Too Much Time on Your Hands? Ha!

I have now been self-isolating for 25 days. As the days have worn on – and as the virus has ravaged New York and other parts of the United States and the rest of the world – I have been trying (and partly failing) to Keep Calm and Carry On, as the British say.

It’s hard to concentrate at work. I have been giving myself something to look forward to at the end of every work day as a bit of a reward. One day I took an online Pilates class. Another day I tidied up the perennial beds. At some point, I dug out the yogurt maker and cooked up a batch:

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Homemade yogurt – not worth the effort, but a way to kill time

We ran out of bread, so why not bake some?

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Multigrain bread – tasty!

This recipe from Cook’s Illustrated was excellent. You use a multigrain hot cereal mix as a starter. We ate the last of it this morning in French toast – divine!

Then I got cocky and tried to make hamburger buns:

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Hamburger buns – not rocks – honest

They came out like hockey pucks – edible but dry and misshapen and dense. At least the toasted sesame seeds were tasty.

I’m not one to be defeated, so let’s play around with the Instant Pot! I tried making a turkey barley soup.

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Barley-palooza

I misread the recipe and put a pound of barley into the pot instead of a cup of barley. It swelled up every drop of turkey stock and affected a risotto-like texture. So why not call it “bar-zotto” and eat it with some grated Parmesan? It wasn’t half bad. There’s still plenty left if you’re peckish.

The sun came out – time to hit the garden. For years, I have been meaning to relocate some blueberry plants to encourage better cross-pollination and protection from berry-thieving birds (if the plants are grouped tightly, one piece of bird netting should cover the lot). So I dug up some plants and moved them, replanting with a good dose of fertilizer for acid-loving plants.

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New home for blueberries

There is so little traffic and noise in my neighborhood – we live on a normally busy street – that I can clearly hear all the spring birdsong. In an hour or so I counted 18 species, a few by call alone.

My house is old, with the ghosts of gardens all over the place – a wisteria vine here, a decaying stump there. In the middle of the lawn, this blue-striped quill appeared, ready to delight anyone who came across it:

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Squill making an appearance

Every night after dinner I sew 10-15 cloth face masks. My nurse friends take some to work, while others have been given to relatives, neighbors and friends.

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More masks

Finally on Friday I had to go to the supermarket. There’s only so much barzotto and hardtack a gal can eat, amirite?

The trip took 2 1/2 hours and cost me $330. I wore a mask, gloves and a hat. When I got home, I stripped to my undies in the laundry room and threw everything – including my sneakers – into the washing machine to scrub on the “sanitary” cycle.

The market was out of all kinds of weird things – no salt, no Romaine lettuce, no flour or cinnamon, no chicken breasts, no macaroni and cheese mixes, no 1% milk, no cleaning supplies of any kind, except for some feeble-looking “all natural” stuff that might be a bit better than vinegar or lemon juice.

I figured I might as well live it up – I bought a rack of lamb, a kosher chicken, an organic pork loin – all the cheaper cuts were sold out. I bought a $5 jar of applesauce and four funky-looking oranges called “Sumo” for $1.50 apiece. A big bag of Costa Rican coffee. A bag of frozen wild-caught shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico. Organic onions and potatoes and milk.

Americans have been hoarding toilet paper. We are not guilty of this (we conserved – as a child, my grandmother admonished me that “a lady only uses four squares.”) Still, we were down to our last two rolls. The store limited each shopper to one 12-roll bundle. I felt lucky to get it.

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In the diary aisle by the display of creams, a man was arguing with someone on the phone. “They don’t have quarts of heavy cream! They only have pints of heavy cream! I looked and looked and that’s all there is!” This went on for a minute, while he shouted  all the various creams and quantities available into the phone. I stood by  (six feet away, natch), waiting for reason to arrive on the scene. Finally I suggested that he buy TWO PINTS of heavy cream, as each is 16 ounces and a quart is 32 ounces. He looked at me like I was crazy for 10 seconds. Then his face lit up like I was an angel from heaven. I never have received such fulsome gratitude in my life. He grabbed two pints and bolted for the checkout.

My good deed done for the day, I approached the display and took a pint of half and half. Upon returning home, I realized I grabbed the fat-free shit instead of the real thing. Bah!

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No good deed goes unpunished

 

Quilting for Healing and Power

I haven’t made a quilt in years – about 15 years to be exact – when I made a baby quilt for my newborn niece. I had moved on long ago to home dec and then to apparel sewing, but every so often I would look through my quilting cotton stash and grow wistful at its possibilities.

