Feeling Shirty

I am a lawyer.  It is an occupational hazard that I must wearing boring button-up shirts.  I have them in all shades of boring, including blue and black and boring stripes (but no white because – have you met me? I cannot wear white.  It will, before not too long, be that Pantone shade of coffee with a dash of oil, grass, bike chain grease and tomato seeds.  I expect that shade will be Pantone’s colour of the year in 2032.  I’m just well ahead of the trend).  I have a few less boring ones, too, including teal paisley (yeah!), yellow flowers and red polka-dots.  These are all purchased shirts and none of them fit me properly.  They are invariably too tight across the back, sometimes too loose through the waist and hips, and always gape at either the apex of my boobs or just underneath or, perplexingly and aggravatingly, both.  Always, Also, I find it difficult to raise my arms fully while wearing them.  And yes, of course I need to raise my arms high above my head ALL THE TIME at work.  Don’t you?

A long, long time ago, when I was a brand new lawyer and working in a courtroom, I wore an awesomely boring beige with red and black stripes shirt and probably some kinda black trouser and maybe some kinda black jacket but maybe not – I don’t really remember that part.  One morning, I sat opposite a number of male lawyers in dark, dark suits and pale coloured shirts and stripey ties.  I don’t really remember what they wore, but I do remember that there were no other women, except for the most important person in the room (not me, except for in this story).  There was a young-ish lawyer, maybe he was a brand new lawyer too, I did not know.  He sat there and kept looking at my chest.  His eyes held mine, and then he would slowly drag his eyes down to my chest and make his eyes round and big and raise his eyebrows.  You can imagine how impressed I was by this behaviour.  In the break, he came up to me, and I thought, ‘Here we go -‘ and he said, “Miss.  Sorry, Ms?” and then he blushed.  He said, “Um, your shirt. Um.” So I looked down at my shirt and both the button at the apex and the one directly below it had come undone.  I said, “Ugh. Sorry,” and quickly did them up.  He took his blushing self away and I never wore that shirt ever again.

It’s no longer the case that I have to be suited up everyday but I still find myself compelled to wear shirts, especially if I’m appearing at some formal thing.  A shirt simultaneously sets the tone and puts me into character.  As I’m now in a more relaxed work environment, I can also wear shirts with jeans and feel dressy enough for work.  Also, I like shirts.  I like their crispness and how finished they seem.  My partner looks smashing in his.  I always feel a bit more put together when I wear mine (although perhaps not when they gape and display my body parts to the world when I do not want them to).

Conquering shirts feel like a final frontier in sewing for me.  Except, when I think about it, everything that I haven’t done yet feels like a final frontier.  I spent some time trying to work out what item, if successfully made by me, would make me sit back and go, ‘That’s it, there’s no turning back. I’m a die-in-the-ditch survival woman making all her own clothes.’  A bra? A coat? Technical hiking gear? Except that, actually, there has been no turning back for a long time.  There’s probably no point even pondering it, but I like to pontificate, so I’ll just keep at it, if you don’t mind.

So, yes. The Shirt.  I will conquer it.  I have a bajillion patterns – Kwik Sew , a vintage one that I snaffled from a Pattern Parcel, Sew Loft’s Caroline shirt (now called something else and they make me mad, so I don’t want to talk about it) and Deer and Doe’s Bruyere.  I’m plunging into the Bruyere first.  



This might be my weekend project. Or I might get distracted, because there are some items I need more.


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The Count and Totoro

Many of you have clamoured for the story of The Count and Totoro. (Okay, so maybe just Celia and Maeve.) 

Let me introduce them, and leave it to them to tell you their own story:

Totoro? 



This is Totoro.



 I AM TOTORO 

 Yes, Totoro, but who are you? What’s your history? Why are you here with me? 

 I. AM. TOTORO.
DO YOU HAVE FOOD? 

 Maybe later? We’re writing a blog post at the moment. 

 I AM HUNGRY. 

 Well. Yes. Totoro is a nature spirit. Just watch My Neighbour Totoro. It is a brief documentary of one tiny part of a particular few Totoros’ lives. Totoro came into my life one day when I was wandering around Leeds City in the UK. He called to me from a tiny shop window. 

