tweed ride

Way back last fall when it was chilly (but not insanely cold like it is now!), Alan and Ralphie and I got dressed up in some hastily thrown together outfits and joined our city's first annual Tweed Ride. We're on the far right, standing above Ralphie in his light-coloured suit at my feet. It was such a fun day!

If you're into cycling, vintage clothing, and community building, this is probably the event you've been waiting for. I mean, I can only speak for myself here, but it was pretty amazing. It was especially great to bike en masse downtown and pass by a little kid who said (literally agape), "what's going on? Is it Bike Day? Why didn't anyone tell me it was BIKE DAY?!"

Fear not, little kid. The organizers promised that the Tweed Ride is going to come around next year too. You need never miss it again. But what are you going to wear? More importantly, what is my kid going to wear? I can tell you I'm not going to be able to squeeze him into that jacket one more time. (I'm letting myself personally off the hook as far as costuming goes. By the time this ride rolls around again, I will probably be wearing a newborn.)

While my sewing machine is off being tuned up, I've been dreaming up insane future projects (as one does). Nothing's too ambitious when no immediate action needs to be taken!

tweed ride dream outfit

Check it out! Belted jacket, knickerbockers, fair isle sweater vest, newsboy cap, crazy socks, and a wool bow tie to class it all up.

After pulling together this collage, it occurred to me that I could have just fired up any episode of Jeeves and Wooster and gawked at the perfect costuming on Hugh Laurie.


I mean, it's perfect costuming on everyone, but Laurie gets to be the brightest of Bright Young Things. Anytime you set a period piece in the 20s and 30s (Downtown Abbey comes leaping to mind), all of the actors, particularly men, look extra good. And I'm sure we've all had the experience of coming across photos of our ancestors in this time period and wondering why, if people are just showing off a new tractor, they still manage to have a collared shirt on. I think you should all just agree with me right now that this era was the high point of men's fashion and manly clothes have gone to hell in a comfortable knitwear hand-basket ever since.


Where was I?

How realistic is it to pull a look like this off? Surprisingly, there are a lot of free tutorials out there to help recreate the sporty between-the-wars boy's look.

Though I might consider knitting up some long socks, I'm happy to cheat my way to a fair isle sweater vest with the help of this tutorial over at MADE. There's a perfectly jaunty news boy cap pattern and tutorial at (the sadly defunct) Clever Girl. And, for the sporting life, one's really looking for a wool bow tie, so why not whip one up with this cute and fast velcro version at Make it and Love it?

burda pattern B9452

I bought this Burda pattern and embarrassingly long while ago and still haven't managed to sew it up (or even trace the pattern! full disclosure procrastination!). Yeah. And my sewing machine wasn't in the shop then. I think the pants, shortened up, might make some admirable knickerbockers. If I can't find anything in a belted version, I might also wind up with the jacket. It has all of the advantages of already existing as a printed pattern right here in the house.

But then I look at images like this from the Sears Catalog from 1917 and I really want that length and incorporated belt.

Sears Catalog 1917

Maybe I could draft an alteration? How amazing is it, by the way, that the depictions here include the same kind of line drawings (of the jacket backs) that I'm only accustomed to seeing on pattern envelopes? I really like the patch pockets (with flaps on the more spendy versions).

Footwear, I realize, is going to be a problem. I have a feeling that velcro isn't going to cut it.


the whole room

While the boys' room is generously proportioned, Beatrice's bedroom is quite tiny. There are no surprises - no closet, even!  The big challenge here is keeping everything clutter-free and tidy. It's especially important because this is also our guest room.

We emptied the whole space out and painted it "pebble" gray and I love how clean and pretty it turned out. Curtains are going to help pull everything together (my sewing machine's in the shop!), but even at this stage the paint colour makes the room look fresh.


Obviously, storage is a huge deal in here. Beatrice owns a fair amount of clothes, but a more than fair amount of art supplies and sketch books. We wanted her to be able to store all of that stuff in something closed up. For months, I hunted and hunted for an armoire and I finally found this one in October or early November. It's incredibly sturdy - which is to say it probably weighs more than three hundred pounds. We paid someone to haul it upstairs and that was money well-spent - they literally had to lift it up over the banister to get it into the room. The storage is amazing though!

inside the armoire

Beatrice can stash and arrange things however she pleases and it all fits.


This picture, more than any other, really brings home how grown-up Beatrice suddenly is. It's so pared down from the last time we worked on a nice space for her.

bedside table

The lamp was such a good pick though! And the "piggy bank" she made herself.


