On the plaid that nearly drove me mad

I love plaid. I really do! Someday, I will have my own kilt, like both of my parents, who faithfully (if somewhat unwillingly due to the haggis) wear theirs every year for the Robbie Burns dinner. This is not that day; I still have to choose a tartan for my kilt!

DF Navy:red:white cotton plaid

For the time being, I must content myself with plaids such as this. I found this cotton plaid at Downtown Fabrics in the spring and bought a yard, thinking it would be nice as a skirt. Then I avoided it, dreading all of the matching that I would have to do. I finally got around to it last week and it was an experience I will not soon repeat!


                                      Burda 8-2015-118 in black wool and grey pinstripe wool

I started with a simple three-seam pencil skirt pattern from Burdastyle magazine. It’s one I have made before with success. After the grey skirt proved a bit long, I had shortened the pattern. I also changed the vent to one that overlaps. The shorter length proved suitable for a summer skirt. Four darts, three seams, a zip, a vent and a lining: not much to this one, but for the plaid.

Some may not be aware of it, but I am a little particular. Somewhat fussy about things that should align and match. My first issue was with the lining. My navy scraps were not skirt-sized. So, I went with my standby:

Burda 8.2015.118 plaid vent


There is no magenta in this plaid. The line running through it is, in fact, red. However, undaunted, I used my magenta lining AND magenta thread in the serger, which is visible on the vent and hem edges. I’m revolting (in the verb sense) against expectation.

My main objective was to have the hem rest along a dominant white line in the plaid. To this end, I succeeded. It was impossible to match the plaid exactly over the side seams, given the curve of the hip and the fact that one side seam houses the zip.

Burda 8.2015.118 plaid lining

In endeavouring to match the plaid, I installed the zip on the right, rather than the left, side seam.

When I tried on the skirt for the first time, I wondered why the vent was in front. Oops! But look at these side seams and how the plaid matches:

Success! After three attempts to install the zip before finishing the side seam. The fourth try involved finishing the side seam, then putting in the zip. I pinned every single one of those white lines to hold them in place for stitching. The centre back seam looks pretty good, too!

Burda 8.2015.118 plaid back

Again, not an exact match on the plaid, but a match across the seam.

The only remaining difficulty was the waistband. As cut, there was no way it would align with the plaid of the skirt.

Burda 8.2015.118 plaid alternate waistband

The original waistband, cut on the cross grain.

I knew that the waistband would never be seen under a top, tucked in or otherwise. It didn’t really matter all that much, except to me. I am particular about these things, after all. My solution was to recut the waistband on the bias grain so that the direction of the plaid would change.

Burda 8.2015.118 plaid bias waistband

Bias cut waistband doesn’t need to match.

I had to piece the waistband, which means that its side seams don’t match, but even I am not fussy about that…

Tied, yet unbound

Here I am, another year at school over and, five days in, finally feeling like it might be summer. The weather has been exquisite, but the end of school is always bittersweet with its inevitable farewells, and it takes several days to get past it and into vacation mode. Today I finally feel like I am on vacation, despite the setback of a summer cold which has me sniffling and nasal rinsing repeatedly. Although I am unfettered, my clothing has been less so.


I am unsure what it says about me, but I have been making a lot of garments with ties at the neck. One can see five iterations of the same top (Jalie 2921), although the fifth is in the donation bag due to poor fabric choice. A dress, a blouse and a cardigan are also represented. I had some kind of moment through the bleak midwinter, of needing and wanting all these ties that are not, in actual fact, terribly binding. Most are too short to tie in a proper bow. So why the ties? It is probably best not to dive too deep into that one.

The knit Jalie 2921 has become quite ubiquitous in my wardrobe rotation. The order of construction appears above, although wearing preference would be quite different. The first two were in border prints that were fun to plan. My personal favourite is the navy print, and it gets worn the most often. So often, that a student commented on it. We were doing an inquiry on families and we read this book:

It is about first generation children and how their mothers speak, behave and dress differently than mothers in their new country. The boy reading it with me is a first generation child and he told me that his mother sometimes makes him wear weird clothes. I looked at his football jersey and shorts and said, “Yes, that is a really weird outfit you have on.” To which he replied “Madame, you wear the same clothes every week!” He was correct; it is only the fabric that changes. I do try to vary which of the tie tops I wear, but it all depends on the skirt I wear, and my summer skirts are navy. I finally got around to making a black linen skirt for summer, but it was too little, too late for my fashion critic.

This is the one that did not work out. Love the fabric, but it is just too beefy for the purpose. And I need to wear less black… (according to my seven-year-old critic!)

Brown is a good neutral for me. When I need something that is neither black nor blue (my favourite neutral), I turn to brown. I needed a summer weight cardigan and found a chestnut heather Italian viscose jersey at Downtown Fabrics.

