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. Wow.wow.wow. 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.

Working One’s Way Up the Priority List

IMG_0761I just wanted to sew today. I just wanted to sew up some fabric—any fabric—that had been resting comfortably in my stash. I have a Caribbean cruise to prepare for, and I had a really cool piece of mesh knit that I thought would be great.

I had read in Marcy Tilton’s blog about a double-layer mesh top she made using Vogue 8582. I love this pattern. I’ve made it several times, and find it very flattering to my body. I thought it would be fun to experiment with this new technique and see how the doubled mesh turned out.

I came, I saw, I conquered the technique, and now the top is going to travel to Amarillo.

The sheer sleeve

The sheer sleeve

I made View C of Vogue 8582 in a fabric I purchased from MarcyTilton.com in July of 2014. Marcy called it “Roman Collage Mesh Knit” and I lusted over it for several months before splurging. If you read Marcy’s tutorial, I did everything as she said except I used the cowl neck rather than a neck band, so I sewed both shoulders, then inserted the collar, then set in the sleeves. I made two right sides, laying the fabric out with a crosswise fold, where I placed the hemline. I placed marks at the top and bottom of Center Front line and Center Back line and flipped the pattern piece after cutting out one side.

The body, with doubled mesh. No body parts displayed!

The body, with doubled mesh. No body parts displayed!

This is such an incredibly simple construction method, it really is fun. You have a beautifully constructed inner garment, as the seam allowances are inside the double layer. If you want to get rid of all seam allowances, you could do a Hong Kong finish on the sleeve seam allowance. And this pattern goes together quickly. Cutting to hemming can easily be done in an afternoon.

Vogue 8582

Such a cute print. Hem cut on the fold.

But when I put it on, the fit was just a tiny bit snug. Just enough snug that it will fit Leslie beautifully. And where steel blue isn’t my color (I discovered when I looked in the mirror!), it absolutely is her color, bringing out her gorgeous blue eyes.

I would style it with brown leggings and boots, or skinny jeans and Leslie’s uniform red cowboy boots. What’s not to like?

The up side for me is that I have one less piece of fabric in my stash. Yea!

A Bag to Meet All My Musical Needs

imageI’m currently working four different collaborative pianist jobs, which means several binders full of music, plus my iPad and Bluetooth page-turn pedal, and a calendar on which I attempt to keep my life organized.

Since the first day of class, I have been trying to figure out the best way to keep track of all this music and transport it back and forth from home to performance space. When I made Swoon Patterns’ Alice for my grand-high-schooler to use as a bookbag, I started thinking maybe Alice was the bag I needed to schlep all my music.

imageI have a drawer full of music-themed fabrics that I’ve been collecting for fifteen years. And I had a beautiful piece of leather (pigskin, maybe?) that I picked up at Tandy leather about four months ago. The lovely caramel shade of the leather went beautifully with the Symphony line of fabrics produced by Makower UK. So after some tests with bits of the leather, I set out to make Alice with several modifications to allow her to meet my needs.

imageFirst up were the side panels for the exterior. I didn’t quite enough to make two full side panels, so I thought I’d supplement one side panel with a piece of the exterior fabric to make it long enough. But even with interfacing, the thickness of one piece of cotton fabric was not equal to the leather. So I thought I’d use two pieces, and create a pocket for pens and pencils. I sewed one side seam all the way up before I realized I couldn’t have both those pieces of fabric full size—I needed to have the outer of the two pieces avoid the top seam. I cut about an inch off the outer piece and bound it with another piece of the same fabric.

For the side panels on the lining, I wanted something a little heavier than the lining fabric, so I pulled some buttery tan twill out of my stash. This fabric was left over from a bedspread I made for my son and daughter-in-law’s house when they first moved to Tucson in 2000. I cut side panels out and interfaced them, then realized I didn’t love the shade of the twill. I took all the twill I had cut and lay it into a strong tea bath, ending up an hour later with a perfect shade to coordinate with the several Makower prints.

