Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fitting Mail Order 9213 - Marilyn does it again

Back in January I resolved to make a series of vintage or vintage reproduction patterns this year. So, I recognize I have not been posting much progress, but the truth is that I have slowly but surely been working my way through the goal. Step one in completing my New Year's Sewing Resolutions is making the necessary pattern alterations in tissue.

In early January the fantastic Marilyn Elliott did it again, she custom fit a pattern to my shape, size, and physical nuances like a pro. And the best part is, this time the pattern was from my personal collection! It is a mail order pattern - 9213 - a shirtwaist dress with uniquely flattering skirt seaming and options for collar cuffs. And I secured the dress in a size 46 inch bust, so alterations were feasible.

I can't say I am thrilled with these photos you see here, but I am thrilled with the fit results, and so I post them to be education (I am so generous!). The paper pattern fits like a glove. Like a very fragile, stiff, crinkly glove. With grid lines.

To achieve this fit, first we took in the back by about 2 inches (1 inch per side). Turns out I am more of a size 22 in the back, and more of a size 24 or 26 in the front. Note that what you do to the back, you must do to the front, so I took in the front of the pattern with a 1 tuck per side, even though I later went back and added much of this fullness to the bust and the middle again with targeted adjustments. However the decrease at the shoulders and upper bust was permanent. Then we decreased the depth of the back darts to accommodate my wide waist. I added a tad to the side seam to accommodate the wide waist and trued the stitch line between the added waist width and the curve of the armpit seam. Viola, the back fit.

Next we started with a full bust adjustment, a VERY full Y-bust adjustment of almost five inches. This meant adding a side bust dart. We knew we needed to decrease and almost eliminate the vertical waist dart to accommodate my wide waist, narrowing it to a sliver that Marylin calls the "essence of dart." However, a five inch bust dart is to big and unwieldy, so to keep the FBA manageable and maintain more waist dart, we ended up moving three inches of the bust dart into a the waist dart. Then, to accommodate my wide waist we took some of this waist dart back out. Ultimately, I ended up with a three inch deep bust dart and a 2 inch deep waist dart.

I have what Marylin describes as a sway bust, which means there is a dramatic curve, almost a valley, between my chest from the shoulder and the fullest point of my bust. In other words, rather than a gradual slop from shoulder to full bust apex, I have a dramatic vertical slope to the start of my bust, and then a transition to a large but more gentle slope along the curve of the breast to the apex. It is confusing to describe in words, but in short this creates a "hollow" or a gap between the way fabric falls from the shoulder to the bust (similar to the swayback on a fully bottomed gal). We did not find a suitable alteration for this, so if you have suggestions, please share.

For the skirt, it was only a matter of adding enough waist width to cover my larger front side. The back of the skirt required no changes, except a few width tweaks to help it match the bodice. The front of the skirts required 6 and 1/2 inches added to accommodate the wide waist. Based on the design of the skirt, which includes a center panel and hip panels, we opted to add only to the hip panels and leave the front panel as drafted. The skirt was taken up 4 inches, allowing for a 1 inch hem.

I will post more soon, with from the muslin fitting. Step two in my 2010 vintage dress goal is sewing the patterns into a muslin. I hope to make them both "wearable" muslin, despite the ironic contradiction of that term. But since all this hard work went into the pattern fitting, perhaps a wearable muslin is in my future. I am at the very least resolved to find out.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Welcome the waves with Aloha.

I just can't stop posting Hawaii pictures. I will stop soon. I promise. But until then, look to the bright side. First, you get to see neat pictures of my vacation. Second, in the process you are also gleaning all of the little tidbits of trip advice that I can remember. When you plan your Maui vacation, you will be prepared. Here is an important piece of advice: When in Maui, hike to the Olivine Pools.

The Olivine Pools were named for this semi-precious gem found encrusted in the surrounding lava and sandstone. These naturally-formed swimming pools are located on a lava shelf stretching along the coastline. Our guidebooks seem to indicate that when the sea is calm, the area is excellent for swimming, wading and sunbathing. However we found them only suitable for wading. The pools were very slippery due to the sea plants growing on the floor of the pools. Additionally, that lave rock is sharp and very jagged, and it is the only surface making up the floor, sides, shores, and trail to the pools. So there is not much comfort in lounging or sitting in the water.