I made a pretty little cardigan to wear over dresses and sleeveless tops. Since I am the Cardigan Queen (when I went to Montréal at the beginning of June for the Chagall exhibit, I went to Simons and bought five cardigans, four of them black!), I needed one for those interior temperature drops. I am always cold, even in summer, especially as I go from exterior spaces to interior ones. This cardigan, from Ottobre magazine, is a nice layer to have and fits in my purse. I opted to ignore all of the procedures using clear elastic (I hate that unwieldy stuff) and interfaced instead. The tie is an attached ribbon from Mokuba, painstakingly matched to the fabric.

The dress is Victory Patterns’ Hazel. It has no closures and pulls on over the head. As a result, it is not terribly fitted, but is very cute. The tie is also long enough to make a bow. I just have to learn how to do it nicely.

I have long thought that the pattern presented a lovely dress, but I was not truly inspired to make it until I saw a review in Threads (pictured on the right). I love the use of the skirt fabric on the collar/tie and cuffs and actually had another planned (in black! And a black/charcoal print.). I ultimately decided that one such dress was sufficient and a great use of the floral wool challis I had purchased in 2013 and never found a use for. Only the skirt is lined, although the bodice has neckline facings. This dress is fun to wear, but being all wool, will have to wait for cooler temperatures. Maybe I do need a summer version…

The blouse is Vogue 8772, which I have made before, a few times and in a few versions. This is a workhorse pattern with many options for collars, sleeves and hem lines. I was first attracted to the pattern because of view B with the tie neck. I have had this silk/cotton since 2013 and always intended for it to be a blouse such as this, but only got it made this winter. It is lovely to wear and has the sheen associated with silk. I still have to work on shirtmaking skills, but I am getting there. There are such a lot of steps and procedures involved; it must be one of the most skill-intensive garments. Shirts and blouses are not quick projects and I tend to avoid them. I am pleased with how this one turned out. The nectarine colour is not great for me, but the mink pebbles help to balance it out somewhat (I hope!). It looks lovely with my brown skirts and cardigans, so I’ll keep it, whilst looking for a good blue or black print.

Here’s to summer! And ties that do not bind.

Sometimes I think my head is just for hats

Several years ago, Slate magazine had a euphemism contest. (Euphemistic language fascinates me: why are we so reluctant to speak frankly about bodily functions and excretions?) Slate’s competition had readers come up with euphemisms for stupidity. The winner was “Sometimes I think my head is just for looks”. I’ve modified it for my winter so far.

Those are seven hats that I have made this winter. And one cowl. I am noticing a lot of navy Malabrigo (Paris Night is the name of the colourway, actually). I bought six skeins of it when I thought I might make a cardigan. I made several hats instead. And a cowl. Only three items were duds: the cowl (not cozy enough), the sock yarn hat on the left of the group photo (too slouchy) and the hat to the right of the turquoise one (too loose).

I am a member of the 52 hat challenge group on Ravelry, although I only lurk and try to keep to one hat per week. I managed well enough in January, until that long, slouchy sock yarn hat took two weeks instead of one. Such tiny needles! So many rows of ribbing (40), then the hat (80 rows!). So tedious! No more sock yarn hats for me; I will have to find something else to do with the sock yarn I have, that does not involve sock making. I still have a hole in my right index finger from those tiny needles!

Skirts winter 2016-17

I made a few skirts this winter.

I have been busy with skirts this winter. I was unhappy with A-line skirts, so decided to try interesting shapes and details in pencil skirts. I had, in all honesty, been avoiding the dreaded skirt vent. My sample at Seneca had taken me 4,5 hours to make and I was not anxious to repeat the experience. I decided to face this nemesis, and found a brilliant tutorial. I now only make skirts with back vents! Sometimes two of them!

Vogue 7937 has two back vents. I made it twice, in navy wool and a heathered brown wool/lycra suiting called Montreal. There are no lining pieces in the pattern, so I had to draft them. On the navy lining, you can see unpicked stitches where I got it wrong and had to use the (thankfully excessive) seam allowance to fix the problem. This is a Vogue Basic Design pattern, and is a terrific basic pencil skirt with interesting details. Since most of my fabrics, which are increasingly becoming clothing, are blue and brown, these skirts get a lot of wear.

These three skirts are all from Lekala, which provides PDF patterns with personal measurements. Lekala has hundreds of patterns, many of which have interesting details, something I am always seeking. The merlot skirt (three top photos) has curved seams across the front, pieced side panels and a back pleated panel for walking ease. I did the quilter’s trick of lapping the pieced areas, forgetting that the poly suiting would have to be topstitched. So, my seams align but my topstitching does not. The second skirt (made with the other yard of Montreal wool/lycra suiting) also has curved panels across the front and a pleated panel at one side. It is difficult to see in the wool, but the lower centre photo is my attempt to show this panel. This skirt has a centre back vent. The third skirt is a basic five seam skirt, three front panels and two back panels, with a back zip and vent. I would like to remake the merlot skirt in a better fabric for the purpose. The poly blend was very disagreeable and I am not pleased with the result. The only skirt here that gets regular wear is the brown one, but only because the 5 seam skirt has proven difficult to match with the few colours I wear. It is a houndstooth check in camel, purple and green. I have some purple jersey bought for the purpose of making some kind of top to go with this skirt.

