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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hot Patterns 1090 - Warm and Cozy Weekend Dress

I'll admit, the Uptown Downtown Knit Dress from Hot Patterns was nowhere close to being on my radar... until I saw Michelle's version. It looked so comfy and easy - basically the requirements of a perfect weekend dress.

I got the pattern during the holidays, but was a bit unsure of what fabric to use. As luck should have it, I ordered a burgundy "wool sweater knit" from Fashion Fabrics Club during the winter and was expecting a nice sweater knit that I could use to make a wrap cardigan or maybe a dress. However, when it arrived, it resembled a slightly higher end french terry or sweatshirt fleece - something that was also noted by Lindsey T and Amanda S. While it wasn't right for my original sewing plan, I knew that it would be great for this dress.

I kept putting off starting this project because I wanted to muslin the dress first, since this was my first time sewing a pattern from this company and HP doesn't give finished garment measurements. Even after doing a muslin, I still had to make alterations along the way to accomodate the heft of the fabric and my personal preference. I started off with a size 16 in the skirt and after shaving off a ton on the sides, I probably wound up with a size 10 or 12 on bottom. For the bodice, the arms were cut to an 8 and the main bodice was a size 10. I should have cut the sleeves a bit longer, but made up for it with longer wrist bands.

I was lucky that this fabric had lycra in it, so the self-fabric bands behaved well in regards to springing back to their original shape after being stretched to fit the neck and wrist holes. However, the thickness posed a bit of an issue for this novice and cause a few puckers that I eventually gave up trying to work out. Ah well, the one in the front, that is most obvious, I'm just calling a "design feature." ;) I was also annoyed that somehow the elastic at the waist went in a bit wonky (total user error) and there seem to be a few more gathers on one side than the other. Grrrr. Thank goodness this dress really looks best when worn with a belt, as it hides the elastic snafu for the most part.

{photo by Jim}*

So, after the list of mistakes and issues, what did I think of the dress? I really like it! It's super comfortable and the wool fabric makes it incredibly warm and cozy when paired with tall boots. I've worn this to run errands on the weekends twice and was as comfortable as if I had been in my pajamas, but I think I looked much better. Ha! I even wore this out today during the downpour we were having in Los Angeles and was thrilled to not have been schlepping around in jeans that would have just gotten soaked within seconds of being outside.

If you're hemming and hawing about making this dress, just do it already! I promise, you'll be very happy with it. :)

* Jim is now insisting on photo credits on the blog. I thought it was pretty obvious that he is my personal photographer, but for the record it is my very sweet (even when he is making fun of me for the hurried photo shoots) husband.

** Yes, my hair is shorter than the last crop of pictures. I went in for a trim and since my hair grows so fast, she thought she'd go a bit shorter than normal so the style would last longer. It's fine, but I think I prefer just going in more often to maintain the shape. Ah well. I figure I'll just have her reshape it a bit when I go back in May and I'll return to the flippy 'do.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Running Amuck

After spending the weekend eating and drinking our way through Vegas, I'm now in a stretch of a just crazy busy 2 weeks. It's one thing after another and there isn't time to stop and breathe, much less take photos of all the pretty things I've been working on. Sigh. Hopefully Sunday I can carve out a little time to photograph stuff - especially since it'll be back from the cleaners and the smokey haze of Vegas will have been removed. :)

In the meantime, I started a new sewing class last night - Introduction to Pattern Drafting - and yeah, it's freaking awesome! All of you advanced sewing bloggers make me drool with they way you can tweak and fit a pattern to your liking and I'm beyond thrilled to be starting down the path to learning all that fun stuff. The instructor really loves this series of classes so the class has an even peppier feel than usual. I've already signed up for Part 2, especially after hearing her thoughts on other pattern-drafting classes she'll be offering this summer, for which these intro classes will be requirements.

Okay, back to the mile-long to-do list and back soon with photos and stuff!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jillian who?

It appears that things are finally set in stone enough that I feel comfortable giving a more thorough update on "bullet #2" from last week's post.