 OANH. I AM HUNGRY. 

 I don’t think you said that, Totoro. I think you said — 

 OANH! I. AM. HUNGRY.

– 

Oh. Excuse me.
(Schmaltzy muzak)
—– 



Totoro in his happy place.



 So. That is Totoro. Totoro simply is.

Here’s The Count. 



Bonjour, Count!



 Bonjour, Oanh’s friends! I am The Count. 

(executes a flourishing bow) 

Alas, I had wealth but am now an exile and a refugee. You see, I was the blackest sheep in a family of black sheep. We had land, we had chateaux, we had servants. But we were driven from our home in France (I have blocked the memories and do not wish to delve into the whys and wherefores), and I ended in Wales, labouring to survive in a draughty Welsh castle (they’re not as good as French chateaux, believe me), when Oanh stopped to chat. Poor thing, she was so impressed by that ridiculous lump of stone the Welsh called a castle, I could not help but regale her with lavish stories of the chateaux I knew. She rushed off immediately and I thought I had offended this strange Viet-Australian woman. Nevertheless, she came back not long afterwards with Nic – Oanh was bouncing up and down and Nic was looking mildly perplexed -, and they invited me to join them on their travels in the UK and Europe. She neglected to warn me that the travel would be by bicycle! (In my defence, Count, we never asked you to do any pedalling!) She did say we would ultimately end up in Australia and there would be no castles there. Indeed, there are not. 

There were plenty of excellent examples of castles during our travels, though I must say my distant relatives who stayed on through those difficult years for French nobles have not managed the upkeep as well as I’m sure I would have done. My favourite castles were in Albania. The Albanians really can build a castle, and they sure know how to fly a flag. 



 Oanh’s friend came for Christmas one year and gifted me with a darling hat. I was very glad of it when we camped in snow in Montenegro! Oh, there was a castle in Montenegro! It was spectacularly located. Oanh said we could not live there. I don’t understand why. 

 When will we visit more castles, Oanh?

Cheating Post part 2

I am not only the cheatingest cheating blogger, I am also the slackest.

And fond of hyperbole.

Here is part 2 of my guest post on Tin Lizzie’s blog.

One day I’ll return with an actual post on this blog. And then Angels will sing and the moon and the stars will align and volcanoes will erupt (but not hurt anybody or ruin any homes, you know, one of those benign volcanoes).

How to Accumulate Best Partner Points

I made more Jedediah trousers! I have even more planned. These trousers for my partner are the best. He won’t be wearing anything else, ever again.

You know I have previously made the most impractically coloured pair of Jedediah trousers for my partner? I thought he might like a pair that were more sensibly coloured. That if he spilled coffee on, it would not be instantly, ludicrously obvious. And perhaps also in the colour palette he likes to wear (we describe it as dressing like a tree. He likes to dress like a tree. Me, I like to dress like a 4 year old.) It’s possible that he also specifically requested a brown corduroy pair.

Anyway, I made an awesome fly zipper, and fabulous back pockets and I’m well smug that I made my partner another pair of trousers. Basically I just swan around the house grinning at how awesome I am. It’s insufferable but thankfully there are only the two of us so no one needs to know until I go telling the internet. Don’t tell anyone else, okay?

However, I still don’t like buttons and am still crap at buttonholes. I plan the Bruyere in the near future. I need to get over my general dislike of buttons and specific crapness at buttonholes.

Thread Theory’s pattern instructions and sewalong are wonderfully helpful. I read them both together as I worked away at constructing the trousers. I did this last time, too. The video for the fly instruction is great (I especially love Morgan’s taste in music), but I also like written instructions, so I cross-refer with a gazillion tutorials I have saved in Evernote.

Are you using Evernote? Remember bookmarking webpages and then never finding them again because you never organised your bookmarks? Yeah, me too. I’ve got my Evernote nicely organised, but you can just also do a simple google search of all your notes when you want to find something, so you could just dump your saves into one notebook and not worry about organising but that is not my way. I loves me some folders, whether they be actual or digital. Often, I try to re-bookmark something (because I will google instead of going to my Evernote to find info I’ve previously found because I don’t know why) and Evernote magically tells me not to. Thanks, Evernote. Also, if the website ever goes defunct or, as happened with one blog post I return to, the pictures stopped being hosted, you’ve captured it in Evernote and you do not have to rely on the vagaries of web-hosting mishaps. Last, I like that Evernote keeps the url link, so that you always know where you got it from, even if the host has gone AWOL, either forever or temporarily, when you need them most.

