Monday, June 30, 2008

I want to sew, not do yoga!

My new fabric, waiting patiently until I can redraft the back piece of the dress pattern.

I am feeling very frustrated. In fact, I just stomped my foot at my sewing supplies, and I am definitely furrowing my brow. You see, I am trying to sew a dress for myself, but instead of sitting at a sewing machine, happily making seams and turning floppy fabric into a beautifully structured garment, I keep finding myself performing yoga contortions in front of my mirror, while my dress remains ever misfitted. Hur-umph! I want to sew a dress, not become more limber!

I have a lovely Simplicity retro dress pattern. I have beautiful Liberty cotton fabric (see above!). I even managed to make VERY successful alterations to the front bodice, which is no small feat given that it meant grading a midriff piece and two bust "cups" to accommodate my DD bust shape. I even have the resolve right now to make a thorough muslin test garment, including making a muslin lining and finishing all of the the seams to double check everything. However, before I can move forward with any of this, I need to adjust the back of the dress, and I can't seem to manage it by myself.

Here is the situation... Imagine me with redrafted pattern pieces traced on gridded quilting material, trying in vain to drape them across my back where they are supposed to lay when the dress is finished. All I want to do is make sure everything overlaps with enough seam allowance to put in a zipper, and ensure that everything is straight. It sounds simple. Yet instead, I find myself contorting my body this way and that, trying to simultaneously pull the fabric into it's correct position while keeping my center back in view of the mirror. And when I extend my right arm over my shoulder to try and grope the top of the back piece, while I twist my left arm up toward my spine, I manage to contort my posture into a position that no dress could fit.

At this point in the process I have attempted to enlist the help of my poor husband, who never wanted to become a seamstress in the first place. "Hold this here" I say as I unbend my arms from the pretzel position and crane my neck around to see the back. "Things aren't matching up" he says, "Where!?!?!" I ask in panic, trying so hard to see my back in the mirror that I start to move in a circle like a dog chasing its tale. This of course moves the fabric out of its intended position and causes husband to stick me with a pin. We regroup and try again, but unfortunately my man is not a sewer, nor has he ever worn a dress, which I think might be a vital step in understanding how to fit one in tissue. So after a few minutes of becoming ever more frustrated with each other, we both give up.

How do solo sewers do it? I know other people make dresses, I am just not sure HOW. I have come up with two options. Either 1) they are perfectly sized and therefore never need to adjust anything that they can't easily reach, or 2) they belong to some magical guild of sewers - The Order of the Friendly and Knowledgeable Fitting Assistants - and they help each other fit garments with minimal contortionist effort. Either way, neighter of these options is available to me.

There is one other explanation for how other people fit their clothing perfectly to their proportions, and that is 3) they own a custom dress form. And I want one. But it turns out that purchasing one is expensive... we're talking hundreds of dollars expensive... and I can't afford that. Plus, standard dress forms, even adjustable ones, are unlikely to mimic my exact body proportions. What I really need to ease my frustration is a "me form".

I conducted a quick Google search on custom dress forms, and it produced several links to homemade, customized dress forms. Most notable, and my favorite, is this article with instructions and wonderful photographs. There is also this article sharing four options for homemade forms including two duct tape dress forms, and this article with step by step instructions. I have already planned my Wednesday night and you better believe you will find my in a plastic trash bag with arm holes, wrapping myself in tape. My poor husband doesn't know it yet, but Wednesday we are now committed to binding me in paper tape to create a body double. Isn't it great to share a hobby with your spouse? ;-)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Are you a Ruler or an Apple?

(from left to right) Hourglass, Ruler, Upside-down Triangle, Pear figure, and Apple

I found this article months ago on the website. The original text came from comments by La BellaDonna. The comments and descriptions were so interesting to read, because they take the notion of body shape a step further and help explain how body shapes can be enhanced, visually modified, and adapted to whatever fashion is currently in style, or whatever era of pattern a sewer most likes to follow. These comments and ideas have come in handy during my recent sewing pursuits. I wanted to share, because I feel that every woman should become familiar with her body shape, and the most ideal ways to cloth it, in order to feel best about herself.

I also posted the following illustration to help shed some light on the body shapes. Look at the picture and identify your own shape first, before reading on. This will help you recognize the tips and tricks for your own figure.

