Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Austin fabric store reviews & sewing meetup awesomeness

Austin Sewing Meetup at the Common Thread Fabric Store

Sewing meetup awesomeness at The Common Thread in Austin (with lots of love for stripes, clockwise from L): Me, Melissa of Melly Sews, Angela of So Made, Melizza of Pincushion Treats, Sara, Susan of Moon Thirty, and Susan of Miss Lulu Sews

So Austin turned out to be the perfect family vacation spot—and sewing mojo reboot inspiration. I somehow managed to attend four (!) sewing-related meetups in slightly over a week, sew a skirt, acquire an excessive amount of pretty new fabric, and even go to a crafty birthday party for Dixie (of Dixie DIY). (I must thank Susan for being the most amazing sewing hostess ever and for making all of this fun happen!)

Unrelated to sewing, I baked allergy-free bread, made homemade tamales on a hotplate, ate many tacos, met up with a cartoonist friend, swam in Barton Springs Pool and went on a movie date with my husband to the Alamo Drafthouse. It was a good time.


At The Common Thread a week earlier, with Dixie of Dixie DIY, Susan and Angela

My three-year-old daughter had some stitchy fun herself at the Thinkery children's museum:


And joined me for two of the sewing meetups. But I must say that one of the NON-highlights of the trip was her running around Stitched Fabric shop during a sewing club gathering, pins in hand, yelling "Poop soup!" and giggling maniacally, with me madly chasing behind. Sigh...

Austin fabric shopping is very different from the NYC fabric shopping to which I am accustomed. In Manhattan, I can stroll a few blocks over to the Garment District on my lunch break, and find myself in very large (and sometimes dim, dusty and crowded) stores, easily overwhelmed and at a loss for what I actually want or need. The selection is huge, but sometimes maybe a bit TOO huge.

In Austin, I had to get in a car (oh, GRRR, how I hate driving!) to reach the little shops I visited, but they were calmer, better-lit, more well-curated and had a more personal touch and intimate customer service approach than, say, Mood (not that I don't love Mood! but you know what I mean). I came away with some truly special and high-quality pieces that I can't wait to stitch into, especially the knits.

The Common Thread

  • Location: 701 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704
  • Vibe: Relaxed, welcoming, elegant. A well curated selection of high-quality woven and knit fashion fabrics, including eco-friendly and organic fabrics in a range of fibers (even hemp and bamboo), and in styles from quirky and bold to elegant and refined. The fabric is beautifully displayed and there were lovely sample garments out for inspiration. Jeanie, the owner, was very welcoming, knew all the Austin sewists and seems to regularly host sewing meetups. Prices are fair, but this isn't a discount shop by any means (though there is a small sale/remnant rack in the back.)
  • I couldn't resist: Riley Blake cotton/spandex gray and white polka dot knit and some lovely gray and white seersucker (the top top fabrics shown)...

    Austin fabric finds!
    ...And this scant amount of Echino cotton/linen blend fabric. It was on sale, and there's barely enough for a straight skirt:

    This Echino linen/cotton remnant was on sale at The Common Thread for 30% off... Just enough to make a straight skirt.

TexStyles Designer Fabric Showroom


Susan wishing she had a reasonable excuse to buy some $85/yard French silk charmeuse

  • Location: 2605 Jones Rd Ste D Austin, TX 78745
  • Vibe: One-of-a-kind designer fabric finds, from the over-the-top to the fancy, ranging from about $7/yard to much, much higher. Lots of great knits (including some fantastic sweater knits, which aren't easy to find), loud bold prints, bright colors and sequins. The fabric is packed in tightly on the racks and it's a small space, so a bit of hunting and digging is required to turn up gems.
  • I couldn't resist: A yard of black and blue zig-zaggy knit print to make a fun tee.


    I also randomly got to meet Daniel Esquivel (of Project Runway fame) who was super friendly and showed us some fabric designs he was working on:

    Randomly got to meet Daniel from Project Runway while fabric-store-touring Austin with @moonthirty, @dixiediy + @angmso (at Tex Styles)

    On our second visit to the store, Little Z enjoyed grabbing the fabrics a little too much and I had to take her outside before she ruined anything:

    Smuggling with my sleepy Z outside TexStyles fabric shop. Time to go home!

Stitched Fabric (at the Austin Fabric Coop)

  • Location: 6601 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78752
  • Vibe: Knit paradise on earth. It is probably for the best that I don't live in Austin, as this place might be a problem for me. I have never before been in a shop where it was so painful to walk away without taking 90% of the store items home with me. There were knit stripes, and knit prints, and knit polka dots, all in good weights with excellent stretch and drape and recovery (something I struggle to find, even in New York). There were plenty of woven fabrics too, but I wasn't paying them much mind because the KNITS.


    AND there was a TARDIS door: Untitled

    AND I got to see some of the Cake Patterns envelopes I've illustrated at large in their natural sewing-shop habitat:


    The prices are fair (but not discount cheap) given the quality and there is a "free scraps" table with some surprisingly large scraps.

  • I couldn't resist: Purple/gray/red thin-striped knit for a skirt (scroll up) and green and white polka dot knit (enough for a dress):


    Plus a good amount of wax print fabric from the free scraps table for a dress for the little girl.

We were so sad to leave Austin and all of our friends there (old and new), and I hope those of you attending Pattern Review weekend have a fantastic time!

Love these two more than anything!

P.S. Also while at the Thinkery, little Z and the husband and I had fun with a giant microscope to look at some different objects very closely including knit jersey fabric, corduroy fabric and my daughter's little plastic Princess Tiana doll:




Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sweater Girl Showdown 2014: Which Two-Tone Shrunken Cardigan to Knit Now?

Yes, yes, I am a slow and indecisive knitter (but I have a history of carpal tunnel! So I HAVE to knit glacially, for my hands' sake). I DID finish three cardigans last year... but two of them were for babies.

So as I am putting the finishing touches on the button bands of the Delancey cardigan I decided on in last year's Sweater Girl Showdown 2013 (and as I sit here wearing the Georgina cardigan I made for 2012's Sweater Girl Showdown) I of course jump ahead to the excitement of the next negative-eased cardigan to come.

This time I am just deciding between two, both of which I have the yarn already in stash. I don't have enough solid card yarn to finish either, hence the two-tone theme.

Option 1: A blue-and-gray Hetty

  • The pattern: The Hetty cardigan by Andi Satterlund Lovely, lacey, retro and fitted—and supposedly a relatively quick and easy knit, too:
  • The yarn: Beaverslide Dry Goods Mule-Spun Merino Lambswool in October Skye (blue) and Light Natural Gray Heather, both worsted weight and sitting in the stash over three years. I don't have quite enough of the blue for the entire cardigan (unless I make it shortsleeved, which doesn't really appeal here). This is truly special yarn, and it's been waiting for the right project for a long time:



    Pros: I've been wanting to knit one of Andi's gorgeous figure-flattering vintage-inflected patterns for AGES (I blame Lauren) and I know I would love knitting and wearing this beautiful cardigan. Also, when I had questions about yarn weight, Andi answered them on Ravelry in like, minutes. (Don't you just LOVE indie designers like that?!)

    Cons: A bit too warm for summer wear, even in the air-conditioning, I think. I'm also not 100% sold on my two-tone sketch for this—I'd kind of like the blue closer to my face, so maybe I'd use the gray for the bands and lower part of the cardigan—not sure.

Option 2: A double-candy-pink Cherry

  • The pattern: Cherry by Anna Bell: Also lovely, lacey and fitted, and a bit more suited for spring/summer with its lighter-weight yarn and short sleeves.
  • The yarn: 1 ball Filatura di Crosa Zara superwash merino and 5 balls Sublime baby cashmere/merino/silk blend (bought with a gift certificate from the husband at my beloved local Brooklyn yarn store La Casita last year—they didn't have quite enough of it in just one color). So soft, so pretty, so summery!

    Candy pink DK yarns...

    Pros: I've been wanting to knit this for over a year (it was the runner-up last time) and I have the yarn ready and waiting. Plus: so perfect for a summer knit! And there are a lot of really lovely versions of this on Ravelry to envy.

    Cons: The website for the Cherry pattern is gone and it can no longer be purchased ad hoc. But my library has the book it appeared in originally, Modern Knits, Vintage Style.

I'm still making up my mind here... but which would you knit if you were me?

P.S. Here are a couple of other quick color ideas for Hetty... the third one could also work in all blue with just short sleeves. Or I could see if I could get another skein of blue (not the same blue but still blue) for a more unified look...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Me Made May 2014: the pledge, the sad inventory, the UFO pile & the plan

Mikhaela's Me Made May 2013: Polka Dot Overload blog

Most of my Me Made May outfits from last year

The Pledge

I, Mikhaela Reid, of Polka Dot Overload blog, sign up as a participant of Me-Made-May '14. I endeavor to wear one me-made, refashioned or friend/mom-made item each day for the duration of May 2014.(Cutting myself a little slack here because my size has changed, I didn't sew for six months due to carpal tunnel and lost sewing mojo, and a few of my favorite me-mades have gone mysteriously missing).

The (Sad) Inventory

I'm calling this sad because I am sad that a number of my me-mades have either gone mysteriously missing (lost during travel or in the laundry room, I guess) or are just too small (or in the case of old maternity makes, too big). What remains, and can be actually worn:

When I look back I have made over 50 garments over the past five years or so, but some of those were maternity, some were for my daughter or other babies, and some just didn't work out. So... this is all I've got out of the starting gate. And you all saw most of them during Me Made May last year. Oh well!

The UFO pile

The UFO pile
These are the UFOs that are so close to done I hope to finish them within the first half of Me Made May.
  1. My Cake Patterns Red Velvet Knit Dress in blue and purple patterned ITY (upper left). She's all cut and ready to sew, but I abandoned her after sewing one seam due to carpal tunnel last fall.
  2. My third Cake Patterns Hummingbird peplum top—the Blue version, with the dickey and three-quarter-length sleeves. I cut her out during the sew-along last summer, but was so busy moderating said sewalong I didn't actually finish her:

    Hummingbird "Blue" in progress
  3. My Delancey cardigan by Alexis Winslow (center bottom row): I am just finishing the bands, then the buttons and collar and I am DONE.

There are a few other items in the UFO photo I probably won't bother finishing with any urgency—it's the wrong season now for my coming-out-far-too-big Knotty Gloves. The chartreuse doubleknit jacket you can just barely see the edge of on the bottom left is too big and requires more fitting (it also dates from 2010). And the blue silk dot bias half-slip in the upper middle is cut rather askew.

The plan

  • Wear at least one me-made every day.
  • Don't worry about outfit repeats.
  • Don't worry too much about boring the blog readership (that's you!) with the same clothes I wore last year.
  • Take a photo every day—even if it's just an Instagram mirror selfie.
  • Whip out a few TNT patterns in fabrics from the stash.
  • Make at least one pattern I haven't made before.
  • Refashion at least one wardrobe item.

I cannot even describe how excited I am for Me Made May. Last year it really got me energized and sewing again after a horrible six-month bout with severe chronic sinusitis and surgery for same. This year I'm hoping to get back into sewing after a ... horrible three-month bout with carpal tunnel (no surgery this time, but the mojo was definitely lost).

And it also gives me an excuse to dress up and feel, well, pretty. I've got to admit the winter has been getting me down, and I've been feeling a bit like Frumpy Food Allergy Mom (or that's how I imagine myself in my head) who never does her hair or makeup, always looks frazzled and sleep-deprived, is always covered in flour or pickle juice from one allergy-free culinary experiment or another, and wears the same jeans and old falling-apart T-shirts and worn-out flats every day.

So here's to old makes, new makes, refashions and new ways to wear and combine them!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Finished: a vacation Miette to get my mojo back (Tilly & the Buttons Miette wrap skirt)

Miette wrap skirt in pale blue twill

Two bows are better than one! (Also: I will pay no attention to those pesky press-resistant hem puckers: all that matters is I made a pretty skirt. With comfy pockets. That I can wear!)

So I just went to Austin on vacation with my family, and when I arrived at the vacation rental apartment, there was this little surprise, in the corner:


When I told my Austin-based friend Susan (of Moon Thirty fame), she basically ORDERED me to make something—because clearly this was a sign, and how could I NOT sew something on my Austin vacation? We conferenced quickly via text message to decide on pattern, fabric and thread. (After I checked with the owner that it would be OK to use, of course!)

I had been wanting to make Tilly's Miette wrap skirt for ages, and it seemed like a perfect vacation project—minimal fitting, no zippers, no darts, just fabric. And I really needed some solid color skirts to balance all my loud printed tops.

Susan is NOT a solid fabric kind of person (she is a woman of stripes and bold patterns after my own heart) but she did manage to extract a few plain unsewn twills from her stash, and I chose a pale blue rayon/cotton blend one because it had the best drape and feel.

I bought the pattern, and Susan brought me the printout, scissors, tape, thread and fabric. I was in vacation sewing business! I of course immediately Instagrammed my joy:

When @moonthirty heard my vacation rental in Austin had a sewing machine, she found me some stash fabric and thread, lent me scissors and tape and even printed the pattern PDF! #isew #sewcialists

It was challenging fun to use an unfamiliar machine, use the floor for a cutting surface, and give up my perfectionist tendencies to get the project done quickly so it wouldn't interfere with any of our family vacation plans, like swimming in Barton Springs Pool or making homemade tamales.

Alas, we were only in that vacation rental for a few nights, so I had to finish the hem and waist bits when I got back home yesterday—but I was still technically on vacation, so it's still my vacation skirt. AND my sewing machine seems to be working happily again, though I had to move it into my bedroom so I can use it at night without waking the little girl.

Miette wrap skirt in pale blue twill

The basics

Pattern: Tilly and the Buttons Miette wrap skirt, the version with pockets

Fabric: A bit less than three yards of pale blue cotton/rayon twill blend from a friend's stash. It is soft and has a lovely weight and drape, but I must admit I came to loathe it during sewing and pressing, as it was very fussy and did not cooperate with the scissors, machine or iron and frayed like a really frayable thing. All my best efforts were for naught—despite lots of hand basting and unpicking, there are still puckers all around the hem and pocket edges—is this a twill issue? It is soft and lovely to wear, however.

Notions: Just some black thread and interfacing.

Size: I made the size 4, sized for a 30-inch waist and 39 inch hips—both just slightly bigger than my actual measurements. I ended up taking it it in about 5 inches total at the hips but left the waist alone.

Instructions: Tilly has detailed photo tutorials on her website, but I just used her excellent short-form written instructions from the PDF. I loved that each step had a little checkbox to tick off, giving me a serene sense of accomplishment.

Alterations: In my final try-on, realized that the hips of the skirt were way curvier than mine own at the sides. I pinned out a half inch at the high hip (for a two inch total reduction) and 1.25" at the full hip (for a 5" total reduction) and it seemed to do the trick:

Trying on the Miette wrap skirt I made on vacation - the waist fits but will need to take in the hips by at least 4" total. Also, I sewed way too quickly and sloppily and there are puckers EVERYWHERE, so calling this a #wearablemuslin . But at least I'm s

Construction notes: I didn't do all the seam-trimming and finishing I normally would—I left most of the seam allowances their full size, and just pinked them to stop the massive fraying.

Miette wrap skirt in pale blue twill, back view

Love that no-grap wrap back view!

Successes: I actually sewed something I can wear for the first time since last summer. I was tempted to hedge and call it a wearable muslin, but it is wearable. Period.

Lessons learned:

  • Beware of wobbly topstitching in a dark contrasting color.
  • If you try ten times to tie a proper pretty waist bow and fail, ask the internet and you will find a gazillion helpful tutorials (I finally got it with this one).

Will I make it again? Absolutely, though I will choose my fabric more carefully next time—maybe a light denim or other solid color bright woven will do the trick.

Miette wrap skirt in pale blue twill

Wear to: Work, home, weekend, mommy stuff, whatever. Adjustable skirts are the best (especially if you plan to make/eat lots of homemade tamales, yum).

Mmmm... relaxing pockets!

Miette wrap skirt in pale blue twill

P.S. Please follow/like my Polka Dot Overload page on Facebook if you want to see any in-between or behind-the-scenes photos as I go along...

Monday, April 7, 2014

Off to Austin!

Dipping my toes into Barton Springs Pool in Austin, Texas on our last trip there (about nine years ago, in my dyed-redheaded days)
It was only after we had finished booking our family vacation to Austin, Texas that I realized I'd be missing PatternReview Weekend Austin by just a few weeks. Alas! But we have to work around the kiddo's preschool spring break and with my lack of crafterly output lately, I really have no excuses to buy fabric or yarn.

Anyway, we're really just going to relax, enjoy the warmth, wander around the city and cook homemade allergy-free food in the fire pit outside the Airstream trailer we're renting to stay in. There WILL be knitting, too—I'm going to finish my cardigan, and maybe even start a new project (probably socks—I can never get enough wool socks and they are so portable).

Any favorite kid-friendly things to do in Austin or the drivable near environs? Last time we were there we did a lot of margarita-drinking and eating at Mexican and barbecue restaurants, and saw the bats, but that was before kids. This time we can't really do restaurants (oh, allergies, how I hate you! grrrr!) but any tips on good farmer's markets or natural-foods stores are appreciated.

Luckily we have awesome friends willing to watch the kiddo for a night so we can see a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse
P.S. In other news, I started labeling my daughter's drawers so she could put her clothes away more accurately and realized she's as obsessed with polka dots as I am (we let her pick out fabrics and choose items from the thrift store).

Starting to label the little girl's drawers so she can put her clothes away more accurately and realized she's as obsessed with polka dots as I am.