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…

Catching up: tops!

I find that this is a very apt topic, as I am again working on the Shirts pattern, this time for a quilt. As my little shirts go together on their paper templates, I wonder whether these are fussier than actual shirts.

Even so, today is about people tops, not inordinately fussy quilt blocks. I have been doing a lot of reading and fretting about wardrobe planning over the last several months. What became clear was that mine lacked tops and blouses that I actually wanted to wear. I had several cuts of beautiful fabrics that were sitting unsewn because I had not yet figured out what they were to become. (I continue to suffer from this issue, although I alleviated myself of the stress of some 30 metres of suiting last week, partly in preparation for my move this summer, but also as the result of a rather ruthless assessment of what I really want and need in my wardrobe.)

I had (and have!) several knits intended for tops. I like to wear knit tops with trousers or skirts. The old standbys (Sewaholic Renfrew, Angela Wolf’s ruched tee and Jalie  2794) had been made in horrific polyester ITY that was unwearable. I also really like cowls, so I tried a PDF pattern (so much taping!!) with viscose (rayon) knits.

I actually made two, but only one is still with me. It is in a striking fabric, called Recollections, from Sawyer Brook. I added sleeves from another Maria Denmark pattern to make it a multi-season top. It takes me out of my comfort zone (so much orange!!), but I love the print and the dramatic cowl. Although my measurements aligned with a small, I ended up making a medium due to the negative ease, particularly at the bust. My test garment screamed “Boobs!”, and I was a bit distressed with respect to dressing appropriately for work! Sizing up helped, although the top is still quite close-fitting at the bust.

Despite there being a year and a half between these makes (I made the following items whilst performing jury duty this winter), I feel it makes the most sense to continue with knit tops. I am late to the discovery of Ottobre magazine. It is a Finnish publication that contains patterns, along the lines of Burdastyle magazine. It is great for basics, such as knit tops. I ordered some back issues last fall, which arrived promptly, with instructions in Dutch and Swedish! (To be fair, I did get to download the English instructions for certain issues.)

Ottobre 2.2006 & 2.2009

Ottobre 2.2006 and 2.2009, with Dutch instructions! My mum gave me a subscription (to the English version) for Christmas. Thanks, Mum!

I started with the most basic of knit tops, pictured in pink, from the 2.2006 issue. The photos showed a very close-fitting top, so I sized up when tracing the pattern.

Ottobre 2.2006.1

The line drawing shows a neckband, but when I made my test garment, I disliked the effect. I decided to use a facing at the neckline instead. I ended up making three tops.

The blue print on the left was my first iteration. I ended up making quite a few alterations. It was too long and too big. It is still a little looser than I would like, so I may revisit it once more. For the moment, it works. It is a viscose knit from Emma One Sock. The brown and black tops are bamboo jersey from Queen Textiles. I decided that I prefer an elbow length sleeve in this style of top, and they are considerably shorter than the blue print. The side seams are much more curved as well (harder to see in the black version, but quite evident in the brown). This is a great base for solids and busier prints that would obscure design details. I think this is my new go-to knit top pattern, as it also includes a V-neck option.

The other issue of Ottobre pictured, 2.2009, has the Waterfall top. I love a cowl, so I had to try it.

Ottobre 2.2009.5

Ottobre 2.2009.5 Waterfall top with Dutch instructions, but an English name…



I really like this top. The cowl is not as deep as in the Maria Denmark top, but it works. I learned how to change the shape of the cowl from Pam Erny’s tutorial about this very top (scroll down to Fold and Flip Facings). By changing the shoulder gathers to a pleat and playing with the placement of the pleat, the cowl deepens or becomes shallower. I had fun experimenting. Again, I made three, all out of beautiful prints that had been aging in my stash for about two years.

I tell a lie: the grey patchwork print on the left was purchased in November 2015! The two brown prints have been around for awhile (grey and pebble prints from EOS; watercolour floral from Marcy Tilton). The centre top is the first iteration; I can tell because it is so much longer! Although I make test garments for every new pattern, the length is not always an issue until I get to the fabric. Fabric content and degree of stretch play a role in making further length adjustments necessary. These tops get a lot of wear! I love the prints and they work with jeans, trousers or skirts. Another keeper!

I bought three yards of the brown pebble print from Emma One Sock, intending to make a twinset. When the print arrived, I felt that it was too lightweight for a cardigan, and a little too busy. I toyed with the idea of making a dress, but felt it would be awfully clingy. So, it sat. Until I came across the Debra Zebra top from Style Arc.

Style Arc debrazebratop

Style Arc Debra Zebra top

There is a theme here: I tend to prefer autumn and winter clothing. I prefer sleeves to sleeveless or short-sleeved garments. I like interesting necklines. As the cardigan queen, I need tops that work as layering pieces.

