Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Getting Your Irish On, Canada-Style

My Canadian family has some Irish background. Although my father's family has long believed themselves to be Scottish and English, a few years ago I discovered through some research on that they had some Irish background as well, and when my father had his DNA tested in late fall 2017, it was confirmed that he is indeed ethnically part Irish. As for my mother, her maternal grandparents were both Irish-born, and they brought her up, so she has always had a certain bias towards Ireland and the Irish. Her first trip overseas was to Ireland, and it is not wise to make slighting remarks about the Irish to her, though my father routinely does because he enjoys getting her riled up. (When his DNA analysis proved that he too has Irish roots, I said to him that he'd have to stop slagging the Irish to Mum now. He said, "Oh no, I'm still going to do it.")

My sister has a an Irish first name and is quite Irish-looking, and she embraces all things Irish in the slightly cutesy, fetishistic way North Americans do. A year or so ago when I was browsing her Pinterest board "Getting Your Irish On", I came across this photo of a stencilled tablecloth, which originally appeared in a slideshow of Irish-inspired decorating ideas on the Better Homes and Gardens website. I liked the tablecloth too, and saved it to my own Pinterest board on crafting ideas and techniques. And then, when I was coming up with gift ideas for Christmas 2017, I got inspired to make something similar for my sister. I soon decided that it would be better to make stencilled placemats instead of a tablecloth, as my sister would be much more likely to use the placemats. Then I expanded the idea into a "Irish dinner party set" concept by deciding I would also make matching table napkins and buy a Irish cookbook to go with it. Maybe I'd even get her a piece of Belleek china to go with it. She'd be able to host a St. Patrick's Day dinner party in style!

The Belleek idea I soon gave up as it would make the total cost of the gift too expensive for my budget. The cookbook was easy to buy. Finding suitable fabrics for the placemats and napkins proved to be much more challenging than I expected. I looked for fabrics for this project every time I visited a fabric store in 2017 (which was, um, often). I also looked for plain, ready made placemats and napkins that could be stencilled, but was never able to find anything that was both suitable and affordable. It wasn't until November 2017, when I had almost given up hope of being able to carry out my Irish dinner party set gift plan, that I finally found the part linen, part unknown fibres pale sage fabric you see above in Fabricland. Fabricland didn't have anything suitable for the table napkins, but I took a chance that I'd find something and bought enough of the linen to make the placemats. My leap of faith proved justified as I found a slightly paler sage polyester at another fabric place that same day.

Stencils are expensive, so I bought blank plastic stencil sheets, then found a couple of suitable Celtic graphics on Pinterest and printed them off in order to make my own. I cut the paper stencil, traced it onto the plastic with a felt tip pen, and then cut the plastic stencil out with an exacto knife. I bought a dollar store bottle of acrylic craft paint in Hunter Green. (My original plan called for a cream stencil on green fabrics, or a green stencil on cream fabric, but the sage fabrics I bought were so pale a green that a cream wouldn't have shown to good effect.) And then I was in business.

Here's a photo of a few of the placemats and napkins from the completed set, with the cookbook. I made eight of the placemats and eight of the napkins, as I know my sister buys her tableware in sets of eight. The project proved to be a "just in time" production as I worked on the sewing in December and then did the stencilling on Christmas Eve. I used a set of my own placemats and napkins as patterns for this set, making paper patterns out of a brown paper bag and taking my cue for the mitred corners you see on these sage table napkins from my own commercially made table napkins.

When I shut myself in my room at my parents' place at 7:40 p.m. on Christmas Eve to begin Operation Stencil, my original plan was to stencil the napkins as well as the placemats, but when I experimented on a scrap of the polyester, I found I didn't like the way it looked and also realized that the paint would give the napkins a stiff texture that would feel quite unpleasant against one's face. I set the napkins aside and focused on the placemats, and again worked on a piece of scrap material to get an idea of how the stencil would look and how to configure it. I stencilled the placemats on one side only, which gives my sister the option of flipping them over and using them as a plain, neutral set of table linens. I was done all the stencils by 9:40, including clean up, and left the placemats to dry on my bed while I went upstairs to enjoy the remainder of my Christmas Eve.

When we opened our presents on Christmas morning, my sister seemed to like her Irish-esque dinner party set. She paged through the cookbook commenting on the recipes therein with her best Irish accent, which is actually pretty creditable. (The Irish accent is an easy one for a Canadian to do, as the pronunciation is quite similar and we just have to add a bit of a lilt to be well on our way.) My sister took the pictures in this post herself, as I had forgotten to bring my camera to my parents' place to photograph the completed set. The photo of the whole set above was taken in her dining room, where it seems to work well with the decor.

