Friday, September 30, 2011

What I've Been Reading: September

Before I started sewing I was a pretty avid reader.  Now that sewing and other crafts take up most of my time, I don't plow through nearly as many books as I used to, but I do get around to reading a select few.  I thought I’d borrow Valerie’s (from Threads and Thoughts and Things I Love) idea and recap the books that I read at the end of each month in case you're looking for some recommendations.

Here is September’s batch!

I picked this book up when we were visiting Yellowstone during our Great Western Adventure.  It’s amazing how many people get WAY too close to the wildlife, geological features, and cliffs, even though you receive a pamphlet at the front gate outlining the dangers of everything in the park.  When I saw this in one of the gift shops I knew it was the perfect souvenir! 

This book details every death in the park from 1839 to 1994, the year it was published.  While we were there, I was overly paranoid about keeping our distance from hot springs and cliff edges—it seemed so easy to trip and fall and die.  But most of the deaths that are chronicled in the book happen because the visitor did something really stupid. 

The first death that was described in the book was a heartbreaking story about a guy who dove into a hot spring to rescue his friend’s dog, who had jumped in after escaping from their car.  The dog ended up dying while the guy was trying to lift it out of the hot spring, and the guy died the next day from severe burns almost all over his body.  Having read this on the first page, I didn’t think I’d be able to make it through an entire book of sad stories, but, thankfully for me (not the people), the stories changed in tone.  I’d say about 80% of the deaths happened because the visitors were doing something that was unsafe, such as camping or hiking alone, getting way too close to wildlife, or getting drunk and wandering around a hot spring area alone at night.

The point that the author makes is that Yellowstone is not a theme park and that there are real dangers to visitors, and that visitors should respect nature for what it is—wild and unpredictable.  Of course when we got to the Grand Canyon and saw a similar book there, we had to pick it up.  I thought I’d give myself a breather from all of that death though, so it’s on hold until later!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I heard of The Help a few months ago from friends of ours, who suggested that I read it.  With all of the craziness of preparing for our vacation, I didn’t get around to going to the library to pick it up, and then I forgot about it.

Then, before we left for vacation, I couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing a preview for the movie adaptation The Help.  Knowing what the book was about, I thought it was kind of strange that they were billing the film as a comedy.  When we got home from vacation, my parents happened to have just finished reading it, so they lent me their copy of the book.

First of all, I hate reading a book after the movie has come out, because then I can only imagine the characters as who they are in the movie (even if I haven’t seen the movie yet).  Second, this book is far from a comedy.  Sure, there are funny parts, but overall, it is a heartbreaking look at the history of our society.  It’s definitely worth reading and, if you’re like me, it will leave you crying in your train seat. 

Heads up: In my attempt to save everyone from reading a book after they see the movie (or even previews for a movie), I'm letting everyone know that the movie adaptation of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is set to release in January.  I highly suggest you pick this one up before they start running previews for it!  It is definitely a must read.  Fair warning though: it will leave you crying in your train seat.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pretty Things Thursday: Vintage Ice Cream Dishes

When my grandparents downsized, Nick and I got a bunch of their kitchenware, including these old ice cream dishes.

Vintage Icecream Bowls

They are Glasbake brand, which I had never heard of.  Aren't the colors so pretty?

Vintage Icecream Bowls

It's so convenient that they match my place mats perfectly!  They look much better with ice cream in them.

Vintage Icecream Bowls

The coral one is my favorite and I always try to snag it for myself!  Yums!

Vintage Icecream Bowls

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Ever Evolving Project Spreadsheet

Happy middle of the week!  Back in July I shared my way of keeping track of projects through a spreadsheet.  I am here to report that my spreadsheet has been evolving in the two months since I first created it.  I hope I’m not the only crazy person out there who needs to list everything out in a very detailed way!

Originally, I had all of my future, current, and completed projects listed on one tab.  As I kept coming up with more and more projects, that tab started to get pretty long and unmanageable.  To remedy this, I removed the completed projects from that tab and inserted them on their very own tab, called 2011.  When we get to 2012, I will start a whole new tab for completed projects.

