On style, sewing and the usefulness of beautiful things

flower vase f

Like many bloggers who sew garments, I sometimes feel that this passion for making clothes is a shallow passion. I see how the idea of a hobby that is focused so much on the outside can be seen as shallow.

In a passage of Les Miserables, the poor and kind Bishop is asked by Madame Magloire, who is in charge with all domestic duties, why he insists on planting flowers on a piece of land where vegetables could be planted. “The beautiful is as useful as the useful”, he replies. “Perhaps more so”.

It can be thus said, that making beautiful things is as useful as making useful things. Yet making beautiful garments, being preoccupied with them and wearing them is often considered the equivalent to having, or being preoccupied with, style.

The beautiful is as useful as the useful”, he replies. Perhaps more so

And what is style?

According to the Oxford dictionary, style is one of the top 1000 most used words in English. We care about style.

It is also defined as the particular manner in which something is done. Style can be observed in painting, writing, music, architecture, language and way of speaking. The numerous definitions of style all seem to indicate a way that is recognisable.

In fashion, it is often called iconic. Who are the era’s most iconic fashion leaders? What do Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington, Iris Apfel and Frida Khalo have in common? There may be many other things, but here I’m referring to their personal style, they manner of acting, talking, being thinking. It’t not just clothes. They are symbols, they are objects to communicate ideas.

Many of the most popular style books, talk about “dressing like” and the “clothes you need to look stylish”. But they don’t spend too much time on values and principles.

As a maker, I feel a need to talk about texture, fabric, form, fit, how a garment is cared for and how it ages. This is fun. The idea of having to own a pair of stilettos, a specific type of cocktail dress or a trench, or sunglasses, or purse, just because they are stylish, or in fashion, seems a bit silly. I have nothing against sunglasses or heels. What I am saying is that nobody can prescribe style.

Style is what you choose from all the options out there. Is what you already like. It’s what you feel most comfortable with. No one else can tell you what your style is.

 

 

 

5 things I’ve learned from Modernist Cuisine at Home

cooking modernist cuisine raw egg in a pile of flour grana padano and fresh pasta

This blog is about sewing and knitting, and other DIY, yet today I wanted to share what I’ve learned from reading, Modernist Cuisine at Home, a book by Maxime Bilet and Nathan Myhrvold. I’m only 20% through the book, but I wanted to make a note on some things that I thought were worth remembering and sharing! Do you cook as well? (If you do, there are more links to places on this blog, where I talked about food, at the end of this post)

1. Corn is not the only cereal you can pop in the microwave, you can also try quinoa and wheat! You can make your own microwave popcorn bags by using a clean paper bag sealed with toothpicks! Purple Kappa even tested a muslin bag she made for popping corn in the microwave – genius! Lately I’ve been adopting some new habits that have to do with reusing and repurposing and the idea of a reusable popcorn bag sounds really good.

2. You can steam veggies like bok choi, carrots, peppers and potatoes in a ziplock bag, in the microwave. The sealed environment inside the bag is great for perfect steaming, and it takes less time than the stove top. Tested! I still use my bamboo steamer for this, but if you’re out of time and in need of tasty food this works.

3. The idea of sous vide (which means cooking ingredients in a sealed plastic bag or canning jar and then placing them in a water bath) might be trendy, but it is not new. Preserving and cooking food preserved in leaves (like tamales), canned in fat or salt or sealed inside animal intestines is actually a cooking technique found in almost every cuisine. I personally don’t love the idea of using plastic bags for cooking, but I like the idea of cooking sous vide. I would like to experiment with leaves, like plantain leaves or cooking marmalade or sauce in a mason jar.

4. If you’re going to store cooked food, cooking it quickly in a bath of cold water or ice will help maintain juiciness and the flavour of freshly cooked dishes. To me this was surprising as I thought it was better to leave food cool down naturally and then freeze or store in the fridge.

