Monday, August 29, 2011

Versatile Blogger Award!

Last week, in the midst of the moving chaos, I got a lovely little note from June of Creations by June saying that she had nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award. It totally made my day, because I had already been thinking about how versatile all over the place my blog is. It started when I read the fabulous Reese Dixon's introspective post about how it is recommended that bloggers narrow their topics so as to draw a specific audience. Well, I ended up deciding that my interests are too varied, and this blog is meant for me to have an accurate chronicle of all my projects. So it was surprising and unexpected to be recognized by a stranger for my haphazard efforts; thank you, June!

Anyway, here are the rules:
  • Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them in your post
  • Share 7 things about yourself
  • Pass this award on to recently discovered blogs
Here are seven random things about me:
  1. I am a late-blooming cat lady. We never had cats growing up, and in fact a neighbor cat ate my beloved parakeet when I was in elementary school. But a trip to the SPCA four years ago resulted in a spontaneous kitten adoption, and now three of the loves of my life are Fenxi, Gummy, and Walnut. Yes, the cats have their own Facebook pages.
  2. I never thought I would love chemistry as much as I do now. When I was younger my dad tried to get me interested (he's got a chemical engineering Ph.D), but I ended up skipping all my AP Chem classes in high school and going to the mall instead. Somehow I landed a high school chemistry teaching job and discovered that I love how beautifully it all works. 
  3. Even though I love science, I hate math. I am aware that the two go hand in hand, but instead I love science...and reading and poetry and music and art.
  4. I also love reading about doomed expeditions. When I was in fourth grade, my teacher was concerned that I was so into the Donner Party. Well, Mr. V, now it's also all about the 1996 Mt. Everest expedition, the Scott Antarctic expedition, and pretty much every Jack London short story ever. Something about the combination of freezing temperatures and starvation and man vs. wild, I guess?
  5. I hate bananas (and everything banana-flavored, no matter how subtle), refuse to drink smoothies that have bananas in them, and refuse to kiss my husband after he's eaten a banana, but LOVE banana bread
  6. As I realized when I was packing, I actually have a wardrobe of dress-up clothes. I think normal people are supposed to have a work wardrobe and a casual wardrobe, and maybe a going-to-weddings-and-other-formal-occasions wardrobe, but I also have way too many impractical fancy skirts and dramatic capes and other sci-fi/fantasy accessories.
  7. I never know what to do in social situations. I was always so immersed in books when I was younger, I apparently missed the entire part of childhood where you learn to interact with others. It's only recently, through careful observation of my most socially apt friends and then analysis for common actions and statements, that I've even begun to try mimicking proper social behavior. When to go in for hugs, the types of things you're supposed to say when you first meet people, what not to say to people unless you know them super well...these things were always a mystery to me. Thankfully, my husband is excellent at winning other over, so I let him handle most of the socializing.
Here are some blogs that I've recently begun following:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Wow, I Guess I Live Here Now

As I mentioned before, my husband is going to start business school at UCLA Anderson this September. This meant all sorts of interesting emotional and physical baggage to sort through as we made the move from chill (but not chilly) San Diego to harried Los Angeles. We've been here about four days and have finally unpacked most of the important stuff and reassembled and rearranged all of our furniture. It's starting to feel more like home in our apartment now that I've put up some artwork and put out nice little knick-knacks in the bathrooms. I don't know why, but once I have my apothecary jars of corks and Scrabble tiles out, things just feel more livable.

Since I started the move the LA with a list of thoughts, and since I haven't gotten any better at emotional management in one week, here are some new thoughts about this great big freeway* I apparently live in now:

    Chilling in the insane sewing room, on top of a box of fabric.
  1. I am so glad that driving Walnut up to LA is over. Seriously, the most harrowing two hours I've ever spent in a car (and that's including the trip to Jerusalem from the Dead Sea in a borrowed car with a non-functional GPS). That cat knows how to tug at your heartstrings with his non-stop, tragic, this-is-the-worst-torture meows. Then as soon as we got to the apartment he was all excited to be poking around into all the new nooks and crannies and claiming everything as his own by rubbing his cheek on stuff. 
  2. I love how bright and airy our new apartment is! It's on the top floor, so we get plenty of natural light during the day. Contrast this with our old place, which was on the ground floor and shadowed by the balconies above us. Seriously, if it wasn't a blindingly bright day outside and I wasn't taking my photos in a specific spot in front of the bedroom door between 10:16 and 10:32, it would be too dark to see anything. 
  3. I am a fan of our new furniture arrangement. The 5x5 Expedit is being used as a room divider and I couldn't be more thrilled! My dream has always been to live in a library; in this arrangement, it's like living in TWO libraries simultaneously: one library where all the books have titles, and another library where the books are just artsy and have lovely beige-y pages.
  4. No more walk-in closet. Boooo. Also, I don't how to arrange my sewing room so there are just boxes of fabric and bed and desk pieces everywhere. 
  5. There are ants! Grrarrrgh. I got so used to not having to worry about ants in San Diego; it's time to start vigilantly ziploc-ing everything. 
  6. This is a terrible thing to complain about, but here it is anyway: we have free utilities so my husband thinks this is an invitation to crank the AC all day. I am perpetually slightly cold, but then I guess in San Diego he was perpetually more than slightly warm. 
  7. LA people are quite rude! One of the reasons why I didn't want to go to UCLA for college was the hurried, brusque, can't be bothered with you attitude of what seems to be the majority of people here. I mean, our cashier at Trader Joe's was probably the angriest TJ employee I've ever seen. I miss how laid back San Diegans are. 
  8. I need to readjust my ideas about how much time it should take to get somewhere based on how many miles away it is. San Diego: # miles = # minutes, more or less. LA: # miles x 9 = # of minutes to get there. Apparently, according to native LA-ers, I should just assume the worst and then be happily surprised when I arrive. 
  9. It is mind-blowing (tongue-blowing? stomach-blowing? THIGH-BLOWING?) how much good food there is within 5-10 minutes of where we are. We've already had the most amazing ramen, curry, Burmese food, and sandwiches on PRETZEL BREAD. When we drove back to San Diego to get Walnut, our dinner options in Mira Mesa seemed so...pathetic.
  10. I miss how almost everyone from our church in San Diego lived less than a mile/five minutes away from us in Mira Mesa. Here, it seems that everyone we know who supposedly lives in the same city actually lives at least 45 minutes away. 
  11. Also, "city" doesn't mean city the same way I'm used to. LA is many cities within one city, so apparently we can write either Culver City or Los Angeles in our mailing address. In San Francisco, I lived in the Sunset district. In San Diego, the neighborhood of Mira Mesa. Here, we live in the City of Culver City.
Not City of Culver. Or just Culver City. Nooo, it's the pretentious City of Culver City.

*My first introduction to LA was the song "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" where it describes LA as a great big freeway where they make you a star. And for the longest time, that's what I really thought it was (the freeway part, not the star-making part), since we were always driving through it on the way down to Irvine every year for Christmas.

Also, June, thank you so much for your Versatile Blogger Award! I'm honored and as soon as life settles down, I'll be sharing my seven things and nominating other blogs.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Projects for the New School Year

As someone who's always been involved in school in some way or other, it's always seemed a little odd to me to make New Year's Resolutions in January. After all, as a student or as a teacher, my time for new beginnings and fresh starts is the beginning of the school year; therefore I've historically (ha! as if I have that much history under my belt) written resolutions in late August. When I was in middle school and more academically-minded, my resolutions were to make all A's, or place in the city-wide Mathcounts competitions. In my boy-crazy high school days, my resolutions usually had to do with becoming so poised and amazing that I would attract the attention of my crushes. Yeah, I'm embarrassed by high school me. As a teacher, my yearly resolutions were about making sure not to let any students slip through the cracks, or getting some curriculum project done, or effecting certain changes in how the school was run (that one usually didn't happen).

Having just picked up sewing last spring, last August was the first time that I made sewing-related resolutions. I apparently wasn't very optimistic about my skills, because all I had on my list was:
  1. Learn to insert actually invisible zippers -- check, several times!!
  2. Make a pleated skirt -- check!
  3. Make a circle skirt -- check!
  4. Make a fitted skirt or dress -- check!
  5. Make a full-skirted dress -- check!
  6. Learn to shir -- uhhh, no.
  7. Make something wearable without a pattern -- check, several times!
  8. Refashion something -- check, many times over!
  9. Dress up for Comic-Con -- check!
  10. Deplete my fabric stash --ha! hahahaha! That's funny, last year me!
All in all, a pretty good year.

