Monthly Archives: October 2011

I thought I’d share my latest distraction from my fall sewing projects…

Every year I seem to end up helping my other half with his Halloween costume, which is fun, don’t get me wrong, but also every year he doesn’t decide what it should be until 2 or 3 days before he has to wear it.  So it was that I found myself the last two nights refashioning a shirt for him instead of working on my much more practical brown twill skirt.

We are both big fans of the films of Wes Anderson, and though he was tempted to go as Royal Tenenbaum with a group of friends doing Tenenbaum costumes, the creation/procurement of a gray windowpane plaid suit seemed untenable, so he settled on the spinoff theme of “Member of Team Zissou” (from The Life Aquatic):

I started with a light blue shirt from Ross:

I cut off the long sleeves and cuffed them, then I added some strips of Kona cotton in turquoise to mimic the accents on the Zissou shirts. To make the contrast placket I actually made buttonholes in the turquoise strip, then sewed it on top of the existing placket, lining up the buttonholes.  It makes it a bit more difficult to button, but it works.  Also, I was glad to practice buttonholing on something that I hadn’t put hours of work into… makes me a little less apprehensive about the Beignet skirt I’m planning! I also found an iron-on “Z” at Jo Ann (turns out they have bins for every letter containing several variations of each, all iron-on-able), as well as a yellow fabric pen to (sort of) replicate the Team Zissou logo on the breast pocket. Here’s the finished shirt, along with the signature red beanie (which I did not make, though I am reminded how cool it would be if I could knit – I really should learn):

Not perfect (the notable difference being that the shirts in the movie appear to be knit, and this is a woven), but I think it’ll get the point across at the Halloween party. I’m banking on the fact that most people’s recall of this movie will not include the fact that the shirts don’t have pocket flaps…

I finally finished my Lonsdale Dress!

Just in time for… rain and cold. Well, the weather here changes on a dime, so I may yet wear this dress this year. It’ll be just right for late late late summer (aka January). I muslined the bodice (gasp! yes, I really did) and cut my fabric way back in August as part of a cutting frenzy, but it got pushed to the back burner in the face of easier knit-type projects for Hawaii and Self-Stitched-September. It’s not that I didn’t want to make it, it was just that without a specific event in mind to wear it for, it kept going to the bottom of the pile. And when I finally pulled it out to finish it up, I couldn’t find the pattern piece for the loop, so that stalled me for a bit until I was saved by Tasia, the Sewaholic herself, who emailed me a pdf of the piece! (And of course, as soon as I was done with the bodice, I picked up the ironing board off the table and there was my loop piece… naturally.) Complicating matters further was the fact that I forgot to fill in the pocket when I cut the skirt lining, so rather than cutting a new skirt front lining I decided to try interlining the skirt by cutting a lining piece for the pocket as well and treating the fabric and lining as one throughout the construction (including hemming it as one). I thought that would make the skirt drape weird, but because both fabrics are so lightweight and they stuck together well, it worked out great and adds a nice weight to the skirt.

Overall, this is a fabulous pattern. I loved the design from the first moment I saw it – I mean, it’s a halter strap that connects to the bodice in the back! No fear of falling bodices, which is the only thing I dislike about halter styles. And the way it works is ingenious, with the straps tying in front to shape the bodice then hooking through loops in the back and tying in a bow above center back. It’s so cute and creative! Here’s a back view:

Also, pockets. It’s just a great pattern.

I’m pretty in love with the fabric too.  I will admit that part of the reason I kept delaying finishing the dress is that I was a little afraid of messing it up and wasting the fabric (which, frankly, is something that haunts pretty much all my projects and that I need to get over). This is a cotton “lawn” from Fashion Fabrics Club, which I loved when I first spotted (ooh, bad pun) it but didn’t have a project in mind for until Tasia announced the Lonsdale Dress, and I knew it had met its match. The print has a strong stripe feel that I wasn’t anticipating, so I really should have been more careful matching lines when I cut it out, particularly on the front bodice. But I like the chevron-y effect on the skirt seams, and I think this pattern would be really cool in an actual stripe too. The (inter)lining is something FFC called “voile”, but it doesn’t have the soft drapey hand of the nice voiles I’ve encountered – it seems like more of a very lightweight batiste, I guess. I bought a ton of it because it was on sale and it’s so hard to find light cotton lining fabrics. I’ve got maybe another dress and a skirt’s worth left for next summer’s voiles!