As La Bella Donna says:
... Body shapes can use illusion to achieve other proportions when they are in vogue. Consider:

The Hourglass
This gets very tough. Anything that obliterates the waist of the Hourglass turns her into a cylinder.It is very difficult for the Hourglass to create a Ruler Shape.
It is very difficult for the Hourglass to create a Pear Shape.
The A-Line tent dress is an abomination on the Hourglass; it will not work. The reason it will not work is because the A-Line is supposed to start out narrow, then flare; since the bust of the Hourglass is as wide as her hips, it means that the top of the dress is now at the widest, rather than the narrowest, part of her body (the A-Line tent skims the waist, so the waist measurement doesn’t count here). It will look miserable. Period.
The Hourglass, when she wears a jacket, must wear a fitted jacket; she will otherwise look the same width all the way down, and it will be the width of her widest part. There are a lot advice books that tell the hourglass, or the bosomy female, or the wide-hipped female, to avoid double-breasted jackets. I have three, and they look fierce on me. They look good because they are tailored to go in at the waist. The Hourglass looks good in a fitted bolero-length jacket (despite what some “experts” have said about bolero jackets not being appropriate because they “emphasize the bust”). A fitted bolero jacket will show off the trim waist of the Hourglass, and help de-emphasize the hips a bit. Many, many coats will look like hell on the Hourglass, who will stare at her reflection while trying them on and wonder where the Hindenburg came from. All the “steamer” style, all the “reefer” style, all the “man-tailored” overcoats will make her look like a great big block. Any coats that hug the top of the figure and flare out to the hem in an A-line will make her look like a great big block.
The New Look of the 1950’s is a godsend to the Hourglass. Some of the clothes of the 80’s are also wearable, because the jackets that flare over the hips give us some place to put those hips. Some of the outfits from the 40’s can be flattering also – the Hourglass needs to look for a shaped waist, and she should look for gored, rather than straight, skirts in 40’s patterns; this is a style feature that will help her keep the look “40’s.” If she tries to wear a straight skirt, her full hips will pop the silhouette over into “1950’s wiggle skirt.”

The Ruler:
1) Can wear garments that suit her shape, when a 20's figure, "boyish" figure, or "waif" figure is in vogue (and the 70's, too, for that matter);
2) Can wear garments that emphasize her upper half, when a 30's Upside-Down Triangle is in vogue, and can extend it into the 40's;
3) Can emphasize her lower half, when the Pear-shape is in vogue (and really, it is sometimes - the A-line is one of those shapes);
4) Can wear garments that are loose on top, and flare at the bottom, and cinch her waist to achieve an Hourglass shape.

The Upside-Down Triangle
1) Can emphasize her natural shape, when the 30's and 40's clothing is in vogue - and the 80's, now that those are coming back; she can even wear the bellbottoms of the 70's successfully;
2) If she chooses judiciously, she can wear clothes that de-emphasize her bust when 20's styles are in vogue, approximating the Ruler;
3) She can easily balance her narrow lower half to create the illusion of the Hourglass shape.
It is very difficult for the Upside-Down Triangle to achieve a Pear, or A-Line, Shape. No A-Line dresses for you! And you may find that, without a good petticoat, an A-line skirt collapses at your hips. If you wear a good petticoat and an A-line skirt, it is one of the ways you will create an Hourglass shape for yourself - but you are not creating a Pear.

The Pear
1) With some work, depending on how extreme her figure is, the Pear can simulate the Ruler, to the extent that she can wear clothes from the 20’s if she is very, very careful in her choice of 20’s patterns (looking for 20’s patterns that have gores or pleats inserted in the skirt, rather than being straight up-and-down-);
2) She can, of course, dress for her own Pear shape – the A-line dress, anything described as “trapeze”-shaped, the balloon skirt – all these are silhouettes that deliberately create a Pear shape. (All of these ladies, BTW, have other historical periods available to them – this is just an overview of the 20th Century shapes/timelines). Anything that has a very small, fitted top and a full skirt is, by definition, a Pear shape. Many, many 50’s patterns, and a goodly number of early 60’s patterns, are shaped for the pear.
3) She can create the illusion of an Hourglass shape, by putting emphasis on the upper half, creating the illusion of more mass and broader shoulders. Again, 50’s patterns are very good for the Pear.
It is very difficult for the Pear to create an Upside-Down Triangle Shape. This means that if you love the clothes of the 30’s and 40’s, you will need to be very careful in your choice of pattern, because the silhouette is diametrically opposed to yours. The good news is that it’s not entirely impossible; look at the pattern measurements as they are listed on patterns from those periods. The Bust is usually six inches bigger than the Waist; the Hips are usually nine inches bigger than the Waist. And what is that shape? Why, a Pear, of course! It does mean looking for 30’s or 40’s patterns that put the emphasis on the upper body, but that actually have pattern features that leave room for the lower body, with gores, etc. Beware the skirt with pleats all around, if you are trying to de-emphasize the lower half of the body!

