Slowly emerging from the darkness and lots of changes

I’m alive, although I don’t know if I can say the same about this blog, or other aspects of my life for that matter. My life stopped in April and I’m still trying to take the reigns of it. I still don’t have a definitive diagnostic about what’s wrong with me (I’ll know more next week) but I guess it’s a mix between a severe oral allergy syndrome and histamine intolerance. Around April my life started to be unbearable, I started my peregrination to many different doctors and all this took a heavy toll. Since these two conditions are not very well known and not very well investigated, I started to read, study and soak any related information, which consumed all my energies. All my efforts were focused on knowing what is wrong with me, how to improve it, talking to people with similar issues, visiting doctors, working on my diet. Being ill is a full time job, leaving no energies or time for anything else. I kept doing my job thanks to being extremely lucky and being able to work from home. Otherwise I don’t know how I would have been able to manage. I can’t eat outside. I need to prepare all my meals from scratch, avoiding what is normal and healthy for most people, even spices. I need to know and control all the ingredients in everything I eat to avoid allergic reactions and feeling miserable the day after. And I need very fresh food. I have to avoid all fruits and most vegetables due to my oral allergy syndrome, cereals and potatoes are also out for the same reason, gluten makes me extremely tired and dairy gives me a horrible congestion the same day and even more the day after. And then the eggs. Eating eggs gives me a horrible migraine the day after. Sometimes I don’t get the migraine, but I feel like I have the worst hangover ever, not being able to think or drag my miserable body around our apartment. At least I’m starting to know my triggers and I have to say that my oral allergy has improved a little bit, meaning that my lips and throat are not swelling with every meal I have. Now it’s usually just my lips once or twice a day. That is helping with avoiding losing more weight. Two weeks ago I went to a Mastocytosis research center and my weight was 44.9 Kg. Today it’s almost 46 and I’m not feeling like I’m going to faint if I need to walk somewhere.

Unlike it’s mentioned in “the Fault in our Stars” (read the book, didn’t watch the movie), Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is true, at least for me. I was (am) so busy reading about these diseases that I abandoned all the rest. I stopped knitting in part because of the horrible eczema I have between my fingers (partly due to my allergies, partly due to the medication), then I stopped sewing too. The last makes were a Lady Skater dress, a pair of Prefontaine shorts and a Soma bikini.

I have cut another Lady Skater that I didn’t bring myself to sew. My body has changed a lot since all this started. I think I’ve lost like almost 10 Kg and I don’t know how it will be in the next future. Part of my weight was due to the muscle I got practicing capoeira and I know that I will probably never be able to practice again, at least with the same intensity. In hinder sight, probably the intensity of it has worsened my histamine intolerance. Anyway, I just don’t know where I’m headed. I had a plan of making a pair of shorts for Koen using the Jedediah pants pattern I used last year, but then other things got in the way.

 

When all this started, when I still had the hope that I was going to get over it quite fast, we decided that this summer we deserved a treat. We wanted to travel again, not very far, not very costly, but just spending some days somewhere else. We rented an apartment for 6 days in August  in Lanzarote and hoped for the best. Koen has been complaining a bit for a while about our apartment, just because it’s too small and how wonderful it would be to have an apartment with a terrace and a guest room. And after checking online for some weeks we finally found a lovely place. But it was at the wrong time. Just before Koen had to spend a week in Denver to attend a congress and a week after we had our vacation in Lanzarote. And as I’ve said before, being ill is a full-time job and a vacation in thiese conditions is not a vacation. That week I lost more than one kilo and I spent quite some time reading and starving.