That feeling grew stronger last week when I sewed up some stash to make masks for nurse friends of mine. I felt the pull to quilt again – partly to commemorate these homebody Covid-19 days, and partly to keep my hands busy, and partly because I had something to say in the fabric and colors and lines.

I heard about a Quilt-a-Long of this pattern by Denyse Schmidt, a quilt designer who lives nearby. I had bought this pattern years ago during a studio open house. While I loved it, the color choices and bias-cut edges daunted me. I thought, however, that with help I could do it.

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The quilt includes an alphabet of block letters done in a slightly rustic style. The letters are cleverly constructed to nest together with design options for the positive and negative space. And while some letters are quite complex, each piece is numbered so that it’s easy to sew them together, step by step.

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Letter T is an easy one
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The D is pretty complex – pieces D2, D5 and D6 are the negative space

So I had my pattern. But what to say? I thought of one friend who had started me on quilting more than 20 years ago but cannot sew any longer because of illness. I thought of another friend who I’d made a quilt for back when I had been a raw beginner – she lost that quilt and her other possessions in a fire last year. I had sewn pussyhats for them to wear to the 2016 Women’s March. I wanted to make them something else. Finally, I thought of my sister, who I also made a hat for and have marched with a few times.

So I hit on this idea:

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My quilt message and color scheme

The entire quote is “Nevertheless, she persisted.” The vile Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell uttered this sentence while moving to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren during a debate on the Senate floor. It became an instant rallying cry for women everywhere who are told to stay silent, be obedient, and defer to the patriarchy. (For the whole story see this excellent Washington Post article.)

The whole phrase would be a lot to quilt – the thing would be over 10 feet long – but the simple verb says it all anyway.

I designed this as four quilts that can be tied together to form the whole or used individually as wall hangings or other decoration. Each word uses lettering in one color and negative space in the color wheel’s opposite side to symbolize struggle and opposition. I don’t know yet if the background will be black or white – it’s more graphic in black, but I don’t think I have enough fabric in stash and I am using all stash materials to be sustainable. I’ll decide that later. In any event, the binding will be in the opposite color of the background.

I had plenty of fabric to choose from, for most colors:

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Stash – stash – stash – stash

I needed four fabrics for each of the eight colors. I didn’t have much orange or pink, but I have enough to go on with some creative use of “near enough” colors.

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Selected fabrics

The long piece at the bottom has elements of all the colors in it, so I will use it in all the letters as a way to tie them together.

The fabrics are mostly quilting cottons, some with metallic designs, but I am using some scraps of apparel fabrics too.

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The reds include silk and ultrasuede from jackets I’ve made, as well as red and gold cotton leftover from a Christmas project and some upholstery fabric in a dragonfly motif. The greens include some Irish linen scraps.

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I am using coral to fudge the oranges a bit. I also have some African Dutch wax with lilac and gold motifs. The blues include seersucker leftover from a bathrobe project from 20 years ago and velvet leftover from my husband’s smoking jacket.

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Yellows include some gold linen from a pair of pants, batik sunflowers from a quilt I made for my cousin’s wedding, and sunflowers from a vest I made my mother years ago. The purples include more leftover Christmas fabric and some brocade from a Halloween costume for my niece.

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Because I am using green opposite of red, I needed a grassy yellow-green to go opposite the pink. Some of this fabric is leftover from a quilt I made my nephew. The pinks include a red seersucker that reads pink.

In truth, the quilt is going to be kind of ugly – I mean, this is a metric fuckton of colors, textures and styles for one quilt. But that’s also the beauty of it. My friends, sister and I are all different people, after all, united in some things but with plenty of individuality.

Coronavirus Couture and Other Projects

So much for my “Sew Edgy Work Wardrobe” plans for spring and summer. For who knows how long, I will be working from home, like a lot of people who are fortunate enough to be able to.

The #1 rule of working from home for me is to have something to look forward to after the workday is done. For me, that means creative outlets like sewing, gardening and cooking.

My “home” wardrobe is much more normcore than my work wardrobe. Plus I was in the mood for spring colors and textues. First up was this top from Butterick 6388.

It’s a bit boxier and roomier than the technical drawings and pattern pictures would lead you to believe. I ended up taking in the arm and side seams about 1/2 inch, and I made 3/4 sleeves for a more springtime look. I also did the triangular side panels and back yoke on the crossgrain to add some interest.

The fabric was from FabScrap, a charity in New York’s Garment District that sells scraps from fashion houses, schools, stores, tailor and upholstery shops etc. This scant 1.5-yard piece of very soft and comfy mystery poly knit cost $7.50. Sustainable to boot!

