Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Ups and Downs of a Seersucker Frock


Last summer I bought some delicious seersucker fabric from Discount Fabrics, my wonderful local independent fabric store.  It was a gauzy gingham, with the distinctive ridged structure of a seersucker weave.

I had a vintage pattern, that I'd bought from my friend Bethany at her garage sale.  I was really interested in how this dress used striped fabric, on the diagonal bias for the bodice.  This seemed like a fun challenge, in my ongoing campaign to teach myself to make clothes using vintage sewing patterns.

I may have gotten a little bit carried away with matching the pattern of the plaid in this fabric.

But really, who wouldn't want to get this just right?  I can't be the only person who finds this kind of pattern-matching deeply satisfying.

This dress has dolman sleeves, which were a popular design feature in the 1950s.  The sleeves are part of the bodice, rather than being structured as separate tubes, sewn into armholes.  

The bodice looks an awful lot like a squished starfish.  I have so much respect for people who can turn two dimensional fabric into three dimensional forms.  This part of garment creation always hurts my brain.  

At the suggestion of my friend Bruce, who's a tailor at the Metropolitan Opera, and who I've known since my high school Rocky Horror days, I flat-lined the seersucker bodice.  This provided opacity and structure to my rather flimsy fashion fabric.  

Robb and I go to a lot of estate sales.  He heads for the hand-tools, and I go looking for the sewing kits.  I'm a wee bit obsessed with vintage seam binding ribbon.  And why not?  It gives a beautiful neat finish to the insides of a garment.

I got this far last summer, and then just stopped.  

I had an especially busy season at work.  I had tedious health issues.  Most of my sewing projects languished.

It took a deadline to get this project back on track.  The Chico Seersucker Ride was fast approaching, which was the whole reason I'd started this dress in the first place.  

We always look forward to the vintage cycling events in Chico. The people are delightful, the ride is well organized, and we take the opportunity to see friends who live in the area.  There's a Tweed Ride around Thanksgiving and a Seersucker Ride in the spring.

However, last year's Tweed ride was not to be.  Disaster struck, in the form of raging wildfires. The neighboring town of Paradise was destroyed by fires.  Tens of thousands of people lost their homes.  The air was unsafe to breathe.   Nobody had time for a frivolous bike ride.  

It was unspeakably strange to go back to Chico.  We had dinner with our friend Greg, and at the end of the meal he invited us to see the site of his house.  I'm still trying to think about what we saw, and what it means for everyone who lived in this once-beautiful town.  You can look on my Instagram page for some of the photos.  An entire town of homes, burnt to their concrete foundations.  A forest of trees, burnt to charcoal.  Hundreds of cars, with their plastic outer shells and rubber tires melted away, now bright orange with rust.  A poisoned water supply.

To say this visit was an emotional experience would be putting it mildly.

And in the midst of this, life prevailed.  The tall skeletal trees were surrounded by vigorous growth.  Murals were painted on some of the remaining structures.  School classes were held in teachers' living rooms.  

The Seersucker Ride was a surreal diversion.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Because We All Need a Demented Kitty Skirt, Right?

What can I say about Smog?  I found him, almost dead, in the literal gutter.  He would stagger for about two steps, and then collapse.  But He Just Kept Going.  He's get back on his feet, stumble along for another step or two, before he'd collapse.  But But He Just Kept Going.  

This cat has been through so much -- he was probably hit by a car and healed up all wrong before I found him -- but he never loses his goofy spirit.  Nothing stops this cat.

He's not in the least bit heroic.  No.  Smog is a complete weirdo.  Look at that toothy grin, and those crazy eyes.  How can you not love a creature as strange this?

So, when I saw this vintage novelty fabric on sale last year, I pounced.  Because, clearly, I needed a demented kitty skirt, to go with my demented kitty.

I used every scrap of the fabric to make a Very Silly Skirt.  I found a remarkably close match to the cats' tongues, and used it for a waistband.  

I'm very pleased with my pattern matching.  Anyone who has ever worked with me will not be surprised by this. (This whole project will look better when I've pressed the fabric.)

I've really come to love inserting lapped zippers.  I've been doing this by hand, because I can't seem to get the tension right on my sewing machine for this task.  Also, I really like sewing by hand.

