Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Very Last Dress

My grandniece Cauliflower turned 11 this August. I've been making her a dress every other year (on the alternate years she gets a sweater), and it occurred to me this year that this year's dress will likely be the last dress I can make for her. After puberty girls need their dresses fitted on them, and it isn't possible for me to do that given that I don't see her often. After this year she'll just get sweaters from me, and I felt this very last dress needed to be special. 

I had a particular tartan fabric on hand that I loved. I'd bought the fabric on impulse in 2015, something I try never to do these days, as I am making every effort to buy only what I need and did not and do not need a new dress, but again this was years ago, before I began to crack down on impulse buys, and I will say that the fabric was on clearance and very inexpensive (I paid under $10 for the 1.9 metre piece), and that I still love it. I wanted to make myself a dress out of the tartan, but I thought that if I picked out a dress pattern for Cauliflower that called for a trim or sections of contrast fabric, that I could squeeze that out of the piece too. 

Accordingly I searched for a suitable pattern for Cauliflower's dress, and found one in the McCall's M7680 pattern you see above. I could see option B working in navy with a deep hem of the tartan and perhaps a ruffle of it around the sleeve opening. I bought the pattern, and I bought a piece of navy crepe for the body of Cauliflower's dress, and I cut out my tartan dress first, cutting very strategically to make sure I'd have a sizable strip of the tartan left for Cauliflower's dress.  

Here is the finished dress. It's a size 12, and it actually fit on my dressmaker form after I adjusted the form to be as small as it will go. I'm fairly pleased with it. It looks plain and tailored, but then it's my understanding that Cauliflower likes plain, simple clothes best. And she's not a little girl anymore -- she may be wearing this dress until she's 13 -- and it shouldn't look like a little girl's dress. 

The sewing of it didn't go quite as smoothly as I hoped. The body and the strip of the tartan at the bottom went together without issue, but then I got to the sleeves. The sleeves were very wide and I didn't like that look (nor would I like the feel of it -- how does anyone tolerate all that extra fabric flapping around their wrists?), so I cut them down, using a sleeve pattern piece from one of my own dress patterns as a template. Then I made the sleeve ruffles I had planned, sewed them on, and got the dress finished... and hated it. It looked as though I'd stitched a scrunchy around each sleeve opening which -- in case this needs saying -- was not a good look. I seemed to hate those stupid ruffles more every time I looked at the dress. I began to try to figure out a way to fix it, and eventually came up with the idea of replacing the tartan ruffles with tartan cuffs. I had very little of the tartan left by this point, so I explored the idea thoroughly first to make sure it would work before I touched either the existing ruffles or made a single cut in the remnants of tartan. 

The credit for my eventual success with the cuffs belongs to my beloved Vogue Sewing Book, which had an array of cuff and other sleeve finishing options to offer me, as well as detailed instructions for how to sew each one. I selected a split detached cuff option and, following the directions in the book, made a paper pattern for the cuffs and then did a trial run of the cuff pattern with a piece of muslin. The muslin cuff I'd made from my pattern worked after just one slight adjustment. I ripped the ruffles off the dress and cut the cuffs out of the tartan (this took some fussing, but I managed to squeeze them in to the small pieces I had left), prepared them, used the muslin cuff as interfacing, and then stitched them in place on the sleeves.

I'm pretty pleased with how the cuffs turned out. They look more or less professional. Cauliflower's present will also include the bracelet you see here, which was something of a find as it goes so well with the dress. Although now I'm wishing I'd made her a necklace to go with the dress instead, as it needs a necklace much more than it does a bracelet. I could still make her one for Christmas, I suppose....


And, of course, there had to be a matching purse for the dress. The purse has a tartan lining, and I made the little ribbon rosette you see here out a strip of turquoise ribbon from my ribbon canister and a half-dozen beads from my beading supplies box. Looking at it now, though, I think maybe I should have just left it without the rosette. I also think the rosette might have looked better if it were red. I thought I didn't have any red ribbon hand, only to discover I did after the gift had been given to my parents to pass along to Cauliflower -- it was in a box of Christmas ribbons I had stowed away in the gift wrap tote in the line closet, sigh. If only I'd remembered I had it.

The purse looks pretty good with the dress. I wish the tartan showed to better advantage in these pictures -- they just don't do it justice.

