Saturday, April 23, 2016

My own weekend retreat

I'm a firm believer in at least occasionally taking trips all by yourself. Even if - especially if - you have a partner/signifiant other/spouse/whatever who you usually live with and travel with. There is something incredibly refreshing about leaving behind all of your normal chores, responsibilities, work, having space to do what you want to do when the mood strikes you. Plus the space to be yourself - a reminder of who you are without your other half around. My favorite vacation ever was the solo portion of my time in Paris two years ago. I'm dying to bring Tim back with me someday, but I don't think that trip would have been what it was if I'd had another person with me.

Back in February I went on a Wildbride retreat. It was literally life-changing for me (I wrote more on that over here on the Wildbride blog). But I knew as time passed it would become easier to fall into old habits that I don't really want in my life. It's helpful to step back and recenter. I unfortunately can't force a Wildbride reunion every few months, but I also don't need to be around other people for a lot of the introspection I'd like to do. Thus: my very own Wildbride-inspired solo retreat in the Sierra foothills, with just a corgi to keep me company.

In some ways it was very different from my Wildbride experience, and less life-changing (which really wasn't a surprise). I had to spend more time making sure Tumbles was happy and exercised (corgis need a lot of attention!). I got to make my own agenda, shift things around as I pleased, spend plenty of time reading and writing and sitting with my thoughts. I also got way more alone time, of course, which was good for thinking through things but also took away the incredible, inspiring mutual support that was at the heart of Wildbride.

But in some ways it was similar, mostly because I planned it to be. Time in nature, surrounded by forest and water. Lots of journaling and thinking about life from a more distant vantage point. A lot less time on the internet (but still some time to catch up with Tim and snapchat when I could get a signal - I'm not perfect at this alone thing!). Hearty, home-cooked food, tasty coffee and wine, a cozy cottage. And making dream boards, which is maybe my new favorite way to kind of reset and align myself in the direction I want to be going in life.

It was hot the weekend we were there (80F - definitely above my comfort level). But I wanted to spend time outside, for my sake and for Tumbles. I managed to find info on nearby swimming holes online, but it was pretty vague - a bridge that wasn't on Google maps and that didn't have clear directions online, some extra directions from there involving markers along the road and a hard to find pull-off. Plus, there was no phone reception anywhere near where I was staying - just some hit or miss wifi in the cottage, and I was totally disconnected once I left the property.

In the name of adventure, I decided to try it out, a bit scared that Tumbles and I would end up lost and stranded, unable to find our way back or call for assistance. I found a point on Google maps that looked like the intersection of a highway and a river that I wanted and set navigation. (Side note: bless offline Google maps, which made it so much easier to navigate both ways without phone service!) Miraculously, I'd guessed correctly and found the spot after a beautiful 30 minute drive! I went to a few different spots along the same creek, most of which had other people there on a hot Sunday. The next day we ventured back, and my favorite spot was now deserted. I took the opportunity to climb out to a rock, strip off my swimsuit, and slip into the water naked. Such a freeing experience, being naked in nature, all alone (except for Tumbles, who is never far from my side). It was wonderful, being in the sun, surrounded by water and rocks and trees, no other people around.

I even took a few photos to kind of capture the Wildbride spirit, although my tripod doesn't come close to Liz's skills. I feel like the idea still comes through, though. Femininity. Nature. Strength and confidence.

It wasn't all beautiful and easy. I got hit with loneliness on Sunday evening at sundown, when I still had over a full day left. I was tempted to leave the next day, but fortunately it passed and Monday was a great day, and I was able to enjoy the solitude again. Earlier on Sunday, after hiking around, I began finding ticks on Tumbles. Over several hours (and with an unplanned bath with human shampoo), I found sixteen ticks on her. *shudder* And on Tuesday morning, as I was packing the car to leave, she rolled around in something unimaginably disgusting on the ground and had to get another bath before we could head out. I think those things mostly served to make the transition back to city life just a little easier :)

I'm hoping to do these little weekend retreats every few months. It's nice to have a chance to reset, be alone with my thoughts and nature, contemplate my life and goals and priorities. I'd like to mix it up - maybe somewhere next to the beach this summer, a snowy cabin in the winter. Perhaps another trip back to the redwoods sometime, since the Wildbride location was so gorgeous! And in the meantime, I have some great memories and new intentions to hold on to until it's time to plan the next one.

