02 December 2012

Sewing Confrontations: Pants, Part 2--Muslin Time!

Whenever I try a new pattern, I usually do a mockup (or muslin) of it in some cheap fabric.  It helps me see if the pattern and whatever adjustments I’ve made actually work before I commit to cutting the fabric I’ve actually purchased for wearing.  Last week I wandered into WalMart and found: some pretty hideous and cheap giant pink gingham at $1 a yard.  SCORE!  

Full disclosure:  I actually like gingham, but not so much the 2" gingham for pants.
So with fabric in hand, I commence to dealing with the pattern.  As I mentioned in the first post, I’m using a pattern from a BurdaStyle magazine.  Here it is:

Let's get cutting!
Simple, right?

(lotsa photos after the jump!)

30 November 2012

Sewing Confrontations: Pants, Part 1

As I mentioned earlier, my friend Jessica over at Quilty Habit is doing a series this month called Sewing Confrontations, challenging fellow sewers to tackle some lingering challenge.  Being all super ambitious, and thinking I had all the time in the world when I signed up, I decided I would work on making myself a decent-fitting pair of pants.

Any of you who know me in real life know that I don't wear pants all that often.  7 days of 10--probably 9 of 10 in the spring and summer--you'll find me in a dress.  This is not because I don't like pants, or because of any exceptional twee-ness on my part.  It's really because a) dresses are easier to fashion into a proper outfit;  and b) it's much easier to find (or make) dresses that fit decently.

One of the first things you want to do when sewing garments is to anticipate possible problems.  I already know ready to wear pants give me all kinds of fitting issues, due to the following facts:

1) I'm tall, and long-legged.  I wear a 34-inch inseam, which is hard to come by.  Most stores' "long" pants are 32" or 33", which is not-quite-sufficient for me.  Or, (very occasionally) they go the other way entirely and offer 36", which is way too long.
2) My waist is both high and small.  My hips are both wide and long.  Sometimes a pair of pants will fit just about everywhere, and then I sit down and it's like I'm wearing legwarmers only, because they do not really cover anything anymore.  If the rise is high enough that everything's covered, and the pants fit my hips well, my waist is probably swimming. 
3) I have a fairly significant swayback.  For those of you who don't sew clothing-- a swayback is the term people use for that hollow at the small of your back, just above your hips--when it curves inwards dramatically, you've got a swayback.  Do you try on pants or skirts and they seem to fit everywhere except the back waistband is always floating in space inches away from your actual back waist?  You, my friend, are a member of the Swaybacked Sisterhood. 
4) I have full hips and thighs.  Sometimes pants in my size are tighter than they should be up top, but a larger size is so much bigger everywhere that that doesn't help. Usually at that point I just give up and leave without any pants. 

So knowing these things, there are certain lower-body fitting adjustments I am always on the lookout for, even when I am sewing dresses--lengthening the leg and hip, grading the waist in and hips out, and taking in or adjusting the back waist.  In skirts and dresses, these things are relatively simple to do, but how to translate them to pants?  These are the challenges I'm setting out for myself this winter. 

For this week, however, I need to get into the habit of actually constructing pants.  (photos after the jump!)

15 November 2012

In Which I Make My Swap Item But Do Not Make The Swap

Let the record show:  that 2 potholders were, indeed, made by me for the November meeting of the Central Jersey Modern Quilt Guild.  I'm sort of really in love with postage stamp quilts, and so I figured I'd see just how much of a PITA it would be to work on one by making these little potholders.  It wasn't too bad, and I love the look. 

love these little explosions of color...
But, alas and alack, my car has decided we are fighting after 10 years together, and my work schedule is cutting the fool with me as well, so I didn't make it to the meeting to swap.  It's probably for the best.  I didn't finish stitching the binding on one, and the one I did finish was just unspeakably bad:

Dear self:  O for real, though?

I mean, really?  LOOK AT THAT FOOLISHNESS.  You'd think I never picked up a needle in my life.  Utterly shameful, that is.

I did, however, get to try out the new little 1040--still not happy with the stitches--and do some walking foot quilting, which I sort of made up as I went along.  It even emboldened me to get back to my bed quilt!  This weekend, PANTS.  I think.

27 October 2012

Sewing Confrontations

My friend Jessica over at Quilty Habit contacted me a few weeks ago about a new series she's putting together:

The series is called "Sewing Confrontations" and she's asking a number of other bloggy friends this November to man up (or woman up, or trans up, as the case may be) and force ourselves to work on some sewing issue that we have been struggling with or avoiding.  Since my machines have been gathering dust on their shiny avocado-and-lemon-smoke exteriors, I thought this might be a good way to get back into things.  After all, it's football season and it's soon going to be too cold to even run errands.