5. If you want to give your barbecue meat a touch of smokiness, you can throw a few chips of wood over the burning coal, as the meat is cooking. It won’t have the same effect as smoking meat for hours, but it will give it a hint of flavour. The authors don’t say which types of wood you can use, though.

cooking modernist cuisine grana padano and fresh pasta

What about you? What are your top cooking tips?

Please note: In the spirit of full disclosure, this post contain an affiliate link, which means that I may get a commission if you decide to purchase this book after following the link. I only recommend products that I use and love myself, and I have not been compensated to write about this product. Any potential commission earned goes back into supporting this website and creating more content. Thank you!

As promised (wow, you made it all the way to here, hooray!), here are some of my recipes on this blog:

My mum’s plum cake recipe

A simple bread recipe (no fancy equipment needed)

An easy pear tart

Cherry tart recipe

The first time I had Ceviche 

A day of Italian food in Bergamo

 

 

Knitting WIP: Leftover Cardigan (Inspired by Pegouno)

leftover cardigan

Not too long ago I decided that I would stop buying yarn. My yarn stash was growing bugger and bigger and the number of finished and loved projects was still very small. Some of the knitted projects I have finished lately are:

  • a white cardigan (my first knitted garment!) which turned out cute
  • this vest which is in the unravel pile right now
  • this mint knitted t-shirt which turned out meh and was since donated
  • this cute pom pom hat I wore all winter + 3 other hats I made as gifts (so rewarding <3)
  • and this wool chunky sweater, which I really liked but couldn’t really wear as it was too warm to layer under a winter coat or to wear inside during winter and not enough to wear on its own

At this point I was left with lots of tiny skeins of yarn in different colours, textures and weights. What to do?

leftover cardigan 2

And then, one day I saw the Pegouno (Penguin) cardigan designed by Stephen West, a knitwear designer based in Amsterdam. The pattern (like everything he designs) is really funky and really fun. A sort of patchwork for yarn, which allows you to mix yarn in different weights and textures.

Here are other amazing knit patterns by Westknits: this short-sleeved coat-cardigan, this magical sweater, and this embroidered panda dolman sleeve sweater.

leftover cardigan 3

Inspired by the Pegouno cardigan, I started knitting a similar cardigan. As usual, I am not following a pattern, but rather trying it on as I go. My cardigan – which I am calling the leftover cardigan – is a bit different: first it’s fitted and a bit longer. And I want to make it long-sleeved. But the principle is the same: play with the yarn you have and make something new.

leftover cardigan 4

To knit this, I started with the two square blocks that make the back and then added the rectangular stripes to the sides.

leftover cardigan 5

Then I picked up the stitches from the collar and front lapels and knitted a border. I did the same with the bottom hem and then I joined the shoulders.

leftover cardigan 6

If I leave it as a vest, I could to the same with the armholes, but I would rather like this to be long-sleeved, so I think I will knit another rectangle at the bottom of each armhole and then pick and knit the armhole on circular needles. Unless you have a better idea? 🙂

With the lovely weather outside I am not very inspired to keep knitting this, but it would be nice to finish it before moving to a next project.

 

A pleated floral skirt

floral skirt

I made a skirt! And I actually wore it outside the house. These are two important moments in my life as a maker and wearer or skirts 😉

I was never a big fan or skirts because I considered them fussy and higher maintenance than a pair of shorts, especially when you bike, run around and sit in the grass, looking at ducks floating peacefully on the lake.

But when I received this beautiful fabric as a Christmas gift, I thought it would make a really pretty skirt.

floral skirt back snap detail floral skirt back detail

The skirt itself is just a rectangle of fabric, shaped by knife pleats, with a fitted waistband. I used a zipper and a pressure button for closure.

floral skirt sq

I like the skirt because the cotton is quite thick so it can stand a little wind. It also makes it bicycle friendly (tested!). The overall shape, a bit like an inverted peony looks very pretty, makes it look special. With flat sandals and a t-shirt it looks pretty and casual and it can look quite formal with heels and a silky blouse.

