Sunday, October 31, 2010

Signs of Progress

I knit.

I sew.

And I would do a lot more of both if I stopped frittering time away on the internet!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Winter Inventory

Self-Stitched September hit me deeper than I thought. A month of avoiding ready-made clothing was long enough to cause me severe guilt pangs every time I reach for something that I didn't make myself.

In the interests of personal sanity, I decided to work out what I have left if I subtract "summer" clothes and "shop bought" from my wardrobe... and it looks like this:

Trousers: 4?
three pairs not warm enough unless I wear leggings or tights underneath (ugh!)
one pair charcoal grey wool...with baggy knees

So actually...NONE!

Skirts: 3
Two tweedy and one babycord

Long-sleeved tops: 1
Plum Rockabilly blouse (too big!)

Cardigans: 2
Central Park Hoodie

Jumpers: 1
Pioneer - short-sleeved so borderline useless in winter

Coat: 1
Yay! My felted wool coat with brocade lining - love it!

Shawls and scarves: 7
Hooray! No shortage of neckwarmth!

But... OMG! No wonder I have been tying myself in knots every morning trying to get dressed for work!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The seasonal purging of my wardrobe has led to some disfunctional dressing: dis-dressing, if you will.

I have found myself layering up too-thin tops with too-long cardigans over baggy-kneed trousers, with the only saving grace that I could still feel my fingertips while sitting at my PC. After September's devotion to self-stitched style, it has led to a terrible deflation of my self-esteem - tsk!

It comes back to my mistaken devotion to colour to the detriment of proportion. For example, I thought I had devised a perfect staple work outfit: my Rockabilly plum shirt, charcoal wool trousers and a new plum and grey striped v-neck "Boyfriend" jumper from GAP (£14 bargain). The colours are exactly right. But the shapes? All wrong:
    Photo credit:

  • The shirt is too big for me and rides up, popping out of the waistband of the trousers and causing the collar to rub my ear-lobes. Ugh! Constantly having to tuck in my shirt-tail is none too elegant.

  • The grey wool trousers have gone baggy at the knees and are too big at the waist and require a belt to hold them up, so have a pleat of excess fabric which has to be distributed somewhere around my waist.

  • The Boyfriend jumper is almost long enough to be a mini-dress and narrows at the hem, so makes my legs look stumpy and emphasises the baggy trouser knees. And the puffy crisp cotton shirt sticks to it and makes me look like a stuffed toy.
So the "perfect" new outfit is a very unhappy heap of compromise.

In the interests of honesty, I have to say it is not ALL gloom and doom and I was very happy with my pencil skirt / polo neck combination of yesterday: sleek, narrow, and slightly flirtatious! SSS day 15, with granny's jet beads thrown in for good measure!
But I need to do the obvious and try things on together in advance. Not at 8am when I need to be out of the door at 8.05!
Meantime, an emergency internet shopping trip may be in order, to tide me over while I catch up on my sewing and knitting plans. Please don't point out the obvious flaw in this plan: I can't try things on together until they all arrive so I may be heading for another mess of pottage!

In knitting news: I have knitted both sleeve tops of Audrey-in-Unst, so "all" that remains is the sleeves themselves and the front bands. I am loving the authentic feel of the shetland lambswool, but it has taken a while for me to realise I am knitting a whole garment out of fingering-weight wool, so it was never going to be quick work!
In sewing news: My blackwatch brushed cotton blouse is underway. I have machined all the darts: that's ten darts! I am intrigued by the dart at the elbow of the 3/4-length sleeves: most cool! The long-sleeved version has two sleeve darts for extra shape. Not a detail I have ever seen in a modern pattern.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Shaking Things Up

OK - that's enough of that, Roobeedoo! Pull yourself together, girl, and seize that dastardly carp!

Photo credit: Etsy seller linked below.

After a bit of a mopey weekend of failing to progress my blackwatch 50's top beyond the tailor-tacking stage, I gave myself a mental shake and came up with a contingency plan for the tartan wedding.

My first idea was to get some sort of a hair-piece. I am utterly besotted by this.

Yes, that is what you think it is: a mini tartan top hat with a stuffed crow nesting in the crown. I was thinking of wearing it with my wedding coat (floor-length midnight blue, corset-laced velvet if you didn't know me then!) and a cream lace jabot scarf. Sadly, my dear FL did not get the concept. And I had to remember that these getting-married people are his friends and he has to look them in the eye again. And this is rural Aberdeenshire, not the South-of-trendy-England!

