May 2012

These are a few of my favorite things

I enjoyed this recent post on the Sewing Lawyer’s blog about which self-made garments she loves and always reached for and which— though well made— often hang in the closet.  Inspired, I pulled out the self-made garments I wear most often. I think you’ll notice some themes.

The most obvious one is color.  Although I like the idea of bright colors, the things I gravitate towards all fall on a spectrum between sienna brown and slate blue.  Not surprising, since this is one of my favorite color axes to paint with:


There are other themes too. Wide necklines (boat, scoop, or cowl), cap or long sleeves, A-line silhouettes, few details concentrated near the neckline.  One thing that jumps out is how few skirts and pants made it into this group, although I’ve sewn a good number of them.  Some are in too nice fabrics, some are too bright, some are cut too straight for biking to work, and many were made just after Joey was born and no longer fit.  I’d like to make a couple everyday skirts and pants in workhorse fabrics, but its hard to find casual bottom-weight fabrics I’m excited about.  Believe me, I’ve been looking 🙂

I do have a piece of olive cotton twill I think would be good for this and I’m trying to think about a pattern.  I love the lines on this one, although from the pictures it looks like its proportioned way too big for me.  Maybe I can scale it down to fit me.




Comments (3)


Playing with patterns

David gave me a gift today: a full afternoon to play in the studio with no obligations.  I decided to take Myrna’s suggestion and play around with my favorite of the blouse patterns: Burda 10-2009-105.

The first thing I did was just to cut it up.  I pinned up the hem, sliced off the sleeves, cut a rounded V into the front and widened the neckline by 1/8″.

I think the result is not bad.  I like the fit and feel of this better than the New Look blouse and it has a similar feel to what I was going for.  But I wanted to try a few more variations.  What if I added a little fullness and gathering to the sleeves, converted the front dart and back pleat to gathers, added a standing collar?  I’m not going to show you the result because I’m too tired to take a picture but I think the answer is: not an improvement.  Parly because the result falls a little too far on the feminine side for me, and partly because (as I now remember) i have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to manipulating patterns.  I tried to rotate the front dart to the shoulder but it turns out that the Burda dart is very clever and hides a sizable horizontal dart inside:

That’s why the fit of the blouse is so lovely and I have no idea how to keep that shape and maintain the length of the hem and side.  (Does anyone have any ideas?)  For now, I’m leaning towards making the cropped version of the blouse shown above (as well as the original version) but I’d still like to figure out how to rotate that dart to the shoulder.  Mostly because I would love to be able to draft this:

(Image from

Regardless of the result it was a fun and energizing afternoon.  Though I missed my boys sorely by the end of it.


Comments (2)


Button down

Recently I’ve had the urge to make button down shirts and blouses.

I have no idea why.  I own only a single button down shirt, which has been worn once in the past five years.  But maybe because I’m feeling more “caught up” with sewing (at least, I don’t feel under pressure to sew something just to have something to wear), I want to try something new.  Since I have no idea what I am looking for in a button down shirt, I decided to make a muslin.  Or three.

What impressed me working through these patterns was how different each one wore and “read.”  I used to think all button down shirts were the same: button front, collar stand, collar, cuffs, but each of these has a very different feel.

My favorite first:

This is Burdastyle 10-2009-105.  I love this pattern.  The fit is just right (the only alterations I made were to shorten the sleeves and take one inch off the front hem.)  It’s shaped but not too fitted.  The shoulders hit at just the right point and are neither too droopy or too square.  The collar is great.  It frames my face nicely and feels comfortable to wear.  I’m envisioning wearing this as shown here: open, as a top layer.  Maybe with tabs to hold the sleeves up.  Love it.

Second muslin:  Burdastyle 01-2011-108.  Meh.

I was thinking of these soft plaid drop-waist tunics I’ve seen around, like this:

I thought I could adapt this unfitted dress pattern by adding a waist casing.  But when I made up the muslin the pattern felt very finicky.  The collar seems too wide and low.  The sleeves and shoulders are bulky.  It feels very old-fashioned, which I guess is the idea, since the pattern was part of a “vintage” spread.  On the left is how I thought of wearing it originally (tunic length with a dropped waist).  I think it works better with a higher waistline and might be passable as a dress (if I made it longer.)  But it doesn’t feel like something I’d reach for, so I’m not sure whether its worth sewing up.  Maybe if I took some width out of the sleeves and collar.  Or maybe if I used a different pattern like this one.  Or maybe this style just isn’t for me.

Third muslin: New look 6407.

This is another attempt to copy a blouse I saw on someone else and liked but again I’m not sure if it works for me.  The blouse I saw had a standing collar and short gathered sleeves.  So I used the collar from view E and the sleeves from view D.  I like the neckline and the standing collar.  I’m not sure how I feel about the shape and sleeves.  I worry that a blouse that’s too fitted makes my hips look wide and I’m self-conscious about anything that might make my shoulders look bulkier.  And there are issues with the fit.  Here I’ve taken in the back with a narrow horizontal tuck but I’m not sure how to do that on the finished pattern without a CB seam.  It also needs at least a little less fabric in the bust.  Not too much or I won’t be able to move.  This kind of very fitted blouse seems tricky to get right.

Here are the fabrics I was thinking of using.  The moss green poplin for the long-sleeve over-shirt, the light plaid for the gathered tunic, and the dark gray stretch cotton for the New Look blouse.  But maybe I should just make them all into the first shirt.  What do you guys think?




Comments (6)


Quick and easy knit dress neither quick nor easy

Back in January I made a plan to sew four knit dresses.  In my mind this was going to take one to two months.  In reality it took four.  The last two, in particular, I thought would go quickly since I’d made both patterns before.

I think I ended up over-thinking this one.  I was worried about how the weight of the pleats would stretch out the neckline so I first made up an interfaced facing piece that was far too stiff and showed from the front.  Then I tried an interfaced binding, which was again too stiff.  Finally I just went with a plain binding, exactly how I made it the last time.

The other thing I kept fiddling with was the pleats.  On the envelope it looks like the center pleat hangs straight down but on the pattern itself the center pleats are angled so the fabric opens up making an unflattering line directly to the hips.  I tried adjusting them to get  straighter line but I’m not sure it made much difference.

Despite all the mishaps I think it’s a nice dress and a good match for this print.  I haven’t worn it as much as the chevron one (which I’ve worn 3 or 4 times already) but I think it will get more wear as it warms up.


Comments (3)


Open Studio Preview

The open studio preview is now up!  Check it out here.

If you can’t make it to the show, but are interested in buying a painting, email me or leave a comment and I can send you a price list.


Comments (2)


Open Studios 2012

Cambridge Open Studios is coming up this weekend.  If you are in the Boston area please stop by!  I’ll have paintings up for display and sale and my friend Laura has promised to make cupcakes.

Because I worked on both abstract and realistic pieces this year I wasn’t sure what to call the show, or which painting to highlight for the poster.  But this title was rattling around in my head, and seemed appropriate for a year in which I played with new media, pushed myself in abstraction, and tried to bring my abstract and realistic styles closer together.  Recently my more realistic pieces have all centered around transportation.  Train stations, highways, airports.  I find these places evocative and it doesn’t hurt that they align with Joey’s interests.

Here is a preview of a few pieces that will be in the show.  I’ll put up a complete catalog later in the week.


Comments (4)


Colors are hard

Think colors are hard?  So does Joey.


Comments (1)


Painting lessons: color!

Thanks to everyone who commented on my earlier painting lessons!  And especially to Uta and Elizabeth for sharing their paintings with me.  Check out what they’ve been making here and here.

Now we’ll get to the heart of why most people paint: color!  Colors are the opposite of the earth tones I mentioned in the last post.  They are bright, saturated, and (usually) transparent and highly tinting.  Good pure color pigments used to be expensive and often toxic.  But now most colors can be made from organic pigments that are relatively inexpensive and non-toxic.

In theory you can mix any color from three primaries: yellow, red, and blue.  In practice most pigments aren’t “pure” and any three pigments will only be able to produce a limited range of hues.  “Hue” refers to the color of a pigment: its redness, greenness, blueness, as opposed to other properties like value (light vs dark) or saturation (color versus gray).  Many artists use a “split primary” palette, that contains two of each primary color (a greenish and an orangey yellow, an orange and a purplish red, a purplish and a greenish blue).  This sort of palette is much more powerful and will let you mix almost any color you see.  I like to use 2 yellows, 3-4 reds, and 4 or more blues, plus a couple other pigments.  I find this gives me the best balance between being able to produce a wide range of colors and being able to keep track of all those tubes. Here are some colors you will usually find on my palette:


A light yellow:

Arylide yellow, also sometimes called primary yellow or Winsor yellow.  A clear, light, lemony yellow, it adds sun to whites and is indispensable for mixing clear greens.  This color has the weakest tinting strength of any of the saturated colors (meaning it takes a lot of pigment to shift a mixture towards yellow) so you’ll tend to go through a lot of it.  Cadmium yellows can be similar in hue but are opaque, expensive, and much more toxic.


