Tribute Month Sewing Notes

Have you been following Tribute Month over on the Sewcialists blog? My own tribute went up earlier this week—check it out here to read how Erica Bunker inspired this outfit, and don’t forget to follow the blogs of all the creative and inspiring contributors who made Tribute Month possible! I can hardly wait for the next theme—having direction and a concrete deadline really helped to focus my sewing, especially when I came close to stalling out right before the finish.

Before these garments are too far behind me, it seems like a good idea to record some of the more technical details of what I did. I deviated significantly on both patterns, but I do hope to make them again, and I’d like the next versions to be even better.

First, the skirt. It’s Simplicity 1465 View C, a straight skirt with a waist facing, front and back darts, and a center back invisible zipper. I’ve said many times before that I’m not fond of skirts that sit the natural waist because they feel constricting to me, and because they tend to emphasize that my waist is not much smaller than my bust and hips, making it look thicker than it is and making my whole torso look rather straight-up-and-down. But I’ve also had minimal success at finding or altering patterns to be low-rise, and after ruining a lovely lightweight yardage of navy corduroy trying to make that modification, I decided to bite the bullet and give a natural-waisted skirt a try. I wagered that, since I was planning to make it in a dressier print, I’d probably only wear it for nicer occasions anyway, and if I didn’t love it, I’d only be wearing it for a few hours at a time a few times a year anyway.

I cut a straight size 12 based on my waist measurement, but pegged the bottom of the skirt by subtracting 1 inch at each side seam (4 inches total). My waist is a fraction larger than a 12, but after reviewing the pattern pieces I was confident that there was enough ease to cover that extra quarter-inch. In fact, after wearing the skirt out to take photos, I think that I could take the waist in a little on a future iterations. I don’t know if I could go down a full size, but I could probably shave a little off each side seam—and possibly a little more if I chose not to line it or chose a slightly stretchier fabric than the mid-weight stretch cotton sateen I used here.

The pattern is designed to be unlined, but I wanted the option to wear it with tights in cooler weather, so turned to Sunni’s BurdaStyle tutorials for how to create a ventdraft a vented lining, and sew a vented lining, but modifying my pieces slightly to keep the original waist facing. These instructions used to be on Sunni’s blog A Fashionable Stitch, and I vaguely recall them being easier to follow when I used them the first time. I managed to muddle through them with much reading, re-reading, and test-folding my fabric, but it does bug me (more than it should, to be honest) that they create a vent that is lapped in the opposite direction than usually you see in ready-to-wear: normally the satin stitches that tack the top of the vent in place create the appearance of the number 1. In future iterations, I’ll reverse my left and right back pattern pieces and back lining pattern pieces. I’ll also make the vent longer (taller?), because I find it shortens my walking stride a little more than I like.

One critical thing that’s not covered by the tutorial is attaching the lining to the skirt at the waist. The tutorial is written for the BurdaStyle Jenny skirt, which has a waistband, so you can follow all of the steps for attaching the lining to the skirt at the vent and then worry about attaching the lining to the skirt at the waist afterward. Because I was using a pattern with a facing instead of waistband, I figured out that I needed to attach the shell and lining at the waist first if I wanted to be able to get a clean finish, including understitching the waist facing to keep it lying flat. Once the waist was taken care of, then I could follow the instructions for attaching the lining to the vent, and then finally handle attaching the lining to the zipper tape so that it doesn’t get caught in the zipper.

And now, the top. It’s Simplicity 1425 View E, a sleeveless, princess-seamed top with a pleated peplum. Although my measurements put me in a size 12, I cut a size 10 after seeing that the pattern has 3.5″ of ease at the bust and 4.5″ of ease at the waist. If/when I make it again, I’ll go down a size; with such a contoured style, and especially in a fabric with stretch, I’d like it to fit more closely to my body than it does.

When I pulled this pattern from my stash to sew, I actually thought it was designed with a back zipper, and it wasn’t until I had cut out all the pieces and was skimming the instructions before starting to sew that I realized it has buttons. I can’t imagine making it that way; it’s not loose enough to render the buttons purely decorative, and having to do them up behind my own back—with fabric loops instead of buttonholes, no less!—is not my idea of fun.

