Thursday, July 17, 2014

One step forward two steps back

I am involved in one of those quick and easy sewing projects that keeps throwing up road blocks.

I am attempting to do an instant dress by taping together the various pieces of this Stylearc pattern, the Charlotte dress:

I have owned colour-blocked garments before and they fall into the category of things that look up to the minute one day and totally dated the next. Since the trend has been around for a while now I figure if I make a colour-blocked dress the trend will take an instant nose dive.

In piecing it all together with great optimism and enthusiasm and unwarranted self-confidence I assumed the vertical piece in the middle was in fact in the exact middle so I sliced it in half and stuck it onto the front piece.


Since even I have noticed the front is much wider than the back now and much wider than the front facing my suspicion is that this piece was designed to be off centre.

I have considered seaming down the middle of the front to take out the excess, but will probably just pleat the neckline in a bit as that sort of still in style, maybe, and proceed. If that looks dumb I will revert to the centre seam idea.

Whoever said measure twice cut once was for sure a sewer and not a carpenter.

In addition the fabric has spit up a few surprises. It is a good quality rayon challis from Elliot Berman but once I got to work on this I noticed that the pre-washing, cold water, line-dried treatment I always do had put little black spots on the light parts, from some running dye apparently.

At that stage the whole thing had been cut out (wrong as it turned out but still cut out) so after spending an hour trying to talk myself into believing that no one would notice I tore out to the store and bought this stuff, appropriately called SOS:

I put this in a bucket of really hot water overnight. The next morning the water was totally black, which was a worry when the fabric is mostly light yellow, but amazingly the run was gone.

I rinsed the whole lot in the washing machine on cold rinse with a cup of vinegar thrown in. 

I added the vinegar because 80% of all household hints involve vinegar, you don't even have to look it up. The other 20% involving baking soda of course.

So here I am back to square one with a dress that is too loose at the front.

Since I am too, this may work out yet.

Always the optimist.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Things a kid needs to know before going away to college

You are going to have to help me with this list, the final post on this subject.

My sister has been smart this summer. 

My nephew is planning on going away to university after his next and last year of high school. He wanted to get used to more independence by working and living away from home. 

That's why he is here. 

My sister also wanted to make sure he got used to managing things on his own and one of my jobs here is to encourage that.

Sometimes it is easier to do this if you are not the parent and already well in the role of doing things for your own child.

Yesterday we did laundry intensive for example, including how to use a clothesline because they don't have one at home.

He already cooks well so that's not an issue. And he is a conservative guy so probably will handle his money well but his situation has made me think of launching my own kids and of all the first years I see every fall.

One story that sticks in my mind is a mother that bought her son a chest freezer and filled it up with his favourite frozen dinners.

Another is of a really nice 20 year old boy who asked an accountant who was a guest speaker how to claim bankruptcy because he was in so deep with credit cards. Or the girls who take their student loans and go to the Dominican at spring break.

My students also tell me things like learn how much you can drink so you know when you have had enough (for me that would be two glasses of wine max, their self described limits would amaze you), or that girls need to always take their drinks with them at a bar, even into the washroom, so no one puts anything into it. (I find this one so sad).

I also remember my middle son telling me the most useful thing I ever taught him was how to iron a shirt. That's it. After 19 years of my upbringing what he remembers is shirt ironing.

So what's on your essential skills list? Here is the start of mine:

  • how to iron a shirt (details first then the body, use steam)
  • how to make quick dinners with pasta that don't require tomato sauce
  • what interest is and why it is scary (be aware that your freshman is going to be surrounded by credit card kiosks)
  • how to sew on a button
  • how to look at the unit price of food
  • that students are no longer living at the level of their parents' income (I am blown away by the "essential" $30 lipsticks and Coach bags my "broke" students bring to class)
  • how to sew a button
  • how to treat girls with respect
  • how to expect men to treat a girl with respect
  • how to separate colours in the wash and why some things need to be hung up
  • how to do a quick clean even if it is only with a box of disinfectant wipes
I know I am going to think of a million more things through the day but now its your turn.

Over to you.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

McCalls 6885

One of my favourite bloggers, knitmachinequeen over at Smoking Needles made a golf dress recently from McCalls 6885 that really caught my eye.

As a golfer I was intrigued by the idea of a golf dress as opposed to shorts or skorts. Increasingly I am coming to the conclusion that dresses, particularly in the non winter months, are it for me.

