GWG #29: on wildness

maybe this is what gardening is about: slowly opening the door, a controlling hand making tentative gestures to wildness. – from The Gardener’s Manifesto by Lorraine Johnson



‘i’m determined to tame the wilderness,” i declared confidently to a visiting friend as i painstakingly place intermediate witch hazels in their future homes along my woodland driveway. my quest seems particularly laughable on this morning, since my five-acre lawn hasn’t been mowed in three weeks and the grass more closely resembles a wild meadow – and not in the good way. the witch hazels are placed optimistically among fonts of unwelcome (and uninvited) berberis thunbergii and rosa multiflora, not to mention pine seedlings run amok in the graveled part-shade.


but i persevere, placing the witch hazels and envisioning next year’s rainbow of late winter blooms, already trying to imagine what type of groundcover would best complement the hamamelis. across the gravel i am continuing my quest to sheet mulch the inhospitable stream bed colonized by moisture-sucking pine roots; the far side of the stream bed hosts my experiments in blueberry farming and shade-lovers alike. a row of primula japonica and iris siberica march along the bed, meeting the driveway, and already on the far side of the culvert i can see the row continuing with plants as yet unpurchased. i see a dogwood, perhaps; some mertensia virginica and dicentra eximia and plenty of naturalizing daffodils. i long for tulips, but those would be a step too far in tempting the ubiquitous wood goats that terrorize my property.



is it ridiculous to describe my ultimate goal as a sort of curated wildness? cultivated plants evicting the wild invaders, making themselves comfy in ground prepared by the unwanted thugs and their ground-churning roots.




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simplicity 1610: the cat’s meow


IMG_0663so the arrival of summer weather – at long last here in the northeast US – demands a fresh summer dress.

and i, of course, obliged.

IMG_0657enter the magic blue envelopes of simplicity project runway patterns.  for me, a simplicity PR pattern is a go-to when i want something new that fits close enough out of the envelope that i do not have to stress or do extensive alterations.  as we used to say when i worked in congress – it’s close enough for government work!

IMG_0661i took 1 inch out of the bodice, front and back, to compensate for my short waist and small bust.  simplicity 1610 is, as most project runway patterns are, an armscye princess bodice.  i do not always love the armscye princess.  for some reason, HRH does not always play nicely with my sloper and the adjustments i need to make.  but in this instance i had another pattern, a TNT in the form of S1803, and i was able to compare pattern pieces and adjust accordingly without too much fuss.

IMG_0658while i had much love for the simple halter-top design of S1610, i knew i wanted a completely different skirt look.  i swapped out the included skirt for my self-drafted (with kenneth king and a skirt moulage) revision of my vintage classic simplicity 2099.  a few years ago i re-adjusted the skirt, making a newer, longer version with a high-low hem.  i do not care how many times you call it a mullet skirt or a passing trend, it will be a long time before i do not love how the long skirt back drapes gracefully behind me like a bustle or a train.  i always keep the front length just above the knee for comfort and style, and the back hem is usually 10 inches below the front.

IMG_0647i obviously cannot pretend that it fits perfectly.  if i had been more invested, i would have shortened the front crossover using the slapdash sewist SBA method.  but a safety pin was easier for yesterday, and i am happy with how the back fits, it is snug at the waist, and the length of the front bodice is pretty perfect.

IMG_5050the fabric is a faux linen from the late lamented paron’s annex, and the cummerbund and panels are from lizzy house.  kitty cats make me happy and it is my dress and nyah.

all edges and hems are topstitched in contrasting thread – don’t look at me like that, carolyn, it was a design choice – and i made bias tape out of the lizzy house to finish the crossover edges.


