Let the Learning Begin

Workshops.  Hmmmm.  

I am heading off to Oregon next week to spend almost a week working with Diane Ericson and Holly Badgely.  I have been wanting to do a "Design Outside the Lines" Retreat with Diane forever, or at least for as long as she has been doing them.  

One of the things that Diane suggested was to think about our 'intentions' for this time together.  How do I want to use this retreat time to further my design work?  It's an interesting question.  

I love learning new stuff and getting to spend time in other designers' heads.  Adding tools to my toolbox, getting immersed in inspiration...but I never seem to totally give myself over to the process.  I get myself all wound up in the product.  I put pressure on myself to make something, to finish it. Often I go home from a great workshop with a product that I don't like and consequently, I end up not doing anything with the technique or inspiration.

So, my 'intention' for my week in Ashland is to "be present in the process."  I want to forget that there might be a finished product at some point and simply spend time up to my ears in the process.  I am looking forward to seeing what happens.

OK, but...one of the things in the 'supply list' for the retreat, is "Dress to express yourself.  Wear your fun stuff!"  When I read that, first I got excited about the idea of wearing fun, creative clothes in a place where they would be understood and appreciated, but right behind that thought was total panic....Aaarrggg...I have to wear fun stuff!!!!!  

I started rummaging around to come up with my fun clothes.  Not the right season, can't paint in that, that's old, how many days am I going to be there?  Do I need something different everyday?  I better start making some stuff!!!  I pulled out the boxes and the patterns and started making piles.  Draping my dress from, making a shopping list for the 'fill in' bits and pieces to complete a garment or an outfit.  Making a list and a time line to get all these wonderfully creative, fun garments made in time for my trip.  I even figured that I could ship a box of stuff to the workshop so I wouldn't have to pack an extra suitcase...  

Isn't this the start of a really fun vest?

...and check this out...it will be a gorgeous top with the fun vest....

WHOA!  Wait a doggone minute!!!!  Wasn't my intention to "be present in the process?"  To see what happens?  To not be worrying about an outcome or a finished product?  I guess with any change of habit you have to expect a few falls off the wagon.

I put the boxes away, realizing that when I work I am most comfortable in something I can pull on and off dozens of times, something that sits and stands and sits and stands all day, something that feels soft and cozy, basically, my Smartwool pullovers and my fleece yoga pants!  Not particularly 'creative' or 'fun' but easy to pack, and comfy to work in.

When I took the pressure off myself to produce an entire week's worth of entertaining clothing I felt so much happier.  I realized that there was one tunic that I really would like to make and if it happened to turn out 'fun' it could make the trip to Oregon, if not, Smartwool and fleece would be perfect.

Here's the tunic.  It's a version of a Katherine Tilton pattern Vogue 8817 (see photo at the top of this page) that I have made before with mixed results.  When I made my trial balloon this time I decided on these changes:

  • move the bust line down an inch to get it in the same place as my bust line
  • taper the side seams from the underarm to the waist line to give more definition to my waist
  • when I cut the trial balloon I didn't have two full lengths of fabric so I 'cut off' the A-line shape of the side seams figuring I would add it back in the 'real' fabric version, nice surprise, I liked the cut off version better, so did that with side slits.
The main fabric is a soft, rayon jersey, the yoke and sleeves are a combination of stretch lace and two different cotton jerseys.  I added some lace patches to the main fabric for a bit of extra 'fun.' I layered tissue paper as a stabilizer, the main fabric,  and the lace patch.  I did a zig-zag stitch around the lace from the top, cut away the main fabric behind the lace and trimmed the lace on the top close to the stitching.  

As I pack my new fun tunic and my Smartwool, I am feeling more confident about my intention to 'be in the process.'  Realizing that I can be aware enough to 'pull myself back from the edge' is empowering.  This workshop is already teaching me new stuff.  I'll let you know what else I learn when I return from the Northwest, with or without a finished product!


Time for Tea

I mentioned in an earlier post that I am "practicing being retired."  I say it that way because it is a process, not an event or a point in time.  Some days it's all good and others I feel a bit lost.  If you have done it you know what I'm talking about.  It makes sense, but for some reason I wasn't expecting it to be like that.  I was hoping for a smooth transition.  Today I'm a working stiff, tomorrow a retiree, wheee!  ...not so much.

