Cleaning: I Love It, I Hate It, I’m Going to Do It

Let’s talk about cleaning. I feel like a person who ought to be really good at cleaning, because I love household management and I love to organise. But I honestly don’t think my household cleaning has ever been anything stellar. It’s only recently that I’ve had a functional cleaning schedule, with the attitude that, if I can at least do a couple of things regularly, on one day a week, that will be the start of better habits. But recently I’ve been feeling inspired to do a bit more. In fact I’m trying a daily schedule for a while and I want to share how it goes.

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Why I don’t clean

I love homemaking, and most of the related tasks are things that I enjoy or at least find satisfying. But the only type of cleaning that I really find very satisfying is the really serious cleaning – like spring cleaning – or focused cleaning/organising, like sitting down and reorganising a closet. But as for anything regular, like vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, or dusting, it almost never gives me much pleasure. And, beyond those things, I am lucky if anything else gets cleaned except in a feverish spring cleaning. The dust behind our radiators can get pretty thick before April comes again.

I can pinpoint a couple of reasons why regular cleaning doesn’t come easily to me.

  • I like to do intensive (=messy) projects, and I’m not a naturally tidy person – not that I’m not organised, but when I’m involved in something I screen out distractions. When I’m cooking it’s often hit or miss whether I wipe up minor spills as they happen, because my project is so engrossing that no petty concerns such as cleaning can challenge my focus.
  • I actually do enjoy the focused, intense cleaning projects, and am deep down afraid that if I keep everything clean all the time, I won’t have anything to do on that rainy Sunday when inspiration strikes and I desperately want to organise a drawer. Ooh, isn’t that interesting? A fear of cleanliness?

Why I do want to clean (more)

Okay, so I like to spring clean. And I can hasten my way through some weekly tasks to keep things at least sanitary. What’s the problem with that?

Well, objectively, maybe there is no problem. But I would say that there are two problems, for me:

  • First, some parts of the house do get truly dirty. When I do spring clean, they’re filthy, and they’re filthy again long before I come to clean them again. There’s a lot that my weekly cleaning doesn’t touch. And though most of the time these spots are out of the way, once I notice the mould growing in the air vent, or actual wads of dust on an out-of-the-way extension plug, I just feel gross about those things
  • Second, my spring cleaning is always more than I can handle at one stretch. The last two years, I’ve started spring cleaning on one of the first sunny Saturdays when I can open the windows, but invariably I end up grumpy, tired, and with still half the tasks left to do. Each thing I try to clean is a can of worms (figuratively…though once I found larvae lounging underneath a bin in the kitchen), always dirtier and more complicated than I expected. So spring drags on and my energy wanes, and some stuff never gets done.

I would summarise this situation simply by saying that my system, such as it is, doesn’t work. I don’t mean that it fails to live up to perfect standards, but it doesn’t even work for my standards.

Why I won’t ever have a perfect home

But that’s a good question – what’s the standard? I like to watch YouTube videos about cleaning and organising (laugh if you like), but I suppose that if you’re a person who makes videos about cleaning, you likely have high standards. If I tried to keep my house as clean as some other people do, I can tell you it would be a disaster.

Actually, I think the primary reason I’m not great at cleaning is that I like to do projects. It’s all the stuff you see on this blog: cooking, sewing, knitting, making bath and body products. All of these consume space and make a mess, and sometimes they need to be left out for a few days while they’re in progress. I’ve decided that I value these creative pursuits enough to let them prevent my home from being always immaculate.

So my goal isn’t a persistent state of tidiness, because I think perpetual tidiness is incompatible with most creative hobbies. Rather, I want to have a system that chugs along well enough that the important things stay clean and sanitary, and everything else will get tended to often enough not to become filthy, and so that nothing becomes figuratively stagnant, untouched and unseen for months on end.

The plan

This is a true trial – that is, I’m going to give this a try and see if it works for me. It might not. I simply want to be honest.

What I’ve done is to take a zone approach; this is something which I think was popularised a while ago on www.flylady.com. The idea is to divide your home into zones (roughly one room each), tackling one zone per week, in little bits per day. Essentially you are accomplishing the tasks of a spring or deep cleaning, but spread out in 15-minute segments over several weeks. I have five obvious zones in our flat, so I should be cleaning the whole flat, spring-cleaning style, over five weeks and then starting again – I think with a bigger house you’d have more zones and have something like a six- or eight-week cycle. And ideally, since you are giving everything a once-over every few months, it shouldn’t take as long in total as a normal spring cleaning takes.

