Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pretty Basic & Play

Howard is on holiday. We had planned to visit the east coast of Canada only - since February - we've been waiting to find out if he'll be going on strike. The latest vote will be next week and the results tabulated two weeks after that which means that right about the time he goes back to work, we'll find out if we could have spent that holiday money. Meanwhile, we're staycationing, sleeping in, moving slow, going for walks and out for occasional meals.

We had planned two nights in Kelowna for some thrift store and junk yard shopping and walking along the Kettle Valley Railroad only I've spent the last two days on the couch with a real winner of a cold. Today, things are improving so hopefully our rescheduled dates will work out well.


Last year, we checked off the number one thing on Howard's bucket list by going to Europe. On day eight of our tour, Howard went on an optional World War I tour and I spent the day shopping with Alex of Studio Alexandra. When I'm on holiday, I like to buy yarn, fabric, books, and jewelry as souvenirs. One of the things I picked up in Nuremberg was a gorgeous cotton yarn. Last week, I knit it into a scarf, a new shape for my souvenir.

The pattern is Pretty Basic, free on Ravelry. I had a good laugh once I got into the project. Instead of being something completely different, it was very similar to an adaptation of another design by Stephen West that I'd done while playing with possibilities. One of the things I love to do is take a basic shape and change it.


The finished scarf has beautiful drape. The colour is a medium to dark blue-grey that will go with quite a lot of my wardrobe although I've been thinking of what outfit I could sew to go with it simply because I'm very Very VERY bored with my current wardrobe. It was new to everyone else when I moved here a year ago but certainly not new to me. Some things are beginning to show age and wear and some simply need to be packed away for a while until they feel new and fresh again.


My house has a level entry and daylight basement although it's only half out of the ground. Above left is the view from my studio window. Even with the deck, I get plenty of light and sunshine but I'd also like access to the back yard. After a year of playing around with different ideas for how we want to develop the property, the plan is to dig out under the upper deck and put French doors and a lower deck off the studio similar to a previous studio shown above right and below. I'm not sure if that'll happen next year but I'm excited about the possibility. That studio was one of my favourties and this one has many similar attributes.


Normally when I move into a house, the renovations happen in a short time frame. This time around, we don't have that option and so I've had time to weigh the odds and come up with second, third, or fourth "right" answers to how we want to approach things. Renovating and redecorating is no different than the blank canvas of a t-shirt. blouse, or a skirt. There are so many options for how to fill in the same space. I saw that with our condo complex where there were 113 variations on the same theme.


The book I'm working through in my creative study right now is Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown. I've been fascinated to learn how vital play is to our well being and what a loss it is when play is not a part of our daily life. There is real truth in statements like... if anyone goes without play for too long, grinding out the work that is expected of them, they will at some point look at their lives and ask, "Is this all there is? Is this what I can expect for the rest of my life?

At the same time, I've been reading Tiny House Living by Ryan Mitchell. I wanted ideas to apply to our basement suite for building and living well in less than 400 square feet as the subtitle promised however, two-thirds of the way through, the book so far has been more about the philosophy of living small and the benefits of lower expenses and less maintenance, of less work and more play, and about having the time and ability to pursue passions and interests.


The opening segment of the Tiny House show on TV asks could you live in a tiny house and my answer is always no. Even though I'm a minimalist, I need more physical space than that but not a "bigger is better" style of McMansion. I like my small house and I like that it's clutter free and I also like that there is room to breath, that Howard and I are not tripping over each other, and that I have my studio and he has his office. In my humble opinion, these things help us live better together.

It's interesting to me that Sarah Susanka has been talking about The Not So Big House for over a decade now. Is that how long it takes for an idea to really catch on because - from my only somewhat informed perspective - the tiny house movement appears very similar in its approach to more with less. 

All the books focus on The Things That Matter, the title of Nate Berkus' book. It made me think about all the stuff that is at the condo and how much would we really need if Howard and I combined households again at some point in the future. In Tiny House Living, Ryan gives ideas for downsizing including putting everything in a box, dating it, and then seeing what items you pull back out over the next month and then - at the end of the month - going through the remaining items and deciding if they are necessary. I clean every box, basket, cupboard, closet, and drawer in my house usually two or three times a year and even so, when I think about it that way, there is plenty more work that could be done - even my recipe box and my stationary drawer could use a good overhaul. Next time. Right now...

... I'm intrigued with the concept of play. In his book, Nate writes of his childhood that the stuff I loved playing with then is the stuff I still love to play with. Is that true for you? It is for me. As a child, I loved to decorate a house, not play house. I loved to design fashions for my dolls and occasions for them to wear those garments to. I loved dress-up and creating clothes for myself out of towels and blankets. I loved to move my room around and decorate the tents I built in the back yard. I've always had an attraction to eclectic decor, old things, and colour but not to clutter.

Before I learned to sew at age twelve, I learned to crochet and knit and embroider. I loved doodle art posters but not drawing and never liked glue and sequins and still don't. I could go on. The interesting thing is - to repeat myself - that play is vital to our happiness and the secret of how we play now can be found in how we played when we were younger. If at some point in our life play disappeared, we have the opportunity to bring it back. It may not be easy, but it is simple and like many other things, worth the work.

Some of the learning for me from these books is to be more intentional about what I allow into my space, what I do with my time, and how I choose to shape my life. I have choices and I have the consequences of my choices and I can shape the later by shaping the former.

How will you play today?

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - time and space to play

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Vogue 8934 Denim Coat

The ladies at Fabricland knew that I was working on a coat made from denim scraps and had been waiting to see it finished which happened on Saturday. When they started looking at the coat, there was no one else at the cashier and then there was a line-up. One of the women remarked that the coat fit me so well and I replied that it should since I'd sewn it which caused another woman to ask you sewed that and then do you do client work. When I answered yes, no, and this took me a month, she said that she wouldn't mind. LOL - I told her she would when she got the bill.


The pattern is Marcy Tilton's Vogue 8934 which I'd sewn once before earlier this year. I put the two side-by-side on mannequins so I could compare one to the other as I worked but as you can see, they developed vastly different right from the beginning.

You've already seen these finished images in an earlier posting but it seemed appropriate to slip them back in before going through the entire process. The denim scraps were in the Bits & Pieces of Possibility boxes and are from various projects. Some were painted and some were not.


The painted patches were the "wrong" side of a denim fabric. The "right" side was a dark denim, more black than blue. I painted these patches a few months ago for a pair of jeans that no longer fit me so they were cut up as well. The remnants were cut into rectangles and then sewn together...

... in three rows with the serged seams toward the outside. This made for a very neat interior which also caused comment. It's a nice benefit of exposed seams.

Above left are the bottom six sections. Each was made to size using the corresponding pattern piece. Above right, you can see the bell shape of the finished garment. This is a shape I love that is found in three of my favourite Marcy garments - Vogue 8934, this coat - Vogue 8499, a skirt - and Vogue 8876, a dress. I've sewn them all at least twice.

With the original pattern, the curve of the bottom is created by sewing darts. As you can tell from the finished garment, I divided the pattern pieces into sections. With the bottom section, I cut and overlapped the legs of the darts to create the end shape of the pattern and then pieced that shape from remnants of a striped denim, top stitching the seams with dark grey thread.

There were two things I would do differently next time. One was the side seams between the front and back pieced sections. Next time, I would try to figure out how to go around the corner more continuously however, I did go around the corner and this is good and enough because I stalled on this step for quite a while until I decided to just push on.

After making some less than best samples of bound pockets, I settled for creating a pocket that was pieced into the dropped "waist band". First, I folded the selvage to the front side and top stitched it in place and then zigzagged the two edges together with a satin stitch and added in the pocket. That unit was stitched into the overall band making sure the distance from center front was even.

The only drafting glitch that happened was when I tried to sew the band to the upper body. The band was too long. I'm not sure I've totally figured out what went wrong yet because on paper it should have worked but it didn't and I had to deal with reality not what should have happened. In the end, I created a dart to ease the larger shape into the smaller one and for fun pressed it to the front.

This is the second thing I would do differently. I think they're a bit too much like an arrow and more jarring than fun. Later on, I added paint to the darts and may still add more at some point in the future. Here the seams between the band and the piece section and the bodice section are not top stitched. On the finished garment then are and I used a hammer to knock out some of the bulk at the seams.


Apparently, I didn't take too many pictures of piecing the upper bodice sections. Basically, I randomly chose and stitched together painted sections along with two dark sections, one in the back and one in the front. I liked the idea of creating a challenge for myself by needing to balance the dark sections but I knew balancing them had to be the last step because all of the other decisions would play a part.

The collar was next. I sewed doubled strips of denim through the serger and then carefully cut the seams off close to the stitching and then used macrame knots to tie the strips together. Underneath the knotted upper collar is another layer of denim that is sewn into the button band. The collar is a bit stiff but I think it - and the rest of the coat - will soften with wearing.

You would have thought with my rather extensive stash of buttons that I would have some that were just perfect and that was the problem. They were too smooth and too "perfect" for the rawness of the fabric I was building. After digging my way through all the possibilities, I ended up buying these (on sale) for their texture. I like the way they look in the finished piece.

For the buttonholes, I experimented with black and grey thread and eventually chose black for the contrast. I thought it created another vertical slimming line like the button band. I also liked the way it matched better with the inside of the button band where I had...

... used remnants of a bright plaid that never seem to satisfactorily become any garment. I've used it several times and every time cut the garment back up because the print was too bright and overpowering for my face. Here, it worked perfectly. The remnants weren't long enough for the entire button band so the part near the collar is the darker denim. This way, if the top button is open, the plaid is not next to my face.

Before I began building the coat, I used the only piece of yardage left to cut out the sleeves. All the way through the garment, I thought they were going to be dark side out. I was so certain, that I sewed the underarm seam and hemmed the bottom with plaid binding. And then...

... when it came time to sew them in... I decided dark was stark and began playing with different ideas. In the end, I used the oval shape of the lid for my shampoo bottle to add painted ovals to the light side of the sleeve. The paint of the sleeve and the paint of the bodice are not the same. Depending on how you look at this, it is either a mistake or not. The "old" me would have thought it was a mistake and either have not done it or have stressed over it or worked unbelievably hard to match the paint. The "new" me thought it added an interesting contrast and another element to balance.


Before sewing in the sleeve, I added binding around the armhole. I find it easier to do this before rather than after as the edge is much bulkier once the sleeve has been inserted. Which I had to do twice. Many people recommend sewing in the sleeve with the gathers against the throat plate. They say that the action of the feed dog will help to ease in the gathers. Some of these people I highly respect so I tried it and - for me - I don't find this to be true. I find it much easier to sew with the gathers facing me. Not only can I see and help to ease them in but the direction of the curve tends to pull out the gathers rather than push them together. It's probably a personal choice but - in my case - the results tell the story. The sleeve heads eased in much nicer without puckers the second time.

Did you notice the painted ovals on the dark side of the sleeve? That was one of the experiments and while  it was better than a solid dark sleeve, it was not as good as a painted light sleeve. It's so important not to give up until you achieve what you want and...

... to pay careful attention to your reactions as you go along. With sewing, rarely is a decision a lifetime commitment. I started with adding zipper piping along the button bands and then experimented with adding it in other places. At one point, I'd placed it along the hem of the sleeve with the dark 5/8" fabric of the zipper toward the sleeve hem and the zipper teeth away from the hem. It looked great on the sleeve but when placed beside the waistband, it visually extended that dark line and created a really wide looking hip. No thank you. I removed it and two other lines that I'd sewn at the hem and at the top of the waistband. What I'm left with is enough bling. Those extra bands were too much.

Once the sleeves were in place, I could balance the dark patches. In the front, nothing really needed to be done because the patch is tucked almost right under the arm and the button band is commanding the most attention. In the back, I started by adding some zipper piping to the left side of the patch and then used a differently painted patch to accent the opposite shoulder. If you look at the image above left, you may notice your eye moving from the dark strip to the painted patch and back. This is called a secondary focal point. They are meant to be of almost equal intensity and to create energy within a piece. I loved used this technique from my wall pieces in a garment and I think it works quite well.


And here, I am actually wearing the coat. This is the second photo shoot. In the first one, I had on grey jeans that matched better and my hair was co-operating only the camera wasn't. My friend took all the shots and then, when we went to look at them, they were missing. I knew you'd prefer some to none so here you go.

This is NOT the most flattering photo but it does give you an idea of the inside as does the image at right. One of the reasons for the Year of Health is that I'm being proactive about some potential health issues that could benefit from a stricter diet and regular exercise. We'll see how that changes the photos down the line. As I told my friend, my coat may just fit a little looser. It's interesting how good health is far more motivating at this age than a smaller size.

I put the line drawing here again so you could compare the finished coat with the starting point. Every pattern is a blank canvas and we get the opportunity to "paint" it in any way we want. How would you paint your version of this coat?

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - beautiful fall days, colourful leaves

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Practicing Perspective

I get the sense that adults feel that they themselves didn't get it right, that they once had something special and let it go. They don't know where it went and how to get it back... 

When we stop playing, we stop developing and when that happens, the laws of entropy take over - things fall apart.
 When we stop playing, we start dying.

... object play with the hands creates a brain that is better suited for understanding and solving problems of all sorts.

Many studies have demonstrated that people who continue to play games, who continue to explore and learn throughout life, are not only less prone to dementia and other neurological problems, but are less likely to get heart disease and other afflictions that seem like they have nothing to do with the brain.

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown

In another posting, I'll show the process and detailed images, however, today I finished the denim coat that I've been working on for over a month. It's been a stop and go process of trying this and that, experimenting, evaluating, making a decision and then changing my mind, paying attention to my intuition, and following the zigzagging path from start to finish. I've been having fun. I've been playing. And it's a happy bonus that I have a new fall coat just as the season is changing.

This morning, I went for a walk along the lake with my camera practicing perspective by framing different images and seeing what developed. The sun was shining and warm. The leaves are tinged with colour and some are beginning their slow, twirling, fall to the ground. The sky was wide, open and intensely blue. This too is play. I've been learning how to get out more - out of the house, out of the studio, out into other versions of myself.

Play is something I've had to deliberately add back into my life. At first, it was difficult. I was more comfortable as a workaholic. Now, it's so amazing that I often feel like a recovering addict wanting everyone to share this perspective, to stop running so fast, to stop missing out on life, to actually be here in this moment. As I walked, I passed a young mom walking her baby in the opposite direction, missing out on baby smiles, missing out on the scenery - she was on her phone. I didn't not yell stop. I did not offer my opinion. But I really wanted to. This time will never come again.

Life is fleeting. It's not that I feel a sense of panic but I'm aware that in a blink I went from toddler to teenager, from young adult to middle aged woman. And while this is a really good place, I'm also aware that in another blink I'll be at another, older still, stage. Now is the time when I can focus on what's important to me and be in my own "playground". It's a decision to take, and to make, time for ourselves.

Choice of attention - to pay attention to this and ignore that - is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences whatever they may be.
- W.H. Auden

It's been a month since I noticed the stats on the blog. When I first mentioned them, I made sure to say that they did not upset me. And they still don't. In fact, I have found them very calming. They have focused me away from any "creative career" thoughts and in the direction of developing my own work from a more personal and aggressive perspective. It's "me" oriented in a healthy way. I'm looking forward to sharing the coat pictures.

Sunday was the one year anniversary of my move to this small, creative community. It was a fabulous decision and I'm so glad to be living here. It's been holistically healthy (emotionally, physically, relationally, spiritually, financially... and for me creatively) in many ways. Years ago, I took a Year of Play that did - as the earlier quote suggested - change my perspective on life both in and out of the studio. I see this coming year as the Year of Health with a focus on making healthy choices in all of these holistic areas. It's not a BIG PLAN charting this, that, and the other thing. It's a decision to move differently, to move in even more healthy directions that I know will impact both today and the future.

IMHO, we all need to stop and take inventory every once in a while and ask ourselves am I doing what I really want to do and if not, what am I willing to do differently? When life is going wonderfully, there may be small tweaks and when life is not going wonderfully, perhaps it's time for a change of perspective and for play.

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - soothing scenery