Thursday, July 30, 2015

Works in Progress: Wiksten tank muslin

I've been thinking recently about making some of my own clothes. This isn't really a new thing for me; it's an interest I've circled back to periodically although I have to admit that I've never gotten very far with the actual making*.

This current burst of interest is, unsurprisingly, connected to all the thinking that I've been doing in recent months about the size and structure of my wardrobe. I have a better sense now not only of exactly what I want to wear, but also of what items would make my closet work better. Cue impatience when I can't find the items from my mind's eye in stores, either secondhand or retail.

The idea of what to make first is connected to this souvenir from our London trip:

Two meters of Liberty cotton lawn from the glorious Shaukat Fabrics.

My mind's eye sees a bit like this: Liberty tank + cardi in a related color + cropped jeans + clog sandals = summer is sorted.

So I've been working on making muslins of three different tank patterns. First up is the Wiksten tank.

(Why not just buy one pattern and tweak it if necessary until I like the result? Well, I've been curious about whether and how the cut, proportions, and fit of a garment might vary across patterns, even for a very basic thing like a tank top. And I wanted to develop a better understanding of the details of how a flat pattern translates into a shape on the body. In other words, because science.)

The Wiksten tank is very popular, and deservedly so -- there are a lot of great-looking versions out there. But looking at my muslin I can see why people say that "simple isn't easy." From the front the top looks blocky, and from the side it looks tent-y. The Wiksten tank doesn't have bust darts -- I'm pretty flat-chested so that shouldn't "matter," but I think the result just flattens me out more.

I realize that part of the issue here is fabric choice: I'm using an old bedsheet for my muslins, and I could have predicted that a crisp cotton-poly poplin would be exactly the wrong thing for this pattern. If I were to make this tank "for reals," I'd only use a VERY drapey silk or maybe a rayon challis. But really my conclusion is that while I don't need bust darts to accommodate my shape, I do need them to keep my shape from getting totally lost.

I'm a bit more befuddled by the fit at the shoulders. See the way the back neckline rises up away from my body? The general shoulder/underarm region feels pretty tight, too (this isn't much of a surprise, I have broad shoulders and a wide ribcage, and often find ready-to-wear shirts difficult to fit in this area -- though sleeveless tops usually aren't as challenging).

Let's back up for a minute. So the armholes and neck of the Wiksten tank are finished with bias binding. But I didn't want to fuss with all that for a muslin -- I didn't need a finished garment, I just needed to be able to gauge fit and proportion. So I decided to just turn under the neckline and armhole edges (by prescribed seam allowance plus a smidgen more to account for the turn-of-cloth) and baste them down.

The first time I did this I ended up with a pretty wavy, puckery finish at the neckline and armholes. I remembered seeing a tutorial on the Coletterie for sewing a curved hem so I decided to try that. (Yes, I ripped out the stitching and did it again -- on a muslin that I "didn't want to fuss with." But at this point I was curious, because remember, SCIENCE.)

This version was even jankier than the last! Also, the fabric did not want to behave, to the point that multiple f-bombs had to be dropped in order to get through sewing the neckline and just one of the armholes.

Of course. The curved hem method is for convex curves, like you would find on the hem of a circle skirt. Not for tight concave curves, as exist at armscyes and necklines. What I should have done was clip the curves and then turn the fabric under. (Like this, of course.) I mean, I know about clipping curves, I have sewn curved seams before, see:

Funny that I failed to transfer this knowledge from craft sewing to garment sewing. Well, I've learned now is all I can say.

Anyway, I couldn't face finishing the second armhole so I just cut off the seam allowance instead. And look, the right side of the tank sits much better than the left.

Left shoulder - hell to the no.
Right shoulder - not so bad.

So what's going on with that left shoulder area?
(a) It's the janky armhole finish that's causing the problem.
(b) I need to add width across the shoulders/upper back.
(c) I need to lower the armhole.
(d) Combination of (b) and (c).
(e) ???

I'm curious whether any garment sewists out there can tell me what might be going on. I admit that this is a question of mostly academic interest at this point -- I've moved on to sewing up a muslin of a different pattern that looks like it is going to be a better match for me -- but like I said, I'd love to understand this stuff better.

*Why do I think this time will be any different? Time will tell, of course, but I have hit on one new strategy that seems to be helping: instead of waiting for a time when I have a couple hours to sew up a whole garment, I'm applying the "sewalong" approach and just trying to sew one or two seams each day. For something simple like a tank top, this means that I can finish an item in about a week, rather than waiting until forever to even start it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Introducing: Objects of Beauty & Usefulness

In my last post I mentioned that I have some ideas for blogpost series; here is one of them. Now, by this point I know that the most reliable way to ensure that I don't blog at all for six months is to say that something is coming "in my next post" or "later this week," so I won't make any promises along those lines. Let's just call this the first in a possibly-occasional series.

