Category Archives: Ready-to-Wear Fast 2014

Upward and onward

Has it been a month since I’ve posted?

In August the knitting bug hit hard. It was around the time I drove up to Bath, Maine, and spent a few hours at Halcyon Yarns. Since then I’ve knit quite a few items, not all of which have been properly photographed, such as this pullover:

Blank Canvas pullover

 

The pattern is Ysolda Teague’s Blank Canvas, a simple, close-fitting pullover with some flattering waist-shaping. LOVE IT! I was a bit worried that the 36″ size would be a bit snug on me, but I used a wool that has some alpaca in it (Valley Yarns Northfield in the color Tranquil Blue) so it developed a wee bit of drape after blocking. I have gotten so many compliments on this simple sweater — the color, the shaping — that I am making another in the same wool, this time in plum. I may even knit this sweater one size smaller since I’m still “shrinking.” More on that later.

The other project I finished and photographed is a pair of Monkey socks I knit for my stepmother’s birthday this month:

Monkey socks

I haven’t talked to her properly since I mailed them, but I gather through voicemails she loves them. They’re knot in Classic Elite Alpaca Sox. I think the color is Turquoise; I don’t have the ball band handy. My stepmother loves turquoise so I knew this color would be perfect for her. She also has Raynaud’s syndrome, which means in the winter she has to keep her extremities warm or else risk circulatory system damage thus I always have a happy and appreciative person for whom to knit warm socks, mittens, and hats.

Fall is chugging along. I have been dealing with a particularly rough case of Seasonal Affective Disorder for the past two months, which has zapped my energy. It was bad enough that my husband brought me to our doctor and now I’m on medication for it and sitting in front of a full-spectrum lamp in the mornings. I’m starting to feel a bit better, although I’m still not up to my 100% Energizer bunny speed.

I can tell my mood is improving because last night my son suggested I start a podcast and I got really excited as we talked more about it. He likes to do sound editing, and that he shows any interest in my knitting or talking about knitting is like, wow, really? Sign me up!!! So we did a test recording last night, and as much as I hate hearing my recorded voice, it wasn’t that bad so I’m thinking I’ll give this podcast thing a try. What do you think? I plan to talk mostly about my crafting (knitting/sewing endeavors) with a bit of real-life and Anglophilia thrown in.

Welcome May

Let’s hope that April showers really do bring May flowers because April turned out to be one of those months where when it rains, it pours. It started when my husband came home suspiciously early one evening, like around 5 p.m. Which would normally be wonderful as he usually works until 8 or 9 most nights, but this night it was because his contract suddenly ended at the company he’d been working for since 2011. It wasn’t entirely a surprise–things had been tumultuous for awhile–but it happened before we expected it. Upward and onward, though … the good news is that he’s a software engineer with high-demand skills/talents, so when he sends out resumes, he actually gets interviews. Right now he’s on 2nd and 3rd interviews for a couple positions he’s really excited about so fingers are crossed.

I also lost my step-grandmother after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, learned that another family member is fighting cancer, and was left reeling after an AD diagnosis in my immediate family.

Combining all this with a cold and rainy spring here in the northeast, I just haven’t had the spirit to blog, never mind sew or knit, although I did cast on a straightforward cardigan in heathery purple that makes me happy every time I pick it up.

(The purple yarn is in the background; in the foreground is a completed knit hat.)

But April wasn’t *all* horror and gloom. I managed to stick to the 5:2 diet plan (five days of eating normally/two days fasting) and I lost a total of eight pounds. I would have lost a few more, I think, had I been able to get out on my bike for serious exercise. On the other hand, eight pounds is nothing to sneeze at, especially since I took off seven pounds in March for a total of 15 pounds and I wasn’t a saint around Easter, although no Cadbury eggs passed these lips. I put on so much weight when I was on blood thinners for three months. I eat a mostly plant-based diet and when you’re on medications like Coumadin, you can’t eat stuff like lettuce, kale, and broccoli, which I normally eat in abundance. Now that I’m back to my green diet, I feel and look much healthier. I still have a ways to go before I get down to my fighting weight, but I’m encouraged that the weight I put on has slipped off fairly easily.