And there you have it, folks:  a skirt as silly (and rumpled) as my cat.  

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Of Weeds and Tweeds

I'm trying to catch up on documenting the projects I've been working on lately.  Ive been going through a rough time, and I just let my writing languish.

For instance, there's this silly project.  Robb and I have been participating in vintage themed cycling events, which I've written about previously.  I've been wanting to make Robb a knitted waistcoat for some time.  Of course, I can't do anything the easy way, so I decided to use a vintage knitting pattern as well as yarn I'd dyed with invasive plants or garden trimmings.

(The model on the original pattern gave me the creeps, so Robb collaged our kitty Smog's head on the picture.  Totally normal thing to do.)

The yellow yarn was dyed with super-invasive broom plants.  The green was cardoon leaves dipped in an after-bath of rusty iron-water (made with all the terrifying nails I've dug up in the back garden over the years).  The pink color was made with the bark of twigs from my pluot tree.

The cats were incredibly helpful.

This garment was one of those one-sze-fits-somebody patterns, that are fairly common among vintage patterns.  When I'm trying to visualize the fit of a complex knitting project, I'll often make multiple photocopies of my swatch, and tape the images together to understand my project in full-scale.

This pattern only had patterned knitting on the front of the waistcoat.  This was probably for a number of reasons.  First, it would be uncouth for a gentleman to remove his jacket in public, so why bother decorating the side that nobody is going to see.  Secondly, there's the issue of warmth.  Multi-colored stranded knitwear is twice as thick as plain knitting, and so a waistcoat that is stranded on the front and back might be ridiculously warm.  And anyway, stranded patterns use up a lot of yarn, and take a lot of effort.  So why not do all the tricky stuff where there will be a payoff for one's work.

Even though vintage pattern advise knitting stranded patterns flat, I much prefer to knit them in the round.  Managing multiple colors of yarn on the purl side is my idea of torture.  So I knit the front of Robb's waistcoat as a sort of tube.  I knit from the bottom up, and once I'd passed the armholes I had to knit flat.

The tube was stabilized and then cut open.  This is always a bit nerve-wracking.

This seemed worryingly short, for a man's garment.  But I charged forward.

By the time I started on the back, I had pretty much given up on the pattern.  As I figured it, the original pattern would fit a pre-teen.

But here's the puzzle:  If no polite man would take his jacket off, there are damn few images of what the back of a 1930s knitted waistcoat should fit like.  Thankfully, my friend Star, tailor extraordinaire helped me out on this front.  (Or back.  Whatever.)

I sewed up the side seams, and knit the ribbing.  The original pattern called for the ribbing to be knit first, but I held off because I was worried about running out of dyed yarn.  I figured that if I came up short, I could substitute something else for the ribbing, the armholes and the neck.

And this is where I realized that this garment was Just Too Damn Short.  Once again, Star stepped in, and got me back on track.

At this point, the event I wanted to make this garment for was days away.  Things looked dire.

I had to rip back the front and knit more length on the body.  At this point, I started getting nervous about running out of yarn.  It's not like I could go to the store and buy matching yarn. I had what I'd dyed, and no more.

Did I mention how much I don't enjoy doing stranded knitting flat?  The purl rows just about killed me.  Poor Robb was listening to me swear as I knit, and wondering if he should make other plans for his outfit.

Instead of ripping apart all my shaped knitting on the back, I took a more surgical approach. I wove a knitting needle through existing stitches, and snipped out one row.

This was exacting work, but it took less time than reknitting much of the back.

I started calling this "open-heart surgery."  Robb was very polite, but I'm sure he was worried that I wouldn't get this done in time.  One thing working in theater has taught us, is all about Making Art On A Deadline.

This shows how much I needed to fill in.  Definitely better than reknitting the whole upper section.

I stayed up very late the night before the event, sewing the seams together and kitting the armholes and neck opening.  I sewed in yarn ends on the entire drive up to Sacramento.

And it was all worth it.  The vest fit beautifully.  Robb won an award for being the most Dapper Gent at the Sacramento Tweed Ride.

We also won an award for Picnic Royale.  (Ironically, we each got the award for the work that the other person had done.  Robb built this splendid fold-out trike-mounted bar, served two kinds of cocktails, and made sandwiches and teacakes.)

