Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lingerie Review: Cleo Ellis

So, you know I've spent the last 3 weeks spring cleaning. It's been mainly by necessity - certainly not from natural enthusiasm. There's nothing like finding 4 sweaters with holes and a moth to change the trajectory of one's free time for a month.

In case you're wondering, yes - I have over-reacted.

But, I've also managed to cull about 40 items (conservative estimate) from my wardrobe, as I've cleaned, mended and reorganized.

Sure, I imagine, were I to count - and I'm getting almost curious enough to take on this ridiculous exercise - I'd have 20 skirts and 20 dresses and 40 sweaters and 10 pairs of jeans - for starters. But I really enjoy everything and most of it fits (except for a small collection which is a size up or a size down, just to be practical).

I'm actually rather pleased to know what's what, and to be able to see it all easily.

Disclaimer: I have always been a rather organized and tidy person (with a strong, orderly aesthetic) so my closet, while now more minimal, is really not any prettier than it was before.

One of the areas I've culled excessively is the lingerie drawer. As my body has changed over the past couple of years, I find that many of my sets are no longer as supportive as they need to be. I've also gone up approximately a cup size - so the bras that were on the smaller size in my wardrobe, are now too small. Are they wearable? Yes. Will I wear them? Not a chance.

On this topic: Stay tuned for another bra "sale" in the near future.

I mean, don't start crying for me. I still have more beautifully-fitted, gorgeous bras than any human being requires. But now the drawer seems a little bit lacking in something, how shall we say it?, new and fun.

It seems the only two brands I buy anymore are Cleo and Empreinte. Empreinte brings out the European sexpot in me (with unparalleled shape and support) while Cleo hits the fun spot.

Lots of peeps are pissed that Cleo can't seem to make a bra that even vaguely nods at neutral. I hear those angsty cries, but I LOVE the insane patterns that this brand produces again and again and again.

To wit:

Photo courtesy of Miss Underpinnings (you should read her post...)
Once I had a lot of pink in the cupboard. Now, I need some more!

Is this not perfect for spring??

This bra fits very similarly to the Melissa and the Bella - both of which I own and which I've reviewed (click on the links).

If anything, this version of the style is the best fitting of them all so far - though I have achieved very good, "boobs on a plate" fit in every Cleo bra I've bought in this size. The bands are quite tight so consider sizing up. I wear a 32 and, while I'm getting used to it, I use an extender.

You should know that not all Cleos are constructed the same. The Lucy, for example, works better for wider, bottom-heavy breasts (in the scheme of things - the line does cater to narrow roots).

But, if you have narrow roots of standard height (see the link, above, on Melissa for more about this lingo) and very projected, even-to-full-on-top breasts, this might be the brand for which you thank your lucky stars.

Did I mention that it's totally affordable? I got the set on eBay for 50 bucks, all in. Please. (It almost offsets the hysteria-inducing prices of Empreinte.)

Some Details:
  • The pattern is as gorgeous in real life as in photos.
  • The bra is comfortable - but note that the band size runs quite small in Cleo bras.
  • The fabrics are supremely supportive because there's NO stretch in them of any sort. Having said that, they can be stiff at first. The fabric is never going to be luxe. Mind you, it feels luxer than any mid-priced brand I've tried.
  • The undies are standard issue with this cut of Cleo bra. There's a boy short and a thong. Both fit nicely, but I'd size up in each - especially the thong.
  • The weakest elements of the Cleo bra persist: the straps are too thin (and not strong compared to the rest of the bra) and the back has only 2x2 hooks and eyes. This works fine for me because the band of the bra, wires and fabric (in addition to construction technique) give me adequate support. But, in a larger cup size - or in the case of heavier breasts / breasts of different shapes - both of these challenges can be significant. And they're both very resolvable! Mind you, that would involve money and the reason this brand is affordable is because it's somewhat no-frills.
  • The shape is fantastic: high, round and front-and-centre. Totally pin-up and not in any way minimizing. Mind you, bras that minimize tend to add 10 pounds (by compressing breast tissue and moving it to the side body and down towards the abdomen), so why would you want that??
  • The difference between the Ellis and the Melissa/Bella (and I'll need to wear it for a while before I understand the fit fully) is in the upper cup and the immediate centre front projection. That's why it works so well for me. My boobs jut straight out quickly from the breastbone (and are quite close set). Bras which provide immediate projection from the centre gore are my best friends! And, trust me, they're very hard to find. The lace is quite soft and open (though not stretchy like that of the Panache Jasmine). This makes it malleable for upper breast fullness, but not weak as stretchy lace can be if one's breast tissue is soft.
I'd say the fabric hand is more like the Bella than the Melissa but the fit is more like the Melissa than the Bella. Of these three bras, I sense I will continue to love the Melissa best - it's just spectacular - but I can tell that the Ellis has already edged out the Bella. The Bella is good, but it's a bit pointier and sturdier than either of the others. And I just don't dig turquoise as I thought I would.

