Sunday, August 18, 2013

Tiramisu serger dress

Another quick knit project, constructed mainly on my serger. Knits really are great for instant gratification! I downloaded and pieced together the pattern yesterday morning, and today the dress is mainly completed (I still have to let the dress hang a day before I hem it since the skirt is on the bias).

The pattern is the Tiramisu dress from Cake Patterns. The way that the pattern is constructed is really neat: It has a modular design where you choose your top pattern piece based on your high and full bust measurements (in my case a 35 D), your skirt piece based on your waist measurement (35), and then draw your own custom waistband piece based on the top and bottom sizes that you've selected. Designing patterns this way just makes so much sense, because it builds in the assumption that bodies vary and your hip measurement can't necessarily be inferred from your bust measurement (or vice versa). I'm quite comfortable making alterations to "standard" patterns myself (and probably mess with patterns more than I should, really), but I think that many sewists would feel more comfortable working with a pattern like this where you're essentially making some basic alterations just by choosing different pattern pieces. As a result of this nifty design, the pattern is wearable for me with no alterations (!!). It helps of course that the pattern is a knit (adding fit forgiveness) and has kimono sleeves (so no need to adjust the shoulder seam, which is often a problem for me).

The instructions are generally quite good, but one thing that I did change was to bind the armholes after sewing up the side seams, rather than doing the binding first as the instructions suggest. Attaching the binding in the round is only marginally more time consuming than doing it flat, and it gives a better finish so that you don't have the side seam poking out the bottom of the arm hole. I'm also still not terribly happy with the way the neckline turned out. The pattern piece for the neckline binding is eased into the neckline a bit, and I turned up the differential feed on my serger to snug it up even more, but after topstitching the binding (with a zig zag stitch and a walking foot) it still looks a little stretched out. I'll probably shorten the binding piece even more and increase the stitch length on the topstitch the next time I make this pattern, and hopefully that should help. I might also consider just eliminating the stretch from the neckline entirely by using some stay tape.

The fabric that I used for this pattern is a polyester sweater-ish knit from Fabricville -- not the type of fabric that I would ordinarily gravitate towards, but the print really jumped out at me. The directional lines in the print work really well for the bias cuts in this dress. I like this pattern enough that I can see making it again in a more expensive fabric like a silk jersey. If I could manage to find a nice printed silk jersey, this would be a great pattern to make a DVF inspired faux-wrap dress!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Marimekko pants

I'll just start off by saying that I recognize these pants are a little insane. In my head these were going to be just a little funky and mostly fabulous, but as I got further and further into them I realized they were not quite what I intended. These are made from a fabric remnant I got at the Marimekko store while I was recently in Vancouver, and while I was sitting in the hotel room with the fabric draped over my lap, I thought -- pants! Printed pants are all over the place right now, and what could be better than Marimekko printed pants? The scale of the print is probably too big for pants, though, and the fact that I had a veeeerrry small piece of fabric and had essentially no choice about pattern placement also didn't help. Midway through sewing them, the SO started singing "Funky Pants" (to the tune of Funky Town) whenever I went to go work on them. The final shot to my confidence in the Marimekko pants project came when my sewing/running buddy affectionately told me that if I wore these to teach I would probably be known as Professor CrazyPants. There are probably worse things to be known for in academia, but suffice it to say I've decided these will probably remain weekend pants.
On the plus side, this is now the third pair of bottoms that I've sewn recently using my digital pants sloper, and the fit is really pretty good now. The first attempt I made at sewing something using that sloper was in a linen fabric that just stretched endlessly when I tried to sew it, and in my frustration with that project I never managed to get around to picking the sloper pattern back up again. Maybe one more pair of pants is in order, this time in a more sedate fabric!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Vegan apple marzipan cake

This cake has come to be known in our household as the SO's birthday cake, because he loves but it's labor intensive enough that I only make it for special occasions (ie, his birthday). The most fabulous bit about this cake is the thin layer of marzipan rolled out over the top and glazed with apricot jam and rum right after it comes out of the oven. Yum!

The recipe came to me from the SO's mother, and before that from a German vegan listserv. We translated the recipe (which is not as straightforward as you might think since there are several staples of German baking--such as pre-measured baking powder packets and sugar mixed with vanilla extract--that are not available over here) and I've tweaked it a bit over the years. I haven't seen anything similar on any of the vegan blogs I frequent, so I'll share the recipe here.