Anyway, that was a proselytising tangent about Evernote to tell you that I like these fly zipper tutorials:

I also cross-reference with the fly zipper tutorial in Christine Haynes’ Complete Photo Guide to Garment Construction.

Look, I know it’s a bit over the top, but I just like to have lots of information at the ready when I’m doing something I’m not super confident with. I can imagine the day when I make a fly zipper without referring to any of these excellent resources, but that’s because I have a good imagination, not because in reality I expect to reach that mythical land of sewing competence. Although, unlike last time, I did not unpick this fly zipper at all. Not once. Skilling up, yo.

I am also one of the those people who read through the entire instructions before starting. I have a degree of experience now, and an awareness of how I like to do things with the time that I have for sewing. I sew on weeknights, in snatches of time. Sometimes, I have glorious whole days devoted to sewing, and sometimes I have lovely days sewing with buddies, either at Social Sewing or sewing dates. But my sewing time is also time I fit in with the rest of my life. I like to hang out with my partner (surprise!); we have a lot of hobbies, I hike and bike and play board games, I like to read, I like to cook and eat, I like to garden, and I also like to sit on the sofa, unfocus my eyes and vague out. You should try it. It’s fun.

With sewing, I have this clear desire to MAKE SOMETHING, but when it comes to actually undertaking a task, I hesitate and procrastinate (which is also how I have come across all those excellent tutorials), unless I have a clear idea of what it is that I have to do, and roughly how long it will take me.

I am also getting much, much better at stopping before I’m tired because unpicking the sewing you did when you were sleepy and made wonky stitches is just silly. Wonky stitches because you’re not very skilled at handling the fabric is okay – you’ll learn to get better; but making an avoidable mistake just drives me bananas. I get really angry with myself, I have stern words and say things I don’t really mean using the cruellest words I can come up with, and then I stop talking to myself until I’ve received a genuine apology from me.

Sewing has discrete tasks, as well as cascading tasks. That is there are some things you can do separately from everything else but there are also things that have to be done before you do the next step (e.g. you should top stitch the back pocket before sewing them onto the back piece!) And there are some tasks that require more, or less, attention. I will only flat-fell a seam when I’m not tired, because the chance of cutting the wrong thing is high and if that wrong thing happens to be the outside fabric, it’s disastrous.

I like to identify the discrete, small tasks, and do them either beforehand or, if I only have short periods of time (say when partner is cooking fried rice for dinner and I know it will take roughly 15 minutes and I’m otherwise just hovering around drooling in hunger, I could get out of the kitchen and complete one little sewing task instead! The alternative is that I interfere. It’s quite endearing. Or I’ve got home from work late, and then I’ve cooked and/or cleaned and generally faffed and now it’s an hour until bedtime – can I do any sewing or should I just continue faffing about the house? If I know there is something discrete that I will probably complete in less than an hour, I’ll most likely start. Sometimes when I have this kind of time available to me, I go into my sewing room and stand in the middle and vague out. It’s … not very useful, but kinda fun and you should try it.)

This is pretty much a reminder for myself and works for me. But if it helps you too, smug happy dances for everybody!

Small discrete tasks:

  • Back pocket top stitching
  • Fly zipper – interface relevant pieces
  • Waistband
    • Interface
    • Press in half (lengthwise) & bind one edge
  • Belt loops
  • Trouser legs – Stretching various parts with your iron (Step 13)

{you need to do these things before you use them in the constructing part, but otherwise can do them whenever.

I *hate* interfacing, with petulant irrationality and I put this task off, but I have found that if I interface at a time completely separate from when I need to use the interfaced piece, my degree of hostility towards interfacing is much reduced.

