Not Ready for Vacation!

YellowniceI’ve been trying to finish up some UFOs (UnFinished Objects). This top, from Vogue 8912, was started before our January vacation to Mexico, but it just didn’t reach completion before the plane took off. So I mulled it over for a couple of months before finishing it a week or so ago.

Here’s the review:

Pattern Description: From the envelope – Very loose-fitting top has neck and front bands, pockets, slightly shaped front hemline, and narrow hem. A: uneven hemline (wrong side shows), and purchased bias tape finishes armholes. B: fold-back cuffs. Semi-fitted shorts or tapered pants have elastic waist, side pockets, and stitched hems. (This pattern is now OOP.)

Pattern Sizing: 8-24, very loose-fitting. I cut my usual 16.

YellowSideDid it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes, given my modifications.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Okay.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern?
The armscye is the same whether you’re making with a sleeve or sleeveless. This is just wrong!! The design for a sleeveless top should have the bottom of the armscye cut higher. Shame on me for not making that alteration myself. As it is, I’ll buy a tank in a light neutral color to wear under it. (You notice how my elbows are glued to my sides for the photo shoot?!)

Yellow-FrontFabric Used: Added to my stash in the early 2000s with no note attached. It’s either cotton or rayon. It’s a light weight that will feel nice in the humid summer heat. Kind of a fun travel-oriented print.

What was the designer thinking with this back?! It looks like I'm wearing a tablecloth!!!

What was the designer thinking with this back?! It looks like I’m wearing a tablecloth!!!

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I did not like how long the back was — much longer than the front! After trying it on as designed, I cut off several inches and curved the side with a bread plate.

Somehow, when cutting it out, the center front came out much longer on one side than the other. How did I do that?! I sewed the neckband on, then tried the top on and it was awful. Unsewed the neckband on the longer side, drew a new seamline and resewed. Now it’s okay.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Nope. I’m really ambivalent about this top. When you add the fact that I made it to go with a new pair of Eileen Fisher light silver gray capris and now they have a stain-of-unknown-origin that doesn’t want to come out, this was a pretty wasted sew. :(

Recommend? Nope. Too many other nice tops out there. Skip this one.

Conclusion: What did I learn? Tissue fit the top and if the armscye is too low, fix it!!


So there you go—one more piece of fabric moved from my stash.

Bonnie Bucket Bag

Bonnie-WindowFirst, I must tell you we had a taste of Real Spring today in Northeast Ohio. When I opened my basement sewing room window, this is what I saw. What a relief to have a day with decent temperatures and no precipitation.

You’re going to see more bags on my blog and coming off my sewing machine in the near future. If you follow my writing, either here or on Facebook, you know that I have a job that is supposed to be mine imminently, starting in mid-January. Oh, wait—that was three months ago! As I continued hearing about discussions between the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department and the local university provost, I realized that I needed to come up with a little income boost that I could depend upon without waiting for the provost to recognize the value of a liberal arts component in one’s higher education. I love making bags, and somehow I happened upon Swoon Patterns. Oh my gosh. These are beautiful, well and intelligently designed bags. And one of the most amazing factors is that the design team says to its fan base, “Make as many as you want and sell them if you like. You don’t need our approval and you don’t need to pay us a license fee.” What? In this day of people looking out for themselves, this attitude is almost unheard of.

And then I discovered the Swoon Patterns Group on Facebook. What a loving, supportive, unselfish group of sewists. And the designers make themselves available to encourage their fans. Most of my online time is now spent in this group and the Jocole group (my other new passion – check out the Jocole Yoga Pants). I derive ideas and support from these people. Brilliant.

Finally, you know that—after a long career as a technical writer, web editor, and legal writer and editor—I’m pretty picky about how things are written, especially instructions. The pattern instruction writers and editors for Swoon are as picky as I. They write clear, logical instructions. And if you don’t understand, just post a question on Facebook and someone who has already made this bag will help you through your obstacle course.