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my wardrobe architect: influencers

i mentioned previously that i was going to give the wardrobe architect developed by sarai of colette patterns some serious thinking after completing me-made-may.  sarai has really synthesized a lot of what is out there about ‘the perfect wardrobe’ and how to build it into something compact but still helpful.  i’m particularly intrigued by the worksheets.  this post is a riff on the wardrobe architect ‘week one – making style more personal’ worksheet.

so, i went shopping today.  should i be apologetic?  proud?  agnostic?  i can’t pretend i don’t have enough stuff, right?  can any of us?  but do we obsess too much over how much stuff we do – or don’t – have?

i don’t know the answers to any of these questions.  i don’t now, and i didn’t as i stood in the checkout queue with my four items (two shorts, a skirt, and a blouse) while an over-entitled woman and her daughter stood in front of me and addressed the sales rep with barely veiled contempt.  but that is another story entirely.

what this story is about is what i wear, and how i got here.

collageedit2.jpgso, truth:  i never used to care much about what i wore.  not really.  my style, growing up, and especially as i got old enough to have a say in my wardrobe, was a mixture of whatever-mom-hates and whatever-my-friends-are-wearing.

you know what i mean:  the saturday outing with friends where everyone planned ahead of time to wear a plaid, pleated skirt (hello 90s).  the day at school where my best friend and i accidentally wore exactly the same outfit (a blue chambray button down and khaki shorts, if you were wondering).  the over-sized boys’ polo shirt that my mom hated so much she hid it under her bed so i would stop wearing it; the red sneakers and clam-digger jeans that were my first foray into wearing the unexpected.  the pride mixed with shame the first day i was ‘brave’ enough to wear my sailormoon t-shirt to high school.

my crowning sartorial moment in high school was the day that a friend in chem lab had me stand up when he walked in to see if i was wearing funky enough sneakers.  his friends – who dubbed themselves the ‘social outcasts’ – never outwardly cared who was cool or not, and yet i was oddly flattered by the expectation that i was interesting enough to not care either.


college was much the same.  t-shirts, jeans, and my precious red sneakers.  a quidditch golden snitch as my dorm room key chain.  a refusal to wear the tight black trousers and skin-baring halter tops that seemed to be the norm at fraternity parties – because, really, in january in baltimore i am not leaving a coat in some grody frat house so that the drunkards in the living room can admire my assets.  they can take me in my butterfly track suit bottoms or leave me happily in my own room doing my own thing.

i did start to feel stymied by my own lack of initiative at a certain point – refusing to conform became synonymous with a refusal to create my own standards.  i branched out a bit – to colors, to halter tops, to cuter jeans, tighter t-shirts.  i was proud of my legs, my figure, my still-blonde hair and more willing to show them off with confidence.

dev and av #1

but i kept my red sneakers.

i spent six months living in london and learned to appreciate the subtle differences in european and american styles of dress, marching up and down the embankment in my red raincoat with my yellow umbrella.  i moved back to new york and took daily walks with my best friend, trolling sample sales and soho shops.  and you know what they say about new york – tolerant of your beliefs; judgmental about your shoes.  i started to explore.  i started to care.  i started to plan outfits for travel and secretly delight that i could ‘pass’ for european.  i started commuting to new jersey and learned that people in the suburbs can be boring and easily shaken up by an unexpected outfit.

i found freedom.  is it weird to find freedom in, essentially, a series of possessions?  shoes, bags, coats, tops, skirts and most especially boots?  but what is more freeing than creating a fresh persona every day?


i don’t want a uniform.  i want a costume closet.

maybe i’ve outgrown a lot of the fun, printed and vintage-inspired makes of my early sewing days.  i find that i yearn to go back to something equally unexpected but with more sophistication.

i live a double life:  dressing and over-dressing for workaday occasions and the very rare social outing, but mostly spending time in and around my home.  and i don’t have any costumes for that role.