Anyway, my full pattern review is here. If you are making this dress (and I recommend it!), check out the awesome sewalong archive for it – it’s a wonderful resource and makes the clear instructions even clearer. I must say that I in no way possess the patience for the lovely finish work Tasia does so well, so my seams are serged rather than French or bias bound, my skirt is attached to all the waistband layers together to avoid slipstitching the waistband facing, my hem is machine blind stitched, and I used an invisible zipper because I find them easier and faster to install. I also had a bit of trouble getting the center front point (where the ties meet at the top of the center seam) to lay right because I wasn’t as precise in sewing it as I should have been.  But it’s fairly well disguised by the print and the knot, so I’m not worried about it. So don’t worry, even lazy sewists like me can make this dress and have it turn out well!

Thus ends (truly) my summer sewing, and I really will get onto my fall list… really. But before I do, gratuitous action shot!

I know I’ve gone on a bit about this totally crazy place in Solvang where all the fabric is 99 cents a yard and you cut it yourself and pay in the cafe upstairs… well, I promise it’s even crazier than you think it is, and finally I have some photographic evidence.

Yes, this is a fabric store. I encourage you to click on the picture to enlarge it and check out all the things that are totally insane. Notice the strange 80s ad posters of people in bathing suits up on the back wall? The mysterious short section of wallpaper border on one of the beams? The network of pipes-as-display-mechanism is maybe the least odd thing about this room. I’ve found pieces of fabric in here that range in length from one to fifty yards (I didn’t measure, there was a handwritten tag indicating the length). And this is just the first room. The other rooms have mostly bolts rather than pieces, though there are piles of small pieces too:


This is, I imagine, why I’ve found reference to this place being called the “Fabric Barrel”. There are about 6 rooms in total, of various sizes, spread across the basement floor of a big building. The doors to all the rooms are just open to the breezeway outside, and the first time I went it was about a half an hour before I saw anybody at all in the place.  There is someone who oversees it, I met her the first time I was there, but since then I haven’t seen anyone who works there in the fabric rooms when I’ve been browsing.  The signs all read “Find something you like? Bring it to the cafe to pay” and indeed, that is what you do.  There are tables scattered around with measuring tapes stuck to them and scissors are provided to cut off what you want:

Then you take your stack of fabric upstairs to the cafe and tell the woman at the register how many yards you have and she rings you up (there is tax, if you were wondering, so my 10 yards the other day came to $10.68 or something). The cafe is actually a separate building, but it’s all the same complex.

The first time I went here, I literally spent the whole time muttering, “what? what?! why?!” under my breath.  It is one of the strangest places I have ever encountered. Oh, and I also walked out with 17 yards of fabric. Don’t get me wrong, the place is bizarre, but I also kind of love it. Much of the fabric is terrible polyester stuff or ugly prints or both, but there’s also a lot of solid colored rayon and cotton jerseys and the occasional really nice stretch poplin or flowy rayon. Some of the fabric looks like it’s been there for decades, and some bolts I see aren’t there anymore just a couple weeks later (who’s coming here and buying a whole bolt of something? Another mystery). The story, as I understood it from the woman I talked to on my first visit, is that they’re associated with a clothing company called “Jodi California” and they get all that company’s manufacturing bolt ends or things they didn’t use (though I think some fabric comes from the LA garment district, somehow), and the proceeds go to charity, hence the 99 cent price and lack of precise fabric stocking/accounting. The whole complex is known as Shelbi Ranch, and there are equally inexplicable clothing stores upstairs as well as a western museum of some kind (according to the signs, that is. I have not investigated further). It seems like a kind of local institution that everybody knows about but doesn’t find as delightfully odd as I do.