Front View

Front View

So back to the income-production effort … I’ve decided to craft and sell the bags I make and a few other miscellaneous accessories (the microwave cozies and notebook covers, for example). Even if I only sell a couple of bags a month, that will fill the gap that occurred when I lost the Bernina job and the provost simultaneously got cranky.

After asking on the Swoon FB group, I was told by several people that I should start with Bonnie.

So here she is, along with her review (click any photo to enlarge):

Back View

Back View

Pattern Description: (From the pattern page) “Bonnie is a slouchy hobo-style bag featuring a recessed zipper main closure and exterior double welt pocket. Display two different fabric prints on the exterior, or give her a store-bought look by using one fabric for the exterior with contrasting top stitching. The oval-shaped bottom allows room for nearly anything!”

Pattern Sizing: O/S – Finished size: 14″ wide (at top); 12″ tall; 6″ deep

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Yes

She has feet!!

She has feet!!

Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? Clear, straightforward instructions; professional finish touches. I feel I could have found this bag in any high-end store.

Fabric Used: Exterior: Cotton+Steel Mochi Navy Gamaguchi and Cotton+Steel Basic Plummy XOXO; Lining; Several hand-dyed pinks from Janet A. Smith at TextileArt.com. These fabulous hand-dyes have been in my stash for 12 years; the artist appears to no longer be offering her beautiful wares. A good alternative appears to be DyeSmithy on Etsy.

Interior pocket - that lining is a whole lotta Pepto-Bismol!

Interior pocket – that lining is a whole lotta Pepto-Bismol!

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: I added a small interior pocket as I’m always losing my keys. I cut a rectangle, approximately 6″x8″, folded it in half, sewed with ¼” seam, and turned right-side out, then topstitched into place.

The Etsy Zipit Store now has great zipper pulls.

The Etsy Zipit Store now has great zipper pulls.

As I’ve made several other designers’ bags lately, and because I was using quilting-weight cottons rather than vinyl or leather for Bonnie, I was concerned that she needed a little more oomph in her body, besides just the interfacing. So I used the fusible fleece that I had used in the Amy Butler Reversible Sunday Sling that I made a few months ago. In doing so, I made the inserting of the zippered welt pocket on the bag front more difficult for myself. The fabric plus the fleece plus the interfacing, plus the two layers of fabric and interfacing for the welt, plus the zipper … argh, too much to expertly topstitch around!! I ended up running two layers of satin stitch around the pocket to hide the wonky topstitching. Next time—if I choose to use the fusible fleece again—I will remove the fleece from the area of the pocket or else I’ll put the fleece on the lining. Or I’ll skip the zipper!

Final step was to protect with Scotchgard™, inside and out.

My overstitched welt pocket.

My overstitched welt pocket.

Sturdy connectors for the shoulder strap.

Sturdy connectors for the shoulder strap.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Absolutely will do again. Absolutely would recommend.

Conclusion: If you’re a fairly new bag sewist, Bonnie is a great place to start. And Swoon is a great design house to settle into. I cannot heap enough praise on the Swoon Patterns Group on Facebook. A nicer and more encouraging group of fellow bag sewists cannot be found, I believe. Stumped on something? They’ll help you figure it out. Just need to vent? Have at it and they’ll cheer you up. This group “has your back” at all times and on all issues.


I did have an oops and an almost-oops.

Boonie-OopsFirst, my oops. I didn’t pay enough attention to the bottom strip, to ensuring the front and back strips met at the sides. So not like me!! Won’t do that again.

And my almost-oops: I’ve made a number of little zippered bags over the past 18 months or so. (Yes, these will be available when I get the website up and running.) I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that Bonnie featured a zippered closure at the top. I followed the perfect directions for inserting the zipper and had these little zippered bags in my brain. The instructions didn’t match what was in my brain. I looked at the illustration and read the instructions several times. Still no “aha”. As a last resort, I opened up the Bonnie web page and clicked on each and every bag photo on the page. There’s that “aha!” As soon as the Jazzman left for his Friday night pub crawl with his pals, I ran back downstairs and finished up the zipper and the lining.

