Keep Calm and Sew On

imageI hate how busy I’ve been this semester. I’m preparing a full-length “Cosi fan tutte” for late April. A kids’ version of Cosi, with its own abbreviated score, will be presented the morning of that event’s opening. I have not yet seen the kids’ cuts, but know that I am the orchestra for that production, where I believe I’m only accompanying the recitative (but the entire score for all the rehearsals over the entire semester) for the full evening opera. A 45-minute opera for kids, Billy Goats Gruff, is to be presented today at Stambaugh Auditorium and then five times this week at local schools. And tonight starts tech week for “My Fair Lady” in Sharpsville [PA]. If you’re counting, that’s two major productions and two hour-long productions. A lot of black dots. And I accompany four voice students who have at least five pieces each in their repertoire, along with two senior recitals to play.

That leaves no time for sewing. And a big hole in my life.

imageYesterday morning I was exempted from the MFL rehearsal (big sigh of relief), so I snatched two hours and ran downstairs. Back in October or early November, I saw the pattern for the Bendy Bag from Lazy Girl Designs. It looked cute and quick and easy, and I whipped up several to take along to Thanksgiving in Amarillo to gift to my dinner companions. One friend of my Amarillo family wasn’t able to be at dinner that day, but I have been wanting to make another bag to send out to her. So yesterday I dug into my scrap stash and found enough leftovers from Gayle’s bag to make a Bendy Bag for Maria.

imageNow that I’ve made a bunch of these, I’m able to whip through them pretty quickly. There’s only one change I’ve made. At the bottom of the zipper, a tab is attached to extend the length of that piece to the bottom of the bag. But the way it’s attached leaves an opening that would allow small items to escape (Imagine a beader toting part of her stash in this cute little bag, or a jeweler with loose stones ….). So instead of edgestitching the folded end of the tab to the end of the zipper, I rotate the tab to place the folded end at the bottom. imageI turn in the raw ends ½” and press, then sandwich the stitching line of the zipper (where the instructions tell you to place the folded end of the tab) and edgestitch to hold it in place. Then I edgestitch down both sides of where the zipper tape is sandwiched and trim the sides of the tab (as instructed). The only difference is that you won’t see the zipper for your edgestitching. A quick chalkmark or a deftly placed pin will tell you where to run your edgestitching. And the resulting look on the inside is more elegant, to my way of thinking.

The only other thing I don’t love, but am willing to live with, is the zigzag finish on the seams inside. But honestly, not one person to whom I’ve given these bags has complained. 😉

I carry a Bendy Bag with me at all times in my big music tote. It contains all my chargers for page-turning pedal and iPad Pro and phone. I can imagine lots of uses for it, and know more iterations are in my future.

imageimageAnd finally, for your viewing pleasure, a B.B. I made two weeks ago for my granddarling’s high school French teacher. She likes foxes. I hope she likes the bag half as much as she is liked as a teacher.

If you’re interested in the fox fabric, it’s from Robert Kaufman’s “Creatures and Critters 3” collection, designed by Amy Schimler.

A Winning Tute

IMG_1195The Jazzman and I have little travel pillows that I got at Bed Bath & Beyond. We like knowing that whatever the hotel (or cruise ship) has to offer, we’ll have a pillow along that we know and love. Before we went to Mexico last winter, I bought the 12″ x 16″ pillows and made pillowcases to fit them. They were both a gold cotton sateen. I silkscreened my name on mine; his had nothing to indicate it was his.

And then it disappeared. His pillow and the custom made pillowcase are nowhere to be found. So before we went to Amarillo for Thanksgiving and my son’s wedding, I bought him another travel pillow and grabbed an unused 100% cotton (regular size) pillow protector to serve as a pillowcase.

When we packed our pillows for our Christmas trip to see his family in Columbus, he [whined a little] about not having a pillowcase. When we returned home, I asked again if he was just giving me a hard time, or really didn’t like the pillow protector. Alas, the pillow protector has a texture to it. It’s not soft and silky cotton sateen.

One morning last week my inbox contained my Bloglovin’ feed with a tutorial for a pillowcase.

Oh my gosh. This tutorial yields a pillowcase that is everything I look for in something I sew. The inside was as beautiful as the outside.

Interior after attaching hem.

Interior after attaching hem.