I also needed a way to organize all of the projects that I was daydreaming about.  I decided to keep in-progress projects at the top of the tab, but then to divide all future projects into seasons.  They are:


When deciding which season a project should go in, I took into account how badly I wanted to have that item finished, what season it would be appropriate for, and if I had any specific reason to finish an item.  For instance, even though I love the design, I pushed off making a Lonsdale dress until the Spring because I didn’t want to spend weeks making a dress and then not be able to wear it for another 6 months.  I also had to prioritize items that I am making as gifts and decide how they were going to fit into my sewing schedule.  I know I've said it before, but I will not have last minute sewing again this Christmas!  For the record, I plan on starting all of my Christmas-related sewing projects at the beginning of December, which will be more than enough time to finish weeks before they need to be given.  I hope that if I keep repeating myself, this will actually happen.

Of course there are random projects that don’t really fit into a season, so I allowed myself to have a catch-all section for small projects that can be completed when I have a little wiggle room.  This section mostly consists of curtains, dishtowels, and napkins that I need to make for the house.

I am also finding it helpful to list mending projects as well, since they always seem to get pushed aside.  I have been meaning to mend the arm seam on one of Nick’s sweaters and take the hem up on one of my skirts for over a year.  Once I put them on the spreadsheet I felt compelled to move them to the completed tab.  The items are now fixed and we can actually wear them this winter!  It’s amazing how motivated I get if I can cross something off a list.

Once I saw all of the projects that I wanted to complete listed, I knew that there was no way I’d ever complete everything in the designated season.  I edited down the seasons so I would only have one garment listed per month.  I think sewing up one garment per month is realistic at this point.  At least I hope it is!  If it proves to be too much, I’ll have to make edits again.

So what is on my plate for the coming month?  Right now, here is what I am working on:
  • Mr. Bird: I've been working on this in the evenings after work when I feel like doing something creative but don't have the mental energy to sew. I just have the frame to finish and then I can hang up all four of them!
  • Halloween embroidery to hang up at my desk at work: I’m working on this during lunch.
  • Sew U Blouse Muslin for my sewing class: I should finish up the muslin at class on Wednesday, so I'll be starting on the actual blouse soon!
  • Lisette Market Skirt: After stitching up the muslin on Sunday, I have made a little progress on the actual skirt.

It sounds like I am a crazy person!  Once I finish the Market Skirt, I’m going to work on the new Colette Pattern, Peony.

I am so excited about this dress!  I hope to finish it in time for an event at work on November 2nd.  I am looking to make a simple pencil skirt since mine is looking a little ratty.  Anyone have any pattern suggestions?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lisette Market Skirt Muslin

On Sunday I stitched up the muslin for the Lisette Market skirt (Simplicity 2211).  I took a chance and sewed the size 12, even though it called for measurements that were a little smaller than mine.  I checked out the finished garment measurements and figured the smaller size would look better, but it actually turned out a little bit too tight.  Hence, why I had Nick hold up the muslin rather than taking a picture with it on.  There was no way I could model it without also modeling my undies.

  Lisette Market Skirt

I left off the waist stay and the tabs that attach to the waist since they didn't affect the fitting of the skirt.  There are two pleats in the front and two pleats in the back of the skirt.  It sits about an inch below the waist.

It was really easy and quick to put together—I was able to sew it up in less than an hour, not counting the time it took me to cut out the pattern pieces.  Hopefully I'll have another skirt to wear to work after next weekend!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Finally Finished Passport Dress!

The long-awaited Passport dress is finally finished!  I can’t believe it took me so long to put this dress together, considering the muslin took me less than two hours.  Of course I ran into a few snags along the way. (I apologize for the headless pictures again!  Sundays are when I make no attempt to do my hair or makeup, in addition to needing a haircut.  I will plan better in the future!)

Lisette Passport Dress

The main thing that slowed me down was that my instructor and I decided to add a full lining to the dress (the original pattern doesn’t call for any lining).  Basically I sewed up two versions of the dress (leaving the top seam of the straps open) and then attached them together at the neckline and the armpit.  Then I pulled the lining through the straps to turn the dress right side out and then sewed the top seam of the strap like usual, making sure that the lining was out of the way.  Then I trimmed the seam allowance on the strap and tucked the extra behind the lining (so it’s essentially sandwiched in between the lining and the fashion fabric), folded the lining over and tucked the extra underneath the lining layer, and then whip stitched the edge of the lining to the fashion fabric.  Then I was ready to top stitch around the armpit holes and neckline.  See why I decided to wait until I was with my instructor to do these steps?  At the time it was confusing the hell out of me, but now that I’ve done it once (twice actually, but we’re not there yet), I understand the logic behind it and am comfortable doing it again by myself.  That’s the point of taking sewing lessons, right?

