Thursday, May 5, 2016

Sew busy....

My blog writing has suffered these past couple of months. It's times like this that I begin to question my propensity toward over-commitment....too many balls in the air? The problem is that I love everything I'm doing. We over-achievers are like that, thinking we can do it all, have it all.

Can we?  You tell me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"Celeste" - The Jacket, Part 2

I remember when I used to make a wedding gown, I would ponder for days, even weeks, before I would actually cut a thread of an expensive satin or lace.  I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about the pattern, the order of assembly, a particular technique that I would need to use. Hours of planning, mentally obsessing about the gown...and then one day I would just jump in and start cutting.

Making a couture jacket has been no different for me. It has been hard to get it out of my head these past two months, and yet I had not moved forward to take the first steps. Fear? Not really. It's just that the techniques for Claire Schaeffer's Chanel-styled jacket are polar opposite to the way that I have learned to sew. Daunting is perhaps a better word.

In every couture garment process the making of a muslin is absolutely essential.  And since I have made many a muslin for myself and FabricLady, it was a breeze to use the pattern in a traditional way. And so began "Celeste" - made of humble muslin fabric, all to check the pattern for fit, BEFORE I actually cut in her wool.

I cut the pattern pieces exactly as they were designed for my "size". Patterns have changed over the years...I used to be a perfect 12, but these days, I need a Vogue 16 to fit my busty size. I then sewed it together in the traditional manner: princess seams, side and shoulder seams, then sleeves.

The jacket was still a little small around the bust.  I discovered that the side panel under the sleeve was designed to be smaller than I would have normally done - the seams on the three-piece sleeves should match the seams on the jacket under the arm, and they didn't. So to alter the jacket around the bust line, I just made the side panel wider to match the sleeve seams.  Voila! It fit!

I dismantled the whole muslin thinking I would use it for my final pattern pieces and there it sat for several weeks. I again lay awake nights trying to figure out how I was going to transfer all those markings to my fabrics.  Muslin is not transparent (duh!). After some research on various marking techniques, I decided on tracing paper - it's a little more sturdy than pattern tissue. So finally, after weeks of brain drain I was ready to begin Celeste.

The tracing paper pattern pieces have all the 5/8" seam allowances removed, as described in Ms. Schaeffer's technique. (Don't forget that you have to get her book if you want to sew your jacket using her couture techniques, as the Vogue Pattern instructions describe the traditional assembly process.)

And something else I'm not used to doing when I start a garment - cutting ONE section at a time, rather than cutting out ALL the pieces, all the linings and interfacing in one sitting.  I started with the jackets fronts...just because Ms. S. does so in her book.

I cut my large rectangles of wool and silk organza and then settled into a make shift table top in my comfy easy chair by the window, where I had envisioned myself doing all that intricate hand sewing. I used a couple of different colors of thread to do my markings. (I eventually scrapped the recommended white thread as I could barely see it.)

After thread marking of the entire parameter of the jacket front, I marked and hand stitched the organza interfacing to the wool and basted the quilting lines. I then machine sewed the quilting line, using a 4mm running stitch. (Remember that I had checked out the quilting lines in the real Chanel RTW jackets in the Nieman's Chanel salon and found they were done with a machine, rather than hand stitched) So I guess Celeste won't be considered "Haute Couture", as her fabric has been touched with a machine presser foot and needle.  Oh well.

The final quilting line is hard to see, but that's the point.  It's just meant to help the jacket hold it's shape better and keep the fabric from pulling away from the lining - not be a design element.

I spent a little over four hours on Celeste yesterday, largely because I thread traced on side of the jacket in the same direction as the other side - whoopsie - the two fronts should be a mirror image! At any rate, it was great to actually get in there and start sewing.  I'll be finishing the two fronts, marking the button holes, adding some stay tape, and maybe even starting the hand sewn buttonholes.

Until then.

Laurel. Just do it.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Ultimate Sewing Pinnacle - Chanel

At some point in a sewist's life of creativity, a deep yearning for a couture garment arises.  Whether she acts upon that urge to create a sewn masterpiece or talks herself down from the whole scary proposition is directly proportional to the no-fear, self-confidence and inner crazy inside her.

I have sewn many a wedding gown and tailored a few coats in my lifetime, but I can't say that I've truly made a garment worthy of being called couture.  I joined the American Sewing Guild several months ago, largely because they had a small neighborhood group designated as the "Couture Group".  I imagined that at the very least it would be a group a women who probably sewed as well as myself and at best, I would be able to pick the brains of some incredible sewists better than myself.  Either way, I would be inspired to create!

