Sunday, September 28, 2014

And There's Knitting Too...

I'm making progress with my second version of the Indicum pullover.

I wish I'd noticed that patch of light when I was photographing this...
It looks very straight though there's a differential of 2 inches between the bust, waist and hips. The thing is that this yarn is SO spongy that it obscures it. I actually think that Quince Finch might be too spongy and a bit robust for this sweater - though I'm reserving judgement till this is made and blocked. Pre-blocking, it feels a bit like it's wearing me.

Then, there's the matter that I really just don't know my thoughts on corrugated rib (the kind of 2-toned ribbing at the hem and neck. It's weird and, while I know it will block flat, it does like to roll (which drives me nuts). I know I've said this before. I think I may be erring towards not liking it (even though it does make for some cool colourwork).

The yarn, I've come to realize is a very pink version of brown, which is why the pink accents are great. But I don't know if I like the tone.

Hmmm... It's not looking good for this one at the moment. Wish us both luck :-)

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Some Actual Sewing, If You Can Believe It

Today, I abandoned all plans. I'm actually sewing without a plan. Like, that's the plan.

I also decided that I couldn't be motivated - under any circumstances - to pre-fit whatever I sewed. So I sewed a) without a plan and b) according to some abstract shape that might or might not be mine. (And really, what's the likelihood that it would be mine.)

All in all, it worked out amazingly well:

Yeah, I made sweatpants - but they're CHIC sweatpants...

I didn't follow any of the directions and I went off-road with the pattern. And you would be correct, that waistband stitching sucks...
For starters, I almost didn't show you photos of these completed True Bias Hudson Pant because they are rather crappily top stitched. Part of the reason for this is that I was making things up as I went along. I don't want a string-tie to highlight the thickest part of me. I don't need pockets (same deal). So it messed with the waistband and hence the sewing-flow. But whatevs. Look on, if you will. I'm keeping it real.

A note about what I changed at the waist: I actually opted to stitch the elastic into the waistband before I put the waistband on the pants. Next time, I may stitch down only on the wrong side (leave the band open as I ease the elastic into the inside of the waistband) then fold over the top (which won't move) and then sew that unit into the pants. It will give the waist a more finished look and I won't have to care quite as much about how straight the stitching is. Also, I really hate zigzag stitch. It always looks rookie. Keep in mind, if you choose to try this - you'll need to keep the length of your pants waist fairly close to that of the elastic and the waistband fabric. A bit of easing is fine, but the 3 plus inches (to shirr the waistband) would not fly.

A note about what I did re: pockets: Remember (as I did not) that if you don't sew the pockets, you'll need to add paper onto the front outer hip (to give it the regular curve pants have at the hip). I ended up having to create a fake piece and stitched it on cuz I'd already cut my fabric when I realized my mistake. I actually like the look. If you do this - ensure that you include a seam allowance on the part that attaches to the pant front. You could do this wedge in a contrast fabric but I don't like that look because it seems like the inside fabric of your pocket is pulling out. These faux pockets actually look pretty real when you're wearing them. Contrast thread would probably give them a bit more pop.

Of course, I ended up fitting in numerous (though remarkably small) ways:
  • I cut the 10 because my fabric only had 50% stretch. Note: The pattern explains how to determine the appropriate stretch, which it calls "40%". In actually fact, you want a 4 inch swatch to stretch to 7 inches - which is 75% stretch. I know there's been some debate about this but I don't buy it. I think the instructions are erroneous (although the explanation is excellent so it doesn't cause any problems). I should have cut the size 8. No one's talked about whether these pants fit big or small - I think they fit generously, even if you use a fabric with less stretch than is called for.
  • Now, the reason I think they fit generously - and the reason I could make a totally wearable muslin of these with nary a change to the original pattern (though I did change it as I went) - is because it's drafted for a slim-legged frame with proportional hips and derriere. If pants fitting is your nightmare because your hips and legs are proportionately large, these are probably not the pants for you.
  • They are supposed to fit a 5'5" frame. I'm 5'3" and the legs were way too short. I've added an inch for the next go, but I might decide to add 2. I like slouch above the ankle cuff. Admittedly, my legs are long for my frame, but I think that most peeps are going to have to add.
  • My other changes were made by cutting the pattern back down to a size 8 (incrementally). I went to a 6 in the front crotch depth and waist. So these pants are cut for someone pretty straight.
  • The waistband elastic and corresponding waistband are too large (my fault - I overestimated how much room I'd need). Of course, this makes them ideal for sleeping in. Anyway you slice it, there's way too much ease in the waistband piece, IMO. A bit of shirring can be nice in a waistband. But I think the amount the pattern calls for would add a lot of bulk and make it very tricky to ease. Keep in mind, I did my own thing so you may disagree if you followed the original pattern.
What I Like:
  • Well they're cut for someone with my body type...
  • The crotch depth and curve are quite well-drafted - especially the back piece which has more of an L cut than a J cut. This works better for those with some fullness in the mid-derriere.
  • The instructions would be good, I sense. They're clearly written. I just didn't follow them because a) I know how to put together pants and b) I went rogue with the waist.
  • These pants are remarkably on-trend. You can spend 100 bucks at Roots, J Crew etc. to buy them. Why not make them for 10 bucks and call it a day!
  • My fussy teen is totally impressed. She wants me to make a pair for her next.
So, there you go. I will most definitely be making these again - and probably soon because the kid will bug me till I do. I just need to restock the fabrics and elastic.