This last skirt is my new favourite. It is from Burdastyle magazine, 3/2015.124. It is a pegged skirt, meaning the hem is narrower than the body of the skirt. There are pleats along the waistline, which can be problematic for me in dresses, but I seem to get away with in skirts. Yay! I love the shape of this skirt and it is surprisingly flattering on. It has a back vent and zip and is great fun to wear. I last wore it with Jalie 2921 in a fabric called Nimble dots, purchased from Marcy Tilton in 2014. (If you think I have a thing about hats and skirts, wait until I detail my thing about tie neck tops!) The skirt itself is a beautiful wool suiting lined with purple bemberg, both from Downtown Fabrics.

Wool makes the skirt (or the hat!), as far as I’m concerned. It is no coincidence that the skirts that get the most wear are made with the loveliest wools. It is worth the expense for the ease of construction and wear.

Remember: spring is just four days away!


On speechlessness

I am quite without a voice at the moment. It started Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning, I could barely speak. My commute was eerily silent, as I was unable to sing along with my tunes. The drive in to work was decidedly non-fun as a result. I got through the morning, came to the realization that I could not do my job without speaking, and returned home to my new best friends.


The Vicks makes my décolletage positively glisten! Could that be the bodybuilders’ secret?

I have been dutifully drinking ginger tea with honey (yuck! I think I’ll try maple syrup next time. Or would that be even worse?), using the neti pot and making my collarbones gleam with Vicks, but I remain voiceless, apart from some barely coherent croaks. I managed to say a few words to the postman Friday afternoon when I met him in the hall, feeling like a teenage boy whose voice is breaking.

The last time I lost my voice, it took a week to get it back. I wondered at times if I would ever speak again. Being incapable of communication is a strange and frustrating experience. It is irritating to be unable to join in conversation, and can come across as rudeness to those unaware of the situation. My friends were most unhelpful, deliberately making provocative statements, knowing that I could not respond to them. All of us learned how expressive eyebrows are during that week. And when it was over, I had so much to say! As I suspect I will after this bout…

Of course, I have other ways to voice my thoughts and express myself. I have several modes of communication available to me: e-mail, texting, letters and, of course, fabric. I am merely speechless and not really voiceless at all.

Before my speech went thither, Halloween occurred. I participated again this year by dressing up at school. The new French Immersion curriculum has a particular emphasis on French culture, so I picked up Burda 2493: Josephine.


Burda 2493: Josephine. Or any Regency lady, really.

I thought it would be a quick and easy costume. It was, mostly. But I chose velvet for the overdress, which went fine until the lining went in. So much shifting! After the third time unsewing the tremendously long seam, I finally followed Burda’s advice and basted. After that, it went together beautifully.

I had leftover Galileo fabric that I used for the bodice. The skirt was a navy cotton velvet I found at Affordable Textiles. There are decidedly non-Regency construction methods here. It is not a faithful reproduction of the period! There is a zipper in the overdress (20th century invention) and elastic to make the ruffles of the dress neckline and sleeves. Expedient? Yes. Historically accurate? No, although it does feature the Empire waistline of the period.


Josephine from the front.

I used a cotton broadcloth with dragonflies for the dress. I had made other plans for the fabric when I bought it in 2013, but then I remembered my feelings about yellow. This is more of an orange-yellow, which is why it looks fine with all of the blues. The print is rather whimsical, so perhaps it is best that it did not become a “real” garment. One of the students asked me if I was a pioneer! Did pioneers wear velvet overdresses with trains?!? But I did see her point: because of its smaller scale print and the fact that it is cotton, it does not read as an empress’ gown. My own students treated me like an empress on the Halloween parade by holding up the train. I had my very own ladies-in-waiting! In hindsight, for my costume to make sense, I should have engaged a Napoleon…


On stress fabric (and fabric stress)

People react to stress differently: some eat, some drink, some exercise more and some become consumers of goods. I fall into the final category and my goods are fabrics. I have become much more disciplined in my fabric purchases since the fabric extravaganza of 2014, and have only made three orders in 2016. Two were in May, when I was told I may be getting a split grade, and the third was two weeks ago, when it actually became a reality. My stress fabric from the most recent order arrived on Monday.


Stress fabric from EOS! There are 8,5 yards here. I love how it arrives, wrapped in tissue and packaged with my name on it. Still predominantly blue and brown, although I have branched out to teal on the blue spectrum!

