Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Up Next - do I dare retry this pattern?

A long time ago, less than 6 months after I started sewing, I made the ugliest top in the world, using Butterick 4799.

This top was so ugly that my dad started laughing the instant I walked out of the sewing room wearing it. (I was sewing at their place - in my tiny apartment, all sewing is done on the dining table.)

My brother joined in the laughter, and then my mother, and I knew I'd created a wadder.

Why am I revisiting this painful memory/pattern?

Because, walking to work today, I saw this woman wear the cutest top in the world - a wrap blouse in an amazing yellow, and I instantly thought - hey, I have a pattern for this.

I know I've a couple of modifications to make here.

- My old version was entirely too short, and browsing the pictures of the reviews on PR, all the versions are too short.
- I need to make the kind of tie that wraps around the body defining a waist.
- Sizing - my old version was shapeless. I need this to look sexy, yet work-appropriate, not potato-sack-like.

Grand conclusion? Muslin time. Shocking.

Hey, what do you know? Not too bad.

This story has a happy ending. (This line stolen, almost word-for-word, from The Life Of Pi. Haven't read it? Stop everything that you are doing and go do so. Mom - this means you.)

When I saw this caftan on my aunt, I had two thoughts:

1. Hey, this would look great as a full skirt!
2. Steal caftan.

So I did.

(Caftan draped on iron - with very curious cat checking it out.)

Actually, I kept touching the fabric and looking with puppy-dog-eyes at my aunt until she took it off and threw it in a bundle towards me, screaming - Stop touching my clothes!

Of course this is a lie. I did look with puppy-dog-eyes, and my aunt sweetly and kindly laundered it and gave it to me. I am very spoiled by my family.

What drew me to this was the fantastic color combination - the blues and the greens look so pretty together. On the caftan, I thought this was a border print, but it isn't - the contrast border is sewn on.

So, only 6-ish months later, here's the skirt. This is McCalls 5474, made before here, and here. (I made it slightly below knee-length this time, and really like it at this length as well.)

There's enough fabric to eke out a top of some kind - any suggestions? For whatever reason, I'm uninspired by the woven top pattern offerings - there are great shirt offerings, but if you aren't the shirt kind, a lot harder to find.

Eeks - what is that?

I hate to say it, but my mom, my cousin and the Selfish Seamstress were all right. Simplicity 2512 is not for me. (No, in-case you were wondering, The Selfish Seamstress wasn't talking about me, just the pattern.)

When my mom looked at the pattern envelope, she said (and therefore inspired the title of this post) - Eek, what is that?

My cousin more diplomatically suggested views C & D might look better.

Ahem. I have hips. Do I need them magnified, by unfortunately placed ruffles and checks? I also have a short waist. Wearing this skirt though, I feel like my breasts have blended into my hips, leaving nothingness where a waist was meant to be.

I'm afraid this dress is meant for tall, skinny girls. Not for short, squat people.

If I do ever wear it out, I'll be wearing it with the shirt tucked out. (Not a significant improvement, however.)

Onward. Next project. Another skirt with gathers. Why? Because I refuse to learn from my mistakes, amigos. I am that much of an idiot.

I am a bad person

But look, how exciting!

If you didn't already know, the Vogue Pattern sale is on till midnight tomorrow. Go shop! (Canada residents: Fabricland has Vogue patterns for $5.99, if you want instant gratification.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday night cooking overload

Read more here about the Madhur Jaffrey project - one of my 2010 goals. For an index of recipes, click here.

My mom wasn't feeling well, so I headed over to my parents to cook up a storm, so she'll have stuff to eat during the week without having to cook. My brother served as sous-chef. (Poor kid, I think he just wanted to browse the Internet. Instead, he cut veggies, stirred dishes so they didn't burn, and did all the dishes.)

Dinner, March 28 - Cream of lentil soup

Dinner, March 28, continued: (from left to right, clockwise) Fried wheat gluten and potato stew; Oily toovar dal with green beans and tomatoes; Matar paneer (peas with paneer); Spinach with raw peanuts; Yogurt with fresh mint, raisins and walnuts; Store-bought chapatis

Cooked March 28, for later eating: Cabbage with yoghurt

Mission accomplished. This is a very full refrigerator. (And for me, a 7-recipe day is awesome.)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Catching up on posting food pictures

Read more here about the Madhur Jaffrey project - one of my 2010 goals. For an index of recipes, click here.

On a a perfect Sunday morning, I woke up, made some amazing scrambled eggs, and lounged around drinking coffee and eating breakfast. Heaven!

