Monday, September 30, 2013

Will Knit for Pizza: Socks for Phin

As frustrating as it is to be away from my sewing machine when I travel for work, it's nice that my knitting can easily come with me. And, although I like travel, the very best part of any business trip is the joyful homecoming at the end.

One of the ways that Phin lets me know I've been missed is dinner. This week, he spoiled me with pizza. And I'm spoiling him with hand knit socks.

My sock blockers are too small for his socks.
Better on.

The knitting deets: These are completely frankenpatterned.  The cast on, toe, sole and heel are from the Manly Aran Socks from Toe-Up Socks for Every Body, except that I did an eye of partridge stitch on the heel. I think it makes a stronger heel, which also looks good. The ribbed wave pattern on the insole and ankle is "Surfin'" from Socks a la Carte. I made a simple k2,p2 rib cuff and bound off with Elizabeth Zimmerman's Sewn Bind off, which is very stretchy. Perfect for socks.

Surfin' wave pattern.

I should note that there is a small but crucial mistake in the Surfin' pattern. The M1 stitch (make one) should actually be a kf&b (knit front and back). It's incorrect in both the chart and the written instructions. The pattern simply won't work if you follow what's written. Once I figured this out (thank you, Ravelry), it was smooth sailing. This was a very easy pattern.

Smooth sailing with Surfin' Socks.

Anyway, as I mentioned, my welcome home dinner was pizza. Figs were ripe at the farmers market, and so Phin made a fig and goat cheese pizza with serrano ham and arugula on his homemade crust.

Fig, goat cheese, serrano ham and arugula (aka rocket)

Homemade pizza is easy and delicious. Most Fridays, it's what's on the menu, although fig and goat cheese is a bit more gourmet than our usual toppings.
Phin's Pizza Dough

15-16 oz flour (we use half white whole wheat and half bread flour or AP)
1 cup or so of warm water
1 1/2 tsp yeast
2 pinches of salt
large glug of olive oil
Add all ingredients to stand mixer with dough hook attachment. Mix until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl (2-5 min) -it should be slightly tacky. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead a few times, shaping into a ball. Let dough rise in a warm place in a greased bowl covered with a tea towel for 3+ hours (until you are ready to use). When you are ready to make pizza, cut ball in half and stretch dough into the shape and thickness you like on a sheet pan. (You can freeze the other half.) Top as you please. Bake in 450 oven, rotating pan once, until as crisp as you please (We like thin, sort of crispy crust and bake for 14 min total).

I know, there are a number of variables.  But you get the hang of dough by doing. If you want to make sure your pizza is cooked, use a spatula to lift up an edge and peek underneath to see if it is browned. Whatever toppings you choose, I strongly recommend a blend of fontina and mozzarella for the best flavor, and top every pie* with a sprinkling of Parmesan or other salty hard cheese.

I'm not sure which of us gets the better deal in the "he cooks, she knits" balance. But this past week it was nice to be home, spoiling each other. 

* Pizza comes by the pie or the slice in NYC.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Survey Says: We Love to Learn About Sewing!

Thanks to all of you who responded to my Back to School questions. What an interesting conversation! Feel free to keep adding your thoughts.

Here are survey results so far...

How do you like to learn about sewing?
Count      Percent
Sewing books and/or magazines 18 32%
Blog tutorials and/or sew-alongs from non-professionals 13 23%
In-person classes at a local store, craft collective or one-on-one lessons 9 16%
Blog tutorials and/or sew-alongs from professionals 8 14%
Webinars or videos /dvds 3 5%
Other (please tell me what in the comments!) 3 5%
I learned all I need to know in Home Ec! 2 4%
Wait, you mean I don't have to figure it all out on my own? 1 2%

My hat is off to whoever it is who's been trying to figure it out on their own!

Interestingly, in the comments many of you talked about learning from your mother or home ec teacher. However, sewing books and magazines seem to be the learning experience of choice in the poll until you look at blog tutorials and/or sew alongs by both professionals and non-pros as one statistic - 21 responses total.

However,  I suspect that if I had included a box for "all of the above" it would be the most chosen answer. I didn't because I wanted to know the favorite. But it seems like most of us learn in any number of ways. I keep a stack of sewing books, mags and patterns next to the bed, I attend classes in person and on Craftsy, scour blogs for helpful tutorials, and on occasion I've done sew alongs.  

At the end of the day, there really is no better way to learn to sew than by getting some fabric and sewing it up. Right?

And speaking of which, there is some slithery silk which is almost a finished V1247 waiting for me at home.  Plus I'm drafting some design changes to my pencil skirt for my next version. Have a happy sewing weekend, everyone!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Class Is In Session: How do you learn to sew?

I've been on the road for work these last two weeks and it's been a bit more hectic than expected. But Autumn is here, it's back to school time of year and also National Sewing Month.

Travel gives me time to reflect on sewing while not actually doing it. This trip, I've been thinking about learning to sew and learning new techniques.
Class Dismissed!

It seems like there's been a teaching explosion in the sewing world over the years that sewing has been a part of my life. In addition to sewing magazines and books, which have been around for the long haul, more fabric stores and creative spaces have started offering in-person classes, there's been a proliferation of blog tutorials and sew-alongs, and new web-based platforms have given rise to all sorts of webinars. As the sewing blogosphere has grown, so have the opportunities to learn.

So, I'm curious to know: with all the options, how do you learn best and where do you like to get your info from? Here's a little poll I've created:

 I hope you will say in the comments why your choice works for you! 

I view the growth in classes and tutorials as a generally positive phenomenon. However, with such a proliferation of teaching, there's a distinct downside. Not all of it is good. One reason this is on my mind is that I was recently invited to lead a sewing webinar on a popular sewing website. My immediate reaction was to be suspicious of the quality of the teaching on this site. Ha ha.

Don't get me wrong, I was immensely flattered and I don't mean to disparage myself or my skills. I'm confident, but I still view myself as a learner. I don't do tutorials; I do try to document what worked for me in a given situation and where I learned it. That way I have a reference for myself in the future.

I suppose it boils down to this: even though my Sewing on Leather post is my most viewed  post ever, and the number of hits it receives continues to climb, I don't think that, because I've tried something once and been successful at it, I'm an expert or have any business teaching it to others. When I went to a Sewing on Leather class taught by Kenneth King at Mood, it was very much to learn what I had done right, what I could do better or differently, and to possibly cringe at what I may have done wrong. It turns out that I really did pretty well with my jacket. Whew! Up until then, I had worried that I might be giving out bad information.

So far I've been fortunate to have only taken classes - webinars and in person - that I think were worth the time and expense. But I know several people who have had poor experiences. For me it has all come down to who is doing the teaching. Likewise with tutorials. I'm pretty glad that I know enough to spot bad information when I see it these days.

So my second question set, which is open ended is: What do you think of this teaching explosion? How do you choose your learning experiences? Have you had good, bad or ugly experiences? What have you taken away from them?

Oh, and before you answer, please know: I'm not looking to start any trash talk about anyone or any particular platform. What I'm hoping for is a dialogue. Please contribute!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pencil Skirt of Triumph!

Ahem, Ahem!  Ladies and Gentlemen, my self drafted pencil skirt:

Me before coffee. (Pained smile)

This is what I wore to work yesterday - my new self drafted pencil skirt sewn from my cut of border print wax cloth that my pop bought in Ghana. I have to tell you: drafting and sewing this skirt was not really all that difficult. I think it may have actually taken less time than trying to alter and sew a commercial pattern.

It's much easier to get great fit when you start out working with your own measurements.  I needed a little tweaking here and there, but it was very minor (see here). Seriously, look at how great this fits at the hips. Woot!
First, lets talk about the drafting! 

CD Book Review: The Skirts by Kenneth King

For drafting this skirt, I used Kenneth King's The Skirts. I've dabbled with drafting before, and so I had some familiarity with the basics. But I think that this would not be overly challenging even if you are new to drafting. A skirt is a much easier project than pants or a fitted top.

This sloper has some great features that give it a refined fit. First, for a waist to hip difference of 10"+ (ie: pear shaped figures), Kenneth suggests adding a second dart in the front. This worked very well for me since there is less distortion at the hip curve. Also, the back waist is drafted to be slightly higher and the center back seam is drafted with curved shaping. These features prevent gaping at the back waist and give the skirt a shapely fit over the bum.

Nice fit thru hips and bum!

Also, I find that in most patterns, the back vent never really hangs straight. Kenneth compensates for this by adding a little extra angling and width to the vent.
Shocked that my vent lays flat!

I think the last thing to note about this skirt is that it's designed to have little ease; it's meant to be fitted. I generally like fitted garments, but I added a little more ease from the high hip down. So, if you like more ease, just know that you will want to give yourself some extra wiggle room.

My last thoughts on the  CD book are that it has great info, but isn't particularly glossy. I think that Kenneth King just sat down, wrote an incredibly detailed tutorial with diagrams and helpful info, saved it on a CD and voila: the Skirts was born. Buy it for the content - which is amazing and worth it - and not for the gloss. Honestly, it would be incredible if he would publish an actual glossy book that compiled all of his CD books as a comprehensive guide to pattern drafting.

Now, the sewing details!

I decided on two new-to-me finishes.  First, a lapped zipper. Since this was originally intended to be a bombshell dress, I thought that the vintage feel of a lapped zipper was fitting for the spirit of the project.

Lapped zipper.

Next, in the interest of keeping things fairly simple, I decided on a grosgrain facing rather than drafting a separate waistband. It was easy.  Oh, and isn't my turquoise grosgrain and hyper orange lining a fun combination? The lining is a lightweight cotton from Paron Fabrics. 

Turquoise and orange insides.
Since I had extra grosgrain ribbon, I decided to use some as a zipper guard.  I simply sandwiched the edge of the grosgrain between the skirt and lining, tucking in the ends. Ok, that's really three things, but all were easy.


Because I wasn't following any kind of instructions for sewing this skirt, here are some resources and some of the tools I used:
  • Lapped zipper insertion: There are loads of tutorials out there. I watched a few and did my thing. But Sunny Standing did a free zipper insertion class on Craftsy if you've never done this before. It seemed pretty easy and thorough.
  • I always interface the zipper area. ALWAYS. Go for the good stuff.
  • Linings: If you sew and don't own Easy Guide to Sewing Linings by Connie Long, well, you need to get on that. Seriously.
  • I am in love with my new Japanese hand sewing needles. I used them for slip stitching the lining to the zipper tape. 

And that's everything! I'm really psyched about my custom pattern block and already on to playing with it. My next version, I think, will have princess seams and a high waist. I'm already mostly done with a silk top to potentially go with it. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How Refashions Multiply

In the draft phase, this post was called something like "Dr Clio: RTW Surgeon" and was going to be all about how I took this cotton lace dress that doesn't suit me...

Not my color and 6" too short

But I liked the lace motif
... and refashioned it into this tunic.

Hemmed to tunic length

And dyed a fierce red-orange.
And I was going to pose some kind of sewing question about whether you refashion RTW and say how this was the first time I've actually purchased a garment with the intention of refashioning it.

But then a minor disaster struck: when Phin did post-vacation laundry, there were unexpected results which left Phin with three pairs of rather pink shorts. 

They don't look too pink here, but trust me, they did not pass muster!

Phin does the laundry. So it was with some surprise that I learned that there is regularly a red and orange load. I haven't sorted out what beige shorts were doing in that load. There was some sort of story about an orange and beige shirt. 

Whatever the reality of our laundry, the fact remains that, apparently, I did not rinse all the dye out of the newly dyed tunic. Oopsie.

Rather than let 3 pairs of shorts - 2 new and one old favorite - be ruined, I took a go-with-the-flow approach and bought more dye. Phin has always been open to fun colored shirts and tees, athletic wear, jackets and accessories. However, unless it's jeans, his pants and shorts are normally in the beige/tan/stone/khaki color range; he wasn't 100% on board with this plan at first. 

However, since the shorts were ruined, we gave it a shot. Here are the results:
Grasshopper Green

Phin likes green and has been wearing these a lot, even though they were the least favorite shorts pre-dye bath. 

Slate Blue (old favorites)

These were the old favories. We were hoping that they would come out a little brighter and darker, but Phin seems to be liking them nonetheless.

Righteous Red

I had teased Phin when he bought these since they have a "comfort waist". Then of course I realized that I just finished two pairs of pants with elastic waists myself.  But he was sold on the shorter length of these shorts. Now, they are the clear favorite of the rehabbed shorts, and we both like how the poly thread didn't take the dye, creating contrast stitching on the pockets. 

So, the moral of the story is dyeing is fun, but unpredictable, and I should invest in better dyes (like these) in the future. 

Do you have any dyeing tips or stories of mishap?  Or do you refashion RTW? Share please!

Oh and by the way, I have a finished pencil skirt and most of a top to show if the weather would only  cooperate so we could take some pictures. 

*Edited to add:  For new dyers, I used the washing machine and followed the instruction on the bottle. After I had rinsed the freshly dyed garments, I ran one more cycle with the machine empty and with bleach in it. I had no staining whatsoever.