Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent tree

Having decided to celebrate Christmas this year, I tried to recall the things that as a child gave me most joy. I loved our advent calendar. I loved opening a new set of doors each day to reveal the treat beneath. In this spirit I have created this advent tree. I got the idea of using fantails after seeing the very cute ones made by Heart Felt. I think she nailed their cuteness, in a very simple design. 

I thought the body would display a number quite clearly, and the tail could hold all sorts of booty. I then decorated them with fans of old patch work scraps and buttons. Then I stitched them all onto the tree, which I made using chain stitch. I have stuffed them with quotes from the Dalai Lama et alia, so every day there is one wise thing to meditate on.

There are a number of satisfying things about this project. The patch work scraps had been in stash for 20 years. It was like saying hello to old friends when I pulled them out of their shoe box. Every thing on this calendar was made from stash, not a single purchased item, which appeals to my sense of resourcefulness (aka stinginess).

2 other great christmas ideas I came across recently: 

1) Jenni-from-across-the-road is organising a "stay at home mum" christmas party. Why miss out because we don't work in an office? Good thinking Jenni. I'm wondering what a christmas party without booze and office affairs looks like. At least no-one will be looking for their next job in the new year.

2) Here's a fun holiday season swap that I saw on a sewing blog. The holiday season apron swap. Yes that's right. You sign up and sew an apron for someone and they send you one. Nice alternative to the decoration swap, I thought. Besides, aprons making stirling re-gifting if they end up a wadder.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ra Ra de Ra Ra skirt

well well well 

I was really expecting this to be a wadder. All the signs were bad... the fabric after prewashing came out like plastic. I doubted my vision of a ra-ra skirt (Simplicity 3881) for the middle aged. But friends this one really looks so lovely on. I highly recommend it for those of us with a generous girth who want to be flirty, but dignified. 

What's more, I used my overlocker to do all the gathering and a rolled hem so it came together in a jiffy. I also used up some old smocked table napkins in the lower tier so that's some more guilt assuaged from my stash.  

Now that's really something to get rara-ed about. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Celebrating the delights of life

After 5 years of bahumbuggery TMB and I have decided to celebrate Christmas. He was bought up in a differently religioned household, whereas I got to enjoy advent calendars and presents.

What does Christmas mean to us now? Well, it's summer and that means holidays, ease and leisure, "the delights of being alive".

I am working on Christmas tree alternatives with this arrangement. Tatara looks a lot like holly after a few chardonnays and Oleria is almost pine needle like.  The ric rac  brings in some much needed colour.  I went out to Spotlight looking for their Pohutawaka print but it was all sold out. Guess I'm not the only one thinking of summer time substitution.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another day, another bag

I made this bag for my sister Miri for her birthday. I had heard she would enjoy something handmade. Well this bag end up being way more hand made than I ever anticipated.

I used Kwiksew 3312, view B. I also knew Miri would appreciate my thrift in making this bag, as she is a very resourceful person herself. The bag is made from a blanket and lined with a sheet. Pattern and cord from stash. Embroidery inserted into a window so it sits flat with the outer.

I used the lining as the outer guide, and the outer guide as the lining, reversing the proportions. This ended up being a mistake. My machine could not sew through 4 layers of blanket, something that never occured to me as I was cutting out. Too late!  I didn't discover my error to the very last stage of construction, when everything had been cut and overlocked. So I got out my thickest darning needle and hand turned it.

Needless to say, it's not as strong as I would have liked. Not for library books or supermarket shopping. For light shopping and lunching, I would say. 

Happy Birthday Miri (don't worry, there's another present as well so you will have a surprise to open on the day). 

Friday, November 21, 2008

An eye for the absurd

Look at these 2 dog signs from the ACC. You have to admire the sign writers' eye for detail. In one, look at the steam arising from the fresh droppings. In the other, look at how the dog is caught, in flagrante delicto, mid crouch. I think the droppings are more biologically representative too.

These photos were taken outside 2 different parks in the area, so clearly there is no consistent policy on how their anti-fouling message should be portrayed.

It is having an eye for the absurd that keeps me amused through sometimes long sometimes lonely days at home with a baby. It is a great gift being so easily amused, and one that I wish to pass on to you.

Next year I am going to announce a "bedazzler" challange. It will be a competition which you are invited to join. All you have to do, is think of a something to bedazzle. I'm signalling this now, so you can keep a lazy eye out for opportunities. 

It's Thursday, so the end of my blogging week. Next week I'm going to try blogging every second day, Sunday,Tuesday and Thursday. I only sew something every fortnight, and while material is plentiful, got to keep the quality up, now don't we? 