So I reined myself in. And took a deep breath. And ordered some red tartan tights and a matching giant tartan bow hair-clip. Heh heh heh. Subversive enough to keep me feeling alive, but not going so far as to have an ASBO slapped on me at the church door! ;)

So...I am going to wear the vintage dress I bought for the August wedding, my Irregular Choice rose shoes, and a shawl, accessorised with the giant tartan bow and tights. Sorted.

But if I did happen to get my sewing done in time, I could be a veritable plaid cornucopia. Smirk.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Home from Callakille

FL and I have just returned from a few too-short days in Callakille, my most-favourite holiday cottage on the planet.

We last went there two-and-a-half years ago and if anything it is even lovelier now, with new windows downstairs giving views to Skye / Raasay / Rona.

It was a very very quiet holiday. FL was not feeling up to long hikes in the wilderness, so we pottered about on the seashore, returning to home-brewed soup and bread.

We ate out at the Applecross Inn on a couple of occasions - delicious!

I knitted: Audrey-in-Unst. I had hoped to finish the cardigan on this holiday, but I forgot my dpns for the sleeves.

So I read: "Old School" by Tobias Wolff, which is the October choice of Emily Johnson's book group. Not at all the sort of book I would have come upon by idle shelf-browsing, I was engrossed. Does great literature come from experience or imagination? If, say, Hemingway read your work, what would he make of it? The evocation of an elite American boys school of the 1950's is utterly convincing - though what do I know about such a place? Read it for yourself!
It was also a surprisingly successful wool-gathering trip. Every other time I have been to the West Coast, all the little craft stalls / shops have been firmly closed.
But I was delighted to find Angora Ecosse near Sheildaig was open, and bought a pair of hand-knitted fair-isle gloves as well as 100g of handspun shetland laceweight - mmmm!

This is destined to become a shawl - perhaps another Aestlight.
And on the drive home, I was even more astonished to find the tiny Croft Wools was open for business and bought a big cuddley skein of grey Gotland handspun double-knitting, which I am saving for when Gudrun Johnston's new pattern Shalder comes out in pdf.
So all in all, a wonderful relaxing break, far away from mobile phone signals or internet access - bliss!
Tonight, The Girl flies home from a decision-making trip to London.
I am back to work tomorrow.
It's OK - it will soon be the weekend!

Friday, October 15, 2010

FO: "This ain't Brighton, Hero" Tunic

With apologies to Ms Garland and her ruby slippers: "this ain't Kansas... but it sure ain't Brighton either!"

I considered a trip to an off-season Aberdeen Esplanade (aka the "Fun Beach"!) for these photos but there were several reasons why not: fog, rain, wind... general North East coastal weather really! So you will have to make do with inland October scenery.
I finished my 1970's tunic. Inspired by Ms Scruffy Badger, and her Brighton Rocks dress, this was a piece of childish madness which just had to happen. Why? I have absolutely no idea. I have only ever been to Brighton once in my life, while my daughter was still in nappies. I remember thinking it was a cool, funky, veggie-friendly sort of place. Absolutely nothing like where I live now - ah well!

Style 4002 from 1972, size 10. Ah... that will be the problem, right there - a 1970's size 10 is several inches slimmer than a 2010 size 10!

I bought the fabric at Ebay, but they also have it at Fancy Moon, and I think it is about time I directed your attention to this purveyor of wild and lovely cotton prints! This was described as "sheeting" and it is definitely less crisp than a quilting cotton. It would make lovely pillowcases!

I used some yellow and white polka-dot bias binding on the inside of the hem - unseen, but it amuses me to know it is there.

I also needed a 50cm zip and after discovering that John Lewis wanted me to take out a second mortgage, I ended up back at Ebay for this too.

So... how was the sewing experience?

Fine. I just dived straight in - no measuring or muslin-ing. I was feeling fearless and devil-may-care. Shrug. It happens sometimes.

So apart from only having one pocket instead of two, this is View 2, cut to the length of View 3. It has raglan sleeves, with a dart at the shoulder; central front zip; patch pocket(s); short sleeves with turn-ups; and curved side and back seams.