What’s nice is that my family is starting to notice. Last night O was sitting behind me. He sighed and said, “Mom, I’m tired of looking at your butt crack. Can you pull your pants up?” Jeans that a couple months ago were difficult to zip up now have to be tugged up to my hips to keep me decent. I’ve made a bunch of knit skirts to get me through the warmer months; I don’t want to sew jeans until I’m back to my fighting weight, so until then, I guess I’d better invest in some belts. 😉

How is your spring going?

The Duchess of Cambridge and her court shoes

Of course I’ve been keeping up with the Cambridge’s grand tour Down Under and reading all the breathless commentary on stylish Kate. She certainly has a great pair of pins, and today I learned her secret: nude court shoes!

Here in the U.S. we call these shoes “pumps”: closed-toe, low front shoes with heels. According to the fashion press, nude pumps/court shoes give the illusion of long legs when the color of the pump and the skin are similar. Which makes sense, as your eye tends to stop when you get to a jolt of black or red at the feet.

Sign me up!

According to the folks in the know at the Daily Mail, Kate’s preferred court shoe comes from London-based retailer LK Bennett and these shoes are, unfortunately, sold out in the U.K. If you’re stateside, you can purchase the style “Sledge” at Nordstrom for just $345.

If you, like I, don’t have a royal allowance for footwear, here are some lower-priced options.

Here’s the Madden Girl Fastenn pump for $34.30 at Belk. The LK Bennett pump is a bit more taupe, but I think the Madden Girl version would work better on someone with fair skin. It must be a popular choice with Kate admirers because most sizes are hard to find: Belk was the only online retailer where I found a variety of sizes available.

If you’ve got more dosh (sorry, I’ve been reading the latest Elizabeth George mystery), the Cole Hahn Chelsea pump is very similar to the LK Bennett court shoe. They’re currently $199.00 at Zappos … and free shipping. Like the Madden Girl pumps, though, popular sizes are unavailable at the moment, but Zappos will let you know when your size is back in stock.

The Michael Kors Ionna pump is quite nice, too, and a more reasonable $130 at Zappos — that is, if they have your size. The only thing I don’t like is the bling on the back of the heel.

I saw some other nude pumps by Kate Spade and Christian Louboutin, but if I can’t afford LK Bennett, it goes without saying I can’t afford these versions either.

I’m curious to see the “nude” effect on my own legs, so I’m heading down to our local Marshall’s to give it a try. I’m not so sure about that platform look; my mind goes to porn films, hookers, and Times Square in the 70s, sorry. And those heels — some of them are 4″ or 5″. Never mind walk in them. Could I even stand? We’ll see … I’ve sewn a bunch of skirts in the last couple months, and I’m eager to see if nude pumps are the trick of the eye my figure needs. 🙂

What to sew, what to sew…

Like I mentioned last week, I started knitting up a second wool sock for a pair I’ve earmarked for my stepmother. That small act gave me a boost of knitting mojo. I’ve knitted about four inches of the cuff/leg, and with steady progress the socks should be ready for when we see her over spring vacation in two weeks.

My sewing mojo, on the other hand, has not only left the room, but it seems to have high-tailed it out of Dodge!

It’s not for lack of patterns, fabric, or ideas–I’ve got plenty of all three. What’s tripping me up is–and I’m ashamed to say this because I detest any whiff of body shame–my weight.

Last October I ended up in the hospital with a herniated disc, followed by DVT, with both conditions curtailing my cycling routine. Cycling is my exercise of choice, and it does a good job burning calories and keeping me fit. Not only was riding out, but walking was, too, because of all the ice and snow. (I had to be careful of falls or I could “bleed out.”) As a result, I put on 25 pounds through lack of exercise and not watching my eating when my activity levels dropped.

