Sunday, October 14, 2018

Art Nouveau and Jeans

For my first sweater for me of 2018, I decided I wanted something with an Art Nouveau flavour to it.

Accordingly, I searched Ravelry for a woman's pullover pattern in a fingering weight that had some Art Nouveau-esque detailing. I found exactly what I was looking for in the design pictured above, which is May it Be, designed by Annamária Ötvös. I loved the yoke and the ballet neckline and the slightly textured but otherwise plain body of the sweater that set off the yoke. Design that combine Art Nouveau-style detailing with the practicality and wearability of contemporary clothing is very much my vibe.

When it came time to buy the yarn for this project, my plan was to go to Romni Wools, pick out a variegated yarn that I loved, and then buy a monotone yarn that complemented it. My first choice in variegated yarn was a vivid orange variegated, and then I found a solid teal that worked really well with it. But then upon looking for a second option for the main colour that would be less expensive, I came across Berroco's Remix Light in 6984 Ocean, which was a tweedy teal with slubs of white and turquoise. It was quite a bit less expensive than the solid teal, and I liked it just as much. But it didn't go quite so well with that bright orange variegated I had picked out. After some hemming and hawing and and trying unsuccessfully to convince myself either to pay more for the solid teal or live with the combination of the tweedy teal and the bright orange variegated, it occurred to me that I should instead replace the original orange variegated with a different, less saturated orange yarn. I promptly found a skein of Malabrigo Sock in 802 Terracota, which is a sort of burnt orange variegated. It worked beautifully with the tweedy teal, and when I consulted the store's mirror it was immediately clear that the combination of the tweedy teal and the burnt orange was more becoming to me than the more vivid orange and solid teal.

Here's the finished sweater. My only modification was the addition of waist shaping. I found this design quite slow going but otherwise a straightforward knit. I did astonishingly little ripping out -- I seldom made mistakes, and then caught them almost immediately so that I never had to rip out more than a dozen stitches at a time.

I don't believe this sweater will go with anything in my wardrobe but jeans. Teal is a difficult shade to match, and even the teal suiting fabric I have on hand and that is intended to become a teal jacket and skirt in the near future doesn't quite go with this sweater. But I don't mind. This is a sweater with such visual interest that it will turn even a jeans and sweater pairing into something special, and these days jeans go nearly everywhere.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Skirting the Unsatisfactory Dress Issue

Earlier this year I took a unusable dress out of my wardrobe and turned it into a skirt, and I began thinking about how it was the fourth time I had done such a thing, and that perhaps I should write a blog post about the process. And here we are.

The fabric above belongs to a dress I used to have that I must have made circa 2005 or so. I loved the fabric on sight and still love it.

Here's a shot of the dress as it was. Not only did I love this dress, but it had history. In its day, this dress went to an Elvis wedding in Las Vegas in 2006, and to Raleigh, North Carolina in 2008, and to the office, and to parties, and probably a number of other places I'm not thinking of now. But... by 2016 the style had become dated and too young for me and I no longer cared to wear it as was. Yet I couldn't bear to give it to a thrift shop. So I came up with the idea of cutting it down into a skirt in order to get some more wear out of it.

Here's the skirt, which passes for current, and which I will likely be able to wear until it's worn out. Turning a jersey dress into a jersey skirt takes very little time or skill. Figure out where you want the waistband of the skirt to be, mark the spot, cut the bodice off 1" or so above that, make a casing out of that extra 1", insert a piece of 0.5" wide elastic into the casing, and you're done.

Here's another former jersey dress now living a new life as a skirt. In this case, the dress was nice (I don't seem to have a picture of it anywhere), but the wrong cut for me. I don't know why it took me so long to figure out that I do NOT look good in an empire-waisted dress. I remember cutting both of these dresses down into skirts on the same day. I think it took half of an afternoon.

Here's another dress that was unsatisfactory as was. I made it years ago before I clued in that I need to lengthen the bodice of my dresses to provide vertical room for my chest. I loved this dress and the lovely crisp fabric it was made from, but the waistline sat well above my actual waistline and looked terrible, and consequently the dress was basically unwearable for me. In short, it was another candidate for skirt surgery.

