Monday, August 24, 2009

Sweet Home Alabama

I've stopped buying most craft books in the last few years, mainly for space reasons, and do a trial run on any that I'm considering purchasing by taking them out of the library first. It builds in a sense of urgency that's missing when I own books, which is good. If I'm not motivated to start anything from a book in the three weeks or so I have it checked out, there's no reason to buy it.*

So, the latest title I've been casting my gimlet eye upon is Natalie Chanin's Alabama Stitch Book. Chanin's line of clothing and textiles, Alabama Chanin, combines traditional methods of sewing, beading and embellishment with a very modern, feminine aesthetic and sustainable approach, all of which is so very, very up my alley. (There's a great interview with her here.) Most of the projects in the book are made with cotton jersey and many of the patterns are designed to be laid out on upcycled old t-shirts; so you dig an old t-shirt out of the back of your drawer, cut it up and sew it back together into an awesome new shirt.

Still, the proof being in the pudding and all, I was curious to see how clear the directions were and whether the finished garment fit. There's a world of difference between doing a thing well and writing a book that will allow other people to do that thing well at home. I decided on the graphic t-shirt corset top because it seemed pretty straight forward and preserved most of the graphic on the front of the shirt.

Everything laid out for the pattern tracing, including a roommate to keep me company:
The freezer paper was perfect for this, sheer enough that I could easily see through to trace, but substantial enough that I don't have to be especially delicate with the pattern pieces.

It's hard to see the pieces in the photo, but you'll have to take my word for it that I've traced all of the pieces out:

The original t-shirt, which I found in a Salvation Army upstate:
You disassemble the t-shirt into sleeveless pieces and lay out the pattern pieces:

These are the pieces for the front and back laid out together before I started sewing:

Basting along the neck and armhole edges to keep them from stretching out too much while I worked, which I'm not convinced really did anything, but the pattern called for it, so I did it. I actually followed the directions more closely than I have for just about anything I've made, actually, even going to the pages that talk about how to sew a straight seam, for example, to see if there was anything I didn't know about that (um, no. it's pretty straightforward, but I did learn a neat trip about wrapping the thread around the edges to start and finish the seam, which was useful):

In progress:
(side note: if anyone knows why my oxalis has that ashy cast, I'd appreciate it. whatever it is doesn't wipe off — not dust or other external schmutz from what I can tell.)

And done!
I absolutely adore this. I love the exposed seams, though I would also like to try making one where the seams are on the inside, in which case I could sew it all on the machine and take this from a somewhat intensive weekend project to one that could be done start to finish in about two hours. The book also gives instructions on making bias tape from the scraps and using that on the neck and armhole edges, which this top would really benefit from, in my opinion, but I didn't see that until I had already tossed the scraps in a fit of tidying. I may add contrasting trim at some point.

The fit is really what makes this for me, but I did have to do some minor modifications, mostly to fix a bit of gaping around the armhole: shortened the straps by about half an inch and took in the front seams closest to the armhole just in the top inch or so. I need to take a closer look at what I did there and change it on the paper pattern too. Actually, doing a binding on the edges might help with the gaping too. Somewhere down the line, I'd like to try my hand at drafting a sleeve cap so I could make a more winter-friendly version.

I'm putting this book on my definitely-to-buy list. After success with this project, I'd feel confident attempting some of the more complicated patterns in the book. Plus, in addition to the patterns, there is a lot of great how-to information about reverse applique and beading and stenciling on fabric. I don't generally learn physical skills well from books, but the combination of gorgeous, clear photos and well-written text make me think that this could function as a reference text for some of those techniques as well.

*I'm actually fairly conflicted about this policy, since I'm also a firm believer in voting with my wallet and buying things that I think should exist in greater quantities (like, say, high quality craft books put out by women who meld traditional techniques with a modern sensibility) to prove that there's a market for them, but I'm also practical about the amount of space and discretionary income that I have. I am totally buying this one though, so I guess my system works?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Things that happened yesterday

1. I finished the hand and got started on the first finger of the glove.

2. I saw a giant fake spider on the side of a school in Brooklyn.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Because I LIVE IN HOPE, that's why.

