22 October 2010

Halloween 1919 style

This is my grandmother and a neighbor at Halloween circa 1919.  My grandmother is on the right - I think about 3 years old. How costumes have changed!  It's hard to see here, but my grandmother is wearing little lace-up ankle boots and there is a black cat stuffed animal next to her.  I think they are holding moons on sticks and those are probably their masks and jack-o-lanterns for trick-or-treating hanging behind them.  This is the only holiday that I really miss from the U.S. I was so excited to get 4 trick-or-treaters last year here in Melbourne! It's not quite the same though - kids don't put the same effort into their costumes and you would never see an adult dressed up (boo-hoo!).  Of course, there is no historical context for it here since they didn't burn witches! It would be like a cricket match at Dodger stadium (now THAT would be funny).

17 October 2010

Racy Spring Racing!

To kick off the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, here's a photo of my mother, circa 1955 dressed as a horse "off her rocker". Hahahaha (very apropos if you knew my mum)! This wouldn't have been for Halloween, since this is probably in my grandparents Evanston, Illinois backyard and everything is lush and green.  The trees are in full leaf, the irisis are coming up (my grandmother was an avid gardener - I think I got my green thumb from her) and the grass is dark green, so I'm guessing late Spring, early summer, N. hemisphere. I seem to remember my mother saying this was for a fancy dress ball at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she studied for a semester or two before life got in the way (ie - husband number one)! It's a great outfit and you can see there was definately a girdle under there! Very 1950s. I would imagine that my grandmother probably made this for her. I have a photo of my grandmother dressed in costume at about age 3 (c. 1912) that I'll post soon for Halloween.

13 October 2010

Mrs Stylebook

Last month, I attempted my first project from a Japanese pattern. I'd read lots of posts online about 'Mrs Stylebook' and ordered one for myself from to see what the big deal was. Basically, there are really great projects for women over 30 that are stylish, interesting, and a little different from everything else out there.  However, they are not for the faint-hearted! First, they are in Japanese.  Now I speak a few languages (English, Spanish and French), but not Japanese. Second, you draft your own patterns.  I actually enjoyed the drafting and think it's a better way to get a good fit rather than modifying a commercial pattern. I have a background in drafting and landscape design, so that part of it was fun for me. I do most of my drafting on the computer and it was great to use my drafting table for something other than cutting fabric! If you are looking for a quick project, this is not the way to go! If you want a brain challenge, it's great.  There are also very clear and easy-to-follow visual instructions. All the patterns are made from a basic sloper/block (also in the magazine) which you make to your own measurements.  I've read that you can also use your own sloper if you have one from another source.  I found a few web sites with Kanji character translations and also ordered a copy of this book from YesAsia.com:

Most of the Japanese pattern books use the Bunka Fashion College college drafting symbols.  This is the first in a series of their textbooks translated into English.
Here's the magazine picture of the jersey jacket I made:
And the 'pattern' instructions using a loose-fitting sloper in the magazine.  I made a toile/muslin out of a $2/m jersey and had to take in a lot on the sides and also made it about 15cm shorter than the pattern called for. I also had a lot of trouble getting the sleeves right, but this was my first attempt at this.
My drafting table and tools (drafting the sleeve):
And the final result:
I used a beautiful lightweight New Zealand merino jersey from The Fabric Store and mixed antique buttons from L'Uccello.  I'm allergic to wool and was giving merino a go because I've heard it's not always a problem for non-woolies like me.  I'm pleased to report that it is only very slightly itchy as long as I wear something long-sleeved underneath. And no red eyes and runny nose! Still not completely comfortable, but a wearable option.

