Sci Fi Sunday — Couch Surfing Edition

Thanks for all the well wishes on my last post! I think the ear is healing (it seems better anyway) and the swelling has gone down enough that I don’t feel tempted to cut my head in half. Of course, I spent most of the weekend being a laze-about and discovered a new show. Yesterday, I subjected the Hubs to an entire marathon of Oddities on the Science Channel:


See these folks? Their names are (from left to right): Mike, Evan and Ryan and they can find anything for you. Their specialties are antique and vintage items with a gruesome or macabre bent. You want a deformed baby ostrich in a jar? An eighteenth century engraving of bloodletting? A genuine shrunken head? They got it, or can get it for a price. Along the way, they introduce the viewers to their clients (almost as odd as the items they’re collecting) and an assortment of artists and carnival types who are happy to show off their talents for a national audience. There was a guy who swallows balloons — while inflated — and someone who walks on glass. I was completely diverted by the show and now I totally want to meet Mike, Evan and Ryan. I’d like to hire them to redecorate, but I think the Hubs might have some choice words about that, along the lines of airborne swine and spherical ice crystals in hot places.

Also currently watching:

Battle Royale Poster

Ok, remember when I reviewed the book Battle Royale here and suggested it was worth the time for sci fi fans? The same can not be said of the movie. I watched it with the Hubs and had to keep explaining things. “It’s different in the book; no, I don’t know why they did that; I’m not sure what the point was; they don’t show it but here’s the back story….” Basically, if you’ve read the book and are curious about the movie? Go ahead and watch because it’ll make some sense to you. If you haven’t read the book, don’t bother. You’ll be lost from the get-go.

Back Soon!

I have an ear infection, and the entire left side of my head is swollen, inflamed and stuffed up.  I’ll be back after the weekend, or whenever I run out of home remedies to shove in my ear.


The Hubs is on a business trip this week. For some weird reason, business trips make me feel like a teenager whose parents are away for the weekend. PARTY, MY PLACE, 10 PM. I’m never going to sleep again! I can sew all day and night! I can stay up late and read books! I WILL DO ALL THE THINGS.

This usually lasts for about 24 hours, or however long it takes me to fall over from fatigue.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

Simplicity 1887, View E

I wore this skirt today, and it’s pretty comfortable. The fabric is a soft stretch woven that I might call poplin, but it doesn’t seem nearly crisp enough. This pattern does call for softer materials, so the weight is fine as far as that goes. I was a bit worried at first that it might cling to my legs while walking but that hasn’t happened. The design is far too busy to pick out any of the waistband/pocket details, but I think this is a nice pattern for folks who like the flat front/elastic back waistband treatment. The longer version of the skirt is knee-length at 21″ so that would probably work better for most people but I like to live dangerously.

I also made this epic fail:

RUN! It’s McCall’s 6566!

It may be partly the color, but I can honestly say the last time I wore anything that looked like this, I was in the hospital. I made McCall 6566, View D a while ago and blogged about how badly it turned out. This attempt was View B, which I made in an XS because the Small was too big last time. Yes, the pattern went straight into the circular file after that. In my own defense, I did the neckline EXACTLY the way they described even though it made absolutely no sense. Note to self: when instructions make no sense, don’t follow them. Someone screwed up, and that someone usually isn’t you. Also, HOLY SHOULDERS BATMAN. I look like I have a set of pads on under there.

Other things I’ve done while not sleeping:

— Looked up twatwaffle on Pinterest. There are not nearly enough twatwaffle pins. GET ON IT, PEOPLE.

— Plucked a silver dollar-sized patch of hair out of my shin. Not for any good reason, just because I like plucking hair and didn’t want to remove my eyebrows.

— Looked up everybody in Babylon 5 on IMDB. Did you know Richard Biggs died young? OMG, TRAGIC.

— Drank two White Russians (on two different days, I’m not a complete lush).

— Made another skirt, which I will attempt to wear tomorrow. I used my coverstitch machine for the second time, with much better results. I AM A ROCK STAR.

