Category Archives: Shopping

When Harry Met Meghan: Why Meghan Markle May Be Perfect for Harry (and for the British Monarchy)

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Full disclosure: When rumors started circulating a couple weeks ago that Prince Harry was dating an American television actress named Meghan Markle–and that she was teasing her social media followers with coy Instagram shots of Buckingham Palace and spooning bananas–I thought it was a publicity stunt, a very bad plan hatched by her media team to get some better name recognition for an actress few Americans know of.

Was I ever wrong.

I think I was more shocked with Prince Harry’s strongly worded statement to the press to leave his American girlfriend alone than I was by the outcome of our U.S. presidential election. After all, I’ve spent the last several months warning my liberal east coast friends that they were underestimating the depth of dislike for Hillary Clinton in other parts of the country, thus why I awoke Wednesday morning not at all surprised we have a Trump presidency awaiting us in January.

Like the pundits here and abroad have said, this very public declaration is an extraordinary move for anyone in the royal circle to make. Look how long it took Prince William to stand up to the press with his long-time girlfriend (and now wife) Kate MIddleton– years!–and Prince Harry stood up to it in mere months. It certainly signifies the relationship between the British prince and the American actress is very serious, and my gut says an engagement announcement is forthcoming.

I’ve thought a bit about this, and my opinion is that a Princess Meghan is just what the Royal Family needs to move forward and stay relevant. Why?

  1. She’s a working woman. Ok, she may not work in an office or be on the cusp of discovering the cure for cancer, and her day job is probably a bit more glamorous than the one you or I have, but Markle does support herself with her acting and shows some entrepreneurial spirit with her website and a clothing line. The loudest complaint I heard about the Duchess of Cambridge, and now about Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, is that she was “work shy.” Before she married Prince William, the Duchess did hold a few jobs, but not for long, and she had to rely on her parents for housing and an eventual temporary position in their own company. Bea and Eugenie are objects of ridicule for their relentless job hopping and the number of cushy vacations they manage to take each year. If Markle does become a member of the Royal Family, she’ll probably have to give up her career, but at least no one can accuse her of taking any free rides to the palace balcony.
  2. She’s philanthropic. I suspect this is one of the major attractions Prince Harry has for his new girlfriend…beyond the obvious, that she’s absolutely gorgeous! Princess Diana was revered for her charity work, and Markle looks like she has the energy and star-power to continue her legacy. As a young child, Markle traveled with her mother to developing countries, where she saw poverty up close, and this seemed to drive her philanthropy as an adult. In college she double-majored in theater and international relations (Northwestern grad, too, a great school!), and has most recently traveled to places to Rwanda and Afghanistan on behalf of UN-based organizations. If she and Prince Harry marry, she’ll be totally comfortable and passionate with the royal charity obligations she’ll undoubtedly have. Moreover, it seems that both she and Harry have similar charitable interests … a double win!
  3. She’s biracial. Markle’s mother is black, her father white. A few newspapers have made issue of this and snobbishly wondered if the very white Royal Family was ready for her. My feeling is that the Royal Family is far more welcoming and liberal than we give them credit for; it’s the old-school courtiers and the media rabble-rousers who will make race into an issue. So many families today are made up of different races that it’s time to let our institutions reflect that reality instead of holding them to a standard that’s antiquated and frankly racist.
  4. She’s American. I’ve read some snobby comments about Markle’s common American roots, but the flip side of this is that Americans are going to be far more aware and interested in the British Royal Family than ever. I wasn’t around when Grace Kelly married Prince Ranier, but I’m guessing that most Americans had never heard of Monaco until Grace became Princess Grace. The British may see the Royals as “royal scroungers” but Americans have nothing like them, so they’re what we think of when we think of England. Having one of us in their midst will make us love you a little more than we already do.
  5. She’s an actress. The press seems to think Markle’s acting background is an impediment (mostly because of some risque scenes she’s done) but I think it’s an incredible skill she’ll bring to the family business. Everyone rolls eyes about the Royal Family’s endless ribbon-cutting and wreath-laying itineraries, but after watching all ten hours of The Crown on Netflix last weekend, I got a taste of how hard it must be for the royals to always be smiling, pleasant, and conversational for hours at a time. (If you saw the mini-series, there’s a funny scene where the Queen has to have a relaxant injected into her cheek after the muscle freezes from smiling too much during a Commonwealth tour.) Markle’s acting background means she can put on a show, deliver a speech, smile, act interested, and have less of a chance forgetting her lines than someone who hasn’t had that kind of training.

