Saturday, April 30, 2011

Finally, some bike related news!

Finally, after months of cold and bikeless Montreal winter, I have some bike related news to share. And it's big exciting bike related news, too... what could be more exciting than coming home and finding a new bike in the middle of your living room? Tada!

The bike is a graduation present from my sweet and wonderful SO. When I came back to Ithaca for a visit, I walked in and found the bike all set up. I was totally surprised! I would never manage to keep quiet about something like this for a month or so, but he's a much better secret keeper than I am.

When the SO told me that he wanted to build me a bike as a graduation present months ago, we had a few daydreaming sessions about what it would look like. Much as I do love my touring bike, I really wanted a true city bike for everyday riding around. One of my major requirements for the bike was that I should be able to hop onto it and go, with no special shoes, strapping my pants down, bringing a pannier to carry my purse, or worrying about whether I could wear a skirt. Translating this into technical requirements, we decided that such a bike would have a step-through frame, chain guard, a reasonably upright riding position and some sort of basket. And since it's my dream bike it would also be green, preferably a nice bright apple green (mock me if you want, but I know what I like!).

Shockingly, such a bike already exists in the world, right down to the apple green paint. While my SO had a custom build in mind initially, he found the Civia Loring bike while flipping through some product catalogs with our local bike dealer.

It's like someone reached inside my head and pulled out the perfect bike! It has a front basket with a nifty little spot to hang your lock (always an issue on my previous bikes since there's not a really good place to mount a lock on my small frames). The bike also has some fabulous things that I hadn't even thought of, like an internal gear hub and disc brakes. Since I have small (and somewhat weak) hands and Ithaca is a hilly city, I've long had problems with stopping power and the disc brakes are a nice upgrade.

As always, there are still some things to tweak. The bike doesn't have lights right now, so probably installing lights and a generator hub will be a project for the near future. I'm also not sure about the front carrying rack that came with the bike -- it's pretty heavy, which makes it somewhat awkward to lift up stairs, and I'm also still paranoid about stuff sliding out of the shallow tray thing (although this hasn't happened yet). I'm leaning towards getting a basket of some kind, but we'll see.

So, isn't that a fabulous update? Wave if you see me whizzing around town on my new bike!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The four horsemen of the stashpocalypse

Sarai wrote a very thoughtful a post on the Colette Patterns blog the other day about balancing a compulsive sewing habit with an equally strong desire not to hoard and over-consume. This post really struck a chord with me because I've been on a fabric buying lockdown all year in an effort to reduce my stash. When I moved up to Montreal in January it became embarrassingly apparent just how much fabric I've been hoarding -- I packed up a massive tupperware bin of fabric to take with me, and I still have more at our apartment in Ithaca. And I'm clearly not the only one with this problem, as evidenced by the response to Sarai's post.

Reading everyone's comments about hoarding control mechanisms made me think about why exactly it is that I do this. Some of the reasons are not so bad, perhaps: I buy fabric because I love nice fabric, and it's fun to stop in the garment district when I'm passing through NYC or traveling somewhere else and buy a few fabric souvenirs. But I also have a well-documented tendency to take on too many projects that I never get around to doing (and to be fair, I've had very little time to sew for the last six months so my backlog is worse than usual).

Inspired by all the talk of de-stashing, I pre-treated a bunch of fabrics tonight that I would like to sew with soon. As I was folding them, it occurred to me that each of these fabrics represents a different problem that keeps me from actually using the fabric I have stored up.

1) A purple rayon print from Japan. I bought this fabric as a souvenir and because I loved the print, but inspiration has yet to strike on this one. Every time I look at it, I just can't picture what kind of top it wants to be. I'm actually not so worried about this anti-stashing issue, because I think the moment will come for this fabric eventually.

2) A cotton double gauze, also from Japan. This fabric falls into the category of fabrics that I would be heartbroken if I screwed up. This piece was expensive enough and I love the print, and so even though I'm dying to make something out of this and wear it around I keep avoiding it in case the thing that I make doesn't turn out well. I would hate to make a dress out of this that ended up in the back of my closet.