I did not use Alice’s pockets as designed by the brilliant Alicia Miller. Instead, I wanted a special pocket for my iPad and another for my page-turn pedal.

imageI thought the Patch Pocket would be fine for the pedal if it had a little volume to it. I didn’t want the pocket to sit flush with the side of the bag. So I placed the foldline of the pocket pattern piece a half inch from the fold, giving myself an extra inch in width, and cut two pieces. I fused interfacing to one piece and fusible fleece to the other. I stitched the two pieces, wrong sides together, along the top, pressed, turned, and topstitched about half-an-inch from the folded edge. Into this casing I inserted a piece of ¼” elastic, pulling it to take up the extra 1″ of fabric and have the size of the pocket approximate the original size of the pocket. Then I cut a bias strip of fabric 2.5″ wide and bound the raw edges of the pocket with about a ⅜” seam. Because of the challenges of turning the bias strip around the edges of the thickness of the twill and interfacing and fleece, I used Fabric-Tac glue to hold the binding in place while I topstitched the binding and stitched the pocket into place on the side. (The stitching on the pleat I had made was looking a little loose, so I stitched over it with two repetitions of a pointed oval that is included in my machine’s stitch library.)

imageFor the next pocket, I used the Main Panel pattern piece, cutting two of the lining fabric, straight across the top, several inches shorter than the pattern piece. I interfaced, sewed across the top, topstitched the seam allowance to the wrong side, and basted into place on the remaining Main Panel lining piece, matching sides and bottom. Then I used a black elastic hair band and satin-stitched it into place on the Main Panel, about half-an-inch above the center of the pocket. I had a cool toggle button I loved in my stash, but the bone-y color on front didn’t look quite right with the tans in the fabric, so I just turned it over and used the black side.

The final step, edgestitching around the top of the bag, was a bear when I came to the four seams and to the one side panel that included leather. It’s the only thing on the bag that’s not perfectly to my liking. I think that’s a pretty good outcome!

I totally love this bag, and am flying high that I took a pattern and made this many changes to it—and figured out how to do them. I’m patting myself on the back!!

imageimageI’ll bet you want to know why I take both my softcopy music and my hardcopy music. It’s because I never want to leave the availability of the music to chance. I play from the iPad whenever possible, but heaven forbid that I sit down to play for a student’s performance and my iPad dies or the app freezes. I never want to put any of the students in that awkward position and jeopardize their grade. So I’m always prepared.

And now I’m prepared with a beautiful me-made bag!

A Little Bag for a Little Lady

IMG_0691When I arrived home from Interlochen in early August, my DIL-Equivalent, Leslie, arrived a day after me for a stay of several days before heading back to Amarillo to start the school year at her university. I had hoped to quickly make a little wristlet clutch for her darling 5yo daughter, affectionately known as Meme.

I printed off the Swoon Coraline pattern at 80%. Using the small version (11″ wide), that 80% printing meant the finished little bag would be 8.8″ wide.

I had read many posts in the Swoon Patterns Facebook group where sewists talk about printing the patterns at different sizes. Want a bag bigger or smaller than offered? No messy mathematics involved—just let Adobe Acrobat and your printer do all the work!

IMG_0692I searched through my stash and found a remnant from a bag I made two years ago featuring sweet little dogs. I dug out some lime cotton that matched the polka dots on the doxie fabric, and pulled a lime zipper from my stash.

I cut the pattern out, did all the interfacing fusing, and sewed the darts on the outside. Then my new university piano gig and my opera gigs got in the way of my having any sewing fun. I put all the doxie Coraline pattern pieces in a plastic bag and set them aside.

Leslie was in town this weekend—just enough motivation for me to quickly finish the bag so she could take it back to Meme.

When I pulled the pieces out of the bag, I realized the clutch would be easier to hold if I used fusible fleece along with the interfacing. So I fused some fleece to the lining after the thought, and kept going. I sewed the zipper onto the lining and lining top and finished constructing the exterior and lining. When I went to sew around the top to attach the exterior to the lining, I discovered that there would not be enough room on the lining top to stitch the half-inch seam. I sewed a ⅜” seam and turned the bag right side out. (In retrospect, if I had used a ¼” presser foot, I probably could have used the ½” seam allowance.)

IMG_0694I finished the pressing and started trying to edgestitch the top. Whoo boy! There was simply no way that edgestitching was going to happen. The lip of the lining top was so narrow, I couldn’t fit the presser foot onto it to edgestitch by machine. I started searching through my embroidery thread stash and found a hand-dyed perle cotton that perfectly suited the bag, and spent the next hour happily hand-stitching the edge of the top.

IMG_0693The finishing touch is the label. When Meme met me (yet another grandmother), she decided I would be called Jananza. So that’s the name I’ve chosen for my bag-making efforts. I created the logo in Photoshop and send the image to Mountain Street Arts on Etsy. I love the labels.

Now I’m just waiting for a photo for the sweet little lady holding her sweet little bag.