The differences between Oregon professional dress and Boston professional dress are not subtle. The short of it is that all jeans-based ensembles have been relegated to weekend wear and I had to buy a few pairs of heels. Any new knitwear needs to be styled for the workplace, ‘cuz I definitely don’t need more casual outfits.
Here’s where I need help. How can I dress up my newest sweater, the Plain and Simple Pullover by Veera Välimäki? This is the sweater that I made from frogging, washing, and un-plying miles of triple stranded wool from a garage sale sweater. I finally sewed on those buttons and whaddya know, it’s pretty cute. Thin weight, which is great for our overheated offices, and a long fitted shape. What’s it need to be a step or two above jeans?
Pattern: Plain & Simple Pullover by Veera Välimäki
Yarn: Re-used wool from LLBean fisherman’s sweater
Needles: 3 for sweater and 2.5 for neck/armhole ribbing
Who doesn’t love a good deal?
There’s a family story that involves a 3-year-old-me and the new Easter hat I wore to church. An older lady across the aisle commented on what a nice hat it was and politely asked, “Where did you get it?”
“ON SALE!” I shouted.
Last week Read suggested that one of my steals was turning out to be more work than it was worth. I’ve been guilty of this before…the $4 thriftstore dress that just needs some tailoring, the free piece of furniture that needs fixing, the hand-be-down chair with a funny smell…
Often I’m swayed by not only a cheap price, but also the thought of remaking and reusing something that otherwise would be discarded. What about for you? At what point is the investment to fix something (in time or repairs or sweat) not worth the savings?
I bought this Lily shirtdress for half off because it's missing half the covered buttons...how to make covered buttons?? hmm
This most recent situation started with that LLBean wool sweater that I got for $3 at the neighborhood yard sale. I deconstructed it and was left with oodles of triple-stranded dark gray wool. I washed the hanks and stretched them to dry, then knit a test swatch with 10.5 needles. YIPES. Way too thick. I’d start overheating in any garment that heavy.
Unwashed crinkly wool (left) and washed, stretched, and dried wool (right)
The only option was to separate the strands. I had Read sit on the opposite side of the couch – he took a double strand and I took a single – and we wound, wound, wound. The excruciating part is that the yarn gets so twisty it knots on itself, so every few yards you have to stop and untwist. One hank took a couple hours to separate. Read said he felt like Mose in that episode of The Office where Dwight makes him un-ply the building’s toilet paper to save money. He shook his head a lot, but bless his heart he kept winding.
the start of a Plain & Simple Pullover
The single-ply yarn is becoming a Plain and Simple Pullover…so far so good. Separating the strands basically tripled my yardage so I’ll get to choose a couple more projects after the pullover.
What lengths have you gone to fix, retrofit, or mend something you got for cheap (or free)? Was it worth it? Any epic fails?
Our neighbors get rid of cool stuff. So much so that I’ve generally replaced going to thrift stores with early morning walks at the turn of the month, when people are moving in and out of apartments. This year I’ve dragged home a few treasures, including…
An old weathered wooden box with faded gray/blue paint. It holds all of our scarves, hats, and gloves…
A solid wood double-doored console thing that serves as a media stand…
And an old windsor chair with a broken seat, but it remains to be seen if I can fix it.
This morning Read and I walked out the door and into a neighborhood-wide yard sale – it was like a whole year’s worth of moving sales in one morning. Amazing! It felt like a block party, but with rows and rows of $1 bins and used furniture and stacks of books. We met some more neighbors, all of whom are super nice and chill, and made plans to grill out in our shared driveway later this summer.
Combing the house we came up with $39 in cash. With our first dollar we bought some lemonade from the kids next door. The little girl had the best blond goldilocks curls and a cheery chipper voice. She also had a cold, so as she chattered away, a big wad of snot marked her breathing by moving in and out of her nose. Hahaha She remained unfazed. “These cookies have cow’s milk and these don’t! All of the money goes into this cup because it’s the money cup! We’re making a lot of money huh?!”