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mid-week update

sewing done: hand-stitched waistband action! zipper pinned in place!  i am a machine, y’all!

on my dress form:  the FQ challenge has reclaimed some of my mental attention (and has now been postponed until august).  a lady-mary-inspired drape drape.

in the cut pile: chanel-inspired sewaholic saltspring; jean-ius copied jeans; drapey trousers.

things i ordered (like i didn’t have enough to do):  republique du chiffon pantalon jacques and robe georgina.

this week in stupid injuries:  dropped an entire (assembled) jaffa block set (full of sewing supplies) on my foot.  #winning

things planted:  none – alas.  but i did pick up some small starts of beloved summer vegetables:  mortgage lifter tomatoes, bourginon cucumbers, 5 kinds of melon.

things i am working on:  colette’s wardrobe architect; re-examining and re-styling old makes; separates and trousers; season 1 of the secret circle which is…weird.  i can see why it got cancelled.

also: me-made-everyday as i toil to make my photographs better.



things i am obsessed with right now: 

  • oona’s bombshell
  • netties in lace and sheer
  • a megan nielson cascade skirt in a stash valentino panel i have from mood
  • plans for a BHL victoria blazer for fall
  • nikita




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learning from wearing

so, MMM14 is over, and…
well, honestly, not much has changed for me.  i’ve worn me-made every day since the challenge ended without a second thought.

seriously. this is not a relieved return to RTW. turns out, i actually wear a huge portion of my makes. i like wearing them better than my RTW, and i love mixing them with my RTW for something wacky and unexpected.

i knew these things going in – so the surprises came from the actual combinations.

and i really have no respect for dress codes.
so now that i am done congratulating myself…what next?

what is next?  i think the obvious first step is to see what else i want to make.  i’m wearing, more or less, everything – with a few notable exceptions that have been singled out as the closets turn – but there are things i definitely gravitated to more easily.

my style has undeniably changed in the past six months or so.  expect some exploration of that idea.


i noticed an interest in volume (pouffed skirts with slim tops) and an aversion to most of my trousers.  do i maybe have too many dresses? (yes)  i enjoy the act of tailoring but i have a wonderful stable of RTW standbys that are nicer than anything i would make, so probably not a lot of blazer action will be happening here.  and you’ll notice no LFJs – they are all long-sleeved and/or long, but i missed being able to pull one on for instant chic as the weather heated up (also, two of them require a bit of repair.  sadface!!).  two summer variations are in the queue now, and i need a go-to casual-but-office-appropriate pair of trousers to go with for the quintessential jacket-tee-jeans look.

i like shorts more than i thought i did!  and button-down tops!  my most-worn-make was, without question, my previously under-appreciated 1930s simplicity top, and it apparently goes with everything in my life right now.  so more of those, for sure.

but let’s face it – my life is very binary.  i am either playing dress-up for work and the occasional outing, or i am home, in my PJs or mom jeans, doing chores.  so question for the summer:  would it be time well spent to play with lounging robes, vintage pajamas, homemade slips?  would it be fun to end that separation?


post MMM14 outfit incorporating me-made pieces: white suit (with shorts), red kitten heels, me-made halter top in liberty of london yoshi print.


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my completely irrelevant opinion about pattern testing and indie designers

i am not and have never been a pattern tester.

just sayin’.

i’ve never been asked, and i’ve never volunteered.  like a lot of us, i have other demands on my time and right now that time is too precious for me to be tempted by a free pattern and a test drive.

because all of my sewing is a test drive!  and my to-do list already takes up half of a fashionary.

but i do enjoy seeing new pattern releases.  and i always enjoy reading the reviews.  where it gets tricky is in thinking about how to process those reviews.

i mean, i appreciate the idea that when we have nothing nice to say, we stay silent.  i think that is part of what makes this corner of the internet so sociable:  that baseline of respect.  and when you – yes, i know you are out there – thought my ridiculous t-shirt hacks or stealth cosplay or drape drape garments were ridiculous, i truly appreciate the kindness you showed in not telling me about it.  and if you’re still here reading, i thank you even more.  it’s gotten much easier to tell people off than to refrain from doing it, and more of us should be like you.


a review is a review – it is one person’s experience.  how can i have an opinion on someone else’s experience of the pattern?  i can’t.  all i can do is read the review, decide if i agree with it and/or any of it applies to my own sewing, and move on.  i don’t really attach much more meaning to it than that.  if a review is negative, i decide if i agree.  if a review is positive, i decide if i agree.  and it doesn’t make any difference to me who the pattern company is.  i’ve had my mind blown by seeing a made-up version of a garment whose technical drawing and/or photoshoot was completely meh.  and i’ve had my mind changed by seeing a made-up version that showed the design flaws.