So the moral of that story is: don’t think you know what you don’t know!!!

And now I can hear you asking, “So, Jan, when’s this store going to open. I want one of your bags and I want one for my sister’s birthday and my ….”

In two months I leave for six weeks where my focus will be on creating great summer camp musical theatre experiences for middle and high school campers at Interlochen. Although I’ll take my sewing machine along, I won’t have the time to focus on either sewing or shipping any textile treasures I might sell. So I have four months to get up to speed, develop my website, establish my brand, and be ready to entice you to buy lovely bags.

Bonnie-LabelStep one was deciding on a name. I think it’s significant that the name was given to me during the summer of 2014 when my son, my grandchildren, and I visited Interlochen and my son’s partner encouraged me to follow my dream and apply to Interlochen as a collaborative pianist. This was also the first time I had met her then-3yo daughter, who decided I would be called “Jananza.” So Jananza! it is. I smile everytime I think of it. Thanks, Miss C, for my new name.

<Note> My labels come from Mountain Street Arts’ Etsy store. I highly recommend this vendor. Pam’s customer service is wonderful. Her communication is quick and clear. She’s generous with sharing her product knowledge to help you have a positive experience. I’m so happy with my labels and will be buying more from her as this new effort develops its own sense of style.

<One more note> I think you’re probably wondering how much a bag like this will set you back. (I can already hear my Tucson friend, Jill, thinking ….) The bag contains high quality quilting cottons that sell for over $10/yard, interfacing, heavy stabilizer for the base, bag hardware (feet, O-rings), zippers, zipper pulls, thread, a new sewing machine needle, fabric protector, labels, hours of cutting and construction time, wear and tear on the machine, …. Bonnie would sell for around $75.00.

So, despite all that, how do you like Bonnie?

In Search of the Perfect Fit

ica1frontSo, we’ve been eating a little differently around here. The Jazzman is on the elliptical every day for 45 minutes or so, and he’s lost pounds—pounds, I tell you! I’ve lost ounces. But there have been enough ounces so far that I’ve had to buy new bras. The new measurement was 2″ smaller in circumference, but (of course!) a larger cup size.

renfrewLast October, my SIL-Equivalent in Columbus showed me a t-shirt she had made in a class at a local fabric store. The pattern is the Renfrew t-shirt from indie pattern designer Sewaholic. I loved Barb’s version. She chose a knit stripe in a nice mid-weight cotton. And she had done a fabulous job with the neckband on the pattern. It looked like she had been sewing this pattern for years, rather than it being her first time. I ordered the pattern and put it on my project list.

One of my goals for 2015 is to break the code on altering patterns to fit my sizable bust measurements. Why is this an issue? Because most sewing patterns are designed for B cups. I am now a Triple-D (or F, in European sizing—I don’t know why American companies switched to D, DD, DDD, and so on. Confusing.). Each cup size increase translates to a 1″ increase in full bust circumference. That means if I choose a pattern for my 36″ high bust measurement, I have to somehow add 4″ to the pattern to get it to fit around me. But in the front only, as my back is the perfect 36″!

iacuniformEver since I got the summer job at Interlochen, I’ve been obsessing about components for my uniform for the summer. See those cute campers in the picture? They’re in blue tucked-in polo shirts. And shorts. Neither of those items have a place in my standard wardrobe. I noticed last summer that faculty and staff tend to find a way to skirt (no pun intended) the requirement. So I’ve been searching for the right shade of blue in a fabric I would like and patterns that will cover my bum and let me feel comfortable while spending my day on a piano bench.