Of course, if Markle marries into the Royal family, it won’t all be rainbows and unicorns. Surely she’ll have to give up her (paid) acting career, her social media presence, and I assume her American citizenship. And then there’s the relentless media scrutiny she’ll have to deal with, although her acting career will have prepared her for that somewhat.

What do you think? Has Harry met his match? Is she the breath of fresh air the Royals need, or a right royal headache? Please feel free to comment below. P.S. I’ll be back next week with a more personal post; I haven’t been able to log into WordPress until today because of a technical issue, but that has been fixed. Yay!

 

 

Adventures in Hemstitching

Like a lot of people around the world, I woke up this morning and was pretty surprised to see that citizens of the UK voted to leave the EU. All I can say is that the people have spoken and I hope this ends up turning out well for all.

On to less political/hot topics … hemstitching! A few years ago, I purchased Fine Machine Sewing by Carol Ahles at a local sewing shop. To be honest, I bought it because of the pictures, not because I had a burning interest in heirloom sewing, which I associate with christening outfits and dresses for young girls.

But lately I’ve been thinking about how to give my sewing projects a little more oomph. I briefly investigated an embroidery machine, but I think if I were to embroider it would be in small doses i.e. by hand and very discreet. Plus, it’s another machine that requires specialty threads and stabilizers, meaning a whole new line item of cost.

I started researching embellishment techniques I could do by hand or with one of my sewing machines, everything from smocking to sashiko. And then I remembered Ahles book in my sewing library…et voila!

As I reintroduced myself to the text and pictures, I noticed many of the photos were of store-bought plain linen blouses that had been embellished by the author. I enjoy making blouses, but did I want to practice machine hemstitching on something I’d spent hours creating, only to ruin it with a poorly executed pivot? After all, hemstitching creates holes in a garment, holes you cannot hide or fix. The holes are created with a specialty needle called a wing needle, which has “wings” on either side of the tip that push fibers to the side and create a very visible opening. I decided the best course of action was to do a bit of practice on some linen in my stash and then follow-up with some practice on a store-bought garment.

I scored this week at our (semi) local Savers: an ecru Liz Claiborne linen blouse, size medium.

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My original plan was to dye the blouse navy blue as there’s a grease stain on the back shirt-tail and I thought the ecru color would wash me out, but I guess ecru is one of my “colors” — it really flattered my complexion more than I thought it would. So plan B was to keep it undyed and remove the stain with my Dawn dish detergent and a sturdy brush, which never lets me down. If Dawn can take crude oil off sea birds,  it can handle oil on clothing, I say. The other benefit to plan B was that mistakes would be harder to see on an ecru blouse hemstitched with white thread than a navy blue blouse stitched in white.

I decided to use a Parisian hemstitch, which is commonly used on linen napkins and table cloths, as well as clothing. It’s elegant and subdued, and it was easier getting a good result pivoting around the very visible collar point. I did quite a bit of practice on scrap linen before I attempted the cuffs:

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I would have liked to stitch around the whole cuff but I would have cut into the buttonholes. I noticed halfway through the first cuff that I’d inadvertently reset the stitch length and width I planned to use to the machine’s preset stitch length/widths. Grr. But I was committed at this juncture, so I carried on.

Next, the collar:

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Here, I noticed that the holes were less pronounced and the thread was thicker on the inside row of stitching than they were on the cuffs. It was okay though; I liked the result and I managed to pivot around those collar points like a pro. 😉

Emboldened by my success with the collar, I decided to add hemstitching down the sides of the front plackets:

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I was very happy with how this turned out. The holes were visible and the thread wasn’t bunched up as much as it was on the collar and cuffs. It looked like true hemstitching.