Thirty-eight dollars later, we had brought home…
A pink collar for Edith…
An antique dresser to put at the entryway and a puffy insulated dog coat…
…and a $3 XL virgin wool LL Bean sweater that I started to deconstruct for the yarn. That ball above is from just one sleeve, so maybe I can get a couple projects out of the sweater! I’ve had Calvados on my queue for a while and it would look nice in dark gray.
Yard sale season is in full swing. Have you picked up anything good lately?
Until this past weekend, our 2nd story balcony had a very short and pitiful resume:
- place where I take self-portraits of finished knitwear
- place where I stand to shake out the floor rugs
- place where the cats crouch to spy on birds and neighbors
It takes a couple oblivious sparrows for Edith to venture beyond the windowsill
My new plan to give the balcony self-confidence and purpose is to turn it into a container garden. It faces west, so there’s a ton of sunlight, and I found a stack of abandoned pots in the basement to get us started. On Saturday we went to Mahoney’s Garden Center and stocked up on soil, seeds, and a fabric Smart Pot that looked very intriguing (it’s behind Read in the photo below).
(front-back) Lettuce, Arugula, Peas, Collards, Peas, Read, Carrots & Radishes
Our big puzzle is going to be watering. I’m either going to rig up some sort of pulley system for the hose in the yard, or run a piece of tubing from the bathroom sink. I dunno…we’ve gotta do something. Read claims he didn’t mind watering it with bowl after bowl of water but that doesn’t seem like something I want to do all summer while he’s in Mexico.
In launching the balcony garden experiment, I’ve found a lot of tips, ideas, and inspiration on a blog called Life on the Balcony. The blog’s related Flickr group is also fun. Based on my lunchtime meanderings there, here’s what I’m planning for “Phase 2″:
- Find and revamp discarded junk (like this old metal BBQ) into more cheap planters
- Plant potatoes in a trashcan
- Plant strawberries and cucumbers vertically using old wooden pallets
Oregon radishes circa 2008
If all goes well, or even mediocre, hopefully I’ll have photos of Boston-balcony-garden-edibles in a couple months. What are you planting this time of year? If you have any tips for container growing, please share!
Thank you friends for all of your (fun and unpretentious) name suggestions! I’m going to give the award to Sandra, landscape architect extraordinaire and former roomie, who suggested “Osoberry”. Sandra, I’m sitting here with Samson and we’re commiserating about how much we miss you. He even confesses to missing Rider…
Sandra and Rider
So, back to this bag and its new name. Osoberry, also called “Indian Plum,” is native to the Pacific Northwest and it’s one of the first plants to flower in early spring. Yeah!! What a positive namesake. And appropriate. For some reason the bag feels very Pacific-Northwesty…maybe because most Boston ladies I know carry nice leather handbags. I’ve considered assimilating, but with my track record of busted pens and spilled hair oil, investing in a pricey handbag seems ill-advised.
- Osoberry, also called Indian Plum; Syn. Nuttallia cerasiformis (c) J.G. in S.F.
I had in mind a tall fold-over shape, but wasn’t sure how to construct the bottom until I saw the $4 reusable bags in the checkout aisle of Market Basket in Somerville (best grocery store ever, by the way). The body of the Market Basket bags is made from one piece, which just needed a little height to reach the fold-over shape I was envisioning. I added a reinforced bottom that doubles as a set of exterior pockets, and replaced the double handles with one long shoulder strap.
Osoberry bag- folded over
Unfolded, it can fit a lot...lunch, a knitting project, some books...
