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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Work it out

I don't really do New Year's resolutions, but I did want to kick off this year with getting back to a good workout schedule and eating healthier. Between being sick over the summer, the fallout from being sick and then the holidays, my gym record was spotty at best for the end of 2009. I'm happy to say that January has been good to me - I've averaged 5 classes per week and am finally, finally starting to feel my strength and cardiac fitness coming back to its pre-pertussis levels. I've been to a few early morning classes (e.g. 6am and earlier start times) when I've had other engagements for my evenings and am doing double classes on Saturday mornings. It just feels so good. After this summer, I'm not taking my health for granted any more and am loving the fact that I can make it through an intense hour class and feel good both during and after.

As far as the healthier eating bit, I'm cooking the healthy food and watching my portions, but the scale and I are in a huge fight. Let's just say that while I'm not gaining, I'm also losing at the slowest pace ever. Grrrrr. I'm really hoping to take off the 10ish lbs I've gained over the past couple of years, but at this rate, it'll take me all year to get there. Hmph. I'm trying to focus on other tangible evidence of getting healthier - being able to push myself farther in class, lifting heavier weights, seeing increased muscle definition in my arms and back - but it's hard to not focus on that scale. It mocks me.

I know there were lots of us that had health and fitness goals for 2010. So, how are they going?

Tiny Turtles!

I took a small break in my selfish sewing kick this past weekend to work on a baby gift for one of my co-workers. It's too long of a story for the blog, but I just recently learned that this co-worker just became a parent. I worked with her quite a bit during the swine flu bonanza earlier this year and she is just a great person all around and a very easy (and rational!) person to work along side. So, when I heard about her new baby boy, I knew I wanted to quickly whip up a gift.

I've had the Oliver + S Bedtime Story Pajamas pattern in my stash for several months just waiting for the right opportunity to use it.

This is the first little boy gift I've tried to make, so I thought a fairly straight-forward pajama pattern was the way to go. For the fabric, I wanted something that was appropriate for a little guy, but also not completely cheeseball. Sew LA had the perfect print - a deep navy cotton filled with tiny, primary colored turtles.
It's just too cute! I paired it with plain green cotton for the bindings and ties.

And what goes better with pajamas than a cozy, fuzzy blanket?

To say this was a hit with my co-worker would be an understatement. Besides cooing over it at the office, she said that when she took it home, grandma took one look at it and decided that they should dress him up in it right away. Keep in mind, the little boy is just barely two months and the outfit is sized for 6-12mo. :) So sweet.

This is now the second O+S pattern I've used and it's another winner. [For my complete review of the pattern, click on the link to Pattern Review.] Their designs are really adorable, the patterns are drafted well and they come with easy to read and follow instructions - what more could a beginner seamstress ask for? Yes, they're pricey, but I really like supporting an independent pattern company, especially one that is so focused on providing a great product for its clients.

Cost breakdown:

Pattern - $16
Fabric - $15
Notions - $2

Fabric - $20
[I saw similar blankets at a fancy baby boutique while shopping last year and my eyes almost popped out of my head - they were retailing for $50-$65! I mean, come on. I know I live in LA and everything, but that is just silly.]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fabric and pattern storage - help needed

The pink palace (aka my sewing and craft room) is now completely overrun with piles of fabric and patterns everywhere - the floor, the sofa, the tops of cabinets. And my typically organized self can no longer stand the madness. I'm going to attempt to get everything in some semblance of order this weekend, but I'm a little scattered and am not really sure where to begin. I'm really not to a point where I'm going to install custom shelving for my fabric or pattern stashes, but I also know that I'm going to need to bring in boxes or storage supplies of some sort.

So fellow sewists, how do you organize your supplies? Any specific storage devices or techniques you think are particularly useful? Any tips or tricks are welcomed - thanks all!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

McCall's 3830- aka The Straight Skirt Holy Grail!

I get all sorts of catalogues at the house for various clothing companies. I typically thumb through the ones from Nordstrom's and J. Crew, sometimes Talbots for shoes and the rest usually end up in the recycling bin without ever being opened. For some reason, this summer, I actually flipped through the Boden USA cataloge and all sorts of fun stuff caught my eye. But, the one thing that really stuck out was this denim pencil skirt.

