Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Etsy finds: "New York Love" print

Today is the BIG DAY! We're moving across the country, from New York to California. Our (former) neighborhood here in Brooklyn is called DUMBO, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, although the Brooklyn Bridge runs over the neighborhood, too. It's a really cute neighborhood that, over the past 15 or so years, has been transforming from industrial warehouses to lofts and apartments. DUMBO has some great shops and restaurants, as well as killer views. We've loved living here- over the 4 years that I've been in DUMBO I've seen the neighborhood grow quite a bit, and it's been an exciting process to watch.

Given all that, I just couldn't resist this print from ArtSharkDesigns on Etsy. It's part of a series of "City Love" prints, featuring a couple toting red umbrellas through various cities around the world. I missed out on the previous Brooklyn print, in which the couple was actually standing under the bridge, looking across the river to Manhattan- they were right in DUMBO! This one is a close second, though- my husband and I have taken some lovely walks across the Brooklyn Bridge, although we prefer the Manhattan Bridge for jogging as there's less foot traffic. It will be a sweet reminder of our old neighborhood- I can't wait to frame and hang it. And in our new, decidedly un-New York sized apartment (1200 square feet! that's more than double our present apartment! (!)), I'll have lots of options.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sewing Changes Lives in Afghanistan

Image source here.

This post on Modern Twist is so inspiring! She discusses efforts to help Afghan women, especially widows are among the most economically disadvantaged, learn to support themselves through sewing. Global Giving's Afghan Institute of Learning runs six-month sewing classes where women learn to sew, allowing them to make clothes for their families and/or open small businesses as tailors or sewing teachers. Other groups here in the US are collecting fabric, sewing supplies, and old-fashioned treadle sewing machines to send to Afghanistan so that the women have materials to sew with, since those are hard to come by locally.

A donation of as little as $10 to Global Giving will provide tools and supplies for one woman to take a six-month sewing course. Talk about a big impact!

I was interested, although not entirely surprised, to read this story, about a sewing-shop owner who's collected fabric, notions, and machines to send to Afghanistan but is having trouble finding a way to get the donated items delivered. Apparently, getting the items donated was the easy part- shipping through the military requires an extensive review process that will take too much time, and shipping through a commercial carrier will cost upwards of $5,000. I suspect it's not an uncommon problem for charities, especially those that accept donated items as opposed to cash donations. Collecting items to donate is the easy part, because it's fun and exciting for people to do. Funding and setting up a way to distribute those items is much harder- aren't the logistics always the hard part?

This is such a great idea, and it seems like it's really having a positive impact on the lives of Afghan Women. I'm planning to donate, and I've added a widget to my blog so you can, too.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Vintage Pocket Detail

Here's another example of clever vintage details from my collection. This camel-colored wool circle skirt probably dates to the 1950s and is by Evan Picone. I picked it up at a flea market for $5 several years ago and it's got a tiny hole but otherwise has aged very well. While it's a fairly simple, classic piece, it's also got just a little detail for interest. The pockets have a scallop opening instead of a curved or straight/slash opening. That little touch makes all the difference, doesn't it? And of course, it would be easy enough to modify a pattern piece to create scalloped
pockets on your own skirt!

Little embroidered triangles at each corner finish off the scalloped pockets.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A room of my own...

Our big move to California happens in FOUR DAYS and I cannot believe it's almost here. There is so much packing and painting left to do here in New York before we get on the plane, but my mind is already on to the next thing. We've already secured an apartment and it is huge- more than double the square footage of our present place, plus it's a two bedroom instead of a one bedroom. This means we'll have a dedicated office/SEWING room! Currently I can only sew at the dining table which means I have to set up and take down my sewing way too often. It's a hassle, not to mention time-consuming, and it definitely puts a damper on my sewing. Plus, over the past few weeks, the apartment has been in such a state of chaos with the packing, that I really haven't sewn much at all (you probably guessed that, given the lack of posts).

But with the second bedroom, I'll actually be able to leave things set up! I'm expecting that I'll sew a lot more once the hassle factor is reduced. Of course, I'll still be sharing the space with my husband's computer menagerie, as well as my own desk- but I'll at least be able to get a table for sewing in there. I'm already thinking about how I'll organize it- luckily there's no shortage of inspiration! I love the simple, graphic, but effective organization of Martha Stewart's (gigantic) craft room- see the whole thing here.