Thursday, November 20, 2008

My pledge

Of all the intriguing sewing behaviour that occurs on Pattern Review, the one that impresses me most is the "home sewn pledge." That is when the people commit, for a year, not to buy a single item of clothing from a store.  If they want it, they have to make it. It excludes shoes and underwear, thank goodness, for everyone's sakes.  
Think how good your sewing would have to be if you were condemned to a year of home made. You'd certainly want to have a better success rate than me. Think how many times I'd be forced to wear my shirt dress, and not just when I'm cleaning the toilet.

But I have come up with my own pledge. I am not allowed to buy any fabric unless it matches a pattern in stash. Conversely, I am not allowed to buy any pattern unless it matches fabric in stash.  For the rest of the year.  That's 6 weeks, let's not get too carried away.

First up, this little cross stitch from the Sally Army purchased today, that will be teamed with fabric and a clip from stash to make a broach. (idea courtesy Jenni-from-across-the-road).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The stash of shame

I have difficulty with stashes and I know I am not alone.  Before I joined Pattern Review I'd never heard of a "stash fast" and now I see everyone's on a fabric diet.  There are sewers out there who count meterage like calories.  "I had a real binge today:  2 fat quarters and a 3 big ones down at Spotlight"  or "Used up something from my stash today.. great .. only 20kgs of fabric left"

That last part is no joke. There are people who have over a kilometre of fabric in their stashes.  

Amazing.  My weakness is sale time. If there's a bargain to be had then I think, "good time to stock up on basics." Then before I know it I have several projects to sew. 

I find it very oppressive. If there's one thing I hate it's having a to-do list. 

That's why I try to exercise modesty and restraint. I only bought 2 patterns half price today at the McCalls sale and they were basics I'd had in mind for quite some time. 

One is a denim skirt and the other a basic T, but you know they will look very *special* by the time I've finished with them! 

I'm convinced that's the way to do a stay at home mum wardrobe, basics, with a twist. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

3 sleeps

Ok.. here's the first of the bags I plan to make from this pattern

It took me 3 Benjy sleeps to make it. After he went down for the night, I cut out the pattern. During his morning sleep, I sewed about half of it. Then while he was happily playing with his toys, I unpicked a seam I knew I shouldn't have tried sewing.

I don't know about you, but I can NEVER topstitch something on one side, catching a hem on the other (usually advice given for attaching collars or waistbands.) One of them always looks bad. I prefer to slip stitch the hem discreetly into place on the inside of the garment. 

But I was in a hurry, and well, things got ugly, despite the badge's stern warning. 

During his afternoon sleep I finished it off with a scant minute to spare. You will no doubt recognise the fabric as being my spotlight purchase and the remnants of that dress

The instructions were clearly written for total beginners. One instruction reads, "press seams open" and then it has a picture with the seams pressed open. 

Wow! It's really hard to believe there was a time when I could not have followed that instruction without a picture.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Retro irony

Look at this charming badge I found at the Hospice shop in the village. It is really hard to imagine what its author was thinking. Are they saying "it's time to rethink your wardrobe and beauty regime" or are they saying, "don't get angry"?   I found it amusing enough to enquire about its price, and the woman behind the counter said, "I just cannot sell it to you for more than 50c "  

That's really saying something because they seem to have no problems selling everything else there for an exorbitant price.

Once purchased I knew exactly what I was going to do with it. It had that slightly antagonistic ambivalence that can only be pulled off by the insouciance of youth : there comes an age when you are too old for retro irony.  I have just the right youth in mind. Someone who has very recently had a birthday.  

And here is the vehicle upon which the badge shall be carried.

Happy 20th Rosie! 

Friday, November 14, 2008

The shi(r)t dress

"Ve dink the styling is old fashiont and de fabrik is chep. Ve are not sure if dis kostum is vor de supermarket or de hospizal. As you know, von day you are in, de nexte you are aut. Mary Nanna, you are aut." 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Every button tells a story

Gather round, blog friends. The story of this button is a long one, but a symbol of hope in these troubled times.

TMB's grandparents were Russian refugees who arrived in Britain around the turn of the last century. They were fleeing the Cossaks, who at that time were successively raiding and destroying villages.

TMB's grandfather found work pushing a vegetable barrow up the steep hills of his new home, because all the flat routes had been taken. His wife worked in a factory sewing uniforms but made a few pretty frocks on the side. Because they were light, TMB's grandfather put them on the side of his barrow, and money being tight in those days, he offered competitive "hire purchase" frock deals to his vege customers. 

Over time, the dresses became more popular than the cabbages, and being lighter, were much easier to transport. TMB's grandfather was an entrepreneur, and spotting an opportunity and a market, they moved over to manufacturing clothing full time.

Every season they lived hand to mouth. His grandmother re-interpreted Parisian styles for the every day woman but they never had enough to sew more than a season ahead.  If they made a mistake with their styling they were doomed: they would not have enough capital to make it through the next season.