Order of construction:

  • Overlock everything except the seams to be flat felled (back yoke / inseams – although if you do overlock them, it’s no biggie)
  • Front pockets
  • Back pockets
  • Back yoke
  • Sew flat fell inseam before side seam (easier to flat fell the inseam in this manner, and a flat fell inseam is nicer to wear even if a flat fell side seam is nicer to look at. I care more about how the garment feels on than how it looks.)
  • Sew side seam & crotch seam – baste stitches first and check fit
  • Sew side seam & crotch seam properly
  • Fly zipper time! (like hammer time but more stressful, and with hopefully no pants with crotch at the knees)
  • NOW finish & press side seam and crotch seam
  • Belt loops onto trousers
  • Waistband
  • Button and button-hole (sigh)

Finished!

  • Do smug-happy dance.
  • Make partner wear trousers.
  • Do more smug-happy dancing.
  • Be crap at making partner wear trousers at a time when you can take photographs of him so you can post this post that you drafted like in the time of the dinosaurs.
  • Post your blog post anyway.
  • Do even more smug-happy dancing.

Ultimate Worm Farm Update

I think it’s time for a worm update. Don’t you?

I know many, nay probably all, of you having been wondering: how is the hobo worm farm extravaganza doing? Well, friends, wonder no more. I am here to report that, sadly, my hobo worm farm is defunct. You will never have to wonder again.

Just to recap for those of you not familiar with my worm farm story: I made a worm farm from some polystyrene boxes acquired with manic grin from the local grocers. I have an urban concrete courtyard garden, so a worm farm was the best option for organic food waste disposal (and trust me when I say I researched and considered many options.) I like being frugal, so I made the worm farm for the cost of a smile and a few well chosen, but nervously delivered, words. I then bought the right kind of worms from Ceres, a local nursery (and lots more) Alas, summers in Melbourne are unbearably, whingingly hot. The heat is dry. The people and plants wilt. Each summer thus far, my worms have died in droves. A few usually survive, and the entire worm bin ecosystem eventually revives with judicious application of newspaper and lashings of patience.

But I do not like being a worm murderer. Each summer I have worried and tried to find a better location. I have watered the bin, and covered the bin with a tarp and watered that and felt sick at heart when I saw their hundreds of dessicated little bodies on the outside of the box, fried as they futilely attempted to escape the heat inside the box.

Also, dead worms smell.

Also also when we moved from the little flat to this not-so-little house, I could not find a satisfactory location for the worm farm, and the worms were surviving but not thriving the way they had back at the little flat. I moved the farm around quite a bit to try to find a good spot, but the worms just weren’t doing as well. They took ages to eat through a usual serving of food scraps. I cut our scraps even smaller than when we were at the flat, but even so, I sometimes had to extract mouldy banana peel (worms don’t eat mould!), which I just then tossed into the compost bin.

And therein lay the nub of the problem, but also the solution. As this not-so-little house has a narrow patch of dirt, we acquired a compost bin, which hulks in a corner of the courtyard, under some thriving jasmine (well, jasmine always thrives.) We alternated between the worm farm and the compost bin; if the worms weren’t eating fast enough, the scraps went in the bin. Compost in the bin has been doing really well, plus there are lots and lots of worms in there (some were relocated from the worm farm; the rest are either third/fourth generation worm farm descendants or emigrants from the dirt.)

At the end of this winter, I decided not to go through the summer ritual massacre of my worms and moved them from worm farm to compost bin, emptied the worm castings into our various pots, and spoke a eulogy for my hobo worm farm . The polystyrene box will be repurposed as a planter box and the worms will live more happily in the compost bin, where when it gets too hot they can head deeply down into the dirt, and the compost goes from vermicomposter to hot composer with me doing nothing (this is the best way to compost – doing very little).

Just as my bokashi era ended with the advent of a compost bin, so too has the era of the hobo worm farm ended. I know you share my sorrow, but there will be much to look forward to with the black monster compost bin.

Also, don’t ever let anyone tell you composting is hard. It is easy. Anyone who says differently is selling something (name that movie, wherein there was, strangely enough, no mention of compost.)

Hop to It!

Look! You’ve blog hopped to me! Lucky you!

Thank you, Rachel, for selecting me to be hopped to.