The Apple
The Apple is a body shape that is not that easy to categorize, curiously. It is a shape that results from having enough excess padding accumulated around the middle so that the original body shape has been distorted. This is not a value judgment; this is an explanation, assessment, and analysis of the physical build.
The worst silhouette for the Apple is the T-Shirt and Leggings - which is, fairly often, the choice that many Apples make. The tight lower garments emphasize the narrowness of the lower body, and the baggy upper garment emphasizes the bulk of upper body. This is why the Apple is better off not trying to create the silhouette of the Upside-Down Triangle – even if it was her original body shape. In point of fact, it is often the Upside-Down Triangle who may become something of an Apple as she gains weight; the Upside-Down Triangle is the body type least likely to accumulate weight on her lower body, which pretty much leaves the upper part of the body and the middle of the body (i.e., the waist) as the area where weight accumulates, and – voila! The Apple is the result. When the Ruler puts weight on, if she puts weight on all over, she remains a Ruler; she’s just a larger version. The Ruler is, in fact, more likely to put weight on evenly, or to put it on at her waist, than she is likely to accumulate it all in her bust, or all in her hips. If the Ruler puts the weight on at her middle, she dresses “as if” she were a Pear – fitted where she is narrow (upper body), and flaring out. The Apple has more trial-and-error going for her than the others; she needs to experiment with the shapes from the 20’s, and the A-Line shapes that have been suggested for the Pear. The Salwar Kameez, in fact, is a good direction for the Apple to explore, as is the Empire Line suggested to Well-Rounded Dresser in my comment on November 9, 2006. It is very, very important for the Apple to have her clothes fit her well through the shoulders and upper body. Mostly, you will manage to create an overall look of Largeness without Shapeliness.
Part of dressing an Apple is seeing what the optimum shape of the body will be; as I said in an earlier post, seeking out quality maternity wear is a good option for the Apple, because it is the only time that the Apple shape is considered the “norm.” It is possible, depending on the individual Apple, to create an illusion of a Pear shape; it is possible to define a high “waist” below the bosom, and then flare out. It is possible, even, to create a straighter line through judicious cuts and layered garments. Diagonal lines help to break up the mass, and can even create the illusion of a waist (think wrap dress).
I think I'm an inverted triangle with Red Delicious tendencies ... I love the 1950's New Look hourglass shape, with full circle skirts and fitted waists. So, the good news is that my genetics allow me to simulate this look, with some help of extra fabric petticoating around the hips. The weird thing is that I am in no way attracted to the inverted triangle silhouette to which my body is most suited. This dress is a good example of that look, but I immediately want to add a full circle skirt onto the bodice (I actually bought this pattern, so we will see what happens).

Anyhow, I hope my re-publish of this information offers some new and helpful information for all the ladies out there looking for flattering clothing. Good luck!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"It's too hot to cook" Recipe #2: Rosario's Ceviche Fina

Ceviche at Rosario's.

I remember my very first serving of Rosario's ceviche. I ate it with my parents, at Rosario's, long before I moved to San Antonio.I must have been a senior in high school, and this trip was my first and only out-of-state college exploration trip. The trip remains a bit hazy in my mind, but I guess I enjoyed it because I moved down here for college. The one piece of the trip that is crystal clear in my memory is our dinner at Rosario's. Perhaps Rosario's is the reason I moved?

The dinner was delicious, and totally unique to San Antonio. I ordered the enchilada's suizas served with a sweet white wine and cream sauce. My dad order cinnamon flan for dessert. But of all the menu items we ate, I remember the ceviche most vividly. My dad was excited when he saw the appetizer on the menu, and explained the ceviche is fish cooked in citric acid, with no heat. It sounded disgusting. In fact, it still sounds a bit gross to describe the process. After all, ceviche is essentially raw fish, soaked in lime juice, and served like a salsa. No thanks. But then the ceviche arrived. Thank you very much.

When my dad and I flew back to San Antonio a year later to move me into the freshman dorms, we ate at Rosario's every single night he was in town. The restaurant is where I take all of my out of town guests. It's the spot I choose for my birthday dinner every year. I like to swing by for margaritas on Friday night after a long week of work. I even make excuses to run errands in the neighborhood around lunchtime to jump in for a ceviche lunch. Rosario's is my favorite restaurant in town, and the ceviche is my favorite dish.

Rosario's Ceviche Fina is a tangy, citric, spicy, textured delight. The white fish is cooked in lime juice until it is perfectly firm. The onions are sliced paper thin and marinated with the meat, as are jalepenos and oregano for flavor. Small diced jicama adds texture and bulk. The salad is served with very ripe avocado to add a buttery, rich dimension to the flavors. The avocado and lime juice balance each other. The best part about it is that it can be recreated at home. Serve it with a bowl full of sturdy tortilla chips and it makes a good appetizer, a snack, or even a light dinner.

Now that the summer solstice is officially behind us and we are legitimately in the sauna known as summer in south Texas, it is time for refreshing food. This means food that does not use the oven, and preferably food that requires no heat at all to prepare. And that, folks, is why Rosario's Ceviche Fina is one of the best meals to prepare when "it's too hot to cook!" It is a heatless cooked dinner. Enjoy.

Rosario's Ceviche Fina

Recipe amendments in red as of 7/09/08. We made this again this weekend and realized I omitted some key ingredients and included some wonky instructions in the first round. Whoops.

