Friday, September 10, 2010

Gone biking (amongst other things)

I know, I know, I've been gone foreeeeever. When our neighbors moved out a few months ago and took the internet with them, the SO and I foolishly decided that we would just go internet-free for a while. Well, that was about as much fun as any other form of dieting, and I'm pleased to report that I'm back to an all-you-can-eat internet plan. In the intervening months, we moved to a new apartment, sold off a whole bunch of random accumulated stuff, I taught some high schoolers about history of medicine, and I went to Tokyo. How's that for an entirely too hasty summary? I'll be back to regular blogging soon, but in the meantime you can enjoy this nice pic of my SO's fully loaded and my lightly loaded bikes on vacation!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Digital croquis

Since it was my birthday a few weeks ago and I had a little bit of extra money to burn, I decided to get myself a new toy -- a Wacom Bamboo tablet for drawing on the computer. A while ago my SO saw me drawing sketches of other people's clothes in my notebook (I often get ideas for things that I'd like to copy when I see other people wearing them), and he suggested that I would be able to make good use of a tablet. I always thought these things were prohibitively expensive, but it turns out they're not so bad. I got a refurbished version of the tablet I linked to above for around $65.

One of the first things I wanted to try out with the tablet was making a digital croquis for myself so that I can try out patterns on my virtual avatar before sewing them up. I'm sure I'm not the only one in the sewing world who's guilty of looking at patterns on a model or a figure drawing and sewing based on that, without first thinking about whether or not the pattern will actually look good on *you*. Mikhaela over at Polka Dot Overload always has fantastic sketches of her clothes that give a remarkably good impression of what the outfits will look like when finished (check out this one, for example). She's a professional cartoonist and so hers are far more cute than what I'll probably ever produce, but I thought I could at least get something going that would give me a semi-realistic idea of what patterns would look like on me before I sewed them up.

Here's a few of my first takes. I made a digital croquis first by having the SO take pictures of me in my bra and underwear, and then painstakingly drawing an outline around the image to get my shape. I'm not quite brave enough to post the result on the internets since it is essentially a line drawing of my naked self, but I'll show you some of the dressed-up versions. For starters, here's a dress that I made a while ago, but I would like to remake in colors closer to these ones:Here's a Mad Men style dress that I thought would be pretty hot, and it turns out that it looks a little boring on my virtual buddy. Good thing I didn't order any double knit yet:This dress looks pretty fantastic, though. I tried to replicate the print that I bought, which is a large scale orange print of what looks like fireworks on a cream background. The drawing looks so good I'm feeling very motivated to sew it, now!And last, a more work appropriate Biketopus, in a jacket and black pants.
Pretty fun, eh? I still have to play around with the tablet more and figure out exactly how to use the thing, but I think it's been pretty useful already. The main thing that I can't figure out is how to make the lines of my drawings look smooth and not all herky-jerky. I'm not sure if I just need to work on it more to develop a more steady hand, or if it's actually a software issue. Right now I'm just drawing stuff with the pen in Photoshop, and that may not actually be the right tool for the job. I'd like to believe that it's a software issue and maybe something like Illustrator would work better for me, but maybe it's just practice. I guess that wouldn't be the end of the world, eh? I think I could spend quite a lot of time virtually sewing!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tandems and trust issues

While we were out in California, my SO treated me to a little early birthday present: a spin around wine country in a tandem. We've been talking about riding a tandem together for a while and he happened to find a bike shop that had several for rent at a reasonable price, so we decided to test drive one and see how it went.

I've only had one experience with a tandem once before this, and it wasn't an experience that I was necessarily eager to repeat. On the last night of an extended stay in Portland, a friend of mine picked me up and took me out for dinner on a tandem (this nice yellow one here). It was very Portland, very sweet, and very terrifying. If you're a person of a certain height (read, short), then you usually end up in the stoker position at the back where you have no brakes, no shifters and no ability to steer. The bike is pretty much controlled by the person in front of you, and if he or she is tall then s/he also obstructs your view of what's coming. You basically just have to pedal and trust. My Portland bike companion had good intentions, but our bike styles were not exactly compatible. He had us whizzing down hills while I quite literally shrieked in the back. At one point I think he actually paused to check on me because I'd stopped shrieking!

Much as I love the idea of biking on a tandem with my SO in theory, I was still pretty nervous when we got on the bike. But, I was willing to give it a go because I knew that he would be trying his hardest to make it a good experience for me, or else I'd never get on a tandem with him again! Getting started was a little shaky because you have to coordinate your movements until you can get going fast enough that you're not in immediate danger of falling over. Even once we were going, it was still a little freaky because I had the distinct feeling like we were tipping over too far to the right. Does my SO ride crooked, somehow? I don't know, but it was unsettling.

Since there's not much to see ahead on the tandem (aside from someone else's back), it's a great opportunity to look around. We took a 12 mile loop around a valley filled with vineyards, and it was a beautiful view. It was nice to be able to check this stuff out and not have to always be looking at the road ahead of you. And the best part about being on the tandem was that it was like having an electric assist bike, powered by my SO. We whizzed around that 12 mile loop in maybe 50 minutes or so, and while I was pedaling, I really wasn't busting my butt (sorry, hon!). Towards the end of the ride we seemed to be getting the hang of starting and stopping pretty well, and made it through the last few stop signs with not too much trouble.

