OEV Textiles, Miller and Co.

I knew there was going to be a little hiatus from this space while I finished up the school term. Generally, I promise myself that I will not procrastinate on marking so that I won't deal with a huge backlog at the end of the term and then, every single time, I procrastinate on marking and have to deal with a huge backlog at the end of the term. So that was okay and I knew to expect it. But then I also had an unexpected opportunity arise.

Basically, friends of ours had a booth at the local farmer's market where they sold really lovely handmade wooden items and they found themselves with the option of renting a storefront along the main business district in our little neighbourhood. Being brave, clever, and possessed of singular vision, they scooped it up and renovated a long-neglected shop (in less than a month!) into a chic and beautiful space.

In addition to featuring their own products, they sourced a variety of items from small producers across the country (all sorts of lovely things - seriously, I covet them all from the West Coast Sea Salts, to the witty cards from an indie company in Toronto, to the all-natural incense). They asked my friend, Jenna, who makes really lovely sewn purses And then they asked me.

So, I went for it. As you can see above, things I made (over a crazy period just after I finally submitted final grades, but less than a week until opening day), are up for sale in a genuine shop.

I named my little company Old East Village Textiles after the neighbourhood I live in (and love!) and these are my initial offerings:


Sweet baby bibs with hand-embroidered pears and a layer of flannel.


Nice and big receiving/swaddling blankets (they're 39" x 41"- I hate a skimpy blanket) in a single layer of flannel (hurrah for the warm weather!) and embellished with a hand-embroidered owl.


Squishy little owls - about as big as an adult's hand - made baby-safe with appliquéd features.


And, finally, pretty bean bags made from quilting cotton and backed with a really interestingly textured hemp/cotton blend.

If you're in London, Ontario, you can visit the shop in person. It's called Miller and Co. and, yes, they are open!

DSC_0056 DSC_0057


Food and Money www.thevelvetaubergine.com

Pictured here are all of the things I ate today (except for another cup of coffee, an additional slice of bread, a teaspoon of parm for the chilli, and a banana muffin).

I was inspired to explore what I cooked and what I ate after discussing Gwyneth Paltrow's 'SNAP challenge' grocery purchases that inspired numerous essays, tweets, and Facebook posts. If your various feeds did not overfloweth with the infamous photo Paltrow tweeted, here it is:


Some people are calling Paltrow tone-deaf and others are applauding her willingness to use her audience of millions (literally millions!) of followers to raise awareness of threatened cuts to the U.S. food assistance program (and whether or not particular cuts go through, this social program has not kept pace with inflation so it's definitely chintzier than it used to be).

After thinking about this for a day or so, I'm stuck by how angry it makes me that so many social assistance programs seem bent on humiliating and baffling people who are already strained under the burdens of limited time and societal blame for being impoverished.

And the other thing I feel is . .  . shame. Because as much as I intellectually understand how we're living in an unequal and unfair world right now despite having enough resources that some people are literally flying around the planet in private jets (while we let the rate of child poverty in the U.S. and Canada rise), I am still so socially conditioned to blame impoverished people for their own poverty that I have a very difficult time admitting in a public forum that I am one of 'those' people.

I did a great deal of poking around trying to figure out what the various rules were around SNAP programs in various states and I found it extremely tedious and difficult to understand. I can't imagine having to shop (probably with small children in tow) while navigating such a ridiculous and seemingly ever-changing set of rules just to get up to the cashier and have all and sundry see what I attempted to buy on a debit card that pretty much guarantees everyone feels entitled (if not morally obligated) to keep an eye on my purchases. The thing I did quickly figure out was that if I were living in the States instead of in Canada I would qualify and that reality would be my reality that I would have to play out in front of my kids and friends and coworkers and neighbours on the regular. The whole thing made me feel a little queasy and shamed.

But, you know, fuck that noise.