Breakfast, Jan 10, 2010 - Scrambled eggs with spicy tomatoes

I made this lentil dish on a night when I was looking for instant gratification. Very little chopping, and 30 minutes later, I had this very tasty lentil dish, which I promptly gobbled up, in front of the TV. There were no leftovers.

Jan 12, 2010 - Lazy weeknight cooking - Lentils with Garlic and Tomatoes

Way back in early January, when I made the Okra fried with Onion and Green Chili, I realized that the Okra with Yogurt recipe involved mixing the cooked-as-described-in-above-recipe okra with yogurt. Well, then. Easy enough. I separated half the okra, mixed it in with yogurt, and called it a bit of a freebie. (But a tasty one.)

January 15, 2010 - Cheater-Cooking: Yogurt with Fried Okra

I made this Geeli Khichri just before I left for vacation. I ate as much as I could, but there were still leftovers. I told my brother to eat it, he didn't - and I had a bit of refrigerator clean-up to do when I returned. The new strategy - dumping leftovers on parents - is a much better idea.

Jan 27, 2010 - Geeli Khichri with store-bought pickle

This was one of the first meals I made when I came back from vacation. The dal did not photograph well, but it was delicious.

Feb 19, 2010 - dinner: Mushrooms with Onion, Garlic and Ginger, Roasted Mung Dal, Store-bought naan

I'd just returned from New York, newly resolute that I was going to finish this challenge. (Also, I had no food in the refrigerator, and I was starving.)

I reached home at 6.30am Monday morning, and I'm proud to say I cooked breakfast, instead of taking a nap. However, alas, I hated this recipe. It was heavy and tasteless. (Reinforcing my life motto - nothing good ever comes out of being awake at 6.30am.)

Breakfast, March 8, 2010 - Chickpea Flour pancakes, with store-bought pickle

Same day, in the evening, I made Potatoes with Whole Spices and Sesame Seeds, and Tomato, cucumber and onion relish. It was a 3-recipe day; dinner was tasty; I was happy.

March 8, 2010 - Potatoes with Whole Spices and Sesame Seeds; Tomato, cucumber and onion relish

The day after, I still had potatoes and the salad above, so I added a dal to it. (More nutritionally complete and all that.)

March 9, 2010 - Dry Mung Dal

Friday, March 12, I had a friend over for dinner to (re)watch Kill Bill. This khichri recipe took 3 hours to make, but it was so melt-in-mouth delicious! 3 hours though. Sigh. Time spent cooking = time not spent cleaning, which is a bit embarrassing really, because my house was not company-ready. More embarrassing - the portion sizes were way off! We scraped out the last of the khichri from the dish. Not having enough food for guests is the Indian-wake-up-screaming-nightmare. Double-sigh. At-least there was wine.

Also, this meal featured my first dessert recipe. I do need to make these, else I'll spend all December eating dessert. (Wait, I already do that. Ok then.)

Dinner March 12, 2010 - from the top of the bowl, clockwise: Gujarati Karhi with okra, Saag vali khichri, Gujarati cucumber and peanut salad. Next picture: Firnee.

Sunday night, March 14. I was lazing around big-time, and had 45 minutes to cook dinner for my parents and a friend of theirs. (If it was just the parents, that would have been ok, they are pretty relaxed.) I made a bunch of things that aren't from the cookbook (emergency go-to-15-minute recipes are awesome). I did make one thing from the cookbook though, this spiced, heated yogurt. It was a big hit (although, honestly, with my mom, not having to make dinner is such a relief that she'd be happy with pretty much anything.)

March 14, dinner with parents: Spiced, heated yogurt.

I made this okra last Friday night. I was heading out to play pool with friends, but decided I wanted to eat healthy first (as opposed to the burger+fries I'd have eaten at the bar.) Good call! This was easy and delicious.

Mar 19, 2010 - Friday night quick eating - Whole Okra (eaten with rice, not pictured)

Distinctly unenthusiastic Monday night cooking. I burnt the lima beans a little, which is a pity, because I have a feeling that had I taken a bit of care, this would have been very, very tasty. As it was, it was just about edible. Shrug.

Mar 22, 2010 - Blah Cooking - Lima Beans with Raisins, brown rice

I was much better the next day. Finding the fried wheat gluten in Chinatown was quite an adventure, so I absolutely wanted to use it before it went bad. (Does fried wheat gluten go bad?) This was absolutely delicious. I did want to make something soupy to go with it, but I had a flight to catch, so I cooked quickly, ate quickly, and set off for the airport.

Dinner, March 23, 2010 - Shredded wheat gluten and cabbage with fennel seeds, served with rice (not pictured)

Wow, that took forever to write!