If I set up my sewing room like hers, will my projects turn out as nicely?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Scrabble Pillows

How cute are these Scrabble tile pillows from ShopDirtsa on Etsy?!? My best friend and her fiancé are big Scrabble buffs, and I thought of them instantly when I saw these pillows. They wouldn't be too hard to make, although I might have trouble with doing as neat a job of cutting and stitching the appliqués. Honestly, though, at $25 each or 2 for $45, the price is very reasonable, and they look very well made. Too cute!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chic crochet??

I love crocheting because it's easy to learn, incredibly versatile, and progresses quickly. While I love the look of hand knit items, I always found knitting to be slow going, and I had trouble keeping interest long enough to finish even a simple scarf. With crochet, even though a project like my granny square blanket takes a long time, I can make substantial progress with even an hour or two of crocheting.

The problem with crochet, though, is that a lot of the patterns I've found are pretty dowdy, to say the least. A lot of crochet patterns are fussy, oversized, 1970s-1980s things that are not at all my style. There are some "modern" patterns, although some of those go a little too far into the artsy, overworked realm to really work for me. There are some great vintage 1920s-1950s patterns available, although they are a bit hard to follow for my present skill level.

To be honest, I was starting to worry that my crocheting would be limited to afghans, baby clothes, and the occasional scarf. My initial online digging didn't turn up much at all. Over the weekend, though, I gave it another go and I hit pay dirt! Crochet patterns that appeal to me immediately- none of that "maybe if I change x, y and z, and use different yarn, and different colors, and make it more fitted, and... and... and..." business.

Some of these patterns are for intermediate or advanced crocheters, which I am not, but some of them are perfectly suited to beginners. And what better motivation to improve my crocheting skills than the Lattice and Swirls sweater?

Flapper Bow Beanie by The Inner Hooker (this reminds me of a Sonia Rykiel hat I fell in love with last winter- it cost upwards of $150!)

Big Bow Cardigan by Julia Vaconsin for Interweave. I might alter this pattern to remove the bow, but I love the vertical stripe texture and off-center buttons.

And last but certainly not least, my favorite pattern so far, the Lattice & Swirls top-
Lattice & Swirls top, from Crochet Today magazine May/June 2010 issue (available here).

Monday, February 14, 2011

A nice ending to a not-so-nice day

This past Friday was a no good, very bad day. I had what you might call a "New York first" - I got mugged in the subway! Yep, in 6.5 years of living here (13.5 for my husband- that's 20 years between us), I had never been a victim of street crime (neither has he) up until my second-to-last week living here. Several of our friends have experienced it, but so far we had been very lucky in that regard. The story is pretty simple, a thief reached over my shoulder, grabbed my iPhone out of my hands, and ran off. Fortunately, they only took my phone and I am unharmed, if somewhat shaken up. Of course, this being an iPhone, it's a little like having a wallet stolen, because I had so many apps with personal information. The hassle of changing all those passwords, filing a police report, and dealing with AT&T (they are worse than the MTA! seriously!) has probably been the worst part. I do miss my phone, especially since I'm not going to be replacing it immediately, and now I'm on an old-school flip phone with no email. It's been a bit of a shock to realize just how dependent I was on it, and how accustomed I had gotten to being constantly connected. So in a way, it's refreshing to be cut off from all of that, and I think that if/when I do get another smartphone I'll be a bit more judicious in my use of it (and in the information I store on it, gah!).

Needless to say I was not in a good mood when I came home that afternoon. Two things cheered me up, though. One was coming home to this face- he never fails to make me smile (except when he wakes me up at 3am...).

The other was finding, and successfully completing, this crochet collar pattern from the Ongoing Project. It was my first time following a real pattern and it went pretty well although I may have messed up on a couple of the steps. Also, the pattern called for a fine, cotton yarn, but all I had was the Cascade 220 worsted I'm using for my afghan. It turned out OK, but I'd like to get some finer yarn and try again, maybe with a pale ivory so I can embellish a cardigan à la Anthropologie. As it is, I think this collar will look cute worn over a plain cardigan.