A dark yellow:

Indian yellow is weak and transparent, hansa yellow deep is stronger and more opaque.  Other dark yellows include new gamboge and any yellow labeled “deep.”  This is a darker more canary yellow, useful for mixing oranges, olive greens, and brightening yellow ochre to paint earth in the sun.


(A quick note: you will often here painters refer to colors as either “warm” or “cool.”  Warm means yellowish or reddish, and cool means bluish.  So they will call arylide yellow a “cool yellow” and indian yellow a “warm yellow.”  I find these terms more confusing than just saying what hue you mean.)


Scarlet vermillion (an orange-red):

Makes orange with any of the yellows.  Can be mixed with other reds to make them sunnier.  Similar in hue to cadmium red but again, less toxic and expensive.



A pure red:

Napthol red or primary red or Winsor or Grumbacher or permanent red.  A pure clear fire-engine red that can’t be mixed from any other colors.



A quinicridone magenta:

Quinicridones make beautiful roses and magentas, and pure purples when mixed with ultramarine blue.  Quinicridone rose is the lightest and pinkest, magenta is darker and purpler, and violet is darker and purpler still.  If you love purple you may want a range of these colors.  Otherwise you will need at least one to add light to shadows and warmth to blues and grays.


Blues and greens:

Ultramarine blue:

The reddest of the blues.  Makes clear purples when mixed with quinacridone reds.  Makes a fairly pure blue when mixed with a dark greenish blue.  Weaker in tinting strength than antwerp or pthalo blue



A dark greenish blue:

Antwerp blue or prussian blue or delft blue.  A dark inky blue the color of the deep ocean.  Together with ultramarine blue can produce many of the blues you see.



A light greenish blue:

Cerulean blue or azure blue or manganese blue hue.  A light, slightly green “sky” blue.  Every brand’s version of their color is a little different, but I find it useful to have something in this range on my palette (I prefer one that is more turquoise and quite weak and opaque, which means I can use it as an earth tone as well.)  Very beautiful when mixed with ultramarine blue or Payne’s gray.


Pthalo turquoise:

A clear bright saturated turquoise like robin’s egg blue.  Highly staining.  Very useful for mixing greens.  (This image looks different because it is watercolor rather than acrylic like the others.  I don’t have this color is acrylic at the moment.)



Permanent green light:

I used to paint without any greens on my palette, preferring to mix them from yellows and blues.  But if you are going to have a green, permanent green light is a good one: neutral in hue, medium in value, it can be made into many different greens by tinting it yellow or blue, and makes a nice gray with primary red.  It is also exactly the same color as the green on stoplights (which is why I got it originally).


Here are some other blues that I don’t often use but you might:

Pthalo blue:  A very dark pure transparent blue.  Also by far the most strongly tinting color out there.  Used sparingly, and dulled down with orange or an earth tone it can be very beautiful.  Used indiscriminately…well, I’m sure you’ve probably seen some garish coffee shop paintings that are overpowered by an unnatural blue or green.  That’s pthalo.  You will only need to buy one tube of this ever because a little goes a long long way.

Cobalt blue:  A beautiful pale clear blue, slightly gray and relatively weak in tinting strength.  Many artists swear that you can’t paint the sky without this color.  I don’t have it because it is expensive and because my mindset about buying paints dates from when I was in grad school.  I should probably get this color though.  Note: cobalt blue “hue” (or anything listed as “hue”) means they have tried to match the same color using less expensive pigments.  The properties of these colors will be different).


Alizarin crimson and pthalo green are especially useful for mixing dark colors and blacks. If you compare the mix of these two colors to the mix of colors shown in the center of the color wheel above, you’ll see that these two pigments give you a deep dark black, while mixing other colors will give you a more middle gray.  Alizarin crimson is a dark purpley maroon that is also useful for tinting reds and blues. Pthalo green, like all pthalo colors, should be used judiciously. And I pretty much only use it for mixing black.

Choosing a palette is a very personal thing. We all have favorite colors and colors we’d rather avoid. But learning how to mix and use colors really does give you a new way to see.  A split primary palette is a good place to start and you can then specialize it for the kinds of colors you like best.  In the next few posts I’ll share some exercises that can help you learn to analyze and mix any color you want.


Comments (3)