Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Costly Christmas Coat Caper

It's true I don't buy many clothes. I really try to make what I need. However, some things aren't worth the trouble OR would take me forever to get organized and make them the way I want. So I should buy them, right? Save myself the trouble and stress?

The last time I bought myself a coat was November 2002 for a week-long trip to Ireland. I did my research and acquired an amazing 3-in -1 Weather System parka from L.L. Bean where the components (quilted Primaloft-filled jacket and a red zip-on rain slicker with a detachable hood) could both fit into their own tiny pouches which made great travel pillows. This coat has been an extremely hard worker (along with my two wool coats for more formal looks) over the years but I've outgrown it. This of course is not unusual since it is sixteen years old and I am no longer a size small!

So this year, I would be traveling for the holidays and I really didn't want to bring my raggedy, ill-fitting parka, especially as it can no longer be zipped all the way down. Thank goodness for two-way zippers which allowed me to bypass it having to fit around my hips.

Time for a replacement! I loved that jacket and everything about it, it was warm, convertible, packable, the hood was removable, and it not only had interior pockets but also an exterior sleeve pocket for easy-to-reach cash and IDs. I used those traits as my key search words. If you don't know me in real life, you have no idea how much research I must do before I part with my money. So, I first started  the home of the original:

L.L. Bean Weather Challenge 3-in -1
$179 (from $229) in Deep Port/Raspberry

This sounded most like my jacket and I was willing to pay more at L.L. Bean if I could find something comparable in quality to the original, but that was not the case. The zippers were flimsy and inferior, enough so, that I checked the reviews, and they were the #1 complaint. I also was not happy with the thinner, wax-paper feel and sound of the exterior fabric. You would be heard coming and going.

L.L. Bean Winter Warmer Jacket
$129 in Cayenne

I was much happier with this one. I really loved the color! However, was looking for a convertible coat, which this wasn't (no zip-in insulation layer) and I had no idea how warm it would be, because it was more of a fleece lined shell with poly insulation only in the sleeves. But, oh that rich color...

Columbia Ten Falls Interchange Jacket
$150 in Nori

Again, the exterior fabric killed this one's chances. I also had to order an XL to fit my hips but then it was too bulky on my smaller top half.  The jacket was shapeless on me and with those inferior zippers, just not worth it.

Columbia Snow Eclipse Mid-insulated Jacket
$119.99 in Nori and Rich Wine

This one didn't catch my eye on their website but it did when I saw it in Dick's Sporting Goods. The fit was good, so was the color, and the insulation was actually faux goose down. However, at the time I was not a fan of the faux fur trim. (Why is every woman's coat straight out of Dr. Zhivago this year?)

I discovered the label Free Country at J.C. Penny's because they were the the first 3-in -1/convertible coats I had seen in retail. The details were so well done; the zippers seemed stable and the zipper pulls of the zip-in jacket were covered by soft fabric triangle tabs that sheltered the pulls from view and contact with your inner garments. The gathered cuffs of the inner jacket kept heat from escaping and the exterior fabric seemed capable of repelling snow and rainwater. The only thing wrong...I didn't like the styles offered in the store. So off I went to their website for more choices.

Free Country Zephyr 3-in -1 Systems
$69.99 (from $180) in Black

Wasn't a fan of this on the website because of the color blocking and patterned fabric but tried it anyway. No go, not my style.

Free Country Trailblazing 3-in -1 Systems
$89.99 (from $180) in Garnet

I wanted red so I ordered this one but I still wasn't happy, so this one was also returned.

Free Country Nebula waterproof 3-in-1 System
$54.99 (from $180) in Royal Moth

This was the convertible/3-in-1system/interchange jacket I was looking for! I might have preferred it in red, purple, or green and a little bit longer but it was on sale for $55 and the inner jacket is a dark Mulberry color! It has the exterior sleeve zipper pocket, inner pockets, detachable hood, and the fabric of the quilted interior jacket feels like a cloud. Update: Just wore it for Christmas in New Jersey and it was warm enough for this mild winter.

Free Country Virtue Down Parka
$89.99 (from $220) in Red

So far this year, this jacket hasn't had any use, with a 50°F Christmas but come late January and February, and it will come in handy. This one is durable canvas on the outside with a three-quarters-length storm placket inside. My favorite features are the array of exterior pockets; zippered side entry hip pockets are placed directly on top of buttoned top-entry pockets. Another pair of side seam pockets are several inches above them in perfect position for warming the ribs. The best thing of all? That fur trim is removable!