— Bookmarked instructions on how to cut, bleach and dye my own hair. It costs over $100 to get my hair done, people. Even a hair cut alone is $60 with tip, and  I need that money for fabric. I may end up bald but I will be WELL DRESSED.

I could list more things, but for some weird reason I can’t stop yawning…

Another Renfrew, Another Show

Seriously, where did this week go? I know we had events every night, but it still feels like we accomplished absolutely nothing. I DID manage to sew another Renfrew between yesterday and today (go me!):

Renfrew #2!

I did what I said I would do last time; all of the body is in size 8, while the sleeves/cuffs are in size 12 and gathered to fit the sleeve cap. I don’t like gathering knits and probably won’t do it again, but I tried tracing the 8 sleeve and doing a conventional full bicep alteration and it wound up distorting the sleeve cap badly. The way I did the sleeves here fits ok, but oddly enough, the armscye is a little tighter than I prefer (just a smidgen) and I know it’s because I sewed the entire underarm and side seam at 5/8″. So, my general feeling is that I will need to enlarge the armhole to a 10 or a 12 then use the sleeve from either of those sizes. I am confident this will improve the fit, but I am startled at how hard it is to truly SCREW UP this pattern. I mean, I feel like I could tweak all day and still wind up with something wearable. That, folks, is what a well-drafted pattern looks like!

The fabric I used here is a lovely and stretchy jersey knit — it’s a bit more soft and flexible than regular jersey, and I fell in love with the print:

My attempt at a fabric close-up.

The print has seagulls, ducks and boats on a white background. It’s very busy, but I still feel like it looks grown-up without being overwhelming. And in a purple/white color way, it goes with all my black.

For those of you who care about my hair saga, I dyed my hair violet on Saturday (for the zebra party that night) and it turned out blue with gray highlights. It looked AWFUL, so I dumped Manic Panic’s Hot Hot Pink on top and muuuuuuch better… It wound up being a cool variegated purple/pink for the party, and now it’s fading out in lighter tones of pink and purple. It’s astonishing how much it’s faded in 6 days, but I still think the pink is taking longer to fade than purple usually does on me. I may have a new favorite hair color….

I’ve been inspecting the backlog in my sewing room, and some things have got to GO. I did get a big new plastic box and pack away my winter clothes, but now I am busy being horrified by my stash. Does anyone want to own 5 yards (in two yard and three yard lengths) of non-stretch black twill? A whole bunch of leftovers in various sizes? What the heck am I supposed to do with all this STUFF? Don’t tell me to sew quilts because I will laugh hollowly at you and freak you out.

The Return of Sci Fi Monday — THE VORKOSIGAN SAGA

During Me-Made-May, thanks to Amazon’s used book connection, I became the proud owner of this:

I love this book so much, I want to tongue kiss it and have its babies.

As I was preparing this post, I looked back through my Sci Fi archives and was shocked to find that I’d never reviewed the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. I said to myself, “WTF, self? How could you have missed possibly the MOST IMPORTANT space opera ever written? Not to mention one of your own all-time favorite series? Especially because I’m pretty sure you read Cryoburn within the last year. I mean, REALLY….” Because I lecture myself like that.

The Vorkosigan Saga came to my notice because of the book A Civil Campaign, which is often listed by commenters at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books as one of their favorite romance novels. I like science fiction and love space operas [quick aside: if you don’t know what a space opera is, it’s basically a look at humans and human nature but from the viewpoint of our possible interstellar existence. A good space opera has elements of mystery, romance, technology, violence, humor, lots of politics, interspecies relationships, and everything you would expect in a dramatic opera — but in space. Star Trek is a space opera, as are Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, et al. Star Wars, however, does not qualify because its view of good and evil is much more black and white. Everybody got that? Ok, moving along…] so I checked out A Civil Campaign but realized two chapters in that I was completely lost. I didn’t know any of the characters and couldn’t figure out what was going on. So! I went back to the very beginning of the Vorkosigan saga and checked out Cordelia’s Honor…and was immediately hooked. As in reading all night and all day, in imminent danger of neglecting my family, HOOKED.