I picked up this collection of framed playing card prints at a church rummage sale a couple of summers ago. The framing job is really well-done, but I'm not sure it works in here. Especially because I had to round it out with the bullfighter. We'll see how it looks when some curtains are up. (Bea likes them though.)


And look! Beatrice made this little framed mirror at school this year. It's so nicely done!

So there you have it - a grown-up room for a grown-up girl.


twin beds

When we moved into this place a year and a half ago, the upstairs bedroom situation was a bit of a jumble. We left Joey in his own room and had Beatrice and Ralphie sharing. The deal was that we'd do that for a year and then switch up which teenager wound up with their own space. That ought to have happened this summer, but things got hectic at the beginning of the school year and we put it off. Finally, during Christmas break, we finished this long-standing project.

No wonder we were reluctant! So many things had to come together at once - some new furniture, a bit of new bedding, new paint. .  . . Days of chaos. But the results were worth it.

This is the room that Joey (18) and Ralphie (4) are now batching it up in. Though there's quite an age spread between them, keeping things simple seems to have worked out. This is the largest bedroom and therefore it can take this brightly-coloured paint* Ralphie picked out.

Buying brand new furniture was a bit of sticker shock after years of thrifted and found pieces, but I'm happy with it. The twin beds are solid and they'll stack to make bunks. Fingers crossed we get at least two decades out of them.

The little chest of drawers between the beds is a thrift find. It was $85.00, which is more than I'd generally pay, but it's solid oak - a lucky last-minute find.


This vintage dresser has enormously deep drawers. It holds all of Joey's and all of Ralphie's clothes. We bought it when Ralphie was a baby and used it without the mirror to store his clothes and use as a change table. Joey had it in his room when we moved here. I really like the mix of wood finishes in this room. It comes off as fairly masculine.

pirate ship

There are obviously not a lot of toys in the room! Most of the toys are downstairs in the main living areas of the house. I do like a special toy or two - like this cool playmobil pirate ship - for quiet distraction in the morning, but a space overrun with playthings tends to look cluttered.


In general, I like bedroom decor to be minimal - I think it makes for a more restful sleeping space. I also think that kids can sometimes pick out great stuff if they get to shop in places other than the plastick-y toy aisle. There's a little antique store in our neighbourhood and Ralphie found this fantastic vintage bank. Money goes in the slot on top and the bank can be opened if the dials are turned to the right combination. It opens with a resounding ring though! (All of his "monies" are inside, as well as a power rangers sicker.)

There's a distinct lack of awesome curtains in here (my sewing machine is in the shop - can you believe it?!), but I didn't want to wait to show off the space. And the super power of the room is that Ralphie's old toddler bed mattress is tucked under one of the beds so that all three kids can sleep in here if we have a guest.

The 'guest' room, of course, is Beatrice's new space, which we'll look at in Part Two.

*A word on paint. If you live in Canada and have a RONA nearby, I highly recommend their premixed paint. There's a limited palette of colours (20 or so) - all nice (this one is 'pacific' - and they're low VOC. The paint itself is really high quality. It goes on great and covers well. Best of all, it's under 20 bucks a gallon. I'm not shilling for RONA, but I do think this is swell paint and worth checking out.


Christmas 2014

So here it is January 2015. Holy crap, you guys!

This site is having some. . . technical difficulties. A number of stupid and annoying things seem to have aligned at once. My computer (fairly new!) is a horrid, clunking machine that I should probably just replace (except for all of the money I threw away on this one which makes me feel slightly queasy).  For example, it refuses to believe that the memory cards that I use in my camera exist. As a consequence, I have to load photos onto another computer, transfer them to a data key, and then drag them over to my much-resented beast of a laptop to edit them.  And then, of course, everything takes forever to load and edit. You can probably guess how often I bother to even use my Nikon.  (Hint: it's slightly more often than I've bothered to update this blog.)

I find that once things start to slide, they tend to keep on slipping off in that direction.

Can these trends be reversed? Maybe.

On a personal, sewist level, I really miss this blog.There's nowhere better to chat about the projects I'm sewing. Even though I haven't updated a lot, 2014 was one of my very best years for completed projects and professional-looking results. I find that I'm no longer spending so much time figuring things out. Yes, I will occasionally still find myself picking out a seam, but not as often. Ralphie wears a lot of handmade clothes (including the Christmas pyjamas up top) and I'm pleased to be able to provide things for him that are not simply as good as ready-to-wear, but often much nicer.