Now…I’m completely confident that those pounds will come off now that spring is here, my disc injury has healed, the DVT is gone, and I have an awesome trike to cycle with. But I keep thinking, “Do I want to cut into this gorgeous shirting/Japanese selvedge denim/expensive wool boucle for a Grainline Archer/pair of jeans/couture fringed skirt when in six months I’m going to be three sizes smaller?” Yes, I could alter the fit at some point, but to be honest, I don’t like doing alterations, especially on anything I’ve made. Is that weird? I don’t mind hemming Levi’s or taking in the sides of a RTW blouse, but when it’s my own creation, it somehow annoys me and the garment never again looks as good as it did during the original fitting. It looks, I don’t know, wonky.

The mature and rational side of my brain says, “Sew for the body you have today. Use the expensive fabric; you can always buy more. Test out that pattern you love. There’s no guarantee that when you lose the weight, you’re going to get a perfect garment anyway. And if you do love what you create for the ‘bigger me,’ you can ask a professional to alter it.” (Geez, listen to me. I should listen to myself more often!)

But then Lazy Easy-Way-Out Di chimes in: “Why not sew a bunch of knit things to wear around the house? like t-shirts and yoga pants? That’s how you dress anyway.” Princess Di calmly interjects with, “Dahling, I thought you were trying to upgrade your wardrobe and not continue down the path of fashion dereliction? Yoga pants,” she sniffs. “Really.”

So I do nothing but pet my fabrics and gaze longingly into my sewing room.

What would you do?

In the meantime, here are some more pretty pictures of Newport. Last weekend I took another trip down there, this time with my son, and we were able to see the boat my brother is building at IRYS up close.

Matt's boat

Lemur!

See the lemur?

Steam box

Curved pieces of wood get shaped in the steam box.

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The view from Brenton Point State Park

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My boy.

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The surf was crazy wild that day!

McCall’s 3341

McCalls 3341, view C

Closeup of M3341 skirt fabric

Still too cold to model, so here’s another winter creation on my dressform. McCall’s 3341 is a tried-and-true a-line skirt pattern for so many sewing bloggers that there’s not a lot I can add to the kudos out there. It’s my go-to pattern for simple summer skirts, as well as dressier numbers, such as the one you see above. Here I’ve sewn up view C.

The fabric is a remnant I picked up years ago at Fabric Fix (now closed) in Manchester, New Hampshire. I’ve always loved the pattern and brocade weave. It’s upholstery fabric, I’m sure … it ravels like no one’s business, so every seam edge in this skirt has been serged. No lining, as the fabric has a lot of body and it’s something I would wear with tights.

The closeup shows the detail of the brocade. I like the tiny cherry blossoms. 🙂

The blouse is from Brooks Brothers and is one of my favorites. The only things I don’t like about it are the French cuffs, which is why the sleeves are rolled up. (Note to self: buy some blingy cufflinks.) The scarf is a genuine Hermès, a gift from a generous ex-boyfriend who reads my blog occasionally. (We’re still friends.) Thank you, S. I wear it a lot!

One of my goals this year is to upgrade my work-at-home wardrobe. Because I spend most of my day in the kitchen or in front of my computer, I basically live in jeans, knit shirts, and sweaters. My corporate clothes from the 90s are all out of fashion and probably a couple sizes too small, so it’s great to finally have an outfit I could wear to a professional meeting and not look like a total slob.

A Woodland Stroll cape

Woodland Stroll Cape

Woodland Stroll Cape

Woodland Stroll Cape

I’ve been calling this latest sewing project my Sherlotta Holmes cape.

When it was finished, O promptly renamed it The Sherlock Dench cape. 😉

I just haven’t found the energy/willpower to dress up in my self-created fashions, even though we’ve had a couple days of warmth. Today it’s back down in the 20s, our yard is still a mess with piles of dirty snow and shovels all strewn about. Who wants to see that? So I dragged my dress form downstairs and snapped a few quick shots.