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The Fabulous Fab Scrap sign

Since I had white thread in the serger, next up was a basic white T-shirt. Boring, ok, but likely a wardrobe staple I will wear for years.

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Deer & Doe Plantain

I wanted to try the Deer & Doe Plantain t-shirt again. The one I made several years ago did not get much wear because the shirt was a little tight and the fabric didn’t have enough stretch. This time I sized up and used some really soft and lovely T-shirt fabric I got from the Portsmouth Fabric Company in New Hampshire while I was visiting my mom in January.

Unforch, this is a still bit tight. Grr. Maybe it will stretch out. Here’s hoping!

It should take no time at all to make a basic tee, right? So why does it take me forever? Faff about with the serger. Break a needle. Replace the needle. Untangle a nest of thread. Cut some clear elastic for the shoulder seams. Lose one piece of elastic. Hunt about on the floor for 10 minutes. Give up and cut a new piece of elastic. Then find the old piece, exactly where I left it in the first place:

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Where are you, clear elastic?

The coverstitch hem is still a bit wonky. Whatever.

Third up will be … drumroll… a white cardigan. Hey – the white thread is in the serger. That’s saving me like 15-20 minutes right off the bat.

I got some slubbed French terry last summer and earmarked it for a try at the Helen’s Closet Blackwood Cardigan. Once that’s done, I will be ready for some color!

Refashion Runway Project 2: 1970s

I took inspiration from my 1976 first-grade class picture to create a modern look with a 1970s twist, using all refashioned and upcycled materials. To check out other refashions, and to vote for your faves, visit The Renegade Seamstress Refashion Runway Season 5.

70s refashion before (3)

The 1970s were not a pretty decade style-wise – in fact, a true 1970s look should feel a bit sleazy and unappealing. So I tried to make something true to the era yet wearable for today.

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70s style complete with boots, cheap jewelry and hoop earrings

I worked with these raw materials: old jeans from my husband, a vintage men’s shirt and old kitchen curtains with crochet edging.

70s refashion before (2)

Let’s start with the top! The colors exactly match the dress in my class picture, so I had to go for it. Also, paisleys were such a huge motif  from that era in fashion. If you find any ugly wide neckties from the mid-1970s, I bet you $1 in 1970s money (about $6.60 in today’s money) that paisleys swirl around someplace on it.

This shirt is very well made, with flat-felled seams, darts and nice wide facings at the center front. But… it’s made of that notorious spun polyester fabric that disintegrates into fluff instead of unravels at the raw edges.

To make this man’s shirt more feminine, I started by cutting off the button and buttonhole plackets and unpicking the collar, then cutting down the center front on an angle using New Look 6498’s bodice pattern piece.

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Bodice restyle

I harvested the crochet edge from these old kitchen curtains and sewed them to the raw center fronts, then sewed up the middle to join the design into something new. The lacy detail is a bit see-through – just enough for an adult look without being too much. The crochet makes a little collar at the back neckline – cute!

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The sleeves needed help too. Puffy sleeves were in during the mid 1970s, so I cut off the cuff and sleeve plackets, folded over a generous edge, and made an elastic casing with about an inch for a hem. The elastic allows the sleeves to fit more closely with the volume I wanted for a 1970s look.

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Elastic casing with a hem for the sleeve

Finished design:

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The skirt is a throwback to my youth as well. Skirts made from old jeans were all the rage back then. If you don’t believe me, visit any vintage store or trawl eBay and you’ll see tons of these skirts.

To be authentic, I needed to start with men’s jeans. That was the style back in the day – you’d make a skirt from your boyfriend’s old jeans. In this case, my husband supplied these jeans that had seen better days.

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Hubby’s old jeans with legs trimmed to prepare for transformation to a skirt

Making a skirt is pretty easy. Start by cutting off the legs at the length you want. Cut an inch or two longer than the intended finished length to allow for a hem, but leave enough length in the legs to use the leg fabric as center front and back pieces.

Next, cut off both inseams to the crotch line, then unpick a couple of inches front and back – be sure to leave the fly area in the front intact.

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Inseams unpicked and ready for transformation

Next, prepare the leg pieces you trimmed off. Cut them apart at the inseam so they are one nice flat piece and position one in the front and one in the back of the skirt – there will be a lot of fabric overlapping – don’t worry you will trim that off later. The unpicked bit of the front and back crotch should fold flat on top and overlap a bit  (if they are still curling a bit, unpick a bit more until they’re flat).