I loved the color and the simple style, but knew that buying it was out of the question for several reasons: a) pencil skirts typically hate me, b) even if they didn't, I have no idea what their sizing is like and don't really care to investigate since it's all mail-order and c) it was $78 for a simple skirt. Thank God this caught my eye over the summer and not the spring because instead of being bummed, I decided to just make my own, using the Boden skirt as a handy inspiration piece.

After having good luck with McCall's basic a-line skirt pattern, I thought I'd try their straight skirt pattern (3830)that is so beloved on Pattern Review.

For the fabric, I had a dark lightweight stretch denim in the stash from making baby dresses this summer and had thankfully bought 2 yards because I liked it so much. Let me stop for a moment and expouse on how much I love this fabric. It's a really lovely dark navy with no distress marks, a nice stretch and I'm guessing some poly blended in, as well. Why? Well, I washed it 4 times to make sure all the excess dye was off of it and the sucker didn't fade in the least. At $4/yard, it feels like such a bargain. Love it! I'm going back to the shop to restock later this week.

I knew I wasn't going to line this skirt, but I still wanted the inside to be pretty. I was originally going to use a navy cotton for the facing and all navy notions, but when my local Joann's was out of navy bias tape, I completely switched gears. I keep walking by this vaguely psychedelic butterfly/flower print in the quilting cotton secion of Joann's and I'm drawn to it every time. There is no way it would work for a garment, at least for me, but as a facing, it was perfect. To tie it together, I used purple bias tape to finish off the back seams and navy hem tape at the bottom. The sides were sewn with french seams.

After all was said and done, I LOVE THIS SKIRT!! LOVE IT! Yes, I realize I'm ridiculously excited about a very simple garment, but I can't help it. I had a feeling that this was going to be a rousing success from the start and it's really nice to have it turn out even better than I had expected. With the exception of the shorter hemline and no belt loops, I think it's a good replica of the Boden skirt. And it fits me like a glove, straight out of the envelope! I love that it pairs equally well with tall boots and flats, sweaters and tank tops, for the office and for play. Such a simple piece, but one that I pretty much want to live in year-round.

The inside makes me as giddy as the outside. I know that no one will be able to see the fun print or that there is not a single raw edge to be found on this skirt, but that doesn't make me any less thrilled about it.

I'm planning several more versions of this skirt - I'm thinking one in black denim, one in a lightweight khaki cotton and maybe a few prints for summer? I've totally found my holy grail straight skirt pattern. :)

ETA: I forgot to post the cost for this skirt. Here's the breakdown:
Pattern - $2
Fabrics - $7
Notions - $6

Total cost - less than $20. :)

In all honesty though, I'm not really sewing to necessarily save money. It's great when things turn out to be so cost effective, but I have a few upcoming projects that aren't going to be inexpensive. However, this is a hobby for me. I love learning how to sew and being able to make things that actually fit my body, instead of trying to squeeze my body into something the manufacturers deem a "normal" size. Sometimes those garments are going to be simple basics made up with inexpensive fabrics and other times, it's going to be fun dresses and such in finer fabrics like wool wovens, jerseys and sweater knits. Those fabrics aren't cheap, but man are they gorgeous. :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New Spring Vogue Patterns

I've been chomping at the bit to see what the Vogue Spring patterns would bring and there are a few that I'm already starting to drool over.

I have a wedding to attend this spring and think this would be beautiful in a rich solid color - maybe a deep teal or sapphire blue.

I also think this could be a fun dress, though I think I would need to close up the neckline a bit. I'm guessing Jim would vehemently disagree. ;) I know Erica B is a huge Tracy Reese fan, so maybe I'll let her work through it first and then go from there. Hehehe.

If only I was a fancy advanced seamstress, I'd be all over this. The side ruching, the rosettes, the fitted silhoutte - I love it all!

What a cute day-to-night work dress. Love that it's suggested for stable knits - after making my Vegas dress, I've decided I love sewing with rayon-poly doubleknit and I think this dress would be way cute in that fabric. Maybe in a fun spring green or teal.

Vogues are on sale this weekend at Joanns, so I'm hoping they have the new patterns in by then. Anything that you're loving from the new line?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Vogue 7937 - In which I learn to add a lining

As I started researching and buying patterns that looked interesting to me, I could not for the life of me figure out why formal, work-appropriate skirts that were specified to be made in a wool or other fine fabric did not include a lining. Hello! When was the last time you saw a tailored wool or silk skirt in the store that wasn't lined. Right, I can't remember either. I quickly realized that I'd have to add my own darn lining, but since I was still learning the basics, I thought that a couple of one-on-one lessons might make the process go a bit smoother.