I thought hard about something I have been neglecting but thought I could realistically accomplish in a month.  I'm not going to successfully free-motion the bed quilt I made for myself last winter by the end of November.  This I know is simply not happening. I've been putting off quilting it at all for a year.  I mean, it took me an hour last night to quilt straight lines on a POTHOLDER.  Yeah.

But you know what is bothering me and I might be motivated to do?  Pants.  Like many women, I struggle mightily to consistently find pants that fit worth a toss.  And once I do seem to find a brand and style I like, THEY CHANGE THEM!  Sometimes the entire style is revamped (so much for the J. Crew Favorite Fits that got me through grad school--were they only my favorite??)  sometimes they decide to get cheap cute with the fabric (*cough*GAPbrands*cough*) and they are no longer worth the money. (jump coming here!)

04 October 2012

September's over?!

Hey y'all.

An update--there's been NO sewing or cooking round these parts--just a whole lotta flying around.  I've been on three work trips in three weeks--once to San Antonio and twice to Atlanta.  I don't travel a great deal (perhaps a little more than most of my co-workers, though), and I mostly enjoy it when I do (car service!  VIP rooms at nice hotels!  Good dinners!), but man I am BEAT. And currently addicted to tropical fruit salads such as the one above (and yes, I even have seasoning for my fruit). Also, Midge had to go to the hospital for extensive surgery, but hopefully she's ok now.  I have a wedding to attend this weekend, but hope to get some sewing done after that.  It's fall, so time for some skirts and tops.  I also haven't baked anything in a while, so I guess I'm due.  I can't believe I just missed an entire month.  All of a sudden it's getting dark when I leave the office.  WHERE DID MY SUMMER GO?

05 September 2012

HELP! I need some opinions.

So, this:

is all sewed together.  Problem?  It's not quite big enough.  I need it about 12 inches wider on each side (so 24 inches longer and wider) so it can be queen-sized.  I am paralyzed about what to do next.  I would like to add a slim colorful border or two along with more of the cream background fabric.  Mainly, I can't decide whether it would be best to go: blocks, cream border, colorful border, cream border, or border this big block with a colorful strip (I'm thinking a fuschia-white polka dot) and then have the rest be the background fabric.  I think I definitely want the background fabric next to the binding. 

So any opinions, o quilting friends?  Would the border right next to the blocks overwhelm them?  Or would bordering with the background make this section look odd?  Maybe a fuschia AND a baby blue border?  AHHH PLEASE HELP ME.

Closer look at blocks (apologies for the blurry pic!): 

It was a LOT of zigzagging, dudes.  A LOT of zigzagging.

01 September 2012

Happy Birthday to me (a little late)

The end of Milestone Birthday Month heralded the arrival of this:

Say hello to Midge!
I've finally acquired a Kenmore 1040--one of the 1970s Kenmore versions of the (insanely popular) Singer Featherweights. After trolling the local Craigslists for months with no luck, I bought this from another member of the Yahoo! vintage Kenmore boards, who shipped it to me all the way from Phoenix! I did discover though that the best sewing machine finds seem to be in this order:  1) South Jersey 2) Philadelphia 3) Jersey Shore 4) North Jersey.  The Central Jersey Craigslist is the pits, but more on that some other time, mayhaps.

I've been wanting a more portable machine for a while now, but have been nonplussed at the newer machines.  Phyllis, my Kenmore 1217, has a handy carrying case but she weighs about as much as two second graders (to me, anyway) so lugging her around is not much fun, especially when you have epicondilitis in both arms and live up a very steep flight of stairs.  Also, Phyl has a nice little cabinet to live in that I salvaged and fixed up just for her, and I think she's happy there. 

Midge, like Phyllis, dates from about 1971 and is colored in avocado green and some shade Sears calls "lemon smoke".  She is all metal, too, but only a 3/4 size, so she is a good bit lighter, though still not super light.

In comparison, she is the size of two Middlemarches.  And yes, that's my summer reading.  Don't judge me.

She also comes with the cute little rose-embossed retro case, in back of her there.  Phyllis's case has an extra compartment for the foot pedal and manual, but Midge's case only fits her in there (and very tightly).  The foot pedal has to be sandwiched into her harp area. 

I didn't just buy her for size alone.  She also has some stitches Phyls doesn't, like a stretch stitch and a mending stitch.  (Phyllis only does straight stitch, zigzag, and blind hemming.)  Midge has a center-homing needle, which will hopefully really step up my presser foot diversification.  Phyllis has a left-homing needle, and although it seems that was a fairly common design in the early 70s, it is very difficult to find presser feet that work with her.  I think people who have them hoard them.  Last year, after over a year of looking,  I found a Griest buttonholer AND a set of three feet (a bias binder, edgestitcher, and ruffler) for low-shank left-needle machines in the same week and you couldn't tell me nathan.