And Koen was offered a new contract and I had also mine renewed. And if we wanted the apartment, we had to take it at that precise moment, with no time to think carefully because we were in a waiting list and more people were behind us. We moved in one month ago, but with all this, there’s still a lot of work to do here. It’s in a very old building but the apartment has been renovated and it has a wonderful terrace. When we first arrived it was a bit frustrating, since half of the plants were dead and we discovered several surprises, like a problem with the washing machine pipe, the oven door, or the upstairs neighbor being too friendly with pigeons, and the consequent “presents” we get each morning from them. The word to describe the state we found the terrace is decadent. Dead plants, pigeon drops, a broken hose. But the place has quite some charm and it has lots of possibilities. It also means that  there’s a lot of work to be done and while it helps me to feel motivated, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming.

Anyhow, we have a lot more place than before, so I hope I can start sewing again soon. Other good thing of it is that we can invite friends home and that will help me to get part of my social life back. Our previous apartment was very small and we haven’t gone out for several months. No dinners or drinks outside.

I haven’t even read sewing or knitting blogs during these past months, I even abandoned instagram most of the time, but yesterday evening I found myself checking a couple of blogs again. I think the worst is over and I will have my life back soon.

There have been also some changes in the feathery department. Gerry was a bit stressed the first days after the move but he’s enjoying now the fact that he has a lot more space, and one of the windows in the living room has become his favorite spot from where he has a nice view of the square in front of our building.

And do you remember Leslie? The Gouldian finch I found on the street almost two months ago?

He came in a pretty bad state, very hungry and distressed. His health improved but still his behavior was not the one of a happy bird. After a month of trying to find his previous owners with no luck, we decided to give him a girlfriend, and two weeks later Sally came home. You can see that both look very healthy and active, they eat very well, Leslie sings and they seem quite happy together.

P.S.: I haven’t danced in ages. I miss it so much… I hope I can do it again soon…

Top 5 of 2013: Hits

I’ve just fond this wonderful initiative by Gillian and I couldn’t help but join. Today I will enumerate my 2013 hits. These are my most loved creations from this year:

Sewing:

1. Thurlow Trowsers: They were a bit of a challenge but I love how they fit, so much that I dislike wearing my other pants and I urgently need to make more of these. I’ve already cut a pair in corduroy and bought some wool for another pair. They are beautiful and extremely comfortable. When I’m not wearing sweatpants to work (I work from home) I wear these, and also for going out and everyday life. The downside is that they need to be washed and cannot be worn everyday for just that reason.

2. Lady Skater Dress: It’s easy to make, very comfortable to wear and very flattering even for pear-shaped gals. It’s my to go dress for any warm day. I bought more fabric to make two more for next summer.

3. A-line skirt: This project marked a before and after in my sewing. It was the result of this Craftsy class, and I finally succeeded in making a skirt that flattered my body. Being pear-shaped it was not easy, but this skirt got me many compliments from other sewers. As I’d already mentioned before I have learned four key concepts with this class:

  • How to sew on a blind zipper without having puckers.
  • How to sew the facing to the zipper with the machine.
  • The importance of square angles at the sides (waist and hem) when designing the skirt.
  • How to use muslins to improve fitting.

4. Reversible Zippie Hoodie: I wanted to sew something for my niece this year and this design fitted the bill. The construction is very clever and the execution went very smooth. My niece instantly loved it and if fits wonderfully.

5. Jedediah pants: Koen was so jealous of my pants that he requested a pair for him. This pattern had just been released at the right moment. I modified it to adjust it to Koen’s figure and preferences. He loves these linen pants so much that he’s still wearing them now in December. I should definitely make at least another pair of pants for him.

Knitting:

1. Freija: I loved the yarn from the beginning, the color was gorgeous and it was very soft. I wanted to knit this pattern for ages and with a couple of mods it came out perfect. I wear it a lot and the yarn is quite durable. It got me many complements from knitters and non-knitters.

2. Émilien: I was at first afraid of the sweater curse, but nothing bad happened during its execution or later. It was Koen himself who requested this cardigan and the colors to combine. He wears it a lot except when it’s just to warm for it. I learned some new things with this project:

  • Provisional cast-on
  • Jogless stripes
  • Matress stitch
  • How to sew a zipper to knitted garments

3. Miette Cardigan: I was not very excited about the yarn used for this project while I was knitting it, but it has proven to be perfect for when the weather cools down in summer. I’ve used it a lot more than expected and it goes perfectly with my Lady Skater Dress.

