29 October 2014

reading notes: Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Didion, Joan. (2006) [1968]. "Slouching towards Bethelehem." In Didion, Joan, We tell ourselves stories in order to live: Collected nonfiction (1-177). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

I had wanted to read Didion's Slouching Toward Bethelehem for some time, primarily because of the evocative title. I wasn't entirely sure what the book was about. As it happened, the essays in the book touch on one of the eras in American history about which I am extremely foggy. History classes in high school tend not to cover the 1960s, or only do so in passing. When I got to university, I was required to take a history course, and I selected one on the history of Asia and Africa (up to the point when European colonization began). I chose it because it was a topic I wanted to learn more about and it had no pre-requisites. Much of the history I know is self-taught, from reading. Didion's collection of essays let me fill in some of the blanks about the 1960s, though it is itself a limited picture, being a series of stories told about different people, mostly in the alternative cultures.

I first found Didion's style a bit off-putting. It was rushed, almost choppy, as if she was in a hurry to communicate what she had seen before her memories blurred. She narrates, but attempts to stand aloof: She reports the story but rarely engages with it. Particularly in the title essay, Didion seems withdrawn; her reports of young people who are taking heavy drugs, living on the streets or in communes, are matter-of-fact. It is only at the end of the essay when she sees a kindergartener whose mother regularly dosed her with acid that she stumbles in her dispassionate questions and the reader feels her absolute shock.

It was in the second part of the book that I discovered a genuine interest in what Didion was writing. The first section, "Lifestyles in the Golden Land" includes the title essay, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," as well as several others, all about California. The second is titled "Personals;" the pace slows, and the author becomes apparent to the reader. This is where I connected with the narrative, with Didion's stories and ideas. Perhaps it is a generational matter, a matter of preference for different writing styles, and for slightly different ways of telling stories. A few of her shorter essays resonated with me, and I have now added to my knowledge, so it was definitely worth the read.


"And sometimes even the maker has difficulty with the meaning" ("On Keeping a Notebook," p. 104).

"To have that sense of one's intrinsic self-worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference" ("On Self-Respect," p. 112).

26 October 2014

KCW: The rest of the costume

So, I finished E.'s pants and vest. They are done, they work, and now I just need to dig an old ring out and put it on a piece of string for the rest of the costume.

Finding mushrooms on her quest.
 The Charles pants were fairly easy to put together since it's now my second time through the pattern. I haven't printed out the final version of it, so I was working with the test pattern again. I believe the final version corrects some of the fitting issues in the waist that were present in the test version. I used the more fitted waistband this time and did the elastic band in the back as well. I didn't quite get the length of the pants right, but as she'll grow taller, her pants being a bit long isn't exactly a disaster.

I used a pair of old brown pants for the main fabric, the same green flannel I used in the cape for the contrast, and did yellow topstitching. The buttons are some yellow-ish leather ones I bought at Button Button a while ago.

New pants, new vest, now if only the rock she's standing on were better.
 The vest was engineered out of an old cardigan of mine. I loved that cashmere cardigan, a $7 thrift store find, originally from Banana Republic. I finally gave up on darning the holes underneath the arms, where it was wearing thin. It's now a cozy buttoned vest with slightly wonky armhole bands for E., a side effect of not cutting the bands wide enough. I traced a t-shirt and made use of the button band already in place. It'll be a nice layering piece over the winter, as well as a Halloween costume.

I started a Louisa dress yesterday and it was coming together really well. Then I sewed through the zipper teeth for several inches without realizing it and now have to painstakingly take the zipper off and sew it back on more carefully and shorter (it's at least a 20 inch zipper, I have room to shorten it). Blasted invisible zipper foot not wanting to be compatible with invisible zipper I found at the thrift store that may be older than me. But the dress is lovely so far--blue corduroy with a flowered corduroy front pocket and fully-lined. I love how simple the pattern is, how elegant in many ways. I'm considering one with a matching front pocket and another without the front pocket.