PS. The cottage I stayed in was an Airbnb, and it was seriously the best Airbnb experience I've had. So cozy, such sweet, welcoming hosts, and fresh milk + bread to boot. Find the cottage here.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sewn: Black Belladone Dress

I wanted to make it through my Love at First Stitch book before starting any other patterns, partially to keep things simple (one thing at a time!) and also to pick up as many skills as I could before jumping into the world of sewing patterns meant for not-total-beginners. I'm glad I did things in that order, but it was also really exciting to finish and have the whole world of sewing patterns open to me!

I got excited and bought 4 patterns at once (only two of which I've made so far - eep), and I got started with the Belladone from Deer & Doe. My coworker Kiran has made at least one, possibly a few versions of this dress, and I knew it was the first thing I wanted to sew. I love the fitted-but-not-tight A-line silhouette, and the back cutout is cute and interesting without making for complicated bra situations like some open backs can.

I've been really into wearing lots of black lately, so I decided to go with cheap black cotton for a wearable toile. I cut out my size and basted the dress together - long, loose stitches and no seam finishing. Miraculously, the pattern fit almost perfectly with no modifications! (This was in sharp contrast to my Tilly and the Buttons patterns, which almost always have way more ease than I want and require lots of contouring through the waist and back). So I took the whole thing apart and sewed it again, this time with normal stitches and nice, serged seams.

I'm super happy with this dress, with a few small exceptions. One, I am just not a fan of bias tape for finishing sleeves and necklines. Hopefully I'll get better with practice, but I seem to always end up with puckering in some spots and the edges don't lie as flat as with facings or a full bodice lining. Unfortunately the cutout back makes a full lining really tricky. Two, since I did use a cheap fabric, it's not as soft or smooth as I would really like, and it wrinkles easily. This kind of sounds like an excuse to buy a nicer black fabric and make another, though.

I really do love so many things about this dress though. I love the shape and the fit. It's flattering but still loose enough to be comfortable. There are pockets (which I made bigger to comfortably hold my giant phone). And honestly it's just a nice, classic cut and color. I usually pair it with black tights on work days when I want to look put together but don't really feel like figuring out an outfit.


The back. You can see a lot of the puckering around the binding tape here (the binding tape is all on the inside, so you're just seeing stitch outlines, not the tape itself). Ugh, binding tape! I've since had better luck (with another pattern) using self bias tape, that is, cut from the fabric instead of storebought. That may be a thing to try on a future Belladone!

And after making two Belladones I realized I assembled the upper back pieces wrong on both (see above photo). The upper shoulder pieces are supposed to be on top! I think it would look slightly nicer the correct way, but it's not bad enough to take apart and resew. Ah well!

Things I learned: How to follow more minimal instructions (these were still pretty comprehensive, but I had to google things like sewing in binding tape. My previous patterns from the book were very hand-hold-y); using binding tape to finish a bodice; adding a hem facing piece instead of just hemming the bottom.

I have since sewn 2 more of these, so stay tuned for much more Belladone.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sewn: Black Lilou dress

Of the projects in Love at First Stitch... I skipped over blogging about the simple head scarf (and I've never worn it - I swear my head and hairline are not shaped right for things like that); I showed you my Margot PJs and Delphine skirt; finally blogged about the Megan dress and the three Clemence skirts I made. The next pattern in the book is the Mimi blouse, which is cute but 100% not my style (I like more fitted, usually stretchy tops - the boxy look does not do it for me). So I skipped that one. Which brings me to the last project in the book - the Lilou dress!

I really like the style and fit of this one - of everything I've made so far, it definitely feels the nicest. I think the main downside is that it feels a bit too nice - more of a party dress than an everyday dress. I used a really sturdy woven cotton, which makes it feel high quality but not necessarily extra fancy. I may keep my eye out for something a bit more glitzy and possibly make myself a holiday party Lilou someday, since that's really my main excuse each year to dress up.

The trickiest thing about picking fabric for this dress is that it requires 60" wide (instead of the more common 45" wide). I basically just looked around my fabric store until I found something that matched the description the pattern gave (medium-weight with body, I believe) and which was also wide enough, and solid black it was. I think this started my new routine of making each new dress pattern in black first, since plain black dresses are probably my very favorite thing to throw on in the morning and instantly feel put-together. I'm definitely having a black phase with my clothing and I love it.

It's been a little while since I sewed this (like.... August 2015), so I can't remember all of the details. I did spend some time on fitting the bust first - I made a muslin out of the lining fabric, I believe, and adjustments were mostly bringing side seams and darts in tighter, so I didn't need to cut new fabric for the final version.

After many invisible zipper projects, I was over inserting them and decided to go with a regular zipper for this one. I worried a black plastic one would look cheap, so I got a metal coat zipper and I'm really happy with how it looks! My fabric is heavy enough that it all feels very stable, even with the extra heavy zip.

Some process shots...

Attaching the lining + outer bodice. This was really cool to learn! You attach all along the neckline and the arm holes, then connect the side seams for each the lining and the bodice, then do some magic and flip it all right side out and it's so cool, especially the very first time.

Close up of zipper attachment + pleats details - I really love how well this fabric holds pleats!

The downside of black is: really hard to photograph.

What I learned: How to line a bodice - this one is great because I've since learned that I hate using binding tape on arm openings and especially necklines, so sometimes subbing those out for lining is my best bet; pleats!; sewing a non-invisible zipper.

That's it for Love at First Stitch projects, but I wasted no time in moving on to other indie sewing patterns once I got through it all. More to come!

Also - thanks to Tim for taking all the photos of me wearing this dress! I liked so many that I had trouble narrowing it down :)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sewn: Clemence skirt (x3!)

This was my 4th big project from Love at First Stitch, the Clemence skirt. This skirt was really exciting because it was almost exactly like a black skirt I bought a few years ago and ModCloth and love - it's so simple and comfy and flattering and perfect with t-shirts. So I made one, and then two more! before moving on in my book.

My versions are a bit poofier than the ModCloth one, even though I tried to use the same circumference of fabric. I think this is because my cotton is pretty sturdy so it holds the gathers better. I mostly don't mind but occasionally feel a bit silly in them (only a bit though).

This skirt was interesting because it didn't come with a pattern to trace and cut, just instructions to make my own using my waist measurement. I have found that I like less ease in the waist (ie. I like things tighter than pattern makers expect me to), so I used my existing skirt to determine the waist circumference, and it worked out perfectly.

I like the simplicity in this one. After I got the hang of it, they are super easy to throw together even with pockets.

My first attempt at the Clemence was out of a gold cotton fabric and I made it exactly as outlined in the book, aside from measurement adjustments. This meant french seams (no raw edges showing!) and no pockets.

My only WIP pic of this one - this is how you do gathers! Lots of loose stitches, pull on the threads until it bunches up to the right size, then sew for real and remove all the basting stitches.


I did contrasting invisible zippers on two of these and I like them - I kind of wish they were more visible though! The chambray skirt (seen in a photo at the bottom) has a teal one, which I love the color of but it is almost too invisible. Oops.

French seams. You sew the ends together in one way, then flip it and sew it the other way to enclose the raw edges. So neat and tidy! The others don't have this because I'm not sure if there is a way to do these with seamline pockets.

My second one, with a fun print. I think it is the fullest one (you can see this in my terrible bathroom selfie, below). I like it when I'm in the mood for it...

Pockets! My book also outlined how to add these (as an optional step, so I skipped it in my first try). They are super hidden in the full skirt, and I made them big enough to hold my giant phone. Score!

Ugh these are apparently the only photos I have of me wearing the patterned and chambray versions of this skirt. Enjoy the mop and stall door, I guess. :|

Stuff I learned by making the Clemence skirt: simple pattern drafting; making and inserting side-seam pockets (this is really useful!!); how to sew French seams; and I guess, the joy of making a good pattern over and over!

I swear I'm going to try to get better photos of me wearing things going forward. But for now I'd rather get through a bit of my massive backlog of projects than wait even longer until I take all the photos.