I met Rachel pretty much around the same time I started sewing garments seriously. (Well, okay, I was still pretty silly about it, but you know what I mean, don’t you?) I had started thinking that I would take my sewing beyond a miscellany of tote bags and alterations like shortening the length of store-bought trousers, and I’d started googling sewing on the internet. I found heaps of non-Australian bloggers, and then stumbled upon bloggers IN MELBOURNE. It was very exciting (obviously exciting enough to warrant some all caps action).

This was right at the time of the very first sewing bloggers Melbourne meetup, organised by a different Rachel. I had bought a sewing machine at that stage, but not actually made anything on it except for practise stitches, so I just did not feel I could attend the meet-up. I’d be a right fraud.

Then, Rachel organised Social Sewing and the draw of sewing in a large space spurred me to get at least a garment under my belt before attending the first one. Social Sewing is now a regular part of my calendar, even though I no longer need the large space as I have an entire sewing room of my very own, and if I miss a month, am desperate to ensure I’m at the next one because I miss seeing and chatting to everyone, even if I’ve been reading what they’ve been up to on their blogs. I look at the photo in Rachel’s post about the very first Social Sewing, and all those erstwhile new scary faces are now familiar, firm friends.

Enough yabber, let’s answer some set questions and hope to pass the exam:

Why do you write? I have always written. Before the advent of blogs, I kept diaries. Remember them?

I never wrote them just for me; I always expected someone would read them. Not because I thought I would one day become so famous/important that people would wish to know what 8 year old me thought, but because when you’re one of many, you just don’t expect privacy. Everything I owned as a child was someone else’s, and my things would also become someone else’s. I just never had a sense that anything was uniquely mine nor that I could demand that it be mine and mine alone.

I have always written with a putative audience in mind. It was not that hard to take the step of starting a blog – back in December 2004. And as my obsessions change, what I write about change. The only constant, is that I write.

I write because it is how I think things through. I think in words. I do not think in pictures or feelings or sounds or whatever other ways people might think. I think in words. It’s possible I dream in words too because my dream images are always nebulous but any words spoken or thought in dreams remain with me.

I write because I love to read, and writing is the natural progression, the productive progression from reading. Have you read An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett? It is wonderful, and its theme is the importance of reading, its joys and its pitfalls, and what it turns one into (spoiler: a writer.)

I write because I love telling stories.

I write because it is my prime creative outlet. I might have sewing, now, but creating via writing is what I consider my prime hobby. It is the thing from which all others derive. However, I don’t write creatively. I have never written fiction (although I’ve tried. Ha.) Fictionalised accounts of events and people, yes, but not fiction as such. It’s just not my way. I don’t kid myself that I will ever be a Writer (although I am a published author – did you know that? Rachel does!)

And I write because, simply, I love writing.

What are you working on? Honestly, what aren’t I working on? I am not a single project person. Not in sewing, not in life. I have multiple sewing projects on the go at all times. I realised, the other day when I was at the library, that I sew like I read. I find it really difficult to start a book if that book is my only reading choice, even if it is something I want to read. I like having lots of choices, and then I will actually start one of them.

But because you are, perhaps, not interested in the meta level, here are my current projects (and my process in brackets):-

