Monday, January 08, 2018

Big changes

This is the state of my sewing at the moment - an almost finished Burda top (#121 from 9/2010), a sewing repair to my husband's sleep pants, and a growing mess.

The growing mess is because I'm moving soon. Our European adventure is going to end and we're about to start a new one back in the U.S., which I'm happy about because it means a really great job for me. Of course this will mean less time to spend on all my hobbies, but this job will be worth it and was an opportunity that would probably not come around again. 

I hope to finish the top and the repair but other than that I don't think I should start any other sewing projects and should instead focus on getting stuff ready to move. We will have our stuff packed for us, but not all of it will be going back to the U.S. - like most of the IKEA furniture we bought to furnish our apartment here - so I have a lot of work to do to sell/donate/throw away. And we'll have a house hunting trip in a few weeks and some final trips in Europe to do. Busy, busy busy times! 

One project I am working on is to finish weaving a scarf that I had started just before I knew leaving was a real possibility. I blogged about it earlier

The scarf looks really complicated and it sort of is. First, I did not design this, so the really hard work was done for me. The scarf is from the book Next Steps in Weaving by Pattie Graver. Still, this is the most complicated weaving project I've done so far. But it's like following a recipe, where the ingredients and their amounts are already determined and you just need to apply your skill at working with them.

I had lots of time to knit in December because I flew from Germany to California for an in-person interview right before Christmas, and we made two trips to our place in the French alps (which we are keeping and will be our destination for most, if not all, of our vacations). 

First, a shout out to Wollhaus in Pasadena, California. With the evening free after my interview was over, I of course sought out a yarn shop. I was warmly greeted right away and invited to join their knit night, which I did. I immediately felt at home. This may very well be my new LYS and as a bonus, one of the owners is Austrian and can help me translate all those German knitting magazines I accumulated!

Here's a finished project:

Socks for my husband

Works in progress:
More socks!

I'll leave you with a picture from our recent snow shoeing fun:

Click to biggify!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The sad state of ready-to-wear

A few days ago I bought a suit for a job interview I have next week. I wish I had the sewing experience and non-procrastination-ness (yeah, had to make up that word) to actually make a nice suit. I did shorten the hem on the pants though.

I did not enjoy the shopping experience. I knew getting both the pants and the jacket to fit off the rack would be a challenge. One problem I had was that I am between sizes in jackets, or more accurately I am a different size in the shoulders than my waist and hips. If the jacket fit in the shoulders, it wouldn't button and if it buttoned, then the jacket looked big in the chest and drooped off my shoulders. This was when I realized that the jackets seemed to lack any real structure. The jackets were lined and had shoulder pads, but overall the jackets felt skimpy and the collars were lumpy and bumpy.

All these jackets were in a department store that carried many different labels and they ranged in price from $80 to $160. I wandered over to the expensive part of the store, where they have Hugo Boss, thinking maybe a higher price would mean higher quality. Jackets there were $450 and up, which after adding another $200 for pants made for a pricey interview suit I might only wear a few more times. In hindsight I should have tried some on anyway and looked at the quality. Maybe I will on a later shopping trip but on that day I was goal-oriented and didn't want to be enticed by a $700 suit.

I searched the rest of the store again and miraculously I managed to find pants ($100) and a jacket ($160) that fit, at least well enough to look presentable for my interview. I could tell the jacket had more structure in the upper chest and shoulders and that made the larger size I chose (so that it buttoned) look OK in the shoulders and not like I was wearing a jacket that was too big.

A long, long time ago, early in my working career, I wore a lot of Liz Claiborne and Jones New York. I remember pants were about $80-90, blouses $60-70, and jackets (blazers) were about $130. I don't remember that being very expensive - it was what the department stores offered as "career wear." How is it that today, nearly 30 years later, the prices in similar clothing lines are not much more?

At some point I stopped needing to buy "career wear." I returned to school to get a master's degree and then casual Friday became casual Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Though I still liked to wear dressier pants to work instead of jeans and blouses instead of t-shirts, I began buying separates and, more importantly, started sewing my own clothes, so I guess I didn't notice that the prices weren't going up.

If the price to the consumer was staying the same, or in some cases even decreasing, then something in the equation had to change. Pants stopped being lined. Jackets lost some tailoring. Fabrics got thinner. Labor was moved to places where they could pay very little, like Bangladesh, where my new suit was made. The quality of the sewing in my suit is actually quite good, but the material quality is not. I've also noticed that unless you go to a major city, many department stores no longer carry clothes at a higher price point. The public wants to keep paying the same amount (or less!), which means cheap clothing and now that's the only thing available. 

Since I'm in Germany and have different clothing lines, I just looked online to see if Liz Clairborne is still around. Well they are, but I wouldn't recognize it. The clothing is much cheaper than 30 years ago but nowhere near the look or, I assume, quality it once was. Jones New York looks to be targeting the same demographic they used to but the clothes are at the same prices as 30 years ago. So I'm going to guess that the quality won't be the same and the labels will indicate that they're sewn in some place like Bangladesh.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Paris day trip: Dior and fabric shopping

When I heard that the Christian Dior exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris was not to be missed and was ending in early January of 2018, I decided that I should go! Now! I can get to Paris in 3 1/2 hours so I decided a day-trip was in order. 

I arrived in Paris about two hours before my timed-ticket entry of noon. Originally I'd planned to walk from the train station and stop at a fabric store or two along the way but it was freezing cold outside, so I took the metro. I thought it was still too early to go to the museum so after a pastry and coffee I checked out a nearby ribbon shop called Mokuba. They have an incredible selection of ribbon but since I didn't have any need for any at the moment I just browsed. I also peeked in the window of Kaetsu , another fabric shop I'd read about, but it wasn't open until noon. It turns out it's not so much of a fabric shop as a boutique that makes bags and other accessories out of Japanese fabric. They may also sell some of the fabric, but I couldn't tell - it was a really tiny store too.

By now it was time to make my way over to the museum. It was about 11:30 am but I probably should have gone over there earlier because there was a huge line outside - and these were all people with 12:00 tickets. It was cold but fortunately not raining so I waited with everyone else and watched as more and more people arrived. As you might expect, the majority of the crowd were female and many were "fashionably French" but others were pushing my fashion envelope for sure. I didn't get any photos because I didn't want to be rude, but my favorite look was an older woman wearing a knee-length bright green fur coat, red tights and purple shoes - or maybe it was purple tights and red shoes, I can't remember but she definitely stood out.

Waiting, waiting, waiting...
I finally made it inside around 15-20 minutes past twelve. I followed the crowd and headed straight for the exhibit, unfortunately forgetting to check my winter coat, and I wasn't alone in this as I saw most everyone else wearing their coats. As often happens in these large, popular exhibits, the early rooms were very congested while people tried to read and observe every little thing, afraid to move on and miss something. I was pushed by people more than once and bumped countless times and bulky coats certainly didn't help! In one very crowded room a museum worker periodically instructed people to keep moving.

I didn't really know much about Dior except for his infamous "New Look", the change in fashion that he initiated in the post-war 40's. The first room contained a lot of historical information and pictures but unfortunately it was so jammed with people I felt claustrophobic while trying reading anything so I moved on. I looked up information about Christian Dior afterwards and was surprised to learn that he died quite young, at 52, in 1957. Now I understand why so many of the clothes were labeled "Christian Dior" followed by "John Galliano" or "Yves Saint Laurent" or "Mark Bohan." These were some of the creative directors who took over the House of Dior after Christian's death. This exhibit represents the bulk of the Dior creations over many, many years and not just from Christian Dior himself. And what an exhibit it is!

I took lots of pictures with my phone and have put together an album of them, which you can view farther down in this post. My favorite exhibit was one that showcased groupings by color of Dior clothes - full size and in miniature (which I adored!), hats, shoes, jewelry, perfume and artwork.

Another favorite room was one that focused on the floral pieces. The ceiling was decorated with paper cutout flowers and leaves and it was just beautiful.

Another room showed the pieces in muslin (toile) form, filling the room vertically, which was an elegant way to showcase them. I would have loved to have been able to see the dresses closer up to see the design elements.

Towards the end of the exhibit was a room that looked like a grand ballroom and it fittingly contained ballgowns, including one worn by Princess Diana. So many lovely gowns!

I wish I could have spent my time admiring and studying each piece but that was impossible not just because it was crowded but because there was so much to see. I spent about two hours there and was exhausted afterwards.

Christian Dior, couturier du rêve
Click in the middle to view in flickr or click the arrows to view here

After the exhibit and lunch, I took the metro to visit another fabric store I'd read about. Mahlia Kent is a weaving studio that supplies woven fabrics for designers and also sells yardage or sample pieces. They're located in a very cool space built under a railway bridge that has been re-purposed into studios and retail shops with a landscaped walkway above, known as the Coulée verte René-Dumont. 

I browsed a bit through the small sample pieces, which could be used for small bags or combined into larger pieces, but there were so many that it made my head spin. I was more attracted to the cones of yarn on their shelves that were also for sale - these are probably leftover yarns from their weaving. I bought four small cones of yarn to play with on my loom. Had I not been limited by what I could easily carry and not planning to shop more, I might have bought more!

My next stop was Anna Ka Bazaar, another fabric shop I'd read about but had never visited and located in a trendy looking area a short walk from the Coulée. It's a nice little shop but not really my aesthetic. At first glance it looked more like a "twee" craft shop with glass jars of color-coordinated ribbons and buttons, but then I saw that they also stock yarn, patterns and fabric. It looked like they'd just gotten a shipment of printed cotton knits, which I liked but not enough for the price they wanted. 

With two more hours until my train, I dashed to the metro in the rain and rode it to my usual fabric shopping mecca in Montmartre, home of Tissus Reine and Marché Saint-Pierre Dreyfus and many little "coupon" shops that sell pre-cut pieces of fabrics. I browsed and browsed as much as I could in the time I had left, but there wasn't any fabric that I felt I needed to buy. There was a small leather and animal skin shop with some nice pieces but I couldn't come up with a project to justify buying anything. Well, actually I could think of many projects but my list is long enough already.

It was a great day! Long and exhausting and it rained off and on, but still a really great day. 

Friday, December 01, 2017

Making scarves

I finished the two scarves and have now warped my loom for another scarf project.



The next weaving project is from the book Next Steps in Weaving. It's my most complicated project yet, but that's the point of the book, to help you advance beyond simple weaving. This one is called "Scarf of Lucky Colors" because the author found that this color combination was her best-seller. I liked the colors and decided to use the same ones, as well as the yarn called for. Having all the calculations done - how much yarn to warp in each color and how much you need for weft - makes the project easier. Threading the heddles was the most difficult part, but I think I did it correctly. Now on to the weaving!

I'm also trying to make time for some sewing. I bought some fabric to make the "knock-off" top from my last post but may make a simpler version instead so that I actually make something instead of just planning it forever.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A knock-off project (?)

On a recent shopping trip I tried on a top that I liked but it was a little small and I didn't like the way the vertical stripe in the plaid wasn't exactly centered. I didn't find this top in a larger size and suspect that it would probably be too big in my shoulders anyway. But I can sew! I can make one to fit me, and if I make it in a plaid or stripe, I will make sure it lines up.

Dressing room picture
I like the side panels, the 3/4 length sleeves, the curved hem, and the dart. I wasn't sure whether the collar was supposed to be folded over or unfolded and floppy like I'm wearing it.

Side panel on the bias

I saw a lot of these boxy little tops on the racks, so they seem to be very "in" right now. I think this one I tried on could be suitable for work when worn with black or gray pants. It's a polyester/rayon mix with a little lycra. The other tops I see are made in textured knits and seem more casual but not "sloppy", so they could be work suitable too. Perhaps the "sweatshirt chic" of a few years ago has evolved a bit.

I scoured my vast pattern collection and although I didn't find an exact match, I found some Burdastyle patterns that are close and could work as a base:

And then these patterns would give me a similar look also:

Note that the pink/gray top is from the August 2017 issue - Burda is often "spot-on" with the latest trends.

So now I just have to make it, right? I think I might make the black one from the 9/2012 or the pink/gray one from the 8/2017 issue first - or maybe even instead of the knock-off.

Oh and I found two patterns in Knipmode that would work, but would you believe that out of all the Knipmode magazines I have, which is nearly every month since 2015, the two tops are in the two issues I don't have, and they're not patterns that are available for download from their website. Go figure. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Wearing the purple paisley

Thought I'd show a picture of me wearing the purple paisley top I made this summer. I wore it during a trip to Barcelona a few weeks ago, and it was perfect for the temperature and "vibe" of the city.

We're headed back to Spain for a weekend in Seville and Cordoba, and this top is going with me again!

Monday, November 06, 2017

More weaving and more travel

The houndstooth scarf is off the loom and ready to be finished, which means twisting the fringe and washing it so that the fibers fluff a bit and lock together. And seeing as how I hate finishing things (lol), I decided instead to warp the loom for a new project.

Another scarf!
It's another scarf but this time I'm doing a simpler, plain weave. The yarn is a hand-dyed 50/50 merino/tencel blend from Maple Creek Farms (I don't think they're dying or selling yarn anymore, but I could be wrong). I opted for a plain weave because I wanted the yarn to stand on its own, but I sort of wish I had done a twill instead because twill makes a more fluid fabric. But maybe it will soften up more after I wet-finish it.

If you're still interested in my travels (or if you ever were!), here are days 5 through 7:

Day 5: Grotte de Niaux

I've been very fortunate to be able to travel and see incredible sites and works of art in person. But I'm of course not the only one who'd like to see these things. Often crowds can make the experience less than ideal, and sometimes the very presence of tourists causes irreparable damage and the sites have to be limited or closed entirely to the public. Such is the case for seeing prehistoric cave art in France and Spain. The Lascaux caves are perhaps the most famous for cave art in France. Discovered in 1940 they were opened to the public in 1948 and closed in 1963 because the paintings suffered damage due to carbon dioxide, heat, humidity and other contaminants. An exact copy of the caves was opened nearby in 1983 for tourists to visit instead.

One cave that is still open to the public is Grotte de Niaux, in the southern Pyrenees. It's about an hour and a half north of Andorra La Vella, so we were able to time our arrival for the one English tour of the day (you must book tickets in advance). The group is limited to 25 people and you walk single file in the dark with a flashlight through the cave for a 1/2 mile to get to the Black Room (Salon Noir). The rest of the cave is off limits or inaccessible. There are some paintings along the route that the tour guide stopped and pointed out but the final Black Room contains the best ones. Not many, but still pretty incredible to see something painted by humans about 12,000 to 15,000 years ago. Of course you can't take photos inside, but there is a display outside the cave (in French) that shows some of the drawings.

Schematic of the cave
Look at that face on the bison! 

The location was beautiful!

Day 6: San Sebastian, Spain

The ocean! We arrived in San Sebastian late so didn't get out to explore until the next morning. The rain didn't deter us, it just made for a gray day. After a long day of driving, we planned to relax and enjoy the sites and scenery. We strolled through the old town, ate some tapas, had a beer in the old bullfighting ring while multiple rain showers passed through, and I found a yarn shop and bought some Spanish yarn

September weather wasn't exactly beach weather

Some people ventured into the water. Our hotel was on the top of the hill!

Lots of information and things you can't do on the beach...including Olympics???

The old town with the steeple of San Sebastian Cathedral in the distance

Mid-day siesta in the old bullfighting square

The view from the hotel at night

Reminds me of the California coast
Panorama - (click to view larger)

Day 7: Dune du Pilat

Since the drive from San Sebastian to Bordeaux was not too long, we took a detour to visit the tallest sand dune in Europe. It was a beautiful day and fortunately not too hot. If you ever go here, be prepared for the elements! It's a steep walk up to the top.

Plastic stairs help you with the ascent.

Just sand and forest, into which the dune is encroaching

What a view from the top!
Having spent many summers at the New Jersey shore, I wanted to put my feet in the ocean from this side of the Atlantic.

It doesn't look that far to the water!

Made it!

And then we had to walk back up. It's less steep on the ocean side due to the way the winds deposit the sand, but it was still a good workout.

So my next and last travel post (until the next trip) will highlight our visit to Bordeaux and then the drive back to Châtel with a couple stops along the way.