Since I already have a list of techniques to tackle, here's my list of actual projects to make, not all of which are sewing-related. I want to go back and retry my earlier artistic endeavors and see if I still love them. If not, time to give away the accessories associated with those hobbies. The process of packing has reminded me I have way too many art supplies.
  1. Make steampunk costumes for myself and my husband for next year's Comic-Con check, but only for myself, and I didn't end up going to Comic-Con
  2. Paint my old chem lab goggles and Nerf guns to match the steampunk costumes check and check!
  3. Get the patterns for, and make, the Pendrell Blouse, Lonsdale Dress, and Crepe Dress
  4. Make a twirly dress from some gorgeous lace-looking and sea-foam jersey I have in my stash
  5. Make a better nautical-inspired dress than my first attempt kind of
  6. Sew up at least three vintage patterns (I though about making this five, or even ten, but then decided to be realistic) definitely check!
  7. Use my woodburning tool for something, anything! check!
  8. Draw a set of Dixit cards for my friend Sam before she leaves for Bulgaria
  9. Make something that wouldn't look entirely out of place at a Gatsby Afternoon, even if I'm not going
  10. Finally do something about all my shirts from college retreats and CCS and CHS and make a t-shirt quilt
  11. Attempt to use up some of my fabric scraps and make a bookshelf quilt
  12. Make a white dress and then draw all over it with my new fabric Sharpies more or less
  13. Dye something check!
  14. Finally carve the rest of my linoleum blocks and print either a dress or tote or something check!
  15. Make a cool dorky necklace that holds my miniature set of gaming dice check!
  16. Make a vague knock-off of the Cirque A Line Anthro dress with my IKEA hippo fabric check!
  17. Make a halter dress
  18. Make a strapless dress check!
  19. Finally scrapbook my honeymoon...
  20. Make a Regency-era dress so as to be able to attend a Miss Haseltine's Drum, a dance event actually in Culver City!
  21. And just for kicks, I'll say deplete my fabric stash again O_o
I'm sure I'll think of other things to add to this list, but at least this gives me some focus.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Childhood Nostalgia: Doraemon Sweatshirt

Who am I? Can you guess?
In the process of packing and sorting for our upcoming move, I found a project that I'd almost forgotten about! Which is really sad, because my sister and I made this two summers ago, and I promised her I'd take pictures, but then the school year started and my free time was nonexistent.

When we were growing up, in an attempt to help us retain our Cantonese, my parent would rent us Doraemon movies that had been dubbed in Cantonese. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of watching this blue robotic cat from the future help out a dorky kid, let me quote Wikipedia:
A majority of Doraemon episodes are comedies with lessons regarding values such as integrity, perseverance, courage, family and respect for elders. Several noteworthy environmental issues are often visited, including homeless animals, global warming, endangered species, deforestation, and pollution. Miscellaneous educational topics such as dinosaurs, flat Earth theory, wormhole traveling, Gulliver's Travels, and the history of Japan are often covered.

We seriously watched Doraemon (known as Ding Dong in Cantonese) every Saturday night for a period of oh, five years? I loved his yojigen-pocket and all the ridiculous gadgets he would pull out of it; for the longest time the pink go-anywhere door and the little helicopter-hat were staples of the stories I told to my siblings during long car trips. Anyway, a couple summers ago, my sister and I were bored at home and somehow decided that the perfect cure was to make a Doraemon sweatshirt. Using an old sweatshirt as a basis for our pattern, we cut out the appropriate pieces from royal blue sweatshirt fabric and white fleece. We glued on the facial features and even made a detachable bell from a sample square of gold fabric (which we had to wheedle out of the begrudging fabric store owner). The best part was trying to figure out what to do for his tail -- we tried making a 3D one, but it just looked too ridiculous, so in the end we just sewed on a red fleece circle. All in all, it was a hilarity-inducing two days.
With the hood on, I look absolutely deranged. Oh, and I can't see anything.
Kind of like a sillier version of the catgirls at anime conventions.

Close-up on the bell.
I think the backing is an old plastic folder? I don't even remember anymore.

Look at the grody stitching job on the inside!

Unfortunately, this sweatshirt has never seen any wear. It's polyester, so it's extremely warm and sweat-inducing, but the glued-on pieces don't seem conducive to washing. This was also before I knew about knits that only stretch one way -- and of course I cut the blue sweatshirt material to stretch the wrong way! It's a little tight to get on and I can't wear it if I gain any weight around my hips.