Here are my zones:

  • Kitchen
  • Bathroom
  • Bedroom
  • Hall and closet
  • Living room

In fact I already had a list of spring cleaning tasks, organised by room. (Do yourself a favour – if you ever decide to spring clean, write down everything you do and use the list for reference the next time.) I used this list and distributed the tasks for each room over five days.

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So, in the hallway, on Monday I am tidying up and sorting things out, in preparation for vacuuming on Tuesday, and dusting and wiping surfaces on Wednesday. For each zone I tried to group tasks logically, so for example ones that required a dusting cloth together on the same day.

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So far each day’s set of tasks has taken me around 15-20 minutes. I think I can handle that at least for a trial period. So I’m going to give this a try and check back in about a month and share how it’s going!

DIY Skincare Products I Actually Use

A long time ago, I wrote about trying out a few more organic, DIY and natural options for some standard beauty and personal care products. Later, I shared a few things I’d been making, like lotion and lip gloss.

I’m bringing up this topic again because I think it’s really easy, in blogging, to write about something you think is a great solution or a great ‘find’ but never follow up about how it’s working over time. I can’t say how many times I’ve read a blog post on ‘how to make your own…’ which concludes with, ‘I’ve been using this for a week now and it’s great!’ But the real question, to me, is whether a year later you’ll still be using it, or whether it turned out to be skin-irritating, too much trouble, too expensive, or ineffective.

So here are three DIY beauty products that I have actually used for the long haul. I’ll also mention a few that I tried and abandoned! In terms of definition, what I mean by DIY is that I bought raw ingredients and made something with them, rather than buying a product marketed for a specific use.

The oil cleansing method

I mentioned this in my first post on the topic. Oil cleansing is a method of washing your face, first massaging in a bit of oil, then steaming it off with a cloth soaked in hot water. It’s supposed to be gentler on skin than using something foaming or soapy, and it removes makeup and unblocks pores.

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I use sweet almond oil, which I ordered in a 500 ml bottle online. I decant it into a brown glass dropper bottle to keep in the bathroom. Initially I tried all sorts of oil blends, because the common wisdom seems to recommend this – but in fact I didn’t find that blending the oils made any improvement, and this single oil alone works fine.

This has been my evening cleansing method of choice for over a year now. Although at times I reverted to another cleanser, I’ve kept returning to oil cleansing. It feels nice to do, it removes makeup effectively without needing another step (I could never be bothered with that), it’s inexpensive, and it seems to fulfil the goal of getting my skin clean.

I think the biggest downside to oil cleansing, which is also sometimes called ‘hot cloth cleansing’, is that the hot cloth is vital – so if you haven’t got a cloth or don’t have hot water for some reason, you might end up with oil all over your face and no way to get it off. (Happened to me.) My solution is simply to use bar soap to wash the oil off in such emergencies. But most of the time, at home, a cloth and hot water are no problem to find.

Lip balm

Making my own lip balm was an early DIY project, and dead easy. It’s also forgiving because if the texture goes really wrong – if it’s too hard or too soft – you can always re-melt it and add more oil or wax to adjust it.

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I made my first lip balm in a reused container, but eventually I bought some little screw-top pots online, filled a few, and have been using them ever since. It’s cheap and easy! My formula is some combination of oils, shea butter, and beeswax. Honestly, I guess I don’t go through lip balm very fast (though I use it every day), because I’m still using the same stuff I made about a year ago. As long as it doesn’t get water in it, it should last a while.

Clay masks

This is probably the one thing I wish I had discovered years ago. If you have problem skin, do try a clay mask. You can buy them in squeeze tubes, ready to use, which is what I did initially just to try. I went through a couple of containers of a sea silt mask from the Boots Botanics range. However, once I’d decided that this was worth keeping up with, I ordered some dry clay online so I could prepare my own.