1 pound fresh tilapia fillets, cut into strips 2 inches long by 1/4 inch wide
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
3 serrano chilies, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup diced jicama
1/2 cup cilantro, torn by hand
2-3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or a chili-spiced olive oil like Spanish if you have it
1 large avocado, diced or sliced for garnish
tostada chips

Place the fish in a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl and add lime juice, serrano chilies, onion, jicama, salt, pepper and oregano. Add cilantro and thin sliced garlic, toss into the mix and let it marinate with everything else. Mix ingredients gently and marinate in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes. Then place the mixture in a strainer to drain off excess lime juice. Rinse thoroughly in cold water. (Don't do this, what was I thinking when I wrote this?!?!) Toss mixture in olive oil and season to taste. If desired, removed garlic slices before serving. Serve on chips with slices of avocado.

*NOTE * We prepared this in an afternoon and ate if for dinner a few hours later. We stored our leftovers in a plastic container and ate the rest the next day for dinner. I prefered the leftovers, as the fish was firmer and the flavors more developed. Experiment with your prefered cooking time. Less time will yield a softer and more flavorful fish, more time will yeild a firm fish and strong salsa flavor.

Friday, June 20, 2008

1948 Siren Sundress: Pattern Review

I just added another notch to my sewing bedpost! I finished my second successful dress, a Decades of Style 1948 Siren Sundress! So now I whisper to the pattern as I tuck it into my stash of finished patterns, "I have taken your Siren Sundress, and our little tryst was a pleasant one. Call if you are ever back in town, I would love to catch up." The Siren Sundress was a good mistress; simple but not boring, mailable to my needs, and the kind of dress that lingered on my mind from our first meeting as I unfolded the tissue pattern until the affair ended with the final seam. She proved a project that required some sewing ingenuity and creative problem solving due to her bodice issues, but now that I have succeed in correcting the challenge, the dress is a great source of pride for me. Who says lovers never change for a relationship?

I love the fabric pattern I used. It is actually an Ikea curtain that I purchased months ago in hopes of using it for more than home decorating. The bold, abstract leaves and the shades of green and blue on white are are unique play on a traditional summer floral. I liked the idea that the pattern serves as a contrast to the vintage style of the dress. Truthfully, now that everything is finished, I have come to realize that a lined dress in upholstery weight linen is just too warm for the San Antonio summer, but even with the pricks of perspiration pricking at my back when I wear it, I still think it looks like a lovely summer BBQ outfit.

Oddly enough, the biggest problem I faced with the dress was a problem I expected before I even began. Combining my full bust figure with the dress bodice was a little bit like entering a doomed relationship bound to fail because of incompatibility, but the chemistry was just too tempting to pass up. I thought I would be able to make it work. Unfortunately, my beginners luck faded, and no matter how long I tried I was never able to successfully redraft the bodice successfully. I spent three weeks of sewing class - mind you that is nine hours total - redrafting the pattern. I sewed three muslins in an attempt to correct the bodice fit. However, on my third redraft I realized that I had ALMOST recreated the original pattern. I was back to square one, plus an awkward extra dart. So I threw my arms up in defeat and resorted to the original tissue pattern. I led myself to believe the problem of the ill fitting bust might magically disappear in the construction of the final garment. Love would conquer all.

Love did not conquer the inevitable fit issues, but I jerry rigged a very suitable alternative, featured below and described in the pattern review even farther below. If you are interesting in the technicalities, read on. However, if you are just interested in admiring my handiwork and ingenuity visually, scroll down for a few more photos.

as posted on

Pattern Description:
The 1948 Siren Sundress is a vintage-style wrap dress with a mock-wrapped bodice, v-neck, and a skirt that overlaps in the rear. The original pattern creates a backless dress (very sexy!), but I like to wear a bra so I modified the pattern for a full back. The dress is held in place with two long straps that function as both the shoulder straps and then wrap around the body to create a waist sash. Overall the dress is a very unique design that is flexible to size, easy to sew, and simple and fun to wear.

Pattern Sizing:
The highlight of this pattern is that it comes in such a variety of sizes, from a 30" inch bust through a 46" bust. I sewed the largest size, designed for a 46" bust, 40" waist, and 49" hips.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing it?
The dress looks very much like the pattern, excluding the modifications I made. However, the straps are not as wide. The pattern came with notation that during the pattern resizing, the Decades of Style owner felt like the straps on her final garment were too wide, so she narrowed them on the pattern. Therefore the straps on my finished garment were narrower than in the patter illustration. However, this can easily be modified and increased when cutting your strap fabric by adding a few more inches.

Were the instructions easy to follow?
The instructions were very clear and easy to follow, including a diagram of each major step. The instructions also come in a 8.5x11 booklet form, rather than as a large multi-folded sheet like most commercial patterns, which I found easy to deal with in the midst of sewing chaos.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
Likes: Most of all, I love that the pattern is available in a variety of sizes!!! All ladies deserve to wear vintage dresses, and this pattern is so egalitarian in its sizing. The garment can also be simply re-sized to accommodate a non-standard body proportion, for example a narrow chest and large hips, or a wide waist and narrow hips.