Hope that someday the weather will turn from the sweltering, rage-inducing hell beast it is now and be cool enough for me to need to protect my extremities. THAT is why I cast on for a pair of gloves during this time of stupid hotness.

So far this has been a fairly quick project. I cast on last Thursday, but knit the majority of this on Saturday at a John Hughes Memorial Movie Marathon (16 Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science AND Ferris Bueller's Day Off — YEAH.).
Unfortunately, not being able to tear my eyes away from all of that hilarity and raw teen energy led to this:
Also, it turns out that Picasa has a write-on-your-pictures feature that I just discovered this morning.

ALSO also, I took more pictures of it after I ripped back and fixed the cable, but when I emailed this batch of photos to myself at work for blogging only during my prescribed lunch hour, unbeknownst to myself I chose this picture of my friend Erin's cat staring intently at a fan without blinking, which she did for minutes and minutes, much longer than you would think a cat could go without blinking, instead. Which, granted, was pretty boneheaded of me, but if I hadn't, you would have missed out on this:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Conversation from last night

Alex: "... that guy you used to go out with who had the van."
Me: "The one who really liked guns or the one who lived in the old church whose van had no seats?"
Alex: "No, the other guy with a van, the one I liked. Wait, who liked guns?"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Some stuff I've been up to lately.

I took a long weekend upstate to visit my parents, which included a trip to the lovely Troy Farmers' Market.

The trip was actually a late Mother's Day gift for, um, my mom, to help her sort through some family photos. I had never seen many pictures of her as a kid and almost none of her parents as young people, so that was really fun. Unfortunately, she wouldn't let me take anything with me and I didn't feel like taking a lot of photos of photos, so all I have to show is this one side by side comparision of me on the left and my mom on the right, each of us squeezing our respective large-headed younger brothers.
I did stick post-its to a big pile of truly fantastic shots that she promised to have copied for me, but my breath, it is not held. I may try to steal them next time I'm there.

I went to a Yankees game with my friend Josh, who was visiting from San Diego. I always root for any New York team that happens to be playing, so I was happy.

I went to Secret Science Club last night for a fantastic lecture about a plant-collecting expedition to Papua New Guinea, but it was so crowded I could only see half of the screen. Dr. Pell is giving the same lecture at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden sometime this fall, so I may go see it again.

I seem to have knit almost a whole sweater without ever mentioning it here. I started it in mid-July to take on a business trip, lot of unshaped stockinette in the round, and now the body and sleeves are done and I'm well into the yoke.
It's all handspun, mostly from Fantom Farm, with a couple of odd skeins thrown into the mix. The body and sleeves are one batch with the yoke using these guys:
My original plan was to do some kind of stranded colorwork, but it just wasn't happening. The colors are all too close, which wouldn't have bothered me especially if I did something small and subtle, but the yarn itself is far too variable. Most of it is more or less a light worsted weight, but some of the yarns veer closer to sport and some closer to bulky and I knew that either stripes or stockinette would end up looking puckered and crappy and sad.
So I hit on the idea of doing single stripes in seed stitch, which happened to be the edge treatment I had chosen even back when I was thinking stranding, and has the benefit of blending disparate yarns in a way that makes them appear surprisingly cohesive.
I'm really happy with the way it's turning out. I saved a skein of the body yarn to do an inch or so at the top, plus the band, then I'll steek the front and use it for button bands too. And I expect I'll have enough left of some of the yarns, if not all of them, to make some elbow patches. The yarn for the body is, without question, the lightest, loftiest woolen spinning I've ever done (go me!), but I'm not convinced it's going to wear well. In fact, I'm pretty much convinced that it won't. So: prophylactic elbow patches, which I expect will lend me an air of professorial authority. You have been warned.