Oh, and it looks ridiculous. I mean, wearing a sweatshirt with a cartoon character on it is one thing. Wearing a sweatshirt that itself IS a cartoon character is another. And wearing said sweatshirt when you're in your late 20s and the cartoon is so obscure that most people won't have any idea what it is, is just silly. Well, maybe I can wear it for a special event (like a kid's birthday party, not like a business school event). In the meantime, every time I look at it, I just laugh. Doraemon was such a critical part of my childhood, and my sister and I had so much fun making the sweatshirt; even if it never gets worn out into the real world, I think it was a worthwhile endeavor.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Packing Up My Life

There hasn't been much sewing going on, nor will there be for at least another couple weeks. My husband and I are packing up our life here in San Diego and preparing to make the move to Los Angeles so that he can attend grad school at UCLA. Because I'm such an INTJ, I'm having a hard time processing my feelings about the move, so I thought I'd make a list instead. Lists are so much more manageable.
  1. I will miss all of our friends here in SD terribly. I spent my first year back in SD pretty much friendless (aside from my husband) and community-less since we were attending a really large church and I worked from home. This was pretty much miserable (because even introverts don't totally hate people), and I was so thrilled when we started attending Exodus and I found some lovely ladies who are also of the race of Joseph. I love these people so much, it's weird to think that they weren't in my life two years ago. 
  2. I don't relish the thought of meeting new people and making new friends since I'm such an introvert and kind of socially awkward. I never know what kind of small talk to make and I know that I'll meet all sorts of intense people when I accompany my husband to business school events. 
  3. I am scared of LA traffic and LA drivers. 
  4. We are going to be living EVEN CLOSER to Trader Joe's than we do now! Incredible!
  5. The fashion district and all its fabric stores!!! I = excite! Cannot write proper sentences!
  6. We will be that much closer to NorCal and visiting my family.
  7. I don't want to learn a new set of routes to places. And I don't want to figure out where a good dry cleaner/mechanic/thrift store/etc. is. 
  8. Arrrgh packing and unpacking. Grrrr undecorating and redecorating.
  9. At least I'm being forced to go through my belongings and sort them into keep, donate, and toss piles. I realized that the bulk of my stuff is either books (and boy do I have a lot of books!), teaching materials (for AP Chem, AP Bio, AP Psych, physical science, and regular chem/bio), art supplies (all my phases mean that I accumulate a lot of tools), fabric (three 66-qt plastic storage bins :\), and clothes. All of which I tried to convince my husband are necessary to keep and move. Good thing we're hiring movers.
My last sewing project before I packed up my machine was some pillowcases for a friend. Not too exciting, but I am looking forward to getting my stuff unpacked so that I can get to some new projects (hopefully utilizing some of those techniques I listed previously)! One of my friends gave me four new vintage patterns yesterday night that look absolutely fascinating. With the help of One Yellow Cottage and the Vintage Pattern Wiki, I was able to approximately date the patterns.

Simplicity 3352: an absolutely gorgeous-looking slip from 1950.
Simplicity 3932: At first I thought it was a dress, but it's actually culottes! Crazy! Also, a Size 20.5, so it looks as if I might need to learn how to grade vintage patterns after all. My friend gave this to me saying, "You're the only person I can imagine actually wearing something like this." I think that's a compliment?

Butterick 2506: Based on the hairstyles alone, I'm guessing that this and the previous pattern are from the 60s. Interesting maternity outfit, although the jacket looks worth trying even without being pregnant.

Simplicity 5030: Cute nightgown and bloomers from 1972.
Coincidentally enough, two of the patterns are the perfect size! I am the most stoked about the slip, because it's the oldest pattern I own, and I'm curious about whether I can turn it into a dress.  But it will all have to wait until at least two weeks from now. Boo.

Walnut snuggles up to pegged-for-donation purses. See, Daddy, I don't want to give them away either!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pretending to Be a Florist

Hi, my name is Cindy, and I'm a pretender. [Chorus: Hiiiii Cindyyyy.]
I like to masquerade as a real occupation to satisfy my own creative urges, frequently subjecting my friends to my amateur efforts, at least until I'm found out.

For example, as I mentioned before, I like playing graphic designer. I am not actually a graphic designer. I don't own a legit copy of Photoshop. Shoot, I don't even own a non-legit copy of Photoshop. I've never used Illustrator or CorelDRAW and frankly, I'm not even sure what exactly they do. But when a friend asked me to help her make wedding stationary, I happily jumped in to make programs and menus and all without know what I was doing. Thankfully, this friend was very gracious and patient with my earnest, if slightly subpar, efforts. I didn't learn and went on to do my own invitations, somehow making do with only a five-minute lesson from my sister on using GIMP.