I found the directions very clear, and overall the dress was very simple to sew. It only involves ten pieces plus the lining, so it is quick and good for an advanced beginner.

I also like that the full skirt is attached at the waist with NO GATHERS, to create very slimming and streamline silhouette. It also means the skirt was easy to attach.

Dislikes: My biggest challenge was that the dress is not well proportioned for a large bust (this is not a new problem for me!). The dress includes one side dart to help the bodice fit a woman's curves, but for me the dart was too shallow to create a form fitting wrap. I was left with excess fabric gaping around my breasts. You can find images of the dress prior to modification on my blog here. I made some changes with the front styling to help create a more form-fitting bodice, and overall I am very pleased with the final product.

Fabric Used:
I used an Ikea Stockholm Blad curtain in Green, made of linen. I used the white curtain lining made of 100% cotton for the dress lining. Overall, I love the large abstract print for the dress, but because the fabric is upholstery weight, it just a little too heavy and thick. I don't think it has the correct texture to drape around the body ideally.

Additionally, I used a very stiff interfacing to line the back of the dress, which ended up being too stiff. Stiff interfacing might still be a good choice for the backless version of the dress, to help give the garment more structure. However, in my modified larger back piece, the interfacing just makes the dress feel like cardboard.

If I make this dress again, I plan to use a lightweight cotton, maybe a period-appropriate novelty print, or something with a more fluid drape. I think it would be beautiful to make this dress in a colored eyelet, with a bright color as the lining, maybe navy eyelet with sunny yellow lining. The skirt would also need lined if sewn using eyelet. On a thin and fit person, this dress would also look hot, and very modern in a cotton jersey knit.

Pattern Alterations or any design changes you made:
I created a full back using the original back pattern as my guide. Instead of tapering the back to a point at the center base of the back as the original pattern suggests (and the pattern illustration shows), I just extended the line from the armpit out in a straight line parallel to the base of the piece. I made a cut from the original lower corner to my new upper line, and viola, I essentially created a long rectangular piece, (rather than the original triangle). Thus, I was able to overlap each rectangle to create a back suitable for strapless bra coverage.

I increased the length of the shoulder straps/waist sash. I have a 40" waist, and the length offered on the pattern was too short to tie a pretty knot as a finish. I added at least another 18" inches. The garment is a bit unwieldy off the body, because the straps are soooooo long and hard to fold or hang, but they look great on the body.

I also lined the straps, which the pattern does not call for. This was originally a mistake on my part. I cut and sewed the lining before I realized the straps were not intended to be lined. However, it was a happy mistake, because the lining looks nice. One word of caution when lining the straps, however, is that the lining will make the straps more stiff, which makes them ever so slightly more awkward to wrap beautifully. You may want to experiment depending on your material and how ugly the backside of your fabric is.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I dealt with an ill-fitting bodice by sliding a tube of ribbon around each should strap at the base of the strap, just above each breast. By gathering the fabric into a clump here, I was able to corral in in the extra fabric fullness that gaped. The knotting also had the pleasant effect of creating a semi-sweetheart neckline that simultaneously covers more of my breast and still exposes more skin on my chest and shoulders. It is probably not the most elegant solution to my gap-age problem, but a very effective and satisfying solution in line with my experience level.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others?
I would BOTH sew the dress again and recommend it to other. I think the dress would be particularly stunning in its backless form, and I would love to know if anyone completes this look with sewn-in bust support, and how.

This is a fun dress from a great pattern company. I am very loyal to Decades of Style because of the extended sizing. However if you are a larger gal with a figure that deviates from the proportional B-cup bust that most patterns use as the baseline guide, than you might want to think through some pattern modifications to create a better fit before you start. Surely, there must be some way to dart or tuck the bodice to create a well-fitting faux-wrap. Overall, it is a fun pattern that can be made many times over for easy, breezy, UNIQUE summer dresses.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"It's too hot to cook" Recipe #1: Rustic Cucumber Sandwich

Well folks, it's hot down here in San Antonio. I mean really, really hot. Like, 103 degree heat midday kinda hot. It is hot first thing in the morning, after the sun goes down, and it even stays hot long into the night.

This is the kind of heat that induces sleepless nights, grumpy spouses, and pit-stained t-shirts. Many of you know how it feels... after a long day at an air-conditioned desk you come home from work, and in the 15 yard span between parking in front of your building and making it into the air conditioning of your apartment, you break out into not just light brow perspiration, but actual hard core upper lip and drip-down-the-neck sweat. Your pits are soaked through. Even your legs are dewy in the heat. You open your apartment door, lock it behind you, and immediately disrobe into your skivvies. The only thing you can think is "less clothing, now!" So you strip and go stand in front of your air conditioning vent. All this after only 20 seconds outside.