So, will there be more tandems in our future? I'm not sure yet. It would be a good option for touring for us. Instead of always going at my (much slower) speed, we could be going at the average of our two speeds, making us much faster overall. I think over time we'd get pretty used to each others' biking styles as well, and I would probably feel less freaked out about not being in control. It would suck a bit to have a permanent view of his back when we went traveling, but I would also be able to pedal and look around, so maybe that makes up for it. But if I'm being really honest, I think I'd still rather be in front. Nothing is more calming than having your own set of brake levers.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tough day on the bike

Some days I have great bike mojo, and then other days it seems like I just can't hit my stride no matter how hard I try. Yesterday was one of the latter days for me, unfortunately. My SO was going out to Watkins Glen to ride in his very first official bike race, and since it was supposed to be a pretty nice day for biking and I've never been to the race track I thought I would go along. I knew it was going to be a longish ride and have some fairly substantial climbs as well, but somehow I really underestimated my abilities here (or was just having a bad biking day), because it ended up being a very long day!

We took the bus partway up the hill to save us a bunch of climbing, leaving about 20 miles to go to the race track. Almost immediately after getting off the bus we had short but nasty steep stretch, and with me feeling still a little stiff and somewhat queasy from the bus, this didn't go well at all.

That little red blip at the beginning there? Yeah. That almost made me turn around and go home right there! I stuck with it, and the rest of the ride into Watkins Glen was pretty nice and mostly gently downhill. To get to the race track we had to climb again, and quite a bit. By this point we were quite late, so the SO left me at the bottom while I slowly spun my way up in granny gear. This wasn't fast, but it wasn't miserable either and I did make it up just before the SO was set to launch.

This was the first time I'd been to a bike race (unless you count the highly informal Cascadilla hill climb), and it was fun to watch the goings on of the race bike set. My bike looked highly out of place there, and I got one slightly snarky comment about my "classic" Brooks saddle. The SO's race kit came with all kinds of clinical looking goos and potions. I tried a package of the Hammer Heed drink in lemon lime (I figured I could use some electrolytes after sweating my way up the hill), and it was nasty. Sorry, Hammer.

Watching the SO race was quite fun, and I'm a bit sorry that I didn't get to take a spin around the race car track. He was all by himself after the first lap, and for a minute I thought he was in the lead! It's a bit hard to tell where everyone is on the race track since there was another group that started a minute ahead of his class. Little did I know that getting separated from the group is almost a sure sign that you've fallen behind, not pulled ahead, at least in the first round. By the time he'd finished he was pretty convinced that he was last, although it turned out to be not quite that bad.

We had a long downhill and then another climb to get out of Watkins Glen. I made it through that alright, but by the time we reached the top my legs were really done. With not too much power left in my legs I started really feeling the pressure on my butt, and all along that long flat yellow stretch in the elevation map above I was just waiting, waiting for the downhill to come and save me. We made it back to Ithaca in the end, but really not a moment too soon for me!

So, I'm not sure what happened here. This was a long ride (probably the second longest ride I've been on) and a lot of climbing, but it felt much harder than it needed to. I had to have the SO rub some tiger balm on my poor legs last night, and I can't even look at a bike seat today. I'm guessing there will be a lot of sitting gingerly and not a lot of biking for me in the next few days!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Happy Birthday to me!

Yesterday was my 29th birthday! Yay! I love celebrating my birthday -- people you haven't heard from in ages call you to say hello, you get free drinks, and of course great presents. I got the gift that keeps on giving this year from my SO: a subscription to Burda magazine! A year's worth of Burdas seems like a great way to build up a base of patterns to work with. They come in a range of sizes, there's tons per magazine (including plus size and occasionally petites), and even the crazy patterns might have some elements could be repurposed (like cool sleeve patterns or whatnot). I won't start the subscription up until we move to our new apartment in August, but I'm very excited to start seeing what rolls in every month!

He also made me a sweet card with a customized Burda cover featuring my finished version of the self-drafted chiffon dress:

Isn't that cute? I finished this dress just in time to go to a friend's wedding in California, and it was very comfortable to wear. I'm so enamoured with this pattern that I might (once again) push aside the SO's promised sports coat and make summer top using this pattern instead. Or maybe I can somehow work on both at the same time? So much sewing, so little time!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On being meat-free in meaty places

It was around this time last year (give or take a week or two) that I decided to try out eating exclusively vegetarian. I was in a car with a friend talking about food politics, and we both came to the conclusion that although neither of us was especially comfortable with the idea of eating meat, we both kept eating it out of habit, convenience, and of course tastiness. Out of this conversation, "project bacon" was born: We decided that we would try eating vegetarian for a month and see just how difficult it really was. Although I'd been eating less and less meat over the years anyway, I thought that going full on meatless was going to be too difficult. What would happen when I went to a restaurant or to a friend's house? Would I find myself undone at the sight of bacon and then feel guilty about eating it?

Turns out, it wasn't nearly as much of a problem as I thought. Social situations have been a bit awkward at times, and the only meat I've eaten in the past year was my mother's thanksgiving turkey, mostly out of a desire not to make it an issue at the dinner table (this year I think I'll be able to get away with eating the tofurky). I still do like the smell of bacon, but I haven't really had an overpowering urge to eat it. Frankly, if I had I would have eaten some by now, both because I lack willpower and because I believe in making environmental/social justice life choices that work for you. There are a lot of ways to be better to the world and to other people, some of which will make you more miserable than others. I'm perfectly happy living without a car, but take away my hot shower and I'm a truly cranky person.

I've always thought of these things as personal preferences, which brings me (in a long winded way) to the point of this post. I've been thinking of myself over the past year as a person who is happy not eating meat, but my recent trip to California made me think a lot more about meatless eating and infrastructure. I think about this in transportation terms all the time, because there are some places in the world (California is a bad offender here) that are obviously not built with pedestrians or bikes in mind. Trips that would be perfectly manageable on foot become really unpleasant when there are no sidewalks or crosswalks to speak of, and it changes the way you relate to the world around you. What this trip made me realize is that this is true for vegetarian eating as well (at least in my case). Not only is it difficult or impossible to find tofu in some places, but it changes the degree to which I miss and want to eat meat.