and i am not sure i buy into the idea that the free pattern and/or the content is “reward” enough for the testers.  for one thing, i think that completely undervalues the testers, who have given up their evenings and/or weekends and/or patterns they planned to sew for themselves in order to do a friend a favor and support the community as a whole.  it’s not a reward:  it’s a mutual admiration society, done out of respect for the designer and the work.  i certainly would neither expect nor would i want that to change.  when one of these new companies succeeds, it is better for all of us – it means there are more options and more variety and, in many cases, more women blazing new paths for monetary or creative success (since sadly they rarely seem to come together!).

because when we hate on big 4, aren’t we really disappointed that there’s not enough variety/style/options/body types represented?  and aren’t these women doing the work for us to make all of those things less true?  i want all of these women to succeed regardless of whether their patterns fit my style or not.

i’ve bought books and patterns that i knew i wouldn’t love because i have the luxury of splurging on those purchases, and i chose to vote with my dollars to support that person.  i would never expect other people to make that choice.  some bloggers choose to show that support by pattern testing, and then, if they have a positive response to the garment, posting it for us to see, and for the designer to enjoy the clicks or purchases.

i even get the idea that the testing game has gotten too clique-y.  i completely identify with it – in fact, i over-identify.  which of us hasn’t been the odd kid out in the circle of friends, who never got “invited” to come to the party or the BBQ or what have you, and then when we complained were told that of course we should come, why should we expect an invite?

i know i’ve been that kid.  my sixteen-year-old-self is still quietly fuming somewhere about being left behind.

but this is a virtual party and you’d better believe that everyone is invited.  i invited myself when i started my blog – and so did you, and all of the people i’ve ‘met’ IRL or otherwise.  because blogging is an act of courage and honesty.  so i don’t get worked up about the pattern testing ‘clique.’  because these women are smart and talented and have a point of view that i find inspiring, regardless of whether i know them in real life or not.  or whether they are cool and i am not.

especially since in most cases the latter is true!  i am totally not cool.  the parties i wasn’t invited to?  they were marching band parties.  i wasn’t cool enough for the band geeks.  (although, to be fair, my high school had some pretty awesome band geeks.)

so what am i really hung up on, then?  it comes down to this:  we are being unfair to the designers and to ourselves when we hold back on truly useful, constructive reviews.

that is all.

and i think every single pattern tester-turned-reviewer i’ve seen has been really honest about what they have done to the pattern to make it suit their shape and their style.

and i don’t expect anything more than that.

suggested reading:

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weekend studio: upstate edition

i should start off with this embarrassing stat – sewing done: 0.


on my dress form:  a modified simplicity 1610, with a stash linen from the late and lamented paron’s annex and some scraps of lizzy house catnap.  i’m loving these quilting cottons!  the designs are playful but not too cute, and the fabric has a beautiful hand that makes it feel richer than a quilting cotton – it even has some drape.

in the cut pile: a muppet-fur simplicity 2192; simplicity 2477 in pink cammo (because, me);   simplicity 1366 in pink and butterflies.

this weekend in stupid injuries:  fingernail, o – dead tree, 1.

things planted:  variegated irises inspired by my recent trip to kew gardens, and a crate full of japanese primroses because i love them along the streambed.

regarding that photography workshop:  the workshop was a two-day seminar/crash course in iPhone photography taught by one of the all-time digital/analog greats, dan burkholder.  i’ve used his techniques on my printing for years and was thrilled to learn about some of his process in person.  dan’s work is the type that basically makes me weep, because however technically adept i may be at certain things, i will never have the vision to use an iPhone to make this:

from dan burkholder’s book, iPhone artistry. Copyright 2012, Dan Burkholder

things you should check out if you have not already: 


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