Jan 29, 2013

Sewing For Stress Relief?

I'm relying on the Pussy Bow Blouse to help me cope with some stress this week. Because, I find, obsessing over fit issues and fussy fabric that just wants to go off-grain helps me stave off the panicky feelings creeping in as I get ever closer to Friday.

Here's the fabric: a cream silk chiffon printed with purplish-brown birds
I also keep trying to tell myself that no matter how bad Friday is, it will be a cakewalk compared to getting punched in the face by a crackhead in front of your preschool-aged daughter.

Because Friday I am finally having the minor plastic surgery needed to fix the small deformity left behind by getting punched by in the face by a crackhead in front of my preschool-aged daughter.

And I am nervous. Very nervous. Surgery always carries the risk of infection, and this one also has a chance of not improving my chin at all (or maybe my surgeon just said that to lower my expectations?).  I am also conflicted about undergoing a cosmetic procedure. I talked myself out of it at least 100 times in the past year (including 10 times today), convincing myself for a moment each time that the small deformity on my chin is somehow something to be proud of (I took a punch!) — or that I was vain for wanting to erase it (love thyself as thou art!). A couple of people have told me it's badass (I took a punch, after all!), and my husband claims to not even notice it.

But then I look in the mirror, and my gaze is immediately drawn to my chin, where my scar is so thick it casts a shadow beneath it (actually, my surgeon informed me, it's not even a true scar: the guy punched me in the mouth so hard, my teeth cut clean through my chin under my bottom lip. As it healed, there was not enough tissue structure to keep the top half of my chin from slumping slightly over the bottom half, hence the shadow). No amount of makeup can make it look better — unless I were to apply it with a spackle knife, perhaps.

I'm also conflicted because I have a daughter. She's only four, so we're not at the point yet where I have to work with her against our culture's unreasonable standards of beauty to maintain a healthy self-esteem. She's young enough that she's still enamored with her own reflection, and the only body modification she would ever imagine wanting is wings. At this point it seems best to lead by example: I don't put down my own figure or face in front of her. We talk about exercising for strength and eating well for our health. I would never even muse about making improvements to my self with surgery.

It took me months just to call the surgeon recommended to me by a friend of a friend. And then while I sat in the waiting room for the consultation, I considered leaving. Even now, as I write this, I am contemplating not going through with it. Is it really worth all the trouble? I could still cancel. My husband doesn't even notice it.

Searching for photos to illustrate this post, I'm anxious again. It's so small; in some photos, you can barely tell. If I posted a close-up pic, you would probably tell me, "It's no big deal" (which is not what I want to hear right now, by the way, so I decided against posting any pics). So what is my problem? Maybe I need therapy instead. Or regular massages. I can't afford those, however, so I'll keep working on this blouse. 

Accommodating my wide hips: A slash-and-spread alteration to the Pussy Bow Blouse pattern
Looking in the mirror, I feel entirely justified. You really have to see it in 3D to appreciate it; the scar sticks out so far. And I feel like there's more to it than just the scar. My face looks different since the attack. I look like I'm holding all my anxiety in my jaw, where I was punched. I don't know if getting the scar fixed will help release the physical memory of violence that has me subconsciously steeling my jaw at all times, even in a smile. I'm hoping if I spend less time looking at it, I will be less worried about something so terrible happening again, and maybe I can relax.

Anyway, I liked my face just fine as it was. I never asked for this. I didn't deserve to get punched in the face (nobody does). Why should I have to live with it, no matter how small? 

My blood pressure spikes every time I think about it. They better give me some good downers or I may just jump off the chair. I've considered asking friends for spare anxiety meds. I hope I can make it through the week without freaking out completely. Yesterday I sewed a collar to cope. Today I'll work on the sleeves if I get anxious:

At the rate I am going, I should have this blouse sewn by the big day. (But I think I'll save modeling it until after the bandage comes off!).

Has sewing ever helped you get through a stressful time? Or do you end up mangling a project out of distraction?

Jan 27, 2013

Pussy Bow Blouse Muslin

What kind of name is "Pussy Bow Blouse" anyway? (I'm guessing it's something the British made up to make us North Americans nervous. Kind of like how Aussies feel about our "Fanny packs.")

Either way, I am so far loving Pattern Runway's Pussy Bow Blouse pattern, which I bought to make a blouse from some lovely bird-printed silk I found at Mood last weekend. (Over lunch after our shopping trip, the lovely Oona had suggested I check out Pattern Runway's stuff, and this blouse pattern happened to be pretty much what I was looking for.) I LOVE that the seam allowances are 3/8 inch on Pattern Runway patterns. Trimming the excessive 5/8-inch seam allowances on commercial patterns bothers me to no end.

