Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Chez Panisse Lisette 2059 Dress

After various delays my USA work permit has finally arrived! Which means my cherished half a year of holiday is drawing to an end :( 

Projects like this, where I fancifully wake up one weekday and decide to sew a new dress, will soon become a distant dream. But it was amazing while it lasted. And although I've not gone too crazy with the sewing output, I have been able to add a few more hand-made items (some unblogged) to the diminished wardrobe I brought with me from Canada, and our apartment is looking a bit cosier with some new soft furnishings I've sewn.

This latest dress-in-a-day project was made possible by using the very easy Simplicity Lisette 2059 pattern. A pattern I picked up second-hand in an excellent un-used condition from Scrap San Francisco for just a few cents.  

The pattern is a very unflattering sack-like shape which completely swamps me. But belted up it looks far better.  It comes with instructions to make a belt but as I already had a suitable one I skipped this.

The pretty floral cotton fabric was a Christmas gift from my brother's girlfriend (thanks Sophie!). I didn't have quite enough fabric for both the front and back of the dress and so I used a matching black cotton at the back instead. As the front print is quite loud I like how this waters it down a bit so it's a party at the front but more casual at the back, and it also spared any pattern-matching headaches.

Before making it I read a few reviews of the pattern including Shanni's from Shanni Loves. She had made a size 10 but found the fit on the neckline a bit loose. So as I always hear how Big Four patterns have generous sizing I went for a size 8 which was a couple of sizes below my measurements but ended up fitting comfortably at the top. You can see from the photo below that there is a lot of excess fabric in the body but I think this is just the casual style of the dress.

Before I've always used shop-bought bias binding which doesn't exactly match the fabric, and adds a few more dollars cost. So I really liked learning the simple and painless method this pattern uses for creating the neckline and armhole binding out of the main fabric (or in my case I used the black fabric) to be used as a facing.

The loose-fitting style of the dress isn't one I usually go for but it fits well with the not-very-dressy West Coast vibe out here. The dress's first outing on the same day it was made was to one of Berkeley's best restaurants, Chez Panisse for an extravagantly expensive, won't-be-repeated-very-often but delicious four course dinner.  The restaurant received a passing mention this week in this New York Times article which celebrates the foodie heaven of my new hometown.  I particularly liked these lines which really rang true:

Now that it’s just about spring, things are starting to become interesting. The jasmine and the wisteria are in bloom; the magnolias, almost over. The place is a riot of color. I walk around gaping, looking like those people in New York craning their necks to see the top of some random building on Sixth Avenue.

That is 100% me at the moment, and it means that the print of my new floral dress actually looks very demure when compared with the 'riot of colour' outside my front door!

A garden in our neighborhood this month

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Denim Tetris Simplicity 2451 Skirt

I know it's a bit boring but I really enjoy making the same pattern several times over. I like the ease of being on familiar ground, the time saved in having the pattern pieces already cut out, the value for money of getting several garments out of one pattern, and the improved odds of it succeeding and being something that I'll actually enjoy making and wearing. 

Excluding penguins and tote bags (which when I first started sewing I loved mindlessly churning out), the Simplicity 2451 skirt is my most frequently made project to date, and this weekend I've added a new one to the collection.

I did debate whether it was worth blogging this skirt as I've already blogged the same pattern in both 2013 and 2014.  But in back-tracking through my archive to see my past commentaries, it was actually quite interesting to compare and contrast the outcomes.  Also comparing and contrasting the weather was quite interesting too!  This was last year's blog photo almost exactly a year ago in snowy, sub-zero Montreal:    

It was just a mere 30 degrees warmer when I photographed the latest skirt in California this weekend (!!):

Apart from swapping my snow boots for sunglasses, there are a few other differences between the two skirts.  Like I now appreciate why it's often worth ditching the sewing machine and taking the time to hand sew the hemline to get a neater finish, so my latest version benefits from that.  The insides are also now a lot neater and more professional-looking too.  Last year I was too ashamed of the messy interior to even show a photo on my blog, but now I can proudly present some of my nicely serged inside seams:

Inside view

As well as some differences, there are definitely also some similarities between the two skirts as well.  Like the ridiculously cheap price-tag of the fabrics.  Last year I celebrated scoring the striped red fabric for $5 CAD from my local haberdashery in Montreal, and this year thanks to a lucky find at Scrap San Francisco my denim fabric (which reminds me of the Tetris game I used to love playing on Game Boys) came in even cheaper than that :)

Another similarity is that both have a strange fitting issue at the back.  On last year's skirt I reported a mystery diamond shaped crease at the top:

Back view of 2014 skirt
This year it's slightly less perceptible, and not in quite such an obvious diamond formation, but there is definitely still some excess fabric at the back:

Back view of new skirt
Interestingly on Scruffy Badger's blog yesterday she reported a similar fit issue with the back of her latest Simplicity 2451 and the general consensus from her readers in the comments seemed to be that a 'sway back adjustment' might resolve it.  So hopefully when I make my next version of this I can look into that further. 