Apple marzipan cake

For the crust:
1 1/3 c flour
1/3 c margarine
1/3 c sugar
3 tbsp water

For the filling:
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c margarine
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp rum
10 drops lemon extract
pinch salt
1/4 c soy (or almond) milk
1 3/4 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
4 medium apples, peeled and finely sliced

For the topping:
150g marzipan
2 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp rum

1. Mix all ingredients together for the crust, and store in the fridge in plastic wrap to chill before rolling out.
2. Roll out crust to 1/4 inch thick and place at the bottom of a greased springform pan.
3. Cream margarine and sugar, vanilla, run, lemon extract, and salt together for the filling batter. Blend in soy milk and then sift flour and baking powder into the wet ingredients (note that the batter ends up very thick, sometimes I add a bit more soy milk if it's too thick to spread easily).
4. Spread half of this batter over the crust. Arrange the sliced apples on top of the batter, and then spread the remainder of the batter on top.
5. Knead the marzipan and roll out into a thin layer, spread out on top of the cake and pat it down.
6. Bake the cake for 40 min at 350F.
7. Immediately after the cake comes out of the oven, spread the apricot jam and rum mixture on top of the marzipan crust, and allow the cake to cool.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A cord jacket for my SO

Doesn't he look smashing? Like so many of my projects, this one has been a long time in the making. I think the SO started asking me for a cord jacket back when we first moved in together, and I bought the fabric (for a song!) in Ithaca at SewGreen. When we went to visit the SO's parents last summer I found the perfect pattern for the jacket in a set of Burdas that were gifted me by one of my mother-in-law's friends (a retired seamstress), and I think I first started tracing and muslining the pattern sometime in July or August.

Fitting the jacket was actually quite easy -- I don't know if that's because menswear is easier to fit in general since it has fewer curves to accommodate, or if it's just easier to do fitting on someone else. I lengthened the sleeves quite substantially (more than two inches, I think), which is not surprising considering that the SO often has problems with arm length in clothes. I also took a tuck out of the back at the shoulder seam, essentially increasing the slope of the shoulder line but on the back piece only and not the front. Don't ask me why this worked, it seems bizarre to me. But I guess the advantage of doing pin fitting is that you don't really have to know the whys and hows of pattern alternation, you just take out extra fabric where you see it. I also nipped the jacket in at the back waist a bit along the two seam lines.

Actually constructing the jacket was in.credibly. time consuming. This was partially my fault, because I did all of the tailoring by hand -- many many hours of padstitching went into that collar (much of which I did somewhat passive aggressively while sitting with the SO on the couch, so that he could see exactly how much hand work I was putting in). The SO wears his clothes forever, though, so I figured it was worth it so that I wouldn't be looking at a floppy collar five years from now and feeling annoyed that I hadn't built it to last. The other time consuming aspect was working with the cord fabric. You have to take the directionality of the fabric into account (more than one piece had to be cut a second time when I realized I'd cut the piece with the nap in the wrong direction), you have to press it carefully to avoid flattening the cord, and the nap also meant that the pieces sometimes had a mind of their own when I was sewing them right sides together. It took me until about November to assemble the main body of the jacket and padstitch the collar, and then it was put aside for a bit while I worked on some Christmas presents.

I slowly picked away at it during the winter, in between other projects, and by the end of March I was able to put the finishing touches on it right before we went away for a trip over Easter weekend.

The buttons for the jacket were rather pricey, partially because I bought them at the lovely but not at all cheap Britex Fabrics, and partially because there was no way I was putting cheap plasticky buttons on this jacket after all the work I'd put into it. Many of the non-plastic button options that matched this green/brown/grey tones of the jacket were made of horn or bone, which seemed wrong for a jacket made for a vegan, so I opted for these buttons made out of a beautiful dark tropical wood.

I actually bought two lining fabrics for this jacket -- the first was a solid color that just seemed too boring, so I searched a bit more and came up with this floral paisley fabric. Much better! I also added an inside pocket to the jacket lining, which I was sorely tempted to skip because I was getting sick of working on the jacket by that point. The SO says that the extra pocket is quite useful, though, so I'm glad that went to the trouble of adding it. I drafted the lining with an ease pleat in the back, but I didn't add any vertical ease to the lining and I think that this was a mistake. Next time I'd but a bit of ease in at the jacket and sleeve hems to make sure the lining doesn't cause any strange bunching.

So there you have it! One very longstanding project done. Gives me hope that I might one day finish the processor quilt! A final fun fact about these pictures is that I actually gave the SO the hair cut that he's sporting in the finished project photos here -- he hasn't had his hair cut since probably sometime in 2012, and so I started threatening that I'd cut it myself if he didn't go to the barber. This bluff completely backfired when he came home the other day with a hair clipper kit from Costco. I was afraid that this home hair cutting experiment was going to end up an utter disaster, but to my surprise it's not terrible. Looks like I'm now tailor and barber for my SO!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The joys of sewing knits

I've made so many things over the past nine months or so that I haven't blogged about (including two tailored jackets!) that it's a bit ironic that this little project is the one that would bring me out of my blogging hiatus. I'm going to attribute it to the fact that by the time I finish a big project I'm usually a bit sick of it and I just want to wear it, not spend more time photographing it and chronicling its tortured process of coming into being. But in this case, the project was done so quickly that I still have enthusiasm left over to talk about it!