Friday night dinner

Read more here about the Madhur Jaffrey project - one of my 2010 goals. For an index of recipes, click here.

I have a lot of food photos to post. I am cooking, slower than I should, really, but still, progress is being made.

I left work early yesterday (I was home at 5.15pm, which is really early for me), and was able to cook up a bit of a storm. Since I don't fancy eating all this food for the rest of the week, I called my parents over for dinner.

March 26, 2010 - Dinner with Parents - from top left clockwise - Navy Bean Salad, Aloo Achaar, Tomatoes cooked in the Gujarati style and Sweet and sour eggplant.

The best part? I gave them all the leftovers, so I can now make new things. (This idea of dumping leftovers on my parents came from my cousin Priya. It is sheer genius, because one of the things that keeps me from cooking is a refrigerator filled with leftovers. And my mom doesn't really like to cook, so this will be helpful for her as well. Win-win. Genius.)

My parents felt compelled to rank their favorite dishes. (I'm really not sure why.)

Ranking, according to my dad:
1. Tomatoes cooked in the Gujarati style
2. Navy Bean Salad
3. Sweet and sour eggplant.
4. Aloo Achaar

Ranking, according to my mom:
1. Tomatoes cooked in the Gujarati style
2. Sweet and sour eggplant.
3. Navy Bean Salad
4. Aloo Achaar

So, there you have it. Go cook the Tomatoes in Gujarati style. (And for the record, I liked the Aloo Achaar. I actually saved off a bit for leftovers.)

Kakabeka Falls - Thunder Bay

I was in Thunder Bay on Wednesday for work, and managed to grab an hour to go see Kakabeka Falls.

I got there at 6.30pm, there was only a couple of people in sight. For about 15 minutes (which was all the time I had), I had this completely stunning view all to myself.

It was fun to see the river half-frozen in winter. (It was -17C the next morning when I filled gas before I dropped the rental off, spring hadn't really arrived.)

Oh, and of course, while driving around the town, I stumbled onto a Value Village. I stopped to do a a quick peek at their patterns, and those of the Salvation Army next door. Left with 4 - two on how to make custom shoulder pads (?!) and two others. (Of course.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Toronto the Good

I tend to get a tiny bit reclusive, especially during winter. This keeps me from exploring Toronto, which is a pity, because Toronto is very awesome.

It was clear out today, and I had no food in my refrigerator. So, I headed out to explore.

First, I had a late lunch at Kale. This eatery just opened - it is a self-serve, by-weight eatery that is all vegetarian and organic. It is also around the corner from my apartment. (I'm vegetarian, and I have about a zillion really tasty vegetarian options within a 5-minute radius. All kinds of awesome.)

Kale was yummy, but pricey. (All organic, all vegetarian evidently carries a hefty price tag.)

Then, I headed to Chinatown for groceries. Toronto's Chinatown is right next to the fabric district, which made me very happy, as I was out of bias-tape, and needed it for the skirt I'm working on.

Bias tape purchased, I headed towards food. I browsed a couple of grocery stores, examining unfamiliar vegetables and exotic cookies with great interest. Then I loaded up on veggies for the week.

Next door to the grocery store was a Vietnamese sandwich place. I've always wanted to go in, never have, since I'm not sure if there will be any vegetarian options. (Also, since everything is written in Vietnamese, even if there was something vegetarian, how would I know?) Anyway, I did wander in today, and lo-and-behold, there was a tofu-lemongrass sandwich. Score! And it was $1.75. (No, that is not a mis-type. I can get a yummy Vietnamese sandwich, loaded with tofu and veggies, for cheaper than a hot-dog.)

Have I mentioned that Toronto is awesome?

Sandwich bought, I headed home, stopping to sample some Blueberry Stoli at the liquor store downstairs.

A very fun few hours. Sure, I didn't sew, but I don't care. I like wandering around exploring.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Up next - a skirt from stolen fabric

That sounds pretty terrible, doesn't it?

When I was in New York a couple of weekends ago, I rooted through my cousin's stash. I was trying to give her quilt ideas (which I did, in my defense.) I also spotted this incredibly beautiful silk, a scrap from a sari, I think.

I promptly told her I was taking it, and stuffed it into my luggage before she had a chance to protest.

(She doesn't sew, what does she need it for? I was liberating it, not stealing it.)

(Ok, fine. I'm evil. I admit this.)

But seriously, look how pretty!

In a pretty dramatic twist, this is already on my cutting table. I'm making Simplicity 2512, the Cynthia Rowley skirt.