Our flight path took us through a rather long layover in Memphis, and it became obvious to me pretty quickly that this was not a place designed for vegetarians. Trying to eat meat-free there was very much like trying to walk in places not meant for pedestrians: you find yourself doing the culinary equivalent of tromping through bushes and sprinting across freeway entrances. Getting a vegetarian meal would basically require subtracting the meat (where possible) from what was on offer, which would result in pretty boring meals: sandwiches with veggies and a sad slice of cheese, etc. I had nachos without the meaty chili, which was fine for one night but would probably cause serious unhappiness if I had to do it every day. My poor SO has even fewer options, and usually ends up eating fries in situations like these. With his steely German willpower I'm pretty sure he'd stay vegan even if it meant fries for weeks, but I know I wouldn't survive as a vegetarian in these circumstances. I don't deal well with the feeling of deprivation that comes with being a meat-free eater in a meaty land.

Needless to say, I was glad to come out on the other side of the airport system and find myself in California, where the SO and I could eat at an entirely vegan Chinese restaurant (me above, with my fresh rolls and salty plum lemonade) and many other places where meals could easily be made meatless. A friend took us out to Burma Superstar for an absolutely stunning lunch:

I could eat this food forever and never look back. We had the tea leaf salad and the rainbow salad, fried yellow bean tofu, coconut rice and vegetarian noodles. I can't even tell you which dish was my favorite because they were all so good. Too bad they don't have a Burma Superstar Ithaca outpost, because I have a feeling there's no way I'll be recreating a 22 component salad on my own any time soon!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Self-drafted chiffon dress

It's starting to take shape! After draping, drafting, muslining and cutting, my chiffon dress is finally starting to look like a dress that I can try on, and I'm starting to feel a bit less paranoid that I may have just killed my gorgeous chiffon. See, it's actually looking pretty good!

The lighting in this picture is terrible and doesn't do the fabric justice, but you can see that the fitting is coming along nicely. I messed around with the gathers on the top tonight trying to get them just so -- I had a weird poufing thing going on over one boob. While one side turned out exactly the size I drafted it, the other inexplicably grew during sewing. Go figure. A little extra cutting and tucking and now it's looking better.

I was hoping to be able to get away with wearing a nude colored bra under the top, but unfortunately the chiffon is a bit too sheer for that. I tried on a tank top under the dress, but that's really not a good solution. The tank top pushes the center of the dress away from my chest, which really distorts the lines of the dress. So, I'm going to have to come up with some other way to line the dress. Probably I'll try drafting some triangle-shaped cups out of the black batiste lining fabric and see if that looks good.

Really though, these are minor problems to be worked out when compared with the major triumph that is a deep V dress that doesn't gape in the front or only cover half of my boobs. Seriously! I have never had a top that fits me this well, and I'm psyched. More to come soon!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Refugee plant is tasty

Ithaca friends take note: your refugee plants are welcome with me, especially if they happen to be tasty plants! A friend of mine is going away for the summer, and so she left behind her cute little thai basil plant with me. I popped a couple leaves in my leftover pad thai that I heated up for lunch today.

Last year the SO and I tried growing some plants out on our back patio, but we were thwarted at every turn: the back patio is too shady, it rained all the time, and the squirrels! Those merciless little jerks ate everything they found tasty, and dug up the rest just for fun. The SO, normally a nice, calm vegan man, actually threw rocks at the squirrels one day. They were that bad.

This year we've put some pots down on the front porch where the squirrels seemed less inclined to root around, and we tried one of those upside down tomato plant hangers in the backyard. So far so good on both counts, but you never know. So, friends with plants that need babysitting be warned that your plants are not indemnified against squirrel loss!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bikes galore at the Ithaca festival

The Ithaca festival parade is definitely not your average small town festival parade. It has a fire truck and a marching band, but the rest of it is more like a cross between a protest rally and a hippie carnival. This year we had a save the deer protest group, a float that drew huge cheers from the crowd protesting a proposed drilling project, and some random bits of Ithacana like the "Volvo ballet" with station wagons dressed in tutus and the chain saw marching band (my personal favorite). Bike advocacy groups of all stripes were also out in full force this year, and I present a mini-photo essay of Ithaca's bikes for your viewing pleasure.

First up, a e-bike group named the Buffalo St Chargers. I don't think I've ever seen a single e-bike in Ithaca (although it certainly makes sense, what with all the hills we have here), so I was kind of surprised to see a whole gaggle of them in the parade. Check out this e-cargo bike:

Next we have the Bike It! folks, who are biking to the US social forum in Detroit this month. The SO and I have gone on a few of their training rides, and they're cool folks. Here's a Bike It! tandem crew:

A random lady in a "bee on a bike" costume. I have no idea what group she was associated with, but the costume made me laugh:

The TCAT parade bus, with a bike in the bike rack. I love that they have racks on the buses here, although I admit I don't use them very often because of an irrational fear that my bike is going to somehow come loose and get mashed under the bus. I know, that's not actually going to happen, but it doesn't stop me from being all paranoid about it:

And last but not least, my SO, who decided to ride with the FLCC crowd this year in the parade. The parade theme was "singing in the rain" and he wanted to decorate his bike accordingly. Half an hour and a whole lot of zip ties later, he came up with this:

He strapped our watering cans and umbrellas onto the bike racks (and inexplicably, left the watering cans full of water and rather heavy. He really likes to make it hard on himself!) I helped him complete the look with a towel sarong. Amazingly, he was not even close to the most outlandishly dressed FLCCer.... I'd have to give the prize there to the other half-naked biker wearing some hot pink fluffy shorts. Ah, Ithaca.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Culotte slips for summer skirts

Summer weather is here in full force in Ithaca, and I've started unpacking some of my summer clothes. I really like changing over my wardrobe... there's something that feels optimistic about stuffing those sweaters to the back of the closet, like winter is never going to come back (ha!). I also really love unpacking clothes that I haven't seen in a while, and in some cases even forgot that I had.