There is a very good timeline of the books in the Vorkosigan Saga at the Wikipedia page here. I won’t repeat the information, except to say that I have missed most of the shorter stories/novellas (other than “Winterfair Gifts”) and also missed Ethan of Athos, but I was still able to keep up with the most important aspects of the Saga storyline. Many of the books have been published in omnibus editions that include the novellas and shorter form stories so it’s worth seeking those publications out if you can — but don’t be dissuaded if you can’t find every story.

I find it hard to describe what the story of Miles Vorkosigan means to me. This series profoundly changed how I view the world — both how I view disabled people, and how I think of relationships. Miles is born with terrifying handicaps, thanks to his mother’s exposure to a nerve toxin while he was in the womb. His story takes a very realistic approach to disability — Miles is in pain sometimes, he’s humiliated sometimes, he constantly has to overcome the limitations of both his body and his mind. He is, frankly, an unlikely hero…five feet tall with stunted limbs, disproportionate, an overlarge head and an intense stare. He is born into an aristocratic family on a planet with zero tolerance for mutations (his own grandfather tries to kill him), and so he spends much of his young life in a desperate attempt to prove that he deserves to exist. He becomes, almost by accident, a pirate — then a soldier and a spy — then a diplomat. It is gradually obvious that Miles’ survival is entirely due to the strength of his personality. He has a knack for winning people (including readers) to his side. By the time you are halfway through the series, Miles’ ability to make everyone fall in love with him seems as natural as breathing and every bit as much of an evolved survival skill.

Cordelia’s Honor is the story of Miles’ parents — how they meet, and the circumstances surrounding Miles’ birth. I strongly recommend starting there, as the series is very interconnected and incidents in every book are referenced in later parts of the story. Miles in Love (the omnibus I own) contains Komarr, A Civil Campaign and “Winterfair Gifts.” A Civil Campaign is actually Bujold’s tribute to the Regency romance (she very much references Georgette Heyer) and is on my list of all time favorite romances. One of the factors I love in this series is that all of the women are considered to have the right to autonomy and self-agency. This isn’t a romance like, “I want to sweep you off your feet and marry you,” it’s more of an “I want you by my side, but to enhance rather than consume you.” Twilight can’t hold a candle to this. It’s not just Miles’ courtship that you end up rooting for, it’s the parallel story of his brother Mark, and by extension the wedding of his friend Gregor. I should mention that there is a subplot of heartstopping political intrigue, as well as several hilarious side plots (don’t ask about the butter bugs). The end of the book makes me catch my breath and grin from ear to ear, and want to cheer for all the couples.

What are you waiting for? THE VORKOSIGAN SAGA, people. Read it. You will not be disappointed.

The End of Me-Made-May — Lessons Learned

I didn’t manage to post my last picture for Me-Made-May yesterday so here it is:

Me-Made-May, Day 31

Top: Me-made Renfrew shirt, combination of Views A and B

Bottoms: Me-made shorts, McCalls 6328, View F (with a hem rather than cuffs)

This was pretty much the only fully me-made outfit I wore this month, although I own several other me-made shirts. The thing that distinguishes this particular outfit from some of my others is that the materials are all completely comfortable, and the look is close enough to RTW that I feel like I look “appropriate” whatever I’m doing. Yesterday, Youngest had a new friend over for a playdate and that’s not the time I want to be busting out my wildest skull skirts.

I found this Me-Made-May experience to be very challenging. Partly because my body size and the weather both started changing halfway through the month, and partly because I’m going through a shift in my style. I also tried to do 5 outfits with at least one me-made element per week, no exact repeats, and didn’t quite achieve my goal because I had some weeks with only 3 or 4 me-mades. I didn’t have any repeat outfits, though! What I’ve learned so far:

1) I get really, really grumpy if I don’t shop. I don’t need to buy a lot, but I don’t like an entire wardrobe of me-mades either. Some people enjoy that, but I don’t sew fast enough and I prefer having a mix of clothing options.