But Midge should work with any regular low-shank foot.  It's much easier to control her speed, so I might be able to actually work on free-motion quilting.  Her small bed will also, I hope, make attaching neck and sleeve bands easier, though I really was hoping she could be used as a free arm. 

Speaking of the tiny bed, see that little section in the front?  She also does this:

You can see the bobbin case and feed-dog lever back there.

More space!

What's that?  She's not quite long enough either?  Well let's lift this up...


What is that little thing I just pulled out to the front, you say?  Why, it's her accessories box:

Most of the original stuff is there, except the zipper foot, and for some reason someone replaced the retractable spool pin the manual says she has with a place to screw in a pin, which I don't like quite as well.

Anyway, I tested her out a bit last night.  The stitches seem to work just fine, though the bobbin winder is not quite cooperating.  At first the feed dogs didn't want to drop--a common problem with these machines--but they eventually gave in.  I'm gonna have to investigate the bobbin-winding issue--kind of annoying to have to load a bunch of bobbins before I can go anywhere, or to have to buy and lug one of those little machines that do nothing else--, but other than that I am pretty pleased so far.  I don't intend for her to be the primary machine--Phyllis is still the #1 in these streets--but I hope she'll be a good fill-in. 

19 August 2012

Summer Sewing: State of the Progress Address

After a couple of summer successes, things began poorly last fall,  when I decided to take a 1-day course to make this dress:
cute, right?

This is not a complicated or difficult dress at all.  But I've been trying to find more structured outlets for garment sewing, as I've long been at the point where some instruction and guidance would be helpful, to make sure I'm doing the best and most efficient things possible when sewing.  I was really excited for a class that involved sewing a real outfit, something I would actually have chosen on my own to sew and wear.

I should have known things weren't going to go well when the class was moved from September to October, a little late for such a breezy little thing.  Unfortunately the class's instructor's fitting strategies were "cut it to be approximately ok and fiddle with it till it looks alright."  Obviously this works for her, but it's not my style at all, and not being a novice sewer, I knew before even cutting the fabric that it would likely not work.  It didn't.  I ended up with something that would need a ton of reconstruction work to save.

The rest of the winter was similarly frustrating.  I kept sewing, but with the exception of a couple of pencil skirts, nothing got finished.  Something was not quite right about everything, the kind of annoying not quite right that you know you won't forget over the course of the day and you'll be pulling and tugging at your outfit for eight and a half hours, and I still have three or four dresses I put together but never finished because they needed more tweaking.  Several weeks lost trying to successfully expand sleeves for a Colette Peony--only to realize after finally giving up on the sleeves that the bodice really didn't suit me anyway--

Why, self, why?  You know high neck + big boobs = nothing good.  Why even bother?

  --did me in, and I stopped sewing for a while and focused on skating. 

Then the summer finally arrived and with it, the realization that for four glorious months I didn't have to sew anything with long sleeves, and then a missive:  DRESSES SHALL BE MADE, AND YEA BUT SHE SHALL WEAR THEM.  I bought patterns and more fabric with a vengeance, pored over books, changed my mind on a daily basis about what would be produced this upcoming weekend.  I have no social life and I refuse to even consider my long-languishing-not-quite-finished dissertation; there was no reason not to make a dress every week, maybe a top or skirt occasionally.

Ahem.  Yes.  Well, I was perhaps a bit overly ambitious.  I failed to fathom the extent of my own laziness.  But here are a few things that have been finished.

Coastal Breese pattern from Make It Perfect

Burda Style (envelope pattern) 7253

Jamie pattern from Sis Boom
Easy Kimono Dress from PatternRunway
Two of these have made the cut and are actually in my regular wardrobe;  the pink candy-striped dress and the floral sundress.  The black satin dress was winning the award for Best New Sewing Win--until I plopped down in my chair quickly and awkwardly at work and discovered--on the first day I wore it-- that I really should only use stretch fabrics for sheath dresses.  Sigh.  Due to that malfunction, I've been afraid to even try the yellow linen dress, which is too bad as it looks fabulous on me.   

Overall my verdict is:  semiproductive.  Summer's not yet over (thank goodness) and I still have stuff on the needles, so to speak, but I have come out with a few new staples for the wardrobe and am at the moment looking positively towards the fall.  I just made a birthday order from another Vintage Kenmore group member, and I think when Phyllis's new little sister arrives there may be more--she'll supply me with stretch stitches, a semi-free arm, and a center needle position that should give me more versatility in choosing presser feet to help me. 

