Tuesday, March 11, 2014

And now time for some... Quilting?

Now I'll be honest... quilting?  Is not usually my thing.  Or at least it wasn't, unless you count my Laura Ingalls/Cady Woodlawn/American Girl inspired obsession with pioneers and the American West that lasted approximately from 4-7 grade and which spawned many a doll-size patchwork monstrosity...  (I was so cool guys, so cool.) But other than that?  No, not so much a quilter.  I mean, why spend hours precision sewing straight lines when there are frivolous dresses to be made, corsets to be built, and jackets to be tailored? 
Plus as one who mostly (solely?) sews garments, I'm often a bit bitter at the array of colors and prints that are available in the quilting aisles... they draw me in with their amazing rainbow of jewel tones and perfectly coordinated pastels only to disappoint when you touch a cotton that is not only practically see-through but shockingly sandpaperesque to the touch.  With the advent of extensive online fabric stores and the move to a city with more on offer than just a JoAnns, this is a bit less of an issue, but still... I've been burned before.
Plus there is a bit of a snob factor... this idea that quilting falls under the umbrella of "crafting" and I'm not a "crafter."  "Crafters" are bored moms poorly recreating something they saw on Pinterest which was itself totally derivative.  Crafters make casseroles out of pre-packaged ingredients because Rachel Ray thought it was a good idea.  Crafters glue pom poms on Popsicle sticks and follow directions.  No, in my mind, I am an artist.  I am a designer.  I may use purchased patterns 85% of the time, but never mind that... in my minds eye I am a creative genius and a beacon of style and good taste...
And maybe a little bit (totally) deluded.
And actually? I love Pinterest and scrapbooks and activities involving glue guns.  And I'm from the Midwest... if you can hide the taste of frozen veggies with a can of Campbell soup, I'm a happy, happy girl!
So absurd pretensions thoroughly shattered, I embarked on that most classic of crafts, the quilt.  What inspired this project, you may ask?  Why it is because my cousin Kristin (who is amazing, FYI... doctor, former figure skater, living with her new husband in the world's most amazing Chicago apartment) is having a baby!  And I decided to make a baby quilt.
Upon making this decision, I could have behaved like a normal person and thought to myself, "Self, you don't know how to make a quilt.  Perhaps you should find some directions or buy a pattern or a book."  But that sort of self-awareness and good sense would be out of character.  Instead, I busted out a sketchbook and drew out what seemed to be an appropriate design for the situation and promptly hightailed it to the JoAnns to bring my dream to fruition. 

Why yes, that is the Chicago skyline... as a quilt.  Because goodness knows I couldn't make my first attempt a quilting something normal and based on right angles because that would be too easy. 

So, design decided upon and supplies obtained, I needed to figure out how to turn my fevered vision into a soft cotton reality.  Now I don't know how you are supposed to do these things but I figured a pattern was in order.  So I made a quilt size square of brown paper from old grocery bags, taped it to the mirror in the bedroom and sketched my Chicago skyline again, this time in full size.  (Full quilt size, not full Chicago size... that would be both ridiculous and expensive.  Plus the baby would get lost.)

For the lake I wanted to create random shapes in different shades of blue and white to mimic motion of water.  Again, I wasn't sure how to go about this, so I just started cutting out random bits of fabric and piecing them together until I had a piece a bit larger than the pattern I created.

After I assembled the water and the shore, I cut out my buildings one at a time.  I would cut each piece out of the paper pattern, cut out the fabric with a 1/4 inch seam allowance and I slowly started building my skyline.  


 After most of the skyline was assembled, I started in on the Sears Tower. (I know intellectually that it has a new name now, but I do not accept this so shush!)

So far, the face of the quilt looks like this:

Obviously there is still a lot of work to be done.  It needs to be pressed and quite a few of the buildings are as of yet unattached.  And that green one in the middle looks wonky.  It isn't actually that crooked but I do think the color is a little off and I may have to replace it.  Plus the sky?  Will be blue and white and gray and cloud-like, and not made of grocery bags.  But it's progress and not bad for two evenings of work on a first attempt I think.  
So what is the moral here?

Don't think practially! Just follow the guide of your fevered imagination!  If you take time to figure out how to do something you very well may talk yourself out of it so it's better to just jump right in! 

But, um... if someone has any thoughts as to the best way to do the actual quilting part, please let me know.  My original idea was to machine quilt by outlining the buildings and then free-form quilting the water and sky.  Now I'm a little uncertain.  So now that I've taken the plunge into a quilted Lake Michigan, is there anyone out there who can teach me to swim? 

Monday, March 10, 2014

On Shamrocks, nooks, and cleavage...

This is me... pretending not to notice my very handsome photographer.
Earlier today, I was enjoying my newly created "reading nook."  (And by "earlier today" I mean right now, as I'm typing.)  It's just a corner really, but it's amazing what an armchair, an ottoman, and some luxurious layered rugs can do!  (Why yes, I am posing reading the newest issues of Threads!) And you know what makes the perfect outfit for comfortable lounging?  Why a faux-wrap dress in a satiny soft rayon jersey, of course.  As comfortable as pajamas but you can wear it all day at work? Sign me up!

This simple dress was my project this past weekend.  This Butterick pattern by Chetta B has a wrap style top, flared skirt, and a wide obi inspired sash. 

The fabric I chose has a small kelly green clover print on a black background.  The wrong side of the fabric is all black so I was able to use the same fabric to create the bias binding.  The reversible quality of the fabric also helped make the sash look more finished when tied without having to line it. 
I did make a few alterations to the original pattern.  First, I eliminated the zipper.  Honestly, doesn't a zipper sort of defeat the point of an easy-wear jersey dress?  I really do not understand the Big Four pattern companies love of putting zippers in knit dress patterns.  Second, I didn't attach the sash as directed, but simply finished it with the black bias binding and tied it on.  It not only stayed put, but I think it makes the dress more versatile as I could also pair the dress with a purchased belt or wear unbelted for a looser, more casual look (maybe with boots and a long sweater? hmm...)  Finally I added the contrast bias trim to the sleeves as well.  Honestly, I think it creates a cleaner and more finished look, particularly on the short, almost capped, sleeve.
Generally, I found this pattern to be pretty great.  The proportions are good, the skirt was long enough without adding significant extra length (I think I only added about 2 inches, but I don't really know as I eyeballed it),  and the few hours it took to make this dress is completely worth it for a classic dress that can be worn in all seasons. 
That said, it runs BIG.  Right now, my measurements put me anywhere from a 16 to a 22 based on the back of the envelope.  Given that this is a knit and the jersey I chose has considerable stretch, I cut an 18.  Once the body of the dress was assembled, I tried on the whole kit and caboodle and it was, frankly, enormous.  I ended up taking in the side seams at the waist by two inches on each side.  After wearing it today, I'll probably throw it in the wash to make sure there is no additional shrinkage and take in the side seams a bit more, particularly as I think that will make the bust gap open a bit less...
Which brings me to my other criticism of this dress... it is pretty low cut.  Now I have a relatively high tolerance for low cut. I figure that as a busty gal, my bras are almost all "full coverage" so if the entire bra is covered I consider myself work appropriate.  Now this may just be a rationalization to make up for the fact that as one who can manage to have cleavage in a crew neck (this is only a slight exaggeration) the girls are never work appropriate so, well... screw it.  Point being, if you care about silly things like modesty, decency, and the prevention of so-called "wardrobe malfunctions" you may want to either raise the neckline ever so slightly or find yourself a cami. 
Overall though, I have to say I'm pretty pleased.  Plus, now I have something to wear next week for St. Patrick's Day!  Not that I have any plans for March 17th.  While I love any holiday that lends itself to themed dressing, I am getting too old to deal with half dressed, drunken teenagers whose neglectful and delinquent parents I spend the day judging.  You know you are an old lady when a day of harmless debauchery ends with your threatening to call the truant officer.  No, instead I will simply wear this dress (which for one day only shall be dubbed "the shamrock dress") and raise a pint to the holiday... after all, there is a nook with my name on it!