Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Great 2010 Sewing Agenda.

I am setting some sewing resolutions this year. They are focused around vintage dresses. Just over two years ago I began my foray into sewing, always with the goal of sewing beautiful vintage dresses. Well, after two years, countless sewing classes, and a few successful garments under my belt, I am finally ready to take the plunge and conquer dresses. And of course there are a few non-dress projects on the agenda two.

Below are my top six projects in priority order. I already have the fabric and notions for three of them. And the good news is that two are currently underway. The patterns have been tissue fit and adjusted, the muslin fabric has been cut, and the machine is threaded. I am optimistic and enthusiastic to learn new skills and expand my sewing repertoire. Most importantly, I am excited to wear the finished garments.

2010 may be the year of the Tiger according to the Chinese zodiac, but for me, 2010 will be the year of the Vintage Dress.

The Great 2010 Sewing Agenda:

The Shirtdress:
The classic shirtdress is the style that started my love of vintage patterns, and it has been my greatest aspiration since learning to sew. This year is the year of the shirtdress for me. There are so many gorgeous versions of the style, but this is my favorite to date. This is a riff on the classic button-front dress with a collar, but with a more interesting skirt and neckline. For my first version, I am making the dress as pictured. But the pattern does come with a collar too, and eventually I may graduate to that version as well. But all things in due time. For now, this is on the top of my to do list.

The 1950's Collar Confection Blouse:
From my favorite modern pattern designer - Decades of Style - this blouse promises something that can mimic the finest Anthropologie ready to wear. It's the little details that make it so special, the little cap sleeves, the waist tucks, the buttons up the front, and of course that drooping, floppy collar. If this blouse works out once, it is bound to become a staple in my sewing repertoire.

Sheath/Wiggle Dress:
I cannot lie, my entire inspiration for making this frock comes from the movie An Education, where the star wears a pretty neck-bow sheath number like this. The pattern looked so similar, and I found an utterly amazing cotton silk watercolor effect fabric to create a similar look. Some people find the bows too sweet, but I find them very feminine. It is not fair to call this a wiggle dress, as I am certain I will need to widen the hem to balance my top heavy proportions, but I have high hopes. In fact, I have some weddings to attend this summer, and this might be just the right dress, with sexy high heels.

The Portrait Blouse:
I was inspired to create a portrait blouse thanks to blog by Gertie, who is focusing on patterns from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing. The first featured project is a portrait blouse, like this. It is so pretty and simple. My pattern is not identical, but I think the bodice has the necessary elements - a side dart and bust dart for good fit at the waist, the wide neckline in the front and back, and the one piece cap sleeves. I may need to modify slightly for release darts, or darts that will fit the material at the hits and allow material to blouse around the bust, a la Gertie's pink version. Plus, I love how the book describes the blouse, "Under the sun or under the stars, the portrait-neckline blouse has a way of making you look your prettiest and most feminine."-- Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing

The Summer Sundress:
I can't lie, I see this one done up in a variety of summer prints, most notably in a flirty print with tiny pink and red strawberries dotting the fabric, like this or this. I expect the shoulder pleats to be immensely flattering to my bust. I hope the six-gore skirt will have a floaty effect that welcomes a cooling summer breeze. Shoot, I can already see myself at the farmer's market, wicker basked full of fresh veggies in hand (and I don't even own a wicker basket....yet). And who knows, maybe I will even send away for a self fabric belt to complete the look?

The Contrast Yoke Dress:
This was one of the first vintage patterns I ever purchased, but it ends up low on my list because of the complications of altering for a full bust with that neck yoke. However, I just think it has such potential. Imagine a bright pop of color lining the yoke to pop out from the little neck detail.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

From the depths of my stash.

Maybe you remember these fabrics, although I would not hold it against you if you don't. They were purchased back in June of 2008, more that a year and a half ago. They are Liberty of London tana lawn cottons with matching silk/cotton lining fabric. They are beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. They are washed and pressed and ready to sew, but I have been holding them for over a year and a half.

I keep holding them for two reasons. One, they are so pretty (and expensive) that I am afraid to cut into them, for fear of ruining them. Two, I am not certain I made a good choice on the patterns. Sure, they are pretty to look at on the bolt (or in my fabric closet), but how will they look on my body? My hesitation comes down to the fact that these fabrics are so nice, and also so bold, that I am unsure what to do with them.

However, I am determined to do some more (successful) garment sewing this spring, starting with items from the stash. I am thinking some basic blouses might do the trick. I had hoped to use patterns I already own, but I am just not sure I have a pattern appropriate for these prints. So now I am obsessing over ordering a new pattern. I am especially thinking about this pattern from the lovely Colette Patterns line.

What do you think?

From the pattern envelope, a "Simple, versatile blouse perfect for creative embellishment, with deep tucks at the front and back waist for a loose but curvy shape great for tucking in. Version 1 closes with back snaps, making it easiest to sew. Version 2 has neckline tucks and buttons up the back. Version 3 has a keyhole neckline with tie closure and buttons up the back."

The blouse is just so lovely on the model, because it seem loose and comfortable, with just the right amount of shape and detail to keep it tidy. The one think I am a tiny bit concerned about is dong a full bust adjustment, because it likely means putting a side dart into the pattern. I do not want to disturb the dolman-style cap sleeve, and I certainly do not want to cause any odd armpit bunching (refer to the Everyone's Favorite Claire McCardell disaster).