I may not get the dress done tonight, but the hobbit child is ready for Halloween.

23 October 2014

KCW: Hobbit Cloak

Instead of numbering the days for Kid's Clothes Week this time around, I'm just labeling my posts about it with the item I made. I made this cloak on Day 1, and today is Day 4, because it usually takes me a bit to get the pictures off the camera.

E. is going to be a hobbit for Halloween this year, which ties in nicely with KCW's storybook theme this time around. I took a look through Tolkien's intro to The Fellowship of the Ring, and it includes a note that hobbits like bright colours and are extremely fond of yellow and green. The hobbits in the fellowship wear green cloaks, so I took my cue from that.

I happened to have a child's dress-up cape pattern in a book a friend gave me last year when E. was born. The book is Sweet and Simple Handmade. It's a very nice book and my current biggest complaint is that either I am missing one of the pattern sheets altogether, or I have lost one. I don't remember there being four sheets, just three, and that's all I have, and at least one pattern in the book does not have a counterpart on the pattern sheets (and I was going to use that one for a vest for the hobbit costume--now I have to practice my pattern drafting skills instead). Also, I really hate pattern tissue paper. It never folds up again properly. Good book, would be better if it came with a CD of pdf patterns instead.

For the outer fabric of the cape, I went to Fabricana and found some green flannel. I would have loved to use wool fabric, but I don't really want to spend $25+/metre for a toddler's dress-up cape. (And yes, when I made myself a cloak, with the assistance of my grandmother, after my first year of university, I went straight to the woollen section and selected a lovely blue and green wool plaid. It's a lovely item and I've had it for years. Grown-up clothing is different, even if it is for dress-up). I am starting to really love flannel. It's soft, warm, easy to work with, and softens even more with age (true, not as sturdy as linen, but that's okay). I used an old cream-coloured sheet for the lining.

I added a hood, which I traced from one of E.'s sweatshirts, to make it a proper cloak. I used yellow ribbons for the tie at the neck. The cloak was a very fast piece to put together--several long seams each for lining and outer fabric, a couple curved seams for the hood, some careful pinning when sewing the two pieces together, and a little bit of handstitching where I flipped it right-side out (side-note: my blind stitch is improving).
The hobbit-child in motion.

I had to shorten the cloak by about a foot. It's listed in the preschool age section in the book, so it's designed with the average height of three and four-year-olds in mind. This is an easy alteration, though, and one I knew I'd need to make from the get-go. Same with adding the hood--I knew I'd want that so I got to try out drafting a hood for the first time.

Our little hobbit is off on an adventure!
The biggest problem I had with the pattern is it was very obviously designed for dress-up only, not for warmth. The width at the top of the cloak is too small to wrap around my very tiny child's shoulders--it fits because of the ribbon tie. I prefer capes that wrap around the shoulders more, both for practicality (warmth, basic fit, and oh, ribbon tie digging into my child's neck because the cloak has to dangle from the tie, not the shoulders) and aesthetics. This problem is easily solved by adding more panels when cutting out fabric. I kind of want to make another one in red.

I'm now working on E.'s pants for the costume. Charles pants in brown with green flannel contrasting fabric. I really love this pattern and these pants are going to be great for the rest of the winter, not just for Halloween.

16 October 2014

Sewing Update

Life's been a little busy the last couple weeks. We had a trip down to Seattle for Thanksgiving and E. suddenly sprouted a bunch of new teeth. I took a class at Knit City the weekend before Thanksgiving, which was marvelous, but I didn't bring the camera so I've no pictures from the event. I've managed to do some sewing but I keep forgetting about the blog. I have good intentions, but we know where those lead.

