A skirt for fall

I made a new skirt.

I really like it.  I realize it is nothing special, and that I probably could have bought something similar.  Or at least I could have 5 years ago, which is when I came across this inspiration image:

Whatever, I like my skirt better.  It is exactly the right shade of yellow ochre.  It has exactly the right amount of A-line flare.  It doesn’t pooch out in the front like most RTW skirts.  It didn’t cost $80 which is what I vaguely recall this skirt costing.  And it only took me 5 years, 3 machines, and I’m-not-going-to-count-how-many-yards-of-fabric to learn how to sew it.

I used the same pattern I used previously for my olive twill skirt, reducing the flare slightly and swapping the patch pockets for standard jeans-style pockets front and back.  I was just finishing up the pockets when I happened to read one of Kyle’s posts in which she mentioned pre-treating some corduroy for pants.  Oops.  I threw the pieces in the wash and dried them then held them up to the pattern pieces to see how much I’d lost.  It was only about 1/4″ on the cross grain but nearly and inch in the length.  I had to recut the waistband (which was cut on the cross grain) and I made a very narrow hem (narrower than in the photo above) but the skirt turned out fine.  See, you can learn anything in five years.

Hmm, now that I notice the dates on these photos it seems I cut this out almost a month ago, so let’s call it five years and one month.  And while I’m clearing out my flashcard here are some other photos I came across:

A twist top made from B4789, started last spring and finished this summer.  Only worn recently when it got cool enough.


A tunic/minidress thingy using M6612 made around the same time.  I like this one too although I have to say the length looks pretty awful in the photo.  Maybe I should hem it.

And Joey’s first day of school!

I’d like you to note that while I was learning to make jeans-style pockets and rescue myself from washing machine sizing disasters, Joey learned to speak English, to make logical inferences, and to generally comport himself as a human being.  And all this took him only 3 years.


Peace out.


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Hobbies new and old

I know, I know: the last thing I need is more hobbies.

#1: Dye

I picked up a couple packets of fabric dye several months ago when they were randomly on sale at the art supply store.  Living in a small urban apartment with a communal washing machine though I couldn’t find an appropriate time or place to try them out.  But when we were up in Vermont last week with my family I found a free afternoon and an old pot in the shed and decided to give it a try.

These three fabrics are all pretty good quality but the colors never really sang for me and I just couldn’t think of anything I really wanted to sew from them.  One is wool, one some kind of rayon (i think) and one a ponte knit, so I mixed the plain and poly brown i-dyes together, added some salt per the instructions and off I went.

It was all very eye-of-newt.  I put the ponte in the longest and first, then the rayon, then the wool (briefly).  After cooking each one I moved it to the washing machine, then ran the whole thing on cold, and dried them.  Although the instructions were decent they didn’t say anything about how to move the hot wet dyed fabric to the machine (I managed to dye the edge of the machine in the process— good thing I didn’t try this at home) or what to do with the used dye (in true Vermont fashion I covered it up and put it back in the shed.)

Verdict: I think the results are ok.  I managed to move some fabric form the giveaway pile to the might-use-someday pile.  I think the most successful was the rayon knit which went from a kind of cloying clay color to a nice warm brown.  The wool I am thinking of re-dyeing black to try to get a warm gray.  The ponte might make a dress or may still just be a muslin.  It was a fun afternoon but I don’t think this is something I’ll be doing regularly.  Not least because I am going to run out of room in the shed at some point.

#2: Necklaces

I was in New York a couple of weeks ago and, finding myself with a few hours on my hands, I set off as usual towards the garment district.  But since I was feeling rather satiated with fabric and also since it was about 110° F I popped into a little (air-conditioned) bead shop that was on my way.  An hour later I emerged with two agate pendants, two lengths of lava beads, two lengths of dyed coral beads, and some beading wire.   Then I had to wait a few weeks to scrounge up some satin and hemp cord (for the pendants), some closures and crimp tubes, and some small hematite cube beads that made their way to the shopping cart with the closures.

