Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sketchbook: Spring & Summer Separates

Recognize any of these patterns?

I of course reserve the right to sew--or not sew--however many or few of these items as I want. In whatever order or disorder. If I feel like it.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone! I plan to bake cupcakes, color in the above sketch, block my completed Tomten sweater--and retackle my Mad Men muslin. Maybe.

(And thus concludes my shortest blog post EVER. Do I win anything?!)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

OPAT Work Outfit: A Vintage Dash-About Dress

Dashabout vintage floral dress work outfit

Don't worry--OPAT isn't some awesome blog challenge you haven't yet heard of and need a button and a deadline for RIGHT NOW. In fact, it's the opposite.

OPAT stands for "One Project At a Time", and it's my anti-challenge to myself to relax, stop beating myself up, and just enjoy whatever I want to sew--and can sew--in the time I actually have to sew it. To stop measuring myself against the Sew Weekliers and professional seamstresses and just relax.

Which is what you all have been kindly telling me to do (see "I WANT to Make This; I SHOULD Make That"), and I am now needing to tell myself. Elizabeth kindly reminded me that "should" can be a really painful word. And I especially loved StephC's comment:

When I was a teenager, I had a job pulling coffee at a popular coffee shop.. I'd get so upset on Saturday mornings, the place would be packed with people in need of a caffeine fix, they were usually rude once they got to the counter, and I'd try to make three orders and once and mess them all up...

My boss said to me- "Don't look at the line. Take a breath, make the first drink. Then take another breath, and make the next one. Only look at what's in front of you, keep moving, and you'll get there in the end." Stuck with me, it applies to so many other things...

This SO resonates, because I had a similar job as a teenager, working as an ice cream waitress. And there was one hot July 4th where I stood at the window scooping ice cream cone after ice cream cone for 8 hours straight without stopping whilst wearing a giant straw hat and a plastic lei... and then there was the time I worked at UPS loading giant trucks and one package after another would come shooting down the belt and I had to keep calm and just stack them one at a time and I was wearing steel toe boots and...

OK, not sure where I was going with that.

And so the above outfit--a quite typical Mikhaela work outfit for my awesomely casual nonprofit workplace--contains no actual me-made items. And I'm OK with that, because seriously, people -- this isn't a high-stakes competition. Unless we want it to be, and at this point in my life -- where sewing is what I do to RELAX in the evenings -- I do not.

I'm also ok with the crappy non-natural lighting for the same reasons.

Anyway, the outfit:

Dashabout Dress Work Outfit

  • "Dashabout" vintage (1970s?) floral cotton sundress with shirred elastic back, princess seams, half-circle skirt, thrifted for $14 in San Francisco years back. I at first assumed it was homemade due to the unfinished seams, but it has a little label inside reading "Dash-About." It's super-comfy and I've even gone (light) hiking in it. (See also "Some of My Best Dresses.")
  • Pink silk tank, ancient Ann Taylor
  • Turquoise cardigan, ancient Ann Taylor
  • Faux-leather navy belt--required as the dress is a bit big in the waist.
  • Turquoise necklace, lent permanently by my mom.
  • Print bag that can hold the universe (or a breast pump or books or a large knitting project), Brooklyn Industries, gift from my mom. (discussed here).
  • Orange peeptoe heels, Tsubo, a birthday gift from my husband in 2010 (blogged here).

I should note one thing I'm NOT wearing here--makeup, which I rarely wear in real life but almost always wear for photos. I recently had a freakout when I discovered that the FDA found lead in many brands of lipstick, including my beloved Revlon lipsticks, and I started reading up on all my beauty products on the Skin Deep database, and... well... any recommendations for natural toxin-free makeups in cute colors (especially bright red lipstick) but NOT containing sesame or nut oils would be awesome.

Oh, and here's the dress in natural light, shortly after I first bought it seven years ago (that's my sewing cabinet in the corner):

vintage summerdress remix 8_18_06

And now another night to relax, knit and watch old Fringe DVDs with the husband. I'll get back to my Mad Men Challenge dress... when I feel like it. And no sooner.

So: what are you doing to be kind to yourself lately?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I WANT to Make This; I SHOULD Make That #1

1940s Du Barry Dress Showdown Enevelope Illustration with my croquis

I WANT to make this 1940s Du Barry silk dress (far left); I SHOULD make more pants. (And panties, too).

After a Mad Men muslin marathon last night (comments still excessively appreciated!), I'm taking the night off to...

  1. Unwind on the couch and finish knitting my Toddler Tomten jacket. (Just two more rows to go!... plus the sewing up. And the blocking. And the zipper insertion. Right.)
  2. Fantasize about all the lovely (but much quicker and simpler) things I will allow myself to make once my Joan dress is done...

Peter at Male Pattern Boldness recently brought up the issue of practical versus "fantasy" sewing--and how apt that he chose panties as the ultimate in practical sewing!

Because if I was really sewing what I need, that's what I'd be making. Seriously. Why is it completely impossible to purchase high-waisted cute and colorful cotton-spandex blend panties (except on Etsy, of course)?! I self-drafted (er, copied from RTW with SERIOUS tweaks) some a few years ago...

7. Altered pattern--less curving on back area + picot elastic legbands

...and sewed three pairs in fun stripes and colors, like this:

8. Final near-perfect panties with picot elastic-front

They are still my favorites today, and they're barely loose (which is weird, since I was, like 55 pounds heavier when I made them). And at least they cover my belly, unlike EVERY single pair of RTW panties in any even reasonably fun colorway.