Pin at the crotch points and all along the wedges.

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Don’t worry if the hem is a bit uneven – you’ll fix that later.

Now sew down the wedge pieces. I just sewed the wedge underlapping the sides because I like the raw edge look. Also, I was going to embroider it and didn’t want any bulk. After the wedges were in place, I trimmed the excess fabric from the wrong side. If you want to get all fancy, you could trim the wedges down first and sew them to the side pieces with a flat-felled seam.

Then try on the skirt and decide on a hem length. It’s best if you can get a friend to help you mark the length so it’s even all around. Turn and topstitch your hem, and you have a skirt!

To make this skirt go with the top and to add more design elements, I decided to embroider the wedge in a 1970s style motif using colors from the top. I started by running a line of embroidery alongside the seam where the wedges meet the front and back.

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Embroidery 70s style

Then I added lines above and below that line – eight lines of embroidery in all. Make sure you have enough thread to spare before you tackle this!

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Looks cute on too and coordinates with the top, a belt with a big ol’ silver buckle and boots:

70s 5

70s 2

 

It’s been fun! What’s your favorite decade for fashion?

Refashion Runway Goes to the 70s

The 1970s were an ugly decade. Let’s face it. There’s not much to root for. But for this week of Refashion Runway, we have to go there. Luckily, I have two advantages:

  1. I was born in 1970, so I have some first-hand memories of the decade’s style and values.

Exhibit A:

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Me, 1976

2. My husband is a pack rat and has been storing ugly 70s clothes in our attic closet since we moved into this house 18 years ago.

Exhibit B:

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Mystery bags of moldy couture

Let’s get going!

These bags held so many treasures it’s hard to know where to start.

Should it be the plaid pants?

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Hard to tell where the bedspread ends and the pants begin

How about the Anderson Little brand (read: cheap-ass) polyester double-knit sportcoats?

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Salmon pink.
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Classic plaid

Note the demi lining (also poly, natch) – would not be able to stand a whole lining because in poly double knit you sweat. Like. A. Pig.

This leather shirt is actually beautifully made and possibly valuable as it came from Saks Fifth Avenue.

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Leather shirt

I played around with it, but regrettably there’s not much material to work with. I am going to see what it’s worth on the resale market.

And finally, the jackpot:

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Nothing says 70s like paisleys

The color story of this paisley print creepily reminds me of my school picture from 1977. I have to use it! No excuses!

It’s a man’s shirt, so I will need to feminize it a bit. I have some lace and crochet trims to play with from these old pillowcases and curtains. And I am going to make a 70s style denim skirt from a pair of my husband’s old jeans.

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Raw materials

So that’s the plan. The outfit is due Friday.

If you haven’t checked out last week’s fabulous entries, please visit The Renegade Seamstress and vote for me if you think I’m worthy. Thanks!

Refashion Runway Challenge One: Statement Sleeves

I just love a high-contrast look to jackets, so when the first-round challenge of Refashion Runway Season 5 was “statement sleeves,” I knew I had a great opportunity to create some drama!

Jacket front with sleeve contrast
My jacket refashioned from a friend’s old dress

My jacket started life as a dress that a friend gave me. She didn’t like it, but she thought the linen-cotton blend fabric was nice and the print was cool. She gave me a challenge to refashion it. Challenge accepted! Here’s the before look – big, boxy and shapeless:

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Old dress ready for new look
The fabric is rather stiff, so I began by washing and drying the dress a few times to change the fabric’s hand – it’s softer now but still crisp enough for a jacket.
I started by cutting the dress straight up the front and unpicking the neck facing.
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Unpicking and creating the blank slate
The front was turned and topstitched to create a self-facing. Then I created a pleat at the center back to take up some of the fullness, so it would fit better.
I trimmed about 8 inches off the bottom to create a more pleasing length, leaving side vents about an inch long just for style. I used the fabric from the bottom to create the collar and pockets – nice big pockets perfect for holding a phone and keys.
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Collar drafting

I drafted the collar just by measuring the new neckline and tracing off a collar from an RTW shirt to get the basic shape, then adding a 1/2 inch seam allowance. I cut the same in red so that the collar is two-tone.

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The red contrast came from a rain jacket with a broken zipper that I bought at Goodwill/ I was delighted to find something in a red with blue undertones:

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Raincoat – ready for some refashion fun!

I love the combo of red, white and blue – red is my favorite color and it it always delivers a nice pop!

I cut off the jacket’s cuffs to reuse them in the new jacket.