In January of this year I stopped going into work everyday.  That was the easy part.  January 2 is where it got weird.   I have been 'going to work' in some fashion for my entire adult life, so doing whatever I want, whenever I want for as long as I want is a daunting idea to wrestle with everyday.  Time for myself has always been an afternoon "hiding out" in my workroom or surrendering to a hot bath, little luxurious moments that felt a bit guilty.  "What do I want to do?" has become a much bigger question and caused much roaring and gnashing of teeth as I move into this new life phase.

Taking my time, being gentle with myself, drinking tea...a lot...are part of what I am learning and practicing.  My new teapot has become kind of a symbol of this new way of being.  

Did I mention how much I love my new teapot?!  

I realized that a quick cup of tea before running off to the next meeting was not how my days were going anymore.  I make my tea and actually get to drink it and be around when it gets cold, which requires a few rounds in the microwave and another dunk of the tea bag.  My cup seemed to be spending a lot of time going in and out of the microwave.  I have also discovered a lovely loose tea from my local tea shop that requires an actual infusing device so refreshing the cup is a bit more involved than just a couple more 'dunks.'  My tea, like me, has become more of an evolving process, it takes more consideration, more time and care...and here is where my new teapot comes into the picture.

First of all it holds at least four cups of tea, enough for an entire morning (and maybe some of the afternoon before I have to stop caffeinating for the day!)  Inside it has a real honest to goodness olde timey glass thermos, like my grandad had in his lunch box.  It keeps my four cups of tea piping hot without a single trip to the microwave.  As for the brewing part of the process, it has a skinny basket like infuser that fits neatly into the pot with the lid on so I can steep my loose tea as long as I like.  AND, it's chubby and green and cute as a button!!!  It makes me smile!

I don't have many daily 'rituals' at this point...I'm not even sure I want them...but taking time with my tea, brewing real loose leaves, enjoying the whole pot nice and hot throughout my morning feels a bit luxurious...and not a bit guilty!


A Little Sampling

I am so pleased!  I actually finished one of the projects in my Spring 2016 line up!  (and it's only April 4!)  

I really didn't need to hurry up too much since this was the view out my window this past weekend!  Yeah!  April Fools!  If you look closely you can see my poor daffodils with little snow caps!   So I hunkered down in my workroom and when it does get warmer, I will have at least one new piece of my spring wardrobe waiting.

I used a gray Ibex ribbed wool knit to make a sweater/jacket.  It is a really nice, soft knit with a lot of stretch, but holds it's shape well.  I got it at my favorite local fabric store Fabrications  They got a bunch of Ibex mill ends last year that are wonderful and washable!  The color is one of my closet basics and will work with lots of stuff.  Even in the middle of the summer I need a sweater or a jacket or something to put on when I go INSIDE, because the air-conditioning is always way too cold for me.

I love working with and wearing knits.  But every one is different.  Some stable with barely any give, others loose and super stretchy, thick, drapey, all over the map.  And that is why the first thing I do when I start a new project with a knit fabric is make tons of samples! (I love samples!  The little tastes you get at the grocery store, little jars of face cream, movie trailers, wine tastings, oh yeah...)

I can spend a whole day just trying different stitch lengths or seam finishes or hem treatments...I have to be careful not to use up too much of my yardage on the samples and end up shorting myself on the actual garment!  Even an edge finish that I have used a hundred times will turn out differently on different fabrics.  

Here are a few of the things I learned from my Ibex wool samples...  
  • What serger settings I needed to use so I didn't get that ruffly edge thing 
  • What thread color I liked for top stitching
  • Whether I liked top stitching!
  • How much smaller to cut neck ribbing so it would lay flat.
  • Whether I wanted to use the raw edge of the knit.
  • What width of ribbing I wanted to use
  • How to finish the center fronts
I'm not even sure if I ultimately used any of these, but I always learn something from my samples.