I like the creative outlet aspect of blogging too. I started teaching college in the fall and though I very much like the students and being part of a quirky office culture again, I find that general domestic craftiness is not the hot topic I was led to believe.

Looking into my crystal ball, I predict that 2015 will be a fairly crafty/sewing-heavy year for me. I already have a lot of projects in mind. After a year and a half, I've finally started to work on getting this house in order, there are some older kid and adult projects I want to try out, and Ralphie continues to grow out of his clothes.

And, probably most inspiring of all, we're preparing to welcome a new, tiny human to our household in July.

All the little things!

(Way to bury the lead.)



party time

I like to throw a fair number of social gatherings throughout the year. We do extended family dinners, holiday shindigs, birthday celebrations, friend get-togethers. . . but nothing compares to the annual pancake fest.  Traditionally - for the past eight years - we've done it on Shrove Tuesday itself, but this year we're moving it to the Saturday prior.  It's a little easier for people to travel on the weekend, if they're coming from out of town, and it's a lot easier on us, particularly as Al teaches on Tuesday night.

(The last time that happened was seven years ago, when I widely invited my fellow graduate students, but assumed that few people would show.  I didn't think it would be a big deal to make pancakes for a few friends and the kids and told him not to worry. Al came home to me scrambling in the kitchen while forty or so people mingled around the apartment.)

Since I'm less than two weeks away, I need to get out my list and see where I'm at.  And since it's reasonable to assume that everyone, at some point, has to plan a gathering, I thought I'd share my process with you.

1. Determine the size, scope, theme, etc.

Because I'm basically throwing the same party year after year, I don't really think about this too much.  I know I'll have about 40 people, and it will be food-driven.  But because we changed the date, I can anticipate a few differences. First, I'll plan on more people because the weekend makes it easier for people to show up.  While this generally lasts a few hours, the weekend date may make it more likely that people will stick around. Which means more beer. The configuration of our house this year means that it's possible to have live music, so we'll make room for that. This is also the point where we discuss the budget.  We had a family chat about this around Christmas, so we're set.

2. Send out invitations

This is a casual open house, so I generally invite people through facebook.  The format is helpful for allowing my teenage kids the ability to invite their own friends. I also need to make a few hard copy invites to hand out to people I want to invite but who aren't on facebook. I generally like to carry these around with me for a couple of weeks, so I need to get that done today.

3.  Create the master prep lists

This is especially important this year because we're planning to rent a car to do some of the running around and I need to be as organized as I possibly can.  I keep lists for what we need to acquire (food, drink, decorations, etc.), and what we need to do (everything from inviting people to salting the walk the day of.  This year, because we're in a new place, we'll have to figure out furniture arrangement too.

4. Work out who will do what the day of

The first year we had a pancake thing, it was a small dinner party.  The second year was what I assumed would be a slightly larger thing and turned into a crazy madhouse. Subsequent years have been much smoother because we divided the hosting tasks ahead of time. Kids do all of the door opening, for example, and take away all of the coats. We work shifts to flip pancakes and clean up.  Someone is always in charge of being the host on the floor. This year - with a dishwasher! - the clean up should be easier to manage.

This might seem like a lot to think about, but I find a lot of upfront prep increases the chance that I'll get to talk to people (and eat some pancakes!) on the day of the party itself.




A few years ago, Ontario caved and gave us all another statutory holiday (joining BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan). Manitoba has Lois Riel day today and Prince Edward Island has "Islander Day," but the rest of us have "Family Day". As far as I'm concerned, it should be Riel Day all around, but I appreciate that finally, people were like, "we cannot, as a culture, continue to make people suffer through five day weeks from the first of January until Easter weekend. Have you looked out a window? This is Canada!"

By some generous miracle, Al's school takes its winter break next week, so he gets them both. (When I was doing graduate work, when Family Day finally came in - too late for me to get the day through my corporate gig - the university rolled it into reading week. A stingy move!

"Family Day" though!  Why not "winter day!" or "I can't believe, considering how short it is, that it's still goddamned February day!" or "Let's go for pizza tonight because it's half-off Mondays and nothing is open anyway."

That last one is pretty descriptive of our plan.


From my "research" (aka, rudely asking people, often at bars, how they run their lives), I gather that budgets are not super popular. Almost everyone feels that they ought to have one, promises themselves or others that they're going to get right on that, and secretly rejoices that they don't waste their time on something so obviously pedestrian and boring.