The typical regular-size pillow is 20″ x 26″. The dimensions of the three sections of the tutorial pillowcase are 25″ x 40½”, 2½” x 40½”, and 12″ x 40½”. Comparing the regular size pillow dimensions to the travel pillow, I cut 15″ x 24½”, 2½” x 24½” and 8″ x 24½”. The hem could have been 2-6″ longer—remember that the hem will be folded in half during construction, so the length you cut for the hem will be divided by two and then have ½” subtracted for seam allowance. After attaching the trim and the hem, I had a 3½” hem and a 14¼” main panel. The bottom and side seam took another ½”. So with a 16″ pillow, I had a couple of inches extending beyond the pillow. (I am more exact measurements downstairs, but am racing to write this so I can finish my packing. You’re welcome to leave more exact measurements in the comments.)

Finished pillowcase with pillow inserted.

Finished pillowcase with pillow inserted.

I used a couple of cotton batiks and a hand-dye from my stash for the case. Honestly, it feels like silk. Or buttah!

Jas loves his new pillowcase. It’s distinctive and won’t get lost in the hotel (or cruise ship) sheets. And it’s comfortable to lay his head on.

I’m so glad I made the time yesterday to get this done before finishing my trip packing.

I highly recommend this tutorial!!

Quick and Shiny

IMG_1198Somewhere two weeks ago I read a sewing blog where the writer talked about some fabric she purchased from NY Fashion Center. Of course I ran over there to see what they offer, and was blown away with this tie-dye web foil print spandex. itedyeSeriously, this fabric is not something I would ever have thought of sewing with. But a shipboard pool and a walk along the beach in Aruba were on my mind, and a little swim mini skirt from Land’s End was calling out for a coverup.

While I waited for the fabric to arrive and while I was looking for some free time to spend in my sewing room, I pondered patterns. I burn easily, and we’ll be spending ten days sailing around under the equator. So a t-shirt was a better idea than a cardigan or fly-front sweater. I had been eyeing Marcy Tilton’s Vogue 9057 for months, and View A looked like just what I needed.

I needed it to go together quickly, and this did. It feels great. I think it looks cute with the miniskirt, and with my Teva sandals, I can walk and swim and generally have a Caribbean blast.

IMG_1200There was one thing I didn’t like and wish I had done differently. On View A, the neckband is only 1″ wide. The instructions say to attach it with a double needle, then just press it up. That’s a raw edge finish, which I do not like. I could have gone back and cut a wider band, but I was very pressured for time. I moved the band in from the edge of the top seam allowance, so that I was sewing about ¼” on the band and ½” on the top. After sewing the seam, I trimmed off the excess of the neck edge, then wrapped the band tightly around the edge and to the back. I pinned from the right side close to the edge of the band wrapped to the back, then used a double needle to topstitch. It works for me better than the raw edge, but it’s not ideal. Ideal would have been to cut the wider neckband from the other views.

For the sleeve hem and skirt hem, I interfaced the inside edge with a ½” strip of fusible tricot interfacing, then turned that ½” to the inside and pressed. I finished the hems with a double-needle topstitch at ⅜”.

It’s a fun top. It’s totally unlike me. And even though I’m not really happy with the finish on the neckline, I’m only ever wearing it to the pool or the beach, and—not to be condescending—no one will ever notice it. (Are you familiar with the sound of a tired musician at the end of the worst month of the year for musicians worldwide? You just heard that sound.)

As I raced to finish pre-vacation sewing, I also made a quick cute batik pillowcase for Jas’s travel pillow. I’ll blog that another time. And I hemmed the sundress I made in July, using my new Dritz chalk hem marker. I was never pleased with the hemline and needed to shorten and straighten it. It’s going into the suitcase along with the t-shirt above. Tomorrow is a party for my new daughter-in-law to meet Jas’s and my close friends. She’s in town for a few days and I wanted to take advantage of that, despite the fact that we’re flying to Florida on Sunday and sailing on Monday.

Whew. Going to bed now. And don’t be scared by the photos—that’s New Year’s Day me with no makeup!

Rudi and I wish you a happy new year.

Out With the Old, In With the New

Tyler and his bride, Leslie, with the darling Miss C looking up in wonder.

Tyler and his bride, Leslie, with the darling Miss C looking up in wonder.

As most humans are wont to do, yesterday and today I have been looking back on 2015, pondering what I wish to change for 2016.

Change? Almost everything! Last year was one of the hardest years in my life, with a few bright lights tossed in to keep me sane. It started on Christmas Day of 2014, when my brothers decided it was time for Mother to reside permanently in a nursing home. The task of cleaning out her apartment in the assisted living facility and deciding what to do with her now-unnecessary possessions fell to me. I had to extend my trip to NC by a day or two to accomplish that, and was very thankful for having leased a sport utility vehicle a few months earlier. I made multiple trips to the Rescue Mission and to Goodwill, made fast calls to antique dealers, clock specialists, and moving van lines. I ended up with more possessions not of my choosing crowded into my home.