When the factory they were hiring came up for sale, they scraped together enough cash for a deposit. Fate then played them a lucky hand: almost as soon as the sale was complete, someone offered them considerably more for their factory.

For the first time ever, they had money to spend. They invested in a new factory and began manufacturing in earnest. They were eventually quite successful, and were able to leave a modest inheritance to their children.

This button comes from a garment made in that factory, and it is somewhere between 60 to 80 years old. My mother-in-law gifted all the remaining habadashery to me. 

Isn't it gorgeous? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The fuller figured friend

Motherhood is a humbling experience in so very many ways, but nowhere is the evidence of humility more visible than at my waist line.

That's when I decided to reacquaint myself with the joys of the elasticated waistband. So convenient...when those post baby inches finally disappear from my body I can cinch it all back in.  

Meanwhile, I have this comfy little bias skirt. I did away with the front drawstring detail (like I need anything more going on down my front) and just popped in a heavier duty elastic. 

I don't like to give the impression that I whip things up, but this skirt, with its fold over casing and machine turned hem, was an afternoon's work. 

You've seen the hat, here's the skirt (Butterick 4522), in all its expandable glory.

Monday, November 10, 2008


I needn't worry about making things that look ridiculous if the latest Fashion Quarterly is anything to go by.  There's a whole magazine full of them, with a hefty price tag to boot. 

These beads are made of Sculpey, which is a Fimo type clay. I bought the colours to match my day dress, which is rapidly becoming the "shirt dress with a silent 'r'"  as my sister calls it.

You can see the fabric of my shirt dress under my Sculpey Stonehenge. When I went to the fabric store to get it, I asked for a light weight denim. They rummaged around and produced this fabric which looked to my eye to be what I was after.

The first suggestion that all was not as it seemed was that it dried on the line, despite there being 4 consecutive downpours. When I ironed it ready for cutting I noticed that the iron kept snagging. It wasn't until I was pressing the princess seams and the fabric began to shrivel under a moderate iron that the truth dawned on me: I had purchased polycotton.

It's not a shirt dress, it's a house frock. I'll finish it though, and wear it to Playcentre. "Water play today? No problem, this will dry in a jiffy. Paint marks ? - no worries, with this wash and wear style."  

Everything speaks cleaners' uniform. The modest collar, the button through front, the crisp sleeves. Now that I see the garment taking shape my mind goes back to hospital corners and bedpans, porridge buns and queen pudding. 

It's Redroofs in red piping.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

How I do it

In answer to the question, how do I find time to look after a baby, sew and blog about it, my answer is simple: neglect. 

The dishwasher always needs emptying, clothes put in the washing machine, put on the line or taken off.  Food needs to be re-shelved, benches wiped down, detritus and miscellanea dealt to. 

I am not one of those super women who do it all - quite the opposite - I am one of those ordinary woman who avoid as much as possible.

I take my cue from the oft quoted "oxygen principle" - I've never heard anyone say you should put the mask on your housework before yourself or child. 

When it comes to the writing, I find it incredibly easy to talk about sewing. I could just talk and talk and talk about it, so I never suffer from bloggers' block. I was worried at first, given how long it takes to sew something, how I would be able to sustain a Monday to Friday blog spot.

I have adopted the rule of all procrastinators: just because you don't do something, doesn't mean you can't talk about it. 

This weekend the state of the house got to me, even me, who likes to surrounded by creative chaos. I spent my precious sewing time cleaning up.  That being said, on Friday I finished another hoodie (Simplicity 3640), so I do have something to show, as well as tell.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Just ditch it

Look at these lovely badges gifted to me on Benjy's birthday. Yes, that's right - he's too young to appreciate a birthday present but I am happy to receive on his behalf.

They depict a seamstress wigging out. In one, she's totally confused at how to put the pattern pieces together. In another, she's approaching the mirror in trepidation for a fitting, and in the last one she's looking at her fabric, and her dress form, in complete terror.

Aah such familiar scenes to any keen home sewer! 

I am reminded of the time I left a comment on someone's review on Pattern Review that said, "just ditch it."

It was one of those reviews, like a horror movie, that you could actually visualise how it all unravelled with every word.  Rule number 1: always use the recommended fabrics. Broken. Rule number 2: always check the finished measurements before beginning sewing. Broken. Rule number 3: know your figure type and don't be persuaded by how lovely it looks on the model. Broken, broken, broken.

How many times have your broken those rules? Me - more times than I care to remember. That's when I get out my little pink bag and send it all off,  threads trimmed, to Save Mart. Let someone else enjoy it. Someone will. But me, it's time to move on. 