However, despite the lack of "swimming" the wading provided a first rate opportunity to see the ocean from a new perspective. When you drive along the Hawaiian coastline, you are privy to views of steep lava cliffs, with deep blue, frothing waves crashing menacingly along the jagged lava rock below. The waves are big, and the force looks absolutely pulverizing. Well, this is exactly what you are seeing - at eye level - down in the Olivine pools. You put yourself in a little protected refuge within that very jagged lava rock cliff. And from there the waves are huge and powerful and memorizing.

Here are a few tips for safe Olivine pool exploration. First, wear reef shoes when walking on the lava. Wear study shoes to walk the trail to the pools, as it awkward and may be slippery. Do not wear lotions or oils in the pools as it may harm tiny sea life that make these pools their home. Do NOT remove rocks, fish, or any sea life from the area. Also, there are no facilities available, and you are not supposed to pee in the pools (in the hotel pool, maybe, but not these natural pools). Finally, and most importantly, monitor the ocean at all times - waves can be very unpredictable and dangerous. Do not go near the edge, and above all DO NOT get swept out to sea.

To get the the Olivine Pools yourself, first, get to Maui. From there, take Highway 30 past the Bellstone going toward Kahakuloa Village. A small gravel road on the left is located just prior to Mile Marker #16. Park and walk toward the ocean. A rock platform overlooks the pools. To the left of this overlook is a lava bench and a trail leading down to it and the lava shelf. The path is faint, and many times you feel as though you are making up the path as you go. And every once in a while, there is a little scramble over a lava rock formation.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's about the journey, and of course the banana bread.

I know what some of you may be thinking "Enough already with the Hawaii, it's been three weeks, let it go." But people, Maui is not just something you can let go and just toss to the side when it is over and done. It lingers on the mind with little teasing memories of fun in the sun, surf, and jungle. And that is why I continue making every effort to instill a little bit of Maui in my everyday.

An easy way to do this is Banana Bread. In Hawaii, banana bread is everywhere, sold at tiny little roadside stands just off of winding, one-lane roads. They are the kinds of places where you can just imagine bananas being harvested from trees in the backyard, picked by husbands and school-aged sons, to be baked into warm, delicious loaves by mothers and grandmothers and sisters together in a tiny kitchen. It is homemade and delicious.

The road to Hana is a hallmark of Maui. The road is a narrow, curvy route to a remote corner of the island, and the journey is the dotted with all things wonderful, magical, and kind - flower stands and fruit stands, waterfalls, bamboo forests, tropical flowers, tiny towns of Hawaiian natives, and of course small shacks selling homemade banana bread.

One of the best loaves of banana bread came from the most remote and tiny of towns on the road to Hana, from a place called Keanae. Keanae is a miniature community on one of the most graceful little peninsulas in all of the Pacific. To reach the banana bread, you drive past little houses and tiny family farm plots, with either side surrounded not far away by menacing black lava formations with pounding, spraying surf on either side. The waves on the rock are what make Keanae feel so special - the little community feels like it floats amid a deep and powerful sea, protected on three sides by harsh and menacing waves. But the community itself is warm and welcoming, dry and cozy, and green and soft and safe, as though the ocean respects its tiny plot and knows exactly where to stop.

We sat for a while on the edge of the rocks, munching our banana bread and sitting eye level with the crashing waves. The weather was cool, the sky was gray and mottled with clouds, and the waves crashed with abandon in a thousand shades of turquoise, gray, and white. I could have stayed for a long time, resting and relaxing, watching, and waiting for nothing in particular. I think in that moment I found the joy in the journey and the spirit of the Road to Hana.

On the drive to Hana the guidebooks encourage drivers to practice aloha by allowing faster cars to pass and sharing the road. I recommend another way to practice aloha, by sharing banana bread. So upon my return I baked up several loaves for eating and sharing. In an effort to cram all things Hawaiian into this bread, I choose a recipe with both bananas and coconut, and I took it a step further and crumbled macadamia nuts over the top. The results are delicious. The bread might not transport you physically to the little town of Keanae on the Road to Hana, but it will hopefully give you a little taste of the good life, and inspire a little aloha in your day.

Banana-Coconut Bread
Adapted from Orangette, who adapted it from HomeBaking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition around the World, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

About 3 large, overripe bananas
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp distilled white vinegar
1 ½ Tbsp. dark rum
½ cup dried shredded unsweetened coconut
1 Tbsp. demerara or dark brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a standard-size loaf pan.