This is Cauliflower's gift in its totality: the dress, purse, bracelet, and a copy of The Girl's Book of Adventure, which looks like it has loads of fun pandemic-friendly activities in it, and (not shown) two masks that I sewed for her. When I'd assembled these items and was photographing them, I thought, "That kid has it so good." When I was a child, my family lived on such a shoestring that we usually didn't get birthday presents. I didn't receive any gifts at all for my eleventh birthday; we just had a homemade chocolate cake with candles on it at supper that night. The photo above depicts what Cauliflower's getting from one of her great-aunts for her eleventh birthday -- she will also have received many more, and much more expensive presents from her parents, brother, and very large extended paternal and maternal families. 

So... it's perhaps not such a shame that this is probably the last dress I will make for her.

Monday, August 17, 2020

A Wise Gift

My mother has a thing for all things owl. As she says, "They're wise. And they have big eyes." When trying to plan or buy gifts for her, I keep an eye out for useful owl-themed stuff that she would like. Over the years I've given her owl cloth shopping bags, an owl brooch, an owl Christmas tree decoration, an iron owl trivet, an owl tea towel, owl potholders, and a little red owl kitchen timer (you twist the head around to set it). 

When I came across the Oswald Owl cushion cover pattern, designed by Martin Storey, that you see depicted above, I knew it would be just the thing to make for a gift for my mother. It's a relatively simple yet striking design, and it's cute in a polished, adult way.

Here is my version of Oswald Owl. I used Loops & Threads Impeccable in Putty and Walnut Tweed. I was trying to keep it neutral so that my mother could choose where to put it in her house, and while I was making it went through a stage of thinking I'd gone too far on the neutral front, that the colourway looked dull and ugly, but once it was done I didn't mind the look of it. 

The pattern says just to seam the cushion together on all four sides, but I think it's worth the extra effort to put zippers in cushion covers -- it makes washing the cushion so much easier. I would have preferred the zipper to be the main colour of the cushion, but I didn't have one that colour and did have a brown one the colour of the contrast yarn in my zipper box, so I went with it. The one I used was actually one I ripped out of a brown hoodie I made and then had to rip out and knit again as a pullover because a section of it felted -- zippers are tough and durable and it's a good frugal and green habit to salvage them from worn-out or damaged items. 

I think the brown zipper looks all right. It doesn't show when the cushion is standing upright anyway, and it will be standing upright most of the time. I used the zipper installation method I came up with in 2018: make two crochet chains out of the yarn, sew them to the zipper, then use the loops of the crochet chain to sew the zipper into the cushion. (There is an illustrated and more detailed explanation of this method in this post.) 

I sewed my own pillow form out of some leftover ivory linen fabric I had on hand. I find that if you have remnant fabric on hand to serve as ticking, it's slightly cheaper to make pillow forms than it is to buy them (and it takes less time to make one than it does to shop for one), and one can also make them to exactly the size and plumpness desired. 

This cushion was my Mother's Day present for this year (along with two masks and a tissue case), though it was presented in mid-August. My mother wasn't enthusiastic about the cushion, but she didn't seem to actually dislike it either, and with her, that's a win. My sister warned Mum to keep an eye on this cushion when my niece Peaches or my grandniece Cauliflower are visiting her house, as they love owls too and the pillow might mysteriously vanish around the time of their departure.    

Mask R' Aid

I'm embarrassed to say that, although I did practice social distancing religiously from the outset of the COVID19 pandemic, I was a late adopter when it came to mask-wearing. It wasn't until May 24, 2020 that I went, maskless, to Fabricland to buy supplies to make masks, and then when I was waiting in the queue to get in, word came back along the line that Fabricland was requiring masks. I had checked their website before I came, and it had said nothing about masks being required, and there I facing the Catch 22 of having spent the bus fare and an hour getting to the store to buy materials so I could sew masks to wear, only to find I couldn't get in because I didn't already have a mask. There were other maskless people in that line up. We were stymied and disgruntled for a minute or two... but only for a minute or two.

Remember, this wasn't just any store, or any kind of customer in line that day. This was a line up of freaking crafters who were ten feet away from an excellent selection of new sewing supplies, and nothing was going to break our stride. We had skills, we had some materials and supplies in our bags, we had each other, and we rose to the occasion. 

One woman who had a mask offered to do my shopping for me, but although I really appreciated her kind offer, I very much wanted to pick out my own purchases. Another took out some swatches of fabric from her bag and said maybe she could rip some of them into smaller pieces for other people to use as masks, and she began to try to do that.

I dug through my bag to see if I had anything that might serve as a mask, not because I had any real hope that I had anything in there, but more out of a desperate desire to be doing something that might help rather than simply stand uselessly in line. I found I had tissues in the little tissue case in the front pocket of my backpack. I took out two. All right, they could serve as the material for the mask. Now, how could I fasten the tissues to my face? 