Lisette Passport Dress

The sad part was when I tried on the dress to mark the hemline and I realized that there was gaping in the neck on the front and the back.  Gah!  I was infuriated, especially since the muslin fit so well.  My instructor and I ended up pinching up the straps a bit, which completely fixed the fitting issues without making the armpit too tight.  But it also meant that I had to take out the straps and redo everything that I explained above.  Wah wah.  The silver lining is that since I used this strategy twice, I will definitely remember it going forward.  I used the marked up muslin to cut out my fashion and lining fabric, so either I didn’t use the adjusted lines to cut out the straps or my fabric shifted while I was cutting those pieces.  Either way, I’m glad I now have a strategy to fix neck gaping!

I really love the detailing on the front of the dress.  The bodice is crisscrossed and there are also pleats on the front and back of the skirt.

Lisette Passport Dress Front Detailing

Once the straps were fixed I was all ready to start hemming, when we realized that there was barely a ½ inch for the hem.  I couldn’t believe it!  My instructor sent me to Joann to pick up 1 inch hem tape, but they only had 1 7/8 inch or ½ inch hem tape, so I picked up both and ended up not being able to use either.  When I went back to return the tapes, I picked up some hem ribbon, which did the trick.  I stitched it to the raw edge of the bottom of the dress (sewing my finger in the process) and then flipped it up and stitched the ribbon to the dress.

Lisette Passport Dress Hem

And now I finally have a finished Passport dress!  Even though it took forever to sew, I’m pleased with the result.  It’s comfortable and cute for work, but is also cool enough to wear during the summer.  My one major oops for this project was that I inserted the lapped zipper with the opening facing the front instead of the back.  Nothing major, but I’ll make sure to be aware of that in the future. 

I will probably make another Passport, but not for a while.  We need a break from each other.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Great Western Adventure: Days 1-4

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Day 1: Drive from Newtown, PA to Chicago, IL via PA Route 6 and the PA Grand Canyon

We had quite the lengthy drive scheduled for our first day, so we thought we should add in some attractions along the way to break it up.  I drove to the end of the PA Northeast Extension for the first time, en route to Wellsboro and the home of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, the first of three “grand canyons” that we were to see during our trip.  When we arrived in Wellsboro, we stopped at the Wellsboro Diner, an adorable diner in an old train car, for a quick lunch. 

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While waiting for our food, I glanced up and noticed this sign above the doorway.  I wonder what it originally said instead of “sure.”

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After lunching on my first of many grilled cheeses, we headed 10 miles out of town to the PA Grand Canyon.  I thought it was a little underwhelming.

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Then we got back on the road and drove Route 6 across Pennsylvania.  It’s a fun drive, but pretty slow going due to the 25 mph speed limit in all of the small towns that you pass through.  It was neat seeing a lot of the old steel towns, even if some of them are pretty sad and rundown.  One of the towns was hosting a Swedish Festival and we drove through right before the parade started.  Since Nick is super Swedish, I considered us the pre-parade. 

As much as I enjoyed the scenic Route 6, I was happy to finally get on a highway once we reached I-90 and were able to get through Ohio and Indiana pretty quickly.  We arrived at the Palmer House in Chicago at 2am and I was borderline delirious from being in the car since 8am.  Needless to say, we went straight to bed.

Day 2: Chicago

We woke up early and grabbed a quick breakfast at Corner Bakery before powerwalking to our architecture boat tour with Wendella Boat Tours.  Our tour guide was slightly cranky and it was raining for the first half of our tour, but we enjoyed it anyway.  We chose the tour that did a small loop on the Chicago River before venturing out onto Lake Michigan.  This tour was a little less detailed than their strictly river tour, but we wanted to get out on the lake and see the Chicago skyline, so we opted for the river and lake combined.  When we visit again (and I’m sure we will), we can take the river tour.  It all works out!

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The tour was littered with hilarious superlatives about the city’s architecture, like, the tallest building in the US that was built by a woman who owns her own firm (the curvy building shown below) or the tallest building to have 2 clock faces above a certain height.  Really guys?

