Valient Viewers of Braver Homes and Gardens

Monday, December 27, 2010

Off the Rack

It's been a while since I blogged.  And I'm afraid my return post will be in the form of a rant.  I just returned from a three hour trip to the mall.

I HATE the mall.  Moreso, I absolutely ABHOR buying clothing off the rack.  It just makes me puke.  But I'm getting a head of myself...Let me back up.

The Conductor and I have plans to go to a dinner and theater show for New Year's Eve.  I believe one is supposed to dress for dinner and the theater.  Neither one of us has cable but we've been catching up on the popular Mad Men cable series on DVD.  I thought it would be fun to make a vintage inspired dress for the occassion so I picked this one:

It's Voge 1043, a reprint of a 1953 pattern.  (Yes, I know Mad Men takes place in the 60's but that's not the point.  Vintage is the point).

Considering that my final fabric selection was a very nice oriental blue satin, I decided to make a muslin before sewing the final dress.  And of course, I got stuck.

This gusset piece is supposed to fit into

this underside of the arm.  But for the life of me I could not figure out how it went.  Onto the pile of Valient Attempts it went.  With New Year's less than a week away, I needed a Plan B.  Off to the mall I went. 

So here's why I hate the mall and why I abhor off the rack clothing.  I tried on 9 dresses all which claimed to be the same size.  They all fit differently.  I almost drowned in some.  And trying to pull others off almost resulted in my arm being pulled from its socket, they were so tight.  But inconsistent sizing is only aggravation number one.

Here's the dress I settled on (and I do mean settled):

Many (who don't sew) might be thinking, "Why Jill that's a perfectly fine dress for a nice night out".  But let's take a closer look, shall we?  We'll start with the sleeves. 

But wait!  There are none.  In fact, NONE of the nine dresses I tried on had sleeves.  Why is this an aggravation? 

Because it's wintertime!  In Wisconsin!! 

We have freezing temperatures, subzero windchills, and SNOW.  Yet this is what the fashion industry deems an appropriate winter evening gown.  (And do you think the stores featured matching shawls or wraps.  Of course not!!).

Aggravation three is up next.  The stipes are actually strips of fabric sewn around the dress.   I couldn't really get the fine details right with my camera, but if I could have, you'd see that the fabric is a knit.  And the stripes...are NOT...hemmed. 

As a seamstress that just aggravates the tar out of me.  I"m sure non-sewists ae thinking, well Jill, what's the prob?  It's a knit that doesn't unravel so who cares about the lack of a hem?   Well, I do. You should .  Every American consumer should!  Why?

Because the price of this dress is $100!!!  ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS for a dress that, without proper hemming, is not finished being made.    It's like driving a car that has wheels that haven't been bolted on.  It looks good.  You might be pursuaded to pay full price for it.  And you could drive it, sure.  But you won't get far without it coming undone and ticking you off.  Still not getting it? 

Aggravtion #4 - the ethics:  The manufacturer buys a cheapy knit fabric like the one on my dress because it doesn't require hemming.  This means less manual labor.  Which means each factory worker in Mexico..Singapore...Bangladesh, etc. can churn out even more dresses per hour.  And at the $1 or so an hour the laborer gets paid, in raw terms, they get more bang for their buck...but the savings are not passed on to us, nor do I suspect they pay the laborer more for churning out more product. 

Aggravation #5 - the consumerism:  We as the consumer have little choice but to buy crap quality like this but we are lead to believe that $100 for a poorly made dress is a reasonable price.  We're too apathetic about quality in this country with our "cheaper is better" mindset that we don't even realize we should be complaining. 

Aggravtion #6 - the math:    Say you make $12 an hour (what the Government considers a wage you can support a family on).  This means, to buy this crap quality dress, you need to work about nine and half hours (factoring taxes in).  That means more than one full day of your life toiling away, for an inferior product. Now imagine if you only make minimum wage.  You'd be giving up a good 15 hours - two whole work days - for a dress that probably won't last more than a year or two, assuming you only wear it on fancy occassions.  INSANITY!

"But Jill," you're no doubt thinking, "You certainly aren't nuts!"