Oona told me Pattern Runway patterns tend to be long in the waist (which I am not), so I thought making a muslin was a must. (Plus the intended silk cost $14/yard, so I didn't want to waste it on an ill-fitting top).

I cut a straight medium from some poly chiffon I had on hand (it's similar in weight and feel to the bird-print silk), and as I expected it's a little tight through the hips on me. I got my husband to take a few quick photos to illustrate that point, and my sidekick insisted on appearing in every single one:

I'm lazy, so I only sewed in one sleeve:

See how the side seam is pulling to the back? I'll need to shift the side seam and do some slashing and spreading to add a little flare to both front and back. As far as construction goes this sews up like any other collared shirt. It's pretty easy if you're familiar with sewing menswear:

I couldn't take any more of the clinging-on, so I stepped aside and let Lucy have the photoshoot to herself:

So that's what I worked in the few spare minutes I had this weekend. Pattern Runway: check it out!

Jan 24, 2013

Finished! Plaid Flannel Western Shirt From McCall's 6044

My husband has a body made for hugging — broad shoulders, big arms, and just the right height for me to nestle my head under his chin.

And this long-sleeved, Western-style version of McCall's 6044 is just perfect for cuddling; made from an ultra-sort plaid flannel, it's the kind of fabric you want to wrap yourself in when it's as cold as it has been in NYC this week. 

 I had been meaning to get to Mood and find this fabric ever since I saw Peter of Male Pattern Boldness' shirt he made for his significant other Michael. Since Peter lives dangerously close to the Garment District it wasn't hard to convince him to meet me at Mood and direct me to this super soft blue plaid flannel. I love the gray and yellow striping. It's so soft. And such a flattering color. (And did I mention it's soft?).

I had forgotten, of course, that Peter described it as shifty. And boy, was he right. 

I prepped, laid out and cut exactly as I had been taught at FIT. But try as I might, the plaid kept twisting. The crossgrain would not run perpendicular to the grainline. This fabric was $12/yard, and looked and felt amazing. But do grain line issues like this indicate it's not as great quality as it may seem? 

In the end, I decided not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and just forged on.  I think any grainline issues were minor and undetectable (except to certain perfectionists). My husband cares not that not everything runs exactly up and down.  And apparently his colleagues loved it too; a creative director at his ad agency even asked if I would make him one:

There's that pose: The Classic Headscratch
I made one adjustment to the pattern (which I won't give a cutesy name because everything I think up would be offensive to my husband, who is happy to ham for blog pics but is quite sensitive to issues of weight gain and how it affects clothing fit). I graded out from a medium to a large, but only at the side seam (and the corresponding seam along the sleeve, of course, which has to match up).  A large is too long in length and too big through the chest and shoulders, but tight across the tummy, which is where my husband stores any weight gain (because his Swedish ancestors needed the extra heft to get through long, cold winters and then plowing the fields on foot in Spring. His joke, not mine).

Another favorite: The Cuff Adjustment Pose

Lisa G of Notes From a Mad Housewife made the non-Western-style version of this same McCall's pattern for her husband. But she made a few changes because either her husband is more discerning than mine, or she's just such a crackerjack seamstress that she can't tolerate half-ass design details. I am lazy. And my husband is only picky when it comes to buying the Sunday Times (he chooses one from the middle of the stack ALWAYS, because the top ones may be sullied).

So even though I knew I should have followed her lead and cut a pattern for a sleeve placket (this pattern lacked it), I went the easy route, thinking to myself: "Like Ryan is going to care whether there's a sleeve placket!" And then I probably cackled for good measure.

But taking the easy route is not always so easy. I have sewn a few plackets, and they're not all that hard hard. But making the opening above the cuff look decent following the instructions given was actually really difficult. I even unpicked. And you know how I hate unpicking.

I'm guessing whoever designed the pattern and instructions just couldn't fit it all on two pages with the complication of adding a sleeve placket, so they omitted it, instructing you instead to top stitch down the seam allowances. I actually have several self-drafted patterns for sleeve plackets, which I could easily have dug up and made fit. Laziness reigned. I regret it. I feel especially ashamed when I look at Peter's shirt made from this same fabric.

Still, normal people wouldn't notice or care:

If you're interested in making this shirt, and you want to include a sleeve placket (which really looks better), keep an eye on Lisa's blog. She'll be apparently posting the pattern pieces she drafted for her husband's shirt, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel.

It's still cold out there, friends. Cuddle up for warmth!

Jan 22, 2013

Finished: Lauren Moffat top (And how NOT to take photos of yourself!)