I am reminded of that great quote:  sometimes it's better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

ps Miss Smith, can you leave details in a comment about where to source these fabulous badges?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A little vixen

Is this not the perfect shoe to go with my shirt dress? It's intriguingly named "vixen" and comes from a shoe manufacturer whose by-line is, "we fit your orthotic."  Yes people, after a slow start, Kumfs have struck gold again.

Things got off to a shakey start this season. There was an alarming number of lame lace ups, so much so that I gave up hope and went to an outdooor sports' shop to find a more becoming shoe. 

Perfect as this peep toe may be, I cannot think of  a single occasion where I might actually wear them. There's not much call for heels in the sandpit. I think if I bought these they might mock me in their virgin condition from my shoe tree.

This is where the Americans have a distinct advantage. Most of the stay at home seamstresses I follow on Pattern Review are always whipping up a lovely new dress for church on Sunday. And if you check out the photo there's always a sweet little heel to go with it.   I want to introduce you to 2 of my favourites. 

These women have 8 children between them. How do they do it?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Odi et amo

Before the days of Doctor Phil and "if he does it with you, he'll do it to you," there was a poet called Catullus who was enjoying sexual relations with another man's wife. 

About half way through the relationship, before it really began to sour, he wrote a poem entitled "I love and I hate." Shortly after that, things took a turn for the worse and his lover found fresher pastures, and if we are to believe Catullus, LOTS of other fresh pastures.

But this poem sums up the way many of us sewers feel about Spotlight. Fortunately here in Auckland, the sheer size of Spotlight confines it to the outer suburbs. There's still a space for everyone, and small draperies and quilting stores can make a living in the inner city area. 

I ended up at Spotlight yesterday on a quest for Fimo and while I was there I checked out their huge supply of patchwork fabrics.  I love the kiwiana range, but had to laugh at one which showed a possum munching away at a tree. Dear oh dear. And right next to a pohutakawa print! Ecologists be warned. 

There was also this delightful fabric. It could only be more perfect if they were little demi-tasse coffee cups instead of teapots. I bought some with the idea of lining my next hoodie, but it doesn't really match the sweat shirting fabric so I will have to find something else to do with it. 

Aah .. the joys of possibility!   

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The day dress

Now that I am not biologically consigned to separates I've been thinking about sewing a dress. I keep coming back to the good ol' shirt dress and this pattern from Simplicity 2996 looks to fit the bill. I would like to add piping to the collar and sleeve details, and naturally a not insignificant amount of top stitching.  I thought I might even buy a top stitching needle and special thread and do it with pride! 

However, warning bells are going off. There are only a handful of garments I have never finished sewing and a dress from vogue, with alarmingly similar proportions, was one of them.  

In an attempt to be helpful, this shirtdress comes in 4 cup sizes A-D, but unless they stretch to a double Z it's no use to me.  I looked up this dress on Pattern Review and the 2 people who made it before me did a good job.. still I feel nervous.

Tim Gunn's capsule wardrobe consists of 2 day dresses, so I feel affirmed in my desire to have a dress. His rationale? Dresses look, well, dressy, and you don't have to coordinate a top and a bottom.

Ok .. here's what I'm thinking.. I'm thinking light denim, red topstiching and the knee length A line number.. I'm also thinking shorter sleeve option, maybe the cap or three quarter.. please save me a lot of grief and tell me if I'm way off..

You know how in Project Runway there's that look of rapture on the designers' faces as the models come down the catwalk and then they get a roasting from Michael Kors? I'm having that kind of, nice idea, but you've missed the mark, feeling.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Make it work

Here's what I did about Halloween. When the trick or treaters came to my door I had a question of my own: twix or mars? That's right people, I caved. Could not deny them their bit of fun and chocolate. And what's more I'm glad I did - they were so happy and they looked so cute I would have felt a very bad sport indeed.  

Way hey Benjy.. things are looking up.. you may even get a christmas present this year!

Now on to more important sewing business. In the search for the perfect stay at home mum wardrobe I am reading a few books on putting together a successful look. I've just finished Tim Gunn's guide to style and loved every witty minute of it.  Sample text: "Unless you are Dolly Parton you will not be wanting to draw attention to your full bust (and if you are, hi Dolly!)" 

I was fascinated to read his explanation behind "make it work." The fact is, when you are creating a garment, the minute it goes pear-shaped you cannot ditch it because it already represents considerable effort in terms of time and money. What's more, even by starting again there will be new problems to solve... the process is never without error -  ergo: make it work.

I had my own 'make it work' moments with this weekend's sewing adventure. This pattern is the same as the chambray (Simplicity 2936) but I changed the sleeve. On the pattern there is an adorable little tie on the sleeve (view c). I had visions of white poly cotton ribbons, milk bar waitress style.  Of course, the last thing I needed was a great big frill on my bust line, let alone TWO. It had to go, and in it's place this discreet band with button detail.
Thanks Tim.