Despite some initial trepidation about using a separating metal zipper, the entire process was painless, easier than installing an invisible zipper. I used an 18″ zipper, which ended up about 3.5″ shorter than the length of the top. I knew that the top of the skirt would come up higher than the bottom of the zipper, and if I’m wearing it casually with low-rise jeans I don’t mind the possibility of flashing a tiny sliver of skin, but if that’s a concern then definitely consider getting a longer zipper and shortening it.

For both pieces, I finished things cleanly and invisibly everywhere I could. The skirt lining has French seam; the skirt shell has serged seams (I thought Hong Kong seams, while lovely, would be too bulky and hidden anyway); the cut edge of the skirt hem is covered with a fun purple grosgrain ribbon and blindstitched in place. The top has bias facings at neck, arm, and peplum hem, all blinstitched as well. I enjoy hand-sewing, but next time I’ll draft an all-in-one facing for the bodice.

On the whole, I’m very pleased with how the entire outfit came out, and I’m very much looking forward to wearing it to a professional event in October. It’s also restored some of my desire to sew with wovens (or stretch wovens, at least), because it proved that I could find middle ground between a comfortable fit and a flattering silhouette. I doubt they’ll overtake knits in my wardrobe, but at least I can regard them with a little less prejudice.

Inspired by Sewcialists

I spend as much (or more) time dreaming and scheming about my wardrobe as I do sewing it. There are so many clever, creative people sharing their sewing adventures online, and so many drool-worthy projects beamed directly to my appreciative eyeballs each day, that sometimes it’s tempting never to sit down at my own sewing machine!

Tribute Month is about fanning that glow of admiration into a fire for completing a garment. Below are five brilliant ladies who have style and passion in spades, and who make me want to sew up a beautiful handmade wardrobe. Each one is an inspiring answer to the question: “What should I make next?”

Inspiration #1

Allie

Sewcialist: Allie of Allie M. Jackson

Sewcializes at: Blog, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest

Style notes: Demure & coordinated

How she inspires me: Variously described as “modern mid-century” and “fresh, feminine, and vintage-inspired,” Allie’s style strikes a perfect balance between retro glamour and modern sensibilities. She tempers silhouettes from the past with today’s fabrics, of-the-moment accessories, and practical makeup and hairstyles. When she dresses down, she never looks sloppy, even if she’s just taking her dog for a walk or lounging in her pajamas.

In short, Allie has the kind of always-put-together look that I dream of creating in my own wardrobe. Her success is due in no small part to the fact that she knows what colors work for her and sticks to them for most of her projects, and she has no problem sewing a winning pattern multiple times to up the mixing and matching potential. At the same time, she often uses interesting fabrics or thoughtful details like lace overlays, ruffled accents, or a touch of embroidery to elevate her garments from ordinary to everyday luxuries.

What I’d sew: What better place to start than a two-piece set? Coordinated separates in a solid color (especially if it’s from my personal color palette) or a large-scale print would be great wardrobe-builders on their own and would make a bold statement when worn together. If I wanted to go a step further and borrow more specifically from Allie’s closet, I’d choose a faux crop top and full skirt.

Inspiration #2

Erica.jpg

Sewcialist: Erica of Erica Bunker DIY Style

Sewcializes at: Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube

Style Notes: Fashion-forward

How she inspires me: Erica is a powerhouse when it comes to sewing. She regularly sews the more complex patterns available from the Big 4—often turning out multiple garments a month—and she’s completely undaunted by fiddly construction techniques, shifty fabrics, or harder-to-fit garments like jackets and pants. In fact, she’s got such a firm grasp of fitting and all the little tricks that make garments a success (never skip the interfacing!) that I can’t remember a time she’s mentioned a project turning out poorly.