St John's Bay Heavyweight Puffer jacket
$90 (from $180) in Rich Teal

I was immediately drawn to the one because of it's slightly iridescent teal color. Yes, I know it has fur trim on the collar but for that color, I can live with that. It will just be my more dressy coat.  However, even though "heavyweight" is part of it's description, it is a lightweight coat in weight and heat retention so this coat was more of a delicious treat for myself. The very best thing about this coat is that the back waist section is shirred with elastic, adding some much needed shaping.

So, almost all of the coats above were ordered and then returned. The winners were the last three above. It's pretty obvious I will be going to Free Country first for my next coat purchase. Since it probably won't be until 2034, I hope they'll still be in business...

Monday, November 05, 2018

Making A Mandy Boat Tee - Tessuti Fabrics

Pattern: Tessuti Mandy Boat Tee (2013) is available as a FREE download at this link.

Pattern Description: Oversized boxy top with shallow boat neckline with dropped shoulders and three-quarter-length fitted sleeves.

Pattern Sizing: One size fits all, finished length: 23.5", finished width: 58".

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes!

Were the instructions easy to follow? Extremely easy. Although the instructions call for twin needle hems, I turned down a 5/8" hem on the neckline, folded the raw edge inside, and did a single line of stitching. Realizing then that perhaps I should have narrowed the width of the neckline, so I tapered the shoulder seam from the 3 /8" at the sleeve out to 3/4" at the neck.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? I love the thoroughly oversized shape of this tee, but like the Grainline Hemlock the lower arms were still too narrow for comfort.

Fabric Used: Bole brown heather grey 1/2" stripe cotton jersey (50% cotton, 25% rayon, 25% polyester) from Girl Charlee Fabrics.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I narrowed the neckline, shortened the length by quite a lot and lowered the armscye by 1/2". After construction, but before the top and sleeve hems, I found the sleeves were bordering on too tight, so I decreased the seam allowance from 3/8" to 1/4".

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Yes, most definitely. I suggest that you measure your biceps and forearms and check to see if you need to make adjustments to the sleeve pattern piece before construction.

Conclusion:  I love my new top. It fulfills this inspirational Pin I collected a few years ago and it just happens to match this one from Sew Dainty who made hers with the exact same fabric. In addition, this top matches perfectly with my brown Ponte Butterick 6464 skirt. Instant ensemble!

Friday, November 02, 2018

Fall Sewing Update

I AM sewing, I really am. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures to prove it! Yet.

I made an impromptu skirt from the generous leftovers (at least a yard!) from this black and white challis top in 2014. I think I had originally planned to make pants from this challis? This skirt was just a simple fabric tube with elastic at the top.

I then made a shell from New Look 6838, view C in white ponte. I always thought that view looked like a great pattern but until now I had only made the sleeved versions, here and here.

More babies, more baby clothes. I handed off two pairs of baby leggings to a co-worker and just finished another pair plus two simple elastic skirts for another new baby girl at the company. Unbelievably, there is still fabric left! In total, I've made five leggings and two skirts from only 1-1/2 yards of interlock!

Hopefully, coming soon, more sewing...

Friday, October 05, 2018

I Did a Stupid Thing...

Ugh! Don't you hate it when you make a quick decision that requires a long, multi-step solution? Me too.

Fact #1: I have been going gray since my mid-thirties, a strand at a time. When I noticed all the gray roots amassing in the center of my front hairline I started to use dye. Years later, I thought I should go lighter with the color for a better transition. However, when I tried a Revlon dye three shades lighter; instead of dying my entire head, it stripped back color from the front 2 to 3 inches, revealing pure white strands. It was much more growth (and lack of color) than I had expected so I panicked and redid it with a darker dye. However, it got me thinking, perhaps going gray wouldn't be so bad or hard, if I did another Big Chop one day?

However, at that time I wasn't ready. I thought I would still need that allusion of youth to get a job and pursue a romantic life.

When I did change my mind, I started researching how to avoid cutting all the dyed portions and most importantly, my length off. Perhaps, there were some natural ways to strip dye out of hair. I was actually inspired by this 2017 post on the Coco's Loft blog. My first experiment was with a recipe of baking soda (it opens up the hair cuticle), a strong dandruff shampoo, and common dish detergent. I did notice, immediately, that the lather was a bit brown, so I think this method was working but at that point my last dye job had been months ago. So too little, too late.