The pattern comes from Liesl & Company (the women’s pattern division of Oliver & S children’s patterns). When it was released last year, I fell in love with the style and purchased it. I thought it would make the perfect light layer for fall biking.

But then my back went out and I never got around to sewing it up. It’s not really “springy,” so I’ll put it away for late September/early October, when I like to wear more autumnal colors. The wool windowpane suiting is from Fabric Mart. I lined the cape with hunter green Bemberg rayon purchased at Fabric Place Basement in Natick, MA, and I used leather toggles for the front closures. Then instead of sewing buttons/buttonholes under the arms, I sewed on concealed snaps. I figured I’d be less likely to pull off a snap than I would a button, especially while cycling.

The pattern was super simple to put together. Really, a beginner could pull this off IF they went with a solid fabric. The plaid windowpane was a little fiddly to line up; moreover the wool itself was pretty slippery … the silky rayon was actually easier to sew! If I were to sew another cape, I’d use a heavier wool without an obvious pattern/plaid just to keep things easy.

I also wish I’d interlined the cape with some cotton flannel because it’s not very warm. I’d definitely need to wear a sweater underneath, but when I do that, I start looking kind of bulky. It’s definitely a garment best worn on an autumn day with just a wee bit of nip in the air.

The most hair-raising part of sewing this up wasn’t the plaid matching, but sewing on those darn leather toggles. I had one chance to do it right because once you sew through leather, that’s it … those holes are forever. Luckily I had an extra set of toggles, so I practiced on them. My advice:

  • Use a leather needle; it will pierce the leather easier than a regular needle
  • Tape or use fabric glue to hold the toggles in place
  • Sew slowly. In fact, I mostly sewed “manually” by turning the flywheel on my sewing machine by hand and maneuvering my jacket/toggle accordingly.

I also sewed the pink turtleneck underneath. Not much to say here except that I used an OOP Kwik Sew pattern (KS 2740) along with some lightweight cotton interlock purchased years ago at Fabric Fix in Manchester, NH (sadly, closed). I sewed the size large, but I should have sized down to a medium as the shoulders hang off me … but it’s fine under heavy sweaters, which is how I typically wear turtlenecks. I also drafted cuffs; the pattern doesn’t include any, but I think a turtleneck looks better with cuffs. While I was at it, I sewed another turtleneck out of navy blue cotton interlock I picked up at the $1.99 Fabric Store in Auburn, MA, in January.

In other news:

  • I’m in a bit of a knitting slump so I’m knitting dishcloths whenever I sit down to watch TV.
  • I’ve been keeping up with the new season of BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee. Did you know they’re casting for a U.S. version? Let’s hope they don’t change the format too much and make it cutthroat competitive; I like the kinder, gentler reality tv.
  • Three more days till the official start to Spring. Can’t. Wait.
  • I’m heading to Newport, RI, this weekend to visit my brother. I’ve been to every tourist site in New England except Newport for some reason. Looking forward to it as we plan to visit some of the “authentic” Irish pubs to celebrate a belated St. Patrick’s Day.

Speaking of which: Happy St. Pats!

Channeling Judi Dench

Knitted cardigan, socks; upcycled skirt

Closeup of Diane Soucy top-down cardigan

My family has crowned me with a new nickname: Judi Dench.

I’m quite honored, although I know my brother bequeathed the nickname on me to ridicule my fashion sense. I’m sorry, but I like sturdy wool sweaters, tweedy skirts, granny glasses, and my regular adornment of a simple string of pearls. Coupled with my imposing demeanor, I can see why I remind Matt of “M.” OK, that last bit is my own delusion. I’m no more imposing than sunshine on a rainy day. Or these days, a warm breeze after a long, cold winter.

O likes to inspect my daily outfits now. They are usually pronounced “too Denchy.”