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Cuffs ready for refashioning

I tried several ways to work these in to the blue and white jacket, but nothing was gelling – I didn’t want them to look tacked-on but rather integrated into the jacket as an essential piece of the design. So I instead used the red as a contrast in the cuff. I sewed the cuffs so that they can be worn turned back for max drama or turned in for just a peek of color.

Jacket without sleeve contrast
Jacket without the peek of red

To continue the theme to another part of the jacket, I thought to add a button feature to the collar so that I can wear a bit of the red exposed or not, depending on my mood.

Here’s a flat view of the jacket, with the center-back pleat and my label showing.

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Flat view

And here’s the back view – love the cuffs!

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Back view

Voting is supposed to start today. Please visit The Renegade Seamstress for a look at all the entries, and if you like what I’ve done, I’d love your vote!

 

Refashion Runway, Here I Come!

Refashioning or upcycling textiles into new designs has been really fun and satisfying, so I resolved to push myself more in 2020. Here’s a gallery of projects from the past couple of years:

I didn’t have to wait long. I was chosen to compete on “Refashion Runway” – a friendly sewing competition sponsored by Beth Huntington, aka “The Renegade Seamstress.”

Yikes! There are 15 contestants who have put up some fabulous looks using textiles that had a previous life. Here’s a rundown of the competitors with some of their choice refashioned looks. I am so impressed with how these sewers combine textiles and shapes to create something super cool.

While I am no slouch in the sewing department, my refashioned looks have been a bit, shall I say, basic? I have upcycled and refashioned mostly large flat pieces of fabric, such as a sari, a blanket and not one, but two tablecloths. My most ambitious project was creating a nightgown out of an old bathrobe, and while I like how this project turned out, it’s not exactly a garment I wear on the street. In public. Or even in a photo on this blog.

So, I gotta step it up.

The first project, which starts January 18th, is “Statement Sleeves.” We were given the basic challenge parameters in advance, so we could start planning. There are few guidelines for each challenge; we’re meant to interpret it for ourselves. I assume this challenge means we need to create a big, showy sleeve in an refashioned garment. Statement sleeves broke through as a trend a few years ago as a kind of antidote to the sleeveless look of the early 2010s. It’s still going strong, to judge from all the ruffles, puffs, pleats, cutouts and other sleeve designs you see out there.

I really like a dramatic cuff on a sleeve, so that’s my jumping-off point.

RuPaul

In my closet, several misfit discarded garments wait for their chance to shine. That’s your cue, awkward linen dress!

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Awkward linen dress from a friend … can you carry the water?

My friend Emmeline gave me this dress last summer. She wore it once but found it … just … not … her cup o’tea. But the fabric was nice, so she gave it to me with encouragement to refashion it.

The first thing I did was to wash and machine dry it with other laundry three times to soften the linen-cotton blend up and to let any shrinking get nice and shrunken. Trying it on, you no doubt notice a few pros and cons:

Pros:

  • I like a high-contrast print, which this for sure provides in navy and white.
  • It’s big and long enough to give me some fabric to work with.
  • There are no darts or zippers and few seams to complicate a refashion project.
  • The hem and sleeve hems are split, offering some design change opportunities.

Cons:

  • I am not crazy about the “junior high school art teacher” swishy brushstroke motif.
  • It has no lining, and the “wrong side” of the fabric looks pretty bad, as the navy bleeds through.
  • The neckline is awkwardly proportioned and has a crummy facing.
  • The fabric remains a bit stiff and ungainly despite three journeys in the washing machine and dryer.

Clearly, this is not going to work as a dress, no matter how it’s refashioned.

My big idea is to turn it into a duster-style jacket. I think I will cut it right up the middle, self-face the raw edges, recut the neckline and add some darts for shaping, front and back. Maybe a contrasting lining? It will need some help as the wrong side will be on display even more as a jacket.

But what about the sleeves? That’s the whole point of the challenge. I am thinking a cuff – in the same contrast as the lining – with some accent hardware or other bling to edge this look up a bit.

I had nothing suitable in my closet of misfit garments, so it was off to Goodwill to see what they had.

Score!

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Goodwill raincoat for $9.89 – 10% off

This red rain jacket has a lot to work with as it’s fully lined. The zipper was broken, which is probably why someone donated it. And it has a cute drawstring in the hood, which can be repurposed easily.

Red is my favorite color! And the contrast with navy and white will look chic (I hope).

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Raincoat – ready for some refashion fun!

I have a good week to play around with my ideas before the contest starts. Wish me luck!