Here’s a picture of the “refashioned” blouse:

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(You’ll have to click on the photo to zoom it; the stitching isn’t very visible at this resolution.)

I’m very happy with how this turned out. I don’t think anyone will walk up to me and say, “Wow, what fantastic hemstitching! Where did you get that blouse?” but it really gives a very simple blouse a much more elegant look that *I* will appreciate.

My plan now is to continue sleuthing thrift shops for linen blouses that I can play with before I attempt sewing my dream blouse: white linen hemstitched in delft blue thread. I would also like a French blue blouse hemstitched in white … and gray one, too.

I also scored in a different area at Saver’s this week … I found a copy of Connie Long’s Easy Guide to Sewing Linings, which is out of print and can be expensive on Amazon. I got it for $2.99. 🙂

Kwik Sew 3614 shorts … and September!



Way back in July I noticed a dearth of shorts in my wardrobe. I’m not a big fan of shorts … specifically, I’m not a big fan of how shorts look on me. Mostly because I don’t tan at all and my white legs scare people, but also because I don’t like wearing anything higher than just above my knee. Since I have a spiffy new sewing machine, I decided to make some shorts that met my requirements and I feel comfortable wearing on the hotter days of summer.

Enter Kwik Sew 3614, a pattern I first read about on Sewn. Elizabeth had mentioned how members of Pattern Review raved about the fly construction instruction on these shorts, and after making a couple pairs, I have to agree — fly fronts can be tricky, but it’s smooth sailing with this pattern.

My first pair was constructed out of lavender-colored cotton twill I purchased a few years ago from Fabric Place. I traced and cut a size L and followed the directions for view A (the longest version) exactly, making no modifications. The shorts came out well and I’ve worn them a lot this summer. My only dislikes were having hook and eye closures on the closure tab. I decided with my next pair I’d use a button and buttonhole.

My second pair are the ones I’m wearing in the photos above. I can’t remember where I got the fabric, a navy blue cotton twill … either Joann’s or Sewfisticated Fabrics in Framingham. The button/buttonhole closure works much better. For future shorts I plan to use a contrasting facing on the waistband, as well as softer pocket fabric. I used matching twill to make pockets for both pairs of shorts. They’re fine, but maybe a little bulkier than I’d like.

This is a great pattern and I will definitely get my money’s worth from it as I have plans for olive, white, and red shorts for next summer.

Since I took a bit of a blog break for the last six weeks, here’s what else is going on. My mother and I took a week-long trip to central Maine in August and had a wonderful time. I didn’t take any pictures (bah!) except for a shot of my yarn haul from Halcyon Yarn in Bath.  I’ll do a run down of what I purchased in a separate post.

I’ve been a bit down because my father and stepmother are going through a painful divorce. It’s not a bitter one, just very sad because of the circumstances. I’m hoping that once the smoke clears, things will get better.

Then my husband’s car died. We were down to one car for the last few years, so it has been necessary to do some car shopping. It looks like I’ll be getting a new VW Jetta by the end of the week. It’s funny because VW was not on my “car-buying radar” until I rented one a couple weeks ago and fell in love. Even better, my son loves it and my husband, while not a fan of practical four-door sedans, admits that it’s a smooth, responsive ride.

And oh, that cat you see above? That’s Winston. I’l write more about him in another post, but we decided after a year of having no cats it was time to welcome a new cat into our home … and hearts. We adore Winston … he is a sweet, lovable, friendly guy. And even better,  he doesn’t chase my yarn.

What have you been up to this summer? Are you glad it’s September?

The Yowza Weigh-it Shawl

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I finished knitting this beautiful shawl by Susan B. Anderson last month during a week where it was cold and rainy and I’d already shut off the heat for the season. It was a pure delight to knit–it wasn’t completely mindless because every couple seconds there was a new color change to ooo and ahh over. While knitting, I listened to the Serial podcast put out by PBS. Can’t wait for the next “season” to begin!