Needless to say, this kind of heat does not inspired cooking. Using the oven makes the house too warm. Standing in front of a gas stove would feel like standing in front of the fiery gates to hell. Even using a microwave means eating something that could potentially raise your core temperature by a degrees, and that would be a disasters. In times like these, we must resort to simple, refreshing, minimal heat meals.

Thus I introduce to you the first recipe in an installment of "It's too hot to cook" recipes - the Rustic Cucumber Sandwich. The sandwich is simple, it hardly needs a recipe, but it is valuable because it meets my criteria for a simple hot-weather meal. It is satisfying due to the thick, hearty bread. It is refreshing thanks to the crisp cucumber. It includes the basic nutritional elements needed to satisfy, including carbs in the bread and protein and fat in the cream cheese. Best of all, it utilizes the bounty caused by the summer heat - one of the summer's redeeming qualities - by drawing upon the produce of your garden. The bed of cucumbers and pot of dill never looked so appetizing.

Like any good sandwich, the foundation is based on good bread. I like to buy ours from a local bakery called Broadway Daily Bread because it is dense, chewy, and moist. This bread sticks together without crumbs, and also sticks in the belly. You can experiment with bread per your tastes. I imagine a wheat would make this all the more rustic, and you might even be so bold as to opt for sourdough or rye. No matter the bread, endure a moment of culinary heat by toasting the bread. As it toasts, fine slice a cucumber into a bowl. Squeeze a lemon on the slices, sprinkle with chopped dill, and toss. When the bread is slightly cooled, spread both sides generously with cream cheese and arrange cucumber slices neatly on bread. Squish together, cut lengthwise, and serve.

Hey, there is a reason people use the phrase "cool as a cucumber" and on these hot days of summer, cool as a cucumber is what I want to be.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Siren Sundress: Bodice issues

I am working on a new Decades of Style pattern, the Siren Sun Dress. I was immediately attracted to the pattern because of its unique back wrap-style, the criss-crossed ties on the back, and the full skirt. And of course because it is from 1948. I worked tirelessly on the dress this weekend, sewing a seam here and there when I had a moment, and have come to a point where I can put the garment on my body and almost simulate the final product. However, the final product is not as perfect as I envisioned. See the image above.

Hmmmmmm. The wrap top is a little bit lumpy, and while the the dress in concept is pretty neat, the bodice is not perfect. In fact, it's pretty far from it. On a positive note, I don't think it is beyond correcting, but the lumpy top is definitely enough of a problem that it cannot be ignored.

The problem, part I: I have too much fabric on the cross-over front pieces, so the fabric won't lie flat against my curves. Rather, it pouches out away from my body. You can see it in both images, above and below.

The problem, part II: the single side dart was not deep enough to create a "pocket" of fabric for each breast, so instead the fabric is more like a flat panel that shoots off of the curve of my chest into the great space in front of me, creating a gaping plane of jungle-themed fabric. In addition to being slightly obscene, it also robs the dress of any form fitting qualities and makes me look like a leafy blob. Not quite the "siren" I was aiming for.

The solution: (see my left shoulder, shoulder on the right of the photo)After experimenting with adding gathers, darts, pleats, and seams to the too-much-fabric gaping area, I tried tying the excess into a ribbon at the shoulder. It opens up more skin and creates a semi-sweetheart style neckline, which is good. It also is a solution in line with my experience level. I am afraid to sew any more darts in the finished garment for fear I will worsen the gappage and create a more ill fitting challenge. But a ribbon, hey, I can tie a green ribbon. Stay tuned for additional photos of the finished dress.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I might be a glutton for frustration.

I very well might be a glutton for frustration, or perhaps I just have an overambitious personality, because I have great plans to resize this pattern to fit my own measurements and body shape. Look at how adorable the dress is though... a fitted waist, a full skirt, a v-neck style neckline, and gathering around the bust... it just doesn't get much cuter for a summer dress. I am hoping that the "simple" addition of inches around the bodice to widen everything all around, plus adding some height inches and more coverage to the cups will do the trick.

I have no fabric for the dress yet, but I assure you whatever I choose won't be plaid. I dislike plaid. I also dislike argyle. It is all just too preppy, and at the same time strikes me as juvenile. I wore plaid in middle school, but back then it was in the form of a flannel shirt, not my most becoming look. I am pleased that my style has evolved since then. Now I really like florals. Also, the color pink.

Below are a few fabrics that I just love from Click on the image to enlarge the samples. The fabric on the bottom right reminds me of my wedding invitations, which I love, while the bright pink fabric in the upper right looks very vintage to me. It strikes me like something that should be worn to a party where people drink punch served out of a big glass bowl. I think for this dress it will be important to choose a flattering fabric, something to deemphasize my chest while still being busy enough to hide any of my sewing mistakes. The purple with yellow and green mums is certainly unique.