The blue fabric is from IKEA, and the orange and purple are dissected thriftstore pants. I used light blue thread for some fun contrast. Last week someone asked where I bought it, which as all knitters and sewers know, translates as “that doesn’t immediately strike me as homemade.” Exccccellent…
Osoberry bag closeup. Blue IKEA fabric plus two pairs of thrifted pants
Inspired by an Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook that I bought at a used book sale this fall, I wrote out the pattern by hand. So if you’re in need of a new bag, a one-day project, and a way to use up some mismatched fabric, click here for the very special foxflat-illustrated Osoberry Bag Pattern. Happy Spring!
My birthday present from Read is peeking out of the upper right-hand corner. No more sharing a laptop with a grad student in residence! yay!!
A bright foldover hobo-slung bag with external pockets
This weekend I finished my new spring bag and I’m working on writing out the pattern. But the pattern needs a name! Something spring-like. Unpretentious. Cheerful but not cutesy. The winner gets a foxflat-created-surprise.
Yesterday a giant rainstorm melted the last of our dirty sodden snowpiles and I’d like to think that’s it for snow this season. As an expression of optimism, I’m brainstorming spring sewing projects. Here’s a photo collection of my inspiration thus far. What am I missing? (besides mending your jeans, Tami…donworry that’s first on the list)
A new bag – A pen exploded in my beautiful orange corduroy bag last summer, which I could kinda hide if I kept it a certain way on my hip, but then half a bottle of hair oil leaked into it. That was the end…of both the bag and the hair oil. I still haven’t sewn another.
cornflower blue Ikea fabric
I have this blue Ikea fabric in my drawer, which is calling for an orange exterior. Or maybe green? I use a construction process like this and I’m considering a hobo bag shape with maybe some pleats or a fold-over. Like on of these beauties…
(c) stitchaline on etsy (click on pic to see posting)
(c) olivetreetextiles on etsy (click on pic to see posting)
(c) christystudio on etsy (click on pic to see posting)
A coin quilt – It’s about time for another quilt. My friend Bonnie at On The Way makes these great quilts out of men’s shirts and that fabric source, combined with the coin quilt motif, might be the next project.
Coin Quilt (c) uzbeckistan via flickr
(c) splityarn on flickr
(c) farfallagiallababy on etsy (click on pic for posting)
Somethin’ else - I have several of my grandma’s dress patterns from the 40s and 50s that I’d still like to make. I just need the right fabric…
Eighteen inches of snow dropped on Boston last night, which could only mean one thing…SNOW DAY!! Can anything inspire a purer joy? At least when you’re still new to the Northeast…
The view out our window at 7:30am
Snow days – with all of their white reflected light – are great for indoor photography. While we were still in bed, Samson did his famous “Great Men of History” series for the camera. Read calls the following “George Washington Crossing the Potomac.” And were any of you fans of Calvin & Hobbes? If so, you might understand why I turned Teddy’s new favorite cardboard house into a Time Machine. Teddy teleported to another time and place, and Mr. Washington took his historical reenactment skills to the streets, leading us in a snowy expedition around the block. All the curbside cars looked like frosted cupcakes.
Great Men of History #1
Teddy's Time Machine
Whoosh - he's gone
Snowy march around the block
Next to goofing around with the pets, snow days call for soup and craft projects. I made the soup first – Chicken Sausage & Artichoke from Sunset magazine – and served it with homemade bread. Excellent. Then I finished a really cheap but good-looking organizer for my long necklaces. All you need is an inexpensive wooden picture frame, little metal hooks, and a handheld drill (the drill isn’t mandatory but it does make things easier).
Chicken Sausage & Artichoke soup
The photo is of my hometown (Bryan, Ohio) in the 1920's. They still decorate the square like this for Christmas :)
Pre-drill shallow holes to make screwing in the hooks easier
Now I can fit more earrings in my jewelry box
Teddy returned around dinnertime but won’t say where he went, just that he had fun. Me too – what a great day.