I’m a huge fan of Susan B. Anderson’s blog (and vlog, too!), and when she introduced this pattern in May, I dropped what I was doing, ordered the pattern, and promptly broke my yarn diet by ordering the exact color yarn she’d used in her sample (Miss Babs Yowza! Whatta Skein! in the colorway “Perfectly Wreckless.”) I made a mistake and ordered the colorway “Berlin” (which is very pretty, too), but the people at Miss Babs were nice enough to correct my order … that’s what I get for ordering yarn late at night.

Speaking of nice…that’s one of the main reasons why I love Anderson’s blog and vlog. She seems so darn nice, not to mention talented. While I don’t mind reading snark, I can only take it in small doses. I much prefer blogs, podcasts, and vlogs where the hosts leave me feeling a little happier after having read or watched them.  Anderson’s blog is definitely a cheerer-upper for me. 🙂

OK, back to the shawl. Yes, the colors are as vibrant IRL as they are on your screen. The shawl appears to have a woven appearance because of the garter stitch, yet it’s soft and squishy around my neck. I was going to wash it and pack it away for the summer, but discovered last week that it was perfect to wrap around my shoulders on a cold and rainy day … plus, those lively colors cheered me up. I even got a couple compliments on it when I wore it out shopping at Whole Foods. The reason why it’s called “the Weigh It Shawl” is because rather than count rows, you weigh your yarn as you go along and start wrapping things up when you are down to a certain number of grams. I still had quite a bit of yarn left over, but that’s okay because I like having odd balls for my blanket knitting.

Ravelry details here.

I’m off for the holiday weekend. Happy July 4th to my American blog readers, and to everyone else, have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

p.s. Forgot to mention, but I also made the pink cotton lawn blouse underneath the shawl. It’s a bit wrinkly as it had been freshly washed but not ironed. I thought the shawl would look better styled with a blouse.

 

Stormy weather

Rolling thunder woke me up Wednesday a.m. Welcome July!

My sugar fast continues and I’m feeling well, a little better each day. I didn’t need a nap on Tuesday, and on top of this, two nights in a row I stayed up long past my regular bedtime of 11 to read. I do still have sugar cravings in the early evenings, but nothing like the ones I had the first day.

We continue to get O ready for camp … yesterday he got his hair cut and today his camp sheets should be arriving, which will need to be washed and folded for his trunk. This morning I woke up and realized how much I’m going to miss him while he’s away. This will be the longest O’s ever been away from me, and there’s no phone calls, no e-mailing allowed … handwritten letters only. Which I don’t mind–being the loving mom, I will write every day!–but I’m not so sure I’ll hear anything from a 13-year-old boy in return.

Was sad to read that the rumors of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s divorce were true. They seemed like a nice couple, very family oriented. Marriage is tough business, for sure, especially it seems in Hollywood.

Crafting

Lessons learned while working on the Pebble Beach shawl:

  • A lifeline is a must once I get past 100 row stitches of lace.
  • Save lace knitting for the mornings when my mind is fresh.
  • Point protectors are my friends.

I spent an hour+ on Tuesday night tinking back two rows (250+ stitches per row) to fix a massive mistake. Then I carelessly left my knitting on the couch, and when I came back found that some stitches had slipped off the needles and created a mess I couldn’t figure out without ripping back. Another hour later all was fixed but I made zero progress on the shawl as a result. On Wednesday, I put in a dental floss lifeline … took me all of five minutes.

I cut out the contrast fabrics for O’s board shorts on Tuesday night and then cut out the main fabric on Wednesday a.m. I’m normally not a big fan of using rotary cutters and weights to cut out pattern pieces, but because the microfiber was unstable, the rotary cutter made short work of the job. Later that night I got the fronts and backs of the shorts sewn up. I’m not completely happy with my topstitching, but I doubt any of the boys at camp will be scrutinizing it.