I have signed up for KCW Fall 2014, so next week I'll be doing more sewing, accompanied by more blogging, but here's what I've been making over the last month:

Charles Pants

I signed up to be a tester for Compagnie M.'s newest pattern, the Charles pants. E. now has a pair of adorable Charles shorts. She's on the short side, so the shorts are on the long side. Not a bad thing, in my opinion--I lean towards knee-length shorts myself. The Charles pattern is adorable--there are two length options and an overalls option. I love the buttons on the fronts of the pants, and the contrasting colour waistband and pockets. I put in the back elastic waistband option and did some fancy top-stitching with one of the options on my sewing machine that I hadn't tried out before. The fabric I used was a dark blue corduroy I'd found at the thrift store and a red plaid flannel that was in some leftover scraps from a friend. The 1-year-old size did not use a lot of fabric at all--not even a full meter! Possibly not even half a meter. I wasn't measuring to see how much I used up.

E. in her Charles shorts, back view
The pattern was fairly easy to follow, and none of it was much of a stretch for me. I haven't done a lot of buttonholes on my new machine, and it got grouchy on the last one because I hadn't switched to a new needle yet, but that was the biggest hiccup. E.'s shorts are a little large in the waist, despite the adjustable waistband, because this was the test pattern. I wasn't able to stay in for the second round of testing, and I haven't yet tried out the new version of the pattern (on the list for KCW next week!), but I have heard that the waistband is a better fit now. Of course, she just had a growth spurt and is now taller and skinnier so I may need to add an extra buttonhole or two into the waistband elastic when I make it next week.

Charles pants from the side front, with E.'s camera face.

Lotta Dress

Yes, I'm on a Compagnie M. kick. I bought Lotta, Mara, and Louisa last month. Then I tested Charles, so I have that one, too. I still need to get a hold of some cording so I can make piping for Mara, but Louisa is on the list's for next week.

I made Lotta last week over a few afternoons. It came together quickly, but it had a couple firsts for me. I took the plunge and learned how to do an invisible zipper. I highly recommend the zipper mini-class on Craftsy (and no, I don't get paid for that, I just think it's pretty cool). I went out and bought an invisible zipper foot for my machine. It happened to be on sale at the nearest fabric store when I went in, so that was a lovely coincidence. And of course, installing an invisible zipper is much easier than I thought it would be. Even installing it with a lining is easier than I thought it would be. I also did my first blind hem. Again, not as hard as I thought it would be.

The fabric was a striped plain-weave that I got when my grandmother was getting rid of fabric. I don't know what it's made out of--I just know it's machine-washable. The lining is a blue broadcloth, again from the bag of scraps (like the plaid in the Charles shorts). I used orange buttons on the neckline and pockets. I had to shorten the bodice and the skirt. I didn't bother taking the bodice in, so she can wear long-sleeved shirts underneath the dress this winter more easily.

She seemed happy enough with the dress. At this age, I think she likes it when she grabs it and runs around the room with it (that means she really likes that old tank top I use as a pajama shirt). It's hard to tell. She still hasn't discovered that stuff can go in pockets, so once we've had that revelation I foresee E. using this dress to carry a lot of rocks around.

E. in her Lotta dress at the beach.

Next time I make the dress, I'm doing different sleeves, just for fun, and maybe moving the neckline notch up just the tiniest bit (no more than 1/2 a centimeter), since it's a bit deep on E. Curse of the tiny child.

My list for next week includes a Louisa dress, a pair of Charles pants, a cape, and a vest. We're going hobbit for Halloween this year, so the pants, the vest, and the cape all figure in to that. I just need to find something woolly and green for the cape and maybe something brown for the pants (or I'll stick with the navy corduroy; not sure yet). The vest will be reverse-engineered from my favourite cashmere cardigan. I've finally given up darning the underarms, since a new hole sprouts whenever I put it on. I have something that may work for the pants lurking in a box, but I think I may need to take a trip to the fabric store for the cape outer fabric. Might be an excuse to finally check out Fabricana, now that it's actually nearby. I've heard marvelous things about it. And on that note, it's probably time to stop blogging and start cutting out pattern pieces.