If I was to make it again, I would make it about an inch larger through the body.
To some extent, I got away with it... but the first time I tried it on, over jeans, I thought I had messed up. It is a very close fit over the bum. Not surprising when I checked the pattern envelope and realised it was supposed to be for a 34 1/2 inch hip. Ha! I haven't been that size... ever!

So out came the leggings, with a degree of trepidation. I bought them a couple of weeks ago but hadn't tried them on for fear of the knees.

Well, it is definitely not for wearing to work! But that's allowed, as I was complaining about not having anything self-stitched to wear at the weekend.
Would I wear it to go shopping in town? Err... probably not. I am viewing it as a "house dress" I suppose. Something fun to wear while pottering about the farm. In the summer.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Various Acts of Stupidity

Note to self: do not throw ball for dog while he is still on the lead.
Second note to self: learn to differentiate between accelerator and brake at Tesco roundabout.
I am not sure how I got away with these twin acts of stupidity. My neck hurts but it could have been so much worse.

Meantime... thank you for all your supportive comments concerning the Girl. She is off to London for a visit soon and I hope she will get the chance to see round the potential school while she is there.

FL is complaining about pain in his lung. I have suggested that inhaling mushroom spores was unlikely to have been good for him, but he is having none of it. He took to his bed yesterday, which is never a good sign.

On a totally frivolous note, I tracked down a Tara Starlet tartan dress in TK Maxx for £19 instead of its original £70.
It is a size 8.
Clearly I have delusions of skinniness. But I reckon I could insert a panel of black satin in the centre back and add fake "corset lacing" with satin ribbons to add those extra inches.
There is loads of excess fabric at the top of the skirt, so that will let out easily... or so my theory goes!
And if all else fails, my daughter doesn't have a Christmas party dress and could "goth it up"..?!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Audrey in Brighton? With a dash of tartan.

Wow! I received so many interesting comments on my last post on wardrobe-editing. Thanks everyone!
Do go back and read what people said!

I filled two bin bags the other night: one is full of my summer clothes and has gone into the storage drawer until the sun shines again; and the other is on its way to the charity shop. There were a few items which caused hesitation. If they were summery, I let them stay (out of sight is out of mind - I'll decide next year!) but if they were wintery, I let them go. Gulp.
The pared-down wardrobe echoes with the jingle of ghostly coathangers.
But I refuse to worry about it. I won't go naked.

Meanwhile, I am plugging away with Audrey-in-Unst. It's a bit of a slog, but I can manage a few rows even when I am half-asleep, so progress is slow but steady.

I knitted the left front last night. I really like the lace "bib". It makes all those hours of stocking stitch feel worthwhile!
I haven't touched the armwarmers since FL's hospital appointment.
I have decided not to let myself be hijacked by the tartan-themed wedding. I might just make a tartan corsage. Or a clutch bag. Or a stole?

Or buy a pair of mad tartan shoes and then wear them to work afterwards, heh heh heh!

Shoes by TUK - so tempting!

But I am definitely not wasting good sewing time working on something I don't actually want / like.

So this weekend I am sewing up my Brighton Pavilions tunic. Just the thing for a cold foggy day!
It is a much more fitted garment than I expected. See the shape of that raglan sleeve with its shoulder dart?
It has a definite curve to the centre back seam, and the side seams are nipped in at the waist. This is not the kind of tunic shape I am used to from Japanese pattern books.
I hope it fits... I have done nothing to check.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Summing Up and Letting Go

Photo: The wardrobe as it looked in May... I must take another picture this weekend for comparison.

Today I had to open the storage drawer in my wardrobe to find a non-self-stitched skirt which I wanted to wear. Well – what a revelation! What WAS all this stuff? Did I seriously ever wear that floor-length linen panelled skirt? Or the over-wide, too-short t-shirts? Or OMG that far-too-long windowpane check tweed number?

I considered the re-fashioning potential of these gems, but actually I think it’s time they went. Someone else will love them, I am sure.

And I won’t miss them. Because frankly I had forgotten they were there. How sad!

So the positive outcome of SSS is definitely that I am making space to breathe and grow. I have a much clearer idea of what I like and what suits me. And a greater open-ness to letting things go. I swore I would not let clutter build up, so off it goes! Editing.