Style Arc Debra Zebra

Style Arc Debra Zebra top. Look familiar? I made this before the Ottobre top.

It does not really fit my dress form well, but it is difficult to show these things without arms to fill out the sleeves. This one does not get as much wear as the cowl top, but the funnel is not my preferred neckline.

I made only one blouse that gets regular wear. It is from a pattern that I bought while travelling through Maine last summer. I always stay in Bangor en route to Nova Scotia (coming back home to Ontario, I always stay in or near Freeport so I can go to LL Bean!). We no longer have New Look patterns available in Canada, so I purchased a few at a JoAnn store in Bangor. I had never worked with New Look before, but I liked the look of this blouse.

New Look 6407

New Look 6407

The funny thing is, I actually wear mine exactly as in the photo! This is a casual blouse that looks great with jeans, although I have worn it with cotton trousers that read as trouser jeans. It is too casual for skirts, in my iteration.

Cuffs up or cuffs down? I prefer cuffs down when I am the cardigan queen. I also prefer my shirts well-pressed. Oops.

The navy gingham is a stretch cotton from Queen Textiles (leftovers of which were added to Bleuet). It allows a casual look to be a little more polished. In a shirting, it could probably work in a dressier context. I had to do a lot of work on the pattern: the waist had to be raised, as did the neckline; there was a lot of length to remove above the bust, at the hem and at centre back. It was worth the effort, as I wear it a lot. The neckline is not my favourite, which is why I have not made more versions. I am still working out what my ideal blouse looks like and trying different patterns in an effort to attain the holy grail of blouse-ness.

The back has waist and shoulder darts. I am learning that I need shoulder darts! I love the buttons on this blouse, bought locally at Capital Buttons.

Enough tops for now. In the time that I spent writing this post, I have completed five more shirts, made a batch of applesauce and my lunches for the week. (I take a lot of procrastination breaks!)

Shirts 5 blocks

Shirts quilt. Eight blocks done, four to go!

Catching up: skirts!

The dresses last week were just the beginning, as I have skirts and tops to catch up on as well. Let’s start with skirts!

I have made several over the last two years, although I only put them into regular rotation this year (last winter was way too cold to don such garments!). Skirts are great: they use very little yardage, they are easy to fit and construct and they have become easier to co-ordinate as I move toward purchasing more basics (as opposed to fabrics that are beautiful, but destined to become orphaned garments).

The Patterns: Burdastyle 8/2013.130, Silhouette 2913, Simplicity 1322, Burda 6835, Hot Patterns Lantern, Liesl & Co City Stroll, Style Arc Janet and Mary-Ann.

Skirts can be kind of boring. I am always looking for interesting shapes and details, and I found them in many of these skirts. My most recent skirt was from Burdastyle magazine and I loved making it. There is a front zipper closure, a wide waistband and an overlap at the centre front. It has a kind of eighties bell shape with slant pockets and sits near the navel. Burdastyle 8.2013.130 frontThe hem does line up, I promise! It is difficult to fit skirts on my dress form, as her waist is much smaller than mine.

I used a beautiful wool for this skirt, in blue, of course, since most of my fabrics are blue or brown. I usually avoid pleats or tucks at the waist, but these ones are not so bad. They add interest to an already interesting skirt.

Burdastyle 8.2013.130 waist

I used a cotton for the waist facing to reduce bulk. Also pictured is the front zip closure, akin to a fly front, but much easier to construct using a separating zipper.

I used the same cotton for the pocket facings. The skirt is unlined, which is unusual for me, but it is not strictly necessary here. You can also see my hand stitching to keep the front facings in place. I did the same herringbone stitch on the hem.

Burdastyle 8.2013.130 closure

A view of the front closure. I used a large snap and hooks and eyes on the waistband overlap. The zip is angled quite steeply.

Burdastyle 8.2013.130 buttons

Buttons are just for show.

I really like this one. It is quite unique and fun to wear. Isn’t that why I do this?

Silhouette 2913: I made this one before in denim, but always planned one in a faux leather that I had purchased from Emma One Sock. It has been in my wardrobe for quite some time, but I had never worn it, until this winter.

Silhouette 2913 faux leather

Silhouette 2913. I still love the panels in this one and I still dislike the waist treatment.

I had to shorten this one quite a bit, which I did in the top panels. I like having the longer panels below. This was an exercise in extreme care whilst topstitching the faux leather. As with velvet, there are no second chances!

Silhouette 2913 faux detail

Topstitching detail.

The waist treatment is something to consider if I take this one on again. I hate it. The pattern calls for fold over elastic, which is not widely available here, and certainly not in colours. I would much prefer a waistband, but that is for another day. Not sure if I would make this one again: it is quick to construct, even with the lining that I added. The shape may just be a bit too unique, although I have a beautiful brown (naturally!) faux suede that would work well.

Simplicity 1322: It turned out so nice, I made it twice!

These are view F. In hindsight, the A-line is a little wide on me. I may revamp the side seams a bit to bring in the excess width. The grey is a J. Crew suiting while the houndstooth is a lovely wool, leftover from the Style Arc Odette skirt. (I could only purchase full yards and needed more than one for that skirt). I lined these skirts, which complicated the construction somewhat, but was necessary. The finishing called for in the pattern would have been ugly.

The wool needed a cotton waistband facing in order to reduce bulk. I had leftover fabric from a quilt I made for my mother that I thought would be fun. And it is!

The second Burda skirt, also made quite recently, confirms my love of all things Burda! The patterns go together beautifully, they fit me well and they have details with a bit of an edge.

Burda 6835 front

Burda 6835

I love this skirt! I love the exposed zipper on the front (although it makes driving a little inappropriate!) and the shaping of the panels. There are seven panels in this skirt and it has a centre back zipper. Amazingly, I did not have to shorten the skirt panels! View B hits exactly at my knee. I did have to find a shorter separating zipper than called for in the pattern, as I did not want it to be wrapped around the hem. So, I have some extra zippers hanging around!


The skirt is fully lined, which I did by hand at both zipper closures. The fabric is called Galileo, a cotton brocade, purchased from Sawyer Brook in 2014. I purchased four yards, with the idea of making a dress and jacket. The dress was a major fail as the pattern was overwhelming. I sat on the remaining fabric for a long time before finding the Burda skirt in the 2016 spring release. I believe it to be a great match of pattern and fabric.

Burda 6835 Galileo detail

Galileo cotton brocade in blue (of course!). Stunning!

In the pursuit of interesting shapes, I came across Hot Patterns’ Lantern skirt. It has a hem band that gives it a unique shape that is difficult to capture on my dress form. I call it my Hallowe’en skirt (even though I made it last summer), due to my fabric choices: black linen from Designer Fabrics and orange bemberg lining (I have a lot of this for some reason.).

My linen needs to be pressed! This was an easy make, although I had to shorten it considerably. It is very loose at the hip and the waist is a bit too big for me. This probably explains the fact that I have worn it just once, to my Shakespeare book club last fall. I may give it another go, if I size down and shorten further.

Liesl & Co puts out great patterns that are easy to wear. I made the Maritime top last summer, and purchased the City Stroll skirt at the same time. I really like wrap skirts, or mock wraps (as shown above, with Simplicity 1322). I used a beautiful linen that looks a bit like denim.

The overlap is rounded and uses a facing to finish the edge. There are slant pockets and buttons used as a closure on the inside. It is unlined, although I used lining for the pockets. It is a cute, casual skirt, great for summer strolling. I tend to dislike summer styles, as they are often a bit sloppy, but this one allows me to appear a bit more pulled together.

Style Arc is one of my favourite pattern companies. Their patterns are classic yet current. I had a fabulous cotton from Marcy Tilton that was reversible.

Style Arc Janet reversible

Inside the Style Arc Janet. The gridded side of the fabric is a bit overwhelming, but works in the godet.

The Janet skirt offered the chance to use both sides of the fabric in a fun way. I like the godets and the interest they add to a basic panel skirt.

When I traced the pattern, I wondered if it was a doll skirt as the pieces were so tiny! Because of the wide waistband and the godets, the panels are quite small. The waistband took quite a bit of work to fit, but it fits well now. I lined in bemberg, as ever, this time in hot pink!Style Arc Janet lining

The Mary-Ann skirt has been made before, in what I call my non-threatening librarian look. I love this skirt, although I have yet to actually make it with the pockets! Neither of my fabrics would work with the pockets, as they were too thick.

Style Arc Mary Ann faux suede

Style Arc Mary-Ann in faux suede.

I have worn this one a lot this winter. It is a great shape on me and I love this fabric (even if it is polyester!). The neutrals of the fabric make it easy to co-ordinate with tops and the length is perfect. I made it ages ago, but it is another that just started to be worn this winter.

Style Arc Mary Ann faux waist

Waist facing in quilting cotton and a gorgeous grey bemberg lining. I love the stitching detail around the checkerboard squares!

The fabric was too thick to make nice pockets, which is why I left them off. The waistband had to be faced with cotton to reduce bulk. I believe the lining is hand stitched to the zipper and I am building better waistbands, although the corners could be tidier!

So, skirts! I have to say that my favourites are the two Burda skirts. They are just so unique and push me out of the non-threatening librarian zone. All eight skirts have been worn this winter, some more than others, but all are still hanging in the wardrobe.

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