In action, on a very wrinkled J.Crew sweater....

I may need to try blocking it out again- my first attempt definitely made a difference, but it still looks a bit uneven- and small. Not too surprising, since I forgot to use pins the first time I blocked. Whoops!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Etsy finds: Vintage Buttons

I've been an Etsy addict since my wedding- I got our invitations, my earrings, necklace, and veil there, as well as a ring bearer bowl and a few other things (like a totally-wedding-related catnip lightsaber). It's such a treasure trove of all sorts of goodness, I just can't stay away. My latest Etsy discovery? Buttons!

Even living so close to the New York garment district, it can be hard to find buttons that are unique, high quality, and reasonably priced. I've found lots of interesting buttons in the garment district, but the best ones can get expensive, and you still see a lot of the same things over and over again. Recently, though, I've found some gorgeous vintage buttons from Etsy sellers at pretty reasonable prices.

The great thing about buttons is that they are a fairly easy way to make something unique. Choosing special buttons can punch up a plain garment, whether homemade or store bought. It can also completely change the feel- picture a black blazer or cardigan with plain black buttons, then picture it with buttons like the ones below. It makes a huge difference! One note, though- if you are changing out the buttons on an item you already have, be sure to measure the existing buttons and get new ones that are the exact same size. Otherwise, your new buttons may not fit through your buttonholes- or they might be too small and slip out.

I'm trying SO SO hard to resist the urge to buy lots and lots of them before I have projects planned. However, I did get one set that was too good to pass up. Wouldn't these look amazing on a Sencha blouse, maybe in a dove grey silk to highlight the black buttons?

These are jet-black glass, and they glass has a weight and shine you just don't get from plastic. I can't wait to make something with them! From RageoftheAge.

I also love these- happy shopping!
Both from Oritdotan. This seller usually has more stock of most buttons, which is so nice.

I LOVE the color on these! From ButtonOdyssey.

What a stunner- this would be great on a coat or sweater that only needs a single button. You could even glue a brooch back to it and wear it as a pin. From ButtonOdyssey.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Project Planning: Anthropologie-inspired skirt

It seems like when I'm shopping for clothes, I'll often find things that would be just right- if only one or two details were changed. Lately I'm seeing a lot of really short skirts which are not my cup of tea, but sometimes it's color, neckline, strap width, whatever. Maybe I'm just picky, but that's probably better for my budget. Sometimes, the issues can be fixed with a little tailoring, like pants with too-wide legs, or sleeves that are too long or wide. Sometimes, though, there's just nothing for it, and I have to either buy the item and live with it, or pass on it completely.

Skirt available at Anthropologie

One of those items is the Decade-by-Decade skirt by Tracy Reese, available at Anthropologie. I love the high-waisted, full-but-not-too-full cut, and the gorgeous retro-inspired floral print. The thing is, I'm just don't wear much green. I would like to start, but I think that a $140 skirt is not a good "try something new" buy. All too often in the past, I've bought things that I love but that don't quite work for me or that are too far out of my fashion comfort zone. Usually it ends up that I have to force myself to wear them, which I rarely do, and they sit in my closet for a while before I get rid of them. It's an exercise in frustration, not to mention a waste of money.

Now that I'm sewing again, though, I can stop this vicious cycle! I've already found a pattern, BurdaStyle's Linda circle skirt, and fabric, Amy Butler's Water Bouquet. The original skirt is cotton, but it's got a bit of a sheen to it and it has more drape than the quilting-weight cotton I'm planning to use. So, I'll have to see if there's anything I can do to give the Amy Butler fabric some of that drape. I'm also undecided as to whether I want to add the topstitched center seam from the original skirt to my version- that would require altering the pattern, although hopefully it wouldn't be too complicated.