My other concern is the thought of purchasing another pattern. My husband has started to enforce a sewing purchase crackdown, and I can't blame him. The poor guy suffers so at the hand of my sewing hobby. He worries and frets every time I come home with fabric and patterns and grand plans for creation. In many regards his concern is justified. Sewing is truthfully a pricey past time, made more pricey by my expensive taste and my propensity to hoard. While I have made some nice pieces from the discount area at JoAnn's, the truth is that I lean much more heavily toward the luxury items, the out of print patterns, and the lavish notions like real shell buttons. And on more than one occasion my attempts at grandeur have resulted in disaster, which also equals a waste of money (and also a worthwhile learning experience). So, I understand why he is concerned and why he does not want me to order more patterns.

But even still, I cannot stop thinking about this blouse. I am filled with optimism that it is the right choice for my fabric, my skills, and my figure. Below are more images of the lovely blouse, sewn up in all of its many splendid version. I am very smittin' with the key hole version, and look how they button up the back! Since my fabric is rather bold, this simple, classic silhouette may be just what I need. I think they will work will with trouser jeans and a cardigan, or even on their own in summer.

I look forward to your feedback.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Things that make you go "ewwww."

What you may ask, is that? The meat feature above is none other than lengua, or beef tongue for those of you that don't speak Spanish. Below is smoked neckbones, from pork. Both are discoveries from our recent Great Lard Quest of 2009. As you may recollect if you were reading in December, I demanded lard for homemade biscochitos. The search for lard was more challenging than you would expect.

You see, we needed fresh lard. Not the hydrogenated stuff sold shelf stable in the shortening aisle of the standard grocery store. So we went searching. First, Sam brought home a tub of manteca, or lard, from the La Fiesta grocery near his work. La Fiestas are some of the only non-HEB stores in San Antonio, and they are much smaller and tend to cater to a Hispanic clientele, so naturally we thought their lard would suffice. But the lard was sort of brown in color, runny in texture, and in general not as immaculate as I imagine. So that night we went on a long quest to find more lard.

First, we went to another La Fiesta. This store did have lard similar to the liquid brown lard Sam had brought home. Only this time it was labeled as derived from pork skin, which means it is a bi-product of making chicharrons, or fried pork skin for your northerners. That explained the color and consistency of the stuff already in my fridge. But I wanted snow white leaf lard, of a quality for baking, so our quest continued.

Next we headed down the street to the Culebra Meat Market, which felt like stepping into another time and place. The Meat Market smelled like, well, like a meat market. It did not have the bright, astringent Clorox smell of my local grocery's meat section. Rather, it smelled like raw meat. Not dirty or unclean, but certainly not as sanitary as my usual experience. And there was so much meat in the place, with different cuts and and names than what I am accustom to ordering. No one at the meat counter spoke English, so when I tried to order two cups of lard, I receive two tubs of manteca from the back. Then, in trying to return one, I was misunderstood and brought a third tub. After all of the confusion I felt I had to buy at least one tub, even though I was still unsure about the product. While it was more "lardy" looking that the stuff from the La Fiesta, it was still more liquid, and slightly darker in color, than the lard I had researched on the Internet. Also, it came in a totally unlabeled container. I am used to my nutritional information and expiration dates on all products, so fair or not, I was suspicious of the Culebra Meat Market lard. But for only $2.50 I become the proud owner of a second 20 oz. tub of manteca, and off we went with a clean conscious about using the employee's time.

With still no perfect lard in our possession, we headed to the last and biggest bastion of Hispanic shopping that we thought might be open at 8:30 on a Wednesday night, the HEB El Mercado market on Culebra (not to be confused with the Culebra meat market, not actually on Culebra but on Blanco). The El Mercado caters to a specific audience craving the more traditional open air Mexican market from Mexico, and the first thing that makes this HEB different is the fact that there is a huge circus tent covering the entire front driveway of the store. Under this tent are spaces for raspa vendors selling Mexican snow cones, vending machines and picnic tables

Walking into the meat area, the first thing I saw was a full cooler of frozen pig heads, at least 25 of them shrink wrapped and frozen and waiting for some amazing roasting or cooking process at the hands of an authentic cook. Along the meat wall, halogen lights highlighted an array of different and somewhat ghastly shrink-wrapped organs, like tubs stuffed with chicken livers by the pound. I sighted familiar yellow Styrofoam shrink wrapped trays, but loaded with the unfamiliar sight of chicken feet. There were tough smoked pigs ears for chewing, and even some hoofs for I am not sure what.

We found packages of giant beef tongues, as you can see. I couldn't resist, I had to pick it up. Sam and I have each eaten lengua before, and it is tender and flavorful, but it was still a sight to see it raw and whole. If you look closely at the tongue in the photo, then behind it, that little white sign says "Fresh Beef Cheek Meat." That cheek meat is probably used for barbacoa. The white packages directly behind the lengua, well, that's tripe, otherwise known as stomach lining. It is used to make menudo, a classic hangover remedy sold in taco joints all over San Antonio on Sundays. I have never worked up the nerve to try menudo. Maybe someday.

Would you believe it though, the El Mercado did not carry lard. None. Nada. So we purchased a package of the hydrogenated shelf stuff, despite my better judgment, and I went home to assess my 60+ oz. of various lard products and decide what to bake with.

The good news is that the Great Lard Quest of 2009 finishes with a happy ending. I ended up using the manteca from the Culebra meat market, straight out of the unmarked tub, with good results. The next time I need lard, I plan to work ahead and place a special order from a local butcher, so I can request the pristine fat from the kidney area. It means rendering it myself, but I am certain to get what I need. And if ever I become curious about offal and uncommon meat cuts, I now know not to look to my usual butcher, but a bit further down the road to the Hispanic markets that do not have lard.