Then, a month or so out from the wedding last weekend, I blithely volunteered to do the florals when the bride told our women's prayer group about how much a real florist wanted to charge. I was pretty sure I could do it for less, and how hard could it be to tie some ribbons around some flowers? I'd already done flowers for my own wedding (but that was just baby's breath bouquets bought from Albertson's the day before), after all. Well, thankfully, right after I committed, I thought better of it and asked my sister, who is an amazing artist, to fly down and help me out. I promised that we would go to Jimmy Eat World together if she would assist with the flowers.

Friday morning before the wedding we went to the wholesale flower market to get roses, filler, floral tape, pins and ribbon. We cleared off the kitchen table, filled the sink with water, and started unwrapping the flowers; it looked like a rose bush (and a fern plant and a baby's breath bush) had exploded in our kitchen.
Walnut was shocked by the explosion of flowers.
Sitting in my crisper drawer.
We decided to start with making the corsages and bouts, naively thinking that working with one rose at a time would be easier than several, right? Wrong! We quickly realized that we had no idea how to secure the ferny bits to the leafy bits (which we had to tear off of the roses themselves, not having thought to buy actual leaves) without them flopping we resorted to tape on their backs, hoping that no one from the wedding party would turn them over to see the ghetto-rrificness. Also, we didn't have a real corsage box so we delivered them in a Marie Callender's pie box taped with a sign reading "FLOWERS. DO NOT EAT."

Trashcan full of floral debris.

After a Chicken McNugget break (we are nothing if not uniformly non-high-class), we turned to the bouquets, which actually turned out to be much easier. Of course, that's because we are from the "let's just keep adding flowers until it looks better" school of thought. I'm sure real florists would've been appalled at our methods; we ended up using masking tape instead of floral tape because it worked better. At the end of the day, we concluded that should we ever start a business, it would be named the oh-so-promising "Oh Well, It's Good Enough," or possibly "Dangit, That Wasn't Supposed to Happen."

This actually pretty well encapsulates what most of our projects are like. I love working with my sister because we always have so much fun, simply because of how much we don't know about what we're doing. Every time we do something, whether it's experimenting with baking (brown butter bacon cookies, anyone?), sewing plushies, or painting a mural for our room, I am guaranteed to have a ridiculous time. I feel so lucky to have a sister with whom I can collaborate and produce great good enough art. Anyway, enough wibbling, here's what the final flowers looked like!
The bride's bouquet. Photography by Orange Turtle Photography.
Emily and I didn't know what the long stringy green things were, so we called them chives throughout the bouquet-assembly process. Photography by Orange Turtle Photography.

We made it up to Walnut later by letting him have a rose to play with.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Eric Chan Ice Cream Sandwich Relay Car Rally Improv Extravaganza Birthday Farewell

What a crazy weekend! I feel weird for not having sewn for a week...haha is that bad? That is probably some kind of indication of an addiction of sorts. But I've been having so much fun with my sister visiting, the wedding of two friends from our church, and running my husband's birthday party. Even though there was no sewing, it's still been craft-mania around here. I got recruited into helping out with flowers for the wedding, and my sister kindly agreed to come down to San Diego to help out, since I have no idea what I'm doing.
That took up a good amount of Friday, with a break to go to the Jimmy Eat World concert at the Del Mar racetrack! It was my first time seeing a real concert (the King's Singers at Davies Symphony Hall probably doesn't really count as a "real" concert), complete with crazy jumping up and down, people smoking and drinking all around us (yuck...someone spilled beer on us accidentally), and my ears ringing afterward. But I love JEW, so it was worth it. The wedding took up all of Saturday, what with delivering flowers in the morning, the ceremony, reception, and hanging out afterward. I'll wait to talk about the flowers until I have the official photographer pictures.

On Sunday, my husband and I threw his belated birthday party -- a combo of an obstacle course relay and car rally/scavenger hunt, ending with an improv show -- which involved my big project of the week, a Ticket to Ride-themed program. By my husband's request, I was going for a loosely vintage, generally old-timey, slightly steampunk look. I had so much fun finding appropriate fonts and graphics and putting it all together.

We started out at a local park after lunch, where the teams met for the ice cream eating and obstacle course relay portion. Since we were awarding bonus points for coordinated outfits, some teams went all out.
This team was hardcore.