Anyone who has dipped a toe into the lifestyle, home, or minimalist blogosphere over the past several years probably knows the William Morris quote I'm alluding to in the title of this post:

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

It occurred to me that much of the time, when we invoke these words it is in one of two contexts: I got rid of a bunch of stuff that was not beautiful or useful; or, look at the new thing I bought (or made), isn't it beautiful. And both of those types of posts have their place. (In particular, you know I am a huge sucker for a good decluttering Cinderella story.)

But we don't talk much about the objects that we do decide to keep in our houses, how they might become more beautiful with use, and why certain things stand the test of time.

So this series aims to correct that balance a little bit: I'll choose an object from my home that passes the William Morris Test, and talk about why. Some of these items might be mostly useful, others mostly beautiful, and a few might even have that elusive, near-perfect fusion of both qualities. Some items might be things you could buy at a store, some will be old and not available anymore, and others will be entirely one-of-a-kind. But this isn't about recommending a product.

Instead, it's about giving worthy objects a moment in the spotlight. I hope this exercise will help me appreciate the things in my home a little bit better, as well as understand what qualities make an item likely to become beloved. Maybe you're interested in considering objects in this way too?

Objects: Salt and pepper mills

Provenance: Purchased from Mrs. Cooks, Seattle, WA

Date acquired: August 2013

Maker: William Bounds, Ltd., USA

Materials: Wood, silver-tone metal, ceramic blades

Summary: I bought these matching salt and pepper mills two years ago as an anniversary present for my husband. The materials they are made of don't have anything to do with the prescribed gifts for the ninth anniversary (which are willow or pottery in the traditional system, and leather in the modern), but our kitchen was in need of a pepper grinder of better quality, and less wastefulness, than those grocery store plastic bottles of peppercorns with a built-in grinder we'd been using up until then. I picked these partly because the barrels are made of unfinished wood; I liked the idea that they might develop a patina over many years of handling and use. Maybe I will feel differently when I am older, but right now I think an anniversary present should be more about celebrating a relationship's future than its past. (And along anniversary-gift lines, the heart-shaped cut-out in each handle is a nice touch, too.)

The two mills look identical except that the knob at the top of the pepper version is silver, while that on the salt version has a dot of white enamel. Once you've noticed this you're unlikely to mix up the mills and put pepper where you wanted salt or vice versa, but the subtlety of this marking makes them a pleasingly matched set. I like the authenticity of their materials and their modest size: they fit nicely in the hand, and are easy even for a child to manipulate (admittedly, the salt mill has been tested more rigorously than the pepper mill in this regard).

And while it's mainly the meaning of these objects -- or my idea of their future meaning -- that makes them special to me, they are undeniably useful as well. The cranks turn easily and and efficiently, though you can feel a pleasing crunch as the blades slice into a peppercorn or a salt crystal. The blades have never yet gotten gummed up or stuck, and the simple, straightforward mechanism makes me confident that they will continue working for a long time to come. And now again I think we might be back to metaphor.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Eating lately: July

The problem with writing the overthinking woman's lifestyle blog is that, well, one tends to overthink things. Believe it or not I have ideas about blog series, editorial calendars, and all sorts of things like that for this space but as often as not I seem to talk myself out of writing anything at all.

And of course, the longer I go without writing here the harder it is to come back to it.

So I thought I'd get myself over the hump by just sharing a few snaps of meals we've eaten lately. I love cooking at this time of year -- well, when it's not too hot to cook at all that is. Lots of fresh ingredients close at hand and I enjoy the creative challenge of trying to make something delicious out of bits and pieces from the garden and the produce drawer.

For example: pasta with sautéed greens from our garden (the results of thinning the beets and kale), cherry tomatoes from the grocery store, oil-cured olives, and crumbled feta cheese:

Of course, when offering this sort of thing to a kiddo one has to take extra care with presentation:

Here's a Nicoise salad. This is what my man and I eat when it actually is too hot to cook (boil the potatoes and eggs and blanch the beans early in the day, and refrigerate). Again greens from our garden (volunteer arugula, plus kale and beet thinnings), beans from the garden, and more of those tomatoes and oil-cured olives:

Buttermilk cornbread, black beans and rice, and sautéed zucchini (the first harvest from our plants so far this year) with shredded cheese. I was pretty pleased with myself for coming up with this combination -- my man can't really tolerate beans, and I knew my girl wouldn't be too into the zucchini, but between all the options everyone was satisfied and got a little protein to boot. And I enjoyed all of it!

A slightly less recent meal at this point but still one that I enjoyed immensely: vegetarian English breakfast at Bumpkin, a farm-to-table restaurant in London, where we vacationed as a family last month. I hope to write more about our trip soon -- I've got a colorful travel capsule wardrobe (of course) to share, and also some thoughts on making travel kid-friendly without being entirely kid-centered (hopefully that makes sense and doesn't make me sound like a total monster).

What are you cooking (or eating) lately?