Well there's an epic on a Wednesday afternoon. Wait till you hear what else I've bought!

Today's questions: Do you wear Cleo? Why or why not? If you wear it and you love it, is your shape similar to mine? Do you love this gorgeous pattern?? (Yeah, I know that one's leading.) Let's talk!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Finished Object: Claudia Pants, Take 3

Today, the bug-free lifestyle focus is on yarn. I keep my stash in a box, in ziploc bags, but it never hurts to shake everything out and ensure that all the bags are without any tears. Plus, I want to put some Kleenex dotted with cedar essential oil into each bag. People, I have gone through so much freakin' cedar in the last month, I cannot tell you...

But let's talk about the pants. Here's the thing. They're done. Actually, they're drying as I type. I decided to wash them after making them - something which never happens. I washed because they're a bit big. And on that note - how is it that these pants are still too big and they've got less stretch than any other fabric I've used to make them in the past?? Something is not adding up...

In case you're curious about the basic shape (but not the colour, which is apparently rather evasive), here they are:

Anyway, the thing is that they're basically flannel pants. Yeah, you read that right. I made pants that are essentially flannel. Sure, flannel with a bit of flair, but flannel-feeling all the same. They do not drape nicely. They do not contour with splendour. They don't have a ton of recovery.

Here's a shot that sort of captures the colour and texture, though really, the blue is actually quite deep and rich - not washed out as it seems here:

Before we get all sad about it, um, I do happen to live in Canada. I can assure you that, at some point - and probably in the next calendar year - I will have occasion to wish that I had a pair of pants in my wardrobe that are both chic and flannel-ish. So I'm not putting them on the lawn! But I won't be wearing them for a long time (I hope, please weather goddess).

Mind you, next sewing project - I'd really like it to be a spring-wearable winner.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

What T'will Be Will Be...

Yesterday, on my way to work I found a fabric moth. Y'all know about my bug phobia. Well, it doesn't apply to fabric moths (or most flying things, really). I smashed the shit out of that thing. Of course, it was the sign that I would once again need to shake out and review all of my fabric stash.

Just spent hours doing that. Um - it seems my late-winter fabric spree was epic people. I do not know how I've got so much yardage fitting into one tiny cupboard. Then, in addition to 55 yards of fabric, I've got notions up the yin yang, muslin, lingerie supplies and interfacing. I am officially finished with shopping for fabric for a very long time. Honestly, I have everything I could possibly ever need or want. (Actually, I have awesome fabrics - it's hardly upsetting to pet them, even as I feel vaguely overwhelmed.)

I am very grateful to say that all of my stash is whole and bug-free. I do intend to add cedar and lavender to the cupboard - and maybe to get these moth tent things my friend Nicole told me about. They're work on pheremones and mess with the reproductive cycle of the bugs. All natural, effective and odor-free!

One good thing about this seemingly endless exercise is that it has compelled me to pre-treat all of my washable fabric. When next I reach for it, it'll be all set to go. (Usually I have to factor washing and drying into my sewing experience.)

Mind you, it's derailed my sewing plans for the weekend - or delayed them, anyhow.

I've decided to make another pair of Claudia pants using the stretch cotton twill I recently bought at Fabrications. Note: This will be my third pair. The first I wear constantly. The second I put on the lawn (it was made with that hideous black Bengaline and was too big).