For the car rally portion, teams were given the booklets I put together, which listed several locations in San Diego that were important to my husband. At each location, teams had to perform a task and take a picture to document it.

Just like in Ticket to Ride, teams could choose whether they wanted to go for the "big ticket" items, which were all pretty far away, or easier tasks that had smaller point values. They got bonuses for completed tickets, and if they located us during the afternoon they got wild cards that were good for one task. The whole thing was dreamed up and put together by my brilliant husband, who, as one friend put it, definitely has the non-Biblical, but still important, gift of making things fun. I loved seeing all our friends enjoy themselves (and get ultra-competitive) trekking around San Diego. We ended the night with an improv show put on by another of his brainchilds (brainchildren?), the improv comedy troupe Still Improv-ing.

This was the perfect way to send ourselves off to LA as well, since now we have pictures of all our friends at our favorite San Diego memories!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Playing at Being a Graphic Designer

Going off of yesterday's post, I often wonder what my life would be like if, instead of choosing the approved-by-Chinese-parents path of being a science major, I opted instead for something like, say, graphic design. Or costume design. Not that I knew, ten years ago, that I loved these things. Actually, I still don't know if I love these things. After all, I have no idea what a real designer's life is like. I just pretend to be one when the opportunity arises, like last year, when I made my own wedding invitations.

Making maps was so easy with this strategy.
I found this graphic of a couple doing chemistry, which I changed to look like us, in our colors, for our thank you cards.
I really enjoy coming up with a theme and then designing paper goods to match. Even when I was teaching at my first school, some of the projects I was most proud of were the AP Chem, Chemistry, and Biology lab manuals that I wrote. There's a weird pleasure that comes from compiling the best labs for student learning, designing the appropriate diagrams, and putting in thorough appendices.

Anyway, for the last couple of days I've been prepping like mad for my husband's combination birthday and farewell to San Diego party. If you've ever played the Days of Wonder's amazing board game, Ticket to Ride, you know that it is a fantastically fun game -- accessible to all ages, different every time, educational -- that has beautiful graphics. Set at the turn of the 20th century, with a theme of railway travel, it definitely has some steampunk elements. The characters all have an old-timey look, and the borders actually have little gears! This board game is definitely a staple in our marriage (enough so that we named a table at our reception after it); we've had nights where we play five games in a row (it's only about 20 minutes a game with only two players)! So when my husband announced that he wanted a Ticket to Ride-themed event, with a car rally/scavenger hunt to mimic building trains to connect locations, I got super excited about designing the program/booklet that gives people their tasks.  I've been working on it for the last couple of days, and it's coming along swimmingly. It's not quite period-accurate, but it all has that historical feel. I can't wait to have these printed up and handed out to everyone on Sunday! I'm pretty sure most people won't be as excited about or even notice the details that I put in, or how everything coordinates, but it makes me happy inside to know they're there.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In a Sewing Rut

After finishing my Precocious Kid's Art Project Dress, I felt a brief moment of elation that I had 1) sewn my first vintage pattern, and 2) there were no exposed fabric edges in it. That moment quickly left, however, and I tried to figure out why. I'm beginning to think it's because I didn't attempt anything difficult with this dress. For my Ondine's Curse Dress, I had to draft a collar. For my Blackcurrant Pastille Dress, I had to do a yoke in the top. For the Nothing But Blue Skies Dress, I did a weirdo back design and gathered pockets. For my Bellatrix costume, I sewed with leather and put in grommets. For the Betsey Johnson Floral Explosion Dress, I did a hand-picked zipper. So the fact that there were no new techniques, however easy, on this last dress made me feel stale and uninspired as a seamstress.

I realized, in a conversation with a good friend about Strengths Finder, that it's because I'm not learning and being stimulated by new things. Strengths Finder is this quiz that you take to, well, find your strengths. My husband and I originally took it as part of our premarital counseling. Produced by Gallup, it presumably tells you what you do best, what skills come most naturally to you, what makes up the core of who you are. I was skeptical at first, and admittedly I am still a little ticked off that 4 out of 5 of my top strengths seem to be the same thing, but it does more or less fit who I think I am. According to the printout that they spit at you after a hundreds-of-questions-long online quiz, my top five strengths are Input, Learner, Intellection, Individualization, and Deliberative. So, the summary is, I really like collecting knowledge and then thinking about it. Oh, and I see everyone as an individual. But the main thing is that if I'm not learning and assimilating new skills or knowledge, I feel stale. This is why I've dabbled in so many art forms, including, but not limited to, sewing, letterpress, graphic design, upholstery, glass fusing, lampworking, weaving, crocheting, jewelry-making, wood-burning, painting, and drawing. I really want to learn how to do everything in the world. So when I'm not doing new things in sewing, I get bored.

This is why I was so excited when the talented Reana Louise of Curves, Patterns, and Pins announced a new sewing challenge:

Basically, one makes a list of all the techniques that have eluded one in sewing and make a pointed effort to try them. Or something. So here's my list of things to learn/techniques to try:
  1. Putting piping into seams
  2. Lapped zippers done! 9/21/11
  3. Boning done! 10/13/11
  4. Strapless bodice done! 10/13/11
  5. Peter Pan collar
  6. Scalloped edges (whether on the neckline or the hem of a dress)
  7. Horsehair braid in a circle skirt
  8. Shirring done! 10/17/11
  9. Grosgrain waist stay done! 9/21/11
  10. Insetting lace
  11. Fish-eye darts
  12. Pleats
  13. Pintucks done! 12/22/11
  14. Draping
  15. Working with sheers, like chiffon
  16. Welt pockets
  17. Making a crinoline
  18. Bias-cutting to make chevrons
  19. Making my own bias tape
  20. Quilting
I think I'll end it at an even twenty. There are still so many other things that I want to do that aren't sewing-related, like build furniture and do brass-etching, but having a concrete list helps focus my brain. Most of the time I already feel like jack of all trades, master of none, but this will hopefully help me be slightly more a master (mistress?) of sewing, given that this is the longest I've ever been interested in an art form. Too bad there isn't a job that involves learning just a little bit of everything, but not necessarily becoming an expert in it. Sometimes (like when I'm trying to decide what to do with my life), it seems there's no room in today's society anymore for Renaissance souls. Being a science teacher lets you cover some of it, but not entirely enough for my liking. I can't wait to homeschool my imaginary kids so that I can teach them everything and anything, whenever.
Modified caption for Hyperbole and a Half's brilliant drawing.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Precocious Kid's Art Project Dress

Husband and I got married last summer, a little before the school year began. As soon as they found out I was a newlywed, all my freshmen girls wanted to know if I was going to have kids right way. Apparently they love babies, and were super eager for me to have one for them to ooh and aah over. I, on the other hand, was like "Oh, no, we're not planning on having any babies. We'll just have five cats." They thought I was serious, gullible things that they are; there was a great outcry, and they immediately began trying to convince me why babies are awesome. You know, they make these adorable wailing noises, create beautiful brown poop, have crusty bits coming out of their noses when they're sick, and need help to do everything. Ummm, no thanks. As I said to my AP Biology kids, they're just like little parasites feeding off of the poor host, i.e. mom.

Don't I look thrilled about the idea of a baby?
No, but really, all joking aside, we're just not ready for babies yet. Financially or emotionally. I've never been one of those girls who gushes over babies and their cuteness (usually, the best I can come up with is that they have incredibly large cheeks), and currently Walnut is the only baby we need. So the closest I'm getting to those tiniest humans, at least for now, is this dress. The fabric is, for once, not a thrifted bedsheet OR a remnant; I bought it new and had it cut at IKEA because I loved how cheerful it is. It looks like a kid took a bunch of crayons and started drawing all sorts of flowers, albeit a really artistically-advanced kid because everything looks really pretty and perfect, and I'm pretty sure most of the kids I know couldn't have produced it. Anyway, the fabric is 100% cotton, so it was pleasant to sew with and easy to press. Unfortunately, I only bought 2 yards of it a year ago, and it appears to be sold out, so things got a little tricky during the dress-making.

I decided to finally break into one of the vintage patterns that I picked up at the thrift store a month ago, a size 10 Vogue Patterns Misses' "fitted and flared, wrap sleeveless dress." It's marked as 9458, but I can't find any references on the pattern or online to the date of the pattern. Given that it's only one size, and patterns began to be dated in the 1980s, I'm guessing it's from somewhere in the 1970s? I was super excited to be sewing my first vintage pattern, especially when I opened up the envelope and saw how different patterns looked back then! I'm sure this is no surprise to seamstresses who are used to such things, but I was floored by the fact that the pattern ONLY COMES IN ONE SIZE.
Click to see larger pic of the measurements.
For someone who's only ever seen 4-12 or 6-10 or 14-20, it's just weird to think that I had better choose the right size right away, because there's no other option in the envelope! I was hesitant when I bought it, since I wasn't sure about being a size 10 -- the body measurements given on the back of the envelope are definitely smaller than mine -- but I figured I usually cut patterns meant for those measurements and they turn out fine because of the ease that pattern-makers think I want, but I don't actually.