So, what's the stupid thing I did? Well, I couldn't stand the multiple shades in my hair. The white roots and the darker ends, I was fine with them. It was the middle section of my strands that were actually white underneath the old brown dye which was now faded and dull. My hair was now three distinct colors. I wanted that middle section and the dark ends to blend together so... I tried the "dying it three shades lighter" thing (see above) in hopes of repeating the earlier result...stripping back to the white strands and evenly dying the rest.

Well, it didn't work! The dyed hair got darker and the glorious 2-inch white roots I had been cultivating now looked stained, as if I rubbed coffee grounds in my hair. Disappointed is not a strong enough word for how I felt. I tried the baking soda concoction again but it didn't work this time

To the rescue, came Color Oops, a commercial color remover, which is what I should have done in the first place. This ammonia- and bleach-free color remover is supposed to restore hair to its original shade; however, for me it only took mine back to before my most recent stupid dye job. Unfortunately, the smell was highly sulfuric, like rotten eggs, and lasted over a week despite frequent shampoos.

Check out that growth!
Fact #2: I am now letting it grow out naturally, occasionally applying a purple toning shampoo to the brassy tones of the fading brown dye left on my actual white strands. The truth is I would be perfectly fine dealing with the white roots and the dark dyed ends, just not the "masked" hair stuck under that dull and too-slowly fading dye.

Fact #3: I am living for the loveliness that is @grombre on Instagram! Besides the gorgeous inspiration of all the women not fighting their changing hair color but also the revelation that people are going gray at a much younger age than I thought. The majority of the stories on there have people finding their first grays in their teens or early 20s and then dyeing for decades. So sad that gray hair = old (so we feel like we must dye if we are under 60) whereas if the stigma was not perpetuated it would be, "when it happens, it just big deal" What an easier life it would be, right?

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Baby Mini-Wardrobe

My gorgeous grand-nephew C.Q. "trying" on my gift.

Patterns usedMcCall's 8574 (OOP): T-shirt with overlapped shoulders, one-piece romper, nightgown, sleep sack, diaper cover, beanie, and booties. Sized for babies weighing 7 to 21 pounds.

Three FREE patterns: Purl Soho's Newborn Kimono Shirt and two patterns from Made by Rae, her Basic Newborn Baby Pants and Just Hatched Baby Leggings patterns.

Fabric: Luckily, I had some great fabric perfect for them. The best piece was a linen/cotton blend I scavenged from a pair of Target Mossimo pants that no longer fit. What a way to recycle, right?

There was enough fabric in them for a jacket and a pair of baggy baby pants plus probably enough for at least another baby garment.

I had enough fabric from the pants for the Purl Soho Newborn Kimono and was able to use the finished pant hems as the bottom of the jacket!

Unfortunately, it was too small for him even before I met him. He was a big baby, over 9 pounds at birth. However, it was the piece I was most proud of...just check out that itty bitty binding!

I was also able to use a shortcut when making the pants too. I was able to reuse the original factory finished side seams for the side seams of the baby pants.

Additional Fabric Used: One half yard each of three juvenile prints from the Doodles line at Joann's:  Little Dogs, Scooters, and Cowboy Owls in 100% cotton interlock ($2.50 each.)

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I made no changes, the instructions were all great. For the knits, I pinked all the seams or did two rows of stitching and then trimmed the seams close.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Yes, I would recommend each of these patterns, especially that workhorse of a pattern, McCall's 8574, even though it is out of print. Copies are available all over the Internet, so you should definitely seek it out.

Looking good!

These were great patterns and great fabrics. I not only made up these pieces for my grand-nephew but also some baby leggings for co-worker/friends who are expecting their own bundles of joy. The best thing about this project was the minimal expense, ease, and quick turnaround.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Clips and Pieces...

I found these fascinating video series during one of my unintentional Internet deep dives. Enjoy!

Gourmet Makes with Claire Saffitz from Bon Appetit.
I discovered this a month ago by accident. Claire recreates commercially produced snack foods such as Oreos, Cheetos, Skittles, and Twinkies using her baking knowledge and the Internet. It's fascinating!