I haven’t lined it yet, but I think I will.

MMM16 Weeks 3 and 4

mmm16 week 3 detail

A bit late, but just as insightful as if would have been, have I written this two weeks ago 🙂

Week three

The third week of May was dedicated to watercolor. I received a beautiful new watercolor pad as a gift and the paper is beautiful! It was such a pleasure to paint on it.

My me-mades on the drying line are, from right to left:

  • a me-made striped t-shirt I made using a self-drafted pattern,
  • another white self-made t-shirt,
  • a suede house robe I made as a muslin for the Oslo cardigan and turned out really pretty,
  • a self drafted blue cotton floral eyelet t-shirt blouse
  • a pair of new pajamas in a fun robots and rackets fabric, using the Moji pants Seamwork pattern and replacing the drawstring with elastic

mmm16 week 3

Week four

I was travelling the last week of June so my me-made-outfits were a bit more planned than usual. Again from left to right:

  • the floral peplum top I self-drafted and thrifted denim shorts with a new hem
  • a RTW green tank top I had for ever and the refashioned jeans I got from my sister last year.
  • a batwing wool knit dress I refashioned recently and leggings

mmm16 week 4 part two

  • a RTW little black dress and a tiny floral shirt I made recently using a pattern I made starting from the Negroni shirt pattern by Collette Patterns
  • a blue top with a mesh lace top part of the bodice (this must have a more specific name, do you know it?) with a loong story. When I first bought it, it was a long-sleeved, shirred hem, super see-through pink blouse. With a snip there and a dye bath there it turned into something I wear quite a lot!

MMM16 week 4 part one

Things I learned from MMM16

I wasn’t sure what I was going to gain from Me Made May, but I always love everyone’s post, ideas, point of view. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about my wardrobe, but I discovered some new things:

  • Most of the RTW garments I own are refashioned/edited/remade/changed in some way. I didn’t realise it before, but I almost never wear a piece of clothing the way it was designed to be worn
  • When I make my own clothes, I don’t focus on tailoring and fitting as much as I should. I end up with meh-fitting garments I spent hours to make, when just another hour of seam unpicking (aaargh!), removing a couple of centimetres here and there, adding a little dart, would turn that garment into something beautiful!
  • I still have a lot of clothes that I love because I’ve made them and they are beautiful, but don’t feel right for me/my lifestyle. I need to do something about this.
  • I had a lot of fun with the different types of illustrations I used for these two last weeks, as well as week 2 and week 1.

What about you? How was your MMM16?

 

Me Made May 16 – Week 2

mmm16 week 2

This second week of me made may 2016 I’m experimenting with documenting the clothes I made or tailored or refashioned by drawing in coloured pencils. It’s really great to try something new.

Coloured pencils are so uncomplicated. In the best way possible. I mean, there are wonderful artists out there that do magical things with their ideas, ability and… coloured pencils, but most of us had a box of pencils when we were kids. It was okay to just scribble away all day and if I remember correctly, there was no other goal than having fun. And an inexplicable urge to draw.

Drawing and documenting what you make and what you actually wear have another advantage: zooming in on the details and cherishing the little things. The simple, beautiful things of everyday.

Monday and Tuesday

Drawing also helps us discover new things about the most common objects around us. Take this denim trench, that I recently thrifted and refashioned and now wear all the time. I couldn’t draw it from memory, I had to look at the shape and the position of the pockets, just to be sure. I had no idea it had that upper row of pockets!

The refashioned sweatshirt is the same one I was talking about here. It’s just comfy and great for rainy days.

mmm16 week 2 trench and sweatshirt

Wednesday and Thursday

Two of the me made and me transformed tops I wore this week are both very old friends. The one on the left is a top I made many years ago, from a beautiful piece of white gauzy fabric that I bought at a flea market and I wanted to turn into curtains at that time. Alas, I had bought too little of it.