Whatcha think of this pattern? If you've made it, what do you think of the sizing? I sure wished I could find someone who'd written about that before I cut these (not that it's the end of the world, by any means).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Practice Makes Perfect: Part 1

People often ask me what I look for in a yoga class. What I interpret this to mean is: What do I like in a practice? because I often practice by myself, using a sequence devised by myself. Needless to say, this is not a class in the traditional sense.

My answers are as diverse as the 3 decades during which I've practiced. But some things are constant, it would seem, so here's what I can tell you about what I look for - either in a classroom setting, or in my own yoga room:

Words Matter: Interesting, when I work alone, I mentally narrate my practice. I'm a verbal person - as you know - and language merges with my physical response when I do asana. For me, the words are synch mechanism like breath. If a teacher is inarticulate, I cannot stand it. For better or worse, tone of voice and vocal speed are also very important to me.

The Teacher Has To Know What (S)he's Doing: You can see I put a lot of onus on the teacher. But in this respect, the relationship is non-negotiable. If you don't know what you're doing (and we all find ourselves at the edge sometimes, in practice), you need to be working with someone else who does. To link with the point above, a teacher who knows what she's doing (I'll use the female pronoun here) is more likely to speak articulately and in a tone that fosters confidence. Teachers who are highly knowledgeable and engaged seem to pull pertinent words from the air and those words are relevant to their students as they perform a pose.

But back to the concept of yogic knowledge... I always look for a teacher with a deep understanding of anatomy and the interconnections of parts of the body (from a muscles-in-movement perspective). I want someone with a long-standing experience of the poses she teaches who understands those poses well enough to be able to modify them for students, as necessary, so that they can achieve the benefit without risking injury to the body or ego. I want someone who explains things (back to language, it would seem), who demonstrates on her own body or on willing students and who pays attention to what's happening. If she's going to talk about breathing/yogic concepts/philosophy/psychology, she'd best understand exactly what it means - and how to teach it.

Creativity is Key: Your body is an amazing machine. It learns, retains, develops, regresses, progresses, heals but it cannot do this to its full capacity when its bored. Really, I'm not talking about the mind at this point. If the body is bored (or freaked out, for that matter) it doesn't thrive in practice. Highly interrelated with this concept is that of the structure of practice or sequencing. Those classes that blow your mind, that change your life, are those that engage your body creatively in ways you've rarely experienced before.

I always say: A good class gets around you and it does that because it's sequenced well.

I'm not going to get into sequencing in detail - it's an art and a science - but I will say that every class you've enjoyed owes much of its success to how the poses have been sequenced and timed. It makes the difference between achieving a new frontier and feeling stuck or even sick. So I will only work with a teacher who understands this premise as I do.

The reason that so many people struggle to create a home (or personal) practice is because they just can't find the creativity. They feel somehow inauthentic when they're not being told what to do - and they also tend to sequence things suboptimally (especially when reasonably new to yoga).

BTW, if you want to learn to practice on your own (and really, there should be a class on this!), the key is to understand sequencing. Also, to kit yourself out WELL. And to practice in the same spot. I could write a post or two on this...