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We did learn some interesting things about Chicago, like how in 1900 they reversed the flow of the Chicago River because everyone was throwing their trash into the river and it was getting into Lake Michigan and just causing a giant mess.  Apparently it’s pretty easy to reverse the flow of a river!  All bodies of water flow to the largest body of water that they have access to, so all the engineers needed to do was build a canal that allowed the Chicago River to eventually empty into the Mississippi, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico, which is connected to the Atlantic Ocean.  This is craziness to me, but apparently it’s simple science.  What’s hilarious about this entire thing is that the other states bordering Lake Michigan were worried that the reversal was going to empty out Lake Michigan.  All 1,180 cubic miles of it!  They filed a lawsuit against Chicago which lasted 38 years!  Eventually they all agreed on a lock system, which we got to go through when entering and exiting the lake.  Pretty awesome!

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After our tour, we headed to meet Nick’s cousin (who lives in Chicago) at Lou Malnati’s for some deep dish pizza, but when we arrived we discovered that they were closed that day for a company event.  Good thing we had a Chicago native with us, because he took us to Gioridano’s, which he thinks is better than Lou Malniti’s anyway.  Man that place was crowded!  The pizzas take so long to bake that you order yours before you are even seated.  On a normal day, the pizzas would be ready for you by the time you sit down, but we ended up having to wait a bit longer after we were seated for ours.  And we ordered WAY too much pizza.  It was delicious though! 

Once sufficiently stuffed (with stuffed pizza!), we headed over to the Art Institute for some more culture.  Nick had a list of things he wanted to see (most inspired by Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), including Nighthawks, American Gothic, and a Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.  We never knew that the woman in American Gothic was the man’s daughter!  She always looked so old to us, but sure enough, the placard confirmed that she is not his wife.  Next to American Gothic was this painting, titled Bucks County Barn.  What a coincidence (we live in Bucks County)!

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We also perused a folk art exhibit and saw this awesome quilt.  Nick loved it too and wants me to recreate it for our wall.

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There is an entire wing devoted to miniature rooms.  I couldn’t believe the detail that went into these displays, which were essentially very ornate dollhouse rooms.  This exhibit was probably my favorite thing that we saw at the Art Institute.  They were hard to photograph since they were encased in glass, but here is a shot of one from the Art Institute’s website.

We also came across these small busts that were displayed in a hallway.  They are sculpted from political cartoons by Honore Daumier depicting "French notables from the 1830s."  They were hilarious!

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We had to force ourselves to leave the Art Institute so we could venture over to Millennium Park and check out the famous Bean, but we could have easily spent an entire day in there.  I kind of feel bad for the Bean’s sculptor, because I’m sure almost no one knows that “The Bean” is not the sculpture’s name.  It is actually called Cloud Gate, but everyone calls it the bean because it looks like a bean.  The deal with the Bean is that it’s made of seamless stainless steel and while standing in front of it you can see yourself with varying views of the Chicago skyline behind you, depending on where you’re standing.  Let me tell you, everyone LOVES the Bean.  There were loads of people there just snapping away at different angles.

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There we are in the bottom right corner!  I'm wearing one of my Gingers!
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We also got a nice closer up view of the skyline.  There are some really beautiful buildings.

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Next to the Bean is this quiet enclosed garden, where I met this lovely bunny. 

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After taking about 50 shots of her eating the same plant (I spared you from having to view all of them), I wandered around and admired the beautiful flowers.

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Then I made my way back to see what bunny was up to just in time for some other people to scare her away.  Isn’t she adorable scampering away?

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We had dinner reservations so we had to leave the pretty garden and clean up before catching a cab to Bonsoiree, which is apparently so exclusive that they don’t even have a sign outside to tell you that you are at the correct address.  (Full disclosure: we are not even close to being that fancy.  Nick found them online.)  We were there for No Menu Sundays, which is basically a tasting menu of the chef’s choosing.  We had seven delicious courses made with ingredients from the Green City and Logan Square Farmer’s Markets, including a very fresh non-fishy fish, garlic zucchini soup, wagyu beef, frozen grapefruit, and cheesecake.  Since I am allergic to shellfish, they subbed out ingredients on my plates, so Nick was able to taste some dishes done two ways.  One of the substitutions for crab that I got was a fried cauliflower.  WOW.  I have never really been a fan of cauliflower, but this one tasted exactly like an eggroll.  I have no idea how they did it, but it was amazing.