I had a needlepoint kit that I'd brought with me to work on while I was on the bus. From that I took out two lengths of tapestry wool and my tapestry needle, and I was in business (and cackling with relief and triumph until everyone around me was laughing too). I threaded one length of tapestry wool through each side of the tissues, and there I was with a mask. Not a very durable or practical one perhaps (it didn't breathe well), but still a mask that got me through the door of Fabriclands without any complaint from the store associate who was working as doorkeeper, and served me for the duration of my shopping trip. And I loaned the little red-handled scissors that were in my needlepoint kit to the woman who was still vainly trying to rip her swatches, and she cut enough pieces from them to outfit the other maskless women in line. And then we all got to go in and shop.

I'll just say here that this isn't the first time I've noticed how kind and cooperative the atmosphere is at Fabricland, though this will probably be my all-time favourite anecdote about it. Time and time again I've received helpful advice from other shoppers at the cutting table when I was discussing something with the store associate, and it's also common for shoppers to ask each other about their project plans and admire each other's selections. 

There were so many women there that day buying 100% cotton fabric for masks. No wonder -- it's not like most people had masks just sitting around waiting for a global pandemic to occur. In the early days of the pandemic, people were mostly tying scarves or bandanas around their faces, which made the streets of Toronto look like some sort of Jesse James convention was in town. 

I was planning to make masks to sell, so I picked out a selection of eight fabrics and bought a metre of each, as well as some packets of 1/4" elastic (the store had set a per customer quota on elastic, and were sold out of the 1/8" and round elastics). Earlier that day I had bought a package of pipe cleaners from the dollar store, and the day before that I'd researched mask tutorials on the net and selected one.  

I sewed five masks for myself using this excellent tutorial, took the above sample shot of me modelling one of them (nature never intended me to be a model, but it was either me or my cat, so what could I do), and then I posted a sort of ad on my personal Facebook page, setting out my terms for making and selling masks, and inviting orders for them.


As of this writing, I have made 31 masks: 5 for me, 16 for sale, and 10 to give away to family. The ten you see depicted above are the ones I made for my family: two for my father, two for my mother, two for my sister, and two each for my grandniece and grandnephew. I haven't solicited any more orders after filling the first batch I got, because the masks didn't turn out to be a viable way of making a reasonable return for the effort. It takes me not much under an hour to make one mask (production time per item probably gets a little more efficient if I make them in batches), and I sell them for $10 each, out of which I have to pay for materials. The sales from those 16 masks paid for my supplies and left me $100 profit, so I'm not sorry I tried it, but the hourly wage works out to not much more than half of Ontario's minimum wage, and I need to reserve my very limited energy for better paying work than that. 

But that's crafting for dollars for you. It's very difficult to make things for money, because any reasonable hourly compensation for the maker almost always makes for a too-exorbitant price tag on the finished product. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Salmon, Olive, and Lime

This project came to be because I needed to use up the Loops & Threads Meandering Serpentine yarn I got in my stocking for Christmas 2019. I used up some of it making a sweater and matching tam for my honorary niece Olivia's Christmas 2020 present, but I still had 460 grams left. And that was more than enough to make a sweater for me.

I'm not thrilled with the look of the salmon colour of the yarn on me, but I thought it would be wearable if combined with a couple of greens. I had a 100 gram skein of lime green worsted yarn in my stash (which was bought so long ago I no longer know what brand it is), and all I'd have to do was purchase a single skein of olive green worsted. I searched Ravelry for a suitable tri-colour pattern and found the Vintersol design, by Jennifer Steingass, pictured above. It's really lovely. And then I purchased a skein of Red Heart Soft in Dark Leaf. It's an Aran, which wasn't an ideal combination for a worsted, but greens are tricky to coordinate, and that was the only skein Michaels had that was the right tone.

And here's the finished project. I knitted it almost exactly as directed, and just changed the shaping a little bit. The pattern called for the sweater to be wider through the hip section than in the chest area, but since I'm actually smaller through the hips than I am through the chest and don't need that extra width, I made the hip area of the sweater the same width as the chest. I'm still not taken with that salmon yarn, but it won't be right next to my face, and it's certainly a passable-looking sweater that will be fine (and probably nearly indestructible) for around home wear. I had to put an olive twill skirt with the sweater in this photo as I didn't have a skirt that would go with this sweater, but for actual swear I will pair it with the olive khakis I often wear around home in winter. 

This project used up all of the 100 gram lime green I had on hand, all of the olive green skein I bought, and 270 grams of the salmon, so that's a stash decrease of 370 grams. I still have 190 grams of the salmon left to use up. Oh well, I'm sure I can come up with another project plan for that. It is, after all, what I am so prone to do.