4. Cellphone Sleeve: A very simple project and my first design. Not a very exciting project but Koen requested it and loved it. He used until last month, when he got a new cell phone. He’s already requested a new one but has to wait until the Christmas rush has passed 🙁

5. Calimero: I almost forgot this one. It’s true that sometimes we don’t see what’s just in front of our eyes, because I’ve been wearing this non-stop since the weather cooled down. It’s very comfortable and warm, and once you slip it in you forget about it, unlike some scarfs which tend to move. It was an easy knit and it proved very useful.

These were my 2013 hits. What were yours?

Estelcon 2013

Yes, I’m still alive and still trying to recover from the past couple of weeks, during which a lot has happened, a lot was sewn, knitted, and I even got the time to get a new capoeira corda and to get ill twice. But this post is just about that Tolkien Society convention I’d previously mentioned. I wanted to write a couple of updates already before but in the frenzy of sewing and trying to finish our costumes I didn’t even find enough time to sleep enough (just to get ill, ha, apparently we always find time for that).

This was me just in the evening three days before leaving for the convention. As you can see I still need to attach one sleeve, finish and attach both oversleeves, sew some “silvery” details and hem the skirt. As I didn’t have a lot of time I decided to be “creative” and convert the muslin I’d previously made to lining. It’s cotton batiste, so the inside feels nice.

Please don’t look at all the clutter and rubbish around. I promise I put that silvery fabric away at the end of that evening.

Once I got the sleeves attached to the bodice I realized that attaching the oversleeves was going to be more complicated than I thought (yes, I was not very awake and the antibiotics didn’t help), because once the sleeves are sewn, how do you machine stitch something over it. Yes, my dreaded loathed simple technique: hand sewing. To keep the top from fraying I zig-zagged both lawyers and sewed it by hand while watching some Doctor Who Confidential. If I have to hand sew, at least I need to do it with something pleasant.

After attaching the oversleeves I machine sewed some silvery braids to conceal the join.

I am not sure if I’ve already mentioned it. I drafted the bodice using my personal block and I drafted the bottom using the Lonsdale skirt. I then modified it to remove the front seam, inserted eight pleats (four on the front and four on the back) and lengthened it. Now that I think of it, Cynthia’s dress didn’t have pleats, but when I was working on it I though it had. They give it a nice touch though. Matching them with the seams was extra work, but I think it makes the whole dress a little bit nicer (I prefer to think that since I realized about this too late).

I ran into the same issues as Cynthia due to the low neckline, and off course, I solved them in the same way as you can see.

Well, that was me finishing my dress, but I still had to make a little pouch for Koen and narrow his pants. This last think never got to happen. At least, in my illness, I had to skip a couple of classes, so that meant more sewing hours. Thanks to that I could complete almost everything in time.

The convention was in a village close to Barcelona, and we had a whole monastery for ourselves. The only downsides were the food, the rooms and the extreme cold. This picture was taken the last day we were there, after everything was cleaned up so the only thing you can see from the convention are the flags. It had been quite windy the night before.

There were multiple activities: a live role playing game, a tales reading, a musical with Queen songs adapted to Tolkien’s world, conferences, and writing workshops. We watched the movie Born of Hope, available on YouTube and Kate Maddison, the director was invited to give a talk. She also acted in the movie and later on she came dressed with the same clothes used when filming. At the end of the talk Koen and I were talking a bit with her, since I was curious about this whole subject due to my past working in the audiovisual sector. She’s working now on a new fantasy series for the web that looks very promising: Ren the series.