I must be less stressed: in May, I ordered 19 yards, while this time I ordered only 8,5 yards! The funny thing about stress fabric is that I use it quickly. Often, I have completed the deliberations over how I will use it, and it is simply a matter of finding the time to launder it and to prepare the necessities of construction. There is only one fabric from the May orders for which I have no assigned project. My original idea for it fell flat and I have not yet come up with a Plan B.

It helps that I have some patterns for basics that I particularly like. In fact, four of the ten May stress fabrics were made into Ottobre 2.2006.1, a basic knit top.

Not terribly exciting as projects, but three of the four filled a gap in my wardrobe. The fourth, which was both the last to be made and the last picture (on the right), was not as successful. I liked the fabric, but not as the top.

I was more successful in repeating one of my favourite skirts from the spring, Burda 6835.

Skirts always look odd on my dress form! The Portofino stretch cotton from Marcy Tilton was a great choice for this skirt. I was also fortunate to have a zipper for the exposed zip that almost perfectly matched and was more attractive than the regular separating zips with their light grey teeth. The teeth on this zip look more like pewter.

Bengaline is legendary as a recommended fabric for many of Australia’s Style Arc patterns, but it is rather difficult to come by in this part of the world. I managed to obtain some in that May order from EOS, and made the Style Arc Linda pant.


My dress form has no legs, so pants are photographed on the floor!

I had plenty of fabric to do full-length pants. In fact, I cut full-length pants. However, I found this print overwhelming when it reached the ground and proceeded to cut off 20cm (8″) in order to make capris. Much more wearable, if only for one season.

My final garment from those May orders was completed just last week-end. Another Style Arc pattern, this one is the Patti dress.


As a column, I look best with long seams in dresses. The seam lines on this are great for me and the hem is only a slight A-line. Perfect!

This dress ticks so many boxes for me: no waist seam, long shoulder princess lines on the front and back for shaping and only a slight flare at the hem which means no vent! There is no lining, which is not my preference, but my fabric was opaque enough.


Can you see the beautiful shaping? I can’t see the beautiful shaping…

The fabric is Lido, a whimsical print from Marcy Tilton. Although a mid-scale print, the seam line shaping is quite obscured. I was actually worried that it might be too large a print for so much shaping and would look fractured. This is not the case, but I regret that the seaming is lost in the busyness of the print.

Photos of the interior to prove that the seams are shaped! It required further alterations, but was quite wearable (I wore it to work last Monday for the first day of my split class!). I found that the back neckline gaped. Fortunately, I had done the more extensive alteration of raising the waist on the five pattern pieces that make up the dress. (These five pieces yield nine panels! Lots of curvy seams to prepare and stitch.) The usual process on a princess seam dress is to remove excess from the princess seams, which translated into alterations on four dress pieces and both facing pieces. I was feeling lazy, and low on tracing paper, so chose to dart the excess on the centre back panel and the back facing. I then forced out the darts on both pieces. This is where the excess was, and it saved me paper and aggravation, for a time.

I performed these alterations last Sunday, and decided to make another Patti dress in a fabric that has caused me undue stress since purchasing it in April, 2014.


Milly poppy cotton sateen from Sawyer Brook. When I type too quickly and inattentively, poppy becomes poopy!

How could such a beautiful fabric cause stress, you may ask? For the very reason that it is beautiful, that there were only two yards of it, that it had to be a dress and that the dress it had to be was eluding me. Sometimes owning fabric becomes oppressive. (I have another that refused to let on what it wanted to be until just recently, too, but I’ll get to that one in a bit.)

So, from April, 2014 until last Sunday (18 September 2016), the poppy fabric would not co-operate and become a garment. After I completed the Lido dress, I realised it was perfect for the poppies. Low on fabric, I plotted it all out. The Patti dress calls for 2,2m and I had just 2 yards. It is mostly necessary for the length of the pieces. I managed to fit everything on a single layer with this directional fabric, but I needed more pattern pieces. For which I needed more tracing paper. For which I needed Boris (my car) to get to the art supply store. Boris decided he needed a new battery and set everything behind schedule by a couple of hours. I was just glad it was on a Sunday at lunchtime and not Monday at 6:30am, when I set off for work! Eventually, I completed all the pattern pieces, but was far too tired to cut the fabric.

Monday was overwhelming, with my split class, so again, I got little done, apart from pinning the pattern pieces for cutting. I wake up at 4am these days, so I cut out all of the dress pieces before work Tuesday. I was home after 6 again, so had enough energy for marking, fusing and pinning seams. Wednesday at 4am, I sewed the major seams and decided I wanted the dress for Curriculum Night, which was Thursday. I managed to leave work early enough to get home by 4:30 and finished the dress, except for the hem, which I finished Thursday morning. 4am has its advantages!