I first made a top using a Burda pattern that was a bit like an inverted tulip. It had looked lovely on the model, it looked really awkward on me. It stayed in my closet, marinating for a while, until I just cut of the bottom part and left the hem straight. And what do you know, the perfect woven fabric t-shirt was thus born.

I’ve worn this for a couple of years I think, until, one sunny day involving ice cream, or maybe vermut, or maybe both. The stains did not come out. So I dyed it grey. It came out even better than before. And here we are, many years after, still together 🙂

The second top was RTW and had a similar fate. The white and blue stripes gradually became off-white and blue stripes, and later strange-white and blue stripes. So off-in-the-same-bucket-of-dye it went and, like the previous shirt, it came out looking even better. It’s still one of my favourite t-shirts.

mmm16 week 2 tops

Friday 

These jeans were waiting in my closet since last summer, when my sister gave them to me as a gift. She had also received them as a gift. I really wanted to wear them, but the fabric (really sturdy, 100% cotton) was a bit stiff and with their full-length bootcut, they felt… heavy (does that make sense)? And the fit… meh.

I kept thinking about things I could do to them and how I could tailor them to make them fit great (hey are a gift from my sister after all!) and decided to get the seam ripper and remove the back pockets. I also tailored them to fit as peg trousers and cut them off just above the ankle. Very trendy, you will say. Yet that perfect, just above the ankle crop, also cut away the little family of stubborn stains of mysterious origins.

The result: my new favourite pair!

mmm16 week 2 jeans

Weekdays

As a bonus, I wanted to talk about my lunch and furosiki. Furoshiki is the Japanese way or wrapping goods, gifts, clothes that needed to be transported, in fabric. The fabric can be reused again and again. Any fabric napkin can be turned into a lunch bag, but for making this one, I used a beautiful pink and orange fabric I received as a gift. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, because I liked it a lot, but it didn’t inspire me to make any garments from it. But turning it into fabric napkins means it gets used and I get to see it every week.

We’ve had the two sets of eight for a few months now. They are super easy to wash and reuse. And they look pretty. Before, I had made white fabric napkins, but I noticed patterned fabric are more forgiving for everyday use.

What about you, how was MMM16 last week and what discoveries did you make?

 

mmm16 week 2 furoshiki

Me Made May 16 – Week 1

me made may 2016

Love the idea of MMM16, or Me Made May, the challenge to wear things you’ve made or refashioned yourself for a month. Not so much the idea of selfies 🙂

This week I experimented with illustration as a way to record and share my MMM16 musings.

Monday: leggings and a thrifted sweatshirt that I refashioned and completely reshaped. I made a mistake and forgot to change my needle to ballpoint and had to unpick a seam when I sewed this, which means that there are some unsightly holes under one of the armholes 🙁 I was thinking I could add embroidery to fix that and give this sweatshirt a second refashion.

me made may 16 refashioned sweatshirt

Tuesday: Denim Adelaide dress, yet to be blogged and a black RTW t-shirt. I’ve had this t-shirt for a long time and I am impressed how well it still looks.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 13.21.05

Wednesday: Self made white t-shirt in self-drafted pattern (yay!) and Adelaide world map vest, together with refashioned jeans.

me made may 16 self made vest and tshirt

Thursday: Traditional Romanian Peasant blouse (called “ie” in Romanian) that I did not make but want to try to make one day and a refashioned high-waisted denim skirt. Not pictured, but worn, self knitted white cardigan.

me made may 16 denim skirt and peasant blouse

Friday: refashioned plaid shirt and black joggers (the fancier word for sweatpants:). I’ve had this shirt for more than 10 years and I wear it almost every week. It might even be one of the first men shirts I restyled.

me made may 16 shirt and joggers

It was also fun to do these illustrations every day 🙂

How is your MMM16 going so far?