I (unknowingly) bought a lot of the same groceries that Paltrow did. Most of today's menu featured a lot of the things she sent some minion to stuff in her grocery cart. I didn't consciously imitate her purchases, but this is what the most bang for buck decent food looks like in the late winter. And by 'decent' I mean things that taste good and are at least nominally nutritious. Beans and brown rice and corn tortillas and eggs and winter vegetables and some greenhouse greens. I know the whole internet is outraged that she bought seven limes, but I bought a lime too (if I'd needed seven I probably would have gone with bottled). Limes and cilantro (my cilantro is planted in a pot on the windowsill - it seems really wasteful to buy a whole bunch of it and watch half rot before you can eat it) are necessary if you want your food to taste like something and you're eating mostly things that aren't processed and full of corn syrup and artificial 'flavours'.  Some moron commenting on one of the stories I read about this was highly irritated that Paltrow had purchased onions and garlic. They're both incredibly cheap, but that's beside the point. He was offended with the idea that poor people should desire or feel they deserve flavour.


Have we really reached this cultural low? I know that it was just one guy and everything, but he encapsulated for me this idea that rather than demanding and enshrining in law that people are paid decently for the work that they do and, if you refuse to do so, then just handing over the monetary difference in actual money we should be reserving the right for everyone and their idiot brother to peek into each other's grocery carts and decide who deserves to eat well or buy a treat or live at all without this level of insane scrutiny.

But as for me, peek away. That's what I'm eating today. It was mostly delicious.









I've wanted to see O'Mast, a documentary by Gianluca Migliarotti about Neapolitan tailors, since it came out a few years ago. I'm not sure where I first read about it - maybe on Male Pattern Boldness? Regardless, I know I've kept a surreptitious eye out for it for a couple of years at least.

Finally, through the magic of the internet and a working computer, we downloaded it through the apple store the other night.

It's fairly short - just 67 minutes - but it's both fascinating and beautiful. Although there are lovely shots of architecture, the sea, and an envious amount of fabric, the main of the film is given over to interviews with master tailors discussing their work and related concepts such as 'elegance'. It's always fun to listen to people talk about something they love and Migliarotti, though invisible in the film itself, must have been a particularly attentive and interested listener. His subjects open up without hesitation and are given time to discuss each subject as fully as they seem to desire. They are charming men and tell stories with as much careful consideration as they construct a jacket.

The beauty shots of the hand-stitching on the jackets are stunning. I have never seen such consistently even hand-stitching anywhere.

All of these men apprenticed as children in the 1950s. I don't know how I feel about it. On the one hand, I'm not certain we can draw a distinct and clear line between labour and education when it comes to traditional crafts like tailoring. On the other hand, one of these men talks about apprenticing out at seven. It's clear, too, that the time in workshops consumed all daylight hours for six days a week.

Obviously, what we think of as an acceptable childhood has changed. There are no children in the workshops today. In fact, there are very few people here, either masters or labourers, who are under sixty. This problem of the profession aging is not directly addressed, but permeates the film.

I really liked this film and I recommend it even if you're not into sewing per se. (Though how and why did you make your way here?) Textile enthusiasts of all kinds will only wish it were longer. I would happily have watched an entire series devoted to this topic.

Herringbone wool, www.thevelvetaubergine.com

I went to Toronto with a friend a little while ago and, because she is similarly textile-inclined, we made a pilgrimage to the fabric district along Queen West. Almost immediatly, I'd dragged us both into a wonderful shop filled with men's suiting - more suiting than I've ever seen in one place in my life - as well as shirting and tie silks. Although I'd intended to just peek, I bought a beautiful, drapey fine wool herringbone and an olive green bemberg lining.

bemberg lining, www.thevelvetaubergine.com

I bought enough to make a suit for Ralphie, but I confess to feeling rather afraid to cut into it. What if I screw up? What if I waste my beautiful (and queasily expensive!) materials? I do feel that this project will require more mental prep than ever before.

It helps that, if it is a sucess, I can look forward to another little boy wearing it down the road. And it helps that I can make a muslin out of something cheaper first.

How do you deal with big projects like this? Do you ever have paralysing anxiety about it? Do you have to talk yourself into it?