No.  I'm not.  That's why I only paid $35 for this dress which is about all I'm willing to pay for off the rack clothing.  But don't congratulate me.  The bargain I got came with a price:

There it is!  A broken zipper.  That's right.  They marked this $100 dress down because - before anyone even took it home - the zipper broke.  This is what passes for quality products?  Come on! 

Boy am I glad I sew! 

Anyways, as I mentioned, the dresses are sleeveless and the strore didn have any matching wraps.  So I"m going to need to make one.  (Thank goodness that *some* part of my ensemble will be of quality workmanship). 

But what to make it out of?  After dealing with the garbage at the mall, the fabric store was like an oasis in the dessert.  But I was too tired and aggravated to make a decision there so I bought three pieces and figured I'd decide which one later.  The shoes will be silver to match the lovely bracelet that the Concuctor gave me for Christmas, making its debut on New Year's. (Ahh - more quality!)  So these are my choices:

The first is this maroon fabric.  The upside is that it's a nice metallic whcih I think will look fun on New Year's.  The downside is that it's too thin to keep my shoulders warm

This one is also maroon, but a nice medium weight knit which will keep my arms warm.  But the dress is also knit and I worry that, although warm, knit on top of knit will take my dress from fancy to dowdy.

Finally, a navy blue organza. The shade isn't an exact match to the navy of the dress and it won't keep my arms warm.  I'm leaning toward this one though.  I'm worried that the maroons will stand out for not being the same color and, while I like to dress up for the theater, I prefer to be more conservative about it. 

The organza will stand out but for a good reason.  
It's got teeny sequiny things on it, which will pair nicely with the sequiny things on my shoes and the diamonds on my bracelet.  I'm willing to have cold arms in exchange for a little New Year's bling on my shoulders.

So...thank you for making it through to the end of my Shopping off the Rack Rant.  As a thank you, please feel free to give me your opinion on which wrap fabric I should go with. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I was seduced.  I admit it. For as much as I prefer to eat foods in their natural state, and stay away from fake foods, sometimes I fall for them anyway.  Especially if they’re cheap.  This time it was tins of the red lidded International flavored coffee mixes.  These normally sell for about $3.49 but I found them at my discount store for $1.50.

I read the back where I found I could enjoy “the delicious paring of luscious caramel (yum!) and sweet vanilla (heavenly!) and how it would be “sinfully superb”. What Catholic girl doesn’t want a way to be sinfully superb? I took the tin to work and heated up a mug of full-fat milk. You know, for extra sinfulness. I dumped a spoonful of the “coffee” mix on top.

And for a second I thought I had mistakenly made a bowl of Rice Krispies.  As in snap-crackle-pop. My mug of coffee was crackling as the mix dissolved.

Since when does coffee crackle???  And what the hell is in this stuff?  That’s when I did what I should have done in the store - read the ingredient list.  My $1.50 “coffee” is made with sugar as its first ingredient, partially hydrongenated oil (um, yum??) and other such “foods” as cellulose gum and silicon dioxide. 

I took a sip.  Naturally it tastes nothing like caramel.  Or vanilla.   It just tastes like really sugary milk.  The tin told me it would be “your own coffeehouse indulgence right at home”.  I guess.  If drinking melted plastic is considered an indulgence.

Gross.  Turning to my cupboards I found the yellow lidded and the brown lidded hot chocolate mixes.  But a scan of the "ingredient" list proved equally as disgusting.  Did you know if you let the brown lidded stuff sit out and spoil, it! 

Then I remembered that I have two mokka pots which are coffee percolators made in Italy designed for steam coffee at home.  The coffee comes out a cross between espresso and Turkish coffee.   I have a 2 oz. and a 9 oz. pot by the original brand, Bialetti.  The two-ouncer goes for $20 and the nine-ouncer (which makes about one mug of coffee) goes for $40.  Thrifty gal that I am, I found both at Goodwill only about a week after I made a mental note to try and find one.  I paid $9 total for them both. 

The pots separate into three parts - the bottom where you put water, the cup that holds the coffee grounds, and the top.  As the water heats, it's pushed up through the grounds and into the top. 

While the coffee perked on the stovetop, I happened to notice a third container of "coffee" mix that I had left unopened overnight.  It dried out to the point where the entire top looked like a sheet of plastic:

What kind of "coffee" turns to a sheet of plastic just from  exposure to the air??  What IS this stuff?

