Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Last Days of Summer - A Tale of Two Skirts

Summer is winding down here in the Nation's Capital, and I have much sadness.  My local outdoor pool has closed for the season, the morning bike rides into work are getting decidedly nippy (and dark), and my sandals tan is fading.

But the good news is that while I haven't been blogging (four posts this year - what the heck?) and doing all the householdy things that become essential when your partner busts his hip (later this afternoon I am apparently getting up on a tall ladder to check the gutters. Yeah.), I have managed to make a little time for clothes sewing.

I'm sorry to disappoint, but I've made a couple of skirts from a TNT (tried and true) pattern. How boring, right? I had a think about this while we were taking blog photos this afternoon - why is it that I keep returning time and time again to the same patterns, the same shapes, the same wardrobe staples? It's not as if I don't have the skills to make something different, but I suppose when your figure has the foibles mine does, you tend to stick with what you have worked hard to adjust, and know works. And when you are in desperate need of a couple of skirts because you've thrown out all your old ones, you kind of get lazy (well, I do).

McCalls 2873

Oh McCalls 2873. I'm so glad I met you.

McCalls 2873

I actually cut both of these skirts out together - one piece of fabric on top of the other, both on the fold. It's easy enough to mark out the darts this way - just insert a pin in each marking point, and peel the layers apart as you mark where the pin is.

McCalls 2873

The gingko skirt was very straightforward to make. I do love the 2 1/2 inch hem the pattern gives me. And I've worn this skirt all day - at the movies, and at drinks after, and it hasn't crushed too badly at all. The fabric is a linen/cotton blend by Kokka that I picked up at Addicted to Fabric a couple of years ago. I also bought a citrus handkerchief linen to make a shirt to go with it, but I still haven't made that, and it's getting a little late in the season for a sleeveless linen shirt anyway. Next summer.

McCalls 2873

I'm not one for pattern placement at the best of times, but this one I took a little care with, and while it's not perfect I do love the results. And referring to the back view, I once again did my "third dart" adjustment on each side of the back - adding an extra dart to counteract swayback and sharp hip-to-waist incline.

McCalls 2873

The red and cream fabric in this skirt in another Japanese linen/cotton that I bought at Addicted to Fabric. I can't remember the designer (and I think the selvage was in Japanese anyway) but it's quite soft for linen cotton and wears really well. The shirt is a Simplicity 2938 in white linen that I made quite a few years ago. I don't wear white often, but it's handy to have in the wardobe when nothing else goes with your skirt.

McCalls 2873

For the first time in my life I put a zipper on the outside. I like it, although this zipper, bought at Studio Mio at the last Canberra Quilt Show, hasn't worn well at the sides. I suspect it is supposed to be washed by hand, but in this house that kind of behaviour is verboten! So a shabby exposed zipper it is.

McCalls 2873

I've since made a couple of more McCalls 2873s for work, and there will be more again before autumn is done. Next post I might blog about how I am questioning my style at the moment. It always happens when the season changes.

Or perhaps I'll post something new that I made. Not a TNT pattern at all.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Not a finisher

Design Wall today

This is my design wall at the moment.

There is really no plan here - just the start of six quilts I'll probably never finish.

Oh dear - that sounded a bit negative didn't it?! But in reality I did a bit of a mental stocktake the other day of all the quilts I have started, half finished, almost finished and just-need-to-quilt-it and just-need-to-bind-it.  And there are a lot.

The reason I did a mental stocktake was because just before I fell asleep the other night, I had decided  I wanted to make a really epic quilt.  Super epic. Preferably by hand. I didn't have a quilt in mind - although La Passacaglia papers have been patiently waiting for me since July last year.

And then it struck me.

Chester Criswell

I'm already making epic quilts.  I just have to bloody well finish them.

I'm making the Chester Criswell Quilt. Hexy MF. Anna Brereton. The Lotta Jansdotter Hexies.

Lucy Boston

And Lucy Boston.

Orange Peel blocks

And I've got some crazy plans for some needleturned orange peels (I'm just not entirely sure what sort of crazy, and how crazy it will get).