Bright Spot #1 came in late January when we traveled with three other couples to a rental house on the Riviera Maya in Mexico. That memorable vacation is documented in my travel pages.

In this same time frame, I learned I had been chosen for a research associate position in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department at YSU, where I was to work as an editor in the Center for Islamic Studies. I was extremely excited about this position, and anxious to begin upon returning from our Mexico vacation. Alas, the university provost had different thoughts on the position. I was able to work for the CIS over the course of the next five months on a contract basis, and dearly loved the people and the work. But once we started a new fiscal year, the work went away. I am sad each time I think about this situation, and continue to hope they’ll get rid of that provost and put into place someone who wants a university with STEAM, not just STEM. (Science, Technology, [Arts,] Engineering, and Mathematics.]

A few weeks later I started the task of cleaning out my son’s house, recently vacated by his former wife, an incredibly thoughtless and self-centered woman. Anything she didn’t want, she left in the now-vacant house. Over the course of the next two months, I trashed bag after bag of canned goods with seven-year-old expiration dates, half-used and unwanted craft supplies, and various other items she had bought on a whim. I made trip after trip to Goodwill, the Rescue Mission, and the recycling station. I dropped off at the consignment shop thirty (thirty!) pairs of unwanted but still very usable shoes and boots, along with armload upon armload of perfectly good clothes. I vacuumed floors that hadn’t been vacuumed in months. I made a personal commitment to declutter my home so my sons would never have to go through what I was suffering with this house. I became the best friend of the realtor, who had been unable to ever depend on my former DIL to empty litter boxes on showing days. I ended with more items in my home, generally gifts I had given my former DIL through the thirteen years of their marriage—she now wanted nothing to do with me, despite act upon act of unrequited (and probably unappreciated) kindness to her over the years. (Here’s to learning a lesson about unrequited kindness!!) When it was all done, I was able to feel good about the work I had done. I had turned a cluttered and filthy nightmare into a house which potential buyers could actually see the good bones of. There were several offers, but unsupporting banks. It finally went to the bank, and now a family with twins in elementary school are enjoying the beautiful house. While I’m very sad for my son to have had to go through this, I’m happy for the new owners. May they live long and prosper.

In May I made a whirlwind trip to NC for my mother’s 102nd birthday. I made little moments of kindness to myself on that trip—an hour here and an hour there to shop in favorite stores old and new. That trip turned out to be the last time I would see her healthy enough to feed herself. That ability is now gone.

Bright Spot #2 was when Jas suggested we take a trip to celebrate my birthday, as we had during our first year together, five years earlier. Here’s the account of that trip, taken with our dear friends Mike & Marilyn.

A few days after our return from Toronto, I departed Ohio for six weeks in Northern Michigan, where I would work as a collaborative pianist in the theatre division of the prestigious Interlochen Arts Camp. That experience is documented in weekly posts here. It was the best and worst summer of my life. There are some Bright Spots, which I’ll lump together as #3, in those six weeks. However, after six months of retrospection, I have decided I will not return to IAC in 2016.

In September, my beloved partner and his two brothers lost their 92-year-old mother, who treated me as her own from the day we met. Her passing was a great loss to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. The only blessing was that she went quickly and did not suffer.

While at Interlochen, I began discussions with the new head of the opera program at YSU. In August I began working as the accompanist for the program, and accompanying the voice students of this professor. Additionally, I accompany the chorus of the local opera company in preparations for the November opera performance. And I accompanied the “mini-mainstage” production of that opera, a 45-minute tailored-for-kids version that is presented on a November Friday morning to busloads of local schoolkids. And for a relief from all that opera, I agreed to musical direct “Christmas at the Pierce” for the Area Community Theatre of Sharpsville [PA]. (Link to YouTube video of the show.) From the first of November through the 20th of December, I had about three open days on my calendar. Insane!

I was grateful for the invitation to sing with the choir of Christ Church Episcopal in Warren, OH, for their Lessons & Carols service, as it gave me another opportunity to sing in a choir with my son. Oh, how I love doing that!

My greatest sadness of that period was that I had no time to sew.

Tyler and Leslie, in May of 1994 and in July of 2015.

Tyler and Leslie, in May of 1994 and in July of 2015.

My firstborn, Scott, now 42, with his new niece.