At the beginning of the year when I was getting serious again about keeping up a good health and fitness schedule, I mentioned to Michelle, the owner of my gym, my goals for the year. She is just an amazing woman and someone that I've come to think of as more than just the gym owner and instructor, but more as a friend. She was very supportive and even noted how my attendance at classes had been greatly increased in 2010. For the past 6 weeks, I've been pounding away in class and keeping my eating habits in check, more or less. The resulting changes have been small, but they're there and they've been nice to see. Even my brother remarked that I looked leaner than when he saw me over the holidays.

Skip to last Monday. I got to class early and Michelle cornered me. After confirming that I am, indeed, still trying to lose a few pounds and that I have a bit of flexibility in my work schedule, she started in on a proposition. She is partnering with Exerspy for a new focused fitness and weight-loss program designed for people with 10 or fewer pounds to lose or those that are already at their healthy weight and want to get ripped. There were still details to work out, but was I interested? Um, YES!

Last week was a flurry of emails back and forth, trying to change my work schedule around a bit and just trying to see if I could commit to the program fully. By Friday things looked good and last night I signed all of the paperwork. The 8 week program officially starts on Monday the 22nd. :) With "before" pictures. Eeek!

As Michelle said, I'm basically already doing a lot of what they are requiring of the participants. My gym schedule will be tweaked a bit since I have to fit in the required 3 workouts per week, but the supplemental workouts will be the classes that I'm attending on a weekly basis anyways. As for the food stuff, I'm currently tracking on Spark People, but will now track on the Exerspy program instead. Hell, I've even looked at my proposed calorie range and it's almost exactly what is suggested by Spark People. This program is just adding a bit more structure to the routine I've created for myself in 2010 and adds a few more weekly "beatings" to the mix. ;)

My goal is to lose 10lbs and tone up, but I'm also trying to keep an open mind and just see what happens by really sticking to the guidelines. I'm excited to be part of a really intense fitness program that is geared for folks like me, that are craving crazy intense workouts. Even though the program doesn't officially start until next week, I've already been minorly yelled at in class last night. Just a foreshadow of things to come, me thinks.

Oh, but I forgot one of the most exciting parts! There is no guarantee for this, but I'm hopeful that it will pan out - some of the participants will be selected to be in the home workout DVDs that will be filmed and released featuring this program. Eeeeeeee! And now you know why there was much squealing and jumping around last week. ;) Michelle has made a grip of fitness DVDs that are quite popular and I guess sell very well. This will be the next installment of her home workouts and I would just die if I were to be included. She was very upfront that the filming is long and hard and taxing, but I don't care. It just sounds like a ridiculous amount of fun. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

[This whole DVD thing is particularly funny to me as I had an ex-boyfriend that tried his damnest to get me to be a little gym rat, but it just never happened. 10 years later and oh how things have changed. The idea that I could now potentially be in a fitness video makes me giggle to no end.]

So, there you have it. I'm willing signing up to have my arse beat on a weekly basis and I'm actually thrilled about it. Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but most of you knew that about me anyways. I'll post sporadic updates here and will definitely let you all know the final results. If I'm feeling brave, maybe I'll even post the before and after pics. And if the DVD thing comes about, count on at least a post or two about that, as well.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Odd and ends

Haven't done a post in bullets in some time. So, here we go:

* Last week, Jim was called by a partner at his firm and told that he had a proposition for him. Long story short, he is one of two summer coordinators for the Summer Associate program at his firm. They are pulled off all cases for 4 months to prep and plan and basically serve as social coordinators/den mothers (fathers?) for the newbies that are starting in a few short months. He is excited, to say the least, especially after finding out that it's a huge honor to be chosen and that the vetting process is intense. It also explained why all of the partners seemed to know his name at the firm dinner they had just before he was asked to take on this position.
What does this mean for me? A lot of events and dinners and other such social activities. To say we'll be busy is an understatement. Which means that I'm now scouring my pattern drawer and coming up with what I'm affectionately referring to as my "Wife of the Summer Coordinator" wardrobe. ;) Like I really needed an excuse to sew more. Ha! I'm seeing lots of pencil skirts and dresses in my future, but since I'm still so slow at completing, I need to start like yesterday. Eeek!