They just are easy to grab and thrown on and pretty much more comfortable than any other clothing combination for me. I dawned on me recently that if a person had enough dresses for different occasions you pretty much would have a closet with everything covered.

I am definitely going to be trying out the golf dress idea myself and just think dress making, literally, may be my major focus for the next little while.

So I tried out McCalls 6885 myself in some experimental cotton.

Knitmachinequeen's assessment was right, this dress is nice, good collar, a placket that I am going to rewrite with easier instructions, but really wide, including the neckline. If I made it again, and I will, I am going to bring the sides in.

When I first saw myself in this I said "tent dress" in my head, for those of you who remember what those were. My husband had a similar reaction. He said "shift" which is a term he remembers from his mother, and then "housedress" when he saw shift didn't go over well, although housedress was worse.

I have decided to leave the sides the way they are with this one however because to be truthful there is a time and a place for a tent dress in the warm summer.

An item with space between it and yourself and it can be a good idea.

I suspect this dress will get a lot of wear for that reason. 

Perfect for taking the little girls with me on errands or as a ... housedress. Something I can wear and evoke memories of my mother and her friends sitting in tent dresses drinking instant coffee (remember that?) in lawn chairs and telling us to go play. 
Not my best posture but I was explaining camera operation to my cooperative nephew

On the dog front Miss Daisy had a full vet assessment yesterday. This was the first since all the remedial work we had done in Florida ridding her of things you pick up in puppy mills.

The good news is the vet said her condition was absolutely remarkable given her history. I walk her a lot, a couple of hours a day, owning to the fact I get such happiness out of seeing her happiness on walks - you never saw such joy, and he said she was a strong dog with the "heart beat of an athlete."

She has a lingering ear infection in one ear however that we are treating, but the bad news is her teeth which are showing the history of her past poor diet and care. Puppy mill teeth are always an issue because of crap food, dirty water, and no medical attention. Bottom line is she is going to have to have two dental surgeries to remove some of her back teeth at the cost of a damn fine sewing machine. But that done she should be good.

Worth every penny of course to keep her healthy and to rid her of the last of her past. She and I signed up for each other and this is part of the deal.

Now off we go for a walk. It is a fine day.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sending kids off to college : part three - where to go?

I should credit my nephew with these posts because they are a reflection of many of our current dining room table discussions.

One of our big topics is where to go, what college or university to choose.

Sending a kid off to school is not unlike that other big milestone, the first day of elementary school. It is one of those acute letting go moments where you as a parent are more aware than they are that this is life changing, that something is being let go that will never quite be recoverable.

It is hard and quite natural for parents to hope everyone will be nice, that the teacher will notice your shy child, or understand the sweet person under your busy one, that your baby will make friends.

You hope for a small caring school and small classes.

I think many of us revert to this when it is time to send them off to post-secondary education. Recruiters know this and the emphasis from the smaller schools on quality of student life, a place where everyone knows your name is big.

It has occurred to me however that what a young person seeking to find their unique place in the world needs is not always the same place as the soon to be ex pre-schooler, and that different environments offer different opportunities.

Here IMO are not good reasons for choosing a particular school:

1. Everyone in the family went there. Even more so that one or both parents had the "time of their lives" there. This is not a good reason on so many levels.

  • It goes without saying that this is about your kid and not about you. I know a young woman who went to the site of her dad's glory days as captain of the football team and didn't really like it at all. She felt he was taking over her experience.
  • Schools change too. Any honest academic will tell you that any department or faculty goes through cycles, they periodically decline and are rebuilt, and the great program you did may not be the same anymore. 
  • College life is different now, part-time work, debt, an uncertain employment future, make the experience far less carefree than it once was.
2. It is a nice small school in a small college town and therefore less dangerous, intimidating, or impersonal than a larger, or more urban school.
If this is your prime reason for pushing a certain institution think again. I once asked my students to name the region's famous "party schools" meaning more wild parties, drinking, drugs and missed classes. All of the schools they named were in the smaller "college towns." None were the big urban universities. When you think about it the reasons are obvious. In any smaller community if there is less to do it is easier to get into trouble, more pressure to conform to a certain stereotype, less room for the individual to be themselves or find like souls. Some are even culturally more like a big high school than a place to find yourself.