But what really attracts me to Erica’s work is her focus on fashion. Sewing enables her to explore and revel in sartorial trends, and her excitement about the creative possibilities this offers runs like an electric current through every one of her sewing stories. She genuinely enjoys the process of sewing clothes in order to dress her best, and the way she challenges herself to re-create or take inspiration from expensive luxury brands makes me want to push my own sewing (and dressing) to the next level.

What I’d sew: Because Erica sews just about everything she wears, no garment would be off limits here, so long as it has a dramatic detail like plunging neckline, exaggerated sleeves, or cut-outs.

Inspiration #3

Juebejue.jpg

Sewcialist: Juebejue of Petite Republic

Sewcializes at: Blog

Style notes: Flirty & feminine

How she inspires me: Shout-out to all my fellow shorties! While pattern adjustments for a petite figure are by no means the most difficult or time-consuming modifications, I’m always on the lookout for style ideas from other ladies 5’4” and under.

But beyond a shared need to shorten everything, what I admire most about Juebejue is her unabashed love for clothes that are fun and a just a bit sexy. She rocks floaty dresses and sky-high heels, and she’s not afraid to show a little skin. She’s also devoted mom to two girls—check out the sweet costumes she’s made for Little A and Little K—and throughout the changes that’s brought she’s maintained a strong sense of personal style and a devotion to wearing what she enjoys.

Juebejue is fearless, and a great reminder to wear the clothes that make you feel good about your body, whatever that may look like.

What I’d sew: Time to set my own silly insecurities aside and treat myself to a short-short dress that shows off my legs. For some instant-gratification girliness, I’d whip up a ruffly off-the-shoulder top in a summery color. For a more time-intensive project, I’d love to sew a perfectly fitted fashion corset that I could wear out to date night.

Inspiration #4

Carolyn.jpg

Sewcialist: Carolyn of Handmade by Carolyn

Sewcializes at: Blog, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube

Style notes: Practical layers with a twist

How she inspires me: If you know anything at all about Carolyn, then a better question is “how DOESN’T she inspire me?” This amazing lady committed to a year of wearing only handmade items, including shoes, and continues to wear exclusively handmade garments even after her self-set challenge has ended. She’s created not one but two wholly local outfits. She’s an unselfish sewist and an occasional costume-maker. She also knits.

Carolyn sews a mix of dresses and separates, and she’s a pro at mixing, matching, and layering the items in her closet. Many of her garments would superficially qualify as basics, but they’re far from boring. She often turns to Vogue or Japanese pattern designers to inject her projects with visual interest through unusual style lines or clever construction. Her approach to wardrobe building means that she not only looks fab day to day, but putting together a coordinated travel wardrobe for any climate is a breeze.

What I’d sew: A miniskirt with statement pockets or a knit top with a draped neckline would be a great way to add both versatility and punch to my wardrobe. A woven dress with hi-lo split hem (and perfectly mitered corners) would easily take me from work to weekend in style.

Inspiration #5

Klara.JPG

Sewcialist: Klara of A Robot Heart

Sewcializes at: Blog, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest

Style notes: Vintage prep & whimsy

How she inspires me: A Robot Heart dwells at the intersection of dreamy fairy tale landscapes and serious reflections on identity, beauty, and sustainability. Striving for balance is a recurring theme in Klara’s personal style journey, and her outfits are a delightful contrast of tough and sweet, practical and playful, classic and quirky. Likewise, her wardrobe is a varied collection of garments she’s sewn herself (many self-drafted!), accessories made by independent designers, thrift shop finds, and vintage hand-me-downs.

Klara’s a veteran re-mixer, but the common thread throughout her looks is a touch of the romantic, the whimsical, the just-a-little-silly. As her style has evolved, various influences have waxed and waned, but her outfits remain undeniably her, which in my mind is the definition of style.

Each of Klara’s outfits has a larger story beyond the sewing, one she tells in a voice that is lyrical yet raw with honesty—no mean feat considering English isn’t her first language. She doesn’t shy away from sharing her own struggles with responsible consumption, self-acceptance, and mental health, and she’s a model for using sewing and fashion as an avenue to look thoughtfully at all areas of life.

What I’d sew: Balance and contrast are touchstones for Klara, so a fitted denim jacket with metal hardware or an oversized knit cardigan with leather elbow patches would bring a good mix of yin and yang to my closet. To inject a dose of fun into my otherwise sedate work wardrobe, Klara would no doubt approve a button-up shirt in a cheeky print.

I’m Sewcial!

In the wake of Me-Made-May, I had a wealth of ideas but no real direction for my next project. Enter the lovely Gillian of Crafting a Rainbow, who invited me to be a part of the return of the Sewcialists!

A sewcialist is anyone who talks about sewing on social media, and the Sewcialists blog is a collaborative space to challenge, inspire, and share each others’ sewing adventures through monthly themed sewing.

Somehow—and I’m really, truly not sure how—I missed the Sewcialists during their original run. Surely I must have seen projects and posts prompted by the monthly themes, but I was never a regular visitor to the site.

Luckily for me, the Sewcialists archives are still around any time I’d like to take a dive into Scraptember, Sew Disney, or Lingerie Month. And I’m beyond fortunate to get to be a contributor to the relaunch of this great group.

To kick off, August 2017 has been named Tribute Month, where we’ll be looking to our fellow sewcialists for sartorial inspiration. Whether taking cues from their favorite silhouette, fabric, or pattern—or even copying one of their garments we love—we’ll be sewing up a storm in their honor.

Tomorrow I’ll share 5 sewing bloggers who inspire my sewing choices and, even more importantly, make me want to dedicate whole days to my machine. Later in August I’ll share sneak peeks of the outfit I’m working on, and at the end of the month my finished garment(s) (I’m hoping to make two) will appear on the Sewcialists blog.

What are you most looking forward to sewing in August?

The Only Way Out Is Through

As the parade of year-end wrap-ups has streamed through my feed this week, I’ve felt a mounting pressure to sit down and compose my own thoughts. This pressure stems not from a desire to emulate or perform for others, but from a very real need to confront my own experiences and realizations from the last 12 months. I have a much different perspective than I’d hoped to have, and I want to acknowledge and explore the gap between expectations and reality.

That I’m able to write at all is due in no small part to my thoughtful husband, who gifted me with a tablet this year for Christmas. My desktop computer suffered a motherboard failure just after Thanksgiving, and in the flurry of end-of-year work deadlines, Christmas hosting preparations, and holiday spending, I had neither the time to research nor the ready funds to purchase a replacement board. All of my recent outfit photos had been transferred from phone to hard drive just before the failure, so they have been held hostage by the broken component.

I’m thankful that a new motherboard is, as of today, on its way to me, but the delay means that there’s no chance at all of posting our Halloween costumes or the dress I made for my work Christmas party before the year is out. I haven’t decided yet whether it’s worthwhile to post them so long after the fact, or if I’d rather move on to new projects and new topics. Only the new year will tell, I suppose.

Those three missing posts mean that there is very little in the way of finished garments to recap. But even if I’d been able to include them, I’m well aware that my output this year has been disappointing. While others can count their successes in the dozens or scores, I have fewer than ten, and the amount of wear that any of them have gotten is extremely limited. In fact, shortly after finishing all of the athletic wear, I stopped going to the gym completely and haven’t been back since. I wish I could say that this is the result of an unfortunate injury that needed recovery or a positive lifestyle change that eliminated the need for scheduled exercise, but the fact is it’s all down to a short period of stress followed by laziness and finally inertia.

Knitting has not escaped this stagnation, either. This has been my least productive year in the short time since I started knitting. The striped sweater I started a year ago remains unfinished, awaiting a time when I have the mental fortitude to rip out and re-knit both sleeve caps, then finally sew the thing up, knit on the neckband, and weave in the ends. A scarf that I allowed myself to start to alleviate the tedium of the sweater and to provide a bit of mindless, portable knitting needs no more than a bind off and a few ends woven in, and yet it languishes in a bag. I even permitted myself to buy two skeins of yarn for easy hats in a desperate bid to kickstart my knitting enthusiasm, but I never made it further than winding them into cakes.