And then there is the Red Maple Leaf Quilt which is getting so close.

The funny thing is, I've always been more of a starter than a finisher, and in the last year I've worked at being at peace with that. But you know, it might be nice to finish something.  Anything, really.

Last year, after the Sydney exhibition, Australian Patchwork and Quilting got in touch with me about doing a showcase on my Across the Universe quilt. So that's how my story of my quilting life and two of my quilts got to appear across three pages in the latest edition. (Vol 24 No 8 in case you wondering, Mum. I talk about you a lot.) It feels a little weird being in a major quilting publication, but I'll be back to being anonymous again next month which will make me So. Much. Happier.

Magazine feature

Thursday, January 15, 2015

How Michelle got her quiltjo back

I haven't quilted anything for about 4 or 5 months now. Though now I think of it, there was a little foray back into Chester Criswell when I returned from Japan, and also a little 1/2 inch hexagoning while travelling, but other than that, nothing.

I didn't want to quilt. I didn't like quilting. I thought the quilting community was getting ridiculous (which is actually a ridiculous thought). I liked my sewing bubble, and my little sewing community, and I am really enjoying making my own clothes. Between gardening, sewing, cooking, working and swimming, I don't have time to make quilts.

I knew my quiltjo would return one day, but I wasn't expecting it to return while sitting in the dentist's chair earlier this week. I hate going to the dentist - far too much tooth action going on when I was a kid, I think. So I try to not clench my hands too much, and think nice thoughts. For some reason, my mind turned to making a red maple leaf quilt.

Maple Leaf Quilt

I got to work with no plan on paper, but it all in my head. Isn't that the best way to start quilting? I roughly worked out the maths for making a 9 patch maple leaf with a scrappy background, and got cutting.

Maple Leaf Quilt

I made two on Monday night, and most of another five on Wednesday night.

Maple Leaf Quilt

Just eighteen more to go.

Maple Leaf Quilt

Yes, I'm hooked. And I'm back.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Simplicity 2247 "It'll Do" Muslin

If you were reading back in March and April 2012, you might remember I had to make a formal frock for my niece's wedding, and while the dress itself turned out ok after numerous fitting disasters, I had also made a muslin, which I eventually abandoned as I just ran out of time and patience.

When I was cleaning up my stash cupboard before we left for Japan, I noticed the dress there, lonely, and unfinished except for the hem and facings.  Should be a doddle to finish this off, I thought. I'll get right onto it when I get home, and then I'll have a nice new summer frock for work.

Simplicity 2247 Amazing Fit

This is the photo where I look really, really pleased with what a splendid example of home sewing I have made.

Simplicity 2247 Amazing Fit

This photo is how I really feel about it.

So yeah, it wasn't really a doddle. Thanks to the blog post mentioned above, I finally remembered what state I'd left it in. I recut a whole new bodice with a C cup (I don't think I've been a C cup since I was 13). And I still had side boob issues. And it kept getting worse from there every time I tried to fix something.

  • I took in the princess seam at the upper bust by 2 inches (that's a 2 inch total on each seam, people!) which left me with a little bit less side boob, but a lot more gape. 
  • I added a freaking side boob dart to take out some of the excess. Tacky. And more gape
  • I wanted to throw it in the bin, but you know. Stubborn.
  • So I took the shoulder seams up 
  • I then recut the armholes freehand.
  • I still wanted to throw it in the bin.
  • I bound the armholes rather than redrafting the facing
  • I sewed up the back rather than insert a zip (it's stretch sateen. As long as I don't have a stiff back or neck that day, it's totally doable in getting on and off)
  • I bound the hem as well and holy crap I have a frock.  

A really badly fitted frock, but a frock that I can wear to work and pretend that that side boob gape thing isn't really happening. Frustratingly, this is the only home sewn item that my workmates have admired.

Simplicity 2247 Amazing Fit

The good news is I have somewhere to stow my lunch when I catch the bus to work.

Simplicity 2247 Amazing Fit

Ooh hellloooooooo scoliosis! That's what my physio has been banging on about! And I probably should have recut that back armhole a lot more, but eh.

Simplicity 2247 Amazing Fit

A note on the bound hem. As this dress was already far too short for work I decided a normal 1 inch hem would be horrible, so I bound with store bought binding. I actually quite like the effect on the gored skirt - I get a bit of a twirly skirt as a result.

(You would have had photographic evidence of the twirling except I'm pretty sure the lifting nails on our old deck would have tripped me up...)

Simplicity 2247 Amazing Fit

If I stand like this all the time no one will notice the fit issues! And I look like a superhero...

Pattern: Simplicity 2247 Amazing Shit Fit
Fabric: Stretch Sateen from Spotlight. It's rubbish, and the black runs into the white everytime I wash it and dare to let it sit in the washing machine for more than 5 minutes.
Notions: binding tape, thread, and a lot of swear words.
Adjustments: too many to mention
Started: March 2012
Finished: December 2014
Make again?: Absolutely bloody not

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Pineapple Linen Skirt and The Black Embroidered Cotton Top

I have been mad for pineapples for quite some time, and it started long before the sewing blogosphere went all cray cray for the spiky tropical fruit of my homeland. I bought some gorgeous pineapple voile in Kyoto, but when I came home I couldn't resist the pineapple linen from Darn Cheap Fabrics that had every sewist's heart.

So I bought myself 2 metres for a Christmas present to myself. And maybe also some pineapple cotton jersey.  Shhhh. No I don't have a problem.

But what to make with 2 metres of pineapple fabric? The pressure was certainly on to make something magnificent. Emma had made a midi skirt which looked fantastic.  Kirsty had made culottes.  Amanda had made shorts.  I briefly entertained the idea of making Prefontaine Shorts, or grading up the Kelly Skirt. However the day that I threw out three skirts from my wardrobe because they were badly worn I realised I was seriously short in the casual skirt department. I plucked out the first skirt pattern I could find in the pattern stash pile on the spare bed and made up the a-line skirt from McCalls 2873.

Simplicity 2929 blouse variation and McCalls 2873 skirt

This was quite honestly the best photo taken this morning. I probably should switch up my coffee to caffeinated on blog-photo-taking days.

Simplicity 2929 blouse variation and McCalls 2873 skirt

Anyway, the skirt fitting was a total PITA. I'd forgotten how much of a PITA it was. Granted, the shape is the best a-line shape of any of my skirt patterns, but the old swayback and waist-hip ratio issues raised their ugly heads and I ended up in a sad place that involved an unpicker, a third dart in the back, and a really ugly side seam.

Simplicity 2929 blouse variation and McCalls 2873 skirt

("Take a picture of all 6 darts!" I said. "Nope, can't see them," he said. "I shall just take a photo of your bum instead.")

In the end though I ended up with a very serviceable skirt with pineapples on it, and a sudden desire to make a summery black blouse to wear with it.

Simplicity 2929 blouse variation and McCalls 2873 skirt

Hellooooooo Simplicity 2929, my old friend!  (I just couldn't help myself.)

Simplicity 2929 blouse variation and McCalls 2873 skirt

This is the bodice of the dress lengthened by 4 inches into an a-line shape. I also pleated the neckline instead of gathering it, solely for the reason that I was using a thicker embroidered cotton than the voiles I usually use, and gathering would have been too much bulk at the neck. The fabric is a black embroidered cotton I purchased from Spotlight over three years ago.

Simplicity 2929 blouse variation and McCalls 2873 skirt

I can't believe I wore this to work today and never noticed that stray thread.

Simplicity 2929 blouse variation and McCalls 2873 skirt

The hem is very wonky, but that's my fault for daring to vary a dress bodice pattern into a blouse by just using a tape measure and a french curve ruler. And yeah, it does look tight across the bust, but it's not. If I was going to make this in a thicker cotton again, I'd probably think about a FBA to avoid that line ... and then probably use a different pattern because I really couldn't be arsed doing a FBA.

I love this blouse. I love that I got to use another button from my vintage button collection.

