When I packed for my vacation this week, I was excited to realize that I could do so many coordinating Me-Made outfits. I chose a blue palette and a red palette, and picked pieces from there. Except for one dress and one pair of jeans (and lingerie and socks), everything I packed was Me-Made.
I came away from my vacation in Ireland and Scotland with a new appreciation for quality woolen fabric and garments. In the first place, it was a bit chilly – mid 50s at best and usually cloudy. Puts you in the mood for a mug of tea and a cozy sweater, right? In the second place, I was inspired by the two traditional two woolen mills I visited. And third, I enjoyed the pro-sewing atmosphere of both countries in their modern and historic cultural artifacts (post to come later).
I bought these fabrics to craft into my own garments:
The one on the right is a houndstooth from the Islay Woollen Mill on Islay, an island off the West Coast of Scotland. Islay is famous for its peaty whiskey, my husband’s favorite. I was excited to check out the mill too and was delighted with the experience. They even gave me labels to sew into my project, because Islay wool is such a quality product.
The mill makes fabrics for Saville Row tailors in a variety of checks and colors.
Saville Row quality
Sample board of tartans
Dye options for wool
The guy running the mill was quite a character. He quickly and rather incoherently explained how the mill worked and then got back to work. There was a lovely smell of wool, old wood and axle grease in the place.
Close-up view of the weaving
Islay Woollen Mill in action
The showroom was just bolts of fabrics on shelves and piled on the floor. I looked everything over and had a tough time deciding what to buy. Finally I chose the gray, black and blue houndstooth because it was so unusual and it goes well with other items in my wardrobe.
A treasure-hunting dream
I am planning to make a jacket out of it. Because this fabric is so rare and expensive, I will definitely make a muslin first!
The Islay Woollen Mill also had a pretty shop on the first floor with all finished goods from the mill and other things. My husband bought a traditional cap:
Cap from the Islay Woollen Mill
I didn’t get any pictures of the Edinburgh Tartan Weaving Mill, but be sure to look it up online and in person if you’re there. The mill is rather hidden inside an enormous gift shop down the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle. The mill is in the sub-sub-basement, and the fabric shop is a floor above that.
The place specializes in traditional tartans. I chatted up the salesman and spent quite some time looking over the choices before going with this tartan, woven in the traditional “Blue Ramsay” design.
This fabric has a smoother texture and a crisper hand than the fabric from Islay, but the colorways are similar, so I know it will go with other garments in my wardrobe. I am planning to make an off-kilter kilt with it from New Look 6326. I ironed out the fit problems with the previous attempt. I like the idea of using a tartan on the bias for the overlay. I will need to figure out how to stabilize it so it doesn’t stretch out or warp.
I have satisfied another resolution I made at the new year – to attend a sewing retreat. I went to PatternReview Weekend in early June in Stratford Ontario, Canada. I am glad I went, because I wanted to meet in person many people I’ve known only through their comments and sewing projects on PatternReview. But, the whole event was not really my cup of tea, so I don’t think I will attend again.
I also really enjoyed a tour of the Stratford Festival Theater’s costume shop. We were allowed to only look at most costumes, but at the end of the tour we could try a few on.
This costume had quick-change ability to turn from black and white to color.
So many costumes…
Trying a few on
My friend Olga gets her style on
We marveled at how well-made the costumes were for durability, and how many fancy trims and techniques were used. I really would have loved a tour of the sewing workroom, but that wasn’t on the tour. Boo.
The rest of the event was OK. There were a couple of demonstrations, but it was hard to see well. I am more a hands-on learning type. Also, I am not a very sociable person, and since it was my first time at this event, I didn’t know anyone there. About half of the 80-odd attendees had been before – some multiple times. As is inevitable with all-female events (one man attended) cliques formed and first-timers ended up together, trying to make connections.
Deepika, founder of PatternReview, welcomes us.
A ukelele band!
Camp shirt contest
Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. Some organizers of the event were “ambassadors” who did a great job of seeking out newcomers and chatting them up. All the same, it was a bit exhausting to have to introduce myself over and over, and to try to make connections with people. This isn’t a complaint – I am just better in a small group than in a large group.
One of the highlights of the event is a pattern swap. Attendees brought in patterns they didn’t want anymore, and all the donated patterns, books and magazines were piled onto tables. Then there was a rush at the swap table to take away whatever you wanted. I donated five patterns to the swap – a suit pattern that was part of a lot I got from eBay, a free dress pattern from a magazine, a dress pattern I bought in the wrong size by mistake, a jacket pattern I knew I’d never sew, and a home dec pattern for a project that a friend asked for, then cancelled.
I decided I’d rather eat lunch than peruse the swap table at first. I am not much of a “stash” person. Most of the time, I buy the patterns and fabrics I want for specific projects. I seldom buy on spec or just because something’s on sale. I realize I am VERY spoiled in this regard – I can shop at the Garment District in New York anytime I want, there are Joann’s nearby for basics and cheap patterns (sometimes at little at 99 cents apiece) and a very good fabric store in Connecticut if I don’t want to go into NYC. Speaking with sewists from rural places, who have to shop online, and from Canada, where patterns seldom go on sale, I appreciate how fortunate I am. Still, I didn’t want to take things just for the sake of taking them.