Needless to say, I did not sew or knit more this year. While I did read through all of The Modern Natural Dyer, the only dyeing I actually did involved a bottle of RIT. We made a tiny bit of headway on fixing up our guest room, but nothing worth writing about or photographing. As for a dedicated sewing space, I consolidated all of my fabrics, tools, and notions in a corner of the living room, which was hardly the plan, but is an acceptable temporary arrangement while I continue to use the dining room table to cut and sew on.

In short, I did not reach any of my goals for 2016. Not even close.

I’m hardly the only one, of course. But I seem unable to brush it off, like Kat, who doesn’t believe in failure as a concept; or even take pride in how I’ve flouted my goals, like Tassadit, who clearly knows how to prioritize joy over success. It’s not in my nature to pretend that I believe that it’s all been “a learning experience,” because in truth my first reaction to defeat is not optimism, it’s disappointment and sadness. So instead of putting on a falsely brave front, I’m going to take a cue from a recent post by Klara from A Robot Heart—who feels like a kindred spirit, half a world away—and delve into why it’s been so difficult to reflect on my year and shine a light in places that often remain dark.

It’s about more than completed and incomplete tasks.

On the surface of it, I love making lists, and I find satisfaction in checking things off. An unfinished to-do list would obviously be a source of dissatisfaction. But if it were truly that simple, if all that mattered was getting things done eventually, then all I’d need to do is deem all of those 2016 goals ongoing, and carry on into 2017 striving toward the same things. No reason to set an arbitrary deadline—or even an arbitrary check-in point—if all it does is cause unhappiness, right?

The trouble is, I crave organization because I need it to think clearly, act confidently, and feel at peace. Because despite being the kind of person who loathes idleness, when I’m presented with a variety of activities to choose from, I don’t tend to feel excitement at the many possibilities, I tend to feel anxiety. I’m liable to become overwhelmed and shut down completely, because I a) want to do everything at once, b) know that that’s impossible, and c) no longer have a reliable sense of what will make me happy in the moment.

So I make lists, because it allows me to prepare, to plan in advance, when emotions aren’t high and I can be more certain of knowing my own mind. Then I not only get the satisfaction of the thing itself, but also the reassurance that I’m doing something I know is important to me in some way.

Looking back, each unaccomplished goal represents hours spent agonizing over what to do in the evening or on a weekend. Too often, instead of working toward the things I had determined were important to me, I retreated into reading forum discussions, or distracted myself with some insignificant task, or sat paralyzed until Justin proposed some other thing to do. How many Friday nights did I fret about spending my weekend wisely? How many Sunday nights did I despair about going back to work, feeling like I’d squandered my time and would have to slog through five more days to try again? Far too many, I’m afraid.

The experience of correcting mistakes is a poor teacher for coping with failures.

Like many makers, I turn to the creative community when I need guidance—not just for sewing or knitting techniques, but for conscious consumerism, for body positivity and self-love, and for any number of other topics. Makers are no strangers to adversity, and it’s cheering to read about others’ struggles and how they’ve overcome them.

But as I’ve been thinking about my failed goals, I can think of many bloggers who have shared their mistakes, but I’m struggling to bring to mind bloggers who have shared their failures. What I mean is, I can think of countless posts describing a project that disappointed due to a mismatch of pattern to material, or an outfit that was never worn because of unacceptable fit, and even garments that were thrown away—all things I would consider mistakes, things where you think “That was a shame; I’ll try to do better next time.” But failures, like investing a lot of time, money, and effort into a hobby that you ultimately abandon? Or committing to a project for someone else, as a gift or perhaps as a commission, and then being unable to see it through to the end? Or chasing a creative dream that doesn’t pan out and having to give it up? Basically, anything where there may not be a “next time”? Not so much.

Now, I understand that no one likes to dwell on these embarrassing and costly experiences, let alone broadcast them to others, so I’m not really faulting anyone for not posting about them excruciating detail. And I certainly don’t want to equate my own shortcomings with more serious troubles.