Although... my mother tells me that when she and my father had supper at my sister's place on Robbie Burns Day, Alanna honoured this Scottish holiday by serving them an Irish stew made from the cookbook on her Celtic placemats, which made me feel as though I might have picked the wrong British Isle after all.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Strategic Coat

A year or two ago I was thinking about winter coats and tried to define the number and kind of coats I would need in order to always feel that I had an appropriate coat to wear. In the end I concluded that ideally I would have three winter coats: a parka, a short wool coat, and a long wool coat. The parka would go with very casual clothes, such as jeans or yoga pants and hoodies. The short wool coat could be worn with either jeans or nicer clothes such as trousers and some skirts and dresses. The long coat would mainly be worn with skirts and dresses, or with wool trousers for maximum warmth on cold days. Each of these coats could be worn for a good five years each, which would mean I wouldn't be buying new coats very often.

While it would be possible to get by with only two of these coats, there would be drawbacks. If I had only the parka and the short wool coat, there would be very cold days when I felt the lack of a long coat and/or when the short coat looked too casual or was an awkward length to wear over some of my dresses and skirts. If I had just the parka and the long coat, there would be days when I wanted the dressiness factor of a wool coat, and yet wouldn't want to be bothered with the weight/warmth of a long coat. Long wool coats don't look right over jeans, either, so I'd lose the option of being able to dress up my jeans somewhat. I didn't consider doing without the parka, as I am Canadian and parkas are all but compulsory in Canada. We need something to wear down to the rink, eh?

Test it as I would, my three coat strategy seemed to be a comprehensive and satisfactory approach for me. I decided that once I had those three specific coats I would institute two rules: no buying new coats unless one of the three needed replacing, and (equally importantly) no acquiring any new winter outfits, boots, hats, scarves, or gloves that didn't go with one of those three coats.

Since I came up with this plan I've been working towards acquiring the three winter coats. In 2016 I bought the materials to make a short brown wool coat, though I didn't get it made until the spring of 2017. In early fall 2017 I bought a new teal parka to replace my rather worn and sad-looking old green parka (I had bought that green one secondhand at a Value Village for $25 in 2002 and it owed me nothing). Then in late 2017, when I saw some brown and cream tweed on sale in Fabricland for $6 per metre and a plush dark brown faux fur available for 50% off the regular price, I snapped up enough of each to make the long coat I had already planned to make in 2018. I later bought some dark brown kasha lining that was the same shade as the faux fur.

As for the design, I chose Vogue Pattern 8346, and opted for view E made in the "one inch above the ankle" length of view C. I do love the look of a lush faux fur collar, and I wanted my long coat to go nearly to my ankles so that it would cover even my longest skirts and dresses completely, with no awkward inch or two of dress or skirt showing below the coat hem. I cut the pattern in a size 16 up top and a size 14 from the waist down, and added four inches of length to the bodice as I always must with long garments (I'm well-endowed and my chest takes up a lot of fabric vertically, which would pull the original waist line right up under the bust line if I don't lengthen the bodice). However, rather than take a corresponding four inches out of the skirt as I would usually do, I simply cut the coat to the shorter length of view E. The resulting coat had the nearly ankle length of C as I had wanted.

It took me three and a half weeks to make this coat. The pattern is rated easy, and while I'd agree that from a technical perspective it is easy, with no darts or gathers or detailing or even buttonholes, and I put it together with no mistakes or frustration to speak of, it is still a lot of work as there is so much fabric and such long seams to contend with. I must have spent six hours on the two layers of the bottom hem alone. My chronic fatigue support cat Trilby was exhausted for me. This project also reminded me of how exasperating faux fur is to work with, because when it was cut, those fibres flew everywhere, including up my nose. I kept a broom and dustpan handy until the collar was completely sewn.

Here's the finished coat. I was not at all sure of my button selection when I was working on the coat. There was very little selection at the 32mm size and as the time to put the buttons on the coat neared, I was kicking myself for not going with a smaller button in a dark brown. But once I'd finished the coat by finally sewing the buttons in place, I decided these were the best available choice after all. They're both a more subtle and interesting choice than dark brown buttons would have been.

As you can see from these side and back views, this is one well-cut design. The fabric falls in graceful folds (and let's remember -- this is a heavy tweed fabric!) and swirls beautifully when the wearer makes even a quarter turn.

I'm very pleased with this coat, which is a relief, because I do have sewer's remorse over the short brown coat I made, but given the state of my finances and hatred of waste, I'm stuck with it for at least three more years yet. Happily, I love my new parka, this tweed coat is one I will wear with satisfaction and confidence for years to come, and I suppose two out of three isn't bad.

However, Trilby, who has one gorgeous and genuine fur coat and is perfectly satisfied with it thank you very much, is much more concerned that I have hung the tweed coat away in the hall closet rather than leaving it lying about for him to nap on.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Old Rose Cap & Scarf

In January 2017, when the inspiring and massive Women's March was happening and I was looking at photos of seas of pink hats, I reflected that I really ought to have a pink-ish hat to wear in case I was ever able to participate in such a protest. I don't look good in pink, but I can wear old rose, which seemed close enough. I decided in the tail end of 2017 that my February knitting project would be an old rose cap and scarf that would go with the dark brown coat I recently made myself.

As to the pattern, I'd long had my eye on this Sunflower Medallion Beret, designed by Anna Al. The pattern is an inventive one, and that little garter stitch tie detail is so cute. As for the yarn, I bought two skeins of sweetgeorgia Tough Love Sock, in Passionfruit.

And here's the finished project. I made the hat first, and then I made a scarf to go with it. I used the lace pattern from the sides of the hat, with a border of garter stitches. The scarf is 74 inches long, which will make it long enough to wear in a slipknot. It's a pretty set, and the hat is more or less becoming on me, though I do have more flattering ones. Of the three photos in this post, this one is the truest representation of the colour. My camera doesn't seem to do colour well.

With this design, you really need to see the top of the hat to appreciate it. It's not a terribly warm design, but then if you want a warm cap you'd wear one made of a heavier yarn than fingering.

When I made the scarf, I just kept knitting until the yarn was very nearly gone. There was just a tiny bobbin left that didn't even register on the scale when I tried to weigh it, so I'm going to count this project, which was made with newly purchased yarn, as having neither added to nor decreased my yarn stash.

Four Stockings to Hang by the Chimney with Care (and Very Sturdy Hooks)

Every Christmas morning after a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit salad, orange juice, and my mother's special Christmas bread, my parents and my younger sister and I open our Christmas stockings. We take turns so that everyone can enjoy seeing what the others received. My father always gets his turn last of the four because he deliberately draws out the task to an absurd degree (by such measures as say, reading aloud the ingredient lists on the edible items that he gets) in order to annoy the rest of us while we're waiting for our turns.

To fill these stockings, my sister and my mother and I all buy a bag of items each. My father, the official poster boy for emotional labour, does not buy anything for the stockings and consequently winds up with more stocking stuffers than anyone as he has three people buying items for his stocking, while the remaining three of us have just two people contributing items to our stockings. But then no one can really complain about being shortchanged when the standard size Christmas stockings we've been using are never half big enough to contain everything. There's always a selection of useful items such as razors, socks, calendars, hand lotion and the like, candy and chocolate, pretty things like Christmas tree ornaments or earrings, and some things that are just for fun, such as the pack of gold and silver stick-on tattoos I once gave my sister.

I've been the entertaining notion of making us a set of extra large Christmas stockings for a year or two, and this year I did it. My sister was strongly in favour of the plan. My mother objected that she didn't want to have to fill large stockings, but I pointed out that the reality is that we're already buying enough to fill them, and need not change our stuffer buying habits at all.

This past December I went to Fabricland and checked out the post-Christmas sales on Christmas fabrics. I absolutely loved the cardinal print you see here as soon as I saw it, and I selected a plain red fabric to go with it, as well as some red ribbon and some silver-tone bells to decorate it with. I made my own pattern for this project out of a brown paper bag, using the needlepoint stocking that you see above as a guide. As you can see, the extra-large stocking is more than double the size of the standard-size needlepoint stocking. The stockings look rather absurd at this size, and I very much doubt my mother will want to hang them anywhere in her family room. We'll likely just set them out late Christmas evening, so that my mother and sister and I can discreetly fill them. Given that they're probably not going to be used as actual hanging decorations, I rather wish I'd just made some decorative sacks, which would have been faster and easier to make, but what's sewn is sewn.

My original plan was to do two large-size stockings in red with a print lining, and two stockings in the cardinal print with a red lining, but when I got all four done that way, I found that while the red ones with the cardinal lining looked pretty good, the ones that were cardinal print with a red lining merely looked like they were inside out. I made some adjustments (the lining is a little smaller than the outer fabric, so these stockings aren't quite reversible) and turned the cardinal prints inside so that all four stockings are the same.

I'm more or less satisfied with the result. These were harder and far more time-consuming to make than I expected, but then I suppose that's to be expected when one makes a lined item from a homemade pattern. The lining wasn't as good a fit as I would have liked, and consequently the stockings have a slightly rumpled look, but after all the fussing I did over this project, I can live with that. I still need to make name tags for the stockings. My family complains bitterly about my penmanship every time they see it, so I'll print out some name tags in a decorate font on cardstock, then punch a hole in one corner and attach them to the underside of the ribbon with some embroidery floss.

It will be nice to have these to fill for Christmas 2018. Seeing half the contents of one's Christmas stocking sitting beside or in front of it spoils the surprise!