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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fitness Program update: Sucking wind and why the Exerspy is my new BFF

Sunday was the official halfway point for the fitness program I'm doing at my gym. It's been an intense and fun 4 weeks and I'm working really hard not only during the workout sessions, but also at keeping my food in check.

When we signed the contract for this program, it stated that the workouts were going to be "intense and extreme." She wasn't exaggerating. The circuit and cardio interval sessions she has put together are some of the most intense workouts I've ever done. None of the moves are particularly difficult, it's just that they're done back to back with no real break inbetween - save for grabbing a sip of water, wiping the sweat off your face and then getting right back to sucking wind. There are a handful of trainers that are doing the program, too and when they look like they're about to keel over, you know it's tough. I'm really enjoying the group camaraderie and think I might actually miss the workouts when the program is completed, as crazy as that sounds. While I still think that the official workouts are insanely hard, I have noticed that other classes I used to think were difficult at the gym are now a bit easier. My cardiac fitness is definitely improving as is my overall strength.

As for the food bit, well, it's going well, but in many ways it's a more difficult transition than the workouts. I'm used to tracking my food and counting calories. It's not a big deal for me. However, it's been gently suggested to us that since the workouts are on par with what athletes do and since we're trying to lose body fat while maintaining lean muscle, we should really cut out all grains from our diet for duration of the program. Now, before folks start screaming about how it's not healthy, I'm still eating plenty of carbs - they're just coming from fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, etc - sources that typically offer more nutritional bang for your buck, since every calorie needs to count. Bread, rice, pasta, flour, and all that tasty stuff have been pretty much cut out. I still eat a grain in the AM (I just can't quite give it up!), but otherwise, they're more or less gone from my diet. Sadness. I've gotten incredibly creative with my meals and have actually found some new recipes that will stick around for the long term. I've also been surprised at how I've been able to work in some of our favorite Batali grill recipes into my meal plan without completely sabotaging it. I fully plan on adding back in some grains when this is over, but I also don't think it's been a bad thing to have figure out other things to eat instead of just relying on rice and pasta for a meal to feel complete.

Of course, the other part of this is knowing how many calories you burn in a day to ensure you are in a calorie deficit so you will lose weight. For that, we've been using Exerspy devices. Anyone who has watched The Biggest Loser knows that the contestants wear body buggs to track calorie burn and this is a similar device. I was a little skeptical at first, but after the first few days I fell in love! After years of tracking calories and then guessing what my calorie burn is during the day, it's amazing to finally have the other piece of the puzzle at my fingertips. I wear it from the time I wake up until I go to sleep, just taking it off to shower. By the end of the first week, I didn't even notice it anymore. I upload the data to my computer in the evening to make sure I'm on track to hit my minimum calorie burn for the day, but data can be uploaded whenever you want and multiple times a day. [The minimum is determined based on the parameters you set - how much weight you want to lose, in what time period and your baseline activity level.] Most days I'm over my minimum calorie burn and can either stick with my recommended calories for a larger calorie deficit that day or eat a little more. The thing that has been amazing is that my weightloss has basically tracked along with what the program says I should be losing, based on the food I've entered and the calories I've burned. It's really taken the guessing game out of stepping on the scale each week, which is still amazing to me.

{Wearing the Exerspy. This is what I look like post-workout, even after cooling off for 30 minutes. Yes, I turn 18 shades of red when I hit the gym. No, this does not stop me from wearing pink workout stuff.}

The only downside is that even with the crazy workouts, I burn fewer calories a day than I had hoped, thanks to a desk job. That was a bit disconcerting, but also really drove home just why it's so darn easy for me to gain weight, even being a bit of a gym rat. Maintainence is something that is usually difficult for me and while I'm currently using a loaner device, I plan to buy one at the end of the program. I have a feeling that maintaining this loss will be easier by continuing to use the Exerspy device even after the program is done.

So, after all of this hard work, what is the scale showing? I'm down 7lbs in 4 weeks, which is absolutely insane for me! I'm pretty thrilled with that number and happy that it's not just the scale that has gone down, but that my body looks so much more toned and fit. It's so nice that the hard work is paying off.

4 more weeks and then we have the final weigh-in and measurements. I'm feeling good about the next few weeks and am hoping to get even stronger and a bit leaner. If anyone has any questions about the program, the Exerspy device, my meals, etc, feel free to post them and I'll answer them in my final program update. :)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Final Dress Update - All Done!