One of the recently unearthed items is a light cotton summer dress that I bought a few years ago, but it still seems new to me because I haven't worn it much. Why? Because as much as I like dresses, it's kind of inconvenient to wear them in the summer. Your skirt blows up when you hop on your bike, and (if you're built anything like me) your thighs chafe if you walk around too long. In the winter this doesn't seem to be as much of a problem since I'm not on the bike as much and can wear tights for walking around, but in the summer the hot, sticky weather makes me (ironically) inclined to avoid dresses.

So on the recommendation of the interwebs, I decided to try out a culotte slip (also known as a split slip). It's basically a pair of loose, lacy shorts to wear under a skirt, like a slip:

I ordered a three pack to try out (in black, white and beige). Yes, I realize that I could have sewn some of these myself, but for $25 I thought I'd just order some and see if I liked the concept. I've worn the black and the white pair now, and so far so good. They make walking and biking around in a skirt _much_ more comfortable. They do add a bit of bulk, though, especially to skirts that are already lined. Maybe it would be better to omit the skirt lining on future summer dresses and sew up a matching pair of these instead. It would be a great way to use up a spare yard of silk or cotton lawn!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fabric Mart feeds my chiffon obsession

I was browsing around the sewing blogosphere a few weeks ago and happened on a post (not even sure where now) about someone's recent fabric haul from Fabric Mart. I think I've been to a Fabric Mart in real life and was not terribly impressed with it, but I clicked along anyway and was really, really pleasantly surprised. They had a bunch of designer fabrics (including the Vera Wang chiffon that I made my Chantilly dress from), and a beautiful selection of couture silks. This one caught my eye immediately:

I can't even tell you how psyched I was to find this! I love prints in bright, rich colors but I'm getting a bit tired of flowers, and I was really excited to find a print that was a bit more abstract. It's even more beautiful in person, and now I'm currently obsessing over ways to sew it up.

I think I'm going to try making the BurdaStyle Jenny dress, or rather something inspired by it:

The flowy top would be perfect for this silk chiffon. The only problem with this pattern is the deep V neck. Deep Vs do look good on me, but they're such a hard fit when you have ample cleavage. I asked about this when the pattern was posted and got some helpful tips from people on the forum, but in the end I figured that it would probably be as much work (if not more) to alter the existing pattern piece than it would be to just make it myself. I'm already planning on changing the skirt to a bias cut A line anyway, so really it makes sense to just try drafting it myself from scratch.

I've already started on drafting the top (no pictures yet, though). Basically I took a piece of very lightweight cotton and draped it on myself, pinning it at the shoulder seam and just under the bust. Then I gathered enough fabric to cover my breast, and then marked where the side seam and shoulder seam fell by just drawing on the fabric. I used that to draft two pattern pieces for the back and the front, and then made a muslin to test it out. The armholes ended up much too small (totally fixable, though), but the fit in the bust is great! I hope hope hope I actually have enough chiffon to make this dress now (I had a blouse in mind when buying it so I only got 1.5 yards, although it is wide). But, if not, I'll have a deep V pattern that (for the first time ever) actually covers my breasts. Are you excited? I sure am!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nap time

The biketopus has been out of commission for the past few days. I spent most of yesterday trying out different nap spots in the house -- the couch, the hammock, the bed, the hammock again... Looks like I'll be doing that for much of today as well.

Hopefully I will feel more perky in time for our bike vacation next weekend. In the meantime, you can find me in the hammock...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

DIY fabric!

I've been spending too much time today idly poking around the internet, but along my travels I made an amazing discovery: a website that lets you design and print your own fabric! How have I not managed to see this before? It's called, and it looks like you basically just upload an image file and they print it out for you. The fabric choices are really great, too -- not just boring quilting weight cotton, but also cotton sateen and cotton lawn. I'm drooling over this now.

I'm ABSOLUTELY going to try this out at some point, but since it's a little spendy I'll have to think about what I want to make first. Perhaps not surprisingly, my first instinct is to make some sort of science inspired design. Imagine, for example, an electrophoresis stripe pattern in a cotton lawn:

I can see that being amazing with this pattern, which I just so happen to have coming my way when my SO's parents come over from Germany this summer.

I'm also totally obsessed with the Brainbow mouse images, although my SO thinks this would be ugly as fabric:

Or what about another amazing neuron print based on something like this, with two different contrasting colors:

Don't you just want to make some fabric right now? Some day, some day!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Birthday crafting

My SO's 30th birthday was a few weeks ago, so there was lots of birthday crafting and cooking going on around here! He's tricky to buy for, and I usually just end up pestering him until he gives me a good gift idea and then get him exactly what he asks for. This year it was a mini video camera. You can check out his blog, where he's already got up some bumpy shots of us on the bikes. He's quite happy with the present (although I kind of regret it since it means I'll probably end up in a lot of videos!), but I wanted to do at least some things for him that involved more skill than just handing over my credit card.

First, I tried my hand at making one of his favorite cakes, an apple marzipan cake that his mom used to make for him on his birthday. When he was living in Germany, his mom would actually mail this cake to him -- that's how efficient the German post is, you can get a spoilable item to the other side of the country in 24 hours, no special services required. Meanwhile, I'm a mere five hours away from my parents, and I'm still waiting on a package that my mother mailed weeks ago. Sigh!

Here's how the cake turned out:

He says this isn't what it looks like when his mom makes it, so it's possible that something went amiss in all of the weight to volume conversions that I had to do on the recipe. Appearances aside, this was a pretty tasty cake! Very sweet, though... one slice later and I was taking a sugar-induced afternoon nap.