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You can get different types of clay in different colours, but mine is green. It’s like a powder, and when you mix it with water it forms, yes, a clay consistency which you slather on your face and leave to dry for 10-20 minutes. This is typically all I do, using a small spoon and a little ramekin to mix in, but you can get fancy and add things like yogurt, honey, turmeric and the like. I enjoy that about using the dry clay; it’s one item but can be prepared in different ways if you feel adventurous, or used straightforwardly if you aren’t. Because it’s dry, it won’t spoil and doesn’t have any preservatives, and I think it’s more economical in the long run.

DIY skincare (or personal care) I don’t bother with

Supposedly apple cider vinegar makes a great toner when diluted with water. Yeah, I tried it, but I really always feel toners are a waste of time. I can’t be bothered buying little cotton rounds only to throw them away every day, nor do I ever perceive any permanent difference to my skin beyond the immediate cooling sensation. And this toner smells like vinegar, so unless that’s a groovy scent to you, you don’t even get to enjoy a pleasant aroma. I keep the vinegar for my salad.

Oil as conditioner is another internet DIY natural favourite… I think my verdict on this might be that it could work if you have coarse or curly hair. Ideally you would use just a little bit of oil (a skincare oil, not kitchen cooking oil) massaged through the ends of your hair while damp. I really wanted this to work, especially if I could have my oil in a brown glass bottle and scented with orange oil. It could double as a body moisturiser too. Doesn’t this sound so lovely and simple and ancient, like running through the fields of nature clothed in white linen while your hair streams out, gloriously nourished?! But I could never make it work. Conditioner, it turns out, not only moisturises but helps with static, and whenever I stop using it my hair develops a static frizz that no amount of oil can tame. It will just be oily and still staticky.

Knitting: Cabled Pullover

At long last, cool weather is here and I am cozying up in what may be my favourite knitted garment yet.

IMG_2454I made this back in May (with some more recent re-knitting when I decided to make alterations). It was a bad time of year to knit a warm sweater, but I was doing a lot of travelling and wanted a substantial project. I have good memories of the 10-hour flight, parked in front of a little movie screen with my knitting. Similarly, I remember the train ride from Kalamazoo to Chicago on a sunny spring morning, with needles clicking away and happy thoughts in my head about going home again.

The yarn is by Donegal Yarns, and has the flecks of colour in it which make it (I have learned) Donegal tweed. I have been learning about wool as I try to improve my knitting, and one thing I have learned is that the softer the wool against the skin, the more likely it will pill. Conversely the tougher wools that don’t pill tend to be more scratchy. In a good yarn shop you can see swatches knit from different yarns which will demonstrate this. I chose this Donegal yarn because I hoped it would hit a nice spot between softness and sturdiness, which indeed it does. Wool also softens with gentle washing, and I’ve noticed this as well. This kind of nuance fascinates me – the idea of fibres responding to different treatment, of coaxing them into the shape and texture you want.

I mentioned that I did some re-knitting on this, which is pretty characteristic of my knitting style. I.e., I either botch things the first time or I simply try one way before deciding I don’t like it and trying another. The great thing about this sweater is that it’s knit from the top downwards, or upside-down if you like. It’s also knit in the round, so instead of sewing everything together at the end (a front piece, a back piece, sleeves), you knit everything together at once. That means three things: A., you can fit the shoulder area first before dealing with anything else, because you knit the shoulders first. And I like to fit this part first both because it’s the hardest, but also because you can focus on it without being distracted by things like the length of the sweater. B., you can try the thing on as you go! C., the issue of overall length, and fit at the waist, is the last thing you deal with, and you can eyeball and adjust this as your final design choice, even unravel and knit it over if it doesn’t work.

Which is what I did. The first version I did was much shorter (which was the version indicated by the pattern). It was intended to be a good length to wear with skirts, but I found I didn’t like the way it fitted in wearing it. For one thing, it was quite nipped-in at the waist, which meant that it rode up when I moved and didn’t slide back down again – you know what I mean? It was also reeeeely short if I wore it with jeans. I don’t mind a layer hanging out below a sweater, but at the short length the sweater didn’t even meet the top of my jeans, and because it already tended to ride up and stay – well.

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I unraveled it from the bottom up to the bust area, and then re-knit it downwards again. I changed the way the waist was shaped and added a third diamond cable to lengthen it. I’m very, very happy with the result, and it hits a happy length for wearing with skirts or jeans. I think it may even be kinda fashionable…at least, as I was walking around Oasis the other day, they had 6-gore dark denim skirts and sweater combos that were nearly identical to what I was wearing!