We again have the problem of seaming being obscured by a busy print. But it’s such a beautiful print! I don’t generally like florals, unless they are stylized, which these poppies are. I further complicated matters (and my time crunch) by adding a lining. I could have fully lined the dress, but I was afraid of not nailing the understitching at the neckline and having the lining peek over the dress. I kept the facings and made a front and back lining following the line of the side seam and carrying it out to the centre front and back, using the dress hem line as my lining cut line. I did not account for the curve of the facing over the bust.

The lining is very short! The light coloured line you see is my basting of the hem line for the lining. Needless to say, the lining was not hemmed. The deep curve of the facing at the armhole was tricky and really only behaves itself on the body. On the dress form, it creates bulk at that point. You can also see the self fabric facing. This is a cotton, and a fine one at that, but it was actually quite necessary to add the lining. It was somewhat sheer, and cotton is sticky without a lining, making it difficult to dress. I am really pleased with how it turned out and it did get worn to Curriculum Night!

My other instance of fabric stressing me out was resolved this summer. I bought this gorgeous linen in November 2015 and found its pattern in August 2016. So, just 8 or 9 months of stress with this one.


Linen digital print newsprint collage from Emma One Sock. This is my old apartment; the parquet in my new one has a dark stain.

I eyed this one for several months. It sold out quickly last summer, but EOS was able to restock it. I purchased it during the Thanksgiving sale last November. I thought it wanted to be a shirt, but could not imagine wearing it as such. Again, only two yards. It seemed too light for a bottom, but it ultimately became a skirt, just in time for my trip to Amsterdam and Brussels.

I don’t usually like pleats, but these ones are stitched down and there is a waistband. It is a really fun skirt to wear and the print is so unique. (My students were touching my skirt last week to see if I was wearing a newspaper!) The linen is sheer and it had to be lined. It was August 21, the day of my flight to Amsterdam, so I had little choice but to overpay for rayon bemberg at Fabricland. I used this tutorial, as the pattern is for an unlined skirt.

Fabric both relieves and creates stress. My fabric cupboards have been whittled down considerably, which makes the contents less oppressive for me, but I do sometimes give in to temptation and beauty, as I did recently. I just hope those fabrics will not be around long enough to oppress me.

On doors

School starts in a few days. Despite this fact, I have only just returned (four days ago) from a brief sojourn to Amsterdam and Brussels. It made preparing for Tuesday a bit hectic, but travel is never to be regretted. I told my brother that I travel for art, books and beer, and this excursion provided a glut of all three! I should add cheese to the list, as I feel I have come back to a cheese desert.

If one needs a reason for travel, and I am not sure that one does, mine is always art. I am a museum junkie when I travel, and it is all I really do, apart from glorying in the cheese utopia that is Europe. I had four days in Amsterdam and four in Brussels, happily spent visiting as many museums as I could. Both cities offer excellent museum and transit passes that allow one such as me to revel in art for 72 hours.

For this trip, it all started with Vincent Van Gogh. A book was released this summer, coinciding with an exhibit in the Van Gogh Museum (entitled On the verge of insanity), about the last year or so of his life. This was the year in which he cut off his ear after an argument with Gaugin, was in and out of asylums (asyla?), and ultimately committed suicide on July 27th, which is my birthday. (He shot himself in the chest on the 27th, and died of his wounds on the 29th.) The book contained the examining doctor’s illustrations of the ear incident. I had always understood that he cut off the earlobe, but the illustrations show that all that remained was the earlobe.

I had just read two biographies of Egon Schiele (over whose painting The family, shown blurrily below, I sat silently weeping at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna eight years ago),

and was in a tortured artist kind of moment when I decided that I had to go to this exhibition. Also, cheese! And the many other delights of Amsterdam! I booked my ticket and hotel, decided to go to Brussels as well, and bought new suitcases.

New suitcases

Aren’t they cute? The design across the cases makes a world map!

Suitcase for trip

I went for the middle suitcase. It weighed 12 kilos at Pearson and 22,9 kg at Schipol on my return. Maximum is 23kg, so I just made it through without excess baggage charges!

I am afraid that I took no photos in Amsterdam. I never brought my camera with me, although I always had my phone. Amsterdam is quite photogenic, unlike me, but I was too busy to stop and take photos, I suppose. Readers will have to bear with my photos from my trip journal.

After an overnight flight, I did very little the first day, apart from checking in to the hotel, taking a nap and walking around the neighbourhood. I found a gelato stand and enjoyed a lovely mango gelato as I walked through Sarphatipark, which was across the street from the hotel. I got started the second day visiting museums, with the Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk, a contemporary art museum in the same quarter. Rijksmuseum is also there, but I did not go. I find I am more interested in art that is slightly more contemporary. Also, it was not included in the pass, apart from a discount. And it is a big museum. It will be there for my next visit.