When you think of the news and the stories that periodically come out about drinking or drug related college scandals for instance where do they come from? My point exactly.

3. It is a big name school. Obviously getting into Harvard is a good thing but it really matters so much more at the graduate level than the undergrad. Many of the profs who give well-know institutions their reputation will never teach undergrad courses at all, or at least often and certainly only in the final years. A good solid undergrad with great marks is the sensible aim here.

Also, entirely my own view, here are things to consider when choosing a school:

1. An interesting program (see earlier posts) with good faculty. Look who the teachers are and what their qualifications are. Profs should have education from a variety of institutions (more than one degree from the same institution is often not a good sign) and locations.

2. A place your child would actually like to live in. Places are teachers too. An interesting environment is an education in itself. What will your child do outside of class? Hopefully there will be something more interesting than a string of drive-through restaurants and an on-campus beer bash.

3. Diversity. Whatever you child does in the future it will involve living and working in an increasingly global environment. Your sorority sisters might be a fine part of your life but going forward being comfortable with folks who do not come from where you did is like gold. When I was 16 my family moved from a small town in Manitoba to Montreal and I did my first degree there. I learned so much about life, other people, other cultures there. I have benefitted from that experience the rest of my life. And you have to experience it first hand. Knowing that that girl in the hijab has a great sense of humour or seeing someone else get through school juggling three jobs may is part of a real education. One thing education should do is broaden a person's comfort zone, it just makes the rest of life easier.

In short you want your child to find a place where there is room to be themselves. Variety is so important. In range of programs, student population. You don't want your child to just to find themselves but find other people like themselves, fellow travellers with interests, if not history, in common. Look for a place where there is room to be different, because finding your uniqueness is what this period of life is about.

Off I go now to my current students.

A little more sewing and then over the weekend life skills every first year student should have.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On fewer patterns, more sewing

The more I go to New York to see my son and his girlfriend the more I am acquiring good fabric of the kind that I don't want to mess up by cutting into it with an experimental pattern.

This is elevating the importance of the tried and true pattern for me.

Of course I am and will be using new patterns but I am getting choosier about them. When I have something I really like I am going back to the patterns I know will work.

In the last little while I have made a few things from old patterns and liked them, in fact they are part of my wear a lot roster in way that my "on trend" garments, after a short while, are not.

Here they are. 

The first was this plain T shirt made in a cotton single knit. Nothing exciting and if I make it again I might bring in the sleeve seam for an update, but easy to wear. I used this old but still available Burda pattern:

In addition to attached dog, note rumpled sewing shorts and jewelled flip flops from Florida (can't buy anything like that here) the old legs need no introduction or explanation

My point here is that sometimes a good old plain pattern is pretty handy.

Which brings me to my most useful garment of the season, particularly now back in the province where fall passes for summer.

The fabric came from Elliot Berman in NYC and is sort of a knit quilted cotton/poly. A sharp eyed blog reader sent me good advice on how to sew this and that really helped.

I used an old pattern Loes Hinse's Sweater Coat that like many of her patterns is somewhat dated now, bringing up the shoulder/armhole seam and bringing in the sides so it had a more current fit. Next time I will also draft a back neck facing or apply tape over the collar seam - Loes always has you just serge this but that shows when the jacket is open.

For closures I used big snaps I got at M&J Trimming and they turned out to be a really good idea because the weight of them helps the knit front hang better, sort of a vertical version of a Chanel chain at the bottom of a jacket.

My favourite part of this pattern is the shape of the collar, which is flattering but not too high around the neck so it lies nicely, and the patch pockets set into the side seam.

Such a nice pattern, now it has been updated, why not use it again and again?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

One more thing

After I wrote the last post I drove over to feed my daughter's cat. On the way I remembered something smart I once read about career planning:

Don't do what you love, do what you are.

Think about that.

I feel we are not being truthful when we tell young people do what you love and the money will follow.

If that was true someone would be paying me $200,000 a year to sit at my dining room table and order fabric online. Or someone else would make a good living telling funny golf stories at family dinners.

In fact my own experience is that doing what you love is too important to let the demands of trying to make money too mess with it.

Instead if you do what you are - a bossy person, a person who likes to make people feel good about themselves, a person who likes to go off on their own and figure it out - and you can find an environment where you are able to be this person, then you will find a job you love.