The other present that I made for him was actually something that I'd promised as a Christmas present, but was obviously veeeerrrry behind in finishing. I got him a wooden serving tray, and told him I would paint him a design of his choosing on it. He likes eating on the couch with a tray and is always complaining about the trays that we have -- too small, too flimsy, nothing just right! Here's a picture of the tray a month or so ago, halfway through painting:

The image is from The Trip to Panama, a German kid's book from a series that features a tiger and a bear (this edition is in English, though). It's really cute, and I had a fun time painting this. Here's what it looked like in the end, after a bit more painting and many coats of stinky spray varnish:
I love how the bear is sitting on a pillow on the couch. I always accuse my SO of just sitting down without looking to see what's actually on the couch first, so it seems pretty appropriate. At some point I may try to figure out some way of making the surface of the tray more heat proof, but for now it works well.

The only downside to all this crafting is that now I've exhausted my supply of SO gift/craft ideas. I think he needs to get another bike soon so I can help him outfit that!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wedding dress done!

Yay! The summer wedding dress is finally complete. I finished off the last of the hemming tonight... I nearly finished last night, but I was tired and afraid of messing it up in the final step and being really annoyed later. So, I saved it for tonight and it went pretty smoothly, although I did make one tiny little nick in the chiffon when I was trimming it to make the baby hem. I really need to get some duckbill scissors at some point, because I find myself doing baby hems a lot these days. My Pfaff also has a rolled hem foot that probably would have worked well for doing this, but I haven't taken the time to figure out how to use it yet and I didn't want to mess up on this dress.

I'll get my SO to take some nice pictures of me soon, but for now here's a grainy mirror shot on me. The sewing dummy doesn't fill it out very well, so it's not a fair impression! The fit turned out really well despite the fact that I didn't make a muslin, and it has great coverage so I can wear it with my normal bras.

I made a straight size 10 in this pattern, with very few alterations. As you can see I had no problems with the shoulders and the bust, which are normally big problem areas for me fit wise. The gathers over the bust in this pattern make it easy to squeeze a few extra inches of cleavage in there with no fit problems -- It's probably just a little less gathered on me than on someone who's closer to the envelope measurements. The waist turned out true to the size on the envelope, unfortunately for me in this case. The pattern promised a finished waist of 31.5 inches, and since my waist is closer to 32 inches this was a bit tight. To get more room in the waist, I modified the pattern by taking out one set of darts in the back (there are four back darts in the pattern), which gave me about an extra inch in the waist. I made a pintuck along the line where the darts should have been to preserve the lines of the pattern. An easy fix without any redrafting!

Another small modification that I made was to underline the back panel with lining fabric, both to make it easier to make the darts and because the chiffon was so sheer that it would have made for an ugly seam at the back waistline. The pattern calls for lining and underlining the front waist and collar pieces, so I'm not sure why it doesn't suggest you do the same for the back as well. I also cut an extra inch off the hem to make it a just above the knee length. I'm pretty short, though, so if you're tall and making up this pattern you might want to add a couple inches just in case!

Phew! Okay, that's all for now. I've typed enough for tonight. I'll get my SO to take those pics, and I'll let the pictures do the talking for the next post!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wedding dress in progress

Just a quick progress pic here -- I took this a few nights ago to show my mom how this dress is coming along. I have a few weddings to go to this summer, and I'm getting a head start on fancy dress sewing to make sure that they actually turn out nice enough to wear to weddings!

This is the dress that I'm planning on wearing to my brother's wedding in July. It's make from Colette's Chantilly pattern, which is a pattern that I think is totally gorgeous but somehow doesn't seem to have been as popular as some of the other Colette patterns dresses (at least based on user-submitted pictures). The fabric is a silk chiffon from that I got a fantastic deal on -- I think it was part of the Vera Wang fabrics that went on sale a few months ago, and I got it for two bucks a yard! The lining came from my NYC fabric shopping splurge, and it was also two bucks a yard. So, all told I think I spent $16 on the fabric for this dress and will probably have enough left over to make a flouncy sleeveless blouse or something.

I'm basically finished the bodice of the dress now (I finished the topstitching on the collar after taking these pictures). Now I just need to baste the skirt on, put in the zipper, and hem the bottom layers. That's still quite a bit of work for me at least since I'm a rather slow sewer, but I always find it's a lot more fun to work on the final stages of putting something together when it starts to actually look like a real piece of clothing.

Friday, April 23, 2010


So you know how I've been struggling for months now with a ridiculously green tank? Buying flocculants and changing the lights schedule and doing everything I could think of to get rid of this nasty floating algae infestation? Today the tank lights pop on in the morning to this:

Woah! Okay, it's not clear by any means, but it's also not thick pea-soup green that makes it impossible to see my fish three inches away from the front of the tank (and really, that linked picture was not the worst of it -- it was pretty bad for a while there). I don't know what happened in between yesterday afternoon and this morning, but I'm damn pleased to be able to see my fish again. The plants are looking a little worse for wear, which is understandable since they've been fighting for light with the algae soup for months. Maybe now they'll have a fighting chance!

I'm going to consider this a good omen for the weekend. Happy friday, folks!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

RIP, Nemo

Advance warning: This post is about fish euthanasia. So, if you don't want to read a sad post, this one's not for you.

I had to put down one of my fish today. My sweet vegan SO doesn't particularly want to listen to me talk about fish euthanasia, so I thought I would blog about it here.

The fish in question was named Nemo. I don't ordinarily name my fish but this one came to me already named, by way of friend who was moving out of town and needed to find her fish a new home. So, Nemo joined my tank in 2008 and has been living there happily ever since. A few months ago she started changing color, with her scales getting slightly darker. I wasn't too concerned about this since she still seemed to be eating and acting normally. I figured this might be the fish equivalent of going grey, since she was getting up there in fish years.