I chose this Vogue skirt pattern mostly because I loved the double back-vent. After reading some reviews on the pattern, it also seemed like it wasn't as fitted as it appears on the pattern, which I thought would be a good thing.

My fabric of choice was a camel and cream herringbone wool from Michael Levine. For the lining, I used a very lightweight cotton/silk blend in off-white. I have an overabundance of dark colored skirts and pants in my closet and am actively trying to add a few in lighter shades to break it up a bit. I also thought this piece could work for multiple seasons due to its light color.

I measured myself, cut the size that I thought was correct and brought the cut pieces to my lesson. I actually started this skirt at the beginning of fall, before I really knew how to determine sizing. Make a long story short, my instructor was very concerned that I cut a size too small in the skirt. After sewing the front panel together, I had similar concerns. Gah! Inbetween lessons one and two, I traipsed back out to the store, bought more fabric and recut the skirt in the next size up.

I'm so glad I opted for one-on-one instruction for this. I learned a ton of good tips for sewing skirts, including a lapped zipper, how to correctly sew a back vent, and how to line a skirt that doesn't come with lining instructions. I also built a good working relationship with this instructor - helpful as I'm taking more classes from her this year.

Once the outer fabric was sewn together, I tried it on and wouldn't you know, it was too big. [Really though, sizing has proved to be a huge issue for me.] I had to take it in a good 3/4" and still after the facing and everything was added, it's sitting lower than I prefer for my skirts and the hips feel too loose. By the time everything was complete except for the hem, I had just lost all steam for this project. I set it aside for the rest of the year, but finally, this weekend, I sat down and just finished it already.

After all of that work, I like it alright, but I don't love it. :( I'm having trouble putting my finger on it, but something about it just doesn't sit quite right with me. I think part of it is that it still feels too big for me. Because of this, I'm really limited in what I can wear with it and still look sleek. I tried on a ton of sweaters, but it really works best with a very slim-fitting turtleneck and a pair of high-heeled tall boots to offset the length, which quickly becomes dowdy with flats of any kind.

Sigh. I'm half tempted to go ahead and sew up the next size down that I've already cut, adjust the seam allowances (if necessary) and see if the smaller version isn't a better fit. My guess is that it will be better, but I'm a bit reluctant to put all that time into an exact copy of this skirt and then have it turn out poorly. We'll see.

All in all, I still think it's a good pattern and I'm bummed that I'm not more excited about the finished product. I haven't completely written off making another one, but I think there are some other skirt patterns I'd like to try first.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Perfect Weekend

They're rare, but sometimes the weekend shapes up to be the perfect blend of the necessary stuff and the fun stuff. This weekend definitely qualified as such.

Errands and such: We got the last few holiday returns completed and I made one large grocery run to get us through the weekend. I also caught up on all of the laundry and straigtened up the house a bit. Boring, but needed.

Reading: Finished Will Grayson, Will Grayson, thanks to Jessica who has organized an ARC Tour of the book amongst a group of us book nerds. I'll be doing a guest post on her blog about the book soon, but the short version is that it's awesome and I haven't laughed that hard while reading in a long time.

Cooking: OMG, we ate really well this weekend. And I'm not even including the impromtu breakfast I threw together Sunday morning. I'm really trying to get more mileage out of my fun cookbooks, so I'm making a point to make at least one "fancy" meal a weekend. This weekend, though, I eeked out two!

First up, T-Bone Fiorentina with Sauteed Spinach from Mario Batali Italian Grill. I couldn't find the huge 3" T-bone steak that is called for, but we made due with a smaller steak instead. I unfortunately over-salted the meat a bit (still edible, but not perfect), but the spinach was fabulous. We both agreed that we need to try it all again with the correct cut of beef.

For dessert, I tried out my new mini chocolate fondue pot and we had a little fondue spread. Simple, but yummy.
The second dinner was the Chicken Pot Pie from the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook. This was a much more labor-intensive meal than the roasted chicken I made earlier this month - the pie crust and bechamel sauce are both from scratch and each vegetable is cooked individually before being added to the pie - but it's so worth all the time and effort.

This was AH-MAZ-ING! And Jim whole-heartedly agrees. He had a whole bowl of it and then went back for seconds. We were thrilled that there were leftovers the next day.