2) Last year, I started feeling like full skirts were too childish and I began working on straight skirts, tulip skirts and slight A-line skirts. After all this time, I have only an A-line skirt pattern as a TNT and I can honestly say that full skirts are far easier to fit and more flattering on my body. I have no idea why I thought they were too young, except that I may be getting long in the tooth for some of the shorter lengths. At this time, I plan to shift back to sewing fuller designs.

3) My most successful makes (in terms of wearability and how much I like them) have been shorts. I don’t like wide-leg pants, but I do like my shorts with a lot of leg room and that seems to make them both easier to fit and more flattering. I think I want to experiment a bit with pants shapes, to see if I can find a compromise between wide legs and the more fashionable narrow legs which don’t suit me.

4) I still have a “subcultural” style, but I find myself moving away from the typical goth motifs. Although my favorite neutral is still black and I don’t think I’ll ever get over a good skull print, I’m starting to get bored with the same old homegrown Hot Topic look. Along with more comfortable fabrics, fuller skirts and wider pants, I’d like to experiment with a modern take on period clothing. Petticoats, vests, peasant tops…that sort of thing.

5) I need to pack away seasonal clothes. I live in an area which has, at best, two and a half seasons — summer, fall/winter, and a truncated spring. Because of that, I’ve always kept my clothes out and accessible in all weathers. Unfortunately, that means I get heartily sick of looking at them and end up getting rid of perfectly good clothes that happen to be temporarily too small/too large and out of season. I also need to pay attention to materials when I’m making clothes and buying fabric, because it looks silly to wear heavy twill skirts in the middle of summer.

6) Things I should stop buying:

a. slinky knits for dresses (do I wear knit dresses? no)

b. silky material for any reason (HATE sewing silkies and don’t like wearing them all that much either)

c. blue denim material (prefer to buy blue jeans and make denim/twill pants in other colors and patterns)

d. large t-shirts to use for material (real jersey fabric is cheaper and more versatile)

Things I should start buying:

a. rayon blends or challis (after embracing spray starch, I’m starting to really appreciate the flow of challis)

b. patterns for loose garments that still have structured lines (I have enough basic patterns, I need to do more styling)

c. lengths of heavy twill in three yards or more (if I can’t make pants out of them, it’s pointless)

7) Thanks to the way my body fluctuates, I really need to err on the side of looser when I am buying and making clothing. I am getting better about picking out potentially flattering designs and matching them with appropriate fabrics, but having a stable of patterns that fit within ten pounds up or down would really help (I’m not going to say five pounds because I fluctuate that much in 48 hours. Trufax).

8) DO SOMETHING WITH THAT HAIR, HONEYCHILE. I mean that with love, but holy carp. I really don’t do enough to make sure I have a “proper” hairstyle. Growing out the layers and blowdrying it would help enormously. I have Helena Bonham Carter hair — all unruly, and I look like I should be a Tim Burton villain. Oy.

Anyhow, here’s a shout-out to Zoe over at “So, Zo…” for starting and organizing the Me-Made experience! Go and check her out if you haven’t already; she’s awesome. What about you all, my chickadees? Have you learned anything about yourself, your style, and/or your sewing from Me-Made-May?

Me-Made-May, Day 30 — Almost Finished!

Tomorrow is the last day of MMM, and good thing too. I’ve had trouble finding things to wear, largely because I’ve gained weight this month and most of my favorite makes don’t currently fit. It’s frustrating, but such is life. I’ll have more insight into the Me-Made experience tomorrow. Here’s today’s outfit:

Top: Old Navy polo, with me-added patch

Bottoms: Me-made black pleated skirt with red plaid insets, adapted from Simplicity 5101 (juniors pattern).