New: Sky Turtle Embroidery Patterns

frida embroidery pattern free

Today I’m launching a new series: the Sky Turtle Embroidery Patterns, starting this summer with the ICONS mini-collection. The first of the four embroidery patterns is Frida.

You can download the free embroidery pattern by subscribing to our newsletter here. You’ll instantly receive the download link.

We only email when we publish new content and we will not share your address with anyone else. Next month, you will also receive the new embroidery pattern, right in your inbox!

What’s in the pack?

A high quality printable PDF with the Frida pattern in five different sizes, so you can embroider a tiny logo on a polo shirt, decorate a skirt or embroider a pillowcase.

2

How to use the embroidery pattern

There are several ways to transfer your printed patter to fabric: you can trace it with a pencil, using a window and the light of day, or you can use tracing paper.

how to trace your embroidery pattern

Another way to transfer your pattern is to print directly on your fabric. I press and then tape the fabric on a piece of cardboard and print as usual. Disclaimer: please use this method at your own risk! I’ve used it a few times, but I am okay with potentially jamming/destroying my printer. In case you are not, better stick with the tracing method 🙂

tracing the embroidery pattern

How to embroider Frida

This embroidery pattern is beginner friendly. You can only use a back stitch if you want. I’ve used satin stitches for her hair and flowers, but feel free to use your creativity.

I recommend using a medium weight woven fabric for this pattern. I’ve embroidered my sample on a gauzy woven fabric and it puckers a little. You could also embroider on a heavier knit or polo fabric.

1

That’s it. If you use it, I’d love to see the end result!

 

The problem with sewing as much as you want

pretty alladin fabric

The only problem with sewing as much as you want is that you end up with lots of stuff. Lots of garments you loved to think about, plan out, and make reality.

But how much stuff does one need?

Not so much, I think.

When putting back in storage (finally!) my winter clothes and reviewing my possessions (which I am trying to keep to a certain minimum that still lets me discover new combinations and garments I love and not worn in a while), I realised I have a bit more than I really need.

Do I love everything I sew? I care for all of them, because I made them and I liked making them, but If I could give them away to someone who would enjoy them as much as I do, I would be just as happy. But I don’t feel like giving them away to someone who doesn’t understand their value. Do you know what I mean?

So what do you do with the too many garments you make every season? Do you keep them all? Do you have a friend with similar fashion taste to give them to? Do you just donate them?

I am also curious, what do you love most, the process of sewing or the final result?

 

 

 

A self-drafted floral peplum top

floral peplum top 2

“Oh! A top with flowers”… my partner exclaimed when presented with this blouse.” But you don’t really do flowers…”

And it’s true. I don’t. Normally. Yet when I saw this fabric, a light and fresh cotton batiste it screamed of spring and pretty things. There was still snow on the ground then, but today it feel like a good day to share this without feeling spring will be jinxed and forever banished from Canada.

In a recent post, Portia was writing how sewing enables us to adapt trends (or in this case things that inspire us) and make them work for us. I like that.

floral peplum top 3

And I like how this blouse looks. It’s one of the few self-drafted patterns I that looks exactly like what I wanted. I even did a muslin for this. The construction is simple: a darted bodice that flares a bit from the waist down. The peplum is created with a few rows of shirring. The sleeves are set in and end just above the elbow. The neck opening is large enough to make any zippers or buttons unnecessary, which is a kind of simplicity I really like.

I initially went for 3/4 sleeves, but they didn’t balance well the bodice. It looked strange. Now looking at the photos I am wondering whether the blouse would look better with shorter sleeves… any suggestions?

floral peplum top_1

Garment notes:

Sewing pattern: self-drafted

Things I wish I’d done differently: I could have made it a few centimetres longer.

Fabric: Cotton batiste, 1m  14 CAD

No notions, thread from my stash.

Final cost = 14 CAD