Images from here and here

This project will probably have to wait until after our move, but I think I can have it ready in time for spring. Plus, since it looks like we'll be getting a bigger apartment, I may even get to make this skirt in a real, dedicated sewing space, instead of at the dining table!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New project is already posing a challenge

Pendrell Blouse pattern available from Sewaholic Patterns
Innocent Crush voile available from Hawthorne Threads

I am SO excited to start this project! I'm making the Pendrell blouse pattern from Sewaholic Patterns out of Anna Maria Horner's Innocent Crush cotton voile. The pattern and the fabric are both divine, so I hope it turns out well. This is also going to be my first time making a muslin. After the fit issues I had with the denim skirt, I figured it would be smart to do a muslin first so I can check the fit, and also make sure I know how to put the blouse together. Luckily, if I do run into any problems, Tasia of Sewaholic is running a sew-along for the pattern right now. Her detailed how-tos will be a big help once I start sewing this blouse.

So far, I've cut out the muslin, but when I tried to sew yesterday, I ran into some machine issues. For the muslin, I used an old sheet, and it's the thinnest fabric I've used so far with this machine. Evidently the machine did NOT like that, because the fabric was puckering like crazy, and the thread tension seemed off too. I tried a few things- adjusting tension up and down, sewing with stabilizer paper, cleaning the machine- but no real luck. It was better when I sewed two layers of fabric plus stabilizer paper, although still not perfect. A quick Google search offered some more things to try, so hopefully I can get this sorted out. The voile I'll be using for the blouse is as thin as the muslin, if not thinner, so I'd better fix the issue now rather than later. However, I'm thinking I may also want to underline the blouse, at least in the body, partly so that it will sew easier, and partly because the voile is on the sheer side. I can figure that out later, though- for now, I'm just crossing my fingers that I can convince my machine to sew this fabric!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Vintage Ribbon Details

I'm currently packing for a cross-country move, and in the process of packing up my collection of vintage clothes, I'm struck once again by the gorgeous details that make them unique. Vintage fashion has been a love of mine for many years; my mother and I used to go to the Vintage Expo whenever it came to Los Angeles. We loved to just browse and admire, but we also bought- who could resist? When I was younger, I often got great bargains because I was able to fit into the tiny vintage sizes that most women couldn't buy. Happily some of those treasures still fit, and I've picked up more over the years.

Some vintage garments are distinctive due to construction details like pleating, or the quality of the tailoring, or through elaborate appliqués and beading. Others, though, use simpler methods that are still striking, like contrast trim or decorative pockets, which could be easily added to home made items. I'm planning to share photos of my collection, in the hopes of providing inspiration to other home seamstresses.

Today's post features this vintage cardigan, which is a pale heathered gray accented with grosgrain ribbon in white and charcoal forming a Greek key motif, as well as grosgrain-covered buttons. I love this sweater because it's clearly vintage, but at the same time has a modern feel. Plus, the idea of a ribbon detail like this could easily be used to spice up an existing sweater (and even cover a moth hole).

The cuffs are decorated with a half-key- check out the mitered edges and pointed ends!

Nothing was overlooked- even the back of the neck was nicely finished with a point and button.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

In Progress: Granny Square Blanket

I learned how to crochet several years ago. My grandmother taught me- she loved to crochet while watching TV, and everyone in our family has at least one of her striped afghans. So far, I haven't really gone beyond scarves, although I've wanted to. When I saw this blanket at the Purl Bee, though, I just had to try and make one of my own. It's still a work in progress but I love how it's coming together!

I'm using Cascade Yarns 100% Peruvian Wool in white, light grey, medium grey, and charcoal, transitioning from light to dark and back again. Although I'd never done one before, it was easy to learn how to crochet the granny square using these instructions.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Completed: Spring Top

So, this was the view out my window on Thursday morning. Naturally, the most appropriate sewing project for a snow day is a spring top. I used this tutorial for the "Spring Ruffle Top," written by Rae of Made by Rae, but skipped the ruffles and pockets from the original. The fabric is Rambling Rose by Philip Jacobs and it's 100% cotton.

This project came out much better than the denim skirt! The cotton was much easier to work with, and the instructions were super easy to follow. This was my first time doing pleats, but they came out nicely. It is a little long, so I may end up wearing it as a cover-up more than a blouse. However, this was so easy to make, I'm thinking of doing another one, but making it shorter and adding the ruffles. The contrasting fabrics in the original are so cute, I might try that next time too!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Completed: Denim Skirt

Definitely room for improvement!