3) Shirting from Paron Annex. This is one of several fabrics in my stash that I avoid because I feel like my technical skills are not quite up to the task of making what I envision. In this case it's not that the cotton shirting itself is hard to work with, but I fear that the button down shirt that I plan on making might be above my skill level. I could make a tester shirt out of a cheaper fabric to practice shirtmaking techniques, but I hate sewing stuff out of crappy fabric that I'm not really excited about (catch 22, anyone?)

4) Lightweight cotton from Quilter's Corner in Ithaca. Here I have exactly the opposite problem from fabric number one: I have way too many ideas of what to do with this fabric. I've mentally drafted four or five different summer shirts with this fabric in mind, but all that inspiration makes me indecisive. If I lock in one plan, I kill off all the other possibilities!

So there's my four horsemen of the stashpocalypse. Of all these, I've decided that the least tenable reason not to sew is number three -- there's no reason to not make something (or to buy cheap fabric and make something I don't love) just because I'm afraid my skills aren't up to it, especially when the fabric wasn't insanely expensive, I have lots of it, and more cotton shirting can easily be found elsewhere. Classic button down shirt, here I come!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Towards a personal blouse pattern

For a while now I've had the sewing goal of trying to work up a set of basic patterns that I can use for altering commercial patterns and drafting my own designs. I worked on this basic pencil skirt pattern a few months ago, and next up was figuring out a basic princess seam top.

I'm sure I'm not the first one to post this lament on the internetz, but as a short and reasonably busty woman button down shirts rarely-to-never fit me properly. Usually they're some combination of too tight/gappy at the bust, too big in the shoulders and too long in the arms. I've used various tricks to overcome these problems over the years, like rolling up the sleeves, wearing shirts partially unbuttoned over camis, or stitching down part of the front so that it can't gape. But, I think I have enough fitting knowledge now that I can actually make something that fits properly, and this is my first attempt at that.

This shirt is actually a remake of a shirt I made some time ago, one of my first blouse attempts:

I loved the idea, but the blouse suffered from a few issues that made it uncomfortable to wear, namely: too big in the shoulders and gaping neckline, not big enough in the waist so it was tight when I sat down, and I used crappy quality quilting cotton (terrible beginner's mistake, I know) which made it stiff. Despite all of the time spent carefully piping this bad boy, I gave it away when the SO and I moved in the summer.

This attempt is made from a bit of a frankenpattern, which combines the bodice of the JJ pattern, the sleeves of the Ute pattern, and a self-drafted collar. The first item of clothing that I ever made from a pattern was a JJ blouse, and looking back at it the fit was remarkably good for a first attempt (I still have that blouse, but I'm not sure I'm brave enough to post it on the internetz. It's also in quilting cotton!). I started with a 40 bodice and did a FBA, adding to both the side and front panel to try to get that seam right over the bust. Since the piping attracts a lot of attention to the seam line, I wanted to make sure I got the placement right. In retrospect, I wish I'd done armhole princess seams, because I think that the shape would have been even more flattering with the white piping.

I was originally planning to modify the Ute collar, but after fiddling with it I decided to just draft my own. I really wanted to make sure that this shirt would end up being work appropriate (i.e., not too low cut), and I just wasn't trusting that Burda neckline! Once again, this vintage sewing guide proved very helpful. The little trick about adding 1/8 inch to the neck seam to get a nice roll on the collar worked perfectly for me. Other finicky details: I made all of the piping by hand with 1/16 inch poly cord (it was pretty time consuming!) because I wanted a nice thin piping to go with the small dots, and to get practice in making piping for my next project. It's this kind of stuff that makes sewing go so slowly for me!

Here's some views from the side and back:

Looks pretty good from the side, I would say, but the fit does look a bit blousy in the back. In general the top feels pretty loose around the middle when I'm standing, but I was reluctant to take it in because it isn't all that loose when I'm sitting. My waist changes shape enough when I'm in a seated position that I think I have to deal with the extra room when standing in order to be comfortable sitting. I'll wear it to work for a day before giving the pattern a final verdict, just to see if it becomes uncomfortable at some point in the day. If you're stopping by and have any other fit suggestions, I'd love to hear them!