  • Dreaming (I mean Planning) Phase
    • Deer and Doe Bruyere shirt and shirt dress (planning phase; pattern acquired, not yet traced. No idea what fabric. But I am planning very diligently.)
    • Thread Theory’s Strathcona tee shirts for my partner (pattern acquired; not yet traced. Fabric assigned, so that’s pretty good)
    • Kitschy Coo’s Trifecta Top (need to identify suitable fabric. I need more casual clothes!)
    • Cake’s Tiramisu-Belladone in black merino, gifted to me by Ms Cake herself (need to cut into the fabric; might need to trace a 30A bodice, and re-do the waistband as well because I have taken it in in each Tira I’ve made up)
    • Another Cake Tiramisu-Belladone in a knit suitable for work in summer (need to acquire grey-ish or navy-ish (or both-ish) fabric. I love these as work dresses for me. I love the Lady Skater knit dress but it’s a bit too casual. The surplice neck and waistband of Tiramisu just lifts this into the ever so slightly fancier camp)
    • A Sew Over It wrap dress (pattern gifted; must trace and allocate appropriate fabric!)
    • True Bias Hudsons for hiking (made three Hudsons so far; just need to buy suitable technical fabric in appropriate colour and then they’ll be done as soon as the fabric is washed and dried. Fancy trackie-daks sew up fast.)
    • An ever-changing cast of bags.
  • Practically Completed (otherwise known as Fabric Cut & Waiting to be Stitched Up)
    • Sew Loft Emma Pants (only the waistband to go! take that!)
    • Kwik Sew 3422 (button up shirt) for my partner (fabric cut out and collar interfaced)
    • A variety of knit tops
      • More Maria Denmark’s Day-to-Night with sleeves,
      • Maria Denmark Birgitte tee (cut this out ooh maybe summer this year, maybe last year. Still not sewn up. Because it got cold and I did not need the t-shirt. It’s warming up again now, so maybe it will end up with some seams stitched together. Who knows?)
      • more Tessuit Brigitte tees (I’ve taken to randomly cutting a knit tee whenever I cut another project. Then it’s there ready for me to sew when I need to feel productive. Knit tees are my sewing palate cleanser, while things like trousers are my prolonged degustation meals.)
    • A white and navy blue florally print Christine Haynes’ Emery dress hopefully wearable muslin (all cut out since May/June, not even got anywhere near the sewing machine yet. Kinda lost interest. Squirrel!)
  • Some People Might Call These Unfinished Objects But I don’t Because I Live in Fantasy Productivity Land
    • A red linen Deer and Doe Sureau (zipper put in and waiting on a decision from me about whether I rip it out and re-insert; so very close but in that state since June)
    • A floral blue Victory Patterns Chloe (needs zipper inserted or the decision to sew up that seam and wriggle my way into it, because I can)

There. Are you glad you asked or did you need three cups of tea to get through the list?

My winter sewing plans and big blue ticks to show that I’d done stuff. Also, moving some plans to Spring. And maybe next winter (Iconic Patterns’ Jackie Coat)

How does it differ from others of its genre? Well, first, I’d have to define my genre. I guess I’m now firmly within the Sewing Blogging Community, but honestly, I don’t see myself as a sewing blogger. I’m a blogger who happens to sew. I’m also a blogger who loves to read, ride my bike, garden, talk about worms and all kinds of other random stuff called, Life.

No, I’ve worked it out. Worms. Worms is what makes my blog quite different from others. I love them. (But not to touch. Ew. Don’t be gross.)

How does your writing process work? I write much like I sew. In snatches of time. Sometimes, in the 5 – 10 minutes before I eat my lunch at work (okay, I never sew like that). Most often, in the evening at home. Blog posts get written over many days. Photographs get taken whenever I remember and consider there is sufficient light, but I’ve got really, really slack with photographs lately. I blame the iPhone. We are considering purchasing a micro 4/3rds camera and launching back into taking good photographs. We shall see, we shall see.

Once a blog post is ready, I don’t post it for a day or two. I usually go back and proof-read. Depending on the topic of the post, I spend that time thinking about whether I should post. This used to be more of an issue when I blogged about Life, instead of Sewing. Some of my sewing posts just get posted after an hour or so of stewing, rather than days. I rarely write the entire post in one hit, which is possibly why they end up so long.

But, hey, I’m having fun here, not trying to win any blogging awards or, heaven forfend, monetise my blog. So it’s how I like it and how I want to do it and you cannot make me stop. Just try. It will be misery for both of us.

Now, I am supposed to pass this on. I am really bad at passing these things on. My blog is the place where Internet memes go to die. But Rachel did an excellent thing, which was email me FIRST to see whether I would accept the blog hop. Genius, she is. So I followed her lead and emailed some likely candidates, and am therefore passing this onto:

  • Ms Macstabby of Crafternoon Naps I love her post titles. My favourite title so far is: I believe that children are our future. Unless we stop them now. Also, we are fabric twins.
  • Kokorimbaud whose no nonsense style I thoroughly admire. Cake? No, she sews cucumber sandwiches.