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October Thoughts

Wrathful wind from heaven wrestles with the sun,
The leaves leap from he tree and alight on the ground,
And the grass withers that was once green.

(Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ll. 525-27, translated)

I have not usually felt that autumn is my favourite season, though there’s an undeniable thrill when it arrives. I think that’s because I spent much of my life in a climate where autumn could be a grim betrayer – promising orangey cinnamon snuggliness and instead delivering humid sun until Thanksgiving.

But I do wonder if one reason there seems to be an autumn-fest going on everywhere – aside from its marketing possibilities – is precisely because the season can be a grim betrayer, even in a British climate where a more proper fall does happen at least for a while. Even so, it’s a season that doesn’t come to dwell; it never fully inhabits the calendar months we allot to it, never stretches itself out to the full extent of its days. Its beginning is always taken over by a selfish summer in September, its end surrendered to winter as soon as December arrives. Autumn is a season defined (to use philosophical terms) not by being but by becoming. Its very identity in ripening nuts and fruit, flaming leaves, is a movement from summer to winter. The leaves only change because they are going to fall. I wonder if the love of autumn stems partly from knowing that it will never fully arrive or repose in the way we might wish.

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[Squirrel Nutkin] troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn. It sounds fantastic to say that one can be enamoured of a season, but that is something like what happened [...]. And one went back to the book, not to gratify the desire (that was impossible – how can one possess Autumn?) but to re-awake it.

(C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, Ch. 1)

Self-stitched September: Reflections

Now that September is over and my Self-stitched September challenge is finished, I wanted to put together a few reflections on the month.

First, here’s a roundup of every outfit I photographed. (And can you spot the intruder in one of these?)

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Actually, it was easier than I expected to keep wearing my homemade clothes for the whole month. That is, I had enough items that I liked and that worked with my other clothes that I didn’t need to do extra laundry to make it work or end up wearing the same thing too often. I did wear some repeats, but of course that’s normal. My challenge was to wear something handmade for five days a week, but I often did it for six and it wouldn’t have been a stretch to make it seven. Nor did I feel too bored or constrained by my limited options; quite a few different combinations seemed possible, and I added scarves or jewellery if I was really wanting something different.

The one problem I did have was a lack of casual tops for warmer weather. Or, I should say, on the days I was at home and wanted to wear jeans and a light top, I didn’t have enough homemade options. (I had store-bought options.) At the end of the month I made one tee, but I wish I had made several at the start. Actually, most of the times when I felt frustrated with the challenge were just because the weather was different from what I had planned for.

More interestingly, I think that preparing for, and completing, this challenge forced me to be more practical about sewing, and this in itself has been the most fruitful challenge. I’ve already said that I did some careful planning and budgeting for key pieces, and that this was one reason I felt like the challenge was easier to accomplish. But this is part of a larger shift from seeing sewing as a chance to make something beautiful, and seeing it as a craft that produces the kind of garment I reach for even on a bad day or an at-home day. One tendency I have in sewing is to drool over wonderful patterns, fuss over details, and use the process as a sort of wish-fulfilment: ‘What I would wear in my fantasies.’ (It would be 50s-style dresses among other things, by the way.) The risk with that approach is that dressmaking becomes an artful hobby which produces special objets d’art, rather than useful garments that participate in everyday life. It’s kind of like becoming an expert at baking decorated cupcakes, but not knowing the first thing about making bread. My fear, I think, is that clothes which are comfortable and utilitarian are boring and possibly ugly – not what I want to spend my time on, not worth my time. But lately I’ve tried to see the practical nature of clothes as a challenge: how can they fulfil both the desire for beauty and craft as well as the desire for comfort? Far from being boring, that strategic challenge has been very stimulating. I feel like its results, e.g. a denim skirt, a plain tee, or a very ordinary dress, don’t look very impressive, but they are actually the fruit of a great deal of thought and planning, and I enjoy that this is their little secret.

 

Self-stitched September: Day 30

It’s the last day of Self-stitched September. And you know, I am a little bit sad! It’s the navy dress again today.