The other night I finally sat down to assemble my necklaces and it was just as much fun as I thought it would be.  Not to mention making me feel like I’m about 12.  The plastic packages of beads remind me of bonbons, the tiny crimp tubes and pliers remind me of building electronics at work, and at the end of the evening I had several nice shiny new necklaces.  Did I mention shiny?

I also learned a lesson about drape in assembling these.  The first time I made the hematite necklace I pulled the wire nice and tight before crimping it.  This resulted in a very stiff necklace with none of the drape and movement that makes it shimmer.  I had to rethread it 2 more times to get it right— I coiled the beaded wire twice before pulling the wire tight— and the result is almost an inch of ease when the beads hang straight down.  So there you go: in order to bend you need space between the beads, or between the fibers in a fabric, or between the molecules in the fiber I presume.

Verdict: potentially dangerous.  I can see making these for gifts, or for open studios in the spring, and I can also see myself sinking hours and dollars I don’t have into looking for cool beads online.  Please believe that I tried to resist this hobby for a while.

#3: Painting.

I worked on this one a bit more Friday night.   Which was a mistake, being both tired and grumpy (my rig at work decided to break at 4:45 that afternoon).  I went to bed convinced it was hideous and the next morning it looked slightly less hideous but still not great.  The problem is that the drawing is off, which is easier for me to see if I tip it on it’s side, and the car at the far right in particular doesn’t match the perspective of the rest of the scene.

I don’t really know what to do about it because the paint is quite thick and it will be hard to change the angle of the car.  Should I push forward and try to finish it or should I stuff in somewhere in the closet to mature?  Maybe I am just not feeling the love for gray paintings these days.  I have some ideas for more colorful ones but I had wanted to finish up these small stashed canvases before buying new ones.

So that’s what I’ve been up to, not to mention muslining some patterns for fall, trying out recipes from my new website crush, Food52.com, and— ahem— trying to get this paper finished at work (which would be much easier if my rig were working).  Oh, and trying to pay attention to my boys of course.


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Slow going

The advantage of reworking an old painting is that a lot of the problems have already been solved.  The drawing, for instance; the basic geometry.  In the last two “refashions” the overall light wasn’t bad so I could have fun working on the surface texture without worrying too much about the bones.

Starting a new painting from scratch has been slow going.  The reference image isn’t easy: there aren’t too many different values, nor a clear source of light.  And all the darks are in the details and high frequencies.  I’m also struggling a lot with the taxi on the far right.  Somehow I can’t get the perspective right.

What I like about this one so far: the texture, the Morandi-like palette of warm grays, the decision to omit most of the details from the front sidewalk.  The cars need shadows and the values need punching up.  Playing with the value histogram in photoshop made me think that maybe just darkening up a few details might do it.

In the meantime I am thinking about working more on these two:

These are both acrylic, started over a year ago and always intended to be underpaintings.  But Joey decided he liked them.  (Fact: there is no better compliment you can get as an artist than having a toddler like your painting.  Even if he mostly likes it because it has a train.)  And they are now both hanging on the wall over his bed.  I’m a little leery of messing with them because what if he doesn’t like them as much afterwards?  I can deal with critics but I’m not sure how I’d deal with my two year old’s disappointment.


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Painting refashion

After the move I found myself with a bunch of canvasses I didn’t really want to put up on the wall, and it occurred to me they might be good material for refashioning.  (I like the idea of refashioning a lot, but haven’t tried it much myself.)  These two paintings were both from 2008, the first year I started oil painting in earnest.  I think I spent many weeks on each of the original paintings, and a few hours on the refashions.  I was glad to see that my range of expression had expanded.

I think the main difference between the old (left) and new (right) paintings is a massive increase in contrast.  Contrast of scale, of value, of texture.

Anyway, I think I get now what’s so fun about refashioning.  The pressure is low because you’re not using new materials.  And that frees you up to try new things.  Here I was playing around with bringing what I learned from abstraction back into landscape paintings.  I think it’s a good start.