I've had a budget for years and years. I, myself, might be a little pedestrian and boring, but it's not because I have a budget. Having a budget, in fact, is the number one reason I'm able to have fun. It means that I'm able to take a cold, slowed-down look at what's coming in and going out and know for certain, at any given time, whether something I want to purchase or do fits into my overall plan.  And if it does, I'm entirely free to enjoy it without worrying that I'm overextended.

I can give you lots of tips on where we cut corners and save our pennies (and I totally will!), but if you don't have a budget, you're not using the best tool available to make sure that you're spending your money (that is to say your time, effort, and labour) on the things that make your life worthwhile.

That sounds so obvious! Yet, I run into the attitude, all the time, that a budget is there to make one "save money", to prevent one from spending, to curtail any inclination to hedonism at all costs.

Here's a budgeting story: when my oldest kid was about twelve, his class did a couple of days of pretending to set up a budget. They were given a certain income for the month and then they had to work out how much money they were going to spend on housing, food, transportation, etc.. (they were given some pretend rental ads and other information to work from). As far as it goes, that was fine.

Except that my poor kid failed this exercise because he spent 'too much' on food. The teacher had a sample sheet where each category of spending was meant to add up to a certain percentage.  Housing was between twenty and twenty-five percent, food was something else, transportation was ten to fifteen, etc.

My kid, no stranger to how budgets work, went at this problem from a totally different angle. "What is the thing that I like the most?  What don't I really care about? What makes me happy?  What might make me depressed?"

He was twelve at the time, so there's a good chance that he underestimated his tolerance for living in a basement studio (the cheapest option for housing), or eschewing car ownership in favour of the bus (cheapest transit - and, incidentally, how he gets around five years later), but he knew what he loved, and that was eating all kinds of different foods.

lobster joey


I have so many pictures of this kid sitting down to eat something exciting with a huge grin. He may not have understood the point of the classroom model, but by spending over half of his available cash flow on food and restaurants, he clearly understood the power of reserving his money for the things he adored.

When you're twelve, you might have to make a pretend budget according to the sample sheet (lest you fail), but as an adult, the entire point of having a budget is to spend money on things you care about and minimize how much you spend on things you don't. Before you drag out your bank statements and calculator, spend a little time thinking about what you really like and what you think is important.

Next week, we'll talk about how to make those abstract values into a concrete plan: a budget.




Valentine heart skirt, easy sewing for teens, grunge, The Velvet Aubergine

She is so grown up. Taller, more mature in every way, and she definitely has that "irritated yet tolerating it" look down pat.

I made her this quick gathered skirt yesterday. It's a simple rectangle gathered and sewn to a giant, purple elastic at the waist.  I found it a little bit tricky, to be honest. I had to pull on the elastic so much to get the skirt to gather that my hands were sore! I suspect that this is because the fabric weight is more of a bottom weight. (I've seen this kind of skirt around the internet mostly in light cottons.) And I wanted it to be very gathered, so I used the entire selvedge to selvedge of 60". Valentine heart skirt, easy sewing for teens, grunge, The Velvet Aubergine

So, um, don't do that.

Or maybe you should! Because as much as I found that final step flummoxing, I love the way this turned out - a little homage to the grungy days of yore. Bea was pretty happy with it too.

Valentine heart skirt, easy sewing for teens, grunge, The Velvet Aubergine

Valentine heart skirt, easy sewing for teens, grunge, The Velvet Aubergine

The heart pockets are lined with a more cheerful, spring fabric.

Valentine heart skirt, easy sewing for teens, grunge, The Velvet Aubergine

The hem is more hearts. I'm still considering whether I'm into this finishing or not. I almost never use the special stitches on my machine and I've been attempting to put them into more things. Bea does like it though, and that's what matters here.

Valentine heart skirt, easy sewing for teens, grunge, The Velvet Aubergine

The infinity scarf was a Christmas present. Like the terrible mother I am, I 'borrow' it all the time. In my defense, this combo of soft flannel plaid and giant pom-poms goes with everything.

(That's not much of a defense.)


valentines, the velveta aubergine

I confess, entirely and without shame, to being a romantic. My husband and I eloped. What's more romantic than that? However, despite being the sort of person who loves to be in love, I'm inherently suspicious of any gesture that seems pre-packaged, mass-manufactured, or trite.

Unless it's widely thought to be cheap/tacky, in which case I am all for it.

My youngest kid is not in pre-school or daycare and my oldest are in high school, so the above valentines are leftover stock from when I would pick them up at yard sales and thrift stores. I'm surprised at how few are left! I remember having so many good ones (and by 'good' I mean, of course, 'cheesy').