Simplicity 2929 blouse variation and McCalls 2873 skirt

All up, I think I got a great outfit. I am known for loving a big colourful print a little bit too much, but I totally love the pineapples. I might love it the best of all my skirts. I also love that I have enough fabric left over to do pockets for the Prefontaine Shorts should I ever make them.

Coming soon: More Pineapples.  Many many more.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Merry Kaftanmas

I decided not to travel anywhere this Christmas, because travelling at Christmas is nuts and we always do it. It involves hours in a plane, and then hours in a car or train, or else 8 hours in a car south or 15 hours in a car north, and last Christmas we did BOTH families over 7 days both north and south which was just ridiculous, so this year I stayed home and spent Christmas Day with my Spoolette friend Amanda and her husband.

Merry Kaftanmas - Simoplicity 2929

Amanda recently made a kaftan - and it was fabulous, and not in a hippy, folk singing, creepy, key-swapping way either. When it was decided that I would gatecrash Christmas, she declared Christmas to be Kaftanmas and holy crap what's a girl to do but join in? I mean, in Canberra it's likely to be hot and sunny and we are both originally from Queensland so a kaftan is all shades of perfect for Christmas attire.

I fully embraced the concept of making the kaftan, and then realised that any shapeless kaftan on me could make me resemble Demis Roussos without the beard and the eyebrows, and a lady can't have that for Kaftanmas. Luckily I realised that Simplicity 2929 (and here I go again) View B is perfect for kaftanning it up, so I bought some blood orange tropical voile from Remnant Warehouse and I was off.

Merry Kaftanmas - Simoplicity 2929

Whoo! Kimono sleeves!

I cut the dress out on Tuesday night and I sewed it up on Wednesday afternoon after I'd finished work. It took me exactly 2 repeats and 4 songs of the latest Hilltop Hoods album which would be, I don't know, about 2 hours? Except for the slash at the centre front neckline, this view is a lot less fiddly that my usual version D or E.

Merry Kaftanmas - Simoplicity 2929

Look I'll be honest here and tell you that I don't think this is really my style. Especially not in tropical prints. But on Christmas Day it was perfect to wear - we had a very hot, extremely humid day, and if it hadn't rained so much we'd have been sitting in the park across the road so the cover up on my shoulders and arms was a lot better than my usual sleeveless style. This dress was very cool to wear, extremely comfortable, and we managed a lot of eating, drinking, more eating and even did a jigsaw puzzle before I went home and collapsed in a hot sweaty heap. And then jumped up again and got the tripod out and took photos of my kaftan for Kaftanmas. Hence the wrinkles. But it's held up pretty well I think! I wore it out to dinner with friends on Christmas night and it was still going strong and the elastic around the waist got a good workout throughout the day with all that food.

Merry Kaftanmas - Simoplicity 2929

The centre front slash I did is not perfect, but the print hides a million sins. I also slightly pressed down the neck opening because I can't stand shirts that flap around and can't make up their minds as to whether they are open or closed. Or both. I'm tempted to put a closure on the neck for future sun protection - and it actually looks quite nice closed up.

I think this is the last Simplicity 2929 I will make for a while - time to try some new dress patterns. Although I will always end up going back to this one I think. It's so versatile.

Merry Kaftanmas - Simoplicity 2929

Merry Kaftanmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Princess Mary Hugo Boss Copycat Dress

Princess Mary Hugo Boss Copycat dress

I made another Simplicity 2929 dress, this time to copy Princess Mary of Denmark.

I know, right? The similarities are frightening. We are so alike *snort*

Anyway, a few years ago, Tessuti Fabrics were selling this gorgeous silk/cotton voile border print that they called "Banana Gate". Hugo Boss made a dress out of it, apparently, and on Tessuti's blog post they even included a photo of Princess Mary wearing her dress to tempt me further.

Between you and me, they had me at "Hugo Boss". The only way I was ever going to fit into their clothes was to make my own from their fabric.

So I did. Might have taken me another three years, but I did it.

Princess Mary Hugo Boss Copycat dress

And I love it.