Over the weekend, I made my first garment, a denim skirt. I used BurdaStyle's Sidonie #8281, which is a simple A-line skirt, although I shortened it by a few inches. Overall, I'm not thrilled with the result, but that's mainly my fault. I've already identified a few places where I went wrong:

- Although I checked the pattern size chart, I should have measured the pattern pieces or even done a muslin, because the skirt sits lower than I'd like, and the pattern was too big in the hips- I had to take in the hips midway through making the skirt.

- The fabric I chose, a mid-weight denim with a hint of stretch, was probably not ideal for a first project as it's fairly thick and stiff. It's also a little stiff for this skirt; I think I'd prefer this style in a drapey fabric.

- I may not remember as much about sewing as I thought I did! I used an online tutorial for inserting the invisible zipper, although I didn't have an invisible zipper foot (note to self: must buy one!), and that worked OK although there is some puckering below the zipper, which you can see in the photo below. Mostly I was so eager to get started that I just jumped into it, but I probably should have given myself a refresher on basic garment construction first.

That being said, I'm still satisfied with the results. I managed to complete the skirt, it basically fits, and I do think I'll wear it. However, I'll have to be more careful next time- I just bought some gorgeous fabrics and patterns and I do not want to mess those up! Luckily, I also bought a copy of the Reader's Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing, which I used the first time I learned to sew- it's exhaustive and I'm sure I'll be referring to it a LOT!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Completed: Throw pillow

This project was a pretty simple throw pillow, it came together in an evening. I drafted a "pattern" out of an old shopping bag for an 18" square pillow with a plain front and a button closure in the back. The fabric is something I picked up at F&S Fabrics for the Home last time I was in Los Angeles, and I just love it. It goes perfectly with the other colors in our living room- the peacock blue walls, the tan couch, the dark brown and black furniture, and the orange accents. The other pillows on the couch are a blue ikat pattern that I bought a few years ago at HomeGoods.

To close it, I made two of these modified frog closures. First I made bias tape by cutting strips of fabric, folding, and pressing them, then sewing one edge closed. To make the knot, I knotted one end loosely, then pulled the other end through the loop of the knot, which kept the knot from being too bulky. I used a few hand stitches to secure the knot, then attach it to the pillow. Overall, I like how they look, although the closure is gapping a little between the knots since I didn't allow enough overlap. A few sew-on snaps should solve that, though.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Getting (re)Started

This past Christmas, I did something that was, for me, pretty rare: I stopped talking about doing something, and did it. I bought a sewing machine.

I come from a family of seamstresses and crafters. My maternal grandmother sewed, crocheted, and made mixed-media wall art and murals. My mom carried on the tradition by sewing clothing for herself during her teens and twenties, and later Halloween costumes and play dresses for me. My paternal grandmother also sewed, and used to make gorgeous hand-smocked dresses for me when I was little. Her daughters, my aunts, sew and quilt in addition to making dolls and jewelry.

In this photo from 2005 (not my best hair era), I'm wearing a dress one of my aunts made
in the 1970s from 1940s fabric and a bakelite belt buckle.

Given all that, it's not surprising that I've got the crafting bug, too. I used to make jewelry, and I've dabbled in knitting and crocheting. About six summers ago, I took a sewing class through Santa Monica College's fashion program. During that class, I learned all the basics of operating a machine, reading a pattern, and constructing a garment. Then... I went back East to college and barely sewed at all for years. Between dorm rooms and NYC apartments, there was no space to even keep a machine, let alone spread out and work on a project. Still, I missed sewing, especially when paying exorbitant tailoring bills for the simplest alterations.

This year, I finally decided that I would make space somehow and bought a sewing machine. Sadly, I've forgotten most of what I learned about sewing. With the help of the internet, though, I'm sure I can make do. I'm hoping to tailor my own clothes, as well as make clothing and home items- and I'll record my progress here!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Completed: Simple Tree Skirt

Modeled by my somehow-still-living snake plant, since the Christmas tree is long gone.

Depending on how you look at it, this project is one month late, or eleven months early. Either way, it was a quick and easy project, good for someone like me who's just getting back into sewing. Now I'm all set for next Christmas!

The skirt is composed of 16 teardrop shaped petals, sewn together with a zigzag stitch, left open at the back for convenience, and open at the center to fit the tree.

Template and how-to from Martha Stewart Crafts, available here.