* I don't have too many details right now, but Monday night I was asked to participate in something that is potentially so exciting that I couldn't stop squealing during dinner. I'm trying not to jinx it, but any good thoughts you have would be appreciated. If this all comes to pass, it will make for one heck of an interesting blog post (or 2). And part of the backstory to it makes it even more hiliarious.

* I'm finally finishing up a black high-waisted pencil skirt that I started over the weekend after getting back from my trip up to see my mom. I used McCalls 5590, which is a fairly straight forward pattern. However, a high-waisted, fitted skirt may not be the best choice of projects for someone who is actively trying to lose weight. The upside is the stuff that I have to pair with it makes for one heck of a cute outfit. Pictures next week.

* This weekend should be fun! My brother is coming out to take a weight-lifting class with me Saturday morning and then we're going out to lunch for his birthday. I start a new sewing class Sunday, am planning to make a V-day meal at home and then I'm hoping that Monday turns into a full day of tucking in to the pink palace and sewing my little heart out. I started cutting out the Hot Patterns Uptown-Downtown dress last night and am hoping to get it finished up and start another wool jersey dress that will be my first attempt at a franken-pattern (thanks to The Slapdash Sewist for introducing me to such a fun term!) Fingers crossed for speedy sewing with no mess ups. :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Yummy eats and fiddly feet

Since my mom wasn't able to come down for Christmas this year due to her back, I made a quick trip up to see her this weekend. I headed out right in time to greet the rain storm that had moved in to Northern California - yipee. The first night we had dinner and ran through Joann's so I could try to get ahold of a couple of the new Butterick patterns (no dice). The next morning we lazed around the house a bit before getting ready for our afternoon and evening plans - wine tasting at Hess Collection and then dinner at, wait for it, Ad Hoc! :)

My mom invited her bestest friend forever, L (they've been pals for over 40 years!) and her husband, D, since they both like good food and wine. In fact, it is L that has been slowly introducing my mom to the wonderful world of vino and getting her to drink something other than White Zin - thank God!!

So, we loaded everyone up and headed out to Napa. The rain had stopped, which meant the drive was easy and we made it to the winery in no time. Since I'm a club member, we were all able to enjoy their regular tasting (4 pours/person) for free. It was a nice pre-dinner activity and got us all in the mindset for a foodie good time. At the end of the tasting, everyone took advantage of my club member discount and we left with a half dozen bottles and some peanut brittle.

Since we were still a bit early for dinner, we ran by Bouchon Bakery, just down the street, to grab some baked goods. I'm such a sucker for that place and it's physically impossible for me to be in the vicinity and not stop for something. Bouchons, various rolls and some pastries jumped in our bags and then we were finally ready for dinner.

I was with an *ahem* mature crowd so we did the "early-bird special" dining. Restaurant opened at 5pm and we were there at 4:58pm sharp! Ha! Even eating well before the sun went down, the meal was still superb! In fact, I think it was even better than when Jim and I dined there this summer, which is hard to believe.

Chicken and Dumpling Soup [not pictured because I forgot my camera and didn't realize I could take crappy iphone pics instead until course #2. grrrrr] This was ah-maz-ing! The recipe is in the book and I'm planning to make my own version later this month.

Colorado Lamb Sirloin with roasted cippolini onions, swiss chard, acorn squash, wild mushrooms and sweet potato fritters

My mom and I really don't care for lamb, however, I think this dish might have changed our mind for good. Very little gamey taste and cooked to a perfect medium-rare. All of the veggie sides were equally delicious and held up well against the strong flavor of the lamb.

Cow's Milk cheese with black pepper crostini and bergamot marmalade

I can't remember the actual name of the cheese, but it was mild and lovely. The crostini were ridiculously tasty for something that looked so innocous. The marmalade was a nice touch, but a bit strong for a few of us.