Home Primp decorating videos from Chatelaine on YouTube. These inexpensive quick space makeovers produced by Alexandra Gater are quite good and will come in handy once I get my own place again. They're not too fussy nor bland.

Refinery 29's My Sweet Digs. I've always been interested in the idea of  living in quirky apartments from New York City to St. Louis. The ones covered in these videos are listed by rent and location, from all over the country, revealing the range of apartments and living styles available at different price points.

I'm warning you though...I binged these all like they were Netflix series.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Sewing For My Curves

Have you checked out the Sewing For My Curves series on the Curvy Sewing Collective yet? You should. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading about other women telling it like it is and sharing the truth about how different every individual body is.

Well, I finally took the time to take new measurements and was surprised (once again) by what size I really am. Forgive me, members of the Collective, as I steal your format to map out my plans.

My Body*:

Upper Bust: 37"
Full Bust: 38.5"
Waist: 34"
Hip: 44
Height: 5'4"
Body type: Hourglass
RTW Size: I really have no idea, probably a 12.
Pattern Size: 16 on top and 20 on the bottom
Attributes: slightly uneven shoulders, high waist, narrow back, swayback/prominent buttocks, full thighs, proportionate hips

Pattern Adjustments I Make:
  • Use high bust to choose pattern size
  • Grade between bust to waist/and hips (which are the same pattern size)
  • Compare paper pattern measurements to my own
  • Shorten the back waist length
  • Add width to biceps
  • Attempt FBAs when needed

Where I Am Now

Since I turned 40, I have been putting on weight slowly, year by year. I wasn't bothered since everything was still staying in proportion and my clothes still fit. However, I have found that the gains are increasing so more quickly now. At some time I had gained 10 pounds without even noticing.

I have always had a proportionally small waist and unfortunately, that is where all my weight is going now. I hate the way it feels in my elastic waist skirts and looks in my slim fitting dresses. Therefore, clothing-wise, I am currently avoiding anything that obscures the waist because I feel the need to emphasize how slim I am there when compared with my fuller top and bottom.

A fit & flare silhouette is my go-to now and the way I will feel better in my clothes. For the time being no sheath or shift dresses and there has to be some waist definition, even if it's just the addition of a belt. The following patterns fit that silhouette.

Sewing Wishlist From My Stash:

Butterick 6316
McCall's 7415
New Look 6301
Simplicity 1560
McCall's 7432
Vogue 8665
Simplicity 1325

What's My Sewing Goal:

Create slopers that I will compare with all my store bought patterns. I will create two for the torso, one with McCall's 7279, a commercial fitting pattern (with Palmer & Pletsch instructions) and a second one drafted from the instructions in Pattern Cutting by Dennic Chunman Lo. For my bottom half, I will create a skirt sloper with steps from the Cal Patch book, Design It Yourself Clothes: Patternmaking Simplified and I will use McCall's 7415 (also Palmer & Pletsch) to create a no side-seam pant (similar to the Persephone pant by Anna Allen) before attempting a more traditional pant pattern.

* As of May 2018.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

It's All In The Numbers

Riteaid stores have this thing called higi, a health and wellness kiosk that measures and records certain health data through a procedure that only takes 15 minutes. It records the blood pressure, pulse, weight, and body mass index of an individual.

When I first moved back to Hampton in 2014, I sat down at the kiosk for the first time and recorded my numbers. At that time, my weight was 142 lbs and my BMI was 24.42, normal weight. Two years later, I recorded my numbers and my weight then was 162 lbs with my BMI increased by 3.55 to 27.98. I was now officially categorized as overweight. Oh my.

Note that the weight gain occurred in the years I was working big-box retail. I was a depressive sloth with a strange schedule who had learned how to stress-eat my feelings until I finally escaped that job.

So, now, two more years later; after reaching a high of 170 lbs at 5'4" tall, my exercise routine has me holding steady at 165 lbs. So, I did keep gaining but not at the pace of that first increase and I am currently walking approximately seven miles a week outdoors in this southern heat. So, I'm doing pretty good.

My wardrobe has suffered. As I find things no longer fit or are no longer comfortable, I've been moving them over to one side of my closet. That side is now taking over! So many lovely things that I can no longer wear....

My exercise routine has to increase, despite this heat. I need to take my diet more seriously, eating less is not producing the weight loss, like I hoped. It also isn't that enjoyable. I need to also research more on anti-bloat foods (low FODMAP*) because my stomach is frequently betraying me when I start to think I can wear something cute again. Suggestions about that are very welcome.