IMG_2390Tomorrow I’m going to share a few thoughts on the challenge as a whole, but overwhelmingly I think it was not that big a challenge – i.e., it didn’t feel boringly repetitive, or like I was wearing wildly inappropriate things just for the sake of wearing them. (There has been more repetition than I’ve shown on this blog – I haven’t tended to post about duplicate garments/outfits.)

One reason for the challenge being easy is well illustrated by this dress: it’s basic and easy to wear. Because I was thinking about doing Self-stitched September for a few months prior, I did some strategising to make sure I would actually have enough handmade items to get me through the month. And since this wasn’t Make Yourself a Whole New Wardrobe September, I pinpointed just a few things to make which should be versatile enough to wear a lot, easily. I planned these projects in advance, budgeted for them, and was picky about finding exactly the right fabric.

Although I do tend to plan clothing purchases in advance most of the time, this very purposeful planning, budgeting, and careful limitation (keeping it within what I could reasonably make in the time I had before September began) made for an enormously satisfying process. It also meant that wearing a few things repeatedly was pretty easy, and most of the time I genuinely liked what I was wearing. The moral is: I should do this type of planning more often, because I think it leads to a more cohesive wardrobe of better quality and which I enjoy more.

Self-stitched September: Day 29

September is almost over! One of the biggest challenges in wearing something handmade every day has been that the weather this month was warmer than I expected. I should have taken the hint and made a couple of short-sleeved tops, instead of rushing to finish a sweater which hasn’t yet seen the light of day. So on Sunday I did some sewing and made a short-sleeved tee from some leftover fabric. Take that, Indian summer! And here is today’s outfit.

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You’ll recognise the stripes. I made a long-sleeved top and happily had enough for a short-sleeved version. However, I wanted to try a different sleeve style, because I discovered that trying to match up stripes with a typical set-in sleeve is a big hassle (and I didn’t succeed in the end). So I drafted what I think is called a kimono sleeve, i.e. a sleeve which is cut as one piece with the bodice.

IMG_2383With this style of sleeve, you only have to match the stripes along the shoulder seam (up at the top) and the side seam. This is why, I suspect, many of the popular striped tees in the shops these days are also made this way. But I do think this style of sleeve turns out to have a flattering shape as well. Come summer I expect I’ll be making more from this pattern.

IMG_2378The skirt is another homemade item. I’ve had it so long I almost forget that fact. I made it with the intention that it would be a good season-spanning item. It’s lined, so it can be worn with tights (as here) without clinging to them or needing a slip, but it’s also a fairly summery cotton so doesn’t look out of place in warm weather. It’s a funny colour, kind of a light, dusty purple, which is almost a neutral shade. Probably its biggest claim to fame is all the buttons (twelve), which are covered with the same fabric. Definitely worth the trouble. Of this fabric, too, I have some left over, so you may yet see it again some day…

 

 

Self-stitched September: Day 27 | And a Bit of Design Process

Here is something I actually made IN September (yesterday). A casual skirt.

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Even, I would say, part of a slouchy weekend outfit. Here I am slouching. Okay, not super-casual, I realise, but to me it’s a good effort! Mike laughs at me because casual is not something I do very well.IMG_2366

But wait! You may correctly see that this fabric and style are closely reminiscent of this skirt featured here before. That’s because yes, it is the same fabric and pattern – I just made nearly the same skirt a second time. IMG_1929IMG_1916After making the first version of this pattern, I had enough of the fabric fabric left over for a shorter skirt. Now, I didn’t initially plan to use the same pattern! I had simply noticed that I kept really liking the sweater plus short skirt and boots combination that you often see these days, for example some of the outfits here, such as the one below.

Source (Colette Patterns blog, www.coletterie.com)

I then started noticing little gathered denim/chambray skirts in places like J. Crew, and took note because my fabric was denim. That type of gathered skirt is very easy to make, and so appealed to me for that reason, but honestly, I’m quite doubtful whether it is ever easy to make it look good on the average person because of the gathers over the waist and hips.

So I thought – what I really wanted was a style that fit slimly at the waist (to avoid icky bulk) but flared at the hem. And I thought – the pattern I already made had just all those features. Why reinvent the wheel? So I used the same pattern.