But anyway (I am obviously completely incapable of pithy fun blog posts with lots of pictures and few words, sorry!). The point is:

I WANT to sew a Bombshell dress

(Yes, I enrolled. Have not sewed a stitch, but the videos are AWESOME). this wax-print cotton fabric from the stash:

African print cotton: Orange and blue leaves and vines.

I SHOULD make some basic knit T-shirts

... like these ones I made while pregnant:

Jalie 2005 Polka Dot Maternity Mods!

I WANT to make my graffiti-print Colette Pastille or Macaron sheath dress:

Sheath Dress Showdown Sketch

I SHOULD make more wide-legged pants

maybe Simplicity 3688 in this linen blend, with sailor buttons... I know I'd wear them constantly, and I can use the ones I made recently for fitting help...

Simplicity 3688

Nubbly turquoise mystery fabric

I WANT to make a floaty bias-cut retro-inspired polkadot dress

Maybe Burda 7951:

Burda 7951

Brown and cream polka dot poly georgette

I SHOULD make nursing bras for sleep/lounging

... like this Ezi-Sew 110 one (from ELingeriA) languishing in the stash (1 cup size too big, but close enough for sleeping):

Ezi Sew 110

I WANT to make the Starlet Suit Jacket

... (er, yes. I enrolled. again. I do NOT wear suits ever)...

I SHOULD make a cute nightgown

Mine is holey, pilly and wretched...

I SHOULD make a sunhat

My head is so big I can't buy them RTW, and I am SO very pale... how about one of these Vogues?

I SHOULD recover my hideous sofa...

I even bought the fabric weeks ago--if ever decides to actually ship it to me...

I SHOULD sew myself a colorful canvas handbag...

I SHOULD get to that pile of mending I need to do ... and the refashion pile... and the UFO pile...

And this could go on. For decades. As evidenced by a screen shot of my Google Docs project queue:

And by my over-enthusiastic pinning of patterns, vintage inspiration and favorite projects by sewing bloggers who do a whole lot more actual sewing.

But you know what? I'm just going to take a deep breath and take things one project (or two, or three) at a time. And whatever I make... I'm pretty sure it'll turn out just fine and I'll love it just plenty.

Especially if it has stripes or polka dots on it.

So tell me--how do you balance sewing wants and sewing needs?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mad Men Muslin #1: Giving Up on the "Wearable Muslin"?

Mad Men Dress Bodice Muslin - 1

Good: bodice not terribly ill-fitting. Bad: shoulders like, two inches too wide. Ugly: serious gapping problems, remedied here with carefully placed pins.

So here's my Joan Blue Bow Dress (previous posts here) bodice muslin for the Mad Men Challenge, with one sleeve. I made it up in a rayon/poly/lycra blend doubleknit I bought ages ago for $3.99 or something from fabric has almost identical stretch and recovery to my blue wool doubleknit (at least, I THINK/HOPE it does).

So, oh fitting Oracles--what sayeth these wrinkles? Will I be in business with a few simple alterations, or am I really in for it?

Here's my sketch again, if you're not completely sick of it by now:

Mad Men Sewing Challenge Sketch: Joan Dress

Muslin back view:

Mad Men Dress Bodice Muslin - 3

Is that all that annoying wrinkling just swayback, or also because I'm shorter-waisted than the pattern? Or is it because the waist is too tight? Hmm....

Side view--what the heck is going on with these diagonal wrinkles? (Also, yes: I have NO BUTT. It is completely 2-dimensional back there.)

Mad Men Dress Bodice Muslin - 2

The shoulder and sleeve have issues (other issue: accidentally put sleeve seams on outside):

Mad Men Dress Bodice Muslin - 4

Gapping isn't so bad now that I've pinned up a bit of the bottom:

Mad Men Dress Bodice Muslin - 6

I really hate this part of sewing. I always doubt my ability to read the wrinkles, and I'm afraid I'll over or underfit, and sometimes I just get really, really confused as to what the actual fitting issues are and what are, say, poor posture issues or weird photo issues. That said, I adore a well-fitted garment (isn't that why I'm sewing, after all?), and I know this effort will be worth it.

So, the good:

  • It's not way too small. I cut two-inch (I know!) seam allowances out of unfounded fear. The pattern is in a bust 34" (my high bust measurement), and my full bust is 38", but there was plenty of ease built in. Though I'm surprised the waist is even close to fitting--the pattern measures less than 26" in the waist, and my waist is a good 2 inches bigger than that. Hurrah for knits!
  • The bust darts even seem to generally be in the right places. Shocking! Though perhaps they are a smidge to close to the "bust apex."
  • This v-neck bodice is totally flattering, no?

The bad, and my tentative plan of alteration attack.

  • The shoulders are ridiculously wide on me. I always have this problem with set-in-sleeve styles--I have super narrow shoulders.
    • The fix: a narrow shoulder adjustment. At least 1 inch...
  • The waist is too long. It's at least an inch below my natural waist.
    • The fix: shortening the bodice by a bit.
  • The sleeve is too loose. Probably as a result of being made up in a knit, albeit a stable one.
    • The fix: take in the sleeve at the underseam.
  • The waist might be a smidge tight? There seems to be some pulling/wrinkles at the front overlap.
    • The fix: unbaste side seams and pin to fit?
  • Something really awful and bunchy and wrinkly is going on at the back waist.
    • The fix: I don't know! Maybe this will go away when I shorten the bodice... but it might also be too tight? And I KNOW I have swayback, as all my RTW things bunch like this, so I probably need a swayback adjustment, too. Not that I've ever done one. Err...
  • There are some weird diagonal wrinkles on the side.
    • The fix: ???
  • Bust darts end too close to "apex"?
    • The fix: End a bit farther from "apex?"