I used the same view as all the other S2929s I've made, but for the first time ever, I lined the skirt in cream Bemsilk. It was pretty easy - cut and sew together the same four pieced skirt, baste it to the skirt, then attach to the bodice. It wasn't even that hard to make a casing and insert elastic.

Princess Mary Hugo Boss Copycat dress

Here's a photo without the belt, just to give you proof on the elastic waist. Yet again, it's another confortable skirt, although I possibly could have take the skirt seams out a little as it's a bit squeezier than my others.

Princess Mary Hugo Boss Copycat dress

Another fabric loop, and a vintage button from the collection, and I had myself a pretty nice dress. I wore it today to my last day of work before the Christmas break, and it was very floaty and so nice to wear. I loved it! Might be a new favourite. With the bodice not being lined, it does have a tendency to cling to my bra a little bit, but it's not enough to truly annoy me and cause me to fiddle.

Princess Mary Hugo Boss Copycat dress

I can't emphasis enough what a great pattern Simplicity 2929 is. It's simply, is easy to adjust, doesn't involve bust darts, and probably the trickiest thing is working out the facing. But once that's done you're on the home stretch.

I have one more 2929 in me I think, this time in a different view. Perhaps it's my Christmas dress. Maybe then I'll retire the pattern.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Blue Japanese Double Gauze Dress

I made a dress using Simplicity 2929, almost 4 years to the day that I made the first version of this pattern.

Simplicity 2929

And this is what's so good about having a blog where you record your makes. I got to see how I made it, how it looked, and what variations I tried. When it came to making this version I decided to do away with my original adjustment of adding a couple of inches of length in the bodice. Looking at these photos, I'm really glad I kept to the original pattern. I still get the blouson look I love, but without all the extra fabric at the waistband.

Simplicity 2929

The fabric is a gorgeous navy blue Japanese double gauze that I purchased at Nomura Tailor in Kyoto. I've sewn with double gauze before, but from Spotlight, and it was pretty horrible as it detached from the punching when I cut it, and washed like a rag. This fabric, on the other hand, sews beautifully, has the most beautiful weight for a dress, and when I wash and dry it on the line, it barely needs ironing. Not bad for 100% cotton, and for a dress I have worn pretty much constantly since I made it.

Lesson learned - avoid Spotlight. Don't get me started on their cotton sateen prints that fade after one wash.

Simplicity 2929

The necklines of all my S2929s have never been as high as the one on the pattern packet - something I am thankful for. I don't like being strangled by my clothes. I didn't make any variations to this pattern except for extending the gathering an inch on each side of the darts, so I get a smoother gather and not so much middle-of-the-boob bunching.

Simplicity 2929

I also couldn't find my embroidery thread box when it was time to sew a thread loop for the back button. So I unpicked the back facing and sewed a fabric loop in. I prefer it - it looks neat. And how perfect is that vintage button?

Simplicity 2929

I'm thinking of making another Simplicity 2929. It's the perfect pattern - quick to put together, comfortable as all heck (I've been to a few Christmas parties wearing this frock, and the elasticated waist e-x-p-a-n-d-s to make things just a little bit easier when seated!

Actually, maybe I should make more than one.

Simplicity 2929

Come back tomorrow or the next day to see if I did.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Oy! Moyashi!

We're back from Japan and yes we had a fabulous time, and yes we cried when we left, and yes we're already planning our trip back. There's something about that country that just grabs you and fascinates you, and oh yeah, it's beautiful to boot. Sigh.

 I will confess that I am not a massive fan of Japanese food. I love tempura, in very small quantities, and ramen and miso broth and tonkatsu. I got addicted to sushi rolls a few years ago, but now can't even look at them without feeling queasy. So eating in Japan for me was always going to be a little bit of an issue. Amanda, Susan and Melanie, recommended we do a do a food tour in Tokyo, so we did, on our second night there.



We started off by having yakitori (grilled things on a stick) at a tiny yakitori restaurant in Yurakucho and they were absolutely delicious. It started a hunt for good yakitori every else we went, but while the place in Kyoto we found was very good, it wasn't close to the amazingness of this place.