It's kind of a running joke that Chris (pictured above) is excluded from fashion competition, because he's Too Perfect. Chris exists on another plane from the rest of us more mortals.

And how was the Sacramento Tweed Ride?  We got to spend time -- not nearly enough -- with friends and family.

Everyone was stylish and super-nice.  I just love this community of weirdos.  Some fancy-dress events can be really intimidating, because everyone is so caught up in being perfect, and because people end up only talking to people they already know.  The vintage cycling folks are so down-to-earth and friendly.  If you show up, you're automatically considered a friend.

And this is no accident.  The ride organizers do superlative work to make everyone feel welcome.  Our friend Jennifer came up with us, not knowing a soul.  She had a bit of trouble on the vintage bike we'd loaned her, and our wonderful ride organizer Lynne swapped bikes so that things would go more smoothly.  How's that for great hostessing?

Also check out Jennifer's blog post on refashioning a thrift-store men's sport jacket, and making it into a garment that passes for high end women's vintage.  She won the award fro best-dressed lady.  THIS is up-cycling done right. (Up-cycling at a vintage bike ride.  Yeah. That's me again, with the inadvertent word-play.)

I swear that despite the aggravations and set-backs, I lead a truly magical life.

Adjusting Our Pantries

When last we left our heroine, she was standing in her pantry, considering the squalor...



I said PANTRY. Geez people!  Get your minds out of the gutter.

It was pretty bad.  Despite what this photos suggest, this is a strangely tiny room.  We suspect it was a breakfast nook, a room that was very popular in 1920s bungalow.  The thing is that we already have a dining room, and really don't need a second room devoted to eating.

On good days, we'd refer to this room as the Pantry.  On bad days, it was the Crap-Dumping Room.

We really didn't know what this room wanted to be, and so we ignored it.  Until last summer, when my sister and her family came to visit.  Our little house has one guest room, but it's not fair to ask a teenager to sleep in the living room.

We sprang into action.   Robb popped out our antique sash windows, and got to work scraping paint.

We use a horribly corrosive paint remover on our windows, because we can't use a heat gun near our antique glass.  It's both incredibly terrifying and satisfying.  (I'm itching, just thinking about this stuff.)

Robb is a hero.  This was disgusting work.

We blocked off the pass-through into the kitchen to minimize the mess.

I shot this photo from inside our laundry room. At some point in the life of this house, a small room was added onto the back of our house for laundry.  That's why there's a window on what's now an interior wall.  It's a delightfully odd feature of our home.

And speaking of delightfully odd features, here's the cat door Robb built into the wall.  All of our cats are former ferals, and they just aren't interested in using litterboxes.  So they get free access to the outside.

We primed the walls with tinted primer.

This is a remarkably tiny room, and yet it took a lot of effort to restore.

In the spirit of restoration, rather than renovation, Robb and I did our best to match the original paint colors of our house.  I've written about this blue, when we were working on our kitchen.  It was apparently a very popular color for kitchens in the 1940s, which is when our stove and cabinets were installed.  We painted this room with the color we used on our cabinet doors, mostly because I intend to hang my idiot collection of antique cheese graters on the walls, and they looked better on the lighter blue.

What?  Doesn't everyone have a collection of vintage cheese graters? 

After the walls, I painted the trim.  We used the same color as the kitchen trim, to connect this room with the kitchen.

The kitties were pretty excited about the air mattress that I borrowed.

I stopped by the wonderful independent Discount Fabric store, and bought the perfect material for curtains.  I swear, this store is like the Room of Requirement in Hogwarts.  I always seem to find what I need, among the jumble.

Robb built a bedframe.  And Brent and Nestor gave us this glorious vintage clock.  It has functional neon, although the clock itself needs some work.

Seriously, how perfect are those curtains?  And how about the shelf Robb built, that hide our router and houses our home alarm?

Just enough room for a twin bed.

And when we don't have guests, I can use the room as a sewing space.  Robb has since built shelves for this room, but I don't have a good photo of them.

Overall, we're really pleased with the way this turned out.  At some point we're going to have to tackle the Pile of Denial, otherwise known as the laundry room.  But that's a project for another time.


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