This is an old outfit, made back in my super-goth days when I desperately wanted a black and plaid pleated skirt from Hot Topic but couldn’t fit into any of them. I was not a great seamstress, so I used an elastic waist, drop yoke pattern for this skirt but that turned out to be a good thing. I have worn this skirt for AGES, through several weight fluctuations. I’m actually considering making more of them because they’re very much throw-on and go dressing. I do recommend edge-stitching the pleats, however, unless you really like tweaking your skirt back into place every time you stand up.

The copious amounts of zebra in the background are because one of my friends is having a zebra-themed party this Saturday. I spent $30 on fabric and I’m about to give up and go buy something because half of this stuff is too silky, and the other half is too stiff. My sewing mojo does not like these conundrums and runs away whimpering when I try to force it.

Renfield is a Vampire Familiar, Renfrew is a Top

….At least, that’s what I have to keep telling myself because my brain insists that this should be the Renfield top. Silly brain. But here’s the Renfrew in all its glory!

Yep, that’s me with wet hair. I took this shot in a rush because we were heading out to lunch with some friends.

This is my Me-Made-May, Day 28:

Top: Renfrew top from Sewaholic

Bottoms: unflattering and dowdy capris, refashioned into still unflattering but less dowdy cut-offs.

So, y’all want to know the pattern deets, right? Here they are:

The Good:

1) I ordered from Canada and got the pattern three days later. Over the weekend. That is some fast shipping, people!

2) The pattern and its instructions are very clear and well-written. I was able to match all the notches with nary a problem, and I am not a jersey-stretching virtuoso by any means. I also found it easy to trace, even though I traced out full patterns instead of tracing everything on the fold.

3) It’s comfortable and has stood up to a day of shopping, being pulled over my head and put back on, then having lunch with friends.

4) The finished product looks relatively professional, at least to my exacting standards.

5) The band at the bottom makes it long enough for my long torso, and I think the fit is loose enough to accommodate many body types — even if you have, say, a bit of a tum. I also like that the neckline is not TOO low cut.

The Bad:

1) If I were going by the pattern measurements, I would have cut a 6. As it is, I compared it to my t-shirt TNT (New Look 6735) and traced/cut an 8. I am SOOO glad I did, as my shoulders would not have fit into a 6.

2) When I first got the pattern and looked at the back, I panicked because the fabric requirements are ENORMOUS. You might need up to 3 yards for the long sleeve, cowl neck top and I never buy more than two yards for shirts. However, when I traced off the pattern in full instead of using the “fold” lines, the need for material was dramatically reduced. I think I squeezed my version out of one and an eighth of a yard. The “cut on fold” method really uses up a great deal of yardage.

3) It is not obvious from the pattern if the sleeves and other options are interchangeable. I just assumed they were, and carried on making the A/C bodice with the B sleeves. That may have caused the sleeve fitting problem I’m about to mention….

The Ugly:

1) This is not a pattern for people with biceps. I cut a straight 8, and I ended up sewing the underarm/body seam at 1/4 of an inch, then the cuff seams at 1/8 of an inch to accommodate my arms. Granted, I have big arms for my overall size, but the neckline and shoulders fit well so I don’t want to size up and I don’t like my sleeves that tight. HOWEVER, part of the reason I bought the Renfrew pattern was because I was hoping it would work for 2-way stretch jersey. Some two-way jersey has very minimal stretch, and I wanted to be able to make shirts from that material (my TNT pattern won’t work because it requires more stretch in the fabric). The jersey I used for this shirt has minimal stretch, and I’m relatively happy with how it turned out. However, I think I would prefer to use a stretchier material next time, as well as a larger size for the sleeves/cuffs. I have the idea that I could just gather the excess into the sleeve cap, like very slightly puffed sleeves. Call it a design detail. And yes, I plan on making this pattern again — it’s too good and too easy not to!

Projects, Me-Mades, and My Usual Mess

I haven’t been around as much because the end of the school year is upon us, and with it the usual rounds of carnivals, open houses, concerts and meetings. I expect no relief until school actually lets out over the third week in June. I’m reading all your blogs and loving them, just can’t comment as often!

