Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Working for a living and More thoughts on Pants

Well, I've been swamped at work. And I've had a number of work-related events to attend, including one on Sunday evening and one on Monday evening. But at least my work overtime usually involves a glass or two of champagne and some tasty hors d'oeuvres.

I guess it could be worse; I'm sure there was no champagne for these gals at work.

That said, work is work, and I have been pining for the Craft Lounge. I've done a lot of thinking about my pants muslin and even posted a message with a picture of the awful back to the "Fitting Woes" message board of PatternReview. It took a bit of nerve to put my fitting issues out there. You have to be ready to hear some analysis of you figure flaws (saddlebags) in order to get to a solution to your fitting problems. It is all done in a supportive and non-judgmental way, but if you are in denial about your flaws (saddlebags)... well it could be a bit of an unhappy thing. On the upside, thanks to sewing, I am growing a thicker skin with my own body issues.

Anyway, it was very productive! Several more experienced sewists shared some insights and advice on how I could fit this pattern. Or if I wanted to scrap it, some suggested Burda or Jalie might actually be better for my figure than Simplicity. So, I have a lot to think about in this department.

I also did a bit of work on my blue cowl top. I basted the side seams to see how the top was fitting. It was big - thank goodness I started with a size smaller than I originally thought. After pinning it a few different ways, I decided that it needed alteration across the back and shoulders where it was just too big. (Do I have narrow shoulders? This seems to be a recurring issue.) Inspired by the Vogue top I am also working on - and which is fitting beautifully through the shoulders and back - I decided to add a back center seam. So I cut the back in half. Um, I'll have to let you know if this was a good idea or not once I've worked on it a bit more. It may work out beautifully, but then again, it was a pretty radical step. Thank goodness I am not terribly attached to this fabric!

More later I hope.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Onigiri: Japanese for Sandwich

Onigiri making supplies

During the fall I used my bento box almost every day, but holiday cooking and baking derailed my efforts for a time. So, to get back into the swing, last weekend I made a quintessential Japanese lunch dish - onigiri (ahh-NIH-gear-ee). Onigiri is basically a rice ball with some kind of filling. I think of it very much as the Asian equivalent of a sandwich.

I found very simple onigiri instructions on But, in short, take Japanese (sushi) rice, which is rather sticky, and make it into a ball with something tasty in the middle. I made 1 1/2 cups of rice and ended up with 12 pretty large onigiri.

A layer of rice with filling.

I used leftover wonton filling from Phineas' last batch of dumplings (ie: pork, shrimp, scallion, napa, soy sauce, etc) for my onigiri. I shaped the filling into little logs and pan fried them. You could use anything you want as filling as long as it isn't too wet. I'm considering using any of these for future batches: meatballs of every stripe (Italian, Swedish, lamb & mint...), chopped up roast pork, herbed goat cheese, some smoked salmon or other cured fish... You only use a little filling, so you want it to be flavorful.

A second layer of rice was added, then I smooshed the onigiri into shape.

To shape my onigiri, I used a rice mold that I bought at an Asian grocery store for a few dollars. Onigiri can come in many different shapes. Mine are fat logs. If you don't have a mold, you can just make them into balls.

Finally, I decorated my onigiri with nori (sushi wrappers) cut into strips and sesame seeds. A sprinkle of salt on each one is also traditional and a real must if your filling isn't too salty.

I'm pretty psyched about my onigiri. They were quick to make and the variations are virtually endless. And they freeze well. I brought a few to work in my bento box for lunch this week - they reheat well in the microwave or are fine eaten at room temperature. I'll definitely be making more soon.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Two Halfs Don't Equal a Whole Shirt

After working on my pants a bit, my sewing was rather unfocused over the weekend. I couldn't seem to buckle down and work on just one project. Instead, I now have 2 half-finished tops. I worked on each until I got to a point where something was giving me a little trouble or there was a task I didn't feel like doing. Then I bailed. Oh well. Here's a sneak peek.

Everyday T from Clotilde made out of some of the Vera Lavender
luxury slinky from that I got for $1.95/yd

V8558 Very Easy Vogue made from black jersey with black satin
at the neck, both fabrics are from my stash

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I thought Pants Fitting problems were a thing of the past...

... but it turns out they just moved to my rear.

I have been working on the muslin for my Amazing Fit Pants. I was so pleased with how well they were fitting in the front - smooth, no wrinkles or creases, flattering - that I wasn't paying too much attention to the back. Then I took a good look.

There is all kinds of creasing happening under the bum and I am not really sure how to fix it. UUugh. You know it's bad when the day before Valentine's Day you are having your husband take pictures of your bum to illustrate the problems in your pants fit. How bad?

Yeah, really bad.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Musings on Fashion Week in NY

For a sewista, I'm really not much of a fashionista. But NY Fashion Week starts today - it's swan song at Bryant Park before moving uptown to Lincoln Center - and two articles in the Style section of the NY Times caught my attention.

The first is about the move uptown and the decline of the Garment District over the last 10 years. The second article is about Cynthia Rowley, who, essentially, will be selling knock-offs of her own garments as well as sewing kits, so you can knock off her garments, too. I have to admit that I admire her moxie.

What ties these two articles together in my mind is the role that the internet plays in both situations - and ironically, here I am to comment about it on the internet. As NY has become an ever more expensive city, stand alone brick-and-mortar stores have an increasingly difficult time competing with the prices and convenience that big box and virtual stores can offer - especially when places like have $1.95/yard sales on Vera Wang Lavender Label fabrics. Also, images from runway shows are on the internet before the designer has even taken a bow. In the time it takes for fashion to go from runway to department store, knock-offs proliferate even in sewing patterns.

Anyway, looked at together, these articles make me wonder about the future of fashion and sewing in my hometown. Don't get me wrong, I think that online stores are a wonderful resource for sewists who don't have access to good fabric stores. But it will be a sad day when I can no longer pop over to MetroTextiles or Greenberg & Hammer on my lunch. This is why I find Ms Rowley's approach to be inspired. She already does a collection of sewing patterns for Simplicity. So, I suspect that this was a logical next step for her. I can't help but wonder if this is the direction the industry may eventually head. Will designers and smaller brick-and-mortar stores be able to find creative ways to survive in the digital and big box store age or will the Walmarts or Targets prevail (or worse - or

I don't know what will happen, but I am rooting for Kashi and the other people who make the garment district such a great place.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Amazing Fit Pants?

On Saturday, I cut 2 tops and a pants muslin, and I started sewing the muslin on Sunday. It is for Simplicity 2700 - Amazing Fit pants. What drew me to the pattern is that they have a curvy fit version which is closer to my actual measurements than most pants patterns. I also like that they have a lower rise and slash pockets. The last pants I made myself have no pockets - definitely a drawback.

Here is the front. I haven't yet attached front to back.

I decided to use some shirting that I bought very very cheaply quite a while ago as the muslin. It cost less than $2/yd, and once I got it home I decided that it was only worth about that much. However, for muslin it is fine. Once I work out the fit, I have a few different fabrics to choose from to make the actual pants. But I have to admit that I am already liking these pants in stripes. I have some seersucker stashed away that I may have to pull out for a spring version.

Anyway, the northeast is being buried in snow today, and I am working from home again and staring at the pants in between emails and conference calls. I plan to get some sewing in after my workday ends.

Happy sewing and happy playing in the snow.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mac+Cheese #4: The Fondue Approach

Last week, Phineas suggested that I shift my planned mac+cheese experiment to Super Bowl Sunday. And I did. As I mentioned in my last mac+cheese post, I've found every recipe so far to be too rich, yet not cheesy enough. So, for this attempt, I decided to set aside conventional mac+cheese recipes and take my queues from the cheesiest substance known to man: fondue.

The plan: My basic fondue recipe is a50/50 mix of Gruyere and Emmentaler, white wine, paprika, nutmeg and cornstarch as a thickener. By removing the butter and flour roux from the equation, I figured that the dish would already be less rich. Also, I decided to use a 1:1 ratio of cheese to pasta (8 oz each) and halve the amount of liquid (so, 1 cup) so that it would be a cheesier sauce. Since fondue uses very little wine to cheese (1/3 c for the amount of cheese I was using), I decided to make up the difference with milk.

The execution: I started by heating my wine and milk over a medium heat. Within seconds, I learned that white wine will curdle milk. Drat. Start over. So, I heated my milk in the microwave and the wine on the stove. When the wine was hot, I added the cheese little by little while stirring. When it was looking pretty well mixed, I added the milk and cornstarch (made into a paste with some of the milk). I kept stirring until it became a nice thick homogeneous cheesy sauce. I tossed it with the pasta (cooked al dente, rinsed and tossed with a blob of butter), gave a grating of Parmesan over the top and popped it in the oven.

The Results: Hmmm. In some ways, this was probably the least successful mac+cheese to date, since it came out like pasta held together with strands of cheese. It was totally cheesy rather than creamy. And yet, it was definitely the best so far because the flavor and cheesiness was closer to what I was hoping for than previous attempts. I'm not sure it needed the wine and Phin definitely missed there being cheddar.

Um, yes. That is fried chicken. What can I say, it was the Super Bowl.

Final thoughts: The fact that I used less cheese, but ended up with a cheesier end result makes me feel like we are getting closer. This also confirms that the richness of past attempts was due to the large amounts of butter and milk. However, this time I swung too far away from the butter an milk and had a much drier mac+cheese. I didn't love the wine in it, so next time I will just use milk, gradually increasing from one cup until I get the creamy/cheesy balance right. Finally, neither of us were sure of what the cornstarch brought to the party. So, I may go back to using roux, although in smaller quantities.

Next experiment will be in two weeks.

Friday, February 5, 2010

As Promised...

Ta Da! My HP 24/7 Pencil Skirt is finished!
I know I am feeling better when I am up to being photographed. Here is the re-reveal of my pencil skirt:

This is not the top I will wear it with - just
happened to be what I was lounging in last night.