Al and I don't really celebrate Valentine's Day, but when we were at the record sale, all alone without our kids, we exclaimed that that was pretty much like being on a date. A Valentine's date, even, since it was less than a week to the day.

And yesterday, I saw an online tutorial that I recognized - immediately! - as the perfect gift for Al.

I repaired his winter coat.

I know, I know, this isn't a perfect gift the way that making him a new shirt or buying him a really nice album would be, but it is a romantic gesture. Al wears his clothes until they fall apart, but his definition of "falling apart" is sometimes a little lax, especially if he really likes the item.

He has this nice, tweedy (but somehow also houndstooth?) vintage coat that he's worn for the past five or six winters. I mended a tear on the outside bottom edge of the pocket this fall, but I noticed at the time that the pockets themselves weren't exactly functional. It wasn't so much that they had a hole in them, but that they were holes, surrounded by pocket outlines. The lining (which is some kind of lovely, thick, slippery stuff, was stitched down everywhere and I didn't think I could get to the wrong side of the pocket.

Until yesterday, when I saw this amazing tutorial by Lynette at Running with Scissors.  She patiently explains (with pictures!) how to get to the pocket by opening a hole in the sleeve lining and turning everything inside out. This morning, I had a go at it and successfully created two functioning pockets.

I used a thick knit material, which I assume is not strictly a good idea because it stretches and might not hold up to wear and tear. I didn't have a lot of plain material in my stash though and I figured I could always replace them again if it was a real problem. (I shortened the pocket bag to make up for the stretchiness - hopefully that will help heavy items like keys from sinking all the way to the bottom of the coat.) It turned out great, though!

pocket in pocket out

The knit, though probably a bad idea, is cozy on the hands and I do love the colour.

cord thing

While I had everything out, I also repaired this little coat hook hanger made of cording (one end had come out).

arm pit

And I sewed up a hole in the underarm.

Though I started this post a little tongue-in-cheek, in a society where it seems we replace things rather than repair them, mending loved clothing really is a great Valentine's gift.

Thanks again to Lynette, whose tutorial instructions were spot on and who, very kindly, quickly answered a question I had. Running with Scissors underwent a revamp a little while ago and, though always a favourite, I think it's better than ever.





car free living, record sale

car free living, vintage vinyl, the velvet aubergine

car free living, vintage vinyl, the velvet aubergine

This is - surprisingly - a really great city to live in if you like vinyl. There are a number of independent shops and a few large record sales every year. We bought a record player (like, a new one, not the yard sale bargain we had before) just around the time we moved here and it's been pretty dreamy.

(We have a Rega, if you're in the market.)

I wouldn't say that Al and I are audiophiles or anything. Our collection of vinyl is pretty modest, but we do listen to albums almost every day. We buy the kids records when we see them at thrift shops and brand new ones for gift-giving occasions.

And then there's the big winter record show.  It's held close to the downtown park, which is only a twenty minute walk from here. We left all of the kids to their own devices for the afternoon and trudged it together (it was a mild Sunday, but the sidewalks were a bit slushy and I'm really glad that we didn't have to push the stroller).

car free living, vintage vinyl, the velvet auberginecar free living, vintage vinyl, the velvet aubergine

It was a folksy haul! (Yes, there are three Paul Simon records up there. I recommend that "Live Rhymin'" album if you come across it, by the way.)  It's funny how that happens.  The jazz albums we were interested in were a bit out of our price range.

(I nearly bought an interesting-looking compilation of jazz poets released in the 60s, but it was $25.00, which was nearly half of what we had to spend overall. I was worried I would only listen to it once.)

But I'm delighted by that Phil Ochs album. I'm listening to it right now.  The Odetta record is great too, but Al says there's a tiny skip at the beginning of the second side (I was putting Ralph to bed while he was playing it). It's so hard to tell.  Al is generally great at picking vinyl that will play through, but we've both picked out records that looked like they were in great shape only to discover a skipity part when we get it home.

On the other hand, a few years ago, when Ralph was a tiny baby, we came across a rough looking copy of this Sesame Street classic. I'd been looking for a copy for ages.

roosevelt franklin

It's really scuffed and scratched and - not shockingly - looks like it was some kid's well-loved record that got a lot of play. We were at a thrift store though and it was going for $2.00, so Al bought it. I had almost bought a copy when I was pregnant from an online record store for thirty bucks or something crazy -- plus shipping from the U.S. -- but I recognized that a hormone surge might have had something to do with my intense desire to own it at any cost.

Anyway, that scuffed copy plays through.  Weird!