So began this journey into couture sewing and the world of Chanel. To a sewist, the classic Chanel jacket is a masterpiece of design and hand sewn Nirvana.  For Mr. Lagerfeld and his haute couture team, a Chanel jacket is the culmination of over 130 hours of painstaking care in every seam and stitch. Their techniques are closely guarded and unless you fork over the $4 - 5K to buy one yourself and rip it apart, you will only get bits and pieces of his genius.  To make such a garment is the height of accomplishment for any sewist.  And I am no different - I have to say "I did it", before old lady impatience and bad eyesight get the best of me.

Ms. Claire Schaeffer is a Chanel addict/collector, and fortunately for us run of the mill hoi-polloi, she is a Vogue pattern designer: hence, a Chanel - styled jacket for the masses.  So I will start with her and take you on a journey with "us" in my blog, making my first ever couture garment.

Vogue pattern in hand.... 

Her book ordered Amazon...

Watching and re-watching the DVD...taking notes

I had several pieces of wool fabric to choose from: 1) a beautiful wool that I picked up from Britex the year that retired from SureWest and I vowed at that time to make something special.  It's been in my stash ever since; and 2) a lovely soft grey tweedy wool with some metallic threads that I picked up from Stomemountain that I was going to make into a swing coat.  At first I thought I would go with the Britex wool, but in the end, my shiny crow-like personality decided that a jacket with gold threads would absolutely compliment my skinny jeans (yep, that's what I plan to wear my couture jacket with!)

 There is no other fabric lining choice for a couture garment than silk. I'm using a beautiful Silk Charmeuse...a lightweight fabric woven with a satin weave, in which the warp threads cross over three or more of the backing weft threads - technical talk that just says the front of the fabric has a smooth finish—lustrous and reflective—whereas the back has a dull finish. Stonemoutain And Daughter Fabrics in Berkeley CA (you already know it's my favorite store!) has such a huge selection it was hard to choose, but I landed on this one - who doesn't look beautiful in peach, even if it is on the inside?

The interfacing on a Chanel jacket is also critical.  Even though I own yards of fusible pellon and woven interfacing, using any version of self-sticking interfacing would be like making "a purse from a sow's ear" - suffice it to say, a ghastly faux pas in the world of couture! And thus, I spare no expense, and go right for the silk organza. Either of these amazing fabrics is not found at any Joanne's or Hancock's that I've ever been get your big girl panties on and make the trip to Berkeley.

The only thing perhaps more important than choosing quality fabrics is choosing the right trim and buttons. Chanel jackets have all manner of trim designs and materials. The jacket styles of today are now as varied as any haute couture designer's runway showing, but Coco's classic designs have withstood the test of time - they are as fashionable today as they were decades ago. The only way to truly capture the essence of their genius is to actually go look at them, up close and personal.

I would have posted pictures here, but alas, that too is a no-no. I strolled through Neiman Marcus' Chanel boutique, lifted a few hemlines, fondled a few sleeves and asked for a photo of the salon.  And since I don't know Mr Lagerfeld personally to ask his permission, NO Iphone pics for me!  I totally respect that.  The sweet salesman did ask if I wanted to try one on...I chickened out. I have an aversion to trying on garments that I have no intention of buying - like I have an extra $4 grand in my checking account!
The salesman thought Karl might be filming the salon with hidden security cameras (joke)!

Across the street from Neimans and a few steps away from a Chanel store is Britex, a five or six floor mecca of expensive fabrics, trims and all things sewing.  I used to shop in it regularly...until I found Stonemountain.  But they do boast a huge selection of trims, so it's worth the drive over the Bay Bridge and into the massive traffic snarl of Downtown San Fransisco.

I spent over two hours, pulling trims, ribbons and buttons. And after all that contemplation and discussion (everyone on the floor had an opinion!) I opted to pair a trim with what would be a self-made trim using the selvage edge of my wool fabric. A little chain for the hem, some trim and buttons and my purchases for this jacket are complete...maybe...

I'll probably watch that DVD have to get the entire sewing "process" clear in your brain before you start cutting, mainly because Ms Schaeffer's pattern instructions detail the "traditional" assembly process that I know backwards and forward, but her couture technique is something I have never done before. It's not intuitive for an old school seamstress, but a process that I'm already starting to obsess over in the wee hours of a fitful sleep. And I haven't even cut an inch of fabric yet.