15 August 2012

Recently: Fresh Strawberry and Marshmallow Tarte

So as of last night, I've been added to the blogroll of the Central Jersey Modern Quilt Guild (of which I am now a member).  I'm not sure how many of the members actually read blogs, but I figure I should start back to providing actual content in this here space.  So first a few catchup posts.

I started this blog with a vague sense of recording domestic-y things, and most importantly, a desire to participate in the now-completed "Tuesdays with Dorie" project, a years-long bakealong that took I don't know how many home bakers across the US and the world through Dorie Greenspan's Baking:  From My Home to Yours.  When I started with TWD, I was home full-time, on a year-long research fellowship in rural Pennsylvania.  I needed something fun and fulfilling to do on a regular basis to focus on and to distract me from all the other tomfoolery going on (or not going on, as the case may be) in my life, and Tuesdays with Dorie was it for me.  The year ended, and I was fortunate to land another position, but this position is a full-time office based job, and I now live in an apartment with a small, dark kitchen, no air conditioning, and little cabinet space.  It became hard to keep up with the recipes, but I tried to bake and post whenever I could, and so limped on till the project was over.  The group began a new book when we completed Baking..., but I knew I couldn't commit to the new book, which had even more ambitious recipes than this one, so I very reluctantly decided to bow out.

So without that, I didn't really have much I wanted to share.  I share my successfully completed sewing projects on Facebook.  I haven't been baking very much and haven't done a proper decorated cake in about 2 years (though I did do up some cookies for a bake sale last fall).  I don't think my baking will increase much, at least until I get a kitchen more amenable to it, but occasionally I am commissioned to do something, and that leads me to today's project.

I was invited to a Bastille Day party last month, and decided after some thought that I wanted to bring something very French.  Enter this tart from Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets cookbook--her version of a tart served at Laduree, the famous Parisian bakery and tearoom. I spent a few days slowly putting it together, but it restored my faith in my baking abilities.

First, I made a vanilla bean creme patisserie.  There is a local dairy that sells milk at outrageously low prices, and they have this product I've never seen anywhere before:   superrich (richer than whole milk!) milk.

It is the BEST for making milky things like custards, pastry creams, rice pudding, and so on.  I only wish it came in quarts--I cannot bring myself to drink it--but at $1.99 a half-gallon I suppose I cannot complain much. 

The cream was easy enough to make--standard pastry cream.  In addition to the milk, it also had a nice quantity of butter to be mixed in.  Yay calcium!

vanilla bean cream with its first addition of butter

This went in the fridge while I set about making the strawberry-orangeflower marshmallows.
I've made marshmallows once before, a few years ago.  I remember being pleasantly surprised at how easy they are--really, the mixer does all the work for you--

make sugar syrup

whip up egg whites and add sugar syrup and gelatin to make meringue

fold in flavorings--here I used strawberry puree I found in the Latino frozen foods aisle, and orange-flower water

spread out in a pan and let cool for a day.
--but thinking they were too sweet.  This time, per Dorie's instructions, I dusted them with potato starch instead of powdered sugar.  This helped.  However, they developed a weird gelatinous layer at the bottom that I had to slice off.  It was pretty humid out, so I think the weather was not in my favor, but everyone said they liked them, even when I brought the extras to work a couple days later. 

Now on to the shell.  I've used Dorie's recipe for years now, so I always go to it--it rarely fails me.  It's a delightful shortbready crust, and I use almond flour for part of the flour to give it a little extra yum.  You
basically dump everything in the food processor and blitz BRIEFLY, then pat out and freeze.  Then bake.

dough in processor

dough in buttered tin

all patted out!  I like to roll it out but it was too sticky (See:air conditioing, no) so I just went with it.)

cover with buttered foil and freeze

bake from the freezer.  Dorie says you don't need weights when you bake the crust from frozen, but I beg to differ--I've never gotten anything but headaches when I've tried it, so I always figure weighting doesn't hurt anything.

baked crust, ready to fill!  Mine shrunk a bit, but I don't care.  

 The day of the party, all I did was bake the crust and fill it.

I cut up the pretty pink marshmallow block.

I arranged the strawberries in a pan to get an idea of how to pack them in!

Fill the crust with the creme patisserie and spread over some of the berries, macerated with a bit of sugar and mashed.

Cram on halved berries and brush with redcurrant jam

Dot with marshmallows!

It was a hit at the party--so much so that I never got a chance to have any!  It also reminded me of how much I love tarts, so I made myself a lemon tart (my FAVORITE) the next week.  I'll have to see if I have pix of that...


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