But I fear what gets lost is an honest look at the invisible costs of these failures. It’s more than just a wadder, a project that you looked forward to that you don’t get to enjoy. There’s lost money, sure, and there’s lost time. Deeper still, there’s a loss of confidence, a reluctance to try again, a fear of failure. Why set a new goal? You failed at the last one—what makes you think you’ll succeed at this new one? You start to wonder if maybe you’re not cut out for these goals, if they’re really worth it, if working toward them even makes you happy. That’s a lot of baggage to carry forward. It doesn’t necessarily vanish with the next success. I’d dearly love to know how others manage it.

There is an even greater enemy than envy.

What’s thrown all of these feelings into sharp relief is seeing other bloggers reach for and achieve success this year. Reading about Helen’s journey as she blogged one make a week, designed two patterns, and grew her following to the hundreds in just one year, following along as Madalynne has teamed up with Urban Outfitters, Simplicity, and Pfaff to live her lingerie dreams, and watching as Allie has written tutorials, filmed a class, and garnered sponsorships, have been hard. I don’t resent their successes—far from it! I think that they’re amazing women who have worked hard and earned every good thing that has come their way. We’re so fortunate to have them in our community, and I admire each of them for their discipline, tenacity, and generosity of spirit.

When I look at these women, what I feel isn’t envy. It’s regret. They set goals for themselves; they worked hard; they succeeded. They achieved goals that I had for myself (whether I’d publicly stated them or not), and goals that I’d hoped to work toward in subsequent years, building on the foundation of this one. They didn’t fall into these successes by hazard or happenstance; they are not possessed of fabulous wealth, unlimited free time, or preternatural abilities.They earned these successes. And I could have earned them too, had I really tried.

The hardest thing to face is the realization that I did not become a better version of myself.

I have not achieved the goals that I identified as important to me. I have not been making choices to shape my life according to my own self-professed values. These were not mere mistakes, things that I can easily learn from and apply to future situations. These were failures. This is time that I cannot get back, and I regret that I used it so poorly.

That’s rather a grim place to end, I know, but there’s nothing to be gained by dishonesty, and nothing to say at all if I can only talk about what’s happy, easy, neat. Maybe I can open up the conversation about failure and disappointment. Or maybe mine is just another sad closing chapter for the year, and that like so many others I’ll be glad to put 2016 behind me and never look back.

In any case, may we all find the strength, wisdom, and grace to grow in 2017.

Lately

With the month of October completely taken up by Halloween preparations—I finally got decently lit photos of our costumes, which I’ll share in the next few days—I endeavored to spend November on more practical sewing. But, as is often the case, the moment I decided that I’d spend my free time making was precisely the moment that work ramped up and my free time evaporated. I had three deadlines last week alone, and a new employee to train on top of it, which has meant many late evenings and little to no energy to do basic maintenance tasks like cooking and laundry, to say nothing of crafting.

But I did manage to set aside a little time last weekend to celebrate my birthday, and I thought I’d share a glimpse of that, because while I’d like every post to have a new garment or a new project—I very much wanted to have completed a new skirt to wear on my birthday—I don’t want my lack of tangible accomplishments to weigh me down. I want to cherish the small moments. I hope you’ll indulge me.

Justin took me to visit the historic Oak View County Park, a former cotton plantation in Raleigh that’s free to visit (but donations are welcome, of course). We’ve visited before to explore the farm history building, main house, detached kitchen, and cotton gin barn, and to view the livestock barn, carriage house, and tenant house. The main house remains unfurnished and the tenant house is undergoing renovation, so on this visit we decided to enjoy the grounds instead. November is pecan season, and Wake County Parks & Rec lets visitors gather pecans for free; they only ask that you limit yourself to one brown paper lunch bag, so that others get a chance to collect them, too.

2016-11-20_1_justin-gathering-pecans

The property is about 3 acres, and the pecan grove is spread over at least half of it. We were advised to pick from the ground rather than directly from the trees, since the unfallen nuts are usually underripe. The areas nearest the main house and paths were picked over already, so we had to go further afield.