My firstborn, Scott, now 42, with his new niece.

I did, however, make time to sew six bags to take with me to Amarillo for Thanksgiving (Each of the women at Thanksgiving dinner received a bag of her choosing from the lot of six bags.) and Bright Spot #4, the wedding of my DS#2 to his high school sweetheart. They each had their training-wheels marriages, and have now made the marriage that will last for the rest of their lives, which I hope is a very long time to make up for the heartaches they suffered during their prior marriages. My new DIL, Leslie, is a wonder. She is the chair of the dance department at a Texas university, received tenure in her mid-30s, and works as a choreographer in the theatre department at Interlochen during the summers. She is also the mother of a talented and smart-as-a-whip five-year-old daughter. Honestly, this wedding and marriage is so precious to me, it makes up for all the nastiness of the year!

As soon as I was done with music for December, I raced to NC to spend a day with Mother, who—by all appearances—has now seen her last Christmas. At 102, she’s told her doctors she wants no more intervention when she is ill. She has recurring problems with urinary tract infections, and the doctors indicate her next infection will be her final. She can hardly hear, is not motivated to communicate, and her right hand is crippled by arthritis, so that she cannot feed herself. She has lived a long, full life, and is greatly loved by a lot of people. My family feels very lucky to have had her around this long.

After returning home, I turned around the next morning and we drove to Columbus to celebrate Christmas with my partner’s family, ensuring that we drank a traditional Irish toast to his mother.

As I pack for our first vacation of 2016, a cruise with our travel pals to the Panama Canal, I will leave you with Bright Spot #5. In 2008, after moving to Ohio to be near my grandchildren, I was able to sell both my houses in Tucson, at an out-of-pocket cost greater than $70,000. (Remember the financial crisis of 2007-08? I do!) After borrowing right and left to make these closings happen, I ended up in 2010 in a debt repayment plan, which is one of the best things that ever happened to get me out of an untenable situation. In December of this year, I was finally able to make my last payment and breathe an enormous sigh of relief. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, I highly recommend Money Management International. Their counselors and advisors are kind and respectful. They work for you, not for the organization. They will help you find a way to meet your obligations without having to declare bankruptcy. I will sing their praises until I die—a date on which, without their help, I would have passed along lots of debts to my sons. Now I can enjoy the rest of my life without enormous debts hanging over me.

And that was the year. Five bright spots, plus a lot of hardship and heartache. I truly am glad to see 2015 move into the rearview mirror.

As I enter 2016, I’m focusing on seven performances of My Fair Lady in Sharpsville in March, and several performances of “Cosi fan tutte” at YSU in April. Before I left Mother’s bedside last week, I made sure to thank her for all the piano lessons she had driven me to.

My sewing time will again be limited the first half of the year, but I also thanked Mother for taking me to the Singer Sewing Center for classes in 1963, awakening in me a love for all things fiber.

Stretching My Brain

6101I like to learn. That may explain why I’m always trying new sewing tricks and blogging about them here. I had to accompany some students in their voice studio recital on Sunday. The ladies were to wear long gowns, i.e. it’s a dressy event. I wanted to be dressier than I was (black knit pants, black tank, and black knit jacket) for the last performance I accompanied, but I didn’t want to wear a gown. I wanted to make something, but was struggling to figure out what.

I have some personal concerns in my life right now, and many nights I lie awake from about 2:00 to 4:00 a.m. worrying about this issue. (I know there’s nothing I can do about it, but this grandma worries anyway!) As I lay awake a week-and-a-half ago, I knew what I wanted. I wanted another Butterick 6101, blogged here, only in black with long sleeves. (Look at the pattern illustration.) I love Katherine Tilton’s design esthetic, and I find her pieces fit me well and bring many compliments.

Mood Fabrics Italian viscoseAfter wearing the previous top I made, I find I don’t really understand the little mini pocket on the left side. It’s a funky little thing, and for a performance garment, I didn’t want funk. I wanted chic. I wanted symmetry. I had a wonderful piece of Italian viscose matte jersey knit. This fabric is fabulous! It’s similar to Exclusively Misook black knit, but lighter in weight. Or Eileen Fisher’s knit crepe, but softer. Really, I find myself just sitting and stroking it with my fingertips. It’s wonderful!

But, boy, did I have my thinking skills challenged with this set of pattern modifications! Logical thinking skills are important for a modification such as this, and you have to differentiate between looking in the mirror and looking at the pattern envelope. I pride myself on my logical thinking skills, but this project almost did me in!