At this point I think I'm going to give up on the wearable muslin concept. While I think I COULD easily alter this to fit, it would take up precious sewing time I don't have. Plus I think it'll be easier to adjust if I just give myself permission to draw all over this thing without fear. Most importantly, I have limited closet space, and a gray dress just isn't ME (or Joan, for that matter).

I think I'm also going to give up on altering the pattern to be more like the inspiration dress--I'm not sure that I want to invest time/energy in widening the V and drafting my own shawl collar here. I am going to make a bow belt instead of the plain belt, though. It is a bow dress after all! And I will lower the neckline on the dickey, too.

Bonus: my entire fancy muslin-wearing outfit (that's a RTW doubleknit pencil skirt from Target). Fairly certain Joan does NOT wear stripey wool knee socks with heels.

Mad Men Dress Bodice Muslin - 7

So what do you think? Is my assessment on-target? Any help with interpreting these photos is much appreciated.

P.S. One of the essential rules of fitting is wearing the same undergarments you plan to wear with the finished item. I don't normally do shapewear, but I know Joan always wears a long-line bra and girdle... so I tried to approximate that look with some weird Spanx thing that comes up to right below my bra. BUT I COULDN'T BREATHE. So half of these photos are with that thing, half are without. Oddly enough, the fit issues were mainly the same either way.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sewing is FUN. IT IS.

Yes, sewing is ALWAYS a big old party of fun awesome magic happiness. And that is why I am completely NOT at all bothered that:

  • The Mad Men Challenge Joan Bow Dress muslin photos I had hoped to share with you for advice are USELESS (see above) because although I did take the trouble to wear them with a pencil skirt and slip, I neglected to pin/baste the front overlap.
  • Which is more evidence that I probably won't make the Mad Men Challenge end-of-month deadline, giving me flashbacks to the time I didn't finish my baby shower dress in time for my baby shower two years ago, despite frantic last-minute hand-sewing on the Amtrak.
  • Two of the four inexpensive bright cheerful vintage bags I just bought on Etsy to try and broaden my handbag wardrobe turned out to be cracked and peeling pleather (the seller was very nice about it and will refund me, but BUMMER):
  • All y'all are sewing like, 10 things a week and I'm still barely averaging 1 garment/month. My goal, as you recall, is 2 per month--one for me, one for Z. If we pretend I will finish my Mad Men dress on time, I've completed three for me and one for Z.
  • I got re-bra-fitted at my local Brooklyn lingerie shop* yesterday and discovered I had dropped TWO cup sizes. I went because things were a bit loosey-goosey (toddler is still nursing, but maybe somewhat less?), but I wasn't expecting that drastic a drop. And although that means I am once again a 32E (hello WAY easier FBAs and better-fitting off-the-rack), much good that does me because in a fit of "my body will never be the same again" angst, I trashed all my expensive well-made pretty brightly colored 32E bra collection while pregnant. So I now own ONE really well-fitting 32E nursing bra, a lacy underwire Anita-brand number:

    ... and a host of giant loose unsupportive 32G, 32H and 32I bras. Plus a big stash of bra fabrics, patterns and notions I've been too busy to tackle. Hmmm...

But I'm not bothered, because:

  • My Mad Men dress, late or not, is going to be awesome. And I think the muslin may even be wearable. I'll rephotograph it properly tonight once I attach one sleeve, but I think it needs very little tweaking--the shoulders are slightly too wide, the horizontal bust darts are too low, and there's some swayback action happening too... but overall, it's pretty close.
  • While at the bra shop* I also got this awesome supportive Panache Claudette tankini with built-in underwire bra (available in D-K cup, FYI). I did want to sew a swimsuit, but I'm gong to be taking little Z for weekend swim classes at the Y that start very soon and there just wasn't time. It DOES show the stretch marks a bit if I raise my arms, but SERIOUSLY, I cannot be bothered to care, and no one should be inspecting my belly that closely:

  • I'm sitting here (next to my sweet napping toddler) in my wide-legged corduroy Trousers of Triumph. I wear these things at least two or three times a week and they are SO comfortable and cute. Which goes to show that slow, careful sewing can really pay off. I can't wait to make another version in linen with sailor-style buttons for summer!
  • After buying four or five fabrics that didn't quite work for the dickey of my Joan dress (too polyester, too stretchy, not quite right color, not-quite-right print)--and after super awesome reader Jen B. (do you have a website? let me know) even mailed me some fabric she found that was really really close but didn't end up working with my blue doubleknit... I finally sucked it up and braved the Project Runway-inspired hordes at Mood. And there, amidst a teetering pile of just-in $14/yard silk print closeouts, was my Perfect Silk Print:

    Abstract blue, green and black silk from Mood

    The cutter accidentally gave me 1 yard (I had asked for 1 1/2 to be safe), and it's got runs/cuts in one end, but I really just need the 1/2 yard. I think I'll underline it with some blue silk charmeuse I have for opacity.