London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com

London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com London, Ontario, Early Spring, www.thevelvetaubergine.com


It's April and April means springtime, but only in the sense that the snow is gone and I can finally walk around without a coat. It's still mucky and dingy here. There's very little green and we're weeks away from the glory of blossoms. Yet the mild air is hopeful.

I live in London, Ontario in a neighbourhood called the Old East Village. I feel lucky to be here. It's the first time I've been able to live in a really walkable neighbourhood. I'll get out someday and take photos of some of the businesses we frequent, but today I concentrated on some typical residential views.

Ethiopian food, vegan, lentils, healthy www.thevelvetaubergine.comA heaving platter of Ethiopian food!

So, this is my favourite food. When I lived in Kitchener, there was a place we went to eat basically this every couple of weeks. It was so reasonably-priced that learning to make it at home wasn't a priority.

When we moved to London, we did find a couple of good East African restaurants, but for some reason they were less about all of the lentil-y dishes that I especially liked and more about the (still good!) meat dishes. But when we moved into this place we found that we were surrounded by small variety stores that carried fresh injera bread and one place that stocked the berbere spice and shiro mix essential to this kind of cuisine.

Alan found an amazing group of recipes in the Toronto Star and, suddenly, we were able to make delicious East African food at home. Hurrah!

All of those lentil stews are very good, but we are also big fans of shiro. If you can find the powdered mix, it's easy enough to whip up some:

Dice a couple of onions and sauté in oil or butter for about ten minutes, add a couple of tablespoons of minced ginger and minced garlic for another couple of minutes. Dump in one can of diced tomatoes and simmer for twenty minutes. Blend with an immersion blender and then slowly whisk in about half a cup or more of the shiro (go slow! it will thicken considerably).

If you do make this vegetarian feast, you may be tempted (especially if you have a family) to double the recipe. Resist! This already makes a lot of food. You will have leftovers. No problem! Just buy more injera bread tomorrow.


small space sewing organization, www.thevelvetaubergine.comThis is where I sew!

I'm inordinately proud of myself for resisting the urge to clean up that shelving before taking pictures. (I did clean off the sewing table - but I had just finished sewing Ralphie's button-down shirt so I would have done that anyway.) I really wanted to show you what this space really looks like (check out the giant piles of tilt-y fabrics and WIPs on the top of the shelf.)

I sew in my kitchen and I really love being in the main part of the house with some natural light and a few hidden spaces to contain my stuff. But sewing is a materials-intense activity and it's the main thing I struggle with. I'm a fairly visual person and I love having fabrics and things 'out' enough to be inspired by them. At the same time, this is a heavily-trafficed area of the house where we cook several meals a day (not to mention that the enclosed cupboards and drawers in the shelving unit contain most of Ralphie's toys).

small space sewing organization, www.thevelvetaubergine.comThe top three rows of shelving (and the entire area on top) are given over to sewing stuff. I try to store things in pretty containers and keep like with like as much as possible. The basic system I set up hasn't changed too much since this post. It's certainly messier, but this is basically that system in real life in a place I use all of the time.

small space sewing organization, www.thevelvetaubergine.comOne of the very first things to go up in this space was the pegboard. If you don't have one, you should totally get one! Scissors and tools and rulers and thread and measuring tapes and hoops . . . it's all here and easy to find. It's also very easy to put this stuff away and out of the reach of small people. Little things like my seam ripper and hem ruler and fabric marker are in a mug on the windowsill. That's where I keep my tin of pins too.

small space sewing organization, www.thevelvetaubergine.com

small space sewing organization, www.thevelvetaubergine.com

I love those mini bolts of quilting cotton. My patterns are right underneath them, ready to flip through. That bucket-y thing holds scraps of pattern tracing stuff and when I have a little piece to trace, I dig through it.

All in all, I like this space a lot. I do need to find a very bright working light for the table. During the day, there's adequate light from the window (and at any given moment you can see doodles taped up there so that I can trace them for embroidery), but as soon as the sun starts to set, I can barely see at all. The kitchen is lit by moody and dim pot lighting which is . . .a bizarre choice to say the least.



pattern tracing, pattern organization, sewing, www.thevelvetaubergine.com

pattern tracing, pattern organization, sewing, www.thevelvetaubergine.com

A long time ago (in a land far away - or at least not in the house I currently live in), I organized my patterns slightly differently. But things evolve and about a year and a half ago I went through a big overhaul and changed up my pattern organizational system. I've been very happy with it, so I thought I'd share.