The dress above reincarnated into a skirt. This is a woven fabric rather than a jersey, which made the conversion process slightly more complex. First I ripped the bodice off the dress. When I came to the zipper at the back, I first made sure the zipper tab was at the bottom of the zipper and then simply cut through the zipper. Then I searched through my pattern collection to find a particular favourite skirt pattern that I know fits me well, and borrowed the waist facing pattern pieces from it. I compared the facing pattern pieces to the top of the skirt, and found it was a little wide, so I ripped open the side seams, cut them slightly to taper them in so that they would accord with the pattern pieces, and then stitched the seams back together.

Then I cut the facing pieces out of the bodice. I had to cut them lengthwise, against the grain, but that didn't matter in any practical sense -- they're only facings after all. I interfaced the facing pieces and otherwise prepared them just as I would if I were making a skirt from that pattern, and stitched them into the waist of the skirt. The shortened zipper ends of the former dress-length zipper were stitched into the "waist and facing" seam at the top so I had a skirt-length zipper without having the work or the expense of putting in a new one. And then I had a skirt that looked exactly as though it had been intended to be a skirt all along.

And here's a fourth skirt that was originally intended to be an empire-waisted dress. In this case, it was a dress I never even finished as I realized that it wasn't going to fit or look right. It had been a fairly expensive dress by my standards and once I faced up to the reality that there was no possible way for me to make my original plan for a georgette dress work, I decided it was better to have a pricey skirt than expensive garbage. Just as in the case of the dress above, I made some waist facings out of the bodice (in this case I think I made my own waist facing pattern pieces out of paper by tracing around the top of the skirt pieces), and sewed them in. I think I had to piece the facing pieces on the inside because I just couldn't get both facing pieces out of the bodice pieces, but then no one but me will ever see that.

If you've got a dress that's unwearable for some reason but the skirt part of it fits and is in good shape, I'd suggest cutting it down into a skirt. As you can see from this post, it can be done without more expense than that involved in buying some elastic or interfacing and thread, and in such a way that no one will ever know that the skirt was ever dress.

Unless you decide to write a blog post about it and effectively tell the whole world, of course.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

All That Glitters is Not Gold

For a number of years I've had these brooches sitting in my jewelry box, unworn. I had bought them myself over the internet, and they didn't look as pleasing in reality as they had in their vendors advertisement photos. Eventually I decided that I would like them better if they didn't have that cheesy-looking bright faux gold finish, and wondered if it would be possible for me to paint them. I googled the matter, and what I found reassured me that it was indeed possible.

The first step was to take the cameo brooch and the faux stone brooch apart. That proved surprisingly easy; a little careful pressure and they popped right out.

Then I painted the brooch, using a small, fine paint brush and dollar store silver craft paint for the swan brooch and bronze craft paint for the other two brooches. I think I did two coats on each brooch. Then, once it had dried, I glued the cameo and faux stone back in place. The result was more or less satisfying. I wasn't able to quite kill the gold look of the cameo or faux stone brooch, but I did tone it down considerably. They look less obviously cheap.

I rather liked the silver paint on the swan brooch. The original tone shows through a little, with a highlight effect.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Woodpecker Woodworks

Today I'm going to post about some items that, while they are handmade in accordance with the scope of this blog, are not my work. This is an album of my father's woodworking pieces. I'm so proud of his talent that I can't resist showing off his work in a way he's never been able to do as he's never used the internet in his life. He's always loved making things, although it was only in his late fifties that he began to really develop the skills to produce the kind of work you'll see in this post. Now 80, he's been entering his work in competitions and shows for the last sixteen years or so and nearly always places. He designs all his work except for specific custom-order pieces, and tends toward a mid-century modern aesthetic.

Dad is very emotionally invested in his work. Back in the mid to late sixties, he made a coffee table for his and my mother's living room that did duty for the next twenty years or so. The table was a simple thing: a rectangle of wood which he overlaid on the top and sides with some sort of cut-to-fit laminate, and with commercially made wooden legs. It would have been quite in style in the sixties when furniture was spare and simple, but though styles changed in the seventies and eighties it never looked out of style -- as unique handmade things tend not to -- and it was very strong and durable.