I'm not gonna lie, getting this dress done by Saturday was one of the more stressful things I've done in recent memory. I didn't sleep much this week and there were moments when I was convinced it wasn't going to come together at all. Thankfully, by Friday night, the dress was done and Saturday was all about getting pretty before the event. :)

I'll leave most of the sewing details for my review at PR (will get that up later this week), but I did want to note a few things here. This ultimately became a frankenpattern as I used the bodice and midriff pieces of Butterick 5209 , but I modified the skirt pieces from Simplicity 2587 for a full a-line skirt.

The original pattern has instructions for the bodice lining, but I also added a skirt lining from the same pattern pieces I used to cut out the outer skirt. To reduce bulk, I pleated the skirt lining at the top, which turned out much prettier than I was expecting. (Thanks to this great review from The Slapdash Sewist for this idea!) To provide stability in the midriff sections, I interfaced these pieces with silk organza, which gave it a little extra body without being too stiff. Lastly, I added a bit of ease stitching at the outer bust area to help prevent the fabric from gaping when it was sewn together with the lining.

And here is the finished dress:

After my near melt-down on Tuesday night, I actually think the bodice looks pretty good. Attaching the skirt and lining and installing the invisible zipper all went so very smoothly for which I was incredibly grateful - I'm not sure my nerves could have taken any more snafus at that point.

This is the final look - these pictures were taken just before we left for the event last night.

I think it ultimately turned out well. I had to attach the halter straps higher than I anticipated for the bust to sit correctly, which raised the waist seam to above my natural waist. I typically don't love this look on me as I prefer to highlight the smallest part of my waist, but I think it worked out okay. I was comfortable, felt pretty and more than fit in with what the rest of the women were wearing, so I'd say it was a success. And can I just say - I can't belive I made my own dress!!Sorry, even after wearing it all evening, it still hasn't quite sunk in. Even though it didn't turn out exactly as anticipated, I'm still so proud of it and amazed that I was able to put together a full-length gown in less than 2 weeks. :)

While I would have loved to have snapped a bunch of pictures from the event, it really wasn't that kind of night. Trust me though when I say that this was easily the fanciest event we've attended and we were both blown away at the food, drink and decor. Really amazing. I did bring my camera out right at the end of the night to have a quick picture of us taken. Even after several tries, this was the best we could get.
Since I wasn't happy with the above, I had Jim take a quick self-portrait of us, which is marginally better.

We had a great time last night and I felt gorgeous in my dress. Even though it was a rough week, I think in the end, it was worth all of the stress and crazy. :)

After all of the work I put into getting this pattern right and what not, I'm a bit reluctant to just pack it all away and forget about it. We have a family wedding to attend in May and while I was originally going to tackle this pattern, I just don't think I have it in me to fit a dress that is so complicated right after this project. So, my new thought is to remake the above dress in a shorter version and a bright spring color. My current plan is a kelly green dress in silk shantung. I figure I can put the waist back where it belongs and maybe add some pockets for an additional kick. Not only would I have a dress for the wedding, but I could also use it this summer for one of the many dinners I'll be attending for Jim's work. I know it sounds ridiculous to sew a second version of a very specific dress, but it would be nice to have a version of it that could be worn to more than just black tie affairs.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dress Update #2

No pictures for this one, I just need to vent. All of the fabric is cut out and last night I finally sat down to start sewing for real. I took lots of deep breaths, pinned carefully and went slowly through the first few steps and things were going fine... until they weren't. That bodice absolutely kicked by butt. Getting the gathers in the bust even and getting everything to meet up well in the center was just not happening. I thought I had it, but when I looked at it from the right side, I swear, it looked like I had sewn it in the dark while drunk. FUN! :/ I eventually got it right after ripping it out and re-sewing several(!!) times. I think if you saw it right now, you wouldn't know that I had completely effed it up at first (and second and third), but getting it to that point was way more work than it should have been. So, I thought I was good for the rest of the evening.


When I went to attach the lining to the bodice, things looked so very straight-forward. However, getting everything to come together smoothly at the point in the neckline was an exercise in frustration. When I went to turn the lining inside the first time, it again resembled drunk sewing in the dark. Gah! More seam ripping, more re-stitching and before I stumbled to bed at 1am, things looked, dare I say, quite lovely. Then again, I was seeing double at that point, so who knows what I'll think about it when I take a peek this evening.

I seem to run into these types of things more than I care to admit. Now granted, I'm getting mighty good at seeing the hot mess I've made and cleaning it up rather well, but what I wouldn't give to eliminate these snafus altoghether. So, is this just an experience thing or am I destined to be BFF with my seam-ripper til the end of eternity? Oh sewing divas, help me out here!