Here's the thing, I'm not sure that I like the twill. Don't misunderstand. It's a lovely fabric in the abstract (far lovelier than the photo below would lead you to believe). But, on washing it, the right side developed a definite brushed quality. I should say that it isn't napped - as far as I can tell - as the brushed quality isn't directional.

You can't see it in the pic, (which makes the twill look flat and grey - it's actually navy blue), but the right side almost looks like suede or velvet:

Peeps, I hate napped fabrics. Nubby fabric kind of creeps me out, not to mention that it picks up every bit of floating lint or hair (yuck). It reminds me distinctly of half of my wardrobe circa 1983. The thing that's saving this twill is that its brushed quality is very subdued. Mind you, all brushed fabrics seem to have one thing in common: they're stiff.

I do feel rather liberated though, to approach this fabric with adventure and not too much investment. It's got about 10 per cent stretch so I doubt it will create a finished product that's too big. And, who knows, I may discover a new-found love as I work with it.

Having said all this, if it doesn't thrill me, onto the front walk it goes. I don't have time to coddle. It's got to hit the mark or someone else can enjoy it on its merit.

The fabric is cut, marked and ready to go. I hope I have time to make the pants tomorrow - but if not, at least I'm proceeding. I've got to remember: it's all sewing. And every time I finish something - if I like it - I've got to find somewhere to put it. So slow is alright. I'm pacing myself with Chianti :-)

Today's questions: What do you think of napped fabric? Is velvet/suede/corduroy your fave thing ever? Does it remind you of nails on a chalkboard? Do you like brushed twill? Let's talk!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Arsenic and New Lace

Here's the truth: Mizutama shawl notwithstanding, I'm not really into lacework. Partly, I'm not into it because it looks dainty (which veers dangerously close to granny territory). Partly I'm not into it because it is dainty (though that shit can be STRONG). But really, I'm not into it because it's hard to do.

Don't misunderstand, the work is not beyond me (though it is beyond me after a couple of glasses of wine and, seriously, why can't I come to terms with this???). It's not even as hard as it looks, in many instances. But it's endlessly fussy. Yarn overs kind of suck. Sure, they make a pretty fabric, but at what cost?

It's not that I'm lazy. I spend a ridiculous amount of effort on fit (and the principles that contribute to it). I'd hazard to say that I spend as much time on a "standard" stockinette sweater as on a lace shawl, once I've accounted for the maths that sweater requires. Really, a lace shawl just happens. If you get the stitches right, keep on and one day, poof, there's a shawl. The sweater-in-process requires endless revisiting, remeasuring, refining.

You may note that most of what I makes falls into the single colour, single pattern, often-stockinette, category. Well-executed, I think these sorts of items make a huge statement. I'm not going to try to convince you that a well-fitted stockinette pullover is as fantastic as a fair-isle scarf or a gorgeous cabled cardigan. Arguably, a well-fitted, fair-isle, cabled cardigan is the best thing of all! But, if the complex thing falls short of the mark and the simple one hits it in the dot, I'll take something simple any day.

The fact is, I only have so much appetite for any given project. And arguably so much talent. Oh, and let's not forget about experience (talent's nerdy older sibling). All of which is to say that you won't be seeing another lacework shawl in these parts anytime soon. Not that I won't happily wear the one I've got...

But over to you... Today's questions: What technique really pushes your buttons? What do you avoid, either because you can't do it or you won't do it? What's your top priority when you make something (yarn-feel, finished object, ease vs complexity)? Feel free to speak in terms of any craft you enjoy. No need to limit the conversation to knitting.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Finished Object: A Shawl For Spring

I was thinking of calling this shawl "The Beacon" because I knitted it, in some way, to draw out the inscrutable spring:

Mizutama Shawl by Olga Buraya-Kefelian

I am very pleased with the result, if not the process. I'll speak to that process more in my next post, but for now let's just say, you won't be seeing a lot of new lacework in my knitting queue anytime again soon.

A luck would have it, Andrea and Sara were as intrigued by this pattern as was I - so much so that they suggested a mini KAL, just the three of us, to make a trio of candy-coloured spring offerings.
You will hear from those ladies, about their experiences, in their time so please stay tuned.