First - and if you're struggling to organize anything I cannot emphasis this enough - pare down what you have. I took up sewing as a serious hobby about five years ago and finding patterns at thrift stores and yard sales was initially super exciting. (Abundant! Retro styling! Dirt cheap!) I bought a lot of stuff that I didn't really use. Which is not to say that that initial period of acquiring didn't turn up some gems. There are some classics there that I've sewn multiple times and some I could now see had classic lines even if the pattern envelope styling was remarkably ugly. I got rid of about half of what I had.

For the rest, I cut up the envelope itself and taped it with clear packing tape to a manilla envelope. The picture went on the front and the details went on the back. (Yes, I am well aware that a collector of vintage patterns will probably not be very interested in my collection in the future. Chances are pretty high that I'm going to care about that as much then as now - which is to say, not at all.) It's really easy now to yank out my collection and flip through the whole thing visually. I keep them in reasonable order (mostly kid stuff to the right, mostly adult stuff to the left), but I'm not obsessive about it.

I keep the instruction sheets folded together and make as many notes as possible as I sew up whatever I'm making. If I deviate from the directions at all, I try to remember to note what I did and whether or not I liked it. I always think I'm going to remember this stuff and I almost never do.

The part of the pattern I am interested in preserving intact is the tissue pattern sheet. I trace these for each garment I'm making.

pattern tracing, pattern organization, sewing, www.thevelvetaubergine.com

I have a giant role of tracing medium (it kind of looks like a medium-weight interfacing) that I buy in vast amounts whenever the fabric store has a half-off day and I'm running low. It is fantastic stuff! It's sturdy, but very easy to see through and it can be cut, sewn, and ironed. I've basted dress pieces along the seam lines to check for fit rather than sewn up a whole muslin, pinned it together to shorten trouser patterns, and slashed it and added sections with scraps (zigzagged together) to add ease.

pattern tracing, pattern organization, sewing, www.thevelvetaubergine.com

I generally write in whatever I like or want as well. I add notes about seam allowances and hem allowances right on the pattern pieces and cutting notes for things I think it's stupid to have a pattern piece for ("also cut a rectangle 4"x20" for a waistband on the straight grain" is the kind of thing I'm always adding to the main piece).

I know that this is a luxury purchase, but it's so useful when making a lot of kid's clothes to be able to use the full range of sizes and make modifications. The transparency really helps when cutting patterns too.

pattern tracing, pattern organization, sewing, www.thevelvetaubergine.com(Do remember to label each piece with the full name of the pattern, what the piece is, and the size!)

I stack all of the pieces to make one garment in a given size together, fold it all up, and iron it flat. Then I pop it in the giant envelope with everything else.

Number 9 Trousers, Shwin&Shwin, boy's pants, sewing, adding a lining to pants, www.thevelvetaubergine.com


Number 9 Trousers, Shwin&Shwin, boy's pants, sewing, adding a lining to pants, www.thevelvetaubergine.com


When I took pictures of Ralphie in his new button-down, it was just before he had to go to school and he was wearing a pair of his regular school pants. I made him four of these last fall and next year I'm probably going to make a full half dozen. (If, you know, having a baby over the summer doesn't throw a wrench in my sewing plans.) These are seriously the best pants!

If small kids could choose, they'd probably wear jogging pants or pyjama bottoms every day. And why the heck not? Jogging pants are soft on the inside and they can be pulled on and yanked off. The average four-year-old likes to pick out their own clothes and dress themselves. (They also tend to get so entranced with an activity that every bathroom visit is a right! now! emergency! rush!) Jogging pants and pyjama pants fit those requirements admirably.

They also look a bit casual for leaving the house.