When I was catching up on my blog reading Tuesday night, I noticed that Ann at Gorgeous Fabrics gave a terrific review of Sewaholic’s Thurlow shorts/pants. As she said, “…the Thurlow’s welt pocket instructions and draft take something that other pattern companies butcher, and make it crystal clear.” I am in desperate need of some nice trousers, as well as shorts, so I promptly ordered the pattern, esp. since I’m pear-shaped and Sewaholic patterns are built for my shape. (Bonus: there was a Canada Day sale going on and I got a discount!) The shorts look a little too short for me, but I suppose I can lengthen them a bit. Once I finish O’s camp sewing, I’ll give the Thurlows a go.

By the way, I’m getting more and more comfortable with Melody the more time I spend with her. She is so quiet! And little things like speed control, automatic threading/thread cutting, needle down, and the knee life make my sewing so much more accurate and enjoyable. Every time I finish up a sewing session, I tell my husband, “I have to say it again … I LOVE MELODY.” (Half of his office in my sewing studio. Lucky him!)

Sugar blues

O’s face looks completely normal now, not even a rash. The only itchy bits are on his arms and legs. We’re hoping everything will be healed up by the time he leaves for camp on Sunday.

Yesterday we went out to Target and bought what he needed to get him through two weeks at camp — mostly underwear and socks. We figure he can double up a couple days on stuff like shorts and sweatshirts, but not so much on underwear and socks. I also found some swimming trunks in his size for $6.50, so into the basket they went … saves me some time at the sewing machine this week. He was rather grumpy during our shopping expedition, as was I (sugar withdrawal), and we forgot to buy a couple extra beach towels. Otherwise we’re all set to pack him up … except for the stuff I have to sew.  Oh, and he needs a haircut. Hopefully we can squeeze in an appointment before the end of the week.

I survived Monday without eating any sugar. My sugar cravings hit mostly in the evening, so the last couple hours before bedtime were misery. As I was driving past Bedford Farms on the way back from the gym, it took every ounce of self control not to drive in there and order a cup of Muddy River ice cream … I would have dived in with gusto! I stuck with it, though, bypassing my evening cup of warm chocolate malt Ovaltine with more than a little regret. My thinking was definitely foggier yesterday … I’m hoping after a few days, I’ll be able to think a little more clearly. Just happy I’m not teaching this week; I’m not sure my students would appreciate my incoherent thinking!

A couple days ago when I was waiting for a prescription to be filled at the grocery store, I spent some time looking through the paperback books and actually bought one. I usually take books like this out of the library or buy them used, but I was so in the mood for a summer read. It’s a James Patterson bio/thriller called Zoo, and as usual with his novels, it’s fast paced and just what i need intellectually right now … meaning I don’t have to think too hard as I read a couple chapters before bed each night. The only problem is, I’ve been having disturbing dreams. The other night I dreamed a rabid bat attacked me, so I fed it to a flying skunk. (Yes, you read that right.) And last night marauding bears and tigers made their appearances … so I’m not sure this is the best reading before bed. Maybe I’ll have to finish it up by reading in the morning. (Just learned this book as been made into a tv miniseries, which I think I’ll skip.)

Crafting

Not much to report on the sewing front. Taped the pdf pattern for O’s board shorts together. Today I’ll be cutting out the fabric. I also signed up for a free sewing class in early July at my local dealer. She told me I probably won’t learn that much, but I figure if I learn a couple tips or two, it’ll be worth my time.

Pebble Beach shawl

Because of my sugar withdrawal yesterday, I had to rip back on my Pebble Beach shawl a couple times. (Missed a couple yarnovers, grrr.) It stinks when I have to rip back a row because now each row is over 200 stitches. Yes, I know I should use a lifeline, but weirdly enough I don’t mind tinking, especially when the yarn is easy to work with as this yarn is. It’s hard to see but the color of the yarn is starting to change from cream to pale mint. Lace is so not pretty before it has been blocked. 😉

One of the pattern books I ordered off eBay showed up yesterday. It’s from the 1960s, a collection of cabled cardigans put out by Reynolds yarn under the name “Mary of Holland.” I did a bit of poking around to find out who, exactly, Mary of Holland is, since the pattern book doesn’t say. The only thing Dutch about these sweaters are their names: Rotterdam, Utrecht, Dordrecht, even The Hague.