This time, I shortened it, which was a necessity anyway because of limited fabric, but also I think makes a skirt of this shape easier to wear with a more bulky sweater without looking frumpy. It may not look extreme, but for me this is a short skirt! I.e. it completely clears my knee. I also added some elastic to the back waistband, which really doesn’t show in the wearing, but gives just a little comfy room. And, finally, I moved and redesigned the pockets. They are curved, like the pockets on jeans, and sit lower.

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Would you like a look into how I plan a sewing design?

First of all, I’ve already said that I look around to see what’s available in stores. I actually went to TK Maxx this time and tried on a few skirts in this sort of length. I also Googled for images of styles that were similar, to see how they looked on others, what design features they had, and how they typically went into outfits. Some of this research was what ultimately made me decide against a gathered skirt. I really enjoy this part of planning – it’s like shopping without spending money!

One thing I often do is take a garment I already own and try it on in the way I hope to wear the new piece, styling it with the shoes and other clothes I envision going with it, and using pins to adjust style and length to get an idea how the future garment might look. That’s what I did this time, too.

So you can see here how I’ve taken the denim skirt I already made, pinned it up shorter, worn it with boots and sweater, and used pins to outline where the pockets should go. I then used my pinned mock-up to help get the measurements right for the new pattern.

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Funnily, in drafting a pattern it can be the style features that are hardest to place – i.e. the features not related to the fit, but things like the placement of pockets. That’s why I find the mock-up, using an existing piece of clothing, so helpful. This time, I decided the location of the pockets in relation to where my pullover jumpers tend to hit – I wanted the pockets to be low enough to be visible when wearing an average sweater. And I think it came out just right.

Now, I have just made two skirts from the same pattern and the same fabric. I don’t know – but I really think that the simple change in length and different pocket placement makes them rather different.

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Self-stitched September: Day 25

I actually wore this outfit twice this week, I love it so much. It features a striped top which I made from scratch, and a green merino jumper which was a charity shop find which I altered.

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This top is the result of really concerted effort in trying to find the right fabric. I had a black and white striped top which I wore a lot but was getting pretty manky, so I planned to make a replacement. But for how popular these Breton stripe styles are right now, it’s amazingly hard to find much range of fabric, especially if you’re particular about fibre composition. I finally stumbled upon this lovely stuff at Dragonfly Fabrics. It’s wonderfully substantial (so no worry about show-through in the white parts), and Oeko-Tex certified, which I think has something to do with being tested for what chemicals are used in manufacturing. It was on the pricey side, but totally worth it. I used that perfect tee pattern I made and sewed this top up in a day.

IMG_2338I’m becoming quite sold on making my own tops just because I can make them long enough, which is so much more comfortable to wear.

There’s a secret mistake in this top, which is that I matched the stripes wrong along the seam in the sleeve. I wanted to match them up, because that is the proper thing that one should do. See? The result is that the stripes should form a series of loops around your arm, if you want to think of it that way. But I got it skewed so that in fact it is one continuous stripe looping in a spiral all the way down. Does that make sense? You’d only know if you decided to trace its path round and round (which I did). The source is a problem in the sleeve design, obviously my own fault. I’ve decided I don’t care!IMG_2346

IMG_2344The green sweater, like many of my charity shop purchases, caught my eye because of its fibre – merino wool. It’s supposedly several sizes bigger than my size, but I can only imagine it would be very tight in that case. Weirdly, though, for all its outsize skinniness, it was originally very long – awkwardly long, not tunic length but really long for a sweater. It also had a hole in the stomach area. When I spotted it, I asked the shop staff if I could have a discount (which they agreed), and then took it home, cut the bottom ribbing off, and sewed it back on higher up, allowing me to cut off the section with the hole and shorten the sweater in one fell swoop. The only flaw is that you can see the seam between sweater and ribbing, whereas of course normally they would be seamlessly attached, but that never has bothered me.

I have two points of observation inspired by this outfit. They are on one theme: trends.

Now, I don’t think I’m particularly trendy, and indeed I feel like as soon as I put on trendy clothes they no longer look trendy because it’s me wearing them. Nor have I ever found much stimulation in asking, How can I incorporate this season’s trends into my style? But I do take note of trends in light of this statement: Trends indicate what you can get away with without looking weird. Sneaky.