Some of the garments I’ve made from fabric I’ve found here are my blue and black contrast yoke shirt (this fabric is my favorite find so far), the gray shirt and the blue ruffle dress (both rayon knits, I think), charcoal jersey skirt (this fabric mysteriously had two perfectly round, 10 inch circles cut out of it in one corner), the border print elastic waist skirt, the teal halter dress (another rayon knit), baker’s twine kimono shirt (this fabric had been sewn into a tube and was on the bolt like that), and the polka dot faux wrap dress (another oddly cut piece – remnants of manufacturing, I guess?). And I’ve got a bunch more fabric from here waiting to be sewn up (including a bunch of knits and a couple cute plaid shirtings).

Overall I highly recommend stopping by and checking it out if you happen to be visiting Solvang (I don’t know why you would be, but lots of people do) or just passing through on your way up or down the coast. The “ranch” is located on 1st street just down from Copenhagen. It is surely odd, but a wonderful resource.  The only real problem is that now I’m basically unwilling to pay more than a dollar a yard for solid knit fabric… and it’s terrible food for my growing stash monster!


•     •     •

UPDATE March 2014: I’m afraid the CFS has closed for good. Their phone is disconnected and there are ‘Out of Business’ signs posted… It was too good to last. I’m so sad that our area has lost such a good, delightfully odd resource and I will sorely miss it!

So as I slooowly plug away at my sewing pile (I’ve gotten embarrassingly little done in the last week, I’ve just been too tired when I get home from work), I thought I’d share some things I made before I started the blog, and that I didn’t wear/photograph during my Self-Stitched-September coverage. Hence the OFO series – Old Finished Object. I made this dress, Simplicity 2587, in August, with the intention of wearing it to a friend’s birthday celebration.  I didn’t get it done in time for that, but I did bring it to Hawaii and wore it out to dinner (twice!) but somehow managed not to post about it then. When I didn’t get anywhere close to finishing a dress for my own birthday dinner a couple nights ago, I wore this dress, which shall heretofore be known as the Birthday Dress.

I did not take this picture on my birthday, but trust that I looked basically just like this but with jewelry. (Though I love how this picture makes it look like I have a flower in my hair – I don’t, it’s on the vine behind me.) My full pattern review is here, and I had sort of forgotten until I re-read it that I was pretty sure this dress was going to be a (very expensive) wadder.  I went without muslining, as is my wont, and it wasn’t clear at all until I was totally finished and zipped it up that it wasn’t an ill-fitting gapey nightmare bodice.  But it totally worked, and I kind of love it.  The fabric is glorious (though the print is terribly off grain) and the bodice is surprisingly flattering for the extremely-small-busted like myself. This is also the first time I used strap adjusters (detail picture here), so I wouldn’t have to figure out the perfect strap length before sewing the bodice using the stab-yourself-with-pins-and-it-still-turns-out-too-long method I had used previously on spaghetti strap dresses, and I’m doing this from now on. It is fantastic to be able to get the right length strap after the dress is completely done, and I’m kicking myself for not doing the adjuster thing before. I’m also glad I dipped a toe in the maxi dress trend before the season was totally over.  Hopefully it’ll still be around next year, since they’re kind of fun, even though they use an ungodly amount of fabric.

The dress I briefly fantasized about trying to finish for my birthday is the Lonsdale Dress, which I cut out eons ago and figured I really should finish it rather than moving the cut-out pieces all around my sewing stack until next summer.  I was waylaid by a lost tiny pattern piece, which Tasia most awesomely emailed me a pdf of when I left a pleading comment on her blog. Talk about service! So the dress is back on, hopefully I can get it done soon and then finally get some seasonally appropriate sewing done before spring…

And I may have paid another visit to my Crazy Fabric Store and bought 10 more yards of fabric… more on that soon!