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The model on the cover looks a lot like my college friend Staycee. 🙂

I thought the cabled designs were really pretty. I’m sure my brother will deem them “Denchy.” 😉

Meet Melody!

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Meet the newest addition to my sewing studio, Melody!

Oh my gosh, where do I start? I guess we’ll start a little over a year ago, when I started thinking again about upgrading my sewing machine. I had a perfectly fine Husqvarna Viking 400, but it was closing in on its 15th birthday and I found that there were little things about the machine that were difficult for me to work around as my sewing skills improved. For example, threading the needle! My 50-year-old eyes struggle with this task, but the newer high-end machines have automatic threading. Ah, what a luxury. I’m also a rather slow sewer, meaning you won’t catch me putting “the pedal to the metal” but my Viking’s speed could only be controlled through the foot pedal rather than with a button on the machine that I could set to “slow.” I wanted a machine where the needle would stay down in the fabric when I stopped sewing (my Viking does that only when you tap the foot pedal once) and ideally, a machine that allowed me to lift the presser foot without taking my hands off the fabric (using a knee lift).

A couple months ago, I put a small deposit down on a Pfaff Ambition. It was a rather spur-of-the-moment thing at a sewing machine dealership I often frequent. I felt a little pressured, to be honest, but I was assured I could change my mind. The Pfaff was fine, but it didn’t have some of the features I wanted in my ideal machine, so I hesitated about going back to pay it off. The other machine I’d been considering was the Juki F600, which gets great reviews. However, not many dealers around here sell Juki home machines, and I didn’t want to order one over the Internet without trying out … plus, I want to support my local sewing machine shops, even if it costs me a little more. A good local dealer is worth more to me than a few dollars saved.

Then a couple weeks ago, I drove down to southeastern Massachusetts to Reliable Machines. Unfortunately I found out after driving there that they’d closed shop. Luckily there was another dealership nearby … and they sold Jukis! However, they didn’t have the F600, but the salesperson suggested that I try the Baby Lock Melody, which was similar. I did … and I fell hard for it. Beautiful stitching, quiet, met all my requirements. The only thing was, it was a LOT more than the Pfaff. Much more than I had saved up. I figured it would take me a year to save up for it, so I put my machine lust on the back burner and said a sorry goodbye.

I digress now, but in the meantime, my mother had developed some serious health issues. She (amazingly!) bounced back and was filled with newfound energy and a desire to get back into quilting and sewing. I mentioned to her that I’d been in the market for a new machine, she said she wanted to buy a used machine … and one thing led to another where she agreed to take my Viking and give me money to buy the Melody! I know that sounds like an uneven trade, but the Viking is a fantastic machine for machine for quilting (extension table, walking foot, piecing foot — pretty much every foot a quilter could want!) and my mom knows I take good care of my machines. In fact, I’d recently had the machine serviced.

I was set to buy the Melody from the dealer 30 miles south of us, but then my local dealer gave me an even better deal (saving me about $200 extra dollars!) so that was it. I brought the Viking down to my mother’s house last weekend and gave her a sewing lesson, she gave me a generous amount of money, and then last Friday I picked up my Melody from the dealership.

She was super easy to set up. Quiet, sews like a champ. There are so many features, I don’t even know where to begin. My husband had a pair of chinos that needed re-hemming, so that was my first project. Now I’m getting ready to make bathing trunks for him and board shorts for O.

Here’s the deal. I’m kind of intimidated by the machine. I walk by it and sort of get this sick, panicky feeling. Crazy, isn’t it? I’ve only worked on fairly simple machines … even my Viking 400, though computerized, was pretty basic. My Melody gives me the feeling of, “Where the *&^% do I begin?” It has been bugging me because I have so many projects I want to finish, and new projects I want to begin, but I get tense and nervous thinking about sitting down to start them. Then I start beating myself up and feeling guilty that I have such a beautiful new machine just sitting there, waiting for action. LIke I said … CRAYZEE!