Going back one more year in time to my 2013 skirt, the differences are even more stark as that was made with my sewing teacher Mili supervising each and every stage, and without me so much as even glancing at the pattern instructions or figuring out a single thing for myself, so at least I've progressed a bit since then anyway! 

So is anyone else a fan of this pattern? Or has anyone delved into their blog archives recently?! I found it equal parts interesting and cringing when I did! Anyone else used to love playing Tetris on the Game Boy?!  Any other thoughts/comments very welcome :)

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Another man's treasure... Scrap San Francisco

One of the things that has been keeping me occupied while I await my work permit is volunteering at a not-for-profit organization called Scrap.  It's a creative reuse center for the Bay Area community which each year redistributes 250 tons of unwanted materials to the local arts and craft scene.  They have an enormous warehouse open to the public in south San Francisco which is full to bursting with the most eclectic and inspiring assortment of materials, notably including two huge aisles of sewing supplies!!   

It's an awesome volunteer job as they are very flexible about hours etc and although I signed up intending to focus on the fabric aisle, I've found that I've actually really enjoyed the variety of working in their other sections which include toys, fancy dress, art supplies, frames, greetings cards, wood and paper. It is so random the stuff you find there, definitely an Aladdin's cave. And there's a huge free section at the front too which usually has some smaller pieces of fabric and today even had a couple of boxes of free sewing patterns.

Here is a taster of some of the sewing stock:
Rolled fabric ($12 USD for a bag)

Vintage patterns and a huge filing cabinet of other patterns
Home decor fabrics
Pick n' Mix buttons!
Smaller pieces of fabric (I think these are about $1 USD for 12- 15 rolls)
There is a whole aisle of sewing notions like this box of zippers

It is pure luck what you might find. Like In January they had two dozen brand new bolts of beautiful quilting fabrics including designers I recognized like Amy Butler and Robert Kaufman. It was priced at the phenomenally low price of $3 a yard (and volunteers get a further discount!). Quite a few yards came home with me that Scrap visit, and I used them to make Mr Fabric Maverick some snazzy new Pyjama pants out of the free Simplicity 0501 pattern (minus the ties at they went frustratingly wrong and the fit was fine without them). 

Scrap also runs some cool workshops for members of the public. Last year I went to a terrarium making one and made mine loosely sewing themed by adding a few little decorative buttons. 

My Scrap workshop terrarium

Scrap's not a place for the clutter-phobic, and it's not the easiest place to get to for the car-less like me.  Also it's high volume but mixed quality so as I'm a bit picky it's not unknown for me to leave empty handed.  But it really is a gem of a place and with a history stretching back four decades it's something of an institution in the city.  Plus today I discovered the beautiful nearby Bernal Heights park which is the perfect accompaniment to a Scrap trip.  Fabric shopping with a conscience followed by a scenic 360 degree view of San Francisco- Tuesday afternoons don't get much better than that!

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Viva Las Vegas Sparkly Moneta Dress

Earlier this month we flew to Las Vegas for the weekend to celebrate my birthday.  Our trip included seeing Elton John (for the fourth time!), seeing the Cirque du Soleil Beatles themed 'Love' show (amazing), and a healthy dose of slot machine action (ridiculously addictive). 

Earlier that week my birthday present from my parents arrived which was a serger!!  A Juki MO644D which is listed on Amazon at $980 but was on sale for $288. Lucky, lucky me!

I've often read of new sergers neglectfully gathering dust in cupboards for a few months/years.  That could very easily have been mine as after the initial euphoria of opening it, all those threads and dials rudely stood in the way of getting instantly started.  But creating a new dress for the party city I was visiting that weekend was just the deadline I needed to force me to settle down with the instruction manual for some intensive threading action.  I am 100% not that person that gets excited by building Ikea furniture or setting up new electronics etc., so it wasn't my idea of fun at all, but spurred on by the potential sewing nirvana at the end I got there eventually.