So yes. NOT worried/bothered by anything at all. Sewing is all fun. Whee!

How's your sewing awesome fun party going this weekend? No worries at all, right?

*Iris Lingerie on 366 Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn, featuring Iris Clarke, the BEST bra fitter ever. She even converts regular bras to nursing bras and she has a great basket of toys for keeping toddlers occupied.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Blog Awards: Like Zombie Bites, But Sweeter (Infographic)

Night of the Living Blog Awards

A few weeks ago, I began to notice signs of an outbreak in the sewing blogosphere. One after another, my favorite blogs were being taken over by blog award memes of mysterious origin, and answering questions about their favorite colors, numbers--and even, oddly, days of the week.

And I noticed something even odder about the rules for these awards--which required they be passed on to not one, not two, but as many as 5, 7, or even 15 other bloggers.

Please indulge me in a little amateur epidemiology here, as I say: gals (and guys), that math just DOESN'T MAKE SENSE. So I pulled out my handy calculator (er, spreadsheet), confirmed my suspicions and put together a little infographic to illustrate it.

Diary of a Sewing Blog Outbreak

It reminded me of nothing so much as a zombie outbreak. Your average slow zombie can maybe infect five bloggers, but one of those fancy fast ones could probably take down at least 15, especially in the early stages of decomposition.

I'm fairly certain there aren't actually 38.4 billion sewing blogs out there, but we haven't been quite this overrun because many sewing bloggers (like me, er, sorry!) take a bit of time to acknowledge these awards, or don't pass them on. It's basically a digital chain letter.

Now before you accuse me of being a cranky killjoy (you might have a point, it's been a rough week!), I have actually really enjoyed reading everyone's awards posts, because they've led me to a lot of awesome new-to-me sewing blogs to add to my overloaded Google Reader. And silly as some of the questions and rules for these things are, they are a nice way of spreading the sewing blog love and learning random facts about my favorite bloggers beyond their taste in sewing patterns and fabric.

And I really did feel super-special and happy to recently receive a number of sweet awards from some of my favorite bloggers recently, so I WILL play along and answer some of the accompanying questions. Just for fun!

The Versatile Blogger Award:

Elizabeth (from E Made This), Laura Mae (from Lilacs & Lace) and Tina from Down the Retro Rabbit Holeeach sent me a Versatile Blogger Award.

First, big hugs to the awesome Elizabeth, whose been a (digital) friend of mine for two years, since we both were pregnant with our youngest (or in my case, only) little ones. This woman can sew beautifully fitted clothes like nobody's business--coats, pants, jeans, blouses, you name it, mostly while the little ones are napping. She's currently soliciting participants in a really cool sewalong called "The T-Shirt Project", making knit tops with awesome details (like PEPLUMS)--I am too limited in my sewing time to join but YOU all should!

And wow, if you have even the slightest interest in vintage sewing, I really hope you are reading Lilacs & Lace. Laura Mae is a fellow polka-dot and peplum devotee, and she makes the most amazing and inspiring beautifully fitted vintage-inspired garments, documented in lovely photoshoots. And she wears awesome shoes. Seriously, check out the back detail on this suit dress.

I didn't even know about Tina's blog before, but I'm so excited to become a regular reader and follow her fabulous vintage sewing adventures. I completely agree with her assessment that "if we knew each other in real life, we'd be friends. The sipping tea (or maybe martinis) whilst sewing kinda of friends." Tina reads a ridiculous amount of books, and maybe at an even slightly faster pace than me (I sure as heck didn't read the first three Game of Thrones books in two days, though it was close).

And as per the rules of this meme, here are seven non-sewing facts you probably don't know about me:

  1. My first job in high school was working for minimum wage as an ice cream waitress. (Note: I am lactose intolerant, so this was torture.)
  2. When I was 17, I tattooed myself with a (sewing) needle and ink. I had this really complex artistic concept in mind involving spirals and circles, but I got indecisive halfway through and stopped, so I have just have this weird squiggle thing on my ankle.
  3. My first job out of college was designing financial information graphics for The Wall Street Journal.
  4. My fondest childhood ambition was to be a science fiction writer.
  5. My favorite music in high school was punk rock--and still is, because I can't be bothered to pay attention to new bands. The bands most often in rotation on my iTouch or Pandora are: Billy Bragg, the Buzzcocks, Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, The Dead Kennedys, Johnny Cash, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith.
  6. I am really passionate about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights--especially transgender rights. For nine years I drew angry political cartoons for Bay Windows, Boston's LGBT newspaper (old cartooning blog here, old gallery here, even older gallery here).
  7. I work in marketing for Doctors Without Borders/Médècins Sans Frontières USA. Every day I feel grateful for the amazing opportunity I have to raise money to help save the lives of people trapped in crises where few other organizations will go. Recently when I interviewed a midwife who had just come back from Chad, she told me some stories of women and babies she had cared for who would otherwise have died--for the lack of really basic medicines that cost like, 75 cents per new mother--and I cried. Trust me, you would have too. (By the way, my husband is riding for Doctors Without Borders in the 5 Boro Bike Tour, and even a small donation can make a huge impact).

I'm not going to bite 15 other bloggers though--it would just be too hard to choose my favorites like that. Instead I plan to more regularly feature my favorite blog crushes by category.

The Sunshine Award

The Sunshine Award gets the award for most inane questions. BUT it brings me lots of sunshine and happiness because it comes from the fabulous Liza Jane of liza jane sews, who should get the award for best awards acceptance post for her lovely photos of a day in her life as an elementary school art teacher.

My parents are both (retired) public school teachers, and I pretty much spent all the time I possibly could in art class, so to me Liza Jane is a rock star. Everything she sews is artistically-designed, bright, fun and inspiring like this dress influenced by her students' artwork. I also love her experiments in drafting and in sewing for kids.

Oh, and those inane questions. Rather than answer them myself, I'll tell you how my 21-month-old daughter would answer them:

  • Favorite Colour: Green. In fact, EVERYTHING is green according to her.
  • Favorite Animal: Cats. With sheep a close second. (The apple doesn't fall far, etc.)
  • Favorite Number: 1 (or "uno!" as she prefers it).
  • Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drink: Breastmilk.
  • Facebook or Twitter: Google Plus. Seriously, she hijacked my mom's iPad and was posting all over the place before my mom realized.
  • Her Passion: Music and dancing.
  • Getting or Giving Presents: Getting.
  • Favorite Pattern: The Ottobre Pupu Overalls I just made for her.
  • Favorite Day of the Week: Saturday and Sunday, because Mommy's home all day.
  • Favorite Flower: All flowers are equally exciting to her. "Flower!"
  • Favorite celebrity role model: Elmo. Or possibly Béyonce. She loves them both.

The Liebster Blog Award

And finally, big thanks to the awesome Neeno from Sew Me Love for passing on the Liebster Love. This awesome seamstress is PROLIFIC and makes the most adorable dresses in eye-blinding vivid colors--my kind of girl! Again, I'm new to her blog but already obsessed.

Phew! I'm all awarded out. If anyone else has bitten me with given me an award I somehow missed, I apologize!

P.S. In case you were wondering my opinion on zombie-related media:

  • Books: Love love love adoringly love Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Really enjoyed Colson Whitehead's Zone One. The Zombie Survival Guide is OK. I read all the Walking Dead comics and wish I hadn't, because they gave me nightmares, the outlook in them is too bleak, and I don't like the way most of the women characters are portrayed.
  • Films and TV: Love Shaun of the Dead, Fido (really odd film set in a retro 50s-esque suburbia where zombies are ill-treated servants), both 28 XXX Later movies. Was able to watch most Romero movies once but couldn't do so again, and certainly can't watch their remakes again (too scary/upsetting). As for the Walking Dead: NO. I can NOT watch that terrifying thing.

P.P.S. Oh, and about that photo at the way tippy-top of this post--that's me and my friend Mary (the fastest woman in Brooklyn in the recent NYC Marathon, go Mary!) dressed as zombies for a Zombie Purim party some years back. You can't tell in the photo, but I'm wearing a gorgeous vintage black cutout velvet dress with a bow and a PEPLUM. More on that dress soon as I'm trying to add straps to it...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

5 Magic Awesome Reasons to Sew With Wool! (+ 2 Ways to Wash It)

Wool: sexy, hypnotic and magical! Don't be scared!

So last night I was leisurely handwashing the soft, blue and luscious Christian Dior doubleknit wool fabric I'm using for my Mad Men Challenge dress in a basin of tepid water and Eucalan...

Christian Dior blue wool doubleknit

And as I squeezed it very gently with my hands, that delicious lanolin smell wafted up to my nostrils and I thought: "Wow! I can't believe I ever was afraid of wool!"

In fact, before I started knitting with better-quality soft merino wools (thanks to the inspiring words of Elizabeth Zimmerman and The Yarn Harlot), I not only feared handwashing wool garments, I thought I was actually allergic to the stuff.* I even sought out acrylic and cotton yarns OVER wool. For real!

So in case you are still struggling with wool-o-phobia, I present (in random, arbitrary, unscientific fashion):

5 Reasons I Love Working With Wool

  1. It keeps you warm but lets your skin breathe.
  2. It resists odors, stains and bacteria, and rarely needs cleaning.
  3. Wool kicks water to the curb and keeps you toasty and dry, absorbing up to 30 percent of its weight in water before even feeling wet. This is why I wear wool socks almost every day (except in the summer).

    Mikhaela's Mixed Up Monkey Socks
  4. It comes in gazillions of beautiful colors and weights and styles to suit any taste. Slinky sexy soft merino wool jerseys, nubbly gorgeous sturdy tweeds and plaids, thin tropical wools, flattering drapey crepes...
  5. It has amazing springiness and recovery and takes fabulously to pressing and steaming and shaping and fitting and tailoring (see Joan photo at top--do you think cotton can do that? I don't think so!)

Bonus Reasons For Crafty Mamas to Love Wool

  1. Wool makes baby pee vanish. Like magic! Wool diaper soakers make the best cloth diaper covers because the lanolin in the wool does some weird tricky thing that actually just makes the urine go away as it dries. Really! (Not that I'm going to let Z pee on my Mad Men dress, mind you.) When Z was a newborn, I used the awesome and quick Sheepy Soaker pattern to make the below:

  2. Wool fights embarrassing breastmilk leaks. I ONLY wear merino wool nursing pads (which I could have made easily, but bought--mine are LanaCare and OnGuard brands). I have a few pairs, and one dries while the other is in use. They are soft, warm, absorbent and dry, fight bacteria and don't feel cold and clammy, and can be easily handwashed as necessary.