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New digs

Careful readers of the previous post may have noticed the books disappearing from the bookcase behind me.  That’s because we were packing them up.  Or rather, David was packing them up.  I was busy packing up a shockingly large collection of textiles.

This new apartment is kind of awesome.  Which is too bad because we will probably only be here a short while.  In the meantime though I have managed to claim the front third of the living room as a studio, as well as commandeering our former pantry shelves to house my art and sewing supplies:

Close up of the fabric collection.  I took quite a bit of pleasure in organizing these.  And no, it hasn’t escaped my notice that the distribution of colors in my fabric collection almost perfectly matches the distribution of colors in my paintings.  I have some thoughts about this.  More on that later.

Other features of the place include a room of his own for Joey and a dining room big enough to unpack our table.  Having an actual table to eat at has inspired me to kick up my dinner game.  At least on the weekend, or when we have guests.  This was chickpea salad, poached eggs with leeks, home-made hummus, and fried haloumi cheese.  Really, how can you go wrong with fried cheese?



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A gathering of t-shirts

For about a year now I have been collecting knit prints.  I am very particular about prints— a lot of them do nothing for me but when one appeals to me I tend to like it a lot.  I had only about a yard of each of these four fabrics so I thought a short-sleeved top would be ideal.

I stole the idea for this design from a RTW top of mine, but made the pattern from a basic Burda t-shirt.  I started with this sketch:

Next, I traced the pattern front and back and extended the shoulders to make sleeves.  I experimented with a couple different versions of the gathers:

The left-most was my first attempt, where I sliced the pattern straight across and spread.  Something didn’t seem right about this one and at dinner that night it occured to me why this wouldn’t work.  Next I made the slice lines radiate out from the gathered side of the pattern to the un-gathered side (like in the sketch).  I used this pattern for the blue top at the far right in the first picture, but after I had cut out the fabric I thought maybe I had added too much fullness.  So for the last version I narrowed up the slices a little and changed their distribution so the top of the pattern is relatively unaltered.

What I didn’t count on is that the extra fabric sags because of the weight of the knit, so my gathers are more droopy than what I had envisioned in my sketch.  It occurred to me afterwards that the RTW version is cut with negative ease and this must be so that the gathers stay taut and straight.  I would love to work through a real pattern drafting textbook (or take a class) one of these days.  Once again it strikes me that I like playing with patterns more than the actual sewing.  I have a suspicion that this is because it is basically math in disguise.

In the past I’ve had some struggles with sewing gathers but I’d read about using clear elastic for this and checked out a few tutorials on the web before starting.  After experimenting with both the serger and the straight-stitch machine I settled on a method.  First I cut the elastic to the finished gather length plus an inch on each side.  I marked both the fabric to be gathered and the elastic in fourths to make them easy to line up.  I used the my regular sewing machine to attach the elastic, using the longest stitch length and a narrow-ish zig-zag (narrow enough that both sides of the zig-zag fell within the width of the elastic).  I took a few stitches at the end to anchor the elastic to the fabric, then stretched the elastic as I was stitching to line up the marks I had made.  Perfect gathers!  So awesome!  And inherently stretchy (because of the zig-zag).  After gathering I could then serge over the gathered piece + elastic + the un-gathered back for a nice clean finish.

The only problem I have with these T’s is that the neck bands on some are a bit loose and so sag a little.  I’m not sure why this is since I cut them all the same length.  Very likely it is the difference in stretch between the different knits.  I’m tempted to go back and fix them but also tempted to just let things be.  Overall I am very pleased with this set of tops, which I find to be flattering and an easy way to introduce variation in spatial frequency into my wardrobe.


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Cities of the dead

I am a sucker for ruins.  The idea of cities of the dead was the inspiration for this print I did several years ago.  This most recent series was inspired by reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse last winter, especially the section about the Anasazi.  These four were painted in the opposite order but this sequence more closely matches the narrative in the book.