At the convention here were also workshops for the little ones. Some people have been attending this convention for years, starting when they were teenagers and now they bring their families with them. One of them was a girl nicknamed Goldberry. We met (over the internet) around 15 years ago, when I first heard of this Tolkien society and I was young. As I’ve already explained, I’ve planned to come then and I even bough some beautiful blue fabric to make a dress for the occasion. At the end it never happened, but while I was still convinced that I was going to make it I was in contact by email with this person. She could hold the title of Costumes commissioner if she wanted, because she helped so many people with tutorials and explanations. I think almost every single member of the society has made a cape based on her tutorial. She spent a lot of time with me, helping me to design a dress and she even made a tutorial especially for me based on a dress her grandmother had made for her many years ago. She even was so kind to send me that dress by mail so that I could see how it was built. And all that without really knowing, without meeting me in person a single time.

That’s why it was so special for me to see her in real life for the first time and meet her husband (her boyfriend back then) and their two sons. and we got a picture together to remember those years already past. She had the most stunning dresses and robes and I think she managed to wear like two different dresses each day. Off course her husband and sons were also appropriately dressed.

Then we got our picture with Kate, the director of Born of Hope. She was wearing here the same clothes she was wearing in the movie, that hadn’t been worn since then.

Here you can see more people at dinner. Those in the center were part of the organizers team.

And here you can see Kate again and also Goldberry with her oldest son ready to watch one of the convention traditions: the flans race.

As soon as Koen saw the flans and before really knowing the goal of the game, he said: “I would be good at that”. So when they asked for participants he had to be there.

This is one of the few pictures I have from the back of the dress. It’s not a great photo but I had to include it since it’s the best of them. I have to say that I got compliments from several people about the dress and the chain used as a belt. One came from the same Goldberry and value it immensely.

And now a couple of pictures to show several details that we forgot to shot during dinner, and also the dorms, which had 5 bunks each one. These two pictures are not very good (the first is indeed quite bad) but each one has something that I wanted to show you.

It was freaking cold in there. The past weekend the temperatures dropped considerably and we were at the mountains. With those enormous sleeves there was no way I could wear a normal sweater so the Thick Chill designed by Teresa Gregorio saved me big time.

I also wore the cape that I made 15 years ago following Goldberry’s instructions. It’s not great and as it’s made of elastic velvet so it doesn’t really drape uniformly, but the brooch is beautiful and I’m very fond of it. Sadly it was not really suited to those low temperatures and I had to wear the Thich Chill, my coat and the cape to go to the restaurant. And not only that, because people, I’m going to confess something here. As I’m not used to wear dresses in Winter and we’d prepared our bagage in a hurry, I didn’t pack tights with me, and again, it was freaking cold. So, even if you don’t see it, and only Koen knew, I was wearing my trousers underneath, my Thurlows to be more precise 😀

You can see Koen here after dinner (around 3 pm and very tired) without his vest. It’s the only picture I have where you can see the front cord. He’s in fact hiding our toothbrushes behind his back.

As I’ve said before the hardest parts of this convention for me were the extreme cold and humidity. I’m very allergic to dust-mites and have asthma, and I had lots of breathing problems all day long, especially in the dining hall (not the restaurant where we had the special dinner), the theater and the dorms. My asthma inhaler was my best friend during those days and if it wasn’t for that it would have been an almost perfect weekend. Because of that it was difficult to get enough sleep and in the mornings we were woken up with the sound of a blowing horn. Something like this one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVbEswv6TVg

Another problem we had was that, as we were using common showers, some clothes got lost. Koen came out of the shower just to find that his clean t-shirt and underwear were gone. He had to come back to the dorm with just his towel and he was lucky that he had prepared an extra set of clothes just in case (he got dirty or sweaty).

We were quite tired most of the time due to being sleep deprived, but we had anyway lots of fun.

You can see our costumes here. Koen’s t-shirt is based in the Strathcona Henley and his pants in the Jedediah Pants. He chose the fabrics himself and you don’t want to see my face when he chose a knit fabric to make a warrior shirt. He wanted to be a plain warrior so he dismissed any thought about capes or ornaments.