2016-11-20_3_justin-finds-a-leafy-specimen

We quickly discovered that we weren’t the only ones with a taste for pecans: we found many that had a tiny, circular hole bored into the shell, which is a sign that a worm has gotten inside and, often, eaten the meat already. We had the most success picking ones that still had the husk on. Removing the husks caused a few bent and dirty fingernails, but the reward was this:

2016-11-20_2_a-perfect-pecan

The weather was brisk, but pleasant—perfectly autumnal. We spent somewhere between an hour and two hours foraging, and came away with about two cups of nuts. After we brought them home, boiled them to make cracking the shells easier, and discarded the rotten ones, we were left with maybe a handful of edible nuts. I see now why they’re so expensive at the store!

We supplemented our little trove with purchased pecans and made a pecan pie, my first time making AND eating one. The verdict? I think a plain pecan pie is a little too sweet and one-note for me, but I’m keen to try a recipe that incorporates other flavors or textures. (Wouldn’t a cheesecake with a pecan-pie-filling-like crust be amazing?)

But I don’t think I’ll be foraging the ingredients for each and every attempt, otherwise I might never find enough good nuts to try again! Unless this find brings me a little extra luck next time:

2016-11-20_4_caitlyn-with-double-pecan

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

On July 16, Justin and I made tacos for dinner and then hunkered down to watch the last episode of Downton Abbey. Our roommate had moved out the day before after leasing our third room for three months (and occupying it as a guest for about two weeks before that), and it was our first full day without having to jockey schedules, keep the noise down, or worry about whether we grabbed bathrobes on the way into the shower.

“We’re finally getting our life back,” I said as I spooned sour cream on to a taco and glanced out the window at the rain pooling in the front yard. A thunderstorm had rolled in while we were cooking, and the low spots in the lawn were collecting water like they usually did. I thought about how we’d have to grade the yard eventually, and wondered how much dirt it would take. I sighed, knowing that it would probably be twice as much as thought it would be, then turned back to the TV to watch the opening credits roll for the last time.

The storm also settled in, and our viewing was punctuated with repeated house-shaking booms and lightning so bright we were sure it must have struck a neighbor’s house. We didn’t lose power though, which came as a surprise considering how easily it’s gone out in the past.

Then, about halfway through the 90-minute episode, there was a crash followed by the sound of rushing water. Justin and I stood up from the couch and immediately headed toward the basement door. A couple of months ago we’d had an issue with the washing machine drainage hose disconnecting from the house’s wastewater pipe, causing it to dump an entire drum of water on the floor. We’d fixed the problem ourselves, and we both assumed that our fix hadn’t held and it had happened again.

Thing is, the washing machine wasn’t running. I hadn’t started a single load all day.

Instead, when we opened the basement door, we were confronted by knee-deep murky water at the bottom of the stairs. It was swirling counterclockwise at a steady clip, cardboard boxes and plastic tubs bobbing in the current. The water was also rising—visibly.

We turned to each other and asked in the same stupefied tone, “Who do you call when your house is flooding?”

We went with 911.

While we waited for a firetruck to arrive, we started gathering supplies to evacuate. As we paced back and forth through the house gathering clothes, food and water, and important documents, we had time to assess the situation in more detail, which revealed that our driveway, sitting largely below street-level, was completely filled with water; my car, which I typically parked at the bottom of the driveway, was almost fully submerged. Luckily, Justin’s car was parked was parked on higher ground, but was still surrounded by a calf-deep stream of swiftly flowing water.

When the fire department appeared on the scene, there was nothing they could do for us (and, truthfully, very little they could have done even if the circumstances had been more favorable). Because the circuit breaker is in the basement, they were not able to throw the master on the breaker and the power remained on. They asked about the locations of the electrical meter and the master shut-off for the gas, because they have the tools to access both, but in the moment neither Justin nor I could remember where exactly they were located, and with the rain blowing sideways at this point the firefighters couldn’t see them. In the end, we had to trust to emergency auto-off features and just leave while we still had one salvageable vehicle.