Fabric Descriptions from Left to Right, Top to Bottom
all fabrics and images can be found at

Button Mums - green
fabric content: 100% cotton
fabric width: 44"/45" wide
motif size: larger flowers are 1 1/2" wide
fabric keywords: Martha Negley, flowers, floral, garden

Packed Mums - pink
fabric content: 100% cotton
fabric width: 44"/45" wide
motif size: larger flowers are 5" wide
fabric keywords: Martha Negley, flowers, floral, garden

Veronique - blue
fabric content: 100% cotton
fabric width: 44"/45" wide
motif size: larger flowers are about 4 1/4" wide
fabric keywords: flowers, floral, garden

Button Mums - purple
fabric content: 100% cotton
fabric width: 44"/45" wide
motif size: larger flowers are 1 1/2" wide
fabric keywords: Martha Negley, flowers, floral, garden

Button Mums - orange
fabric content: 100% cotton
fabric width: 44"/45" wide
motif size: larger flowers are 1 1/2" wide
fabric keywords: Martha Negley, flowers, floral, garden

Rabbits & Race-Cars Meadow - olive (half yard)
fabric content: 85% cotton / 15% linen
fabric width: 42"/43" wide
motif size: larger plants are 4 1/2" tall
fabric keywords: Japanese import, Heather Ross, kids, children, nature, flowers, plants
note: priced and sold by the half-yard (18 inches). multiple half-yards will be cut as a continuous piece.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

This + This = Wow.

Bacon + Chocolate = WOW!

This weekend Sam and I did the unthinkable. We made a sweet savory mouth explosion by combining two of our favorite foods. Or perhaps I should say we made a savory sweet. Either way, we took two of the most delicious ingredients available - bacon and chocolate - and combined them in an unlikely way to create something that, while odd, is still really tasty.

The inspiration steemed from a recent visit with our friends Will, Carmen, and Danielle. Danielle shared the remains of a treasured candy bar with us, a fancy bar of solid chocolate dotted with tiny bits of bacon. The idea was the combination of sweet and salty, and heck, everybody knows that pork fat is one of the most delicious flavorings available (even if it does feel gross to admit that and put it in writing). Well, the candy bar was good, but there was not enough bacon. So we remidied that. Will and Carmen, we dedicate this to you!

Really, no recipe is neccessary. If you are a brave soul, I dare you to try this combo out. Think of yourself as an Iron Chef, and let the delicious world of sweet and savory unite!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Oooooh the potential for a Liberty of London Tana Lawn Peacock dress.

I am dreaming of my yet uncreated - but much anticipatined - Liberty of London Tana Lawn Cotton Peacock Print Dress. That's a mouthful for a dress, but a beautiful mouthful. The fabric is just unbelievably lovely. This is my first Liberty of London fabric, and I am in love. Well, maybe what I am feeling is more like lust. The truth is that I just can't stop thinking about the fabric. I want to touch it, caress it, stare at it, and fawn all over it. I have the urge to skip work and instead spend a lovely summer's day cavorting with the fabric rather than being responsible. Also, I want to tell people about my fabric. I want to stand on a roof and shout to the world "I have Liberty Fabric, and I love it. I am in love!" Also, I can't wait to get the fabric all over my body. If that is not fabric love/lust, I don't know what is!

I purchased my first Liberty of London at a wonderful fabric store called Elfriede's in Boulder, Colorado on my last trip home a few weeks ago. The inventory at this local business surpasses anything I can find in San Antonio. I had a fabric-gasm when I walked it. Oh, it is lovely in there. Silks, cottons, and even beautiful synthetics. I have a bias against synthetics, but Elfriede had lovely synthetic fabrics and I almost became a convert. Elfriede, the owner, is an older German woman who was so amazingly helpful by encouraging me to touch everything by winding the fabric off the bolt to feel the drape and texture. She was positive and excited for me and my projects, and she helped me find fabric I truly adore.

Anyhow, I spend over two hundred dollars on Liberty fabric on this trip - much to the dismay of my husband - and now I am sitting on yards and yards of the beautiful fabric, just daydreaming about what I can make. I want to make dresses, and if not dresses at least skirts. For my first Liberty project, I want to use the peacock fabric picture above, with the solid silk/cotton blend I got to match. I am just not sure what pattern to use...? I have a feeling I will need to draft my own pattern by piecing together parts of different patterns. With that in mind, I purchased fourteen new patterns last week at JoAnne's during a sale, and I have been eying them all week trying to pick and choose my favorite elements.

However, in order to decide how to make the dress, I first have to decide how much of the peacock pattern I am comfortable wearing. I find the colors and content of the fabric very classy. However, I recognize that is is also a very busy looking pattern. At the same time, the symmetry of the feathers almost makes a stripe, which sort of tones down the busyness. To get a better idea of what I mean, view the fabric modeled on a real live women by clicking here. Granted, she is wearing pajamas, not the beautiful retro inspired dress I imagine making, but it will give you an idea for the scale and business of the fabric.