About my dress I would say that the fit is quite good, although you can see some wrinkles here and there. I guess that with a little bit more of time I could have come with something a bit better, but I’m very pleased with what I made in very little time. In hindsight I could have lowered the waist one or two inches, I could have adjusted the neckline better and shorten the skirt by an inch, since walking was a bit difficult with this length. I used almost all the fabric I had bought 15 years ago and I’m very happy to have found finally a good use for it quite similar to the one I initially thought for it.

More pictures on my Flickr.

An update to the Jedediah Pants

Returning from our holidays is relieving in some way (I was really looking forward to going back to normal) but it’s also very frustrating because it leaves very little time due to some adjustments. There are clothes to be washed and folded, there is also a big mess in our living room (sewing doesn’t help) and I have nine bags of clothes to be donated but Caritas parishes are on vacation until September. That means that my drawers have more space but all those nine bags are in several places of our tiny apartment. I don’t have a dedicated sewing space and having all this junk around doesn’t help to find the motivation to take out the fabric, cut it and sew it. The worst thing is my queue is immense. I want to make all sorts of things, and I want to get most of them done before the summer heat abandons us. It’s still almost 40ºC here but spending a week in the cold and rainy Belgium reminded me that Autumn and Winter are there waiting for us.

This past weekend I’ve started working on this:

Yes, it’s a back pocket of the Jedediah pants. I did not stitch any marks on it because this was just a muslin and I just wanted to check the pockets placement.

I modified the pattern to make place for Koen’s muscular thighs. I cut a 36 for the waist and seat but I graded to a 40 on the thighs and from the mark where the shorts end I cut it straight down instead of tapered in.

Apart from being two inches too long, I think the fit is quite right. Koen wanted a little bit more room on the thighs so I altered the pattern a little bit more and trimmed those two extra inches.

They are doing the shorts version on the sewalong but as we are already at the end of August, Koen decided that we should go for the pants instead, since I foresee this to take me some time. I expect to have fabric left over so I can always make the shorts later on.

I’m now working with the linen and it’s a bitch to get it pressed. I just hope the result is good enough. I’ll keep you posted.

Jedediah sewalong: Planning mods

The release of the Jedediah pants and the announced sewalong just came at the right time, since Koen was longing for a handmade pair of pants (and shorts) after the complete success of my Thurlows (isn’t it nice when our other half support us in our crafty and crazy adventures?).

We bought together some linen in enough quantities to make both garments, he washed the fabric to prepare for sewing (I was still in Vigo) and we printed out the pattern. Finally, yesterday evening I proceeded to take his measurements in order to know which size and what modifications are going to be needed.

After measuring Koen I understand that the waist measurement corresponds to where the waistband sits, not the natural waist.

Koen’s measurements:

  • Natural waist: 34″
  • Waist: 36 1/2″
  • Hips: 43″
  • Leg width (crotch): 25 1/2″
  • Knee width: 17 1/4″
  • Inseam: 33″

The last three measurements correspond to body, not garment, measurements. We were also fiddling with the measuring tape to estimate the ease he was going to need, since Koen’s not really fond of skinny pants and he has also powerful cyclist thighs. This is often one of the key points when buying pants. He’s on the thin side, but hates wearing tight pants on the thighs and at the end he gets a lot of gaping at the waist and many wrinkles when wearing a belt.

Koen showing us his sexy knee

After measuring his legs, estimating ease and double-checking with a pair of pants he likes (on the legs, not really on the waist), we decided that 21 ” for the knee and the 27″ for the thighs should be fine. So I’ll be cutting a size 36″ and making similar modifications to the ones made by Creative Counselor (not so drastic, maybe, we’ll have to see).

Tomorrow is bank holiday here so I guess we’ll be starting to draft and cut a muslin. How exciting!