Despite already having nine eight projects in my fall sewing queue, I was enticed as usual by the JoAnn pattern sales this week… it’s not like they don’t put the patterns on sale pretty much constantly, but for some reason I feel like I need to stock up on patterns every time a sale happens, even if I know I’m not going to get around to making it up for eons. I justify it by saying you never know when a pattern’s going to go out of print, but really I just like shiny new patterns and the planning possibilities they entail. Anyway, here’s the most recent haul (click on image for pattern info):


I really would like to get to most of these this fall/winter – particularly B5649, the jean skirt style version (which I need in khaki to replace a RTW skirt that just ripped), and B5672, the cute side pleat double knit dress everyone’s making and making me envious with.  I don’t currently have fabric for either of those, but I do have fabric for M6069 (the double cowl dress) and B5685 (the big-lapel coat). The dress I think I can whip out pretty fast, but the coat will be a more serious undertaking, as I haven’t attempted any coat-like-object thus far. The Simplicity coat is more of a far-off-dream, purchased because I love it and want a green wool coat just like the picture, but it’ll only happen if for some reason I end up being a total whiz at coats (I am not anticipating this being the case). Finally, the knit cardigan is a pattern I’ve been eyeing for a while but our JoAnn persisted in not having my size in the pattern during the last two McCall’s sales.  Can’t have too many cardigans (they’re what we wear in California instead of coats when it gets “cold”, aka in the 50s, in December).

So as usual, my eyes are bigger than my stomach (wait – is that the colloquialism?), but I just can’t resist the promise of more fun stuff to make!

Last week a woman at work brought in a bunch of teeny tiny lemons from her tree at home.  I considered them all week, and when there were still a bunch left on Sunday night, I grabbed them. What do you do when the office gives you lemons? Make sherbert, of course.

Years ago I stumbled upon a recipe in one of my mom’s Cook’s Illustrated magazines for fruit sherbert. The main recipe was for orange, but I was more interested in the lime version, which has become my go-to frozen dessert recipe.  Then last year I had the most amazing lemon mint sherbert at a wonderful ice cream shop in Berkeley called Ici and I thought, I must recreate this at home.  I remembered that my favorite lime sherbert recipe had a lemon variation, and due to its unique way of infusing flavor into the sugar using a food processor, I thought it was just asking to have mint added to it.

I have some peppermint growing in a pot on my deck, and some spearmint (that’s what you find in stores sold as fresh mint) from the farmer’s market, so the sherbet was practically asking to be made. Like all Cook’s Illustrated recipes, it seems complicated with a lot of steps (a food processor and a mixer?), but just do what they say and it’ll be amazing. Trust me.


Lemon Mint Sherbert
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

1 cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar

zest of 1 or 2 lemons

big handful of fresh mint leaves (use more than I have pictured, I didn’t put enough in for my taste)

2/3 cup lemon juice plus 1 1/2 cups of water

2 tsp triple sec or vodka (optional)

2/3 cup heavy cream

Put the sugar in the bowl of a food processor and add the zest and the mint leaves.  Process in 1-2 second bursts until the sugar looks damp and is starting to clump a little.  With the processor running, add the lemon juice/water and process until the sugar is dissolved.  Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and add the alcohol if using (it makes the final texture of the sherbert a little smoother but isn’t necessary).  Stick the mixture in the freezer for a half hour or so, until it’s really cold but not at all frozen.

Whip the cream just until it firms up a bit and makes soft peaks, but isn’t quite whipped-cream consistency (it doesn’t take long, keep an eye on it! I always mess up this part). With the mixer on low, add the cold juice mixture to the cream in a slow, steady stream down the side of the bowl.  Then immediately dump the whole mixture into your ice cream maker and start churning.

Once it’s gotten a little past soft-serve consistency, or your machine has stopped, pack it into a freezer-safe covered bowl and freeze for a few hours.  If you can wait longer than that to eat it (I can’t!) and it’s been in the freezer a while, let it soften up at room temperature for a bit – it’s best served fairly soft.

For the lime version, substitute lime juice and zest for the lemon juice and zest, and omit the mint. Or leave it in, I haven’t tried it but I’m sure it’d be good – like a mojito! Mmmmm…

Oh yes, I did also make dinner (though the idea of just eating sherbert did cross my mind). I made these Indonesian Grilled Chicken Thighs with Mango Salsa, and served them with naan, grilled eggplant and summer squash (the last of it, I’m afraid), and a sort of raita made with Greek yogurt and a homemade Indian sweet-pickle relish. So good! Good enough, in fact, to eat it all before thinking to take pictures. Oh well. Luckily ice cream is a slow process or there would be no photographic menu documentation at all!