Anyways, my beloved local sewing workshop Emeline and Annabelle closed down about six months ago, and with it went my access to a serger (as well as my wonderful sewing sunday afternoons with my local sewists). So around Christmas, I decided to splurge and get myself a serger. had this well-reviewed and inexpensive serger on sale for around $200 over the holidays, so I pulled the trigger.

Now I know that you can sew knits with a normal sewing machine, and I certainly have over the years, but sewing knits with the serger is a joy. After all, it's a machine custom built for the job, so there's no annoyance of taking ten minutes to sew a seam with your horribly slow faux overlock stitch (while running out of bobbin thread every other seam). It's super fast! My SO, who is accustomed to my overly complicated multi-week projects, was floored at how quickly I emerged from the sewing room with my first serger constructed dress.

Here's my latest serger project: 

A self drafted knit top based on Vogue 1141 (out of print). I first saw this pattern on Sigrid's blog, and I thought the pattern idea was genius: dead simple to make, but the shoulder pleat detail adds some interest to it and also makes it look a bit more like a cap sleeve than a tank top, making it a bit more work appropriate. The gathers at the bust practically disappear when sewn up in a knit, and allow for a bit of extra bust room that I wouldn't normally have in a t-shirt. I drafted the pattern off of a Burda knit shirt pattern, made a few adjustments after the first draft (mainly lowering the pleat detail a bit, it was too high up on the shoulder in my first version), and voila! This is certainly a pattern I'll sew again. I also used Sigrid's technique of using a serged binding strip to finish the neckline, with the slight modification that I omitted the interfacing and instead made the binding strip smaller than the neck/armhole openings to keep them from stretching out too much (I used strips that were 87% of the original seam length and eased the neckline into the binding). Evenly easing the openings into the binding strips was a bit time consuming, but the finished result is really nice.

The best part of this project is that the amount of fabric that I had was pretty much *exactly* enough for the shirt:

That's all that was left over, including the serger scraps. I have a terrible problem with not being able to get rid of leftover bits of fabric, even when I know they're not really big enough to actually make anything... the problems of being a fabric lover. This piece of fabric was a remnant that I bought at Britex fabrics while on a work trip late last year, and with some creative cutting layouts it was just enough for this pattern. If I were in one of those Project Runway "use all the fabric you bought" challenges, I'd be killing it right now!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hobby mashup

 While the SO and I were on holidays this summer, we came across a few funny little stores that combine several of my hobbies: A shop that sold both sewing machines and bikes (above), and a bike store that was in a space formerly occupied by an aquarium store (below). I guess they decided to keep the old sign and just add their own store name!

I finished a cross-hobby project recently as well, a fabric cover for my bike seat.

The cover is not for saddle protection, but for pants protection: I made the unhappy discovery while biking the other day that the black leather saddle can leave stains on my clothes, especially if I bike too hard in the sweaty summer heat. Since I was on my way to to sewing store when this happened, I was able to sew up a quick solution before I biked home. Now that I have the pattern, I'll probably use it to sew up some waterproof seat covers as well when I find some appropriate fabric.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A processor preview

You might think based on my radio silence here on the blog that there hasn't been much in the way of sewing, biking, or other hobbies in Biketopus land, but that's actually not the case. I've been getting a fair number of things done, including reaching a significant milestone on my processor quilt: I finally have the entire thing pieced! Finishing up the decorative stitching on those last few rows of red squares was not exactly scintillating sewing, but I managed to get it done by bringing them into the sewing shop on a Sunday so I could have some company while I stitched what felt like miles of straight lines.

Immediately after finishing piecing the top I made up the bed with it so I could see how it would look. It's not as wide as I somehow thought it would be (despite having supposedly carefully measured when I started it years ago), but it does look sufficiently long to cover up the SO's dangling feet. I was a little worried while making it that the bright colors would overwhelm our small bedroom, but I actually really like the way the quilt fills the room. I like peaceful decor in hotel bedrooms, but for my own house I prefer energetic bright colors.

 What remains now is to make a plan for actually quilting this quilt. I toyed with the idea of asking my sister to quilt it with a random meander pattern or even just quilting it with straight lines, but I just wasn't feeling that excited about going forward with a simple design. My SO pointed out that this thing has already been years in the making, so it doesn't really matter if it takes me another year to finish some ridiculously complicated quilting pattern. I'll probably end up very annoyed at myself halfway through, but right now I'm really looking forward to incorporating a bit more of the texture of the original photo with quilting. Where I have had an ongoing attack of the lazy lately, however, is in taking pictures. All I have for now are these cell phone pics, but I'll try to corral the SO into taking better pics sometime soon so that you can see the full quilt.