Sunday, August 21, 2011

A place for things.

Do you like my new dresser? I do. I found it a few months ago on a trip to Austin when Anne was in town. The sticker in the South Congress thrift store said it is Tiger Mahogany, and the dresser drawer is stamped with "Northern Furniture Company, Sheboygan." I guess it was made up in Wisconsin sometime in the 30's-1950s. It's a sturdy piece with a lovely mirror, and we bought it for $260. Now, I don't know if you have shopped dressers anywhere lately, but a plywood piece-o-nothing will cost you almost $250 at Target. So I feel like we got a deal.

It looks so pretty in the dining room that I bought a bunch of pretty pink peonies to decorate. And thanks to the mirror its almost like I bought TWO bunches of peonies. Do you see our big brass peacock too? We found that in Austin a few months ago, also on South Congress. That street matches my sense of decor!

I was actually really surprise when Sam agreed to purchase the dresser, but I think he was inspired by a little furniture opportunity we fumbled recently. You see, Sam and I walked to the gym on a Saturday afternoon, and in the parking lot was a rummage sale. There was a beautiful, and I mean BEAUTIFUL, mid century china cabinet for sale. It had golden wood, old glass, and turquoise colored inlay handles. It wasn't too big, maybe five feet high by four feet wide, but still it was too big to put into our overfilled apartment. Logically I knew we shouldn't take it home. But I loved it and kept staring.

"Make me an offer." the rummage director said. She wanted rid of the piece. I looked stumped, thinking to myself "Should I offer $200? Would she accept that little?" She said "How about $35, and we'll drive it to your place right now." I wavered. I wanted that piece. I knew in my heart of hearts it was worth more, and I also could see myself putting it in my future house someday. Darn it, I wanted that furniture.

Sam, ruled by logic and good sense, did not. There was no logical way to fit it into our house. So we walked away. Me begrudgingly. Well, I Googled that piece of furniture a few days later found an exact match of the cabinet, sold in Colorado for $380! I wish we would have purchased the cabinet, if only to resell it for a small profit. But mostly I wish it was in my future house holding pretty things.

But you know what they say. Alls well that ends well, because now we have a new dresser. And we even rearranged the apartment for the better to make it fit. I think Sam was feeling some guilt for being so logical that we passed up a steal of a mid century piece, and it led him to be extra accommodating in the rearrange process.

I am happy, with only a twinge of longing for the lost china cabinet. I think our new dresser is a pretty piece, completely solid and sturdy, and now I have a place to stash all of my sewing fabric and supplies. It's a win win for everyone.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Negroni: Tissue Fit II

After the Negroni Tissue Fit I, I diligently traced and marked the pattern for alternations (so I don't ruin the original pattern). Then, we had tissue fit II where I made some pattern adjustments. Tell me what you think. Am I on the right track?

Tissue Fit II, no alterations (ignore the silly/scary face):

Looking at the fit, I can see the biggest issues to work around are 1) the fit of the yoke and the back shoulders, and 2) the fit of the collar and neck area, with that huge gape. As a key to these photos - the original pattern lines are in blue, and the original stitching line based on size XL is in orange. This is where I pinned for the first tissue fit. The lines I redrew to show a new stitching line are in black (I have not redrawn the seam allowance on here yet). From this, I hope you can get an idea of where I will be removing fabric and adding back fabric.

For the back, I knew I want to address the shoulder fit by matching the shoulder seem to Sam's pivot point at the top of the shoulder. To do this, I think I will need to narrow the shoulder width, which of course means making changes to the yoke, the back, the front AND the sleeve. Yikes, it's intimidating. The good news is that Peter's Negroni Sew-along covered this alternation in detail, so I have a good point of reference.

I used Peter's example of taking fabric away from the shoulder yoke and front of the shirt and transferring the excess into the sleeve cap as my guide for this adjustment. You can see the new line of the shoulder in black in the above. Since Sam is not narrow backed, I am tapering the new stitching line back to the size XL under the arms.