Since FL gave me some £s to spend on clothing, almost 2 years ago now, I started to note every item I bought, and it has actually not been that much:

4 long-sleeved t-shirts
A bra
A jacket
A dress
A pair of sneakers
A pair of shoes
A black polo-neck sweater
2 pairs of jeans
A cardigan
The vintage dress-for-a-wedding

Total cost: just over £550 (that's in two years remember!)

I spent about half as much again on materials: fabric, wool and patterns. Which, considering that stitching is my main leisure interest, is not bad at all: with the added advantage that I get to wear the outcomes!

I have no concept of what other people spend on "fashion", and really it does not matter as long as I am comfortable with my own level of expenditure and what I have to show for it. I know that I choose ethical / organic options wherever possible, which hikes up the price per garment, but hopefully they are of good quality and will last for longer as a result.

How about you? Do you have a "clothing budget"? Do you agonize over a single purchase, or have a big splurge every payday?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

FO: Rockabilly Plum Shirt

Two weekends ago I returned to the sewing queue: plum cotton and a very fragile vintage blouse pattern. I blamed the postman when it arrived in a battered state, but even now the pattern envelope is self-destructing before my eyes.

I re-traced the body and sleeve pieces as I realised the tissue would not survive pinning. I am pleased to say the instruction sheet is fairly robust - I needed it!

Working on this shirt required me to change gear and accept that this is a vintage design, not designed for speed-sewing.

There were so many construction details to be processed: multiple darts, gathering, collar, cuffs, sleeve vents, button tab. The "secret" under-cuff embroidery I felt compelled to add.

That crisp poplin shows every pucker. I regret that the faced sleeve vents are a mess of fudgery and iron-shine. Luckily, they are downward-facing.

I could so easily have become disheartened. I accept that knitting is a long-drawn-out adventure, but with sewing, I always expect to see results within a couple of days. Not possible with this project!

Was it worth it? I’m not sure. I think the style would have looked sharper with a contrasting collar and cuffs, perhaps a diagonal stripe?
It’s not that I wanted to create a museum-quality reproduction of a 1950’s blouse, but that it started to lose its identity. The pattern envelope screams “Rockabilly!” but this might be… just a blouse.
Perhaps it needs to be more fitted at the bust.
Or maybe I should have added the pockets.

However, it is perfectly wearable. And I will wear it. I just won't rush to make another. Although I have seen some crisp turquoise cotton that fits my palette...

Simplicity 3427 from 1950

I bought 2 metres of plum cotton poplin for £8 total from Little Shop of Treasures at eeebaaay and have about 50cm left. It was ridiculously cheap for such a high-quality fabric.

Purple buttons from eeebaaay: 30 for 99p (Similar to those seen in John Lewis for 20p each!)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Another Wedding Outfit?

Forgive me for being a grumpy old woman about this, but FL and I have been invited to another wedding. Sigh!

I really thought I had reached an age where my peers were finished with marriage and were having divorce parties instead. (Sorry! But you know it's true!)

But no, a couple of FL's golfing friends have decided the time is right and have invited us to attend their nuptials in November. Which would be fine... except they have also announced a tartan theme!

So I need something new to wear. In tartan. So help me!

I have that lovely blackwatch brushed cotton in the stash. I am wondering if I could get away with a 50's style blouse using the va-va-voom pattern, but with long sleeves, pairing it with a petrol-blue satin skirt?

I happened to buy the satin from Croft Mill a while back, thinking I would make a slinky sleeveless top... but it turned out to be a rather stiff fabric, completely unsuited to blouse-making.
  • Would it work as a bubble skirt?
  • Would a bubble skirt work with a 50's style blouse?
  • Or should I go for a circle-style skirt?
  • Would the resulting outfit work for a wedding?

I am not going to ask for your advice on shoes. I am wearing my red Irregular Choice rose shoes again, no matter what!

The sewing queue has just been thrown out of the window. Again.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Weekend of Fun-gi

Exhibit A: FL and his Great Big Enormous Mushroom.
But is it a Miller, clitopilus prunulus (edible) or a
clitocybe dealbata (deadly poisonous)?
FL is collecting a spore print to check. Pink for edible, white for deadly. Fabulous! I won't be eating it either way!
Meantime, I spent Saturday having a cleaning frenzy after discovering that the bookcase was covered in green mould.