But more pose-specifically, what do I like in a practice?
  • I love slow vinyasa - the kind of class in which movement does not stop but which gains momentum imperceptibly. These classes don't shock the body, but they work it relentlessly. I'd rather do a class at this pace than any other (well, variety is good but 7 out of 10 times, this is my preferred groove).
  • I like holding poses for a long time. That's not at odds with the bullet above. One can link poses (held for long periods) with movement. And, when the vinyasa part of one's practice comes to an end, long holdings can assist in making gains of strength and flexibility.
  • I like a practice that includes a healthy dose of seated forward bends. These poses are SO underrepresented in your average class these days. I realize that it's because they can be dangerous. They're not dangerous if they're taught well and, if you suffer from a host of things, they are some of the most effective poses you will ever do.
  • I like inversions - especially the fancy ones! (Don't misunderstand, I can't do many of the fancy ones right now, but I do like a good headstand and shoulderstand or a few handstands in a class).
  • I love iteratively-sequenced classes - the kind that move to an endpoint (e.g. hanumanasana (front/back splits) or urdhva dhanurasana (wheel backbend), by incrementally increasing physical awareness required, through specifically sequenced poses that precede that end goal.
Of course, there are a whole bunch of things I really don't like - and I'm more than happy to share that list too.

But, for today, what do you look for in your yoga class (or home practice)? What pace do you prefer? What style (if this matters to you)? What poses do you love? What features in the classroom experience are most meaningful to you? I want to know. Let's talk!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hilarity

On Saturday, I went down the block to return a library book. While I was walking, I saw an open house sign at one of the new freehold town-home "complexes" that have been built not far from my home. What I mean by complex is that there are multiple units of homes that are attached and look largely the same; they span between two short blocks in either direction. They're all in this very "modern" vein. Actually, I find them verging on brutalist but then, I don't mind that look if the landscaping's good.

Before the reclamation of these blocks, for many years, a school and a church sat vacant. There was a murder in the church, which was then burned down. It was odd (to say the least) to observe the encroaching decay of a formerly religious structure, in a populous neighbourhood, which stood there, like a riot shell, abandoned. For its many dubious qualities, this isn't typical of the Toronto sensibility. We tend to just tear everything down before it burns - as long as it has architectural pedigree. And, though the area has certainly gentrified, it's always been a going concern, not the kind of place with burned out murder scenes.

At any rate, you can imagine that I wasn't overly disturbed by the influx of new housing.

I decided to check out that open house, you know, for research, because it is the first resale. So, it's big. The agent said "about 3000 square feet". I don't think so, but then I didn't add up the room sizes from the floor plan doc provided. Every floor is a long, skinny box. It's finished with high-quality materials (though I do doubt the overall quality of the construction job). I watched that thing go up, after all. It is built on a sort of hill (not that we have those in Toronto) so one has to climb up a zillion stairs, just to get to the front door. The house itself is built over 4 floors. It's more stair than anything.

The above-ground basement unit is touted as a nanny-suite or home office. It is outfitted with the plumbing for a kitchen. There are 5 bathrooms and 3 bedrooms plus den. All I can think when I see 5 bathrooms is that someone's going to have to clean 5 bathrooms. And, yeah, I do have a cleaner, so I know that's likely the route the homeowner will take. But still. That's 2 plus hours of bathroom cleaning a week?!?

The kitchen sits unceremoniously between a front and back section of a big rectangle. It looks onto chicly glassed-in stairs and, at an angle, the most horrendous backyard I've ever seen. The appliances are fancy.

The master-bath is gorgeous, in a clinical sort of way, but its wall of windows looked over the thing that this house is NEVER going to be able to transcend. The back view is of a Soviet-block style laneway replete with hideous garages, tiny patches of grass (like 8x8 ft) inset as unimaginatively as possible, cheap decking and concrete as far as the eye can see. Sure, you could langour in a tub, the size of my kid's room, but fuck - that view is beyond unsexy. Note: the view from the front of the house is better, but not awesome.

Oh, did I mention that the house is fully attached (on both sides)?

You may wonder what this post has to do with its title because I haven't said one amusing thing, so let me go there for you: The list price was 1.35M. Yeah, one million, three hundred and fifty thousand bucks. I actually told the agent that I thought her client was high on drugs.

Look, when a house on my (not-fancy) block goes on the market for 1.35, it only spells good things for me. But honestly, anyone who decides to pay that - even though it is tough to find that kind of space and 5 bathrooms in this city - is nuts. I mean, this isn't even considered to be a good school district?! (The schools are fine - but the peeps who pay that kind of money for their town home are probably looking into private... And that's a whole world away, geographically.)