The neckline issue is a bit more ambiguous. See that orange line? The collar is very, very high at the center front neck. On Sam's ready to wear, I notice this causes a crease or a buckle of fabric around the unbutton neck as this excess caves in on itself. I can take a wedge of excess out of the chest, as I have shown, but that leaves me with a weird line to true around the front button placket. Since the pattern is gingham and will have an obvious grid, I don't want to throw anything off grain. I could just redraw the neckline, but my instinct tells me there is something more with this alteration - that either the shoulder slope or the armhole fit is the culprit. Any suggestions?

My instinct wast to pin a wedge out of the neckline to bring it down. But this might not be the right move. I forgot to see what this does to the hemline, but I can tell from the photos that the alterations swings the center front across his body at an angle. I want to be really careful about what I do to the grain line of the fabric because I want the gingham grid to line up neatly up and down and side to side.

As I look at this wedge and what it does to the pattern, I think it actually pulls the slope of the shoulder down near the neckline, decreasing the slope. So perhaps rather than a a wedge, I should do a square shoulder adjustment by adding some fabric near the shoulder, to change the slope of that shoulder. Without the seam catching on Sam's pivot point and holding the rest of the shirt up, the entire bodice front will be able to pull down lower on his chest, bringing the neckline down too. Is that sound logic? I guess there's only one way to find out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Negroni: Looking at another shirt's fit.

Do you know that White Stripe's song "The Hardest Button to Button"? Well, the lyrics suited Sam when we were taking these pictures. That darn top button is the hardest button to button, which is why Sam hardly ever buttons it! Thank goodness he doesn't wear many ties.

Our Negroni tissue fit was a bit confusing, so I put him in one of his button downs to look for fit issues, theorizing that the fabric version might help me identify major issues. The good news is that upon close inspection, his ready to wear is actually kind of ill fitting, but I still think he looks damn good. So even if his Negroni is a wee bit off here and there, it should be of the same fit quality as off the rack.

This is a Banana Republic "fitted"button up, size XL (17-17 1/2). It's a nice quality shirt and what we would consider a good fit for off the rack. Immediate issues I notice:

- Pulling from the top button to his shoulders along the upper chest. What causes this?
- A bit more bunching and excess in the armscye than I would think would be ideal, but certainly not the worst in the world.
- There's a crease in the sleeve that starts near his shoulder and creases dramatically in to the elbow area. Surely this indicates something is off, maybe where the sleeve cap is seated? Beats me.
- The sleeves are a bit short. He usually rolls them up to compensate for this. Good thing I know how to add length to a pattern, easy-peasy!

- Pulling from under his arm and mid-side toward his pecks/mid-chest. This could be because he is fuller in the chest area than the shirt is cut for, or could it be the armhole is not right?
- That crease in the arm rolling from shoulder to elbow front is really prominent. What could be the cause?

- There is some puddling of fabric in his lower back. If this was a woman's top, I would call for a sway back adjustment. Except Sam has the flattest man-butt ever, so it couldn't be a sway back, could it? Maybe I shouldn't worry about this, as men's shirt traditionally don't lie as flat and fitted as women's shirts.
- The tuck in the back shoulders coming from the yoke is creasing in toward the armpit. Is that normal? Is there an alteration for a smoother fit?

- The side seem hangs nice and straight. I think he has enough room around the stomach.

So, any other obvious figure nuances that you see that I can apply to the Negroni pattern? Do you have alteration suggestions? Please advise.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Negroni: Tissue Fit I

Well, I thought making a men's shirt was going to be easier then sewing for myself. No boobies to dart around, no girlish curves to contend with, and less restrictions on close-fitting to personal shape. However, the tissue fit of Sam's Negroni is not promising a lot of easiness in this task. There is something wrong in the shoulder, armscye, and neck. In positive news, the length looks good, as does the waist width. (Also, I think I have the over-fitting disease, so I might just be too critical. Please tell me if you think I am taking this too far.)

I have Sam in the straight XL size, as he fit the pattern measurements most closely in this size. Sam's got a pretty standard male figure, tall, relatively broad, and without too much slope in his shoulders (he's a cutie, right?!). He also likes a pretty fitted look in his shirts, keeping with the youthful trends of today. So I want to make sure this shirt hugs his figure pretty good.

What do you think? Are they major adjustments to be made in tissue before I proceed with the fabric muslin? Give me your thoughts?

The back:

It looks pretty good in terms of width across the upper back I think. However, the shoulder is sure hanging far off of his natural shoulder. If you zoom into the pictures you can see that the size small line is actually following the natural pivot line of his shoulder. This makes me thing I should pull in this stitching line closer to the medium, so he gets that fitted look he likes. Of course, I need to keep the XL sizing in his mid and lower back, and through the armpit. Looks like I might be reshaping the yoke shoulder seam and tapering back to the pattern lines like Peter did here.

The front:

The front is of more concern to me than the back. The neckline seems really, really high. In Sam's ready to wear he frequently gets a buckle, or a significant fold of fabric, around his neckline where the shirt seems to cave in on itself around it neck, with wrinkles that smile up from high chest to mid-shoulder (very much along the line of his wife beater neckline there). Could this be similar to the gaping that appears in a lapel line after a full bust adjustment (see Patty's excellent description of this fit issue and alteration here)? If yes, it's just a matter of pinching out a wedge of excess around that second button and truing the center line back up. Or maybe there's another option...?

The side seem looks good.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Negroni: Where I make promises that are hard to keep.

Sam's 30th birthday was in April, and I wanted to give him a special gift. So I thought, what better than to MAKE him something special... A shirt perhaps? And I knew just the pattern, Colette's Negroni. It's a great men's shirt pattern, described as modern with a retro vibe, and since it's a Colette pattern it has wonderful instructions and thoughtful design. Plus, the pattern has been all the rage in the sewing blog-o-sphere these days, so there are sew along and pattern reviews galore to help me through the project.

I bought the pattern and picked out some really nice fabric from Sew Mama Sew - it's Carolina 1" Gingham by Robert Kaufman in blue. It will be just right for Sam, since he's got blue eyes and enjoys the hipster vibe so vogue these days. (The only other piece of clothing I made Sam in my early days of sewing was decidedly NOT his style, plus I got teh print upside down).

We will make some tiny design changes to keep things in Sam's style. He wants a stand collar rather than a camp collar as the pattern in drafted, and I should be able to accommodate that. We are also playing with the idea of a contrast fabric for the facings. Even with little changes, I am feeling pretty in-tune with fashions of the time though, because not but a few weeks after I promised to make the shirt and gave Sam the fabric and pattern, he came across this shirt in the window of Brooks Brothers. Is that a 1" blue gingham with double pockets and a retro vibe? Damn straight it is! I just hope I don't regret offering to make the shirt when I could have bought an exact identical.

So, I am months behind making this a timely birthday gift, but I am starting now and have high hopes for the final results. Something homemade with love will always be more sentimental than store bought, and if I can manage to keep everything relatively un-wonky, it might just be a useful addition to his closet too.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


They final city our our most recent European tour was Prague, a city much hyped and vastly popular with European travelers theses days. It's popular for a few reasons, one being its stunning old world beauty. Prague was not bombed in WWII, one of the only great European cities to escape being leveled in rubble, so it's street grid, buildings, and history is all originally preserved. Second, Prague sat behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviets for a long time, so it was largely undiscovered except for the last 20 years. Apparently that makes it feel more like an "authentic" European destination in our ever-globalizing world. (I for one think the city seems to have been "found" as it was so crowded with throngs of tourists.) The last thing that makes Prague a delight is that it is low on sights and high on ambiance, so it basically begs for strolls, and lingering lattes at cafes and a general sense of meandering.

After Berlin we shifted gears and took a train to the city of Prague in the Czech Republic with Will and Carmen, while John and Lauren made their way to Italy. Prague was in stark contrast to Berlin, as it is one of the only cities to escape any bombing in WWII. Thus the city retains the charm of an old European city with winding medieval roads, loads of ornate and varied architecture from different eras of fashion, plus intact cathedrals and a castle, all flanked by a lovely rive - the Vltava.

Many people describe Prague as magical. I have heard it called a Fairy Tale city and a like-a-postcard. And by many accounts they are right. Prague is lovely. Also, it is crowded. So, so crowded. We were surrounded most times with other French, British, Spanish, and American tourists. Prague seemed eager to handle the tourist flood. In fact, thanks to the throng of tourists, Prague almost felt a bit confused in its identity. On one hand, the visuals of the city are so refined and elegant and stately. On the other hand, the tourist industry in Prague is almost shameless in their blatant effort to sell the city - with kiosks blasting rock music and Abba and postcard shops on every corner. I know it's not my place to judge an entire city and culture, but I will say that it gave me a sense of sadness for the Czechs, as it seems like their modern culture never was given a chance to form a proper and lasting identity - they went from crushing Soviet tyranny to tourist capitalism so quickly that they have not necessarily defined any of their native culture as sacred yet.

I will say that one thing that makes Prague a delight is that it is low on sights and high on ambiance, so it basically begs for strolls, and lingering lattes at cafes and a general sense of meandering. We obliged gratefully as we escaped the crowds.

Above Prague sits one of the larges castles in Europe. It has been there in various states of construction since the 13th century and still functions as the seat of Czech government. Above the castle is a monastery, and the walk from the monastery to castle offers sweeping and stunning views of the charming city below. The monastery is also where an old Czech lady tried to rip Sam out of 300 crowns by giving him the wrong change. Turns out, the guidebooks are a bit right about Prague being full of swindlers!

We took the tram system up the big hill to the castle in a tram almost entirely to ourselves. That was nice, because my favorite Rick Steves suggested this tram line is ripe with pickpockets. Since we were green tourists, we were highly nervous of the pickpockets (some of us more than others, Will was cool and trusting).

We saw two Taiwanese brides getting wedding portraits taken under the astronomical clock. It was just too funny to see one in the picture and the other with a camcorder, all in the great old square FULL of tourists, looking totally out of place.

On our last day Sam and I took a paddle boat out on the Vlatava for a relaxing hour long float. The river is really calm, so it was easy to navigate under bridges full of pedestrians with views of the Castle and the Charles Bridge. As we pedaled under one bridge that led out to a river island, we saw a woman squatting under the bridge, surrounded by ducks. "Fun," we thought, she must be feeding ducks. Then we got closer and saw her trousers were slipping down around her ankles. "Oh my," we thought "maybe she is peeing." Then, as we paddled within about 15 yards of her, we saw her belt unwrapped from her arm and we realized "Holy sh*t, she was shooting up." It was quite a contrast to our tourist bliss. But don't let drug addicts scare you away from the joys of paddling the river. Otherwise, it was very lovely and relaxing.

The Jewish Quarter in Prague is amazing because it holds history from centuries and centuries of European Jews. The circumstances that created this cultural richness are tragic and unfair, as the Jews of Prague had been quarantined to this small area of the city since the 1500s through the Nazi expulsion in the Holocaust. Through the 400 years of their time in this quarter, there was only one cemetery to bury their dead, so the graves stacked upon each other over the years. With time the headstones shifted, leaving a crowded, chaotic, yet peaceful cemetery representing a long history of a people. We toured the cemetery along with several synagogues and museums that shared the history and heritage of the Jewish faith and people. Additionally, the Jewish Quarter of Prague is one of the most beautifully preserved Art Nouveau neighborhoods in all of Europe.

We rented an beautiful apartment with Will and Carmen that came with two showers, two queen sized beds, a fully stocked kitchen, How I Met Your Mother dubbed in Czech on TV, a bidet, and this tiny elevator that was supposed to comfortable carry three. In reality, it barely carried Sam and one suitcase.

Prague castle is one of the biggest in all of Europe, and included a lovely cathedral built in several phases in different centuries and featuring lovely stain glass, plus a giant hall where nobles used to conduct horse jousting in bad weather. We hiked a long hill down to the castle where we tried to take nice photos, but the sun was so bright (finally) I could barely open my eyes.