Roman-Bolognese scarf

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This is a scarf that I started knitting in Rome, where I stayed for three weeks as part of a backpack ramble through Italy and France. I was staying in a small apartment behind the Vatican and enjoying Rome (it was the Christmas season), but increasingly restless in the evenings, which I largely spent reading in the apartment.

During the day I pounded the pavement, or should I say the cobblestones, exploring the various piazzas and neighbourhoods of the central historical district. One afternoon, on my way to the Piazza Navona, I suddenly realized I had walked past a wool shop — those were balls of wool I’d seen out of the corner of my eye. I backtracked to have a closer look.

It was a tiny shop, about the size of my bathroom. An L-shaped counter made it even smaller so that only two or three customers could squeeze in at one time. In addition to wool, it sold lingerie.

I only started knitting a couple of years ago, when I took a couple of courses at a local knit shop. I’m not a skilled knitter, so I thought a simple scarf would be the best project to travel with.  I scooped up a handful of balls of blue and green baby merino, along with a pair of needles and went to the piazza to knit up a swatch.

I was trying to imitate the wool scarves I was seeing for sale at several street stalls. They were wide and loosely knit from fine wool so they draped nicely. By the time I’d knit a couple of inches, I realized I needed bigger needles, and fewer stitches. I went back to the wool shop, asked to try larger needles and stood at the counter for half an hour or so, knitting, while customers all around me bought bras and stockings.

Naturally I realized pretty soon that I didn’t have nearly enough yarn and by the time I got to my next stop, Bologna, I knew I had to get more. The first thing I learned as a novice knitter was never use yarn from more than one dye lot, but in Bologna I had to buy yarn from a completely different manufacturer. I can see the difference, but I’m not sure anybody else can. And for me, the flaw, the slight differences in colour and also in weight of the wool, will always remind me of this trip, and this story.IMG_0916 Maybe it’s always in the imperfections that the stories lie.

 

harem karate yoga pants

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I was thinking of pants like this — I guess they’re called “harem pants”, but I don’t like that term — before I went wandering around Europe for a few months. I searched online and saw a few basic patterns, but nothing I trusted.

I had done nothing except choose the fabric I wanted to use when it was time to go to Paris. Wandering toward the Eiffel Tower one day I saw a chic young woman wearing an intriguing outfit that included these sorts of pants in black and white, black boots and a black leather jacket. I stared. Then I stared even harder as I tried to figure out how her pants were constructed. She called me on it, shouting at me from across the street. For a minute I envisioned fisticuffs with a chi chi, feisty Parisienne. Not a good idea in a city where I didn’t know anyone who could carry me home, broken and bloody in the aftermath!

Her angry comment to me — it was in French, but I got the drift — indicated she correctly surmised I was staring at her clothing, and not at her, so I really don’t understand why she was upset. Anybody?

A month or so later I was wandering through a shopping district in Florence when I entered a shop specializing in Thai products. They had a rack of these pants, all in assorted Thai printed cottons. I got to take a closer look 🙂

2015-03-10 13.46.24 2015-03-10 13.47.01When I got back home, I pulled out the fabric I wanted to use as the base (it was material I’d bought at a theatre company sale). I used a basic drawstring loose pant pattern, and cut off the crotch points. Then I made pattern pieces for a central triangular panel for the front and back, as well as a dirndl waist, copied from an old skirt.

I had already cut out pieces from the old skirt for the central panels when I went to a nearby yard sale and found the fabric that I actually used. I loved it, it was cheap, and it went with the base fabric better than what I was planning to use.

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So that’s it. Some thing’s I’d do differently — I used a too-stiff non-woven interfacing in the dirndl waist. It was all I had in the house. I’ve since stocked up on various weights of woven interfacing, and next time I’ll use something lighter. Also, while I love the central fabric, it’s sufficiently stiff to make the pants a little more “formal” than I would like. I will make these pants again in a lighter fabric, maybe linen, and I think they’ll look simpler and drape more softly. I would like to do piping when sewing two kinds of fabric together (many of the pants in the shop in Florence had piping). But I just don’t feel up to learning to make and install piping yet. Oh, and I’ve got enough of the yard sale fabric left to make a matching vest. That’s a project for some other time.

And in case anybody’s wondering — the pale green vest is a copy of the Marcy Tilton pattern I used for the “web” vest. Her pattern is actually for a jacket, but I de-sleeved both versions. I got the fabric, a wool crepe, in a remainders bin for a dollar or two. I just love those sorts of finds.

Refashioning: Skirt to Courier Bag

2015-03-10 14.39.31 2015-03-10 14.40.20 I made this leather bag from a skirt I’d received from a colleague at my “exit” party from my previous place of employment. The colleague took me seriously when I invited people to give me any kind of fabric at all, even items from thrift stores that I could take apart. I envisioned plus-size dresses or long skirts, things that would have plenty of useable fabric. P. gave me a size 4 pencil skirt with top-stitched panels. Uh huh … leather underpants maybe? Or, I know, a clutch of leather thongs! I went round and round with tape measure and pencil to see if I could make a vest out of it. Finally I decided on the bag. Or purse, as some would call it. I’m not a purse person. For much of my life I got away with using my pockets for essentials. Eventually I needed a large bag for work to hold books and files, and that was okay. And in recent years I’d started carrying a backpack. For some reason I don’t always have pockets in my clothes anymore, and I seem to develop holes in the pockets of my coats. So this is a bag. Not a purse. Terminology is important! There were lots of firsts in the construction of this bag. It was my first time to make square corners, my first time to sew with leather, and my first time to try making a bag. There are lots of imperfections in the finished product, but I’m happy with it and I learned a lot. For example, I learned that the unfinished side of leather (the suede side) won’t cooperate with the sewing machine feed dogs. And that my sewing machine can handle three layers of leather, but four would be stretching it. And that a walking foot attachment is a miraculous thing! A few details about the process: since I was lining the bag, I got to start with that rather than tackling the leather first thing. For the lining I used another piece of fabric given to me by a colleague at that same “exit” party. I decided to make a zippered pouch on one side, and a double non-closing pouch on the other side. 2015-03-06 11.57.38 That’s the lining facing outward instead of inward, as it does once inserted into the leather shell. Cute fabric, eh? 🙂 Here’s a picture that shows that one side of the bag, the side with the flap, is made from the back of the skirt. 2015-03-06 11.59.54 2015-03-06 12.00.15 I didn’t like the fact that the back of the skirt bagged out, so I sewed a couple of decorative welts parallel to the zipper and that worked well. And of course, when I cut off the waistband of the skirt I took the chance that the zipper pull would slide right off, and inevitably it did, so I had to swap it out. I made a storage compartment behind the zipper too by sewing another piece of leather behind before adding the lining. One of the great things was seeing how wonderfully my almost brand-new walking foot functioned. I attached it when I needed to sew more than just two layers of leather together and wow did it ever do the job. I’m curious about how often other sewists use a walking foot — I’m not talking about quilters who, I think, buy sewing machines with permanent walking feet. I also bought sewing clips (which look exactly like large clips you use to bundle papers together) for this project because there were places I couldn’t use pins. I like the clips (mine are in five pastel shades, rather than standard black), and intend to see where I can use them in future projects to save the bother of pinning. I wonder if any sewists have moved completely to clips from pins? So that’s it. One smallish courier bag, big enough for wallet, phone, keys and a book or e-reader. What else does anyone need to put in a bag anyway?