It goes without saying, that reno is looking more reasonable by the day.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Resource Management

I woke up this morning with a puffy throat feeling miserable. Tomorrow I have a big meeting so I have to find some way to keep it together. My intention was to do a good practice today. I haven't had a chance to do yoga in three days and, y'all know, the essence of commitment is commitment. I sense there's a bolster with my name on it, but that's not exactly promoting my improved strength.

Here's the thing - and I'm sure I don't need to tell you this - as much as you are truly invested in whatever path you're on (just pick one) - the regular world is going to step in semi-regularly to fuck with the plan.

I can handle my current derailment in a variety of ways. I can decide to ignore how I feel and practice hard. That would be foolhardy as years of past experience have taught me. I can feel sorry for myself (actually, this is part of the plan regardless) and do nothing at all.

Did I mention that it's pouring misery outside?

I'm aiming for the middle ground: some knitting, the requisite cooking (Bolognese cuz it's comfort food) and these gluten-free brownies. (I haven't forgotten to tell you about my gluten-free experiment. I'm just choosing not to dwell on it. Thank God for the new GF bakery on my route to work because baking without flour is a whole new frontier...)

I'll practice some kind of yoga. It won't be intense. It may be fairly static. Mind you, as I start to move I may feel better. As with all things (impending but distant home reno), it's best to take the long view. I'm stronger than I was 2 months ago. Hopefully I'll be stronger (and less inclined to colds) in another 2 months.

But enough wallowing. Here are a couple of yoga resources I've been meaning to tell you about...

Yoga By Candace: I read very few yoga blogs. Actually, there are very few yoga blogs that are more than 5 posts deep or that talk about the topic in a way I can get with. Candace manages to be very engaging on a variety of peripheral topics, particularly yoga "style" (aka clothing and accessories). She's peripatetic. She stays in awesome hotels. She's not hard to look at (and there are many opps to do so). And she's struggled with a serious illness in the past 4 years, which makes her practice and lifestyle all the more impressive. This is an interesting blog for those of you who want to see yoga through the lens of a real person who happens to be a teacher. It's not granola in the slightest, but if you have hotel envy, trigger alert. BTW, while I'm interested in Candace's tutorials (as a fellow teacher), I don't look to her practice posts as a learning vehicle - so I can't recommend her on that basis.

My Yoga Online: Recently this site (one of which I've had longstanding experience) merged with Gaiam TV. I have to say, the merger has made a formerly good site 100 times better - in as much as the content had doubled and broadened. Worry not however, if you care nothing of any element of Gaiam TV's "channels" except for the yoga one. The inventory of classes taught by numerous teachers has doubled. Needless to say, I would never recommend a website over a studio with a good teacher who can observe your body and alter your practice in accordance with your needs. But as a supplement or if you live in an isolated place (or work odd hours), it's a really good addition to a home practice. There's not much Iyengar instruction, alas... Most of it is pan-yogic, which is not optimal, IMO. I haven't spent a lot of time looking at the volume of beginner classes so I don't know how useful they are, but I can tell you there are numerous very challenging classes of all lengths. My fave teachers currently are Kreg Weiss (Cdn) and Rodney Yee (Iyengar expat). Kreg's got many more offerings than Rodney - to suit me, however. There are also "yoga challenges" (sign-up events of a variety of lengths to assist in developing practice), articles, guides and tons of resources on anatomy.

Hopefully these sites may be of some use to you.

Today's questions: Which yoga blogs to do read? Have you tried My Yoga Online? If yes, what do you think of the revamp? Do you use another online platform to supplement your practice? Let's talk.

Friday, September 19, 2014

You Never Can Tell

Remember this?

Svalbard Cardigan by Bristol Ivy
Remember how conflicted I was about how it would look on me (given its boxy dimensions), how truly stressful the knitting experience turned out to be?

Well, turns out I wear this thing often. Like, probably more than any other sweater I've made to date.

It occurs to me that many knitting bloggers write about their lovely finished objects (or the process by which they make them), but you don't hear a lot about them after the fact. Ever wonder how those objects work within regular wardrobe rotation?

A few months on, what can I tell you about my Svalbard cardigan?