I’ve been quiet, but don’t mistake that for sloth. I’ve been busy in my sewing room. This month alone, I’ve:

  • Mended three pairs of men’s pants
  • “Upcycled” the wool skirt you see above
  • Sewed a brocade A-line skirt (photos forthcoming when said warm breeze arrives)
  • Sewed two knit turtlenecks
  • Sewed a Tova blouse for the spring (photos, again, TK)
  • Knit a pair of socks

The upcycled skirt started out as a thrift store purchase from two years ago, a gorgeous lined wool Talbots skirt. It was, however, rather long and made me look more like Judi Dench’s mother, so I lopped off about eight inches and rehemmed it. It wasn’t an easy job because there’s a false wrap on the front with some piping on the seam edge, so I had to carefully rip out threads and resew some of the seams. I think it turned out quite well! I love wearing it with thick cotton tights and wooly socks.

The sweater I finished some months ago. I knit it from one of my tried-and-true cardigan patterns, the neck-down cardigan by Diane Soucy. It’s a size small, but quite roomy on me so next time I think I’ll knit the XS. (I have to chuckle at that because I look like a linebacker in this shot!) I’ve decided to accept that I like very simple, utilitarian sweaters, especially in the winter. I’ve been living in this one since November, as well as my Candide Aran, and both have held up extremely well and keep me cozy warm.

The wool came from sheep raised over at Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in nearby Lincoln, Massachusetts. It’s unbleached and was spun up at Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, Vermont. The pewter buttons are recycled from a very old moth-eaten Talbots sweater.

The socks you see peeking out of my boots? Handknit from Patons’ Classic Wool from another tried-and-true pattern, Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Woodsman’s socks. These will last me through the rest of the winter. Unfortunately, the wool isn’t strong enough for socks, so they’ll develop holes in the heels. No worries; I’ll felt them and use what’s left for craft projects.

Brown turtleneck: Target; cotton tights, Marshalls; Maine Hunting Boots, LL Bean; wool socks and sweater, handknit; Talbot’s wool skirt, thrifted and upcycled; glasses, Costco; attitude, all mine.

The sewing muddle

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Here it is, the last day of January, and I’m beating myself up because I haven’t really sewn anything since signing on to the 2014 Ready-to-Wear Fast. I’ve tried convincing myself the reason is because I don’t need anything more in my wardrobe, but that’s not completely true. My wardrobe has gotten stale and boring; I’ve only got two pairs of pants (jeans) to wear, and while I have at least a dozen wonderful sweaters to choose from in this frigid weather, the stuff I have to wear under them is pretty manky.

The truth is, I get overwhelmed with possibilities.

Do I start simple with some basic A-line skirts and work up to the jeans I’m dying to make? I have at least a dozen patterns for cute knit tops …. maybe I should start there? On top of this, I’ve become a bit of a Craftsy addict so projects like Susan Khalje’s couture dress and Pam Howard’s Classic Tailored Shirt are like siren songs that pull me away from the practicalities of my life. Did I mention that I still owe my husband a tailored dress shirt for our 2013 wedding anniversary, which was eight months ago? Every time I smooth my hand across a pile of fabric destined for one of my garments, a pang of guilt prevents me from taking action on a new blouse or trousers for me. And I know he’d be really annoyed if he knew I felt this way. He’d tell me to forget his shirt, and get going on one of my projects.

So that’s what I’m going to do. Stop the guilt and start simple. The denim I just ordered from Fabric.com is a bit too thin and stretchy, and I’m going to trust my gut that says this isn’t the right weight for the jeans I want. Plus: jeans are hard anyway, forget throwing in the stretchy denim, which comes with its own headaches. The brocade above I’ve had in my stash since O was a baby (um, maybe 11 years ago?) It’s a little stiff, but I think it has enough body to work as a skirt that hits me just above the knee. I like the colors — a muted copper on gray — and I think it’ll look great with tights and a cardigan sweater. The pattern is a tried-and-true skirt pattern for a lot of sewists.