For fun, I got out my drill:

Now that is just wrong.  Ok...enough fooling around.  I took the coffee off th stove and heated a mug of milk.  I poured in the espresso, added a spoonful of cocoa and a spoonful of powdered sugar.

Whisk to dissolve and nowwww I have a sinfully superb cup of coffee:

Snap, crackle, pop, and silicon dioxide not included. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Marigolds & Old Tables

Today is my Gramma Helen's birthday.  She died two years ago.  For some reason I've been feeling her spirit for about two weeks.  So has one of my sisters.  Marigolds were her favorite flower.  They're one of the last ones to survive here before winter kicks in. 

It's crazy that marigolds were her favorite.  Every spring she and my grampa would get into the same argument.  He'd start planting his red geraniums around the yard.  My Grampa was a Marine drill sargent.  He plants flowers like he marched soldiers.  Two-by-two those geraniums marched in perfect military precision all around the perimeter. 

Every year my Gramma would pitch a fit because geraniums are annuals which means they die every year.  "Why don't you just plant perennials so they come back every year and then you don't waste time and money."  (Gramma didn't really understand us gardeners).

Yet, marigolds, her favorite flower, are also annuals.  Go figure.

But I didn't want to write about marigolds today.  I wanted to write about my kitchen table. 

I got it from my Gramma. 
It used to be my Great-Gramma's.  The top is crooked.  The leaves don't fit into each other properly.  But Gramma fixed it before she gave it to me.  Well, she slapped a coat of varnish on it anyway.  She insisted. 

Tonite it's doubling as my workbench, as it often does.  I need to shorten some boards to fix my front porch with.  My dad may have taught me *how* to use power tools....but my Gramma was the one that actually made me want to learn. 

When my Grampa would leave for meetings at the American Legion, she went down in the basement and taught herself how to use a power sander and a table saw in secret.  Using only scrap wood, she then built herself two floor-to-ceiling shelving units.

She was 65 at the time. 

I have the money to buy a better table. 

But I rather like my Gramma's crooked, ill fitting old table.  My paint splotches and sawblade scratches only enhance it.

Happy Birthday Gramma.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bathrobe for Winter

My late Gramma Helen's birthday is only about a week away. Her presensce must be around or something because at the fabric store this weekend, it occurred to me that I have no winter bathrobe and I really need one.  But what to make it out of?  Fleece?  Warm, but sometimes too warm.  Flannel? Hmm.  It wears well, but it wouldn't be warm enough.  A heavy cotton?  No.  Not warm at all and too stiff.

Then I suddenly remembered the comfiest bathrobes I know are the ones my Gramma Helen always wore.  And they were made out of fake fur.  Incredibly warm, but not overpoweringly so.  And fake fur is very durable.  Her first one was a pretty turquoise blue.  She wore that one to shreds and then started wearing an identical one in red. 

By dumb luck (or maybe it was Gramma working with the Forces of the universe) they happened to have cuddle fur on sale at half-off.  And of the 20 or so prints, the only cute one I found happened to have a blue background with some red ladybugs on it - the two colors of my Gramma's bathrobes.  Coincidence?  Hmm....  Maybe not, since it also had green frogs. 

I bought this unnumbered pattern at a thrift store (which my Gramma totally got me into - Whoa!).  I think it was a freebie given out by a fabric store, although it was uncut. 

I love buying used patterns (when all the pieces are included) because you sometimes see the notes of the person that had the pattern before you.  The previous owner of this pattern included a clipping for a bathrobe idea using velour with a lace overlay.

I don't know about the lace.  But the velour is, indeed, regal ooking.

Anyway, the fleece was a dream to sew on but a pain when I had to rip out mistakes.  Nevertheless, I'm pleased with it.  I did it in a day.  So here's my tribute to my Gramma Helen.

By the way, my Gramma Helen was madder than heck when she found out I bought a sewing machine.  "Why would you want the drudgery of sewing your own clothes?" she'd say. 

And then she'd repeat her story about how her mother, my Great Gramma Jennie, who sewed everything, would always stop her when she came home with a storebought dress and inspect it up and down. 
And then she'd toss it back to my Gramma with a loud "pfft!" of disgust, throw up her hands, and walk away.  Which, funny enough, is the reaction I have to a lot of storebought clothes.  Cheap fabric, poor sewing, no durability - and top dollar prices for stuff I could make so much better at home. 

Like my new Gramma Helen bathrobe.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Vogue 2787

I made this dress back in February, intending to wear it to the symphony.  I tweaked it over the weekend and I finally got to wear it out on the town. 

I used Vogue 2787 which is a reprint of a vintage pattern from 1948.
The pattern is labeled "advanced".  But fortunately I checked Pattern Review.  All reviewers said to mark pieces carefully and make good use of all markings.  Because of the design, there's really no way to do much altering either.  Thankfully I used markings - even notches which I tend to not bother with.  And it turned out to be a perfect fit. 

Here's my version

I actually didn't think it was all that advanced.  You just really have to pay attention to your cutting and use the markings just like the reviewers said.  I asked the Conductor's opinion and he said the skirt would look better a little shorter on me.  My sister Carrie always tells me to wear my skirts shorter, too.  I briefly thought of shortening it...but it's supposed to be a vintage design and this version falls just to the length of women's skirts from the mid-40's.  So I'll have to think about whether I want to stay true to the era - or go for a cut that's more flattering. 

The fabric has small, white polka dots on it so I got the idea to use piping to make the dots pop out more.  In retrospect, I shouldn't have done this.  The top portion, where the S-shaped seam is, involves the top of the left side being under the right....up until the bottom tucks.  Then it flips to being on the top. 

So, because of the switch in the middle, it was impossible to get the two ends of piping to meet up in one flow.
A noticeable flaw.  My only recorse was to cover it with a button. This, naturally, will draw the eyes right to one of my problem spots - my potbelly.  Ugh!

Pattern Review posters all said they wouldn't make another version of this dress, but I would.  Next time I'll be smart and not use piping!

So!  The show!  First we started out with dinner at Mader's - a German restaurant.  I'm German.  I've lived in Milwaukee more than half my life.  But I've never been to Mader's.  Boy, what a treat!  Milwaukee has a ton of really good restaurants.  But Mader's is one of only two or three that draw out of towners and celebrities.  So you know it's awesome. 

We started out with (what I thought would be) a before dinner cocktail of brandy old-fashioneds, a southside Milwaukee tradition.  This is what we got:
Holy Horseradish!  They were huge!! Like three cocktails in one.  I was drinking mine all through dinner and finished the last of it after my meal.  And it was well made too - considering the size, it was mixed right and didn't have any overly boozey taste.  Plus, they put a TON of cherries and oranges in it so by the time I got to the bottom, there was a crazy-delicious sludge that I ate as my dessert. 

I got the German sampler which came with five favorites - wiener schnitzel, sauerbraten,  sauerkraut, a smoked pork cutlet (that totally reminded me of my Gramma Nancy's smoked pork butt) , and red cabbage that tasted like candy.  Man!  If cabbage didn't make you do what it makes you do, I'd've eaten a plateful of just that. 

But the most exciting part of the meal was I got to have a food adventure.  I always keep my eye out for flavors or dishes I've never tried before and at Mader's I found one.  Take a guess what it is:

It looks like an unassuming bowl of beef or veggie soup, no?  It's really:    Oxtail soup!!  Contrary to Saturday morning cartoons, it does not come with two cut off, hairy ox tails draped across the top of the bowl.  (That was a childhood vision totally shattered).  This soup was amazing.  Very deep, loaded with barley, the ox-y meat was yummy (tasted like really great beef).  And the broth!! The broth was like liquid silk.  If I can find a way to duplicate that, I'll be as close to nirvana as a person can get.

After dinner we went to the symphony which featured a crazy mix of wonderful music - a fanfare by John Adams, a ballet suite by Aaron Copeland, and Beethovan's 9th which ended with the famous Ode to Joy.  Which they sang in German.  I don't speak German, so I found myself making up words to the music in my head.  It was pretty much a song about all the good German food I just ate. 

And for as much as people talk like Milwaukee is so uncouth, and as though we're all just a bunch of working class slobs that don't have any class or appreciation for the arts....this was the second symphony in a row the Conductor and I have been to where the seats were sold out.  So take that, all you snoots!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lady Grey part 2

Back with the Lady Grey sew along.  Last time, I stopped short of putting the sleeves in.  I prefer one piece sleeves because I find them easier to set in.  But this pattern features a two part sleeve.  I started by sewing together the top and bottom of the sleeve.  Because I only paper pieced the sleeves before cutting the fabric, I wanted to try on the sleeve first before I connect it to the body just to double check the fit in the bicep - my problem area.

As you can see, I'm wearing the same shirt I wore last time.  I'm doing that because this shirt has a typical weight of clothing I wear in spring/fall and  I want to to ensure a consistent fit as I go along.  Hmm....there's (thankfully!) enough room in the bicep area.  But I'm a bit concerned that my sleeve pokes out of the bottom.  The pattern is described as having a 3/4 sleeve...but I just had getting a draft up the arm.  Hopefully it will fit better once it's attached - otherwise, I may need to consider modifying the length.

My biggest challenge with sleeves is getting a nice, smooth shoulder.  When the sleeve isn't set in right, there tend to be puckers up at the shoulder.  The result is either an amateurish looking piece or the poufy little girl shouldered look.  Neither of which I want. 

Taking advantage of this jacket's current status as a muslin, I decided to experiment with two different sleeve methods.  I used blue thread on one sleeve, maroon on the other so I could remember which method I used on each. 

For the first method, I started by basting in only the top three inches or so of the shoulder seam.  This will guarantee that the top is pucker free.  (Once I was done setting in the sleeve, I noticed a pucker at my high bust.  Now I know I need to sew from my high bust and *then* over the shoulder by about two inches so there's no puckers at the bust).

Once I did this, I then sewed the side seam of the body.
Then I went and pinned the rest of the sleeve into the armscye.

Drat!  The area in between the yellow headed pins reveals extra fabric. 
Fortunately, this twill has a slight stretch and all I had to do was ease it in by stretching slightly.  Smooth as ice!  I forgot to take a picture of the finished sleeve.  It resulted in a nice, smooth seam all the way around except for the slight pucker at the high bust.  Which will be no big deal to deal with, should I go with this method.

At this point, I had to take a break because my airheaded dog (ONCE AGAIN) got her leash wrapped around a planter and was barking for help.  I put the planter there because she used to wrap her cord around the mailbox.  You can see how well that strategy worked. 

Egad!  I really need to fix my porch steps. 

Back to the second sleeve.  For this method, I first pinned the sleeve in, stopping where the side seam would go.  You can see in this
picture that I'm short.  Galdarnitall! 
But I sewed the side seam.  Then I sewed the sleeve in.  I left a two inch-ish opening so I could set the sleeve in. 

This time, there was NO stretch to simply ease it in.  That meant I had to "pin the heck out of it", as my home ec teacher used to say, so that all the extra gets flattened by the pins. 

Except that no matter how much I pin in situations like this, I never eliminate all the tucks.  Fortunately I sewed the sleeve in from top to bottom again.  So:

by this method, I also achieved a nice, smooth shoulder.  (The puckers were from me yanking on that piece of basting thread like an idiot).  But....

Horrors!  Look at all the puckers under the arm!!  Some good all that pinning did!

Yea, yea.  It's the armpit. Who's going to notice, right?  Well, I'LL know they're there.  And I'll feel like an amateur wearing something I can't be proud of.  Now that I know that my first method allows the sleeve to set in super easy, and that it gives me a smoother seam all around, I know which method to use on the final version.

BING!!  This is the point at which the lightbulb went off and I finally understood the value in doing a muslin.
I'm so glad I took advantage of the chance to try different techniques to find the best one. 

So, now it's time for a first fitting.  Here's the front:

Clap!  Clap!  Clap!  By the looks of it, the "too short" sleeves actually aren't too short.  Yippee! 

I also wanted to check the back, since many sew alongers are having swayback issues: 

Yippee!  Turns out having a Polish dupa sometimes pays off.  No swayback problem for me!  I do need to press all my seams and try it on again. I see wrinkles in both views so I want to make sure, before I go on, that these are just due to lack of ironing - and not the fabric being pullled oddly.  But I'm loving it so far!