It serges (is that the verb?) beautifully! Deadline focused I kept it simple and made a repeat Moneta dress from Colette Patterns.  I had resolved to go into the fabric store and buy some gloriously tacky sparkly fabric, the sort that only Vegas can handle, but I was instead won over by a less flamboyant charcoal knit which in the right light has a subtle bronze sparkle.

Please ignore the giant claw hands...
I think the fit is a bit off as on both my versions of the Moneta the sleeves and neckline are slightly baggy and the elastic round the middle could do with being tighter as it looks a bit shapeless without a belt.  But it felt comfortable enough and it takes me so long to sew anything these days I'm not inclined to embark on the time-zapping and challenging world of fitting adjustments right now.

We loved Vegas and as it's driving distance from us we hope there will be future cheaper trips by road rather than plane.  Locals have told me that driving 9 hours through the desert is a bit of a bore but it sounds quite exotic and fun to me so we'll see.

And in other technology news, I'm now the proud owner of an iPhone 6!  I'm several years late to the smartphone party and so it's such a novelty to now be able to take decent photos, have on-tap internet etc.  I'm also now on Instagram as (fabric_maverick) and so I hope to see you on there :)

Saturday, 10 January 2015

New year, new fabric shop

Howdy! I'm still here. Not sure if any readers still are, but hi and happy new year if you're there!

Just checking in with a belated two last projects from 2014.  I've had the luxury of ridiculous amounts of free time as I await my work permit, so I really should have made an entirely new wardrobe by now. But I've found myself a couple of voluntary jobs, and made a lovely group of friends who are also waiting for their permits and who keep me entertained with lots of San Francisco sight-seeing and socialising.  

I've also been trying to mix it up a bit and try out new things, like this month I'm booked on a hula hooping workshop, a first aid course and a beginners knitting class. I do want to try and do more sewing this year too and although I'm not making any concrete resolutions, I'm vaguely aiming for one item a week, which I've already fallen behind on, ha! Based on the success of this latest dress (below) I think knit fabrics might well feature more heavily this year too.

The dress is the Moneta from Colette patterns, with no alterations except hemming it a couple of inches shorter.

The khaki-esque knit fabric is from Stonemountain and Daughter in Berkeley, CA, which has quickly become one of my favourite ever sewing shops and which Jenny from Cashmerette's recent review gives you a good flavour of. We've actually now moved from our temporary San Francisco apartment across the bay to Berkeley and although I miss the bright lights, big city wow-ness of living downtown, having Stonemountain and Daughter on my doorstep is one of many compensations Berkeley has to offer. 

There's not much to report construction-wise for the dress. I did find hemming the neckline tricky until I invested in some Wonder Tape to stabilise it which worked a treat.

When I first tried it on I wasn't convinced as it's not a style I usually wear and I thought it looked a bit frumpy and shapeless.  But adding heels and a belt made it grow on me.  Its first outing was on Christmas Day which we had back in England, and although it doesn't scream 'festive frock' it survived the trans-Atlantic flight, turkey eating and post-dinner vegging out beautifully.

This year I didn't sew any Christmas presents with the exception of this little tunic top for my friend's two and a half year old. It's the Lucy Top by Shwin & Shwin. It's designed to be reversible, although the wooden heart buttons I chose looked like they might be a bit rough on the reverse side so this version is just one way.

I really like the design of this pattern and how it can easily be layered over leggings and long sleeved tops and worn year round.  The swirly purple cotton fabric is again from Stonemountain and Daughter, and their selection is so extensive and inspiring that I must have been there for a good hour deliberating what to buy. 

So it's a bit of a mish-mashed post but I just wanted to also show my new sewing set-up.  My husband's colleague was selling this large Ikea table which is great for cutting out on. And our new flat has this bright little alcove by the window which is an ideal sewing spot. In the distance you can see giant palm trees, which four months after moving to California still gives the Brit in me a c'est la vie holiday feeling!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

A Belcarra Blouse for Beck

This week I made my first ever Sewaholic pattern, the Belcarra blouse.  