My contrast fabric is a jewel-toned blue blend of silk and cotton. I am thinking about a two-toned dress, part sold and part pattern. Look at the black and white dress on the far right of the Butterick pattern below for an example of my idea. I see creating a dress with contrast at the neck and skirt hem. But the questions is, do I put the solid color by my face and the pattern on my body? Or do I put the solid on my body and the pattern at the hem? Which will be most flattering? I bought the below Simplicity pattern as a starting point, and I may mock up my options this weekend.

Other ideas include doing this Vogue 1043 vintage reissue pattern in the peacock print, but substituting the standard hem for a large (12 inches +) hem of solid blue to look something like version B of this Butterick pattern, and perhaps creating a blue sash for the waist as well. Or maybe I should opt for a classic duro style dress that seem to be all the rage for home sewers. I am just afraid all the color blocking on the chest will make my ample rack look huge and misshapen.

I would LOVE to make a dress like this one, with a solid in the light area and the peacock pattern in the green areas. How beautiful. Alas, I will save the drafting of this pattern for a time in the future when I have much more experience.

In the meantime, does anybody have any thoughts? I am open to new pattern suggestions, combo alternatives, and general suggestions. I want my first Liberty of London Tana Lawn dress to remain as lustful and enticing in its dress form as it was on the bolt!

Mike's Pastry Shop... the North End's cannoli paradise!

I crave cannoli. Last week, I ate a cannoli every day. This week, I eat no cannoli. In fact, I do not even know if such a delicious thing as cannoli exists in the Tex-Mex city of San Antonio. But I do know that delicious cannoli exist in the Italian neighborhood of Boston's North End, and that is where I want to be... sitting in Mike's Pastry, gazing out the window at a sunny New England morning with a cappuccino in one hand and a fresh chocolate chip cannoli in the other.

You know what they say in Boston? The only blue and white box more exciting than a Mike's Pastry box is a Tiffany's box. I believe it. The cannoli were delicious, and the shop itself was a delight. The shop functions as a North End land mark, probably because the periphery of the shop is lined with case after case of enticing pastries and baked goods. They have cookies, candies, cannoli, tiramisu, cream puffs and homemade donuts, biscotti, and Italian-style desserts I have never even tried. The creative marzipan candies delighted me, and I brought home a picnic of candy to Sam as a souvenir.

I also brought home four cannoli, protectively carrying the box through the airport security check point, giving up my precious in-flight leg room in self sacrifice for the dessert, and finally arriving home in San Antonio at midnight to share one with my man. Without the charm of the North End, the cannoli did not have quiet the same old-school Italian aura, but they were nonetheless delicious. And today I want one. Alas, a photo and a happy memory will have to do.

Monday, June 2, 2008

My First Lobster.

I just returned from Boston, where among other wonderful experiences, I had the pleasure of consuming my very first lobster. To be fair, I have eaten lobster meat on a few occasions. Enough occasions, in fact, to count on two fingers. I had lobster risotto at my parents house over Christmas this year (delicious!) and lobster in ravioli once years ago. But this was my first whole lobster.

The beastly crustacean weighed almost two pounds, and I ordered it stuffed with shrimp and scallops and topped in buttery breadcrumbs. Of course, there was a saucer of clarified butter on the side for dipping. It is absolutely the truth when people describe lobster meat as sweet. It is a sweet yet savory flavor, not sweet like sugar but sweet like something that is more delicate than average. The meat had a great solid texture, very dense and satisfying but still tender. Plus, after the hard work of extracting the meat from the shell, the morsels of lobster felt like a well-earned prize. I rounded out the meal with clam chowder, seaweed salad, and grilled polenta, while my Mom had crab cakes. We finished everything with Boston Cream Pie. It was a very thematic East Coast seafood experience.

As I at the meal (and later paid the bill!), I could hardly fathom how lobster used to be considered peasant food? Lobsters were so abundant in the early days of Boston that the cold North Atlantic coast was literally teaming with them. I suppose their abundance made them ordinary. I read that early farmers in New England and Canada used to scoop them up by the bucketful and bury the carcasses in their rows of crops as fertilizer. Lobster was peasant food. In fact, eating lobster was considered a mark of poverty. I learned that it wasn't until the advent of the train that lobsters became a luxury food. In the 1800's live lobsters would be shipped via locomotive inland where they needed to be kept living in tanks and cooked and served fresh. The cost of shipping and keeping the lobster alive meant they were only available to those with means, and thus lobster converted from peasant food to special occasion dining.

My lobsters was a treat, both because it was a lavish meal, but also because of the lovely location, the special event of a trip to Boston, and the great company I shared during the meal (Mom!).