I found a nice blue cotton jersey at Mood and got enough for two t-shirts. I decided to start with Renfrew. I read everything in my personal library of sewing/fitting books on FBA. I googled FBA and Renfrew and found this blog post, which was somewhat helpful. But I felt there should be more hard and fast mathematical rules to it. I wanted it to be a science, not an art. And then I found a video on tissue fitting patterns by my teacher and friend, Marcy Tilton. Here’s the YouTube link.

ica1side2I spent about an hour fiddling with the pattern, tracing it, pinning it, taping it, and cutting it. I dug into my knit scraps and found enough to cut out a front and a back and sew them together. I fiddled with armscye bust darts and adding space and subtracting space. I ended up with a t-shirt body that seemed like it fit me. (Please ignore my cheek in the picture. This was dermatology week, and she froze some old-lady crap off.)

iac1sideThen I cut it out in my blue cotton jersey and set to constructing it. The lightweight cotton jersey had more give than the scraps I had “muslined” the pattern in. So where my muslin had fit me perfectly, the real deal felt rather large. It felt sloppy. I don’t want to look sloppy!! I experimented with making the side seams ½” larger, thus removing another 2″ from the circumference of the garment. I unsewed the darts and moved them up a couple of inches.

Where I thought I was going to be done by 9:00 a.m., it is now 4:00 p.m. Except for my lunch break, I’ve been going nonstop all day. And I have a shirt that fits. It looks almost nothing like the pattern picture, as I omitted the bottom band and the sleeve band and cut it 3″ longer to get the bum-covering length I wanted.

I don’t love it, sd this blue is not really my color. And yet, when I put it with the navy Eileen Fisher stretch crepe slim ankle pant, I do like it. And styled with my new Bernie Mev “Victoria” woven elastic sneakers, well, I’m a happy girl.

I will attempt the Renfrew again—probably more than once, but with a more substantial knit.

And I will continue refining the FBA.

Love Potion No. IX

IXLate last summer I saw a picture of a stunning geometric handknit scarf on Facebook. A few weeks later I realized I had to resign from the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus because of work conflicts. I wanted a special gift for our assistant director, a beautiful and very talented young woman named Lisa Wong. Lisa’s wardrobe is filled with black, which she accents deftly with grays and occasional pops of color. She is chic to the Nth degree. When I had first seen the scarf picture, I instantly thought of Lisa and how wonderful this scarf would look on her. On my last night at rehearsal, I showed her the picture and asked if she thought she’d prefer red or purple for the accent color. We agreed on purple and I ordered the yarn—Malabrigo Sock yarn, soft and cuddley.

Throughout a busy fall and winter (new job at the Bernina store; musical directing Sondheim’s “Company”; vacation in Florida; moving Mother into a nursing home and emptying her assisted living apartment; helping my son clean out his house after his ex moved out; and taking on a new opera gig), I did my best to make time to knit. The Jazzman likes to watch news shows when he gets home each evening after a long day on the railroad, so I used that time to sit with him and work on the scarf.

The pattern was complex and moderately difficult. Some of the techniques were new to me. The instructions were—to this technical writer—imperfect. As I worked through the pattern, I found little boo-boos that were too far back for me to be willing to fix. I have my limits!

purpleWhen I was about three-quarters of the way through the scarf, I realized I had made a major error: two adjacent striped squares were parallel rather than perpendicular. And then on one of the purple squares I realized I had slipped a stitch, creating a hole. Argh! I left a note to Lisa on Facebook telling her the scarf was going to come to her next fall—just as the cold weather is beginning again—rather than at the supposed end of this long and bitter winter. This one would be for me to wear with a purple Eileen Fisher sweater that was a gift from my DIL-Equivalent.

So here’s today’s premier wearing, just an hour after finishing. Tonight the Jazzman and I went to a fundraiser for my neighbor’s non-profit, and several people noticed and admired the scarf. Isn’t that always the best way to end a project?!