I finished my Lauren Moffat knock-off top before the holidays but have yet to blog it because I haven't made the time to take proper photos. (This past weekend I was planning on having my husband shoot me in this chartreuse silk top, but he was in a foul mood that didn't break until late Monday night. Even watching Obama's incredible speech at the inauguration couldn't cheer him. It was Blue Monday after all. At the best of times our photoshoots end in a squabble).  

Last weekend when I met up with Gingermakes, Oonabaloona, Nettie, and Peter, we talked about the challenges of self-shooting. I have a Canon digital SLR, which takes really amazing photos — except when I am trying to get off a few solo shots of myself. 

IN the mirror worked best for me this morning:

Rosy skintone!

The necklace I am wearing is by Native Clutter, Stephanie of Makesthethings.com handmade jewelry co. Before Christmas she sent it to me as a gift with a sweet note saying she thought my blog was funny. It made more than my day: I've worn it so much since then, it's amazing that I don't have a triangle-shaped indentation on my chest. I've been meaning to write about it and link to her — just as I've been meaning to blog about this top.

Sigh. This top:

Behold, the lovely back detail

I blame the lack of photos for not posting, but I've also been putting off writing about it because it was a bit of a failure. A particularly disheartening failure given how much time I put into making this. I made the pattern myself, ripping off the design of this top, a Lauren Moffat black silk tunic top I've had for years:  

 I muslined it, made changes, and was pretty happy with how it was turning out. But then, sweet heavenly grainlines, I forgot to cut the back pattern piece on the fold — a tragic error because I had just enough of this chartreuse silk left to eke out the pieces for this hip-skimming top. And because the back piece had some flare in it, having a seam run down the center back makes it look odd from behind. It just doesn't hang right. Of course I realized my fatal flaw immediately, but proceeded to sew it anyway in the hopes it would still be wearable:

Sigh. I haven't worn it. And here are a few more self-shot photos just to illustrate why it's worth testing the strength of your marriage to get quality pics of your bloggable garments:

Overexposed (and cut off at the shins)

Underexposed and badly composed
No head!

I need someone to tell me, "Stop doing that weird thing with your mouth!" 
So that's my confessional for today (and a reminder not to listen to particularly captivating episodes of "This American Life" while you are cutting your fabric. Double-tasking is asking for trouble when you have a pair of sharp scissors in hand).

Anybody have tips for successful self-shooting with a DSLR?

Jan 20, 2013

Making a Mess of Mood With My Fave Sewing Bloggers!

You know how on Project Runway they give the designers a half-hour to choose their fabrics at Mood in NYC's Garment District? 

Well yesterday it took four sewing bloggers four times that long to pick out a single print. (But, I believe, we had 10 times as much fun doing it). Witness:

In the end the consensus was on two prints, to be used together. I'm not revealing here what they were — this was not my challenge after all. Oonabaloona dared Gingermakes (both Mood Sewing Network bloggers, so they have the luxury of shopping monthly at this incredible, three-floor fabric store. Jealous much? Yeah, me too) to let her choose the fabric for her next project. If you know Oona's work, then you know she's a print-mixing Sewasaurus Rex. Put her in charge of your next project and you could just end up in this (please don't adjust your computer monitors):

We made quite a mess, and in the end I don't think Gingermakes was too apprehensive about the challenge. I can't wait to see what she does.

Nettie of Sown Brooklyn was also on hand to offer her honest critique of Oona's sometimes-very-out-there choices. It could have easily ended up too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen, but civility reigned:

Peter of Male Pattern Boldness popped by to direct me to the lovely blue cotton flannel he used to make Michael a shirt a while back (I've been wanting to buy some ever since — for a shirt for Ryan). He ran away at some point because he prefers doing his fabric shopping in dives. But lucky for us, he made some time later for Color Me Beautiful consultations over lunch:

Meanwhile at home, my daughter was apparently playing "going fabric shopping and then sewing a dress to wear to a wedding" with her dad. Here's the garment she made, sent to me via BlackBerry (very avant garde, non?):

It was a wonderful day, and I came home with a bag full of goodies: the blue plaid cotton flannel and pearly snaps for Ryan's shirt; a bird-print cream and grayish-purple silk chiffon for a top for me (I already bought Pattern Runway's Pussy Bow Blouse pattern to use with it), and all the cheap poly satin, tulle and trimming I need to make my daughter a Cinderella dress.

(I should note when I showed it to her, she sighed deeply and said, "Well, I guess it's OK if you make me a Cinderella dress." WTF, my dear daughter? Apparently she's into the arrow-slinging Merida — from the Disney movie "Brave" — now. When will I ever learn?)

Hope you're all having an amazing weekend too!

Jan 16, 2013

Woe is Me: UFO Coming In For A Landing

In sewing, as in life, there's nothing I hate more than backtracking. (I'd rather get off the bus one stop early to avoid overshooting a destination, and if you ask me to repeat myself, I think hard about whether what I said was in fact worth saying twice before complying).

And unpicking stitches is enough to make me abandon a project all together.

With that, I have to say: Really, Burda? REALLY?

Botched Burda 141 Top For Girls

Alright, the blame should really be on me. 

And the thought of unpicking an entire project is not enough to elicit a little sympathy this rainy Wednesday, take a look at my kitchen. I have less counter space now than I did at age 20 when I lived in a camper trailer:

Please note: no dishwasher

Pity party over. Check out the LBD I've been sewing from McCall's 6319. No mistakes, no backtracking (too bad I had to use a flash for the pics though; it's dark in NYC today!)

I used the black ponte knit that Gingermakes so generously gave to me. I love it. Sometimes something easy to sew is just as easy to wear. I'm still deciding on a hemline. I keep trying it on with different shoes, which each demand a different length. With heels: longer. Flats: short, obviously, am I right?

love the zip!

How about you people? Screwed anything up lately? Feeling down in the dumps thanks to mid-winter weather and incomplete pattern instructions?

Jan 8, 2013

A Special Surprise!

Friends, I was mulling over a post about how I'm expecting to bleed readers over the coming weeks because I actually had no plans for sewing on the horizon. (I know! Horrors!)

With not a single useable scrap of fabric in my "stash" (a generous word for what I have thrown in a Rubbermaid tub under my drafting table), and little money in the bank, it just seemed sewing something new was out of my reach for the time being.

(However, I did just start working on an ambitious (for me) stop motion video project. Is that something you people would like to read about? Or should I keep my progress on that to myself? It does involve sewing moveable figurines — which I have never done before. I've become quite obsessed with it. It may be my Gangs of New York — i.e. it will probably take me 20 years to finish).

Anyway, back to sewing: my mojo was also flagging after a failure before Christmas — one that I have yet to post due to two successive coldsores. (Readers: I am vain enough not to allow photos when my mug is besmirched by oral herpes).

And then yesterday I came home to find a giant box on my doorstep. I wasn't expecting anything, but when I saw the return address, I knew it was going to be good! Sonja (of Gingermakes) randomly sent me a box of assorted fabric, some notions, and the Drape Drape 2 book! Perhaps she was tired of reading my complaints about not having fabric? Maybe her New Year's resolution involves being charitable to the needy? Either way: Sewing mojo restored!

Check out how generous Gingermakes was (missing from this pile is a couple spools of thread and a black zipper; girlfriend thinks of everything!):

My box of treasures included:

-a few yards of a nice black (ponte?) knit
-a few yards of brown chambray
-some turquoise lining fabric
-a few yards of turquoise jersey printed with hearts that resemble a giraffe's spots
-some grey sweatshirt material printed with white and pink hearts

Of course Lucy claimed the heart print knit (which was no doubt intended for her!)

However, Lucy likes the wrong side even better:

I think that knit needs to be made into this adorable Burdastye.com kids dress with pockets:
If there's enough, maybe she'll get one of each (right side out, and wrong side too).

I was thinking the brown chambray would be a good choice for a new Western shirt for Ryan. I haven't sewn anything for him in a while. This is the pattern I like, McCalls 6044:

But, inspired by Peter of Male Pattern Boldness' new trick of swaddling his face in a fabric to check whether the color enhances his complexion, I decided to see if it's a shade that would complement me better: 

Sorry, pal. I may keep this for myself, though I'm not sure what to do with it. Maybe Robe Sureau by Deer and Doe? I saw a nice chambray version on Burdastyle, though I worry about wrinkling in the rear end...

The black knit will become a LBD, using this pattern I happen to have on hand (McCall's 6319). I like version A, with the shoulder zip:

As for the heart-printed turquoise, Lucy and I swaddled up to see who would wear it better:

 Could be a draw....luckily there's enough I think I can make something for each of us. Maybe this Drape Drape 2 dress? It would be a little wild:

Or maybe leggings and a dress for Lucy, if I can't work up the courage to wear such a bold print.

Either way, thanks to Sonja, I now have the problem of deciding which project to tackle first — a great problem to have! If you don't know her blog (and I'n guessing you all do, because she's much more popular and prolific than I!), check it out at http://gingermakes.wordpress.com.

So with this bounty, what would you make first?