Yesterday Nemo didn't come up to feed, and when I looked around in my (still green) tank, I found her near the bottom, floating at an odd angle. She wasn't dead, but she seemed to have lost the ability to right herself and was pale and not moving around very much. I thought it might be best to leave her since there wasn't any infection or anything that I thought I could treat, but today I saw one of the other fish picking on her in the tank. That's not a good way to go. I considered setting up the spare tank I keep as a hospital tank so that she could die in peace, but she seemed so listless and weak already that it seemed like euthanizing her would be the best option.

It's been a while since I've had to kill a fish, so I did some research on methods over at Wet Web Media. I wanted to make very sure that I was using a method that would be effective but not painful. I opted for using clove oil to anesthetize Nemo (since I had it on hand), followed by freezing. The combination of these methods seemed to be the best way to address the limitations of each: Some people said that clove oil alone was difficult to use because it was hard to tell when the fish was really dead or just anesthetized, and opinions were mixed on whether freezing a conscious fish actually caused pain. I used the clove oil first, waiting ten minutes or so until there was no visible movement, and then put the container in the freezer to ensure that Nemo didn't wake up.

I'm pretty sure Nemo died of old age (I'm guessing she was at least three years old, which is fairly old for a platy), but even fish deaths of natural causes still get me down. I guess it's inescapable part of owning any kind of pet, though.

So, RIP Nemo. You were a hearty little fish. Nemo is survived by one offspring, a small but fast orange male platy who's still alive and well in the tank.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nom nom nom

Not much to say here, except look at these gorgeous cinnamon buns that I made (or if you're German, "cinnamon snails")! Last week I had a cinnamon bun craving that just would not go away. While I was tempted to just buy a pack of the Pillsbury buns in a can, I knew I'd end up eating them all myself (since they're not vegan) and living to regret it later. I finally got up the motivation to make them from scratch using the Vegan Brunch recipe. I cheated a little and put the dough in the breadmaker instead of making it by hand and that turned out quite well. These took a lot of time to make but weren't exactly time consuming. There's a lot of rising time in there, but not a whole lot of work. So, if you haven't made cinnamon buns before, try it! They're pretty damn tasty.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Discount shoe shopping

I'm in the DC area at the moment for a work trip. It hasn't been the most entertaining trip ever, but it has produced some fringe benefits: namely, a nice new pair of shoes!

Normally one of the first things I do when I get within spitting distance of a major city is google around to see if they have a Nordstrom Rack. The Rack is crack to me (ha! I swear that was unintentional). Basically they have a bunch of old stock from Nordstroms and they sell it off at discount prices, sometimes really discounted if you're willing to sift through the sale racks. Some of my favorite things to wear came from the Rack (aside from things I made myself, of course!) and I love going there just to treasure hunt.

Now I know there is a Nordstrom Rack in the DC area because I've been there before, but it's quite far away from where I'm staying at the moment. Even this might not ordinarily be enough to stop me, but I'm trying to put myself on spending lockdown lately, and a place like the Rack about the worst place in the world to visit when you're trying to be thrifty. Instead, I opted to take a walk out to a store called DSW. What does this stand for? Discount shoe world? Designer shoe warehouse? Who knows, I'd never heard of the store before. But, it was about an hour away (a good distance for a walk), and I thought it might be a good way to limit myself to making at max one frivolous purchase.

Turns out that this place is great! I'm totally going to add this to my roster of stores to visit when on treasure-searching breaks from work trips. The prices for their regular stock were good, but the discount room at the back was fantastic. I turned down a lovely pair of Sofft pumps that were about $40 (but unfortunately too similar to other shoes I have), and I settled on a pair of grey pumps in the end. They're by a company called Naked Feet that I'd never heard of, but the shoes are amazingly soft (and will hopefully also be amazingly comfortable). Here's some stock photos from the web:

I got the dove grey color, pictured at the far right. Pretty sweet, eh? I paid $35, regular $125. I was tempted to wear them right home with the grey/black jeans I was wearing, but I think I'll be wise and wait until I have more ready access to bandaids before I try to break them in.

Another travel perk -- Watching Project Runway in real time! If I get off campus early enough today, I'll go get some take out food from Chipotle or something and watch in my hotel room tonight. Life is good.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

1000 miles!

Ta dah! I finally make it to my goal of 1000 miles on my bike odometer yesterday, on a pretty trip out towards Spencer to the Biodiversity Preserve, a nice little area that's about ten miles away from our house. According to my trip odometer I needed exactly 20.5 miles to get to 1000, but I found that when I got home I was still at 999 on the total odometer, which for whatever reason is always a little off. So, I actually cheated and spun the wheel for a minute or so to take this picture :)

Just for fun, here's an image of how far 1000 miles would get me from my house in Ithaca:

Looks like it would take me about to Brunswick, GA; almost all the way to Florida. Pretty impressive, eh? Now, it's taken about a year to accumulate that many miles on my bike, but it's still pretty cool to think about how small little bits of everyday riding adds up to big distances over time.

It took me a little bit longer than I expected to hit the 1000 mark. Originally, I was hoping to make it at about the end of March, but all things considered I think I still did pretty well. I think biking inside on the trainer is a great solution for me over the winter, but as soon as it was at all nice enough to bike outside, the trainer came down pretty quickly. Doing a few quick sessions on the trainer during the week is great, though, and I wish it wasn't quite so much of a pain to have the trainer set up in the kitchen so that I could still have that option. I've been vaguely thinking about taking up jogging so that I can have a low-cost activity that doesn't require a lot of planning or scheduling. The only problem is that I kind of hate jogging. Maybe I could learn to love it, though?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Custom fitted pants, the finished product

Okay, my custom fitted pants are finally complete! Are you ready for the virtual fashion show?