I will say, it was tremendously pleasant, in the midst of some maddening knitting, to know that I had company. We even bought our yarn together - for colour coordination! So there's solidarity in this knit-along.

About The Yarn

You know that I'm perennially positive about Madeline Tosh yarns, but I'm not really feeling this Merino Light. It's a single-ply yarn with lots of natural variation in thickness. I didn't find it weak (though it did get thin in some spots) but I did find it uneven - and stupidly splitty (a nightmare with lacework). It also dyed my hands for days. If you read the reviews of the yarn on Ravelry, you'll find a polarized community. Many corroborate my issues. Some experienced much more extreme cases of the same. Still others love this yarn to bits and don't understand what all the fuss is about. I think the batches vary wildly. In worst case scenarios, people haven't been able to wind the yarn without breakage or matting, so I suggest that you have your skeins wound at the store. Then, if you find there's an issue, you won't have trudged it all home.

Having said this, Sara loves Tosh Merino Light and she's used it many times. Moreover, how often can you make an item out of one skein of yarn, for $25.00? I cannot quibble with the colour, which is flat out gorgeous. I just hope it doesn't continue to bleed. (It didn't dye the water as much as I thought it would, given the amount of pink on my hands.)

The yarn blocks quite easily and well. It doesn't become a puddle of growing stitches when submerged in water. I used blocking wires and pins, which are non-negotiable if you want to achieve a triangular result.

For the most part, the finished fabric is even but there are a couple of errant stitches that seem to have kinked themselves out of place. I'm trying to ignore them.

About The Pattern

It's a good, clear pattern, though it does have a very strange way of instructing how to make the first polka-dot (if you use the bottom up method). I cannot fault the directions but I had endless issues with the stitch pattern - even as I forced myself to focus! Every other row I seemed to gain or lose a stitch at either end. It was maddening given all the mental effort I expended to ensure this wouldn't occur. I finally realized that it didn't matter. The issue wasn't visible as long as I caught up on the next row (I always did) and it didn't impact the polka-dot placement. Very fatigued at the end, I did actually fuck up the polka-dot alignment on my last lace repeat. Let me tell you, that's 2 hours I'm never getting back. With lots of sweat and concentration, I did pull it back from the edge. The benefit of such a repetitive pattern is that you start to understand how it works, how every stitch interrelates to all of the stitches around it. Unfortunately, this insight comes with hours of ripped back rows and half rows (a serious bitch when such a fabric).

Note that I used a smaller needle size than recommended, as I knit loosely, and I didn't want the stitches to be loose. There's already enough negative space happening in this shawl - it needs structure in its stitches. The result of this, compounded by the fact that I had 420 yards of yarn (vs the 455-475 yards that the pattern advises), is that my shawl is 2 repeats shorter than the pattern suggests and seems to be on the small end. It's not too small, but I wouldn't want it any tinier.

About The Finished Shawl

It's super pretty, peeps. Very feminine, but in downtown way. It falls beautifully and it gives a good amount of warmth for its weight. I can imagine wearing it with everything from jeans and a t-shirt to a skirt ensemble or a dress. If you like making lacework scarves, do not delay. No doubt you will benefit from having this in your wardrobe. It's great transportation knitting as the 4-row repeat is easily memorable (if not followable) and it's portable.

So, what do you think? Would you make it? Would you wear it? Does the colour appeal? Do you think a candy-pink shawl is nuts? In a good way? Let's talk!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Finished Object: The Svalbard Cardigan

You can tell how ambivalent I am about everything these days because I finished this thing 2 weeks ago, and I haven't bothered to take pics till now.

Here's the Svalbard cardigan:

No two ways about it, this thing does not photograph well. If you want a sweater to look cute in a photo, make sure it has waist shaping. Or wear it (which was never gonna happen what with how I look today.)

See how sweetly the ribbing mitres at the curve? That's some nice drafting...
You can see a bit more of the structure in the flat shots...
And here's that cute heart detail on the back yoke... I think you would agree, the error that cost me hours (while not gone) is not noticeable.
In the final analysis, I think this looks best on Andrea - but she swears it looks terrific on me.