I've barely any fabric, so facings are most likely going to be with different fabric, as are pockets. I'm hoping to finish cutting this tonight, and make it up tomorrow evening.

St. Patrick Day's dress - done!

I was too busy yesterday celebrating to actually take pictures, but the dress got done on time, woohoo!

Here it is. McCall 5466, view B.

Now, a lined dress has about a zillion steps, but this did come together easily. I really like the way this looks from the front. Bonus: the dress has pockets.

I bought the fabric over two years ago - so I'm really pleased I used stash fabric. I also did use a black zipper, but you can't really see it, so that worked out ok.

Dislike: I don't love the back. All the pleats seem unnecessary. Like my sewing review says - the next time I'll make this, I'll swap out a plain bodice and skirt back.

I am so pleased though, that this dress got done on time. St. Patty's day attracts a lot of craziness at the bar - but I felt professional, classy, and still festive. Which is pretty cool.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Saint Patrick Day's dress - progress report

It is looking good. (Knock on wood.)

St. Patrick's Day is almost a religious holiday for someone who drinks as much beer as I do, and clearly, this is a deadline that motivates me.

So far:

- The dress and lining are cut out.
- All the darts are sewn, both in the green fabric, and in the lining (a task I usually procrastinate on, and hate doing.)
- The bodice on the green fabric is sewn, the bodice on the lining - mostly so.

So tomorrow - I'll have to:

- Sew the skirt, both green fabric & lining. (The skirt has pockets, a tiny complicating factor.)
- Attach bodice to skirt.
- Attach bodice to bodice lining.
- Attach sleeves.
- Attach zipper.
- Hem.

That seems very doable. (Well, I hate hemming, but that's the worst thing in this list.)

And, if you haven't seen this Guinness commercial before, I think this might be my all-time favorite commercial.

Up Next - Saint Patrick Day sewing

I've two green dresses in my wardrobe.


But... the first dress is a very thin cotton; not winter-appropriate or work-appropriate. And the second dress is in the mending pile - I need to re-do the zipper on it, since invisible zippers are actually supposed to be gulp! invisible.

So, I've two evenings to make a fully-lined green dress.

I'm going to be using McCall 5466 - view B.

My fabric is a very dark-green solid. (So dark that I had to look at it under very good light to make sure it wasn't black.)

This is not a hard pattern to make. If I get the lining cut out (the one task that causes an incredible amount of procrastination) I'll get it finished. (Of course, I don't have a green zipper, but I've decided that a black zipper will work fine.)

Sunday, March 14, 2010


I spent all of my sewing time this weekend sewing this monstrosity.

Aargh. Everything that could go wrong on a project went wrong. This project has 4 pieces - I ripped every seam. And at the end, I've a shirt that is too tight, the bust darts are entirely in the wrong place, and this looks like shit.

Still. I had a half yard of Value Village fabric, all I've wasted is time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How do you find time to sew?

The Slapdash Sewist makes one fabulous garment a week, from what I can tell. As does Amanda. And Dawn. And Peter. The Selfish Seamstress just made a pair of jeans.


So, I stop to ask, how do you find time to sew? Because I can't seem to.

I'm looking for serious insight. Please don't tell me you neglect housework. My tiny 1-bedroom apartment hasn't been mopped in weeks. I already neglect housework.

Here's what I want to know:

- What time do you get out of work?
- How do you structure your weeknights? (1 hour to cook; 2 hours to sew; 3 hours to watch TV, that kind of thing.)
- How much sleep do you get?
- Do you go out on weeknights?

In my world:

- I get out of work at about 6.30.
- I get home almost instantly (I live 10 minutes away, door-to-door.)
- Playing with the cat; watching TV; eating dinner; browsing the Internet (evil, evil Internet) all take up 2-3 hours.
- So, best case scenario, I have about 2 hours to sew. Assuming I don't (a) go out, (b) clean the apartment, or (c) cook.
- On average, I go out 2 weeknights a week. I also go out on Friday and Saturday.
- I also cook at-least 2 weeknights. (Madhur Jaffrey project.)
- I wake up late. During the week, just enough time to get to work. On weekends, if I wake up before 10.30am, I consider this a win.
- I do get a lot of sleep. 8 hours is both common and necessary.

I look at my life, and I feel like I should be significantly more productive than I actually am.

Help me, please?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Mid-week mumbling

So, that portion in the last entry where I said I'd do my best not to buy anything in New York?

That was before I waded into the Garment district.

$66; less than two hours; 2 stores; about 15 yards.

At which point, I fled, and never returned.

In my defense - everything I bought was a must-have. It was cheap and pretty. (Ok, that's a weak defense, and probably applies to 75% of the stash, at-least.)