Back to the train station and a few stops later we were in Tsukishima and our guide was cooking us Monja-yaki (which is this weird - and delicious - batter which goes kind of gelatinous and takes on every single flavour that is put into it. In this case, pork, tomato, cheese and pesto.)

Monjayaki makings

Sylvia making monjayaki

(this photo was blatantly stolen from the Tokyo Urban Adventures Instagram account ;) We weren't looking our best because beer, heat from the grill and 3 days in the same clothes due to no luggage. But we were happy. So happy.)

And then, because we obviously hadn't eaten enough, we had okinamiyaki, the famous pancake from Osaka and Hiroshima. I loved it that night although I was filling up fast!  But the second time I had it, in Kyoto, I couldn't handle the taste of the sauce (otafuku) and the mayonnaise that you put on the top once cooked. I know I'll end up making this at home though, minus the otafuku and the kewpie ;)

Okinamiyaki makings

In Hiroshima I had a beautiful pork ramen in pork broth which was so damn tasty, but that I'm still feeling the after-effects of. I should have known better - not having a gallbladder means that usually your system can't handle rich, fatty foods. And Melanie had warned me about the pork broth ... but I did it anyway. Let this be a warning to those of you without gall bladders, or who have badly functioning ones. THE PORK BROTH WILL SEDUCE YOU THEN TRY TO KILL YOU. Don't do it. However, as a weight loss method, it works, but probably isn't worth (ooooh watch those spammers come out with those magical words!!)

We went back to the same restaurant of the pork broth the next night as I was determined to find something on the menu that I could eat. And I did.

Moyashi - Gaba

It's called Moyashi, and it has bean sprouts and pork and vegetables and it's bloody delicious. We also had some gyoza and yakimeshi (fried rice) and the whole combo was so good we went back the next night for exactly the same thing.

We both loved it so much I searched for a recipe for Moyashi when we got back so I could cook it. I googled and came across a few, but I really liked this one, and I adapted it to what I tasted that night in Hiroshima at Ga-Ba, and the vegetables that we liked to eat. Looking at the photo above and what I now cook though, I think I might have included the vegetables we had in the yakimeshi (which I have also since cooked) and inadvertantly combined the two! Nevertheless, my version is so delicious, and people have asked me to share it, so here it is.

Moyashi (adapted from this recipe)
Feeds two people

  • 1 packet of bean sprouts (the packet I get from the supermarket feeds 2 hungry people)
  • 1 grated carrot
  • 4 shiitake mushrooms, very finely diced
  • 1/2 red capsicum, very finely diced
  • 1 zucchini, very finely diced
  • 15 chive stalks, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 minced garlic
  • 250 g free range, organic pork mince (or chicken mince would probably do nicely too)
  • Sake (rice wine)
  • Soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Dried chilli flakes
  • salt, pepper, sesame seeds to taste

Boil some water on the stove, and add the washed bean sprouts for about 20-30 seconds. Drain and rinse in cold tap water, and set aside.

moyashi ingredients

It's important to have all your ingredients prepared before you start cooking. Put all the vegies except the garlic on a plate.

moyashi pork

Heat some oil in a wok on medium-high heat, and gently cook the garlic. Before it colours, add the pork, and break it up really well with a spatula as it cooks. When it is near to being cooked, add a large splash of sake, and a teaspoon of sugar. Combine and let the sake cook off the alcohol.

moyashi stir frying

Add the vegetables to the pork. Make a space in the middle of the wok and add a tablespoon of soy sauce. Let it sizzle a little bit then combine the pork and vegetables through it. Cook until vegetables are soft.

Turn the heat up and add the bean sprouts and chilli flakes. Stir so that the liquid and ingredients are combined.  Cook for about 8 minutes, adding salt and pepper and more soy sauce to taste.

Serve hot. Add some (or lots of!) sesame seeds as a garnish. In Japan they grind their sesame seeds with a special grinder - I need to get one. You can have boiled rice with this, but we never do.

moyashi finished