2 Ways to Wash Wool

  1. Handwash with gentle wool wash and tepid water. I use this method for all handknits and all my wool sweaters and wool knit tops. It's SO easy. Seriously. Just: fill a basin with tepid water, add a dash of wool wash (the real gentle lanolin-containing kind, like Eucalan, not Woolite or any harsh chemical ones) gently squeeze through, let soak 15 minutes, roll gently in a towel to remove excess water, lay flat to dry. DONE. No rinsing required!
  2. Pam's Dry-Clean-free Fast & Easy pre-treatment method. I haven't tried this yet, but many sewists swear by it, and I love that no dry cleaner is required! Though I'm not clear on whether occasional dry-cleaning would still be required once a garment is actually worn--my guess is yes.

And as they used to say on Reading Rainbow, don't just take my word for it!

Nothing beats wool. It's an extraordinary material—annually renewable and recyclable—with infinite potential. It can be wispy and sensual when it wants to be, it can be gruff and powerful, it can put out fires and keep families warm at night, it can be stepped on, sat under, rained on, and wrapped up in again and again.
--Clara Parkes, author of The Knitter's Book of Wool

So: do you fear--or embrace--wool? And why? What's your favorite source for buying wool fabric?

*Mohair, on the other hand--that stuff turns my skin bright red in SECONDS. Yowch!

Monday, March 19, 2012

You Can Sew It—But Can You Accessorize It? (The Joan Accessory Hunt)

Joan Accessories

Mad Men's Joan Holloway: Not a woman with accessory problems. (And yes, I know she wears pointier shoes than that, but those are shoes I actually own, so: close enough.)

So, tell me: am I the only sewist who is excellent at coordinating colors and textures and prints to produce an adorable outfit... and woefully uninspired when it comes to accessorizing said adorable outfit?

Which is a problem, since accessories can take your look to a whole other level of awesome... or totally destroy it.

Especially with something like my Mad Men challenge dress. Joan is not a slapdash accessorizer--unlike me, she is all about a total, polished look. So the above is a rough sketch of how I plan to achieve...

The classic Joan accessories:

  1. A gold-tone pen necklace. Found easily via 1928 jewelry.
  2. An elegant gold-tone brooch. I considered one very similar to hers, but this lovely Corocraft double leaf brooch I saw at the Today's Vintage booth at the Brooklyn Flea market yesterday just called out to me. And it was $10. Sold! (And now the first and only brooch I own).
  3. Elegant earrings. I believe she's wearing pearl studs in the above. I already have a pair (wore them for my wedding and job interviews), so DONE.
  4. A classic frame-style handbag. I couldn't find any on Polyvore (and they don't let you clip from Etsy or Flickr), but here's one from Etsy that is very Joan...

    Source: via Mikhaela on Pinterest

    ... though I'm not actually going to buy this particular one. I may just go with a structured eggplant-colored leather tote I already own (from DSW clearance years ago) as "close enough."
  5. Pointy-toed pumps. Authentic or not, I just do not DO pointy toes or spiky heels. The above shoes--Tsubo Eeini pumps in "nude" with a sturdy low heel--are the closest I get.
  6. A self-fabric belt. I'm making a self-fabric bow belt to go with my dress, so DONE. (or will be done).

But anyway: back to my usual accessory struggles. It's really rather sad. I'll spend twenty minutes carefully composing a coordinated clash of dots and stripes... and a moment or less on choosing a scarf or a bag to set it off. I don't even own a properly fitting sunhat (and I'm corpse-pale enough to REALLY REALLY need one). And when it comes to coordinating bags and shoes? And mixing or not mixing black and brown leather and gold and silver tone jewelry or... ARGH.

As Exhibit A, I present...

The boring accessories I wore EVERY DAY in college, even with dresses:

  • Earrings: A pair of sterling silver hoop earrings from the ear-piercing store. (I'm still wearing these. Almost every day. Could I have more boring ears?!)
  • Necklace: A thin barely noticeable delicate-looking necklace with a charm on it.
  • Scarf: None ever. (not counting winter scarves, obviously).
  • Belt: Also none ever.
  • Shoes: Doc Martens boots. With a steel toe. (I got into this habit while working in a shipping hub at UPS in order to protect my toes. It wasn't until I stopped wearing these constantly that I realized how freaking HEAVY they were. Ouch!)
  • Bag: A backpack. The day hiking kind, not the fancy kind.
  • Watch: Digital. The running kind. Except I wasn't a runner. (It's hard in steel-toed boots).
  • Hats, brooches, pins, hair accessories, other miscellanea: Ha ha ha ha.

Now, don't get me wrong. There are some...

Accessories I totally GET now:

  • Glasses. I love my glasses. I have two pairs that fit--one brown, one bright green--and I should probably match them to my outfits better, but whatever. Hurrah for cute spectacles! My current favorites are these cat-eye Bevel brand glasses, mine are bright green:

  • Shoes. Over the past seven years I have carefully curated a very small collection of comfortable yet cute retro-influenced flats, heels, boots and sandals with round toes and sturdy, low heels (if any). Go me! I do need to clean out some shoes I have worn past all repair, but it's generally in good shape. These Miz Mooz lovelies (which I'm wearing today) are a good example:

    Miz Mooz pumps

  • Necklaces. The brighter the better:

    Collar detail

    I keep mine on a set of pegs on the wall and admire them daily. And I'm trying to gradually replace the cheap bright plastic Forever 21 costume jewelry necklaces like the above with equally inexpensive but much fancier looking bright vintage costume jewelry necklaces.

But there are many more...

Accessories on which I continue to be clueless:

  • Scarves. Own a bunch, even some vintage silk ones, but no idea when/how to add or how to tie them. I need to play with this. Somehow I always feel like instead of making things more fun, they make me look frumpier/older.
  • Belts. Considering how much I love working the whole hourglass silhouette, I own/wear hardly any, mostly the cheapo pleather kind with the big round buckle.
  • Hats. I have a huge head and finding hats that fit--never mind hats I actually like--is a challenge. So I have one ugly sunhat that pinches my head. Maybe I could make some (at least the breezy simple cotton kind). The only winter hats I have are self-knit.
  • Bags. My husband frequently asks me when I'm going to stop lugging around a gigantic bag that can swallow the universe, because he worries I am hurting my back. He has a point. My mom got me a giant Brooklyn Industries bag--similar to this one:

    ...but brighter with a magenta print--when I needed to carry a breast pump to and fro from work. I hung up the pump horns months ago, but I'm still lugging the bag (now with the sweater I'm knitting inside), and I don't have a smaller bag for more casual occasions or running about on the weekends. I literally carry this suitcase-sized bag EVERYWHERE. It makes no sense and I must stop.

  • Earrings. Yeah, still wearing the tiny hoops I got from the ear-piercing studio. In 1990-something. Every day. Ok then!
  • Watches. I wear the same casual black leather-strapped watch. Every day. But it least it has a traditional, not digital, face, and nice typography.
  • Rings. I wear my wedding ring. That's it!
  • Brooches/Hatpins/Hair Accessories/Misc.. Er...

But whatever. There's no time like the present to start playing around with and exploring these things, and this Mad Men challenge is a great opportunity for that!

So, readers: are you an accessorizing superhero, or a accessorizing slacker? Are you better with some items than others? And is all this stressing over accessories just totally unnecessary and far too much work? Please confess!

P.S. Also--what do you think of my Joan accessory plans? Is the pen necklace fun, or too cliched/costume-y/obvious?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Funny: "The Scarf" (How NOT To Tie One) + Costume Preview

Yeah, so, you know that feeling you get when you're trying to tie a scarf just right... or you keep putting on different skirts and yet somehow NONE of them work with the top you're wearing, but when you change your top, the new top doesn't work, and you start to leave the house, but then you stop and look in the mirror and you're just like. WAIT. NO. And you're late for something, but ...

Then you may get a little deja vu while watching this comedy video short by my friend Stephanie Bencin (no blog, but she's on Tumblr and Twitter), a fabulous up-and-coming comedy writer/filmmaker. Stephanie is a documentary film researcher by day, and by night writes for The Prom, a sketch comedy team that performs at New York's Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre (founded by the awesome Amy Pohler, among others).

Anyway, Stephanie recently drafted me to do what could very generously be called costume design (to say I am not on a Dreamstress level would be an understatement) for another upcoming video... the same comedy costuming project I mentioned before that required I buy copious amounts of (shudder) fleece. Here's a sneak peek--Z was really sad she couldn't keep the costume when it was done.

Z hiding under the black polar fleece

And the above video details:

"The Scarf"

  • Written by Stephanie Bencin
  • Directed and Edited by Adam Sacks
  • Shot by Andy Bond
  • Starring Moujan Zolfaghari
  • Featuring Lauren Adams, Sasheer Zamata and Matt Cutler
  • Music by Lawrence Kim

If you enjoy the video, please do your part for female comedians and leave comments here or on YouTube, share it on Facebook, Twitter and so on--Stephanie is just starting to do more of these comedy shorts and any feedback and exposure would have a super big impact! (AND would likely mean you will get to see more entertaining costuming projects here in future).

P.S. Sorry to those of you reading on non-video-friendly devices, but it's worth emailing or bookmarking and watching later!

P.P.S. Speaking of scarves, how beautiful (if super large) is Sarai's scarf collection? I only own 6 or 7 and I really need to start wearing them more often. Honestly, I am terrified of my poor scarf manipulation skills, and in a fit of anxiety a few years ago actually purchased two books on scarf tying.

P.P.P.S. Here I am in 2009 on a rare scarf-wearing occasion in Paris with a turquoise Diane Von Furstenberg silk scarf I bought on deep sale ages back. I definitely didn't have it on right, but cliché or no, I was more scared of NOT wearing a scarf in Paris than wearing it wrong, if that makes sense:

Obligatory photos of Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Sewing Happiness Quotient (featuring the "Kit Cat Cute" Cords)

Z in her Ottobre "Pupu" Overalls

10 out of 10 for Sewing Happiness Quotient, 10 out of 10 for Mangled Buttonhole Quotient.

When planning your sewing, there are many factors to consider—fabric, fit, finishing, cleaning methods, how a garment will fit into your wardrobe and lifestyle...

But what about the sheer unbridled HAPPINESS factor? What about the fun details, exciting colors and passion-inspiring prints that just make you THRILLED and DELIGHTED and BURSTING WITH JOY every time you wear them?

Let's call this the Sewing Happiness Quotient. It may not be a very scientific or elegant way to evaluate your sewing projects (and could result in embellishment overload), but well, shouldn't sewing be FUN?

And these overalls--while still way too large, and somewhat imperfect in their finishing--are just PACKED with fun details that (a) made them a pleasure for me to sew and (b) make them exciting for my daughter to wear. She may look stoic in the top photo, but that's because I asked her to pose--her general reaction to these overalls is better represented here:

Z in her Ottobre "Pupu" Overalls

Anyway, for these overalls, here were the main Sewing Happiness Factors:

Mikhaela Happiness Factor: The Fabric

Ottobre "Pupu" Overalls: Lining

The overalls lining.

Have you ever loved a fabric beyond all reason, so much so that even thinking about said fabric made you ridiculously happy? Well, that's how I feel about a certain Maggy London abstract print lawn I got from Emma One Sock a few years ago.

I first used it in a reversible shirred skirt I made while hugely pregnant--but which is happily so stretchy that I wear it frequently today. And I was so excited to use the leftovers here for the overalls lining, piping, and appliqué. I think I still have enough to make a scarf...

Toddler Happiness Factor: The Cat Appliqué

Z in her Ottobre "Pupu" Overalls

I never used to understand why almost so much toddler clothing is covered in cutesy appliqués--I thought it was because adults felt an unnecessary urge to embellish their children in frou-frou nonsense. Not so! Those appliqués are for the kids! Z loves to point at the pictures on her clothes and identify them: "Butterfly!" "Cupcake!" "Hammer!" And on nights when she doesn't want to get ready for bed, my best parenting trick is a pair of appliqued pajamas:

Me: It's time to put on your pajamas!

Z: (laughs in defiance, runs around apartment squealing in diaper)

Me: They've got kitty cats on the toes!

Z: (comes to screeching halt, runs over) Kitty! Kitty!

So yeah, she loves them.

Z in her Ottobre "Pupu" Overalls

Here's an appliqué closeup (please ignore those mangled buttonholes):

Ottobre "Pupu" Overalls: Detail (lightened)

The sketch:

Stripes & Wales Sweater & Overalls toddler outfit sketch

More views:

Ottobre "Pupu" Overalls: Hanger shot Ottobre "Pupu" Overalls: Back

The pattern: Ottobre Design Magazine 4/2010 #4. Lined "Pupu" Overalls in baby and toddler sizes:

Ottobre_2010_4_4 Toddler Overalls

Pattern Sizing: I cut the largest size, 92 cm (similar in size to American 3T) as I wanted these to be quite a bit too large for her to grow into. They are super big, but not so huge as to be unwearable. And she grows FAST. So I'm happy.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Better than Burda magazine, but not as detailed and helpful as pattern envelope type instructions--they don't have illustrations or anything, it's just a lot of small print. The trickiest bit was attaching the lining to the shell and turning inside out through a small gap in the lining seam--be careful to read closely here.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I love that these are a really special garment in a simple silhouette with lots of details that can be played with and changed. Because of the details and lining they took ages to make-- but it was worth it.


  • Shell: Soft magenta baby cord from the stash, originally purchased at Jo-Ann's for $9/yard. I barely had enough with the one yard, so I had to piece the back bib and cut small seam allowances (1/4").
  • Lining/Piping/Appliqué: Awesome Maggy London printed lawn from stash, originally $10.50/yard from Emma One Sock (plus some corduroy scraps from my trousers for cat facial features).
Notions + whatnot: Buttons from Pacific Trimming, embroidery floss (for cat whiskers).

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:

  • I didn't bother with the velcro front closing, as Z has no problem pulling pants on and off the ordinary way--I just cut two sets of the regular leg pieces. But I would have if making these for a baby.
  • Replaced the heart-shaped back pockets with flat-piped self-drafted pockets that mimic the geometric shapes of the lining print. (My husband hated the hearts on the butt of the original).
  • Replaced the bunny appliqué with a cat appliqué of my own design.


  • First time making my own bias tape. I used Sarai's awesome method from the Colette Sewing Handbook.
  • First time (flat) piping anything. Can't wait to do this on something for me now!
  • First time applying an appliqué on a garment. I used Lite Steam-a-Seam 2 to fuse it to the bib front, which made it super easy--and meant I could just stitch down with a straight stitch and not worry about frayed edges.
  • First time hand-embroidering on a garment (the whiskers). I used a split stitch and it was really fun and easy. I shouldn't have tried to hoop the corduroy, though--it left marks.
  • First time fully-lining something like this (I've done free-hanging full dress linings, but this was trickier).
  • First time doing decorative topstitching (on some seams and for the faux knee patches). I didn't have the right color in topstitching thread, so I used the triple reinforced stitch with mixed results (it worked well on straight lines, not so much on on the curved knee patch lines).

Room for improvement:

  • Buttonhole sadness. I have the worst luck with my Viking's sensor buttonhole foot. I always interface the button area and make practice buttonholes, but something funny happened here and I had to restitch the buttonhole over itself twice... it's a mess.
  • Tab weirdness. In fact, the tabs and straps just don't look right in general to me (they don't seem to quite line up) but whatever. They're toddler overalls!

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?

Maybe and yes. It's getting warmer, so I'll probably switch to sewing dresses for her now.

Wear to: Park. Sandbox. Playdate. Art-making. Wherever!

Conclusion: She loves them! I love them! Meow!

Z in her Ottobre "Pupu" Overalls

So--what sewing is making you happy lately?


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