If you have this cookbook, set aside a day and make this dish - you can thank me later. ;)

Working out: Took a circuit class and a step class - both taught by the owner of my gym, who I just love. The circuit class was a zoo, like folks actually had to be turned away, but it was still a lot of fun. I'm getting my exercise groove back and it feels really good.

Sewing: I finally used my new cutting table and it was like the angels came out singing. ;) It makes this whole sewing thing that much more enjoyable and I was thrilled to be able to spend a large part of my weekend in my sewing room*. I finished two skirts (one just needed a hem), cut out some sleep shorts and got about halfway through a cardi-wrap for a friend's mom. More detailed posts once I have pictures of stuff to share.

If only every weekend could be as fun and relaxing as this one....

* Nanette had asked me for pictures of my sewing room and I will share them as soon as I finish getting myself organized. Right now I have no good place for my fabric stash - which has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few months - so it's all just in piles on the floor. So ugly. I plan on getting it in check later this month and then I'll post pics. :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pajama Party! KS 2257 & Simplicity 3696

With all this sewing the past 7 months, I haven't made a single thing for my husband. Poor thing. :( This is mostly due to men's clothing being much more labor intensive and tailored than simple women's clothing. It's not like I can sit down and whip up a quick skirt or dress for him. And then it dawned on me - pajama pants! This was particularly timely as the last few months of the year finally got cold enough at night that he started regularly sleeping in pj pants again.

When I went shopping for fabric in the fall, I couldn't find a nice plaid flannel print to save my life. So, I opted for a wacky golf print from the snuggle flannel line at Joann's. I mean, seriously, this fabric is ridiculous, but I thought it was a funny nod to his new obsession and a good way to make a wearable muslin without spending a ton of money on the fabric.
I was originally going to use a unisex pant pattern, but quickly realized that it didn't have a fly front, which just seemed silly to make for Jim. Instead, I bought Kwik Sew 2257, a basic men's pj pant. I have to say, this is only the second KS pattern I've used, but I'm becoming a big fan.
The fly front went together very easily and looked just like the RTW pants he owns. I also particularly like the method of making and inserting the elastic waistband. After folding down the fabric for the casing, you sew the elastic into a circle, slip it under the fabric and stitch the casing closed while stretching the elastic taut. The top of the waistband is then stitched to hold the elastic in place. Gives it a really clean look.
The only major change I had to make was to lower the waistband by about 2 inches, which included shifting the top of fly front down as well and shortening the length. Oh, and I omitted the tie at the waist because of a time crunch - oops. In hindsight, I could probably go down a size for him, as they're a little bigger through the legs than is really necessary.
I wrapped these up for him for Christmas Eve, so he'd have new pajamas to wear for Christmas. I know a lot of people have this as a tradition and I think I'm going to adopt it for our family. Since I knew he was getting pjs that night, I thought it only fair to have a new pair to wear as well.

After being unhappy with the sultan-esque lounge pants from Amy Butler, I bought this Simplicity pattern to give the wide leg thing another go. Not wanting to ruin another pricey piece of fabric, I found some snowflake flannel on the clearance table at Joann's and thought it very season appropriate. And, if I hated them, I was only out a whooping $4.

I'm happy to say that this pattern is a much better style for me. Still a wide leg, but more reigned in than the AB ones. The only change I made was to copy the waistband from the KS pattern, including using a much wider elastic than was called for in the pattern. This lowered the waist band by about 1.5 inches, which was perfect for me - they now sit just above my hips instead of at my natural waist.

And here we are, in front of my in-laws tree, in our new pajamas! We both look so happy in this picture, right?
For some reason he is fine posing with me, but ask him to pose by himself and you get this:
You'd think I was making him stand before a firing squad, not a camera. Although, I guess it's better to only have one ham per family:
Heh. ;)

After several suggestions from some of the folks on Pattern Review, I think I'll recut the AB lounge pants using this pattern. There should be plenty of fabric and I think it will turn them into something that I'll actually wear instead of something that is just kicking it at the back of my closet.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

McCalls 3341: Little Brown Skirt

Since I haven't started any new projects yet for 2010 (this weekend that is going to change), I thought I'd catch up on sharing a few things I made in 2009, but were never posted.