Just for the heck of it, I will track my hours and $$ spent making my jacket.  I can't help but wonder if my time investment will rival that of the couture houses that do this all the time.  Of course, I don't have any little sweat-shop helpers armed with needles and thimbles...just me.

So, on to my "toile" - that's a muslin to you and me - if it doesn't "FIT" right, then it's not worth making.

I shall name her Celeste. Heavenly.

  Laurel. Channelling Chanel.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sharing a Laugh...

Image result for powerballReal Life is not winning a Power ball Ticket. But I bought one anyway. There’s a hefty number of shrinks who will tell us all that “it’s gambling”, “it’s the thrill of it”, etc. that keeps us buying those little orange tickets. I would agree with most of that over-analyzing, but I don’t feel guilty for falling prey to the hype of winning a billion dollars.

My Mom and I sat in a Chinese restaurant last week and made a pack to buy two tickets using our the numbers from our recently opened fortune cookies. We would split the billion in half. We shook on it. Sounds relatively innocuous for a lunch time topic, but what ensued after that was far from our normal days together.

We laughed. And laughed again. And again – coming up with all the things we were going to do with our winnings. My Mom and I used to laugh all the time over silly things, but as we have both aged, it doesn’t seem to happen that we act like high school freshman, giggling and belly-laughing at our own humor. Ours was an irreverent humor that we shared, laced with sarcasm and cynicism, often totally ridiculous and usually not PC.

If I listed all the things she said, you would probably yawn…it was clearly one of those moments where “ya had to be there” to laugh now. As we were driving over the bridge to Marysville, she dead panned “I know, I’ll buy Marysville”.  If you grew up in Marysville, a town surrounded by a levy system that is stagnating because of  it’s non-growth and old school politics, you’d get how funny that was.  At another point in the car, she told me that even if we one $4 dollars, she wanted her half…because she needed some stamps. I was dying! I told her for a million bucks I would manage her money for her, which sent her off into a coughing fit. And I reminded her that when she croaked, I would still get more money that she did, as I would inherit my "daughter's" share of her estate.

It wasn’t so much the notion that we had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, it’s that it was a “good” day.  Mom is soon to be 91 and she said that day that she’s starting to “feel” old. We have our shopping days together every two weeks, and usually talk about innocuous things. I bring her up to speed with the going-on with the kids and their families, etc. 

She’s from a different era than I, lived in the country the better part of her whole life. We have the typical mother-daughter issues that I have spent years trying to overcome. I pretty much avoid the tricky topics (I leave those to Dave who adores his occasional porch-side political chats with her). I guess I hadn’t realized that we hadn’t laughed a lot together in years like we used to...until we laughed together over Power Ball. The price of the ticket was worth it.

It was a good day. Even if we didn’t win.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

If you don't write it down...

Does it still count as a resolution? Well, last year I wrote down my dreams for 2015 (Carpe Diem) on this very day and I still didn't do very well at achieving much success, so I'm thinking "not".  But it's the same day in January and I feel that a couple of thoughts might be worth noting (or not):

1) Let Go. Period. Really. Maybe I should get Amy's tattoo...

2) Let creativity rule.

Yep, that's it. 

I am looking forward to more wrapping my head around sewing and creating this year and more letting go of old habits. I'm not really talking about healthy eating, less drinking, more exercising or any of those hackneyed, trite promises that we make in January (although, aren't they a given?). I just want to surrender this whole beautiful mess that I am to someone who has that power to change it, because, obviously, I don't. So I'll leave the whole body/mind/soul thing up to God and I'll focus on the good stuff that I can control:

1) Continued collaboration with the team at Stonemountain and my muse, Zan. May we create more magic in fabric this year, FabricLady!!!

2) Less Facebook and more Instagram!! I love all the sewists and designers and fellow creatives that I have discovered on Instagram.

3) Organize and divest, organize and divest. All things simple, easy, clean, fresh, etc.

4) Continued giving of my time to worthwhile stuff...Dress a Girl, Women's Empowerment.

I finally got to actually sew at yesterday's sew fest

More of this...

And this..

Maybe less of this...

Let's not get carried away, Laurel.  You know you won't do that.
A little more of this...

Maybe more of this?

No, I'm not becoming a drinker...but a tiny sip of this is pretty nice.
Definitely more of this...

Taking better care of me, inside and out.
And this...

Capturing life...

And finally, most definitely less of this...

It's going to be a great year...