Amsterdam Van Gogh ticket

My tickets. Chagall is my absolute favourite artist, so I was obviously very excited to find two of his paintings at Stedelijk. I am looking forward to the Chagall exhibit in Montreal in the new year. It will relate his art to music, which is so very apt.

I loved that the Van Gogh museum is dedicated to a single artist(I had only been to one such museum before: the Chagall museum in Nice, France.), although the collection includes some contemporary (to him) artists. The exhibition on his final year was amazing, but it was equally amazing to see his development as an artist. He was really only active for about ten years, and what a decade. Although it was difficult for Van Gogh to have only sold one painting in his lifetime, how fortunate that the family was able to maintain such a complete collection of his entire oeuvre for us to see now. Only a very few major paintings are not at the museum in Amsterdam.

Van Gogh iPhone Champs de ble avec corbeaux

This one, Champs de blé avec corbeaux (Wheatfield with crows), is in the collection. And my iPhone finally has a case!

Some of my other favourites: Flowering plum orchard (after Hiroshige)Butterflies and poppies (I almost bought this iPhone case as well, but thought it would be excessive) and Almond blossoms.

On that first day, I really only had time for these two museums. There was so much to absorb: Van Gogh had a prolific correspondence with his brother Theo and I had to read everything! There are many other museums in Amsterdam, and on my third day, I visited three.

Amsterdam Hermitage, Verzetsmuseum, Rembrandt tickets

Verzetsmuseum (Dutch Resistance Museum), Hermitage, Rembrandt House tickets.

I am not a history museum person. Nor am I a war museum person, but I went to the Dutch Resistance Museum anyway. It was terrific! So interesting to learn about the little ways in which the Dutch rebelled against the German occupation. My notes are messy, but I was impressed with the way in which the museum laid out the history of this difficult time. This museum also helped absolve me of the guilt I felt in not going to Anne Frank House, as it detailed the Jewish experience during the occupation.

Who knew the Hermitage had a branch in Amsterdam?   I was toying with going to St Petersburg this summer, until I found out about the Van Gogh exhibit, and I got to go to the Hermitage anyway! There were two main exhibits: one on Catherine the Great and one on portraits of important people in Dutch society. Very well presented and interesting commentary. The Hermitage, in Russia, will be a future voyage.

On the last day, I went to two museums: FOAM and Tassen Museum.

Amsterdam Tassenmuseum ticket

Tassen Museum ticket. FOAM did not issue one.

FOAM is a photography museum. The museum had a temporary exhibit on Helmut Newton, who did a lot of fashion editorials. Amazing photographs! And on the top floor were contemporary fashion photographers. Tassen Museum is a museum about handbags. It is quite a collection! It tracks the movement of handbags from men to women and from function to form. Very interesting collection and commentary.

After this, I went to Brussels. I took a bus and arrived at 6:30PM. Everything was closed. No map! I used my phone to find my hotel, as I knew it was not far from Gare du Nord. My data roaming cost me 25$ for those 10 minutes (Bell sends helpful texts whilst traveling, including fees incurred!). I did very little, apart from checking in and going to Proxy, a small grocery store next door (cheese utopia!) for something to eat. I love going to grocery stores whilst abroad. I like knowing what people actually eat and can find in their stores. I ended up having to buy a bottle opener so I could try a raspberry beer: lovely! And I have a Belgian bottle opener now!

Brussels ouvre-boite

A functional and beautiful object. Much nicer than the one on the top of my corkscrew.

I made my way to the Grand Place the following morning, in order to obtain my Brussels card and start my museum visits. My attempt at a panorama of the Grand Place:

The left is the city of Brussels museum, centre is the tourist bureau and the right shows cafes. There was a fourth photo, between the museum and the tourism office, but it was heavily shadowed. Newly armed with my Brussels card, I set off for the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. The site contains four museums: Musée Fin-de-siècle, Musée Modern, Musée Old Masters and Musée Magritte. I skipped the Old Masters (as I generally do), and went through the others. They are primarily art museums, although the Musée Fin-de-siècle contains decorative objects as well. Brussels, along with Paris and Glasgow, were major centres for Art Nouveau.

I was particularly interested in Magritte. There are two Magritte museums  in Brussels and I went to both. This one contains the major works, and is amazing! It includes many of his articles about his work, which make for fascinating reading and a deeper understanding of how he viewed his art. I amassed a small Magritte library!

Magritte Mots et images

This is a large postcard of an article Magritte wrote about the representation of objects using words and images. It clarifies Ceci n’est pas une pipe, a work that baffled and enraged many viewers.

There is always a particular museum that I treasure on a trip; in Vienna, it was the Globe Museum (and the Esperanto Museum, in the same building). In Brussels, it was MIM, the Musée des instruments de musique (Musical Instruments Museum).