Sticky Toffee Bread Pudding with pecans and creme fraiche

Just ridiculous. All four of us cleaned our plates and there was quite a bit of discussion on whether it would be rude to actually lick the plate to get the last bit of toffee syrup off of it. [We decided that yes, it might be a bit uncouth.]

One last highlight of the dinner was the wine pairings they were offering. Excellent choices and since I wasn't driving, I took full advantage of it, as did D. I wish they would do this every night as it really added to the meal. It was a really fun night and I think everyone was sufficiently stuffed and happy by the time we made it home.

The next day found me fiddling around with a sewing machine and not my own, unfortunately. Remember when I picked up that bag 'o fabric for cheap during the fall? Well, 2 pieces were specifically purchased because my mom wanted scarves made from them. And we all know, it's very hard to say no to Mom. I didn't have time to make them before my trip, but brought the fabric with me and planned to whip them up before I left.

Here is where I'd like to note that said fabric is flimsy poly-chiffon and to reiterate that my mom wanted a scarf. I can already hear some of you starting to giggle, as you should be. I got all set up on my machine, set up the iron and got to work, all excited to make these pretty little scarves for my mama. And that's when I realized that doing a super narrow hem on this kind of fabric is like herding cats. It doesn't do anything you want it to do and it mocks you the entire time you're trying to fold it into submission. Then the cussing and swearing started.

What was my mom doing all this time? Sitting in the livingroom, on her computer, laughing at me. Lovely. At this point, it was the principle of the thing and I was hell bent and determined to get it to work. After playing with it for awhile, I learned that by adding a line of straight stitching right next to the fold line, it gave me a little something extra to work with when folding, pressing and pinning. I also had to put 3974738 pins in per side of hemming to keep it all in place. All in all, they came out okay. I mean, I wouldn't want anyone to look too closely at them, but they're not going to unravel on her, which is the most important thing. I'm guessing that if I had a rolled hem foot this process would have been a bit easier (Any experienced seamstresses want to chime in here?), but I followed Tim Gunn's advice and made it work.

The upsides to this project? Um, I don't think there are any. Well, I guess there is one. My mom is obviously very happy with the finished product, which does make me less bitter about the whole endeavor.

Of course, that didn't stop me from giving her the stink eye when she so nicely mentioned that if I find any other scarf fabric in colors she would like, to feel free to make her some more. Sorry Mom, still recovering from the trauma of the first batch!

Short trip home, but a good one. :)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ad Hoc at [my] Home

Not too much sewing going on 'round these parts, mostly because I've been living in my kitchen instead of the sewing room. Last weekend I hosted my first dinner cooked entirely from the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook - I'm affectionately calling these dinners, which I hope to become a monthly or bi-monthly deal, Ad Hoc at [my] Home. For the inaugural feast, I invited over a few fellow Thomas Keller groupies and got to work planning the menu. For those of you who are not familiar with Ad Hoc, a single fixed 4 course menu is served nightly - salad, entree, cheese and dessert. This menu is posted on the website each morning, changes daily and is based on what is fresh locally. I did let my guests know most of the menu ahead of time as they were bringing over drinks to complement the food.

Since I was busy scurrying around the kitchen, WeezerMonkey was kind enough to grab my camera and document the food and prep. I'm so happy she took these pictures as they are way more artistic than what I could have done and are a great way to remember this first dinner.

First course: Green Bean and Potato Salad with Proscuitto

Second course: Santa Maria Style Tri-Tip, Creamed Spinach and Brioche

Third course: Camembert, honey, pecans and water crackers

Fourth course: Vanilla ice cream, Strawberry coulis and Bouchons

I think that everything turned out pretty well, with the glaring exception of the bread. I somehow completely forgot to add the salt to the dough. Did you know that bread without salt tastes like ass? No joke. All that work and it looked beautiful, but tasted so very icky. :/ Otherwise, I'd say the food was two thumbs up! I had a lot of fun prepping, cooking and then being able to sit down for a relaxed dinner filled with great conversation and tons of laughs.

The more I make from this cookbook, the more I fall in love with it. And I can't wait sharing more its wonderful dishes with friends and family throughout the year. :)