One bright light I found is Rini Frey aka @ownitbabe on Instagram. I appreciate her philosophy about accepting your own body and not being too hard on yourself. It has helped.

* Look at the good-to-eat list first, most things can still be enjoyed, just in moderation.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Wedding Guest Dress Breakdown: One Year Later

Speaking of weddings, my niece got married last year on June 10. That spring, I had written a series of posts on the making of the two dresses I wore, a green silk evening dress and it's multi-color slip. I ended up finishing the main dress a mere two days before traveling to the wedding and didn't get any satisfactory pictures of me in my complete outfit.

So on the one-year anniversary, here's an update on how I wore the dress to that wedding. I pretty much looked at it as if I was going to an awards banquet. I researched and sourced the individual elements from all over. There were plenty of things that I bought and returned, things I lucked out on, and even things I eventually would regret not buying.

I received a hint of what I wanted to wear when I saw a swatch of emerald green silk crepe de chine and it reminded me of my favorite green dress in Atonement. Once I decided that was the way I wanted to go I started thinking of a 1920s-30s vibe. Of course, I didn't take that literally. However, the dress pattern I chose, Vogue 2745, did have the v-neck, elongated waist, and a handkerchief hem reminiscent of 1930s style.

My most important concern was my hair, a short curly natural that was drastically cut too short a week before this event. So how was I going to style it to fit this dress and the romantic vibe I wanted to have? Luckily, my love of award show red carpet reporting came to the rescue as you'll see below.

Moving clockwise:

1. Once I saw this double-tiered Jennifer Behr gold headpiece that Janelle Monáe wore to the 2017 Vanity Fair party I knew what I needed to find. This led to a search of accessory shops such as Claire's; however, I never really expected to find something that came so close, but I did!

2. The winning earrings came from Charming Charlie's. Why did no one tell me about this amazing place, all organized by color? They have everything, purses, scarves, jewelry, even tiaras! These earrings not only picked up the emerald but also royal, turquoise, and chartreuse. They will be worn lovingly for years.

3. An extremely cheap $1(!) compact mirror from Michael's arts and crafts, of all places, in a green that matched my dress perfectly. I also bought two more in pearlized white and royal blue for the bride and her maid-of-honor.

4. Yes, I actually found an extremely similar headband, the gold double row daisies headband shown here from, although I found mine locally at Claire's.

5. The Style & Co Paycee sandal in Red from Macy's. I bought these because they weren't as tall as my first choice, the 3" high Monrae from Jessica Simpson. However, the Paycee non-adjustable ankle strap turned out to be extremely constricting and I had to change shoes in order to dance.

Monrae sandal

I ended up wishing I had gone ahead and bought the taller Jessica Simpson's even though I probably would have taken them off too but at least I would not have had to compromise on style.

6. The Wanda zipper wristlet, an adorable purse in gold from Charming Charlie's. This will surely get a lot of use in the future.

7. L.A. Girl Color Pop nail polish in Amour, a fabulous red that adorned my toes in those perfectly color-matched shoes.

So, I wish I had a picture here to show you all these elements coming together but I didn't actively try to get a picture of me taken in the completed ensemble. Someone did get two pictures of me that day with family and hopefully I can get them color corrected so I can post here.

Monday, May 21, 2018

She Did Good!

Harry and HRH, The Duchess of Sussex, 
Countess of Dumbarton, and Baroness Kilkeel.


Stella McCartney

I loved both these, the ceremony gown was even more streamlined than I had imagined and so thoughtful with symbolism. However, it was not as accurately fitted as it should have been from a design house such as Givenchy. It was disappointing but I chalk it up to the stress she's been under these last few weeks and Meghan probably not being as bothered with the loose fit to have them take the dress apart for alterations.

When I first saw Meghan, my first thought was of Princess Angela of Liechtenstein, the first black female royal bride. The dress, veil, bouquet, minimal makeup, and the lack of opulent jewels are so similar.

Princess Angela of Liechtenstein in 2000.

Then the Internet reminded me of the resemblance to some other European royal brides who also admire a classic streamlined, romantic style that allowed themselves to shine more than the dress or their adornments.

Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, 2001
 and Infanta Cristina of Spain, 1997.

She did very well, indeed.