Brussels musee royale MIM tickets

MIM is in a glorious Art Nouveau building. I didn’t bother taking a photo when I saw it on the ticket!

MIM closes at 5PM, and I did not get there until after 3. It was not enough time, and I went back two days later to complete my tour. There are four floors of musical instruments to experience, and it takes awhile. The audio guide contains extracts of music featuring many of the instruments in the museum. Numbers on the floor in front of the instruments indicate the track on the guide. This is a delightful museum! My favourite floor was the fourth: the keyboard instrument gallery.

Brussels MIM keyboard gallery

The introduction to the keyboard gallery. There were also signs in French and Flemish.

These instruments are pieces of furniture, and beautiful ones at that. I took several photos in the keyboard gallery, and of harpsichords and a geigenwerk in the other galleries.

Brussels MIM harpsichord

This one is so interesting, with a second, smaller keyboard. These instruments are beautiful objects in and of themselves.

The decorative aspect of pianos and their role as a piece of furniture are what make me love them so much. Many of the pianos on display were quite ornate.

Brussels MIM fancy piano

A very fancy piano! My MIM piano book tells me it belonged to Queen Marie-Henriette and dates from 1865.

Brussels MIM arched piano

This one is a cabinet piano from 1830. The arch made me think it was more 20th century…

Brussels MIM piano round keyboard

I wonder if the curved keyboard makes it easier to play? This is from 1882 and has only two pedals (difficult to see because of the barrier).

There was also a Theremin in the mechanical instruments gallery. I am fascinated by the Theremin, with its eerie sound. The Ondes Martenot was another instrument that intrigued me. So, I bought the book and CD to help me remember these instruments and their unique sounds.

On this first full day in Brussels, I only managed these two museums, as I spent a lot of time getting to know my way around. (Some may call it getting lost; I prefer to think of it as getting to know the city.) I do my utmost whilst traveling to not look like a tourist: I dress nicely, speak politely, keep my camera hidden and, although I  carry a map, I only consult it away from others. I hate asking for directions and prefer to muddle my way through until I recognize something: a landmark, a street name, etc. It always works out, somehow! It was also a distinct advantage in Brussels to speak one of the languages well enough to not be immediately pegged as a tourist. I am so afraid of being seen as that worst kind of tourist: belligerent, sloppily dressed and unappreciative. So, I end up wandering a bit the first day, but then I am able to navigate successfully on subsequent days.

The following day, I navigated the metro! I went to Musée René Magritte in Jette. This museum was his house for a 25 year period. There are no paintings there, but it was interesting to see the house. A delightful Belgian woman gave us (me, a Russian couple, a Korean couple and an Englishman) a tour of the Magritte apartment, replete with anecdotes about the artist and his wife, Georgette. In the neighbourhood, there were many mosaic images in the style of Magritte, on the sidewalk and in front of a school.

Brussels school in Jette

Wouldn’t you like your school to have this on its gate?

I returned to the centre of Brussels to visit the Musée du costume et de la dentelle (Costume and lace museum). The temporary exhibit was all about wedding costumes and was beautifully displayed. The guidebook was very well-written.

Brussels musee de costume ticket

Pretty ticket! Museum tickets have become souvenirs, too.

A few doors down from the museum, on Rue de la Violette, is a children’s bookstore, Le Wolf. I travel for art, books and beer, remember? I bought some books for my classroom, including two that reimagined Little Red Riding Hood and The three little pigs. The wolf family role plays the story of Little Red Riding Hood and it is hilarious! Of course, all of the books were hardcover, which explains my suitcase gaining 10 kilos…

Around the corner from these two sites was Éditions Jacques Brel, which I went to the following day (after revisiting MIM). There are two parts to this museum: the museum itself screens films by and about Brel, there is a room reproducing his writing process (he wrote all of his songs on graph paper!) and the audio guide contains interviews and songs as you go through. It’s very small, but it still takes about 90 minutes for a completist like me! The second part of the experience is the Promenade. For this, you are given another audio guide and a map, and are sent out into Brussels to see sites important in his life and career.

Brussels Jacques Brel walk

Éditions Jacques Brel museum guide and map of the promenade.

The walk takes about 2,5 hours and is very interesting. It is again accompanied by interviews and his songs. I skipped the yellow part of the map, as I was tired, but it was a great excursion. Only two wrong turns (but the songs were playing long enough for me to right myself!). A few videos to acquaint those unfamiliar with the brilliance of this man, especially in performance:



Les bourgeois

La valse à mille temps

My final day in Brussels was spent buying chocolates and macarons at Pierre Marcolini in the Galeries St-Hubert. I’ve had a few macarons; so far, my favourite was salted caramel.

I visited another bookstore, Anticyclone des Açores, which is a travel bookshop! I found some interesting books for my classroom as well as inflatable globes in French!