And, of the things that you can get away with, look for not only what you like, but for brilliant and practical ideas. After a couple of years of skepticism, I now think the ankle boot is one such practical trend. In fact I’m not sure it’s the most flattering shape, objectively, but since they’ve become ubiquitous I’ve jumped on the ankle boot bandwagon because they have the potential to be comfortable, smart, good for that cool-but-not-icy weather, they keep your feet dry, go with trousers or skirts (potentially without tights…not sure about that yet), and you can wear socks with them while no one has to see the socks! Christmas socks in September? Socks that don’t match? Ankle boots also give you a bit of grace if you have a problem with jeans being a little too short.

The Breton stripe top, in all its various manifestations, is another instance of a current trend that I think is really pretty clever. A stripe in neutral colours – a darker colour on white or cream if we’re interpreting it strictly – works like a neutral but is more interesting than a solid. If you have a small wardrobe, and/or layer your clothes often, it’s easy to end up with nothing but solids, since prints tend not to play very nicely together and can be limiting when you always have to match them with something else. But the resulting endless solids, especially in neutral colours, can become boring. At least, they do to me. A neutral stripe feels like a happy medium, and you can have a shot at being trendy too!

Self-stitched September: Day 23

Today I finally wore this grey wool skirt, which is refashioned. Now, clearly instead of blogging about what I wear I should be searching ‘photography’ in the library catalogue, because I can only achieve two main looks in my picture taking lately. Super dark, or super light. In this case I think the super light photos actually do more justice to the clothes, although they obliterate part of me.

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Let me tell you the story of this. A while ago, I was strategizing about the Perfect Winter Grey Skirt.

In this case, I was daydreaming about a cozy skirt with an elastic waist. Yup – elastic, just wondering if it would be possible to do without looking frumpy. I was inspired by a dress I have which, although it has a rather fancy fine herringbone texture, is actually a heavy knit fabric, meaning it looks smart but is so very comfortable. But knits of that type are often polyester, which isn’t my favourite. I began wondering about the possibilities of wool. But, in the end, not having worked with it enough, I was unsure about trying to order any fabric online and unsure if I could even find what I was imagining.

Then, one day, I was snooping around our local charity shop. I spied a skirt that looked like wool, and checked the label to see that it was. Moreover it was from Hobbs. (Pause to drool.) It was too big for me, and it had an asymmetrical water-fall drape down the front, but the shape and fabric were really beautiful. I believe it’s boiled wool, which is originally a knitted fabric which is then felted in hot water, making the fibres bond together so the resulting fabric is thick and felted, but with some residual give from the original knitted structure.

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I decided to chance it, paid a few pounds for it, and took it home to alter. I did three main alterations:

  • Cut off the top, which was elasticated, and then skinnied up the side seams to make it fit my waist.
  • Re-attached the cut-off top as a waistband.
  • Pulled out the front seam, where the drapery bit was attached, cut off the drape, and re-sewed the seam as a plain seam.

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Above you can see the seam down the front where the drape used to be. It’s not centred – the triangle yoke at the top is asymmetrical and the seam goes straight down from there.

There is no zipper or anything – it’s so stretchy it just pulls on. Which of course means it is also stretchy enough to accommodate some enchiladas and nachos for dinner, or some lazy slumping on the sofa. Success!

This is probably an inverse example of something I mentioned before – a smart style in casual fabric. Here, I would say that boiled wool was a smart fabric, but in the form of a comfy elastic-waisted skirt it’s essentially a casual style, though it might not look it from a distance.

Finally, I want to say a word on behalf of wool. I think it gets a bad rap – I certainly used to think of it as 1) scratchy and 2) dry clean only and hence a hassle. But the scratchiness is really a factor of the quality and type of wool – at least have an open mind. And most wool clothes don’t need to be worn next to your skin anyway. Additionally, as for the dry-clean factor, I never bother. In my experience a gentle hand wash in lukewarm water, with a drop of dish detergent, and some gentle rolling up in a towel, works fine. I never launder wool every time I wear it – maybe once a year, or twice if it’s a sweater. Obviously I don’t have small children getting me dirty every day, but for my life right now, I have no problem with the occasional hand washing. Finally, wool is naturally fire-retardant and slightly water-resistant (it keeps sheep dry, after all), and dries quite fast.