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Living in the Short Rows

When she travels, my friend Peg always takes a knitting project with her for the airplane trip. For her holiday travel this Christmas season she was working on a lace project which was an especially complex pattern that incorporated a technique called short rows.  Short rows are Satan’s handiwork, designed to confound the best of knitters and keep us humble. (Not really but it feels that way sometimes.)

Wrap and turn, knit back, wrap and turn, knit back…and so on and so on. 

 Short rows never seem to end and you never seem to get anywhere…but somehow you plod through them and if you don’t scrap the whole project in total frustration, at some point sometime you finish strong, hopefully with your sanity in tact. 

Sounds somewhat like life, at times? Aside from the normal ups and downs and twists and turns of life, we all have periods of living in the “Short Rows”. Perhaps our plans took a slight unexpected detour, onto a road filled with potholes and sharp turns. We brave the challenge with aplomb, recalling all those wise words from our mothers who probably faced more adversity than we ever will… we steel our face in a smile, we grab our faith and try like hell not to go backwards.

Wrap and turn, knit back…

Perhaps the most difficult of all of life’s ups and downs is change itself. We all want to grow emotionally and spiritually. We call it maturity.  To stay in the same groove of life is stagnating…a broken record of sorts. But when life's changes take us places that are unpleasant or even frightening, our steely smiles dissipates. We gird our loins, so to speak and opt for the “just get me through this” approach.

Wrap and turn, knit back…

The goal in knitting short rows it to not leave “holes” in your pattern by carefully wrapping a strand of yarn around the last stitch in the row and turning the piece around to knit back to the beginning. An experienced knitter can easily spot the short rows in a garment, even if they are expertly executed. There may be a subtle change in the pattern or the colors of the yarn, but the rows are artfully secured with each wrap and turn.  No holes. 

We too can easily spot the beautiful unevenness in the pattern of our own lives, knowing that the turns and twists did not defeat us.  We were made stronger just by the journey itself.  No holes. Life’s short rows are inevitable.  I think that it’s how we “wrap and turn” that determines the ultimate outcome of our daily struggles. Making the effort to view each challenge as a personal growth opportunity rather than a crisis waiting to happen is what makes us stronger in the end. 

In knitting. we can choose not to do the patterns with the horrid "wrap and turn" short rows...but in life, not so much. If we could "pick" what happens to us, heck yeah, we would! But it doesn't work that way and we know it.  So, with every period of growth and every painful wrap and turn, we get a little better at living. In the end, we become deliciously complex...unplanned holes and all.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fixer Upper heaven...

Another Shop I Adore...

In this day of extreme social media and technology overload it’s easy to develop an obsession about celebrity. We see their every move and quickly become acquainted with their daily lives. Each and every aspect of their fame is chronicled for our enjoyment in excruciating detail. I personally am not one to get wrapped up in celebrity (?), although I do remember once being obsessed with Bette Midler some years ago after seeing her perform – I was sure that she and I would be close friends in another universe and time, if she only knew me.

Even though I am world away from Waco, Texas living in California, I am pretty confident that Joanna Gaines and I would be girlfriends if I lived nearby. From the first episode of Fixer Upper that I watched, I sensed that she is genuine.  And you only have to watch a couple of episodes with she and her soul mate Chip to wish they were your friends living down the road.

So it should have come as no surprise to my Texas native/hubby Dave that one of my coveted destinations during our recent trip was a stop at Magnolia Market in Waco. Joanna’s new storefront at the Silos had not yet celebrated their grand opening, but it was hosting a soft opening nevertheless, much to my delight. In fact, the very next day, all of Texas was hit with a major storm, so our timing for our brief visit was fortuitous.

Naturally I secretly hoped to meet Joanna and Chip there, but it was not to be - get real, Laurel..they were out filming the new season episodes! Their absence didn’t hamper my enjoyment of my shopping experience, as I could sense their love and energy following me around the tables and shelves of beautiful and unique home decor.

I remember the episode where these were placed in a craft room for kids..

The Sales staff were trained well...or were they just naturally nice like their bosses?

These stems were my favorite item...
Although the store did not ship (you can of course order online and they will ship) I was bound and determine to bring something from the actual store home in my carry-on. I would have loved to bring home their classic magnolia wreath as a momento, but I was pretty sure the overhead bins would not be kind to it. I will have to be content to order it online.

Dave couldn't resist documenting my visit - he knew how excited I was to be there!

So what did I come home with, you ask?

Only a few more days and the new season of Fixer Upper will start. Dave and I can't wait to watch Chip and Joanne make another dream home out of nothing!

Laurel. And they make me laugh.
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