The other idea I wanted to incorporate was  Petersham ribbon.  I had a piece of ribbon that was a perfect match and it had to go on the jacket somewhere.  Here are some of the thoughts I had about that...
  • Use is as a button placket
  • Trim the hems
  • Some kind of belt
  • Pocket edges 
  • Neck facings

And of course, I made a "Trial Balloon" of the pattern to check fit etc.  (I needed to cut the neck opening smaller!  Good catch!)

It's a wonder that I ever get anything done with all the trial and error and sampling going on!

Ta-da!   The finished product.  I decided not to use the raw edges.  The wool didn't curl at all when it was cut so the raw edge just stuck up and looked naked. I like the much-narrower -than-my-samples choice on the neckband.  I found some snaps that were the exact shade of gray, so no buttons. (and no buttonholes in stretchy knit, whew)

 I used the ribbons (1" and 5/8") to make a casing and tie on the back at the waist.  I love the little bit of shaping it gives the boxy shape of the jacket.  

Pretty happy with the results.  
For those of you who don't know me, the jacket is not extra short, my arms are extra long!  Yes I have orangutan arms!  The proportions may seem off a bit to 'normal limbed' folk.
Baby orangutans at the sanctuary we visited on Borneo.


A Different Kind of "Boxing Day"

The changing of the season means the wool sweaters go into hibernation and the linen shorts and sundresses reappear in the wardrobe line up.  Boots to the back of the closet, sandals center front.  Down coats get swapped out for rain jackets and everything lightens up.  

Spring is also the time in my workroom for the "swapping of the boxes."  (I'm going to have to come up with a much more glamorous term...)  I keep my 'inventory' in plastic tote boxes.  The cotton knits in one, the wool in another, you get the drift.  In the Spring and the Fall I fold and replace any of the out going season's projects that didn't make it to the cutting table and gather the upcoming season's possibilities from the totes.  I love this ritual.  It's as much a part of Spring and Fall for me as daffodils and apple picking.  

It would probably make sense to do it in February so I might have a spring project ready when April rolls around, but somehow getting the linens out in the dead of winter just seems wrong.  So when the time changes so do the fabrics in my workroom.

The fabrics tend to collect themselves into groupings either by color or for a series of garments that will work as a 'capsule wardrobe.'  (I've been doing this for years and just recently realized that I was making 'capsule wardrobes,' I feel so on trend).  I also gather together notions and patterns that might work.  I have often found an inspirational photo or two from the enormous volume of catalogs that show up in my mailbox that also get added to the pile.  Or sketches that I have been making in my journal waiting for the new season.

Whatever I might have had in mind when I purchased a particular fabric has long since been forgotten and any 'coordinating' fabric was probably sewn into something else years before. But that is the beauty of the 'swapping of the boxes,' each new season that rolls around brings a whole new gang of possibilities with it!  New combinations happen, old fabrics become new in the light of a current style trend, forgotten pieces are like old friends turning up and surprising me.

So....ready for the spring 2016 sewing season....fresh from the plastic tote inventory....This year's contenders....

Pile number 1:  

  • Grey light weight cotton jersey(which is hard to see under the khaki jersey) the two may end up in a layered and embroidered t-shirty thing 
  • Brown plaid and striped jersey, another summer top that's been percolating for a while
  • Charcoal rib knit that is thinking about becoming a jacket of some sort using the Petersham trim somehow
  • Khaki linen that is destined for shorts or a skirt
  • Hale Bob border print silk with grey challis, still pondering...
  • Variegated yarn (in the works as a cool bias knit tank top, should be finished shortly!)
  • Wool yarn probably a longish cardigan at some point.  

Pile number 2: This one started to support the knitted tank top in the upper right hand corner of the photo

  • Tan and light grey double sided gauze with a really cool selvage (under the buttons), the stuff feels like a cloud!  
  • A light grey linen tablecloth that I found at Marshall's that will never see a table!  
  • White linen print that looks good in the pile, but hasn't decide on a garment yet
  • Cool cotton lace???  
  • And the khaki linen, a carry-over from Pile 1!

...And the inspiration for some of the ideas....

I hope you realize that these piles are the ultimate 'pipe dreams.'  I never (EVER) get all of the stuff sewn in a season!  But making the piles is almost as much fun as sewing the clothes, and if they don't happen, they have a chance for a starring role in next season's line up!

Happy Boxing Day!