Lastly, I'd just like to say that sewing with silk twill is a lovely thing indeed. Yes, it would like to slip around if I really let it, but for the most part with some intense pinning and a firm hand, things go where you want them to go. And all that seam ripping I did last night? The fabric held up like a champ. No puckers. No pin marks. No holes. Nothin'. I can't say enough good things about it thus far. Hopefully I feel the same way after tonight when the skirt is attached and the zipper is in place.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dress Update #1

Thank you to everyone for the encouragement and votes of confidence on my last post. I ran everything by my sewing instructor, Shaerie, Tuesday night and she also thought it was totally doable. In fact, she even said she would be more than happy to help me fit the bodice muslin over the weekend. Awesome!! The rest of the week was filled with general life stuff, but Friday night I was finally able to get crackin' on everything.

I went out to Mood Fabrics after work on Friday with a short list of fabric types and colors that I was contemplating and strict instructions from Shaerie to find a nice gal working that night and to pick her brain. The person that helped me was great and it was actually one of her suggestions (that wasn't on my original list) that wound up being my final pick. So, here are the pretties - silk twill in a deep purple for the outside and an orchid china silk for the lining:

I also picked up a bit of white silk organza to interface the midriff sections (thanks Lindsey T for the tip!) and to use as a press cloth. The fabric was not cheap and I needed a grip of it, but the cost was drastically offset by the gift card a few of my co-workers had given me for my 30th birthday. A couple of them had been bugging me about when I was going to use it and they were very happy to hear it was funding this project.

Later that night, I started working on the muslin for the bodice. It was late, I was tired, but I still wanted to at least get a first stab at it.

Um, that's not good. Like, at all.

This lead to muslin #2. Better, but still not great.

On to muslin #3. Hey, that actually is starting to look like a dress!

Muslin #3 is what I brought to Shaerie this afternoon. You have no idea how much I was grinning when she looked at it, pinned it on me and then pronounced that I had done "a really great job." :D She pinned in a new waistline and adjusted the center back to fit my actual back, but otherwise no changes were needed. She suggested a little ease stitching around the armholes to prevent gaping, but otherwise, it's pretty much good to go. I'm still sort of in shock and ridiculously excited that I was able to mostly fix the fit problems by myself. The midriff pieces had to undergo some considerable changes to from the original pattern pieces (the ones on top in the pictures), but somehow it all worked out.

Having Shaerie there to confirm that things looked good and to tweak a few things is so helpful. I go back on Thursday to have her help with the hemming - of course, this will mean that I actually need to have a completed dress by then. Eeeek!

Tomorrow the goal is to add the changes to the bodice pattern pieces and to redraft the skirt pattern from the full short skirt, to a floor-length a-line style. And hopefully I'll get all of the fabric cut out as well. But, for now, it's time for bed!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It's official - I've completely lost my mind

I'm plugging along at work yesterday, when Jim calls and asks what we're doing for the evening of March 20th. After confirming that it looks like a free night, he says to block it off as we have an event to attend. Long story very short, he has been doing legal work for a non-profit and we've been invited to their yearly black-tie ball and gala. And we all know that translates to floor-length gowns for the ladies.

Oh boy.

After squealing in excitement over the event, I then started to panic a bit. Really, I have less than two weeks to come up with a dress and get it altered?! Yikes! I quickly perused the offerings online at Bloomie's and Nordstroms and was less than inspired. At which point I started thinking that maybe I could make something. Something simple, of course, but something that I would like and that would cost less than the ho-hum options I was finding in RTW.

And that is when I realized that I might have officially lost my mind - thinking of making a formal gown in less than 2 weeks. :/

I poured through the pattern books last night and after rejecting a few options because they didn't really scream "gala" and others because they were too intricate for my current skill level and time restrictions, I think I've found a good option - Butterick 5209, a '47 retro pattern:

I would take the skirt to the floor, but otherwise, I think the halter style and open back would be very pretty and classic. I also like that the bodice and midriff come with lining instructions, so I would just need to add jerry-rig a skirt lining. I am seeing my sewing instructor tonight anyways, so I'll run my plan by her and see what she thinks. My goal would be to get a muslin done by then end of the week, get the fashion fabric Friday or Saturday and then work like a dog to get it all done in time.

I have a pair of black Stuart Weitzman D'orsay pumps that I'm planning to wear, so the dress needs to match those, for sure. I'm currently debating whether to do a deep jewel tone for the dress (teal, plum or crimson) or go classic and opt for black or a deep gunmetal grey. What do you guys think? Either way, I will likely choose dupioni or shantung silk, but that could change after tonight.

When Jim heard that I was trying to actually make a dress, he just shook he head, smiled and said that he knew that was going to happen. Heh. Guess I'm not much of a surprise to him anymore. ;)

So, any tips on sewing formal dresses or this pattern, in particular? I'm equally scared and excited by this project, but forsee that it's going to be a very long 2 weeks. Keep your fingers crossed for me, folks!