  • I really nailed the size and proportions. I couldn't have made a suboptimal (for me) garment shape suit me more than this does. But I worked my ass off to achieve those proportions, so I'm taking the credit. The point: If your sweater fits, you are more likely to wear it.
  • The yarn I chose (Quince and Co. Chickadee) was a sound choice for a sweater that gets a lot of wear. It doesn't pill. It's extremely resilient. The recovery on this fabric is excellent - which is important when you're wearing a heavy bag over your shoulder, directly against that yarn. This yarn does not create a luxe fabric, but it does create a very wearable one. And it's soft, even as it's not delicate.
  • If you're going to make a casual sweater to go with a variety of things, make it in a colour that goes well with that variety of things. You might say that denim goes with everything, for example. But unless you wear neutral tops with your jeans, you should carefully consider working in a neutral, if rich, yarn colour. The photos don't show the true colour of my Svalbard. It's richer than it seems in pics, more subtle than navy. And yet it goes with just about every other colour you could think of. I'm sure this is one of the many reasons it gets worn regularly.
  • This sweater is warm! It's an awesome layering piece but it can work as a topper on its own, weather depending. So I've got options.
  • The style is modern and chic. It's not fussy. You can throw this thing in your bag. I don't like to babysit my sweaters - and I don't like to wash them every 5 minutes. The Svalbard fits the bill.
  • But finally, it's a really nice finished product. I did make a mistake but it's so well-disguised, even I can't find it without a very good look - and I know what I'm looking for. I sort of love the error that lives in this fabric because it's a constant reminder that knitting is about problem-solving, not constantly ripping back to attain perfection. Over all, I did the difficult prep, really nice work and I chose my materials well. It's not often I feel this good about a hand knit sweater.
Today's question: What's the most worn hand-knitted object in your wardrobe and why? Let's talk!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Well-Heeled

A small shoe-disaster befell me earlier this week. We've gone from summer to (mid) fall very quickly. Sandals are so done. Y'all know that I revamped my summer shoe collection in light of foot miseries that have befallen me in the last year or two.* Well, apparently I haven't updated my fall shoe collection. Because, till Tuesday, I had but one pair of shoes that fits and doesn't cause me pain when walking long distances, and those are ancient Diesel leather sneakers.

Now that I cannot walk distances in shoes with hard bottoms (need padding for my collagen-diminished feet) and heels that are higher than the most conservative of one-inch, I don't even have a pair of fall boots that fit the bill.

This is a problem cuz I go to fancy meetings that require professional attire. And I can't wear sneakers to walk to work with said professional outfits. (That's just wrong.) Sure, I can put on work shoes when I arrive, but I spend half my time walking and I'm not going to do it looking comfortable.

If you think it's bad finding comfortable summer sandals, those which provide chic support, let me assure you that fall shoe-shopping is infinitely worse. Once you can't wear those 2 inch T straps or tall boots with a stacked heel, the options are dreadful. Dreadful. Actually, the options are basically variations on leather runners.

I went to no less than 30 shoe stores on Monday and Tuesday with the aim of finding a truly comfortable, elegant shoe with a bit of elevation (for shape) that will work with pants, skirts and dresses. I don't like black shoes. They're monolithic and they bring everything down. So some sort of neutral (that doesn't jump out) was also one of my requirements. Um, if you're prepared to spend 600 bucks (and I am not inflating this price), my list is achievable. In the 150 - 200 dollar range, I found one pair.

Please allow this to sink in. I found one pair amongst thousands of shoes available in my huge city with 8 shoe stores (of every description) on any given block.

So I bought it.



The brand is German: Remonte. The company makes a bunch of truly hideous shoes, and a few nice ones. This was by far the nicest, if my online research is anything to go by. I got this pair at a store that's so old-school, it doesn't even have a name. As my daughter would say, it's a bit sketch.

I will tell you that they could be slightly softer in the sole (though I am breaking in and I have added a padded insert), and I do wish the small heel didn't propel my foot forward onto my (decreasingly plump and gorgeous) toe base region. But the upper is soft, the line is gorgeous (for pants or skirts) and these shoes produce no chafing of any sort. For a serious walker, these qualities are key. Oh, and given that they're made of leather in 3 neutral colours, this shoe goes with absolutely everything.

So, what do you think? How do you manage to look great while you walk long distances (and I don't think that accepting runners as great-looking footwear counts, sorry :-))? What are the best shoes you've ever had from a style-meets-function perspective? I want to know.

* For what it's worth, the pain I'm experiencing is related to unhappy nerve clusters at the base of my toes. After years of taking my young feet for granted, and walking miles a day in moderate heels, now I must be able to spread my foot wide in every shoe or I experience a dreadful, searing pain. The attainment of natural foot-width is not easily accomplished in a shoe with any height because the nature of a heel is to propel the toes towards the front of the shoe. Furthermore, any shoe with an attractive narrow line at the toe is likely to produce an ergonomic scenario in which the foot has very little room to spread.