After dinner we took a cab to Navy Pier for a nice after-dinner walk.  We walked all of the way to the end of the pier and then back again, catching a magic show along the way.  Before we left, we took a ride on the 150-foot high Ferris Wheel and I nearly had a heart attack. 

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When we got back to the hotel we took a few minutes to admire the detailing at the Palmer House, which was rebuilt in 1875 after the original burned down in the Great Chicago Fire.  The famous peacock doors are no longer used, but I’m glad we were able to get a close-up look at them.  They are gorgeous.

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The lounge is impressive.  With the murals on the ceilings to the ornate candelabras all over the place, this is probably the prettiest hotel we have ever stayed in.

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Day 3: Drive from Chicago, IL to Moline, IL

I don’t have any pictures from this day, but we drove from Chicago to Moline, which is about 3 hours outside of Chicago, to stay with Nick’s grandmother for the night.  On the way we stopped to have brunch with Nick’s uncle.  In Moline we visited the John Deere showroom and saw the mighty Mississippi.  I can’t believe how huge and expensive that farm equipment is!  Then we had a delicious home cooked meal before turning in early for the night.

Day 4: Drive from Moline, IL to Rapid City, SD

After eating breakfast and saying goodbye to Nick’s grandmother, we hit the road again for one of our lengthiest drives.  We drove through Iowa and Minnesota before entering South Dakota, where we would have two stops before arriving in Rapid City for the night.  The first stop was the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.  They really like to emphasize World’s Only!  It’s a multi-use center, where they host anything from local basketball games to small concerts.  But the main attraction is that the entire outside of the building is decorated with murals made of corn husks. 

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It was pretty hilarious, but I was impressed with the detail that they were able to convey with the corn.

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A little before we arrived at the Corn Palace, we started seeing signs for Wall Drug, some 300 miles away, and we continued to see Wall Drug signs every few miles for the entire drive.  Back in 1936, the owner decided it was a good marketing plan to offer a free glass of ice water to anyone who dropped by.  Seventy five years later, they still give you a free glass of ice water. I'm going to apologize now for any taken-from-the-car photos that are a bit blurry.

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The Wall Drug signs are pretty inventive and kept the drive interesting.  We also saw tons of farms, including sunflower farms, which I didn’t even know existed. 

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We also saw a few sculptures randomly placed in fields along the road.  I’ll take it!

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Just before sunset, we arrived at the Badlands.  We couldn’t have timed it better!  The setting sun created shadows along the rocks that made the place spooky and beautiful at the same time.

This lovely guy was waiting to greet us at the Badlands entrance and got me excited at the possibility of seeing my favorite animal, the lovely prairie dog.

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  Nick and I both took a million pictures there, but pictures didn’t seem to do the colors and scene justice.

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It was so bizarre that this landscape was in the middle of prairie lands.  The park system built a road that weaves through the whole park.  Once it was dark, we headed out of the park and over to the famed Wall Drug. 

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We arrived minutes before they closed and were served the very last free glasses of ice water for the day.

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With all of the hype built up from the signs, I was expecting something awesome at Wall Drug, but it was essentially a drug store with a giant gift store attached—a bit of a bummer.  We were very glad we didn’t rush through the Badlands to get to Wall Drug!  After drinking our water, we made the very dark drive from Wall, SD to Rapid City, where we ate a very disgusting dinner at a family restaurant before checking into our first Hampton Inn for the trip.  Here’s a tip if you plan on going on a trip where you’ll have to stay at multiple hotels: find a hotel chain that offers rewards.  We signed up for the Hilton Rewards program and since we stayed at all Hilton hotels except for when we stayed in the national parks, we got points for every stay (the Palmer House and Hampton Inn are owned by Hilton).  I’m not sure how many points we saved up, but I’m sure we’re close to at least a free night’s stay.

On a gross but related note, I insisted on checking each bed for bed bugs before any of our belongings were placed on the floor or any furniture in the room.  Nick thought this was nuts, but bed bugs are becoming a huge problem out East and they are insanely hard and expensive to get rid of.  Good Housekeeping has a good article on how to check for bed bugs while traveling.

So I don’t end on a gross note, here’s a sneak peak at what we did next!

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