I painted these mostly with these silicone palette knives— since I am also a sucker for new painting tools, and always on the lookout for ways to add texture to my paintings.  I like them a lot.  I keep meaning to try to bring this kind of texture back into larger or more realistic paintings. I had the idea of trying to rework some of my earliest oil paintings, which are rather anemic, and look (accurately!) like the work of a watercolorist who is afraid to use too much paint.  I think I’m still afraid of using too much paint which is why these small paintings (each of these is about 4″ by 10″) are so useful.



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A blazer

I think it is a mark of aging that I can now wear a blazer without feeling totally ridiculous.  Mind you, I made this jacket to wear to job interviews this past winter and I did not land any of the jobs for which I wore the blazer, so maybe I look more ridiculous than I thought.

I used Burdastyle 01-2011-127, a cropped blazer with a neat wrap-around peplum.  The muslin fit well with only a small shortening of the sleeves.  I followed Sherry’s wonderful RTW jacket tutorial to alter the collar, lapel, and facing pieces so they would fold and sit correctly.  The jacket is made from a high-end remnant of black ponte knit from Marcy Tilton, unlined, the corners and collar parts interfaced with some black tricot interfacing from Pam Erny and the facings finished with olive bias tape.  Because it is knit and unlined, it stretches and wears well.  I can wear it easily with the sleeves pushed up and it doesn’t feel (too much) like wearing a jacket.

As for the job search, sadly I can’t give you any updates as the whole thing is still up in the air.  If anyone out there is looking for an academic job in science I highly recommend the following guide:

David and I borrowed this from the library to read to Joey this past winter and both independently concluded that it was about the job search.  Let’s just say that at the moment we are having some issues with a key-slapping slippard.

Here’s the inside, pre-buttons, -buttonholes and -shoulderpads.  I think leaving out a lining was a good move in terms of flexibility and wearing ease although it did get chilly for a few visits to Chicago.  Will I make another one?  I guess it depends on whether this job thing comes through…



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Wardrobe sewing

This is pretty off-season, but I finished my first sewn wardrobe last winter.

I wish I could say this was due to careful planning and discipline but the truth is I was just too lazy to change the thread in my serger.

From left, boatneck top (M6571) in soft gray rayon knit print with charcoal jeans (pattern copied from RTW and modified to fit and have a flare leg).  Middle: black/gray wool stripe cowlneck dress (M6612, cowl reduced slightly and length cropped).  Right, 2 pieces made from rectangles of fabric: 40″x40″ elastic-waist skirt in ITY knit print (double the fabric length-wise, seam, stitch 1″ from the edge to make elastic casing, thread elastic, serge back seam) and cotton knit print scarf.

The most-worn are the jeans, although the most versatile might be the elastic-waist skirt.  Can be worn in the winter over tights or in the summer with a tank top.  Indestructible, washes well, and stretches to accommodate seasonal weight fluctuations.  The trickiest to wear is the stripey dress.  I was so pleased with it I wore it out twice to meet friends— and found that they were wearing essentially the same dress.  That should teach me to sew something because it is trendy!



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Thank you thank you everyone for your comments.  Joe is doing great (for those who asked).  And so are we!

If you look closely you can see that he is wearing his first-ever mama-made garment.  Which also happens to be her first-ever refashioning project: a pair of soft shorts made from an ill-fitting jersey skirt.

I’m not going to show you a close-up because there is nothing nice about the finish on these.  However since I expect them soon to be appliquéed in dirt, yogurt, and peanut butter I decided not to stress the waistband topstitching.  I do like the adjustable button and elastic although joe tells me “don’t like button!”

He’s very particular about his pants, which I guess is not surprising given that most of those he has don’t fit him.  Since these seem to fit well enough and since I was foolish enough to buy 3 of said ill-fitting skirts he will soon have three pairs of shorts.  Just as soon as I find some more waistband elastic.

(The good pictures are by David of course.)


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