Then one day circa 1976 or 1977, when I was three or four, I tripped over my own feet while running into the living room and fell headlong, gashing my forehead on one corner of that coffee table. The cut was an inch-long vertical line just above and slightly extending into my left eyebrow, and required stitches. The resulting scar was so faint that no one has ever noticed it, and while I think I lost some eyebrow hair follicles, it's nothing that an eyebrow pencil can't camouflage. And of course I was extremely lucky not to have lost an eye or died from a fractured skull as I would have if my head had struck the table at slightly different angle.

Alas, while I recovered from the incident, Dad has not. He blamed himself for ever making that table, saying he should have known better than to make something with such sharp edges, especially when there were so many children in the house. There was no money to replace things unnecessarily when I was growing up, so we continued to use the coffee table my father had made for another six or seven years, even though Dad could barely stand the sight of it. Fortunately for his peace of mind, it was eventually replaced circa 1983 with a nice-looking wooden table one of my brothers made in high school shop class. But to this day my father cannot bear to have that old table mentioned. It is The Table that Must Not be Named. At my parents' 50th anniversary celebration in 2012, he and I were standing side by side watching the family photo slide show my sister-in-law had created when a photo of our early eighties-era living room appeared, and he snarled, "There's that table."

My father is normally an easygoing, modest man, but when it comes to his woodworking he's a bit of a prima donna. He affects a show of false modesty and says he's not really a woodworker; he's a woodpecker -- but if his work is slighted in any way, he sulks for days. Some years ago I bought him a woodpecker doorknocker to mount to outside the door of his workshop, and I have named this post after my father's self-assumed title. This isn't a really representative selection of his work, as he has made so many things, but these were all the pictures I could collect at this time by taking pictures of things my father has given me and by finding some pictures on the net. I hope to add more as time goes on.

The cedar chest that my father made for me back in 2001, when I bought my first home. He has since been working on making one for every daughter, daughter-in-law, granddaughter, granddaughter-in-law, and assorted other family members and friends. Mine is actually rather plain and utilitarian in comparison with the chests he's making now.

Wine corks.

My father has made many of these platters. He likes to make them for anniversaries and put a specific number of hearts in them to represent the couple and any children they've had. This one belongs to me and was made plain at my request. One could fit many a party snack on this platter.

This rolling pin belongs to me. I selected it from several that my father offered to me, and it's probably my favourite item of all those he has made me. My father considers this piece of his "very ugly" and told me he was glad I liked it, because when he finished it he had wondered whether he could possibly find someone who would want it. Uh, whatever Dad. But anyone who makes things knows what that's like: sometimes you make something that's objectively fine, that many other people might love, but that you can't staaaaaaaand the sight of.

These rolling pins, made by my father, appeared in the 2008 American Association of Woodturners' instant gallery at their symposium in Richmond, Virginia. Another rolling pin of his was accepted for their juried show that year.

Another of my father's rolling pins, made with the flag of Norway on one side and the Canadian flag on the other side (see next photo). We Swans aren't Norwegian, but I believe this rolling pin was inspired by a Norwegian woodworking cruise he and my mother went on one year. This rolling pin belongs to my niece Peaches Swan, who was a very skilled and talented baker and cake decorator by the time she was 15.

The Canadian side of the rolling pin above.

Another rolling pin. Rolling pins are one of my father's favourite things to make.

A vase with a Celtic-style device on it that's visible inside and out.

One of a set of four grandfather clocks my father made for a friend of his who ordered them: one for each of his three daughters and a fourth for himself.

Close up of the chimes.

Close up of the clock. I so wish I had a home of the size and scale to provide an appropriate setting for one of these grandfather clocks, because holy crap do I ever lust after them. My father says that's nonsense and Swan's End could easily accommodate one, but I can't agree, much as I would like to.

A southwestern-style bowl, inside and out.

When my dad offered me the choice of a checkerboard from a number he had made, he told me to pick out one for a close friend of mine at the same time, "if I thought she wouldn't mind taking one, because he didn't want to saddle her with something she didn't want". When I showed up at her place and offered it to her, telling her dryly that my father had said I was to be sure she really wanted it, she said, "I think I can live with it," adding, "-- and I'm trying to refrain from lunging at you and snatching it out of your hands."