In a blender or food processor, purée the bananas. Measure out 1 ½ cups of purée. [If you have more than that, try stirring the excess into some plain yogurt. It’s delicious.] Set the purée aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vinegar and rum, and beat to mix well. Add the banana purée and the flour mixture alternately, about 1 cup at a time, beginning with the banana and beating to just incorporate. Use a spatula to fold in any flour that has not been absorbed, and stir in the coconut. Do not overmix.

Scrape the batter – it will be thick – into the prepared pan. Smooth the top, and sprinkle evenly with the demerara sugar. Bake for 50-65 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes; then turn the loaf out of the pan and allow it to cool completely.

This loaf will keep, sealed airtight, for three to four days, although it is best, I think, on the second day.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The life below.

How do you see something as beautiful as this sea turtle? Well, first you have to fly to Maui, then you gear up in snorkeling gear that I now recognize makes you look crazy, and finally you jump into the deep depths of the ocean with the faith that a shark will not eat you, that you will not be swept out to sea, and that your snorkel will remain free of salty water. Then, and only then, do you have the chance to see such a beautiful animal at graceful ease in its natural surrounding. Unless you visit a great Zoo I suppose.

There is some equipment needed for snorkeling, mainly a snorkel, mask and fins. But I should mention, of course, that the white long sleeved rash guards are not part of the official snorkeling getup. They are, however, official if you are pale like me and fear skin cancer. I recognize that it is not the most attractive snorkeling look. Perhaps a sequin bikini, or even a tasteful low backed one piece, would be more fashionable. But then we would have to wear sunscreen all over our bodies. And you may not know this, but sunscreen is bad for the coral. Snorkel Bob's book told me so. Therefore, if you love your skin, AND if you care about the well being of the coral, you also should wear a long sleeved, high necked rash guard. It may not feel very cool at all, but at the very least you can pretend you are surfer, even if you have never surfed in your life. And believe me, pretending you are a surfer makes the rash guard much cooler.

But snorkeling is worth the embarrassing gear. It is totally serene experience in a busy world, because you just hear your breath going in and out, and float and float and float over natural beauty. Plus, if you are lucky, you also see giant sea turtles like these. Also floating and relaxing in the sea. Any you might also hold an uni on your head and be inspired to order it for dinner at sushi. Either way, get yee to the Pacific sea the next time you can. It's a whole new world under the surface.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The House of the Sun.

In Hawaii, they call it the House of the Sun, or more traditionally Haleakala. Originally it referred to only the the top crater of a shield volcano that formed about 75% of the fair isle of Maui. But now the entire volcanic mountain is known as Haleakala and is protected as part of a National Park. But the House of the Sun still refers to the top crater, because this is where the sun debuts each and everyday on its way to enlightening Maui and the Pacific ocean with perfect, golden, warming beams of tropical rays.

We woke up at 2:30 a.m. on the second day of our vacation to drive to the summit in time for sunrise. Yes, that is correct, on our vacation we woke up about the time the bars are closing. But we needed to be there for an experience Mark Twain described as "the sublimest spectacle I ever witnessed." It is beautiful, as we were up above the cloudline in what felt like an entirely different island, floating in a sea of cumulus. When the sun rose and illuminated the sky, we could even scan across the fluffy clouds and see The Big Island of Hawaii off in the distance. The crater itself looked like Mars, dry and rocky and barren except for brown rocks and dirt, and the occasional weathered plants.

The temperature near the summit tends to vary between about 40°F and 60°F, complimented with crazy, bone chilling winds. Sam and I were warned in advance, and in combination with our backpacking and mountain hiking experience, we came prepared with polar fleece and wind pants and gloves and hats (I even wore my Hot Chillies thermal tights, which are totally liberating and inspired epic grocery store dancing. Just ask Lauren about the euphoria of dance the tights induced). John and Lauren were not so well prepared, which led to a lot of group hugging at the summit. Good thing we all like each other, because at one point Sam and I were so compelled to try and keep them warm that we made a John and Lauren sandwich to protect them from the chill.

It was beautiful, and an experience not to be missed, but I am disappointed to report that I was not filled with a spiritual enlightenment, or even much of a feeling of profound natural communion, that Mark Twain suggested I might. It could have been that I was tired and cold, or more likely it was probably that I was with about 250 other tired and cold tourists, all snapping photos like mad to capture the sunrise, and I just couldn't reach a state of enlightenment in the crowd. Perhaps in the old days, when the view was solitary and the journey was more arduous and demanding than a 75 minute drive in the dark, the reward felt more profound. But even if I missed the enlightenment, I did take away a meaningful memory of a beautiful sunrise.