I visited the table later on and took five patterns – a vintage skirt, a Style Arc top (been meaning to try Style Arc), a couple of dresses that seem suitable for me and a coordinates set of officewear. In my goodie bag was a voucher for a skirt pattern from Deer & Doe and the Vogue “5 Easy Pieces” pattern – a great haul, all in all.
The goodie bag also had coupons for discounts on fabric and patterns, gadgets such as measuring devices and snips, decorative pins, info about area attractions and other fun stuff.
There were two contests with prizes – making a camp shirt and making sleepwear. I made a camp shirt for the contest and wore it all day Friday, since I thought it could be judged anytime. It turned out the shirts and sleepwear were judged in the evening only. I had changed out of the shirt for dinner since it was pretty sweaty and rumpled from being worn all day in a stuffy church basement. The contest judging took a long time and I found myself getting pretty antsy to get out of there.
Saturday was a shopping extravaganza. We piled onto school buses and toured three sites – Len’s Mill (a warehouse-like place for fabric, yarn, housewares, crafting supplies and what have you), downtown Hamilton, ON, which has several great fabric stores along a cute commercial street, and Ann’s Fabrics in Hamilton, which sells mostly knits and activewear fabrics.
The only thing I really needed was lining fabric – I really like to stash that so that I don’t have to think about it. I scored 12 yards of nice 54-inch Bemberg in four colors at a shop in Hamilton, European Textiles.
Otherwise, I was shopping for fall and winter. Yeah, summer just started, but my summer sewing plans are spoken for by now.
At Len’s Mill I found this cute cotton Canada-themed flannel, which would make good PJ bottoms for my husband (he’d requested some earlier this year). I also bought some nice quilting cotton with a Liberty feel for a top to go with new pants I just made (I am thinking about a wearable muslin of the very popular Butterick 5526). Finally, I got 3 yards of a wine-colored suedecloth in anticipation of a work blazer for fall, possibly from Vogue 1418. It was lightweight and odd, so I may regret it. Or it may be fabulous.
Sign for Len’s Mills bargains
Len’s also had some interesting buttons – I bought a giant one for who knows what (a bag? a poncho?) and two cards of red and black handpainted wooden buttons for a thrifted leather jacket I’ve been thinking of upcycling.
At Ann’s I found some heavy knit with a border stripe that would make a cute long-sleeved T-shirt, maybe without the overlay from McCall’s 7247.
My favorite place was Marina’s Fabrics in Hamilton, because it reminds me of the small family-run places I know in New York, complete with a jumble of unusual fabrics, negotiable prices, and a talkative but grumpy immigrant lady behind the cutting counter.
It’s where I found two interesting pieces: a light wool loose houndstooth suiting in white and wine that would make a wonderful summer shift dress (probably Deer & Doe’s Arum dress – and would coordinate with the suedecloth too if I have fabric left over for a bolero or such) and a border print in a knit of some kind – probably poly/acrylic – in black, gray and cobalt blue that would be perfect for a high-waisted pencil skirt from Simplicity 8058.
I had budgeted to spend $200 on fabric and other sewing materials, and I managed to do it – 16.5 yards in all, plus two books and assorted other items. Looking at my take, minus the Bemberg, I wonder what kind of fabric magpie I am. None of this makes sense with anything else. That’s the problem with stash shopping – the thrill of the hunt doesn’t mix well with a coordinated plan.
I started on the prewashing chore when I got home and then I got to work, making the PJ shorts for my husband.
I wanted badly to sew something, after just talking about sewing for two days! That’s the main problem with PR Weekend for me. I prefer a hands-on event much more than an event where you mostly shop, eat and drink, and socialize. Still, I am glad I went. If it’s nearby again (next year it’s in Portland, OR) and if there’s some hands-on activity, I might go.
We took a last-minute trip to Costa Rica last week and got very into the tropical spirit right away, with a few more wears of my summer me-made wardrobe:
Another top from La Mia Boutique paired with clamdiggers from “Happy Homemade Sew Chic”
Pinafore Dress from “Happy Homemade Sew Chic” Japanese pattern book
Top from La Mia Boutique magazine, skirt adapted from the Maria Denmark “Yasmin Yoke Skirt”
New Look 6498
I also wore my Simplicity 1116 swimsuit, a tunic from “Happy Homemade Sew Chic” and some other stuff – too busy having fun to take a lot of pictures.
Costa Rica is such a beautiful and lucky country. I am interested to learn more about its history. In brief, its leaders in the 1950s, after a brief civil war, did not take the route of many Central American countries but rather invested in education, preservation of natural resources, and true democracy. Here are some fascinating facts:
It has no army and lives peaceably between Nicaragua and Panama.
Its energy comes almost 100% from renewable resources (geothermal, solar and wind) and its on track to be a carbon-neutral country in another 5 years.
It’s the most educated country in Latin America, with a 97% + literacy rate.
Environmentalism is a big deal. Plastic shopping bags are illegal, recycling stations are everywhere and there is almost no litter on the roadsides. Even a simple roadside shack selling rice and beans to farmworkers serves food on real plates and silverware, not plastic and paper.
About 25% of its land is protected from development.
It’s home to 500+ species of birds, plus fascinating animals such as monkeys, sloths, jaguars, ocelots, poison frogs, turtles and so many more.
The president is elected for one 4-year term (unlike its neighbor to the north, which has had the same president almost continuously since the 1980s) and voter turnout of very high.
I seriously had a moment of “I could live here” feeling.