Points of Interest
  • I could not have altered this to fit me any better. The shape is what it is - which is to say not hourglass. I made this as small in the shoulders and arms as I could (smallest size knit on yarn of smaller gauge than called for) and that's why it's not a total freakin' tent.
  • As it happens, though you can go crazy modifying the pattern any way you want: unadjusted, the sleeve width is dependent on the yoke size. The reason most people find the sleeves too large is because said sleeves are wide relative to the shoulder-width. Note: Altering the sleeves at the pick up row involves some tricky stitch pattern modification. I wouldn't do it. Since the whole garment seems to fit most people too large, I'd fix it at the get go by making a smaller size overall.
  • Know the properties of your yarn. I've knitted with Chickadee before so I know that it grows a lot when you wet block it, but it rebounds. With this pattern, you do not want to work with a yarn that doesn't recover well. In fact, the sponginess of my yarn will either work to give this garment a long life of shape-constancy, or it may work against it. There's a point to be made that a very stable yarn would be good. Note: There will be impacts of this choice, if you go with a smaller size.
  • I've said it before and I'll say it again: Unless you have a wide shoulders, a broad back and/or thick upper arms, you probably want to make the smallest size. Not a smaller size, the smallest. Or, if you can't bring yourself to do that, knit least 2 sizes smaller than you would normally.
  • Once you get past the underarm gussets, the rest of the pattern is very simple, if not totally quick. Mind you, getting to the underarm is fucking tricky. I don't know that the end-result warrants the effort, honestly, though I'm glad I undertook this challenge. It was a very interesting knit.
  • If you are short, squat, square, busty or very broad, chances are this sweater will not be the most flattering shape on you. Hey - I fall into one of those categories and I made this garment, nonetheless... And I like it, even if it's not going to be my go-to garment. It's chic with skinnies and boots.
So - what do you think? Would you make this? Would you wear it? Let's talk!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Simple Tutorial: Lavender Sachets

A while ago, my friend Ruth gifted me a lovely scarf. I wore it a few times (as you know, I love the scarves) but this one, made of organza, always had a bit too much body given all of the walking I do. I found it would untie easily and fluff up towards my face.

Alas, that's no reason to begrudge a lovely fabric. When I started the closet exercise - including reoiling my cedar blocks - I realized that my clothing would benefit from some lavender sachets too. All of the stash fabrics I considered, to construct some new sachets, were a bit dark, or tightly-woven (or both). Then it occurred to me that the organza scarf had the perfect properties. It was breathable AND pretty. And it would see much more use and exposure to me living in a new context.

So I did a bit of sewing and finished with these:

Aren't they pretty? And functional? I used seam binding as ribbon in such a way that you can place these over your hanger hook to keep the lavender fragrance (and its bug-repelling tendencies) close to hanging items.

I gave a few to Scott and made some for my mother, whose birthday is next week. Sorry Ma, if you happen to look at this post in the next 2 days, the secret's out.

I still have enough fabric cut to make about 15 more sachets. And those, once I get a new stock of lavender - will be for me!

How to make these:

In case you're wondering how to make these from a lovely, languishing scarf (or other fabric in your stash)...
  • Cut a rectangular strip of fabric - approximately 4 by 11 inches.
  • Fold a hem - wrong side to wrong side of approximately 0.5 inch at each upper (raw) edge (the two narrower of the raw edges).
  • Press to keep in place. 
  • Top stitch those hems (by hand or machine). 
  • Then fold the fabric in half, right side to right side. (The crease forms the base of the sachet. The wrong sides of the upper hems will be visible.)
  • Press in place.
  • Serge or machine or hand stitch the side seams.
  • Turn right side out.
  • Fill with fresh lavender.
  • Use seam binding or very thin/narrow ribbon - or string - to tie around the sachets. Double knot carefully.
  • All done.
Each one takes about 5 minutes to make using a serger and/or regular machine and there is NO waste. I did not overthink this exercise. I did not make a pattern. Each sachet is slightly different. They are not perfect, but they look very sweet, IMO. And when the lavender loses its scent, all you need to do is open the tie and replace it with new.
So, what do you think?