See how the unsightly crease under the tummy is basically gone? I will happily wear this skirt now.

Is it me, or is it rather slimming from this angle?

So, I guess my final verdict on this project is that, with a few changes based on my own body's quirks, this is a good pattern that I should hang on to. After all of my frustration with the Three Graces top, I am relieved that this went well. HotPatterns, you have redeemed yourself!

Calm, Cool and Cowl Conundrum
In other news, here is the story on my 3 C's top. After I sewed the top portion (on knit jersey) and the bottom portion (on rib knit), I basted them together to see how they looked. NOT GOOD! The rib is simply too thick and bunchy, and the color is off - a different shade of black. I thought it would be ok because of the texture of the ribs. What can I say? I was wrong. So, I ordered a different lightweight baby rib from and will see if it's any better once it arrives. 'til then it is on hold.

For the first time in a while, I have nothing cut and waiting to be sewn. So, I have some work cut out for me. Oh and at Phin's suggestions I will also be making my next mac+cheese for the Super Bowl on Sunday. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Good Things By Mail and Some Reprioritizing

The dusting of snow that arrived yesterday morning, combined with my cold was enough to keep me home again. I spent the day working rather than napping and crafting. However, after the mail - including a few new sewing patterns - arrived, I did take a lunchtime break to pore over them.

I've been buying up patterns lately. In part, this is because there have been some pretty great pattern sales ($3.99 Vogue patterns!). However, it is also because of my new focus on sewing for myself. And, I have to say, this focus is just in the nick of time. All of the clothing that I love needs replacing, and I'm just not finding nice things to replace them with in stores.

Here's what arrived.

A "Best of 2009" Jalie pattern for jeans

Vogue 2980, a Today's Fit by Sandra Betzina pattern for tops

And Vogue 1020, a wardrobe ensemble that I ordered for the ruched top.

Also, we've already established that my 3 Graces top is not going to be the staple that I had hoped. So, by necessity, I'm reorganizing my wardrobe project. I need to try out more tops. Plus, with Groundhog's Day already behind us, by the time I finish sewing the boucles sheath dress I had planned as my next project, it will be getting late in the season to wear it. So, I will do the smart thing and stash the fabric until the end of the summer.

What I will move forward with is the pants part of the project, which was to be a major facet anyway. I will also sew up more tops since I've been enjoying working on more than one project at a time.

Tomorrow, I promise (cross my heart) to post my finished skirt and talk about my Calm, Cool, Cowl conundrum.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ready for Bed!

Today did not go according to plan. I was supposed to post photos of my pencil skirt and make my next version of mac + cheese. But a nasty cold has me down, and I didn't feel up to posing for pictures last night or spending time on a meal I will not be able to taste today. Nope. Napping was my major activity for the day.

However, after a bowl of chicken noodle soup, I did feel up to spending an hour in the Craft Lounge finishing Phineas' pajama bottoms. And I think they are GREAT! I was so happy that I immediately made Phineas model them.

New pj's. Exactly like the old pj's.

One last feature that I didn't mention before is the waist, which has elastic and drawstring. The pajamas these are modeled on added additional rows of stitching 1/4 inch from the top and bottom of the casing for the elastic. I liked this touch because it ensures that the elastic is going to stay put and not twist or curl, and it has a much more finished look than just a simple casing. Also, it creates a narrow channel for the drawstring, which was the one piece of the original pj's that was in good enough condition to salvage and use on the new jammies.

New pj with "vintage" drawstring

Anyway, I love this project. All the extra little details make these rather luxurious pajamas. This was a good reminder to me that really great fabric + attention to details = quality results. I'm so glad that I bought really great fabric and then took the time to sew it right, and not just do a quick and dirty knock-off.

Here are a few parting shots:

Phineas: Male Model

"Action"shot: the pj's in use

Monday, February 1, 2010

PJ's for My Sweet & more

This weekend I got down to work on Phineas' pajama bottoms. In the past, the pj's I've made have been very quick and easy projects. But these pajamas have some really nice details - fly front, on seam pockets and flat-felled seams - that required a bit more thoughtful planning and careful sewing.

I've never sewn a flat-felled seam before, and it is love at first stitch! Not only is it a really clean finish, but it is very strong. I think that may be why the original pj's lasted for so long.

My first flat-felled seam! (sunlit)

Since I used the original pj's as a pattern for the new ones, fit was not so much of an issue. However, I had to think carefully about the order of construction. Each pocket was made from one piece of fabric that was folded in half. Since they were on the felled seams, I had to be careful not to sew the pocket closed accidentally or sew it to itself and still have the edges felled. (Does that make sense?) I managed in the end.

I am still exploring all the features of my new SM. For this project I got to use the button hole foot for the first time. I did a test run and it was perfect! I love my new machine.

Phineas tried the jammie's on and they seem fine. So, all I have left to do is the waistband (elastic and draw string) and hemming. Tomorrow, I will re-reveal my pencil skirt and catch you up on my Calm, Cool and Cowl conundrum.