For the last couple days, I’ve been “avoidance knitting.” When I’m stressed, I knit. I also do a lot of thinking when I knit, and I finally decided on a strategy to get over my intimidation. It actually came about by thinking about what I tell my magazine writing students who get overwhelmed by all the tasks they have to accomplish to build a successful career and that’s to pick one task on the list and just get it done. It may not be the one thing that should be done first, or the most important task on the list or even the right task, but the point is, it gets you moving toward a goal … a goal of getting published. Or in my case, the goal of feeling comfortable around my new machine!

Does anyone else go through this too? Or is it just me?

Happy summer! I hope to have some finished sewn objects to show you soon. 🙂

Spring has … sprung?

You wouldn’t know it from first glance at our front yard. We didn’t get to do our final fall lawn cleanup because our first snow came early here in Boston, so there’s quite a mess awaiting me this month. By late March, we usually have a few croci but I have yet to see one poke up through the ground.

Or maybe I’m avoiding looking at the mess in our border gardens!

This winter kicked my butt, mentally and physically. I was sick most of March and still don’t feel like I have my energy back. That said, I’ve managed to get quite a bit of craft work done while recuperating and hiding out from the snow.

My big project of the season was mastering the tailored shirt:

Kwik Sew 3555 women's shirt

Kwik Sew 3555 women's shirt

 

Both shirts were created in Pam Howard’s excellent Craftsy class, The Classic Tailored Shirt, which I highly recommend if you have any interest in making (or wearing) custom tailored clothing. One of my strange fascinations is with men’s tailoring … I can spend hours watching YouTube videos about old Sicilian tailors or the future of Savile Row. When my husband and I honeymooned in Italy, I swear I was more excited about his getting a custom tailored jacket in Milan than he was.

A hand-tailored shirt can run into hundreds of dollars, and there’s usually a minimum order, which means unless one has thousands of discretionary dollars sitting around in a checking account, this kind of clothing is out of reach of most ordinary folks. I am definitely “ordinary folk,” but I do have some mad sewing skillz, so this winter I decided to master shirt-tailoring. My ultimate goal is to fit and create shirts for my husband’s wardrobe, and my interim goal is to master the details that go into fine shirtmaking by sewing shirts for myself. The pink shirt was my first attempt. It’s made of linen, which was lovely to press and sew, but a bit too ravel-ly for the flat-felled seaming I had to do. The blue shirt is cotton chambray, and I definitely improved on this second attempt. Each shirt took me about a week to complete; I would spend a couple hours each night on one facet of construction, such as cutting fabric, sewing the collar, or felling seams. This schedule worked out great for me as I never felt rushed or tired, and each night I could see my shirt taking shape.

The pattern, btw, is Kwik Sew 3555, view A.

I have been sewing since I was in junior high/middle school, and although I was always enthusiastic about creating clothing, I was never very good at it, simply because I had no patience and wanted to wear what I was making that night. Cue a lot of wiggly seams and ill-fitting attire. The turning point in my sewing career came when I started knitting. See, it can take months to knit one sweater and a week to knit one sock. However, sewing an item of clothing, even when I’m patient and methodical, can take just hours. Sewing feels F-A-S-T to me now, even when I spread those hours out over a week or two.

Still, knitting is my true love, and I’ve been knitting up a storm. Here’s a peek at a sweater I just finished but haven’t properly photographed:

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I’m using notions and trimmings from my stash, so I decided to go with the plaid, which ended up being a great choice for the thistle color of the wool, don’t you think? Very Highlander. 🙂

Some odds and ends … I have been thinking about a blog post entitled “Buying is Not the Only Way to Engage,” written by Samantha at A Gathering of Stitches. This part really struck me:

“Look at your stash. Yes, right now, go look at it, really look at it. Pretty nice,huh? Wouldn’t it feel really good to just pull it out, piece by piece and start using it? What are you saving it for? Don’t buy more, until you use some of what you have! Buying is dangerous. It is a temporary exchange. Once that thing comes home to you, you adapt to it and become de-sensitized to it, and it is no longer as satisfying as you thought it could be.  So you push that button again and buy something else…. A vicious cycle ensues…. “

I am guilty of this kind of behavior, thinking I can’t start a project because I don’t have the right thread or that my creative life would be so much richer with a Juki F600 on my sewing table. Samantha’s post made me realize how much possibility I have already, and it inspired me to get back into my sewing room and work with the riches I already have.