Other mumbling:

- I'm off tomorrow afternoon for a 2.5 day work trip (I fly back Friday evening.) No sewing for me for the next couple of evenings.

- I did cut the gray top tonight. I'm trying a frankenpattern, and it is giving me a wee bit of trouble. I could have stayed up and solved it, but instead I stayed up and browsed the internet. (With the tiniest bit of cleaning tossed in, to make me feel a bit better.)

- In related news, I should seriously consider turning off my Internet access for a month. And perhaps TV as well. When I moved into my apartment, for the couple of weeks when I didn't have cable or the Internet, I had all kinds of spare time. I visited book stores, wandered around the city... I am, however, afraid to take the plunge.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Up next

I randomly pulled a grey floral fabric from my stash, determined to use it next. This fabric - I bought eons ago, at Value Village. I have, umm, half a yard, tops! I'm not sure why I ever did buy it, but then again, I was pretty new to sewing when I bought it, and I guess I thought I could make it work.

Possibilities are Butterick 4987 - which I've made twice before - here. (I evidently never photographed the other one.) I guess I could also try to squeeze my go-to Simplicity 4036 A-line skirt (boring!), sewn up - here and here.

In any case, no sewing this weekend, since I'm off to New York City! I'm taking a crazy all-night bus to get there and back, but it'll be worth it. Some fabric stores will be visited - though I'll try my best not to buy anything. I'll see the Tim Burton exhibit, visit a couple of other museums, and hang out with friends. All good.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Vintage Sewing - McCalls 5885

And it is done!

I'm never very sure whether it is worthwhile to do a review of a vintage pattern. But here are the things I did/did not do/found interesting:

- I took 28 inches of the width of the back piece. See the picture of the back (below), and how gathered it is already? Picture it with 28 more inches. I would have looked like a ripe watermelon.
- The skirt was also ankle length. I ruthlessly chopped off the pattern - I'm afraid, with a bit too much enthusiasm. In a perfect world, this skirt would be 2 inches longer.
- I am not, even in vintage sizing, a size 14 on top. The bodice does not fit perfectly. However, since it was princess-seamed, I had not the slightest idea how to adjust, and instead took an inch of the side seam. The busy pattern hides a multitude of sewing and fitting sins.
- This pattern includes a single facing piece for the neck & arm - can I just rave about how much I love this approach, rather than fiddle around with bias binding to bind the armhole edges? Love. Adore. Big 4 patterns should bring this back.
- It is clearer on the pattern envelope, but the skirt isn't gathered all across the front, rather, there is a pleat, and gathers at the side. I like this touch - my tummy does not need gathers. (Well, neither does any other bit, really, but that's an entirely different story.)

Front, back & side views:

Styled a couple of different ways:

Some people can effortlessly carry off vintage clothing - I'm not one of them. My personal style is closer to Banana Republic or JCrew - simple lines, clean cuts. (Don't judge me by my sewing - what I sew is dictated by what I'm skilled enough to make.) The last vintage dress I made - I really liked for its clean lines and contemporary look. This dress is more obviously vintage/costume-y. It will get some wear and use, but I can't see it being my go-to dress.

Favorite bit - my invisible zipper - as close to impeccable as I've ever done. Least favorite bit - finding my ruffler foot *after* I'd painstakingly gathered and sewn the skirt. I hate gathers, I can't ever get them even.

Other boring details:

Fabric - I bought in WalMart in South Carolina, when visiting my brother. $2? $2.50 a yard. (I only buy the very cheap fabric at WalMart - why pretend that you are there for a reason other than the prices?) I haven't done a burn test, but I'd swear this is 100% cotton. And I'm desperately hoping it doesn't shrink, since I didn't prewash. I never do.
Time - Not hard to make, a couple of evenings? I'm a slow and distracted sewer, I'll be sewing a seam, then I'll get up to check mail - 2 hours later, I'll continue my seam - you get the picture. My time estimates are mostly meaningless.

What do y'all think? Too costume-y? Makes me look short and fat? Talk to me, people!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Two days of cooking

Read more here about the Madhur Jaffrey project - one of my 2010 goals. For an index of recipes, click here.

Feb 28 Cooking: Buttermilk

This is good, but in India, I had the best buttermilk at an aunt's place - and I need to (a) try to recreate it, and (b) then share the recipe.

March 1 Cooking: (clockwise from top left) Yogurt with cucumber and mint, Cauliflower and potatoes cooked with fenugreek and fennel seeds, Tomatoes cooked in the Bengali style and Masoor dal soup

I now have food for the week. Awesome.