I like kids to look dressed -even dressed up, but I understand that my own fascination with more formal styles of the past is unlikely to be shared by my kids if it means sacrificing comfort. Truth be told, much as I would like to believe I'm going to really commit to hand-washing and ironing, I love having a washer and dryer and I prefer clothes to be reasonably easy to care for.

So. . . lined pants. Ralphie has this herringbone wool blend, two pairs of plaid pants (in some kind of mixed-fibre suiting), and a corduroy pair. On the inside, every last one of them is lined in cozy flannel.

Number 9 Trousers, Shwin&Shwin, boy's pants, sewing, adding a lining to pants, www.thevelvetaubergine.com

Number 9 Trousers, Shwin&Shwin, boy's pants, sewing, adding a lining to pants, www.thevelvetaubergine.comThe flannel here is pilling a little bit, but I wanted to show how these are holding up. Ralph's been wearing these for about seven months now and probably twice a week, minimum. (Of all of the pairs, these are the very best ones because they have a purple waistband lining.)

I wash these with our 'delicate' load, turn them inside out and machine dry on low. When they come out of the dryer, they get a shake before folding and . . . that's it.

I made these from a modified version of Shwin&Shwin's Number 9 Trousers. I made back patch pockets rather than welted ones, and removed the working zipper in favour of a faux zip for easy dressing and undressing. This is quite a nice pattern and it's lovely made up as per the instructions, like I did here, but I think the added lining is what probably elevated these into the favourite pants category.

Oliver + S has a great tutorial for adding a lining to pants with a separate waistband that eliminates the need for any hand sewing.

Number 9 Trousers, Shwin&Shwin, boy's pants, sewing, adding a lining to pants, www.thevelvetaubergine.comIt wasn't until I was taking pictures of these well-loved pants that I noticed this little hole in the knee! It makes me so happy to see that even living in a time when so much is disposable, I got this one right enough that my kid has worn these pant through!

McCall's M6548, boy's sewing, button down, www.thevelvetaubergine.comMcCall's M6548, boy's sewing, button down, www.thevelvetaubergine.comMcCall's M6548, boy's sewing, button down, www.thevelvetaubergine.comIt's the first of the summer button-downs! I was going to go with the seagull print, but Ralphie was home from school by the time I was ready to cut fabric.

"Which one of these do you like the best for a shirt?" I asked. (I'd taken out mini bolts of everything I thought he might like in what I hoped was enough yardage.

"This one! It looks like alien robots holding hands with their feet!"

Though I would never have pegged this print with exactly that description, it does have a nice mid-century space-pop vibe. I suggest it's a great shirt to wear when you're listening to your Esquivel records.

This is the button-down from McCall's M6548 made up in size five. It's a little big on Ralphie, but since I want this to last a couple of years, I'm fine with that. I prefer shirts with a lined yoke - for one thing, I find the finishing around the collar tends to look more professional - but this does keep the shirt nice and cool.

These were hurried before-school pictures and that bedhead is killing me. It's chilly enough here that I knew better than to ask if he wanted to go outside (or even open the door). The light in this place is a bit of an ongoing photography challenge.

McCall's M6548, boy's sewing, button down, www.thevelvetaubergine.comMcCall's M6548, boy's sewing, button down, www.thevelvetaubergine.comMcCall's M6548, boy's sewing, button down, www.thevelvetaubergine.com

I made zero attempt to match any of this crazy pattern! I only had one yard of this and a yard is pretty skimpy. (The pattern sanely calls for an entire metre.) I have only tiny little scraps left and I had to turn the sleeve on its side (did you even notice? the print is so wild!) AND cut into the selvedge.

I frenched up all of the main seams and slip-stitched the collar and facing by hand. I like the finish, but I might just serge the rest of his summer shirts. I'm not sure the extra effort is worth it in this kind of casual wear. (Or IS it?)

You can see that quilting cotton is probably a little stiff for a shirt, but I do think for kid's wear the hand is less essential. I used light interfacing on the collar and none at all on the front facings.

McCall's M6548, boy's sewing, button down, www.thevelvetaubergine.com

Oh my god, this kid!