We entered the National Park free in honor of Earth Day, which was an extra treat. Also, we ate second breakfast afterward at about 8:00 a.m. Weird how when you eat first breakfast at 2:30 you are totally ready for another one at the time of real breakfast? I felt a little bit like a hobbit. A hobbit in really nice thermal tights. And the stark yet very natural beautify of the Haleakala crater could well have been the setting for a great Tolkien adventure. Except that the adventure was mine, and luckily I do not have hairy feet like a hobbit.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Liberty of London Sunflower Dress Redesign.

Remember my Target spending spree when the Liberty of London line came out? Well, I returned most of it, except a couple of childrens dresses destined to be fused into one adult sized garment. In fact, I hustled a few weeks ago to sewed this dress to wear in Hawaii, and then I carted all the way to Maui without wearing it! Silly me. However I am still super excited by this dress, mostly because I love the sunflower print, and also because I am proud of my redesign work to turn a childrens sized gown into a plus size summer sundress.

I used the bodice portion from Simplicity 4401 (Misses/Women's Evening Tops and Skirt) to create the new bodice. Because I am lazy, and also because I did not know exactly how to do a full bust adjustment (FBA) on a pattern that gathers under the bust, I sewed the size 28W. To make it fit I added an underarm dart, which I simply pinched out from the piece while wearing my muslin cutting to ensure it fit my shape. The pinch to fit method actually worked so well to create a snug, shapely fit that I may try it again in the future.

According to the pattern, the top is designed to angle upward at the center bust, rather than follow a parallel line to the floor. However, I sewed the Simplicity bodice to the garment parallel regardless in order to follow the elastic seam of the existing Target dress. What resulted is a low cut dress and a bit of looseness under the armpits, with some resulting extra fabric. However, since I added a tie closure at the back of the dress, I am able to gather the excess into the tie without problem.

For the back closure, I extended the length of the straps so they could button to the existing smocked dress bodice. I also added extended strips of fabric to the sides of the bust piece on each size with the intent of pulling them tight and knotting them along the back, sort of like a sash. It has the benefit of allowing me to only attach the bodice along the bottom of the existing smocked bust section, leaving the back totally open and free. This allows more flexibility of fit, since I just pull the long back tied tightly in order to make the front fit snugly. I think you can see it all clearly in the backside image (plus my awesome Maui tan-line, even with SPF 70 on!).

I think the A-line flow of the dress and the ankle length are very flattering for my figure. I am able to fulfill my fantasy of the comfort and ease of a maxi dress without the excess fabric or hippie-esque nature of other maxi dresses. Plus, I feel very clever for reinventing the piece into something that fits (although I still can't believe a Girls size XL could even squeeze around my middle!).

Bring on the summer patio parties, because I really feel great about the dress and I plan to wear it again and again. I love the Liberty pattern and the details of the original design like the ruffled pockets and green trimmed lining. I think I managed a flattering and well-fitting adjustment. Most of all, I am proud of my ingenuity to make a piece of the Target Liberty collection work for me. Now, of course, I feel like to need to visit Hawaii again to war it as intended. Or I could just whip up a quick Mai Tai in my own kitchen and wear it lounging on the front porch. I have a feeling for which of those scenarios is likely to happen first!

p.s. The wildflowers in Texas were absolutely astounding this year, perhaps the best in my short memory of South Texas wildflowers. Many of them continue to bloom strong, popping bright shots of sunshine and life in the most unassuming patches of dirt around town. Just the other day I was driving the highway through a part of the city I rarely visit, and I took one of those cloverleaf exits that loops you in a big circle onto the next highway. As I drove around, I looked into the usually dry, patchy center of the loop and saw huge burst of wildflowers in yellow, orange, purple, and red glowing from this little patch of destitute, usually ugly highway. It felt like I was driving into a giant whirlpool of wildflowers. It was sincerely a sight to behold, and it reminded me that beauty can indeed be found anywhere you are willing to look closely.

To echo the long imitated words of my college photography professor, "I think these photos have a painterly quality." Except my professor had a British accent, which made the statement sound more comical. I think the real reason it was funny was because we did not understand that painterly is a legit art term. Now that I know it is true in the wisdom of my adulthood, I can say that these images remind me of a watercolor. Beautiful.