These pictures were taken just moments after I finished sewing the buttons on, so you'll have to excuse the unpressed hems and other weird wrinkles.

Okay, impressions. Despite my frustrations with how these were turning out halfway through, I think they look great in the end. They hang very smoothly from my body and have a very easy fitting shape, and I lowered the waistline to just where I like it so it's very comfy. I did find that on my first wearing out that the silk lining was not exactly the best choice, though. I don't know if I needed to make an ease pleat or reinforce it a bit more or what, but I did actually rip some of the stitches in the lining a bit when I sat down quickly and they must have pulled in some weird way.

I learned some interesting things about fitting my body from this experiment. For example, one of the things that I noticed when I was making the pattern pieces is that the back waistband was very curved, while the front pieces were almost flat. This makes a lot of sense if you look at me from the side, since I'm kind of straight up and down around the middle in the front and sloping in the back. This will be good knowledge to have for future pattern alterations, and I can think of a few patterns that I made that had pieces that were too straight (and therefore gappy at the back) or pieces that were too curved (and therefore dug into my waist at the front). Drafting my own pattern from a block was also incredibly fun, and really encourages me to make a bodice block. Oh, the cool blouses that I could make then! I did make a few errors when drafting my pieces, but obviously nothing bad enough to keep these from turning into pants at the end of the day.

My main problems with this project were really related to the linen. I'm a bit bummed out at how baggy these pants are after wearing them around for a day, even after my reducing and interfacing and twill taping. These are not supposed to be close fitting pants, they're designed to be comfy in a fabric with no ease, and so maybe linen was just a bad choice for a first go. They'll be very nice for a loose fitting spring pant, but they're just not quite what I had in mind. I think I'll have to make these up again in a non-stretch fabric that will be more stable, and that will give a better indication of whether or not these are truly the perfect pants. Oddly I've had two pairs of pants self destruct this week, so maybe that's the pants gods' way of telling me I should try again. Maybe a brown twill?

Nice ride, with a brownie halfway

I stole this neat little map thing from my SO's blog from the ride that we took this weekend. He suggested that we try a sunday ride with the Finger Lakes Cycling Club. They were planning on going to Taughannock and back so it was a ride I thought I could handle, but when we showed up in the parking lot and saw a bunch of guys with spandex and aero bars, I was a bit worried. Sure enough, we set off towards the park at a pace of 13-14 miles an hour. That kind of pace would be fine for me in the trainer and for half an hour or so, but I knew this was going to be trouble for me in the long term. Sure enough, I started to drop behind after we hit a hill half an hour in, and the SO and I decided to break off and do our own route instead.

We took a nice ride into Trumansburg, going up the hill on a long but not too steep path, and when we got into town we stopped at Gimme! Coffee for a snack. I'm a big fan of snacking in the middle of rides, and I told my SO we should plan the next ride around a good place to eat. It was a lovely day for a ride, and although I was pretty tired afterwards I had a fantastic time. The only downside of the ride was that I didn't wear any sunscreen, and now I have little lobster red arms and the beginnings of a farmer's tan. I guess I'm out of practice with sunscreening myself!

My bike odometer is now at 980 miles... one more ride, and I hit the 1000 mile birthday! What should I do to celebrate?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Beignet skirt

I finished this project a few weeks ago, but pics are still slowly trickling out of my SO's camera and onto the blog. So here you see me on what was probably the first day warm enough to wear a skirt (and matching sandals!) in Ithaca. The skirt is made using the Beignet pattern from Colette patterns, and it came together beautifully. Since the pattern says that it is very fitted at the waist, I cut a size 10 for most of the pattern but graded out to a 12 at the waist. This worked really well, and it turned out fitted, but not at all tight or uncomfortable. I used a stretch cotton for added comfort and for some wrinkle resistance, although it didn't turn out to be quite as wrinkle free as I'd hoped by the end of my first day wearing it out and about.

When I initially picked out this pattern I was worried that the high waisted slim skirt look wasn't going to be so hot on me, but I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I like wearing this skirt. Usually I don't tuck tops into skirts or pants because it always looks weird to me for some reason, but with the higher waist I think it works. I'll probably make this skirt again in a different fabric at some point, and maybe with a side zip instead of buttons. It would also be really fun to do a version of this with an even more fitted waist and a bit of plastic boning for a corset like effect. Maybe next winter I'll give it a go, but for now there are summer dresses to sew!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fun with kitchen gadgets

I look like I'm having fun, don't I ? And I was having even more fun eating the delicious noodles that came out of this funky looking contraption that my SO brought back with him from Germany. In case you haven't guessed, this is a spaetzle maker. When my SO lived in Berlin there was this delicious spaetzle place right down the street from his apartment where you could get these noodles with cheese and onions, sort of like a German mac and cheese. As soon as I was confident that I could pronounce "kaese" and "spaetzle" well enough to be understood, I went to that shop as many times as I could without risking total cheese overload. For around 4 euros, you could get a tiny salad and a giant plate of fresh, cheesy noodles covered in sauteed onions. Delish.

I wasn't at all confident that we'd be able to reproduce that noodle goodness here at home, because spaetzle making seems to be something that there's a lot of lore and mysticism about -- no one will tell you how much water to add to the recipe, for example, so you just have to guess at when you've made the dough thin enough that you can actually get it through the press but not so runny that you just end up with sad little disintegrating blobs on the other side. Somehow, magically, we managed to produce noodles on the first try. It was fantastic watching those long strings of dough hit the water and become delicious lumpy noodles! I had fresh ones for dinner with some cheese, onions and mushrooms on top (my SO tells me that my addition of mushrooms is decidedly NOT Swabian. Whatever, it was really tasty). The next day I made the leftovers with more onions and cheese in a pan so that the noodles got a little crispy and the cheese got nice and melty.