Jan 4, 2013

Just Do It (Or Make It, As The Case May Be)

How many times has someone said to you, "I've always wanted to learn to sew," and what is your reply?

a) You should! It's so rewarding.

b) I know a great class at _________.

c) I can teach you.

d) Forget it, you don't have the patience.

(Sorta kidding on that last one).

And how many times has someone told you about the (usually better than yours) sewing machine they have stashed away in a closet (and that they have never used)?

If you're like me, I'm guessing many.

My mom once said to me, "I've always wanted to learn how to canoe." My mom lives on an island in the Pacific Ocean — where the weather is pretty temperate most of the year. Oh, and in Canada, where Parks and Recreation programming is so cheap it's a sin not to sign up for something. She could probably go canoeing seven days a week for about 10 months of the year. So why hasn't she?

And why haven't those people we all know just dropped a damn bobbin into their (better than ours!) sewing machines and started stitching?

Lack of time is a reasonable excuse for only so long. So is access to knowledge: I can tell you where to get free patterns and online tutorials, and that there's no shame in practicing on old bedsheets.

It's the same reason I put off learning an instrument, taking up a sport, or attempting to make bread again: fear of failure.

When it comes to sewing, there's the fear that whatever you make will be so horribly botched, it will resemble Denise Huxtable's "Gordon Gartrell" shirt. Or for canoeing, that you will fall into the water, embarrassing yourself in front of your (really, no more advanced than you) classmates (or drowning, I guess?).

In the past few years I've become pretty risk-averse — a side-effect, I think, of becoming a parent, as well as some minor PTSD following an attack in the park, and the fact I haven't had health insurance. But fear of losing life and limb — those are OK to cling to, in my mind. However, if the only danger of taking up a new task is bruising your ego a little, there's never going to be a better time than now to just go for it.

Over the holiday break while my husband was home, I should have been sewing. But I don't have any good fabric in my stash and our personal fiscal cliff is still on the horizon for the moment, so I took up a different project — something that I'd been thinking of for some time, but had put off out of fear of failure. It did involve some sewing — freestyle machine embroidery — as well as painting. And, because I'm prudent like that, I used an old bedsheet as my canvas.

Here's the photo that inspired me. I took this last summer while we were visiting my dad at his ultra-remote West Coast British Columbia home. It's probably the best photo I have ever shot. I love the colors, composition and pure joy on my kid's face. I've been wanting to do something with it since then:

This is not a humble brag, though I know it may look like it. I'm not actually that thrilled with my execution of this art project. But I hung it up anyway, and I'm sharing it here to show you that nothing bad actually happened when I attempted something new. I'm down one ripped bedsheet, a quarter-spool of thread, and a few small bottles of fabric paint. And the only person who has criticized my effort can't wipe her own butt (not naming names).

This is both my pep talk for today, and the crux of my New Year's resolution: don't let fear of failure get in the way of anything this year. If you've been wanting to start stitching, grab an old bedsheet and fire up the Google box to search for "how to thread a sewing machine." If you want to make art, turn off that part of your brain that says you can't draw. If you want to play guitar, don't worry about your roommates' judgement of your feeble strumming. Nobody is Jimi Hendrix (or Sandra Betzina) at first. You'll get better eventually.

Can you tell the outline is stitching?

This resolution is borne out of being a parent of a currently 4.5-year-old kid. At age 3 and 4, I witnessed her joyfully experimenting in all manner of hobby and activity — and with so much self-confidence. In her mind, she was an artist, an athlete and a musician (also, she mistakenly believes she can speak Spanish. Again: so much self-confidence1). It hadn't yet occurred to her that she would only excel in one field. I'm guessing most of us (aside from natural-born pessimists) start out this way — enjoying pretty much everything we try.

But already I can see the fear of failure creeping in. She'll walk away from a game if she's not winning, crumple up a drawing and have a tantrum if it's not exactly as she'd hoped it would be. And sometimes, she'll avoid an activity altogether if she suspects she won't be the best at it — even when her dad cheerfully says, "Everyone won, because everyone had fun!"

I don't think anyone or anything is to blame for this. It's natural; success feels so good, that we can begin to fear its opposite, even though the anticipation of failure is usually far worse than the actual act of losing. It's an exceptional person who can try something new without any fear of failure. It can be debilitating if we let it. I know it's something I'm still trying to shake (and the reason I never played sports or wear white after Labor Day).

One way to help my kid channel her fear of failure into something positive, I've decided, is to let her see me fail. More specifically: let her see me fail and NOT freak out about it. So that's my resolution this year: try more — and fail gracefully.

Any sewing (or other) new things you've been avoiding out of fear of failure? Name it and claim it! (Did I make that up? Or Oprah?)


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