Thursday’s Me-Made was a little bit of a cheat. I had to take the car in for an oil change, and our favorite place has an outdoor waiting room. On the coldest day of the month. So I wore my Christopher Webb jeans and several layers for most of the day, then changed in the afternoon right before we went to Open House for our two middle school students:

Top: Target Mossimo sweater, Gap Outlet tank top

Bottoms: Me-made Bird Sh*t Skirt

Socks: Gold Toe black crew

Shoes: Doc Martens 8-eye 1460 boots

Friday, I spent shuttling people back and forth since two of our kids had a minimum day and Oldest was leaving on a retreat. When not in the car, this is what I wore:

Top: Old Navy Perfect T-shirt

Bottoms: Me-Made skirt, New Look 6083

Belt: Gap Outlet

Socks: Gold Toe black crew

I wore my Doc Martens but took them off before this picture. The cat was sitting on my lap so you’ll have to imagine all the cat hair you could see in closeup.

Today, I spent my time doing a number of projects. First off, I needed a skirt for an event on Sunday and this was the best option:

Unfortunately, that cute little tulle ruffle on the bottom? Tends to cling to the legs and cause the entire thing to ride up in spectacularly unattractive fashion. Twenty minutes with a seam ripper, scissors and an iron gave me this:

Less cute but ultimately, more functional. Anyway, it’ll do for this weekend.

I also altered these jeans:

Get a load of that back waist gap and super long legs!

I put elastic in the back, which I discussed in a blog tutorial here. That fixed the back waist gap, but thanks to this denim being particularly inclined to ravel, I added a few sections of 1/4″ Steam-a-Seam to each side of the inside waistband cut. This is what that looked like:

With those in place, it was a simple matter of sealing the seam before I sewed it up.

I also used the standard hemming technique that preserves the original jeans hem. I could do a tutorial, but there’s dozens of them all over the web so I’ll just leave you with the results:

Much better!

I can use this as a Me-Made for this week, right?  I’m a day short….
Top: Gap Outlet
Bottoms: Old Navy jeans, size 8L, altered to fit
State of sewing room: appalling
So, I spent the rest of the day working on THIS:

Say hello to the RENFREW.

I traced out the pattern pieces in full instead of on the fold, because I HATE trying to get knits to line up on the fold. And this lovely white material? Is the special pattern tracing stuff they sell at JoAnns in the interfacing section. It’s like interfacing without glue. It is AMAZING. Easy to see through, traces like a dream, clings to the fabric and doesn’t move, hard to tear…and you can fold it on the grain line and match it to the pattern grain exactly. I don’t know where this stuff has been all my life, but I think I’m in love.
More Renfrew adventures to come soon!

Be A Duck

Actual conversation in my house last night, while I was running around barking contradictory orders at the kids:

The Hubs: Be. A. Duck.

Me: Uh–what?

TH: Like how water rolls off a ducks back? You should try that. Be a duck; they’re always calm, paddling around and quacking.

Me: How would you know? Ducks don’t have a lot of capacity for facial expression. Maybe they’re actually freaking out.

TH: Yeah, maybe that’s what it’s like to be a duck. The universe is against me and I can’t move my face!


Alright, so I can still move my face and I’m not a duck but I’m pretty sure the universe is against me anyway. And I didn’t do Me-Made-May today because I had to show up at school for an awards thing, and I was trying to find the least violent outfit in my closet (I wore my Zombies in Wonderland t-shirt so….I’m pretty sure I failed at THAT but I also wore a feminine skirt, so I’m just going to argue they cancelled each other out). Here’s what I threw on yesterday for MMM, Day 21:

Top: Refashioned band tee + Kohls juniors tee

Skirt: Me-made, New Look 6083, blogged about two posts ago

Socks: Gold Toe black crew

Shoes: Doc Martens 1460 8-eye boots

Yes, that’s my laundry room and that’s me feeling put-upon.