In addition to how surprisingly easy this was to make, I was also surprised at how not nutritionally terrifying the recipe was, for the dough at least. I thought I was going to discover that I'd actually been eating four eggs in a serving with a little pinch of flour to bind them together. For this batch I only used two eggs and a cup of flour, which sounds pretty reasonable to me for two meals (at least until you start dumping loads of cheese and onions in, but so be it. I'm no stranger to loads of cheese and onions). Do you think the Germans just like to keep us thinking that this stuff is terrible for you and impossible to make anyway so that they can have all the noodles themselves? Your secret is out, Germans!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Custom fitted pants, take one

After slowly but surely turning my custom fitted pants sloper into an actual pants pattern, I sat down tonight to start cutting and sewing. My SO is still away in Germany, so I had the evening and the house to myself to sew. Whee! I tried to really take my time on these pants and go slowly and carefully, making everything as neat and professional as possible. Behold the loveliness of this single welt pocket.

And my fly front zipper, inserted with the Sandra Betzina method (this is an awesome video and makes putting in the zipper much easier than I would have ever imagined). I don't mean to toot my own horn here, but it's looking pretty good, eh? I'm quite proud of how these are turning out so far.

After I put in the zipper, I went to pop these on for a quick try on in the mirror, and was horrified to find that they're HUGE. Like, falling off, inches too big huge. I was seriously not expecting that, since I know that these pants fit me after having tried on several muslins for the research project already. Arg.

I've come to the conclusion that it's probably the linen. I've heard that linen "grows," I just didn't think that it could grow this much. I compared the pants to one piece of the original pattern, and they're probably more than an inch bigger just in one piece!

I'm trying not to be too bummed about this, because I think it is fixable if I can manage to keep myself from getting too discouraged to do the work it will take to rehab them. For starters, I reduced the size of the waistband and used some of my newly acquired twill tape to make sure it doesn't stretch out.

I was planning on putting some twill tape in here anyway, but I decided to put in two rows for good measure. Next I think I'll have to go back and try to take in the pants by a few inches at the sides. That makes me so sad, because I did a really meticulous job on finishing the seams and now I'll just have to slice it off. Such is life, I guess. Hopefully it will all be worth it in the end!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

NYC garment district, I heart you

Seriously, if I lived in New York City, I'd be down there all the time, checking out the remnants and picking up just a little bit of this or that. Things which I've looked for in half a dozen stores around here and failed to find were there in bucketloads in NYC. Sigh.

I went to three stores while my SO and I were on our mini vacation. First stop was Paron fabrics, which wasn't actually the store I intended to go to, but we ended up there anyway because it was the only store that was open on a sunday. It wasn't a giant store, but it has a fantastic 50% off room and the salespeople were really nice. I picked up three pieces of fabric from the sale annex, all 50% off:

The middle one is a lining for the dress I plan to make for my brother's wedding, and since I needed a good bit of fabric I was determined to find something cheap. This was only two bucks a yard! Good deal. The fabric on the left is a really soft shirting with stripes. Now that I have the power of the FBA, I'm determined to make the classic button down shirt that I've never been able to wear before. The tag said it was a Banana Republic remnant. I asked for two yards, but the nice guy at the store gave me the last yard that was on the roll for free, so I got three yards for $13. The flowery fabric was one that I just couldn't resist. It's a silk chiffon, and I noticed after I bought it that it's Besty Johnson remnant. It was still $10 a yard, so not exactly a steal but also not wallet-breaking either. I haven't decided exactly what I'll do with this yet, but some sort of floppy, cute blouse that I can wear with my Beignet skirt is likely what will end up happening with it.

The find of the day, though, goes to my SO. While I was pawing through the chiffons, he noticed a sign in the corner next to a pile of buttons: "Buttons. $1 each or $25 for the box." I walked right by this until he pointed out that the boxes were HUGE.

Look at all these buttons I got for only $25 bucks! After having spent ten dollars recently on a dozen red buttons, this box is going to pay for itself pretty quickly. Six different colors (they look a little funky under the flash here, but they're browns, blues and blacks), all different sizes, and enough for tons of projects. This thing was heavy to drag around after I got it, but still worth it. I already gave a few buttons to friend in Philly for her coat.

On my way back through NYC at the end of my mini vacation, I stopped at New York Elegant Fabrics, which was the store I had planned on going to. It was huge and wonderful, just as I'd imagined it, but unfortunately elegant fabrics = expensive fabrics. Since I already had my Paron finds I was happy to just browse, but on my way out I noticed a little rack of remnants and of course had to paw through that. Most of what they had there was pretty small cuts (averaging around a yard), but some were still big enough for a skirt here or a blouse there. I ended up buying these:

The green wool with the cool pattern is a pretty small piece. I'm a bit worried about whether it's actually enough to make something, but I thought for $7 I'd take it home and see if I could squeeze a short skirt out of there. The black fabric is an incredible lightweight wool that was originally $50 a yard! As soon as I touched it, I was sold. It just feels so, so luxurious. Buying fabrics by touch is something that I do miss, since I do mostly web based shopping these days. I bought 1.25 yards for $30. It's 60 inches wide, so I think I might be able to do a really classy black blazer with this.

Finally, I stopped by Pacific Trimmings and got some twill tape, some cord for making my own piping (which I just could not find for love nor money around here), and a lightweight zipper for the wedding dress. All of these things are things which are pretty new to me, so I was a bit bumbling in the trim store. Eventually I just asked someone about the zipper, and the saleslady just grabbed my swatch and came back about ten minutes later with the perfect zipper. Weird experience, but very efficient!

All in all, I can't imagine a better place to be a hobby sewist than NYC. Except that maybe my habit to stash fabric would probably clash with my terribly small apartment if I actually did move there. Maybe it's time to put in an application for that NYC job?