*Okay, not instant.  But I managed to finish my dress in time for the event! I started it on Tuesday night (with cutting) and finished it on Friday night, with about 2 to 2 and a half hours of sewing per night, which is pretty instant in my book.  But here it is, Simplicity 2497:

I didn’t have time for a muslin (if I were inclined to do such a thing, which I’m not, generally), so I hit upon the idea of changing the construction order to give me continuous side seams for fitting. I moved the zipper to center back, as suggested by The Slapdash Sewist, for that reason and to make the pockets more straightforward to insert, but of course, when I actually got to the point of sewing the side seams, I was so anxious to try it on that I just sewed them up and totally forgot about the pockets (this is not the first time that has happened). I didn’t have the time or the inclination to rip out the side seams, so it just doesn’t have pockets.  Which is for the best, I think, because the skirt’s a little snug across the hips and there’s not really room for pockets.

The fabric is a poly shantung from JoAnn. It was purchased before I vowed never to buy any polyester from JoAnn ever again (after a wadder of epic proportions attempted with one of their “simply silky prints”).  It’s just not nice fabric, at all.  It’s staticky, slippery, and sheds like mad (the cause of the furry foot), and also smells funny when you iron it (why? don’t want to know). It just didn’t sew up very nicely, with puckering and general wubbly-ness in the seams and hem (and man was the bias binding a pain!), some of which is certainly operator error. But this kind of fabric seems like a trap for the beginning sewer – it’s cheap! it’s pretty! – but you need some serious labor and skills to make this fabric look good.  I will say I like the color.  I used the matte side because the shiny side was a little too flashy, and I thought the matte side mimicked the look of silk more. I like how the shiny side peeks out a little in the ruffle, though.

Speaking of the ruffle, I did a serger rolled hem (the “napkin edge” as my serger manual calls it), because you couldn’t have paid me to baby-hem that whole thing. I found a spool of machine embroidery thread that was exactly the right color and had a little sheen, and loaded it as the upper looper thread (which is the one that does most of the work).  I used black thread for the needle and lower looper, and they really don’t show that much.  The hint of black gives a little depth to the edge, I think. I really like the way the edge turned out, it looks very RTW. I also de-exaggerated the tapering of the ruffle a little, so it’s wider in the front and narrower in the back than the pattern pic, and I think I could have narrowed the back even a little more. It’s still plenty dramatic!

My full pattern review is here, with more specific details of the changes I made in construction. Here is the back view, so you can see how less experienced sewer + not nice fabric + in a hurry = puckery seams.  But you can also see the back zipper, I suppose.

Overall I’m pleased with the dress.  As usual, there was a point during construction when I was worried that it wouldn’t work, that the ruffle was too much crazy and I wouldn’t be able to pull off the look, but I think it turned out well and it was appropriate for my event. Now on to the next!

Okay, it’s totally fall.  The air is crisp, there’s been some rain, and I’m okay with wearing things with sleeves.  I’m actually getting excited – I do like fall (it’s my birthday season, and Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays) – so the other day I pulled out a bunch of patterns and fabrics from the stash and laid out my fall sewing plans:

Oh boy. Yes, that is nine projects.  Many of them are things I intended to make last year, but winter and spring came too fast and I abandoned them into the stash.  But this year I’m thinking ahead (um, if early October is ahead… luckily the weather here is basically fall-like until January), and I’m going to take a stab at making all this stuff! So clockwise from top left we have:

  • Butterick 5454 in a brown border print slinky-y jersey from Mood in LA. I actually bought this fabric with a DVF wrap dress style in mind, but no particular pattern.  I attached this pattern to it last winter, but never got around to it.  I think it’ll be a great work dress… I hope I have enough fabric!
  • Simplicity 2497 in green poly shantung from JoAnn, currently in progress and the cause of the furry foot yesterday. I wasn’t going to make this the first project, but I realised a few days ago that I have a dressy work event on Saturday (as in the day-after-tomorrow!) that it would be good for… we’ll see if I can get it done; I’m about halfway now but waiting for disaster to strike.
  • McCall’s 5927 in awesome red and gray plaid from The Sew Weekly‘s Mena.  I’m less excited about the pattern than the fabric; I’m still not sure if this sheath dress is what it wants to become.
  • Simplicity 2343 in brown stretch twill.  Pencil skirt with pockets; need I say more?
  • Simplicity 2447 in turquoise/orange plaid from I got this fabric too late last year to make this shirt – it’s such a fall item to me.  I’m hoping to have it done by Halloween so I can go as Liz Lemon.
  • Colette Beignet in orange denim from JoAnn. I was going to make the Beignet in the brown twill, but I’ve seen so many great bright colored versions of this skirt and I wanted to give it a try, and I bought this orange fabric on a whim the other day (they get you with those 50% off coupons!). I hope the buttonholes aren’t too impossible on the thick fabric.
  • McCall’s 6035 in green poplin with a cool woven dot pattern. Having been assured by my mom that button-up shirts are “easy”, I’m going to give it a try with this basic pattern.
  • Simplicity 2443 (jacket) in gray baby corduroy. This will be my first attempt at a jacket; we’ll see if all the little fiddly bits make me go crazy. I like this style (lightweight, cropped length/sleeves) for fall.
  • Simplicity 2758 in wool plaid with navy lining. I got this fabric to make a circle skirt last fall, but again didn’t get around to it.  I’m going to make it now, though, for sure – I hope these full plaid skirts are still in style!

Whew! So that’s what I’ve got so far.  As far as project order, the jacket and the skirts are highest on the list, but I’m just going to see what I feel like doing next after I finish one. I’ve got a few more patterns that don’t have fabric and vice versa floating around, but I’m going to try to get these things done so they don’t languish in the stash until next fall! We’ll see how I do – right now I’ve got 1 or 2 hours a night plus Mondays for sewing, but my work schedule will lighten up a bit around Thanksgiving.  But by then I’ll want to be doing winter sewing!

I’ve given in to October and have started planning my fall sewing (shocking, I know), but before I commit totally to those projects I put together this easy dress for today, the first day of rehearsal on my next show.

It’s Simplicity 2369, a well loved and well reviewed pattern that I’ve had for a while, but just hadn’t really been able to match the right fabric to it. I grabbed this black and white polka dot poly knit at the Crazy Fabric Store, and thought I’d maybe use it for Vogue 1250, but then I saw this pattern in my stash and thought it’d be perfect.  I like how the slightly more somber print makes the casual pattern more professional looking (i.e., work appropriate, not professionally sewn, which this definitely is not!). The piece of fabric was cut super oddly – it was a giant rhombus, with about a yard of selvage on each side, but offset so there was only about a half yard of fabric intact from selvage to selvage.  The funny shape worked really well for this pattern, though, with its triangle-shaped wrap top pieces, and I had plenty of fabric for it. The fabric is not as heavy as, say, an ITY, but it’s not super sheer and it works okay on its own.  It’s maybe a little, um, clingy (have to choose underwear carefully!), and I wonder if I should have cut one size larger… if I make it again in a less stretchy knit I definitely will. But I’m pretty happy with it overall and it was kind of fun to make a whole item from idea to completion in just 5 or so hours! It would have been faster if I had actually read the instructions instead of just glancing at them and trying to put it together on my own – I ripped out three side seams total, first because I sewed them all the way down first thing, which you’re not supposed to do, and again because I sandwiched the wrap piece wrong and it ended up on the inside of the dress instead of the outside… Whoops! I will say that this is a pretty common side effect of sewing after midnight.  If I had just put it down and gone to bed and finished it the next day it may not have happened.  But no, “I’m almost done, let me just sew this side seam and… crap!” Also, I didn’t realise it until I wrote the review, but my dress ended up a mirror image of the envelope.  I didn’t do it intentionally, but I like that the tie is on the right rather than the left.

It’s a good pattern (my full review is here).  I’m already imagining it in a long-sleeved version (using the Slapdash Sewist’s sleeve modification), making the front piece longer to go to the hem and eliminating the tie (catching the short edge in the side seam) to knock off this Boden shirt. But that feels like a winter project… I’m going to stick to fall sewing from the stash for now – more on that soon!