The difference is important.

So the question the young person needs to ask themselves is who am, I not what do I want to do. And if they have no idea who they are yet (and who does) then figuring that out and how to discover that, what experiences might make that clearer, is far more important than trying to tick off a course box on an application form.

Sending kids off to college part two : how to choose a program

This really continues the theme of the last post on this subject, because to start with if your child hasn't a clue what they want to study they are not ready for college. It might be smarter for them to "find themselves" outside university before they consider it.

I say this knowing that many of my tenured colleagues would disagree, arguing that exploring interests and developing "critical thinking skills" are what undergraduate degrees are for.

I understand that point of view but to be really honest I think it comes from another time. When I was in university it was entirely possible to work for a summer and pay for a complete school year. Many people did that and as a result that time was sort of the golden age of the permanent student.

What we have now are kids who are working 1, 2, 3 part-time jobs while they study (something I never had to do during the school year) and still graduating with debts that will handicap them, postponing things like marriage, children, or buying a house, right into the years when financial planners say they should be well into putting together solid retirement savings.

For these kids getting through school is a struggle between deadlines, fatigue and work conflicts. The average debt my students graduate with from one undergraduate degree is $30,000 plus and this is often when they have had family help. The bill is many, many times that for further professional and graduate degrees.

We have to be careful that an education that is meant to open doors doesn't close them.

So before any parent panics and pushes a kid into a program, any program, because a university degree is a ticket to security, they need to be honest about whether that child is really ready or the program is really right.

After all my nephew came home from work the other night and told me he is bussing tables with a graduate with a B.A. and I know the manager of the local Dairy Queen has a B. Sc. How would you like to be working those jobs with the kind of debt I described? 

My thoughts on choosing undergraduate programs:

There are two kinds of under grad degrees. The ones that qualify you to apply to a graduate program with a specific outcome and under grad degrees that put you right in the work force.

Back to the B.A. and B. Sc. Many kids of course parlay these first degrees into something they can earn a living at, but to be truthful this is more often a case of their own innate hustle than anything they were taught in school. In most cases the B.A. will have to apply to a subsequent program, law, business etc. and the B. Sc. will have to go on and study further in say the health sciences to have a better career.

So in general I would say that unless your child is up for embarking on more than one degree the traditional first general degree might not make a lot of sense.

As to the alternatives, this is where it gets tough for parents.

The truth is that most of us have no idea what the possibilities are out there. Just like my dad who figured any girl had three options nurse, secretary or teacher. Many great possibilities exist, we, and often high school guidance folks are not much better,  just haven't heard about them.

What your student needs to do is look through university calendars in detail and be open to new programs, things they have never heard of.

And then, this is most important, go through the actual courses carefully to see if those courses are something worth getting out of bed on a Monday at 8:30 to go learn about. 

The course thing is really important. 

Over and over I hear students say "this degree isn't what I expected it to be, I never thought I would have to do some much (math, writing, biology, numbers) etc." All that would have been clearer if the student had gone carefully over the courses.

It is also useful and very relevant to ask the institution what per centage of grads are working in the field after graduation. Many don't keep track (which is a message in itself) but this might be interesting. I personally like undergraduate degrees of the qualifying kind that have a co-op or internship option. Those programs generally have a better track record with post graduation employment and tend to be better at making sure employable skills are taught for obvious reasons.

Finally this is my best career choosing advice.

Work backwards. 

Ask your child what their ideal adult work day would look like. Ask them about what they would wear, where they would live, how they would travel to work, what the work day feels like.

My nephew for instance said he wants to wear a suit and have a job where he knows what is expected everyday and where he has a clear idea when the work day begins and ends.

My youngest son, the one in the shirt, on the other hand regretted four years he spent doing business after one winter in an office. He knows himself better now and is so much happier out and about building and it now going back to school to do something technical. Why did we think the guy who never sat still, who could hardly stay at the table long enough to finish a meal before he ran off to some project, could live at a desk?

So once your potential student has this end day in mind work back to the kind of education that will get her or him there.

This idea came to me after a conversation I had with an animation designer. I will always remember him telling me, "I just thought I was creative, no one ever told me that would mean I would end up in a cubicle staring at a computer screen 14 hours a day six days a week."

Think that one through.

Tomorrow more sewing and the day after that thoughts on choosing a college.