My last museum was the Musée de la bande dessinée (Comic strip museum). Brussels comic museum

It was very interesting, particularly the first floor explaining how comics are made. The second floor had two exhibits on perhaps the best known Belgian comics: Tintin and the Smurfs. The third had a temporary exhibition on current comic artists.

In all of my wanderings around Brussels, I encountered marvellous architecture. (I am finally getting to the title of this post: on doors!) As someone who will probably never get to choose a front door, I am obsessed with them (and highly critical of those I see around me). Brussels has some beautiful doors, due to its importance as a centre of Art Nouveau. The houses may be small, but the entrances have impact.

Brussels door circular

I love this door! It was in Jette, and I snapped it on my way back to the metro. It is unfortunate that the mail had not been collected…

Brussels door arch

This was also in Jette. I love an arch and the curves and wonky lines add such interest. The glass adds further texture.

Brussels door deco

Again, the curves and the glass have presence. The handle is not overbearing, and one can really make an entrance (or exit!) with this door. This was somewhere near the Grand Place.

Brussels door green

Here is another arch. This was a larger building, near the Grand Place. The ironwork is so intricate, and, although green typically makes me look ill, I would stand in front of this door gladly.

The list of sites I did not see in Amsterdam and Brussels is at least as long as the list of things I did see! Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum, European Parliament, Atomium were all missed. So were Mini Europe and Bruges, both of which I had every intention of visiting. Time is never on my side when I travel, and it is just not possible to do it all. I am, as mentioned above, a completist and want to see everything in the places I do go, which takes time. However, I never go anywhere just once, so there will be a next time.

Sartorial considerations

I had to change the name of this quilt; it was to be Sartorial considerations, but my fabric for the label was not wide enough, so I dug out my dad’s thesaurus (my second favourite type of book, after French dictionaries from the early twentieth century) and settled on Sartorial matters.Shirts lower left back prewashNot to worry: I fixed the “m” in Jim’s name, after not leaving a long enough tail to pull through to the back. This photo was taken before the label was adhered to the quilt, and before the final wash which made it nice and crinkly. I cannot tell you anything about these two fabrics, except that I purchased them in Henniker, New Hampshire, on my way back from Nova Scotia in 2013. I think they look terrific together and believe them to be part of a line of fabrics.

Sartorial matters (né considerations) is the culmination of my work in paper piecing. I used the Shirts quilt pattern by Carolyn Friedlander and learned this time consuming technique.

I made some changes (don’t I always?!?), reducing the number of blocks from sixteen to twelve and adding sashing and borders. I like the separation and framing of the shirts that was achieved. I wanted the shirts to look like they were in a closet, since I chose brown for the sashing and borders. I find that I am becoming increasingly deliberate in my quilts as I use more pre cuts. The shirts were made from five charm squares, which measure 5 inches. Each shirt and background took two, while the trim used one.

I spent a long time choosing fabrics for the shirts. I opted to have the trims in solid fabrics and the backgrounds in a crosshatch. I did change the layout and fabrics from my initial plan, but I am happy with the outcome.

Paper piecing is very fussy! Each of the shirt blocks was composed of four templates, which were then assembled to make the block.

I ended up labelling the templates after a disaster that necessitated recutting most of the top two components of the block.  After several evenings and some mornings (4:30 is the new 5:30 for me, whether I wish it or not), I completed the twelve blocks.

I realize that only eight are pictured here, but I failed to put the final four in their own photo! After the blocks were done, the sashing and borders were quick.

I knew that I would not quilt within the blocks, but I wanted the shirts to be defined, so went on to ditch stitch all those little seams. That took several evenings and some of those early mornings! Finally, the quilting. I wanted to densely quilt the brown, but how? I kept coming back to the idea of a closet framing the shirts, but I though it might look weird if the woodgrain changed direction. I also thought about pebbles, but that takes forever (and a lot of thread!). I dutifully made four quilt samples: two to reacquaint my muscle memory with these stitch patterns and to test a variegated thread that I was considering, and two with shirt blocks to see if it all looked too weird.

Shirts pebble sample

Pebbles: The variegated thread was the first casualty. It was just too light for the brown background fabric.

Shirts woodgrain sample

I love woodgrain, but worried about it in the narrow sashing, and changing direction.

Shirts pebble block sample

The pebbled block was OK…

Shirts woodgrain block sample

… but I liked the woodgrain so much better!

So, woodgrain it was! The ditch stitching took forever, but the woodgrain only took about three hours. I think it works, even with the narrow sashing and the directional changes.

Shirts centre prewash

I captured most of the quilt here. This was before it got nice and crinkly in the wash.

Two winners here: I got to learn a new skill and Jim got a retirement quilt! I will miss our sartorial and musical discussions, but maybe he will get some ideas from this for his retirement wardrobe…

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