I like a lot of the Sewaholic designs but until now I've always steered clear as I've not got the pear-shaped figure they are designed for, and the idea of intentionally buying a pattern that takes more effort to fit doesn't really appeal.  It reminds me of the time when after a lot of beer we went to an Indian restaurant and our friend amused us by ordering a 'peas pilau rice without the peas please!'.  What I really want here is 'a pear shaped pattern without the pear shape please!'. 

But after continuing to be seduced by Sewaholic's designs, I decided to give the Belcarra a go on the basis that the larger hip measurement hopefully wouldn't be too critical to a blouse, so shouldn't need much adjusting.  

It seems to fit quite well but it did take a lot of deliberation to work out what size to make. On their sizing chart I was an 8 for the bust and waist measurement, and a 2 for the hip.  But when I took a look at the finished measurements I saw that the blouse was designed to be very loose fitted which I'm not so keen on. I also looked at other versions online and thought that this top that Lauren from Guthrie & Ghani made looked roughly me-sized (!), so I took a gamble and made a straight size 4.

I followed the sewalong posts which were detailed and straight-forward, and I'm happy with the result. I'd definitely make it again as it's a simple design that in a less glossy fabric would be a good wardrobe staple.

Though the fabric is a bit shiny shiny, I was particularly drawn to it as the design makes me think of lots of little moonlit globes.  I'm not entirely sure what type of fabric it is, but it's very similar to the unknown fabric I made my first Anna dress from which Vicki from Another Sewing Scientist thought could be a poly-charmeuse which sounds very probable.

The fabric was easy to work with but not a cool fabric to wear as I found out to my detriment when I took it on it's first night out this week.  We went to see Beck perform in concert, which was just brilliant as we had tickets to see him in June in Montreal which we had to give up as it fell on the eve of our last-minute wedding. So we were chuffed to get to catch up with him three months later in San Francisco.  Although the concert venue was only six blocks from our flat it was at the top of Nob Hill, one of San Francisco's many steeeeeeep hills. So the uphill walk combined with jumping around to Beck's dancy numbers like Loser and Devil's Haircut, meant that by the end of the night I craved a cooler, more breathable fabric.

So going forward I'll save this top for more sedate, less vertically inclined evenings out!  But overall Beck and the Belcarra didn't disappoint.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Settling in with a Paisley Sorbetto

Hello from San Francisco!

So we're finally here, arriving just in time for what our guidebook claims are the nicest months in the city, September and October.  Most days so far we've been treated to clear blue skies and a somewhat picture-postcard welcome to California life.  

As you can see we travelled light. Hhhhmmmm.  Out of shot there is even more additional luggage including my cabin bag with my treasured sewing machine.  Much to my relief the machine passed through airport security and the onward journey problem-free and in a bid to make our temporary apartment for the next month feel more like home I've wasted no time in getting it all set-up.

It's not quite the dedicated sewing room with humongous corner desk I was spoiled with in Montreal.  But it does the job, and with no walls to screen off the chaos that usually accompanies my projects I'm making a big effort to work more neatly.  An effort that has been helped a lot by my choice of one of the easiest first patterns I could think of to get me back into the sewing swing.  The trusty Sorbetto, by Colette Patterns.

The fabric is from San Francisco's legendary Britex fabrics.  It was exactly a year ago when by pure coincidence we were visiting the city on holiday and I made the customary sewer's pilgrimage to the store.  That time I saw the eye watering prices and left empty handed.  This time round I was less fazed (even by the rather condescending sales assistant!) and treated myself to a lovely soft Italian cotton paisley print as a welcome to my new hometown.  Only buying a yard of fabric meant it wasn't silly money, and so I'm curious to know if anyone else has any other favourite one yard patterns that I can use to justify future Britex trips?

I found applying the bias binding trickier than I remember.  I should also really bite the bullet and try making my own binding so I can move beyond the limited colours in the stores.  But beyond that nothing much to report about this simplest of makes, which remained cool and comfortable for our walk around Lands End yesterday.  

It's going to take a few months for my work permit application to be reviewed, so while I'm a lady of leisure (yeah!) I've got a few plans up my sleeves. I've applied for some voluntary work, I'm finally reading Middlemarch, I'm going to try and edit our wedding video, and I'm hoping to take some courses including knitting, jewellery making and a water sport.  And of course, lots of sewing! So hopefully you'll see a bit more of me on here for the next few weeks. 

We're now just about to head off to a chocolate festival this afternoon at Fisherman's Wharf.  A year ago we went to the same festival as tourists never dreaming that a year later we would be returning as residents! What a difference a year makes...