Next — a couple days ago I got a nasty paper cut on my left hand, which has now gone all itchy. I’m convinced I’ve contracted an MRSA superbug and will shortly be losing my hand … okay, I’ll stop with the drama. My research led me to this interesting PBS news report that a medieval treatment of garlic, wine, and cow’s bile can kill MRSA bacteria. Here’s the video: fascinating!

Lastly, are you watching Wolf Hall on PBS? I had a terrible choice Sunday night: Mad Men or Wolf Hall, and I went with Mad Men because I knew I could watch Wolf Hall later on my PBS app. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with Tudor history, and as an adult, I’m still a little nerdy about it. I watched the first episode twice, and next Sunday I’ll probably save Mad Men for another night. I’ve read the book, but have yet to read its sequel. On my reading list …

A trip to Bath

Next month we’ll be hanging a left for our Mt. Washington climb!

Bath City Hall

I just noticed the sticker on this Subaru Outback!

Beautiful ghost sign on the side of this building

This sign reminded me of what signs used to look like when I was a child in the 70s.

Botanica Mittens, unblocked

Last week while my boys were in Houston — Texas in August? No thanks! — I took a short break and drove about three hours north to Bath, Maine. Bath is home to Bath Iron Works, a shipyard that builds battleships, cruisers, and destroyers for the U.S. Navy. What I didn’t know is that Bath is where the first boat the colonists built to make a return trip to England.

But I’ll be honest … I wasn’t in Bath to look at ships or 19th century architecture. I was there for Halcyon Yarn. I’ve always wanted to visit and it was well worth the trip. What I loved about it was while it was a large shop — they have not only handknitting yarn, but plentiful rug, weaving, and spinning departments — it wasn’t totally overwhelming like WEBS in Northampton can be. (My #1 piece of advice to knitters visiting WEBS for the first time … shop off a list or know what projects you’re buying for, otherwise you’ll wander around like a art-sick tourist in Florence. That’s Florence, Italy, not nearby Florence, Massachusetts.)

What I also liked about Halcyon is that the women working there were very helpful and kind. After I made my big yarn purchase (to be revealed in a future post), I needed a tea break so one of the women spent some time pointing out nearby cafes and other places I should visit. Fortified by a pleasant walk and a cup of very hot chai that wasn’t really appropriate given that it was in the mid-80s that day, I returned to the shop for Round Two, where I purchased some yarn I’d been thinking about during my ambles. It was at this time a sample pair of mittens caught my attention — I liked the colors and the picot edging — so I bought the pattern and the minute I got home, commenced knitting.

Two nights later, I had my own pair of Botanica Two-Way Mittens, which look very preppy in green and pinks. The mitten on the right was knitted by following the instructions exactly, by creating the picot edge in the round, which I found rather fussy. So with mitten #2 on the left, I knit the mitten flat until the picot edging was complete, then joined the yarn to knit the rest of the mitten in the round. I also knit this mitten on DPNs. I normally knit in the round on two circulars, but I do have to admit my stranding looks better when I use DPNs. This picture was taken before blocking; after blocking my stitches look so much neater.

I’ll post some pictures of my yarn haul in another post. I told my husband I hemmed and hawed about driving to Maine by myself — I worried about leaving our geriatric cat alone, worried about the car breaking down, worried about…what a wuss I’ve become! — then finally decided to heck with it! I’m going! And I’m glad I did. It was a wonderful visit. Next time, however, I’m bringing my boys with me. They can look at ships while I entertain myself with more yarn. 🙂

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. 🙂