My father made this out of an olive tree that a former neighbour of his named Olive had. Her late husband had given it to her. Sadly, the tree blew down in a storm, but Olive was able to have some items made from the wood to remember it by. This was one of the items. I keep it on my desk to hold pens.

This hourglass appeared in the Woodstock Wood Show in Woodstock, Ontario, some years ago. It was awarded first prize in whatever category it was in.

Three hourglasses my father made for me. Hourglasses, like rolling pins, are among his favourite things to make.

The three bookcases my father made for my living room and my many books in what must have been the most epic bookshelf building project ever. It took over a year. But you can't rush genius, I suppose.

Shelf and hook rail for my guest room. My father cut them for me to my specifications, and I stained them, added the hooks and brackets, and installed them. My dad's woodworking skills have been invaluable to me as I work on renovating my old house. Besides this hook rail and shelf, and the other items in this post, he has made me a second hook rail for the front entryway, a shelf for my laundry room, custom trim to match the century old trim on various door frames throughout the house, a replacement mirror frame piece for an antique vanity table I refinished, a custom-fitted sliding panel door to cover the plumbing recess in the kitchen, and a entire new set of drawer slides for my bedroom set that I used to replace the original, and broken, plastic ones. And probably some other things that I'm forgetting at the moment.

Apple pen holder. I believe my father made one of these for my niece Clementine Swan, who is a high school history and English teacher. He has also made a special pen with a caduceus on it for my sister-in-law, who is a nurse.

Post-modern bowl.

Canadian pastry, eh?

A slightly gothic mid-century modern canister.


Harlequin-style wooden jars.


Rolling pin.

A wooden pencil box, made to resemble the wooden pencil box my father got when he was six and began grade one. He still has it.

The pencil box, opened. My father tells me triple-decker pencil boxes were a real status item back in the day. His was only a two-decker. He seems to be trying to assuage that childhood wistfulness by making triple-decker pencil cases for every child he knows.

A mod rolling pin.

Salt and pepper shakers.

Salt and pepper shakers one won't mix up.

Wooden dishes.

A southwestern-style jar.

Candy dishes.

A striped bowl.


Another hourglass.

Rolling pin.

Wooden bowl.

Wig stands. My father makes these to donate to a charity he knows of that gives them to cancer patients. My mother had a bout with breast cancer in 2014, but beautiful as these wig stands are, it was a relief to us all that she never had to have chemo and didn't need one of his wig stands.

Wine corks.

My father gave me this pen for Christmas 2019. It resides in the pen slot of my brown leather ARC planner that I take everywhere with me, and is the pen I use the most. I've bought numerous refills for it. 

In August 2021, I asked my father if he could make me a darning egg for Christmas. He said, "What's a darning egg?" He's lived with women who darn all his life -- first his mother, and then my mother -- but my grandmother used a dead lightbulb and my mother uses her hand, and he'd never seen nor heard of a darning egg. We looked at pictures of darning eggs online using my laptop, and I explained what I wanted, but when Christmas arrived there was no darning egg for me under the tree, as he'd forgotten all about it. I asked him if he could make me one for my birthday in August, and he said he would. Come June 2022, when I asked him about the status of the project, he'd forgotten about it again, and he asked me to send him some sketches or pictures, and measurements so he'd know what I wanted. I found some photos of darning eggs on the internet, printed them off, added some handwritten notes as to which style and size I wanted, and mailed them to him (he and my mother don't have a computer or cellphones). Once he had physical documentation to remind him, he didn't forget again, and he made me the above darning egg for my birthday. The handle is apricot wood cut from the apricot tree in my back garden. I've been giving him the wood I prune from the apricot tree in my backyard, and he loves working with it.   

Dad wanted to put a base on the darning egg handle so that it could sit upright and be displayed, and he made two prototypes to show me how it would look. I said I didn't want a base on the handle as that would make it awkward to use, and besides, I wasn't going to display the darning egg, but keep it in my workbasket. He got very pouty because I didn't like his idea, but he cut the base off one of the prototypes and finished it up for me, and it was just what I wanted. And, as I demonstrated to him, the egg *can* be stood up on one end and displayed if I should want to do that.