Back to the Japanese pattern review...Would I do it again...? Yes. It was a lot of work initially doing the translations, measurements and the sloper, then the muslin and final alterations.  However, this is the best-fitting garment I have made in my young 2 1/2 years of sewing. Once you have the slopers made, you can use them again and again. It's also like doing a brain-teaser along with your sewing!  The Japanese patterns and garments have very clean lines that are classic without being stuffy or boring.  They are fashionable, and different enough not to look trendy.  I have always loved modern Japanese clothing styles, and since I'm a wee bit past the Harajuku, Steampunk or Gothic Lolita age, these patterns suit me very well!  Here are some resources I found along the way that you may find useful if you decide to work on a Japanese pattern:

Japanese Pattern Sew-Along - Thank you to the ladies in the Stitcher's Guild Japanese Pattern Sew-Along for their help and encouragement!
Mrs Stylebook How-To Info - Step-by-step sloper instructions, also on the Stitcher's Guild site.
YESASIA  - Easy to use site (forget Amazon Japan!), free postage world-wide and prompt delivery.
http://movinghands.wordpress.com/japanese-sewing-and-pattern-terms/ - Kanji into English translations! I printed this out and kept it next to me!
my little mochi - more translations including colors and body parts (arm, head, etc)
label-free - even more translations and a series of posts on making a dress from a Japanese pattern.  A must read!
Pomadour24's Craft Cafe - Etsy shop with Mrs Stylebook and Japanese books for every crafter/maker! She delivers promptly from Japan.
http://www.tessuti-shop.com/ - Tessuti carries a good selections of Japanese pattern books and fabrics.
Japanese Couture Addicts - A French site (use Google translate) with more Kanji to English and French translations. Look for 'Aide Technique' on the right side bar and click on 'JCA- LE lexique couture' (PDF or Word doc) and 'Lexique Couture Japonais-Anglais' (PDF). Also indispensable.  Also, very nice completed projects from Japanese pattern books.

Have fun!

05 October 2010

Garden Stuff

No blogging lately - I've been busy sewing and gardening! Here are a few tidbits from the garden.  Above - a weird succulent planting I made in an old terracotta saucer. The background: a mostly-unused paddock (because it's in a once every 100-year floodplain) at Burnley was the campus rubbish tip in the 1800's and early 1900's.  A few years ago some excavation work was done to put in new water pipes and other services and a treasure-trove, to some, of old bits was uncovered.  When I was going na-nas writing my Masters thesis, I would occasionally go for a walk and collect broken bits scattered on the ground. I left any whole goodies - like ink bottles at Burnley where they belonged, but kept a few handfuls of interesting-patterned crockery and glass shards that would have been trod upon and destroyed.  The broken doll's head is really weird! You can't see it in the photo, but it has very delicate painted-on eyelashes.  I love finding bits of history like this to see the vibrant colours and patterns of the past.  We have this strange idea that everything old must be faded and dull, but when it has been hidden or buried for over 100 years you can see the spectacular hues that were used.  I wonder if someone will dig up our Yoplait containers in 2110 and think the same think about our rubbish!
Practical not pretty. My makeshift greenhouse - a cable spool rescued from a skip, wire fencing to protect from birds and possums, plastic on top to warm the seeds.  I planted a variety of heritage and organic tomatoes, capsicum, chilies, bok-choy, tomatillos, a variey of herbs and fig and Salvia leucantha (Mexican Sage) cuttings.  The Salvia is from my neighbor's plant that peeks under the fence and the figs are from plants I started from cuttings two years ago.  I didn't use any IBA or other growth hormones so I don't know if the Salvia will make it - we shall see!  The figs will be fine - growers have been propagating figs for thousands of years by laying long cuttings on the ground and burying part of them. My (different) neighbors who share the yard planted Coriander and Pumpkin. Everything is gently hand-watered daily.
Remember the green manure bed? This is it a couple months after the plants were dug under.  I weeded, added about one cup of organic blood and bone per square metre and raked it in. The soil is beautiful and crumbly! I would highly recommend green manuring - it definitely improved the the soil texture, added nitrogen and was less work than adding compost. Carrot seedlings are coming up in the front behind the silverbeet.  I planted onions, leeks, beetroot, kohlrabi and apple cucumbers in the back section and more carrots in the front.  The seedlings growing in punnets will go in the rest of this bed and the other smaller bed.
Meanwhile, I'm eating asparagus from the smaller bed every other day (it grows so fast!) and discovered that Endive is yummy cooked liked Spinach (tip from 1963 organic gardening cookbook below). Due to the lack of sun in my garden in the winter, I'm picking the first of my snow peas planted in late May. I just planted green beans to replace them when they're gone.

Spring has finally Sprung! The bees are hard at work.