Ah - that's better! Cleanliness is resumed.
But it meant my sewing time was severely curtailed.
And the Brighton Pavilions tunic plan ground to a halt when John Lewis wanted to charge me £5 for a zip. Seriously!
So while I wait for eeebaaay to deliver, I have been working on another vintage blouse.
I am using the plum poplin from Little Shop of Treasures, which is pleasingly crisp, but having a very tight weave it demands the use of sharp new pins and needles.
I am pleased with how it is going, but it is a very time-consuming design, with a vented fold-back cuff and buttoned tab at the collar.
I will leave you with a sneak peek of my cuff embroidery.
It will be hidden from view in the finished garment, so has provoked puzzlement from the family. Why am I bothering? A difficult question to answer... I suppose I am thinking of it as a tattoo. I copied the rose from a Valentine's card I made for FL a few years ago.
I ran out of daylight today so the blouse is unfinished - hopefully I will get it done later this week.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Self Stitched September: a Statistical Survey

During September 2010, I wore 25 different self-stitched items (not including various pairs of handknitted socks, or my 5 pairs of self-stitched knickers which were worn every day except when in the wash.)

Most often worn: Green Bella trousers and Black Japanese jacket: 5 times each, but never together - why not?!
self-stitched trousers: 14 times
skirts: 7 times
dresses: twice
shawls: 6 times
most-worn handknit: Central Park Hoodie, which I also wore in the evenings "off blog"

Of things never worn:
3 tops felt too summery; 1 item was too big (Ruby skirt); 3 were "occasion-wear" (and I had no occasions); my self-stitched coat felt too winter-y; a couple of skirts fell foul of my pre-summer wool-wash experiment and are unwearable; 2 scarves were ignored with no excuse or reason (Scroll Lace Scarf and the Simple but Effective shawl)... and I don't think I like my Seed Packet Skirt anymore and was too self-conscious to wear it!

Photo: The Seed Packet Skirt of self-conscious craftiness...

Reviewing my Solutions and Conclusions, I am aware of my defensiveness on days when self-stitched just didn't cut the mustard and I felt a bit frumpy and deflated. I also recognise my frustration at unfinished (unstarted!) projects which might have rescued me on these occasions.
Feedback from others has been an unexpected bonus. Thank you everyone! My usual sartorial critic is my daughter, whose starting point is that self-stitched has to justify itself. All those hours of work? Better have something amazing to show at the end - and it had better not look "home-made"!
Things I learned:
I make clothes to wear to work.
As a result, I "failed" at the weekends. Unless you count the handknitted socks which only appear out of office hours.

I make summer clothes.
Which is downright foolish when you live in North East Scotland!

I need to consider proportion and not just colour.
Just because that cardigan is navy and those trousers are blue, they do not necessarily look good together. High-waisted, wide-legged trousers actually look better with short jackets with nipped-in-waists.
I like quirky jewellery and find it really "lifts" a dull outfit.
So why don't I try making my own?
One pair of black shoes is not enough.
Out of 21 working days in September, I wore the same pair of Fly London wedge shoes 15 times - wow! Red flats: once; cowboy boots: three times; mouldy shoe-boots: twice
Photo: Meet Mausy, a present from Christine to celebrate the end of SSS! Thank you!
And the Grand Conclusion?
It was certainly a challenge! Particularly towards the end of the month when I started to resent feeling cold at work. But don't get me wrong - it was really fun! I enjoyed "getting dressed", with the added pressure of the camera to record my bleary morning "looks".

My hair has never been so consistently tidy!

I wore lipstick every day!

Moving forward, I realise I need to stop buying flashy cotton prints (Brighton Pavilions* I am looking at you!) and concentrate my self-stitching on building a warm, practical, layer-able wardrobe. Identifying my palette will undoubtedly help: if all my new items fit the colour-scheme, it should be easier to put together a coherent outfit in the morning.

And that's quite exciting! In the past, I have been guilty of making ever-shifting plans, which got conveniently "forgotten" when the next shiny project caught my eye... and ended up with a great big heap of mismatched summer quirkiness. With a clear practical objective and a colour frame of reference, there will still be room for a dash of quirk, but it will "work".

Well... that's the theory anyway! Watch this space!

*P.S. The Brighton Pavilions tunic is nevertheless on its way: it is turquoise and fills the weekend self-stitched clothing gap - woo hoo!