My first real garment sewing class was for an a-line skirt in the fall. While I had made the Amy Butler Barcelona skirt this summer, that project was a much simpler design. The skirt for the class would cover how to properly sew a dart, set a center back zipper, do french seams and to ease in a facing. I had fiddled with a few of these by myself over the summer while I was sewing baby dresses, but learning the right way to do it made things so much easier.

I chose a brown cotton-poly-spandex blend for this project. One side is shiny and the other is matte and since neither I nor the instructor could decide which was the "right" side, I chose the matte side. Up to that point, I had been sewing with a lot of quilting cottons and while I love them, it seemed like it was time to add a nice basic piece to my wardrobe. Surprisingly, one of the other students gave me the side-eye and questioned why I chose that fabric. Even after explaining that this was for a work basic, she indignantly replied "Well, my skirt is for work, too." Okay, look, I love a good floral just like the next person, but a bright pink rose print is not what I would call a "basic." Just an odd conversation to have in a sewing class.

Anyways, I was really happy with the final product. I love how nice the inside looks with the french seams and that the blind hem actually worked. I'm still perfecting my zippers, but they did improve by leaps and bounds with this project. Lastly, I think I'm *finally* getting better about choosing the right size and this skirt reflects that. I've worn it a ton this fall as it pairs well with my riding boots, which I have been living in. I also am enjoying the fact that it is so comfortable, mostly because it actually fits and doesn't pull across my hips. A miracle!

I start class again this week and I'm really excited. I've missed it more than I thought I would.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sewing Recap - 2009

When 2009 began, I had no idea that I'd have joined the sewing community by the year's end. Sure, I've always wanted to learn how to sew, but wanting something and actually doing it are two different things. Who knows what possessed me to request a sewing machine for my 30th birthday or to immediately sign up for a beginner sewing class, but goodness, I am sure glad I did!

My sewing adventures began in July with a simple tote bag and quickly progressed into sewing garments both for myself and as presents for several really cute kids/babies I know. The final counts break down as follows:

9 garments/items for me
* 3 dresses
* 2 pajama pants (1 not yet reviewed)
* 2 skirts (1 not yet reviewed)
* 1 pair boxers
* tote bag

23 garments/items as gifts
* 4 baby dresses (3 with matching diaper covers)
* 5 baby/toddler skirts
* 2 pairs of pj pants (not yet reviewed)
* 2 baby blankets
* 10 camera strap covers

I didn't think I made all that much stuff this year, but I guess I was wrong! I think the most exciting thing about the past 6 months has been seeing my skills improve at a consistent rate. I'm much faster and more confident in just basic straight sewing and have learned a handful of techniques and skills which are comfortable to me (e.g. french seams, blind hem by hand, darts, etc). I was particularly happy to realize that the Vogue dress I recently completed would never have happened if I'd have tried to make in July. I would have been lost from the get-go. Skip to December and while certain parts were a challenge (mainly fitting it to me!), the sewing itself was familiar and dare I say, easy.

For 2010, I have several sewing goals:

* Sew more for me! I spent a lot of this year making gifts for others as a way to practice basic sewing skills and to be able to give a special handmade gift to those that I love. I'd still like to do this, but in smaller quantities. I have to keep reminding myself that I can practice new skills on stuff that I want to wear.

* Tackle my first pair of pants. I figure since the pajama pants have all gone together amazingly well, it's time to try to make real pants. I have a couple of patterns in mind, namely Hot Patterns Marrakesh pants in a flowly linen-like khaki and Simplicity 2700 in a lightweight dark denim.

* Continue learning new skills. I've already signed up for several classes for this winter that focus on skills that I think will be important for me to learn (e.g. denim alterations, working with fabric cut on the bias, techniques for working with knits, etc). I have been lucky to find several studios in my immediate area that offer a wide and varied array reasonably priced classes. Between class, my reference books and this online great sewing community, I hope to vastly increase my skill set this year.

* Improve my inside finishing techniques. I don't have an overlock machine and it might be awhile before I get one, but I still want to have garments that are neatly finished. I want to incorporate french seams and bias tape finishes into more of my garments to make them as pretty on the inside as they are on the outside.

Lastly, I want to give a big shout-out to all of you sewing bloggers. You have been such an inspiration to me this year and have made me more excited about sewing and creating garments than I ever thought possible. I'm constantly amazed at the beautiful things you all create and hope to one day be as talented and prolific as you.

Here's to 2010 being filled with sewing projects galore!