The pattern envelope is pretty beat up, but the pieces inside are all intact and already cut out. There was one missing piece, the front bodice, but based on the layout drawings it looks pretty similar to the back piece, so I was able to recreate it fairly well. The pattern pieces all have these cute machine foot icons indicating where to stitch, as well as lines marked for topstitching. The instruction sheets were pretty clear, and I actually followed them this time since I've never made a dress like this before! I was also pleasantly surprised to find an insert that you can use to subscribe to Vogue Patterns Magazine! I love seeing these snippets of vintage life (and pricing!).
Click to read 1970s ad copy.
Amazing! This form itself is worth FOUR Jack in the Box tacos!

Cutting out the pattern pieces was a little tricky, since, as I said, I only had 2 yards of fabric and the pattern calls for 2.5 yards. I ended up cutting the lining from a white sheet instead of the fashion fabric, as well as making the back skirt piece about four inches narrower and cutting the super long front waistband in some navy leftover from the Ondine's Curse Dress. I think the darker fabric ends up working really well, actually. The dress went together really easily and quickly, and I was the most careful I've ever been while topstitching. I must say, I really love how simple and yet ingenuous this dress is! Also, I'm enamored with the idea of a well-fitting dress with no zipper. Even though I think I'm pretty decent with zippers now (a far cry from a year ago, when putting in an actually invisible invisible zipper was number one on my list of things to master), I still don't like them.
A look at how this dress works. I love how the snaps look!
Giant Carrot Guy models the dress to show how the back piece wraps around.

Putting on the dress is a little weird, since there are no zippers. The whole thing looks like two aprons attached at the neck-ties. The back "apron" buttons in the front (I used metallic snaps, because I've been dying to use some since finding Make It-Love It's tutorial), then the front "apron" comes down over it and ties at the back. The side pieces are low, so I can't wear a normal bra with this dress, unfortunately -- sticky chicken breasts it is! The tie is oddly short, not nearly long enough for a bow, which I guess is okay.
This is how it looks with the front piece down and wrapped and tied.

This is the kind of dress where I am definitely wearing a slip, just in case the wrap decides to unwrap.

All in all, this dress was a fascinating piece of history to construct, and definitely the most unique dress I've made so far! I love the shape of the skirt and the cheeriness of the fabric. At about $12 for the fabric, it's a little more expensive than my usual me-made dresses, but still better than buying ready-made.
Here I am, copying the poses from the envelope. Walnut is significantly heavier and squirmier than a basket of flowers, so I had to use my other arm. Also, that scarf really does not match.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Last Plushie Post, Promise (at least for a while)

Just saw this image from the latest IKEA catalog:

I just wanted to say that before IKEA's TORVA came along, I already had the idea of making a giant carrot friend. For some reason, the last summer before college was designated as the summer of carrot obsession. Friends gave me carrot pens and scissors; while in China with my mom I got a bunch of carrot magnets...all of it culminating in my making a giant stuffed carrot.
With Walnut, for an idea of the scale.
I didn't really know what I was doing at the time, so I cut a rough carrot shape out of cheap orange acrylic felt and sewed it together. After stuffing it, I had no idea how to attach the greens. I ran to my mom, who very patiently hand-sewed the top on invisibly. I'm ever so grateful to her, because I'm sure that as a very busy mom with three kids and full-time job, she had better things to do than attach a carrot top for her don't-you-have-better-things-to-do-considering-you're-going-to-college-in-a-few-weeks daughter. Anyway, Giant Carrot Guy was my body pillow all throughout college, and now he's relegated to modeling my failed Sorbetto in the corner of the sewing room.

I really do love IKEA's designs (I actually have quite a few things from them, and an inordinate amount from the kid's section, considering my age), and they can't be blamed for copying my idea of a large carrot friend, considering that this is his premiere online! I have a soft spot for their fabrics (even if my main fabric source of choice is thrifted bedsheets), and my current dressmaking project is actually using the GRONSKA BLOM from a couple years ago.
One more plushie picture, just because Walnut is adorable:
Fortunately, he won't fit into the whale shark's mouth pouch.