that your income is 40-50 times the monthly rent. So to rent the average one-bedroom in a non-doorman building, you would have to prove income of $111,760. Of course when we signed our lease we had to fudge the numbers, which I think everyone does. So what you have is a whole bunch of landlords saying, "See? This rent isn't unaffordable! All of my tenants make $75,000-$100,000." Meanwhile all the tenants are struggling to pay their rent, which means many people can't afford health insurance (1.3 million New Yorkers are uninsured). And you know what you get for $1,500/month? You get moldy bathrooms, creaking floorboards, roaches, and radiators that sound like evil hissing, screeching witches' cauldrons. What you don't get is a balcony or any any storage space, both features you would take for granted anywhere else. And don't tell me to move to Brooklyn. It's just as expensive there now.
-The summers are too darn hot.
-The trees are too allergenic. And it's the city's own damn fault: When Dutch Elm disease killed off street trees in the 1960s, they planted hardier varieties that also happen to be big-time pollen producers. Oh, and arborists favour male trees over female because the male trees don't drop seed pods in the spring, meaning less clean-up for city workers but an absurd overabundance of pollen in the air for the entire month of April.
-Rats. And not just on-the-subway-tracks rats, or run-right-in-front-of-you-while-you're-walking-in-the-park rats. But come-up-through-the-pipes-into-your-toilet rats. Thanks alot, Ira Glass. Now I   have to put the lid down and then compulsively check the bowl everytime before I sit.
-Roaches. Enough said.
-Bed bugs. They're everywhere: the movie theatres. Ambercrombie & Fitch. My school. Even the Empire State Building. Plus they have no respect for diplomatic immunity: they were found at the UN building.
-The black smoke that puffs out of the smokestacks on top of apartment buildings in my neighbourhood makes the city look like Dickens-era London on a cold winter day. Oh, and it gives kids asthma.
-They keep raising the cost of public transportation even as they cut service and stations are falling to pieces on people's heads.
-The supermarket aisles are so damn narrow. And they're always filled with boxes because restocking is constant. Plus, I'm beginning to suspect my stroller may be invisible.
-Banking here is like dealing with Third World bureaucracy, with ridiculous waiting periods and extortion-like fees. Plus the tellers are so dumb they're often unaware that Canada has its own currency. That is no joke.
-Everyone here is more important than you, and they will let you know it. Also: they hate your kid. And you, for having her and daring to get in anyone's way. (The NY Times' "Complaint Box" series pretty much alternates between complaining about kids and then their parents. See also: this, this and this).
-It really is that dirty. Not because the sanitation dept. doesn't do its job, but people don't seem to care a fig about their neighbourhood. I constantly see people just throw their receipts on the ground outside the grocery store. The litter in my neighbourhood is positively apocalyptic in the summertime. One year we were up early to drive to the airport the day after Dominican Republic Day, and the trash in the streets was a foot deep in places. It was, I'm sure, exactly what my mom would picture New York to look like.
-People really are that rude here. And this is the one thing about NYC I have the hardest time accepting. When I buy groceries in my neighbourhood the cashier almost never tells me what I owe. Strangers come up to you on the street and criticize how you care for your child ("She should have a hat on"... "He's crying because he wants to walk. Why don't you let him walk?" ..that was on a busy street to a friend who was carrying her nine-month-old, who was about three months shy of being able to walk on his own). When I was nine months pregnant, a lady shoved past me on the stairs so she could catch the A train about to leave the station. When I said, "Be careful!" She yelled at me: "Move faster then!" So I yell, "Do I look like I can move any faster?!" The train leaves, she on it. Me in station. Tears. I almost fell down 40 steps with a full-term baby in my belly. And she was mad at me for being in her way. Why are people here so rude? I think it's two things: 1) When you live in a huge city that allows for total anonymity, you never have to be accountable for your actions. You can treat people like shit, and it will very rarely come back to you — unlike if you lived in a small town or even a small city, where if you shoved a pregnant lady out of the way to get to the train, it's possible your mom would hear about it, and then you would get shit from her. 2) People here are not happy. You don't come to New York to be happy. You come here to make it. For money, fame, success, or to at least live in close proximity to those three things. And then once you've made it, you leave to be happy elsewhere. You know how on reality TV shows there's always someone saying, "I'm not here to make friends. I came to win!" That's New York: 8 million people who didn't come here to make friends all trying to win.

So I have to learn to accept all these things for the time being. Shrug it off when someone cuts in front of me at Duane Reade. Order my groceries online. Leave town for the month of April when my allergies become unbearable. And be happy I don't speak Spanish when the next abuela scolds me for not forcing my kid to wear her mittens (How do you say, "Believe me,  I've tried" in Spanish?).

Jan 2, 2011

Make it: Pompoms!

 I'm working on a pattern for a darling little girl's cape. It will be for dress-up or to top a special outfit for a festive occasion ... or everyday wear for the type of girl who likes fancy-looking clothes. Now on its own,  a toddler-sized cape is pretty precious. But adorned with pompoms like the pinks ones pictured above: cute overload.

Making these fluffy balls this week, I thought I'd share how easy it is to use up yarn remnants by making pompoms. You could use them to top a toque (that's a knit hat to you, my American friends), sew them in a row down a polkadot onesie to make a last-minute clown costume, hotglue to a styroform wreath form for a cool Christmas decoration...I could go on.

The materials needed are few: some yarn, a piece of cardboard, a pair of scissors, something circular to trace and a pen.

Resolutions for 2011

 
Last year, my only resolution was to save receipts. I put a post-it on the front door and another in the fridge and it worked. I saved all the receipts for anything I purchased and was never left in the unenviable situation of needing to return something but unable to because I threw away the bill. Also, I feel prepared for tax time, having kept mental note (and physical record) of everything our family purchased that could be written off. 

Anyway, with that success in mind, I have a few more resolutions this time around. 
-find some way to exercise that I don't hate/doesn't cost a fortune. (Ideas?)
-go to bed earlier 
-not let New York get to me so much
-expand my Etsy shop
-figure out some way to get health insurance 
-become a better sewer/work on taking my time and not being so impatient to finish a project that I rush the details 



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