Last month I bought some magazines for a plane flight and read a Real Simple article about Windsor chairs. They were all adorable, especially a mismatched shiny black group (see below). And then I mentally gave myself a high-five and had to resist the urge to turn to the stranger next to me and say, “See THIS?! I was on to this whole chair-trend like a month ago!! So silly how much a magazine can validate your choice of furniture and fashion, but there’s no denying the fun of seeing your choice in print. I’d meant to post a couple apartment projects, and now that they’re Real-Simple-approved, I think it’s time.
(c) Real Simple - Best Windsor Chair
(c) Real Simple - Best Windsor Chair
When we first arrived we tried using Craigslist to locate some much-needed furniture. But after two failed attempts at finding the seller (why do so many Boston intersections lack signage?) we gave up. I went to a very hip used furniture store run by a slick salesman who knows what he’s doing (plain pieces painted bright colors, given glass knobs, and reupholstered in vintage prints) but he wanted $125 PER kitchen chair and…they just didn’t seem worth it.
At an antique store between home and work I found a set of four windsor chairs. They were dusty, rickety, and some of the bars were taped to keep the wood from splitting. BUT they were $35 for the whole set. I bought woodglue, sandpaper and paint and had myself a big project for the next few days.
Sanding the chairs and securing all the joints with wood glue
Two coats of "saffron", which was later covered by two coats of "merlot"
The first color – “saffron” – was great in theory but looked awful next to the kitchen hutch. The second – a deep wine color – was just right. A pint was plenty. Martha Stewart paints had the prettiest colors so I gave them a try, but we weren’t impressed with the paint quality. I bought a discard gallon of Behr that we used to repaint the hutch, and the quality of that paint was much better.
So here you go…a glimpse of the new kitchen set-up. The troll picture atop the hutch is our favorite part – we stole it from Read’s mom’s house and I just don’t think it’s coming back (sorry Sally!).
And here they are in the kitchen!
**10/12/12 NOTE – This post is a couple years old, but thanks to pinterest it brings in a lot of visitors. I’ve received comments and emails from others who are trying to redye faded jeans. Many folks have had trouble with pants that turn out purplish…some have had better luck with using ALL black dye (no indigo or navy). I haven’t tried all black yet. My recommendation is to buy a pair of jeans from the thrift store that are a similar shade to what you’re wanting to dye, cut them into swatches, and test out different “recipes” before you dunk your favorites*******
Last week I was whining to my friend about my jeans. The cut is great, they fit just right, but they’re alllll faded. My office is pretty casual, but even so I refuse to wear faded jeans in a professional setting. And faded jeans don’t look right for dressing up, no matter the cut. It felt wasteful to have a drawer full of totally wearable but not-dark-enough jeans. In the future, I can use preventative measures like washing them inside-out on cold, but how to return the already-faded to their former glory???
I found several tutorials online about DIY jean-dyeing. This one (including comments) was probably the best. But nobody had before and after photos. And that’s what I was REALLY after. So I decided to give it a try, and I did my best to photograph everything.
Synopsis – Re-dyeing jeans to make them dark again WORKS, but is only worth the trouble if your jeans have some stretch in them (i.e. not 100% cotton)
BEFORE, 100% cotton jeans
BEFORE, jeans with a little stretch (synthetic) in them
Mix 1 packet navy blue RIT dye, 1/2 packet black RIT dye, and hot water in a 5-gallon bucket. Get your jeans wet, wring them out, and dunk them in the bucket. Keep them in the dyebath for 30-45 minutes.
Rinse the jeans until the water runs clear (at least 5-10 min). Wash them by themselves, on cold, inside out, in the washing machine. Dry (keeping inside out) in the dryer.
AFTER – the 100% cotton jeans. Nice and dark, but the color is almost too saturated. Like trendy jeans worn by people younger than me.
AFTER – the 100% cotton jeans. I still wear them in casual settings, even though the color is kinda weird.
AFTER – the stretch jeans. The stretch fabric contains synthetic white cross-threads, which don’t accept dye…so the final color is very “realistic”. I have started wearing these to work again.
50% success rate isn’t too bad