B6101My mistake was not writing down exactly what I was going to do, and checking it twice. This illustration displays my goal. After much head-scratching this week, and after placing an order for and receiving another three yards of jersey from Mood Fabrics, I finally had it.

I cut the right side of the front on the fold. I cut the left side of the back on the fold. Oops. Then I cut the right side of the back on the fold. I didn’t have enough fabric (before the second order), so cut the front lower band and seamed it. I wanted the top to be almost dress length, so I cut the lower band 1.5″ longer than the pattern piece. I messed up my first back lower band cut, so recut—on the fold—after receiving the Mood Order. ReptileMeshThis piece was not angled so much, so the back hem should be fairly horizontal.

I bound the lower edge of the body in black nylon mesh before top-stitching that layer onto the bottom band. I inserted a half-inch strip in the neckline seam.

Here’s the pattern review:

Pattern Description: Loose fitting pullover tunics have collar, left side pocket detail, sleeve variations, hem band and top stitching. C: contrast right front, left front, left front and back pocket, armhole facing, hem band, left pocket and right inside pocket. D:contrast collar, right sleeve, left front, back pocket and right inside pocket.
Designed for lightweight woven and stable knit fabrics.
I made a modification of View C.

Pattern Sizing: Y(XSmall-Small-Medium), ZZ(Large-XLarge-XXLarge) This is my second time with this pattern. Both times I cut a Large.

Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? I made many modifications, but the essence was still there.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Yes.

Drapey front showing the [right-front] pockets.

Drapey front showing the [right-front] pockets.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? It has a lovely drape. My only dislike is the mini pocket on the left side.

Fabric Used: To-die-for Italian viscose jersey from Mood. Run, do not walk, to grab some of this incredible jersey.

Pattern alterations or any design changes you made:
I am a professional pianist and wanted another concert black. Wanted it just above the knee to wear with leggings. Loved this top, but didn’t love the funky left side, so decided to make it from just the right side. Folded the front and back on the center line and cut the right sides on the fold. After some missteps, didn’t have enough fabric to cut the lower bands on the fold, so cut with CF/CB seams. I cut the bottom of the band about 1.5″ longer to get the finished length close to above-knee.

If I had cut the lower back band as I indicated above, I would have had an inverted V hem. I wanted a hem that was fairly straight across, so extended the center back seamline to be fairly even with the side seam. (I left the inverted V for the front bands.)

Binding at bottom of garment body. Stitched WST half-inch, then wrapped to back and topstitched.

Binding at bottom of garment body. Stitched WST half-inch, then wrapped to back and topstitched.

Instead of turning the bottom of the garment up, I bound the edges in my favorite soft nylon mesh from Gorgeous Fabrics. Then I topstitched that edge over the upper seam allowance of the lower bands.

Collar and neckline, sandwiched with mesh strip.

Collar and neckline, sandwiched with mesh strip.

I cut a 1-3/4″ strip of the mesh, with the stretch of the fabric, the same length as the collar. Then I seamed it, folded in half lengthwise, and sandwiched between the collar and the neck seam allowance. It just adds a little interest and ties the collar in with the bound edge above the lower bands.

Note that the pattern envelope says “lightweight woven and stable knit fabrics.” This jersey has 40-50% stretch — um, not stable. I should have cut it smaller, but the clock was ticking and I was more concerned with how to get my symmetry on. I ended up taking side/sleeve seams about 1-7/8″ wide. I had to keep fiddling with them to get the sleeves just right – tight enough to stay shoved up, but not so tight as to cut my circulation off!

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? Yes and Yes.

Conclusion: I completely love this pattern and am sure I will make it again. If I use a less stable knit again, I will cut a Medium rather than a Large. I ordered more fabric to make skinny pants/leggings to wear under the top, and it will become a staple for my collaborative pianist duties.

Of course there’s a funny anecdote to finish this off.
I got up early Sunday morning to do the double-needle topstitching on the skirt hem and sleeve hems. One of my spools of black thread was almost empty, so I decided to do the skirt hem first to see if I could get all the way through on the amount of thread on that hem. (I didn’t). Then I raced upstairs to finish practicing before the afternoon recital.

As I was sitting on the front row waiting for the students to file in, I noticed my left sleeve had a strange-looking edge. It didn’t have the lovely clean fold that the skirt hem had. I was trying to figure out what was wrong with the fabric when I realized I never sewed the hems on the sleeves!!!! I’m not a gal to leave my edges raw, and I was glad no-one would get close enough to realize what I had done.

And I laughed.