Knitting geekery. If you’re not a knitter, you can skip this paragraph!
For anyone working on this pattern, here are my clarifications to the less-than-perfect instructions:

  1. Section 6, striped square – this is not really an error, but just a lack of clarification. If you don’t count carefully but rather just read, you might think, as I did, that the final row of this section is CC2. But because the block contains an odd number of rows, the final row is CC1 (black), not CC2 (natural). Big Oops #1. And nothing is said about binding off.
  2. Section 7, solid square – Okay, if you don’t bind off, where does the next row begin? My notes say to stop the previous block at the intersection of blocks 2, 3 and 8. “Leaving the existing stitchs on the right needle, use MC to work 37 garter ridges, K2T at the end of every ridge.” That means this block is perpendicular to the previous striped block and to the solid color block in the first block row. If this is correct, then there needed to be a bind off row, which doesn’t exist. Maybe this block needed to be parallel to the solid color row in the first block row. But it would have to be attached to the first block row by K2T at the end of each row. Another Argh!
  3. Section 8, striped square. Again note the odd number of rows, necessitating CC1 as the final row.
  4. Everything was fine until the top edging. The way the author sometimes tells you what to do before telling you to do it is confusing. This is one of those instances. The top edging says, “Using CC1 pu and k 234 sts. Then, Row 1-3: K to end. 2 garter ridges. What she should has specified is that R1 is WS. That pick-up row and #2 are RS, then 1 and 3 are WS, making 4, the BO row, RS.

Honestly, I’m happy this first version is finished. I will keep both the instructions and version #1 next to me while working on version #2.

And the bottom line? I love it! The yarn is just lovely. This will be worn each time I wear the purple EF sweater.

Rewriting History

tj19892014In 1988, when John and I were newly a couple, his daughter Tamara met a lovely man (Jeff, who has now been her husband for over 25 years). During their first summer of dating, Jeff met Scott and Tyler and learned that Tyler was an avid musician. Having spent several summers at what was then National Music Camp (NMC, now Interlochen Arts Camp, IAC), Jeff graciously ordered information to be sent to Tyler. The seed was planted, Tyler learned more and more about percussion during the school year, and he applied to spend the summer of 1989 as a percussionist at NMC.

Tyler, age 14, went into camp with a swagger, “I’m gonna be a drummer in a rock band when I grow up.” Within two weeks of starting the eight-week program, playing tympani and other percussion instruments in two orchestras, he had fallen totally and deeply in love with classical music. He was completely immersed in music for hours of every day, associating with kids who were as passionate about music as he was. One of his cabinmates was to become his best friend for all time. It was a magical experience.

As I watched Tyler grow and develop through that summer, I bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t had similar opportunities. Sure, I went to a one-week music camp for one or two summers, but it was absolutely not the same thing. I never found myself the way Tyler was able to find himself at Interlochen.

I frequently thought how different my life would have been, “If only my parents had known about Interlochen and sent me there” (or some equivalent place). But my mother was a devout Seventh-day Adventist, and she would have never.ever.in.a.million.years have sent me to a secular institution or any place that didn’t observe the seventh-day sabbath.

I visited IAC again last summer on family vacation with Tyler and my grandchildren. Twenty years had passed since my last visit. I was thrilled to be there. Tyler’s life partner, who was working as a choreographer in the theatre department, said to me, “Why don’t you apply for a collaborative pianist position. They can never find enough accompanists.” Her words started the whirlwind in my head.

By jove, if I can’t have had the childhood I wanted, I’m going to rewrite my history. I’m going to have the childhood I wanted, now!

And today I received the email telling me I had been accepted for a collaborative pianist position in the theatre department. I will go to Northern Michigan in late June and return in early August. Six weeks surrounded by creative people—music, visual arts, sculpture, photography, creative writing, dance. Six weeks walking among the white pines in Interlochen State Park; six weeks hearing young musicians’ dulcet tones emanate from every practice room; six weeks of gratitude for the gift of music with which I was born.

Lucky. Lucky. Lucky. Lucky. Lucky.

I’m going to create beautiful music with talented young people in one of the top arts organizations in the entire world.

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood!