I Just Opened a Can of Whoop-Ass on this Blouse

I did it! I tamed the beast! I sewed this chiffon blouse, which I had been dreading, and it wasn’t so bad after all. I sewed the shit out of it, in fact. Five-headed hydra fabric, you are no match for ME!

Burda chiffon blouse with tie band 10/2011 #128BBurda chiffon blouse with tie band 10/2011 #128B

This is Burda’s 10/2011 Chiffon blouse with tie band #128B. Here’s the picture of Burda’s model:

Burda's chiffon blouse with tie band

It’s got a baggy, 70s type feel, as you can see from the styling in Burda’s photo: the fringe bag, the big round sunglasses, long hair, and floppy, wide-brimmed hat. I don’t remember seeing too many leopard print stockings or snakeskin mini skirts then, but it’s ok with me if Burda wants to throw in little 80s with their 70s. That pistol belt buckle might even be a little bit 90s. The Burda model’s got more of a rock star groupie thing going on; I think I rock mine more like a secretary. I guess that’s why blouses with bows are called secretary blouses. Duh.

Burda chiffon blouse with tie band 10/2011 #128B

This was the first time I tried French Seams, which involves sewing the seams first with the WRONG sides together and a 2/8″ seam allowance, then flipping the fabric around so that the RIGHT sides are together and sewing a 3/8″ seam allowance. What this does is encase the fray-able ends of this chiffon fabric within the seam, so the seams look almost as good from the inside of the garment as they do from the outside. No surprise it’s called a french seam. I picture a sexy French woman insisting to her tailor that the inner seams be beautiful: “But Pierre, zey must look good even, how do you say, inside-out on ze floor of my boudoir!”

Burda chiffon blouse with tie band 10/2011 #128B

I modified this from the pattern a bit: I made the tie band much, much longer than the pattern called for. I also left out the interfacing on the tie band. I sewed one according to the directions but the interfacing made it too stiff and heavy, and it was too short to tie a low-hanging bow, so I ripped it out and did another one. Very glad I did.

The tie band & collar is constructed a bit strangely, as you might be able to see from the picture below…the tie is only attached to the back of the collar, so there is lots of room for the front collars to sort of flop around. I don’t think I like this very much. I will live with it for now but I am tempted to attach the tie band along the edges of the front collar as well. Alternately, I might add a button or hook-and-eye closure to the top of the front collar…that’s just gonna flop open a lot, as the fabric doesn’t have enough structure to keep that lying nicely. We’ll see.

Burda chiffon blouse with tie band 10/2011 #128B

Overall, I’m pleased with how this turned out. Once I made myself sit down and start sewing the damn thing, it turned out to be a fun project.

Dear American Apparel: I am done with you

Over the past couple of decades, clothing has become a guilt-laden symbol of over-consumption, exploitation, and disposable culture: in our collective quest for the cheapest possible fashion, we are responsible for mounting pressures on clothing companies to cut costs and speed up production times, leading to ‘outsourcing’ to garment factories that promise the fastest turn-around time and lowest cost. This means a once-thriving garment manufacturing sector here in North America has all but disappeared (80% of garment manufacturing jobs in Canada have disappeared since 2001), and factories in developing countries like China and Bangladesh are forcing workers to accept extremely low wages to work in appalling conditions for long hours. The garment industry is notorious for treating workers almost like slaves, often locking them into the factory (sometimes causing hundreds to die in fires that they could not escape from), not allowing bathroom or meal breaks, and threatening workers if they complain publicly.  No doubt you’ve heard of the most recent garment factory disaster at the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, detailed here in the Toronto Star and here in the New York Times.  So of course I am delighted to support companies like Second Denim, which manufactures clothes in Canada, and American Apparel, whose business model incorporates paying Americans a good living wage to manufacture their clothes, and, according to their website, is committed to environmental sustainability. While I’m not a huge fan of much of AA’s designs (I already lived through the 80s once and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to wear those high-waisted, super-baggy, big-shouldered fashions ever again), my husband and I tend to purchase a lot of our basics there, like t-shirts, leggings, etc. Or, I should say, we USED to buy stuff at American Apparel.

American Apparel, I am officially done with you.

You see, I can’t support a company that, on one hand, is against exploiting workers (a stance I strongly support), and on the other hand, is quite happy to exploit women (which is abhorrent to me). American Apparel has courted controversy for quite a while now because of its ads that often depict very young women in overtly sexual poses, a controversy which has most recently flared up in Sweden. The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned AA’s ads for being “gratuitous…exploitative, and pornographic” (http://www.businessinsider.com/these-gratuitous-american-apparel-ads-were-just-banned-in-the-uk-2012-4), and the list of controversies goes on.

I was going to include an example of the ads but even just copying one here in my blog for the purpose of criticism made me feel icky. So go check them out yourself at the links above. Or you can check out this article from Business Insider in which the same unisex item of clothing is shown depicted on men and women, and the difference is shocking.

American Apparel, your willful ignorance about the ramifications of sexual exploitation of women is hypocritical given your apparent understanding of why exploiting garment workers is unacceptable. Unless and until you stop treating women as sexual objects, I’m not buying another thing from you.

And by the way, American Apparel, damn you for almost being everything an informed, intelligent, concerned consumer wants in a retail store, but fucking it up so badly by deliberately promoting a pile of sexist, exploitative bullshit. Somehow that makes you even worse than a retailer that just doesn’t give a shit about any of it in the first place.

TaDaaa: Erika Colour Block Cardigan

Finally finished! The Erika colour block cardigan.

Erika colour block cardigan

Yarn: Cascade 220 Sport in 7803 magenta, 8892 azure, and 8914 granny smith.Pattern: Erika cardigan by Milla Mia Sweden
My modifications: knit it a couple of inches shorter than the pattern called for, and left off the front patch pockets.
My project is detailed on Ravelry here: http://www.ravelry.com/projects/lbeckste/erika-cardigan

Erika colour block cardigan

My husband thinks the colour combo is too much. What do you think? Do I look like a clown?

Erika colour block cardigan

Evil clown, maybe:


The frustration of not being able to smile naturally in photos overcomes me.

What I Learned from Playboy Magazine, 1972

I got a Playboy magazine for my birthday!

A couple of years ago my friend LP found a copy that was published not too far off my birth month and year. She said she would’ve preferred to give me a Playgirl but couldn’t find one. But this is just as much fun.

Playboy Magazine April 1972 - Cover

Playboy Magazine April 1972

Here’s what I learned from Playboy, April 1972:

1. One dollar could buy a magazine in 1972.
2. In 1972, men seemed to be content looking at good old fashioned, born-with-it breasts. There are no cartoon-like helium-balloon-boobs, hovering just under some poor girl’s chin, threatening to float away into the stratosphere the minute she unfastens her bra in this magazine.
3. Men’s shoes were wicked-cool in the 70s:

An ad for Nunn Bush shoes

These shoes are so cool I admit I might even get naked for them, too.

An ad for Weinbrenner shoes


4. Nick Nolte wasn’t always a decrepit hobo:

I'm pretty sure that's Nick Nolte in the middle, amirite?

I’m pretty sure that’s Nick Nolte in the middle, amirite?

5. The clothing industry in 1972 was overcome with excitement about all the new nylon & polyester miracle fabrics:

Dupont stretch nylon! I want these outfits for my next vacation with my husband.

Dupont stretch nylon! I want these outfits for my next vacation with my husband.

Sansabelt! See what they did there?

Sansabelt! See what they did there?

6. This man is very, very unhappy about having to wear a crocheted vest with embroidered flowers on it. Who can blame him?

No one can ever be happy wearing a crochet vest.

No one can ever be happy wearing a crocheted vest.

7. Men in 1972 really did buy Playboy for the articles. Why would you want to look at naked women when you could read the poems of Mao Tse-Tung in translation?

Article: Seven Poems by Mao Tse-Tung

Crystal drop pendant

My dear friend Tawnya had a birthday last week and I made her a long pendant as a gift. Tawnya is a gorgeous natural beauty with thick, wavy reddish-brown hair and green eyes, so I chose crystals with that colour scheme in mind.

Crystals & heart pendant

The heart is a neat little pre-fab item, from Arton Beads in Toronto, that opens up on a hinge so it made a perfect container for some crystals. There’s something about filling a vessel with little beautiful things that makes them seem more precious, as if instead of wearing them ‘open’ around your neck you need to keep them safe in a lovely container.

Crystal & heart pendant

I used various crystals from 4mm to 8mm in shades of brown, yellow, green, and purplish-brown. The technique is simple: just put each crystal onto a headpin and using round nose pliers, form a loop. Attach the looped crystals to a short length of chain. At the bottom of the chain, use a jump ring to attach the heart pendant.

It’s so nice to be able to give a personalized, hand made gift to someone you love. Of course, there’s always the worry that they won’t particularly like it but feel obligated to say how much they love it. However, as a maker/crafter/knitter/etceterer you do develop a sense of who would appreciate something hand made. Tawnya has always purchased her clothes from local designers and stays away from big corporate clothing chains, out of a strong sense of not only great style, but also social justice and environmental protection. So no worries there! — I know she’d much rather have a hand made gift than something made overseas and purchased in a big box store. What an awesome woman she is. I’m so glad she’s my friend. Funny to think that I met her and her partner quite randomly many years ago on a canoe trip to the Toronto Islands. We met as we were getting our canoes ready to go in the water, joked around, had fun paddling across and exploring some off-the-beaten-path parts of the island, and decided to go for a beer after we returned to the mainland. We’ve been friends ever since.


So happy birthday, dear Tawnya, and many happy returns!

Not So Pretty in Pink: Lady Skater Dress #2

Pink Lady Skater Dress

I was so pleased with my blue lady skater dress (as well as somewhat annoyed at how long it took me to make it), that I thought I’d use Kitschykoo’s Lady Skater Dress pattern to make another one.
I went back to Designer Fabrics in Parkdale where I bought the bright blue jersey thinking that I might grab more of the same in yellow, but the yellow was a bit see-through. Instead I bought some lovely bright pink jersey. All I can say is what a difference fabric content makes!


The pink jersey is cotton, whereas the blue fabric is probably bamboo or rayon. I wish I could say for sure but they’re a bit laissez-faire about what the content of their fabrics are in the fashion fabric department upstairs. When you ask “do you know what this fabric is made of?”, you’re likely to get “I’m not sure” as the answer. Anyway, turns out the drape of the blue fabric is astonishingly more flattering than the drape of the pink cotton jersey — and I couldn’t even tell it was all that different by looking at it or feeling it. But the proof is in the sewing, and when this dress was stitched up (in under 4 hours, I’d like to point out!), I was fully expecting to feel like a lot of bucks like I did in the blue dress. However, blue dress = a million bucks, pink dress = maybe a hundred bucks. Disappointing.

For variety I thought I’d do the 3/4 sleeve version. I’m not terribly keen on the cuffs as the seam allowance wants to turn downward and make the seam all lumpy. I might just remove the cuffs and hem the sleeves, as they are a bit long anyway. Or maybe I just won’t do anything since I’m not sure I’m really going to wear this one very much.


Have you ever sewn the same pattern in different fabrics and found a really big difference?

Electric (Blue) Ladyland: the Lady Skater Dress


The finished Lady Skater dress

My husband is very, very relieved this dress turned out.  You see, on Saturday morning I was on my second attempt of ripping out one hot mess of a neckband on this while managing to put a hole in the fabric where there shouldn’t have been one. (And YES, I was using the seam ripper in a way that someone who cared about their fabric wouldn’t have been using it.) And because this dress wasn’t coming together the way I’d hoped, I decided that my whole life was ruined, that the house needed a top-to-bottom enema, that I was a lazy slug who wasn’t getting enough exercise, that I needed to completely rethink my life, and that I was definitely, DEFINITELY finished with sewing. For GOOD. Never, EVER going to sew again. You know the drill. Smart man that my husband is (or perhaps it’s just a strong self-preservation instinct), once my tirade was over he silently and slowly backed out of the room and disappeared up to his office/guitar room to hide out for a while.

After getting out of the house for a bit, I decided to have another go at this damn dress, and…a miracle happened. Everything just…worked. The neckband? Nary a wrinkle or hole or crooked topstitch to be found. So I kept going. And, a couple of hours later and ten minutes before we were due at our neighbours’ house for a barbeque, I had a really cute dress! So I hadn’t had time to finish the hem — I decided to wear it out anyway. The neighbours said what a great dress, and I said THANK YOU I JUST FUCKING SEWED IT! Ok, I didn’t say that, but that was the level of exuberance and relief and catharsis with which I accepted their compliments.


Who me, freak out over a neckband? Never.

This is the Lady Skater Dress from Kitschykoo, available as a downloadable PDF for GPB 6.50 (I dunno how to get a pound symbol sign out of this keyboard so I’m not even gonna try.)  Look how friggin cute it is. Impossible to believe that only hours before, this innocent-looking woman in an electric-blue dress was a complete Godzilla. (I was toying with Sewzilla, but that’s a bit of a stretch, no?)


That moment when you realize you have VPL

That moment when you realize you have VPLs

I think this took me about 8 hours all in to finish, not including the excruciating day I waited to hear back from the designer to confirm whether or not seam allowances were included in the pattern pieces. In the end I asked Lauren of Lladybird, whose super-cute tiger print version of the dress was what inspired me to buy this pattern, and she confirmed that the seam allowances are, in fact, included. Which meant I could trim away the 3/8″ seam allowances I had added to all the pieces, including that damn hole I had accidentally put in the bodice piece by the neckband. So happy ending.

But even though this took ME a long time, don’t think it’s not an easy pattern. Amanda from Kitschykoo has put together a fantastic pattern that’s very easy to adjust for size and the directions are very detailed and include links to tips & tutorials for beginners. There are only 6 pieces to deal with (ok, 9, if you count the neck & armbands) so in theory it can come together in no time at all. For me, it was the inherent pitfalls of working with a lightweight jersey, and not being careful enough with pinning and sewing. On another day, I could just have well have nailed this in 3 hours.

This is an amazingly comfortable dress and for such a simple design I do kinda feel like a million bucks in it. The bright blue is really eye catching. I’m thinking this would look great with a jersey wrap belt in red or yellow … perhaps I’ll make one of each. And I’m already thinking of making a second dress in yellow, despite all my challenges on this one. I’m assuming, though, that my husband would rather I just didn’t sew anything for a while. 😉


Obligatory cat picture.

Bookmarks as cultural artifacts & the Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device

I’ve got a night table drawer full of bookmarks and there are a couple worth sharing because they are hilarious, and are excellent cultural artifacts.

This one must be from about 1993 or so, judging by the compuserve email addresses. Remember those? Anyway, it’s a whole book dedicated to listing email addresses of the rich and famous!

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 11.14.38 AMScreen Shot 2013-07-31 at 11.13.53 AM

What a weird list of contacts. Beavis and Butthead are cartoon characters, not even real people. And what is the Canadian Human Rights Commission doing on this list? Ha, I wonder if their email address is still @chicken.planet.org! Ah, the heady, early days of the web…

It’s a funny reminder of the fact that it used to be a VERY BIG DEAL to have any possibility of direct contact with famous people (Canadian Human Rights Commission excepted, lol). These days you can interact with whomever you admire through social media, following all their daily activities and occasionally catching some off-colour opinions in their drunk tweets. As a teenager growing up in the 80s, all I could do was pore over the photos and liner notes of an LP, imagining my heroes’ lives, and hope that a music magazine might feature an article on them at some point so I could learn more. So perhaps this book was more important at the time than we think it might have been, as being able to get direct contact was not at all commonplace.

This next bookmark, from Book City, is great. Introducing the new Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge Device — the BOOK! I’m guessing I’ve had this one kicking around for at least twelve years. Happily (and surprisingly), almost all of the store locations listed on the bookmark are still in operation, except for two (Bloor West Village and Queen West). I would’ve thought the electronic revolution along with the invasion of big-box retailers would have done more damage. But Book City prevails!

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 11.13.44 AM Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 11.14.29 AM

“Even a child can operate it!”  “A flick of the finger takes you to the next sheet!”  “The Browse function allows instant movement to any sheet, forward or backward!”  Reading this is a good reminder how we think new technologies are so incredible, when in reality they do things we could already do, only often not as well.  (I still can’t flip through pages or jump around in a book very easily with my Kobo.)

Of all the pleasure reading I do, which I do almost every night at bedtime, I’d say about two-thirds of the books I read are hard copy books and one-third are e-books on the Kobo. I’ve got a Mini Kobo which is great for traveling because it’s compact and lightweight, but when packing a stack of books to take somewhere isn’t a factor, I still prefer the feel of a book in my hand. I find that I also remember more about the book if I read a hard-copy of it…something about seeing the full-colour artwork on the jacket every day while it’s on my night table makes more of an impression on my brain.  And don’t get me started about losing the ability to share a book with your friends or family after you’ve read it in the age of the e-book. Mobile technology, although in many ways supposed to make us more connected to each other, sometimes has the opposite effect.

Have you got a preference? Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device or e-reader?