And knock wood I’ll have something to show you next week! Have a great weekend!

ETA: By 6:00 p.m. I had not only prepped my fabric (by throwing it in the dryer with a damp dishcloth to steam out the wrinkles), but I’d traced the pattern and cut out my fabric! Maybe I’ll have a new skirt by Sunday. 🙂

New hats

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insane fair isle hat

Like a lot of folks I’ve talked to IRL or online, I’ve been thoroughly kicked by January … and I actually like Januarys! The unrelenting cold, the lack of sunlight, that there’s no Maine shrimp to look forward to this year … ugh. My motivation to do any blogging or sewing has gone down the loo; I don’t even have the energy to properly photograph my projects outside when there is light. I’m not one to wish my days away, but bring on February already!

January hasn’t been all terrible — O and I spent a few days down in Connecticut during the long holiday weekend (Martin Luther King Day), which is always a pleasure. I also finished my Snawheid hat a couple weeks ago and love it … but it’s just a tad too small for my big noggin so off it goes into my gift pile. I knit it with Cascade 220 fingering weight. My decreases around the crown were wonky looking once the hat was off the needles, but after blocking they seem to have evened out.

Snawheid reawakened my love of stranded knitting. I’ve been cleaning out the livingroom, sorting my yarns, and was dismayed to see how much leftover worsted-weight yarn I have. This produced a new goal: in 2014 I’m going to knit up as much scrap wool as I can. That Fair Isle hat you see above is my first “scrap” project of the year. The pattern comes from a delightful book I picked up at our local library, Hats On by Charlene Schurch, which I later bought at Amazon because I pretty much want to knit every hat in there.

I love this hat! (The pattern is Multicolor Whimsical Cap.) It’s kind of crazy looking, but I don’t care … I love thinking that the green wool along the bottom is leftover from my February Lady sweater, and the other green wool along the top is reclaimed yarn from an unraveled thrift shop sweater. The yellow came from my mittens of a few years ago; the red from my thrummed mittens. And that’s my first Latvian braid along the crown. Now I want to knit Latvian braids on everything! I’ll probably knit more of these, and next time if I’m making another for myself, knit the XL!!!

garter stitch blanker

Then I cast on 32 stitches on a #6 needle and started knitting up random stripes of yarn. I feel so virtuous every time I get to the end of the ball … scrap yarn no longer, but part of what will be a very cozy lap blanket. It’ll probably take me a year or so to finish up but I’m in no hurry. It’s perfect couch/Netflix/tv knitting that doesn’t need much thinking.

I’m also working on an Elizabeth Zimmerman sweater, which I’ll show next time, and I have some holiday gift photos to share, including a finished Age of Steam and Brass shawl and a cardigan knit from local wool, as well as some refashioning I’ve done at the sewing machine.

Stay warm!

Cooking, knitting, staying warm

Homemade Potato and Pea Samosa

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stranded_hat

Still here. For some reason, I haven’t been able to log in to WordPress. I’m pretty sure it’s because my web host has been under a hacker attack.

The arctic chill has me spending a lot of time in the warm kitchen. This week I’ve made potato and pea samosas, hamburger buns, pop tarts with cinnamon filling, wild rice pilaf, and a potato-crusted quiche for my Paleo husband. Tomorrow I’m planning on a parsnip soup, a recipe I follow from my oft used copy of Jane Grigson’s Good Things.

And I know at least one of you can tell what I’ve been knitting. 😉

I had my last physical therapy session last night. My improvement in range of motion has been dramatic. Now all I have to do is get off the blood thinners, and I’ll feel like I can put this latest medical drama far behind me.

Last weekend I finished refashioning a skirt I picked up at the thrift shop a couple years ago–a beautiful plaid Talbots skirt. I’m happy with the results, and it looks great with my newest knit cardigan, which I’ve yet to show off here. As soon as it warms up, I’ll have the resident photographer set up a shoot outside.