We ended up spending the night in a hotel, and then returned the next morning to survey the damage and try to determine what had happened. The water had completely receded in the seven hours since the storm had stopped, leaving almost no sign of its passing beyond a high water mark around four feet high and a layer of sludge coating the floor (and, by extension, anything touching the floor).

The vortex that we had witnessed the night before had torn the hot water heater partially free of its connections and laid it out on its side—which is really something else, when you consider that it weighs 500 pounds when full. It had also submerged the furnace and part of the AC unit, and knocked the washer and dryer off their plywood plinth.

You’ve no doubt deduced that this was no ordinary thunderstorm. Depending on which stormwater engineer you ask—and we spoke to several—it was a 100-, 200-, or even 1,000-year flood. I’m told at its peak it rained 6 inches in 45 minutes. Fortunately, the car was completely covered under our vehicle insurance; unfortunately, none of the damage to the basement was covered, not even the garage door, because our homeowner’s insurance policy specifically excludes flooding. Fortunately again, our basement is unfinished, and beyond the appliances, the only things we were storing there were tools and DIY supplies, Christmas decorations, and a pile of miscellaneous items bound for donation, and of these things, nearly all of the Christmas decorations and about half of the tools/supplies survived. We didn’t lose anything of exceptional monetary or sentimental value, which was a huge relief.

Most fortunately of all, we have incredibly supportive family and friends, who descended upon us from points across North Carolina and Virginia the following weekend to help us shovel out and dispose of the debris, power wash and sanitize the basement, and reorganize those items that could be saved. With their help, we also got a new hot water heater installed, replaced/relocated two electrical outlets that had been submerged, rehabilitated the washer and dryer, unbent the garage door as much as possible, and set up a window AC unit to tide us over until the furnace and AC could be fixed a few days later. Their generous donations of time, expertise, labor, and materials saved us at least $6,500 in repair and cleanup costs. They also sustained unshakably positive attitudes in the face of triple-digit heat indexes with just a few box fans for respite, which was tremendously helpful whenever the situation threatened to overwhelm us.

Six weeks later, I finally feel as though we’ve gotten back to normal life. I’ve been itching to blog, and it was important to me share this significant event before trying to get into a regular groove. While I know it would have been my prerogative to leave things at “life happens,” that just didn’t feel sufficient, you know?

With that—with the last several weeks and months behind me—I’m finally ready to move forward. I just hope I remember how to use my sewing machine…

Progress? Progress!

Remember this promising sliver of knitting?

2016-01-02_01_Striped-Sweater-Beginnings

I’m not surprised if you don’t—it made its first and only appearance all the way back in January. January. That was six months ago, friends. Egads. (So much for this being a year of knitting productivity…)

I stalled out sometime in April after I completed the back and started the front. Fingering-weight stockinette doesn’t make for particularly speedy knitting, but it’s mindless enough that I can work on it while watching TV and riding in the car. No, what strangled my enthusiasm for the project was not the pace, but the prospect of weaving in all. those. ends.

2016-06-09_02_Striped-Sweater-Pieces-Blocking

I hate weaving in ends. Every time I sat down and knit another stripe, I created two more ends to loom on the horizon. Just look at them, promising hours of tedium—and no doubt frustration—as I try to figure out where to put all of them without any stray colors cropping up where they don’t belong.

2016-06-09_03_Striped-Sweater-Ends-Detail

But, fueled by my Me-Made-May pledge (which came about in part because of this very project), I finally made a concerted effort to drag this project toward the finish line. Over the course of four weeks, I knocked out the front and started in on the first sleeve. (Interestingly, it doesn’t bother me to be on Sleeve Island, and I’ve yet to experience Second Sleeve Syndrome on a project.)

To help combat the tyranny of ends, I used one of TECHKnitter’s strategies for weaving in as I go on the front and the sleeve. It slows down the process of turning a row and joining a new color, but I’d like to think it’s preferable to the interminable and uncertain job of dealing with all the ends at, well, the end. But I’m withholding full judgment until I can seam everything and put it on—I don’t want to actually recommend this approach until I know that it won’t come apart or create unsightly lumps or bumps on the face of the fabric.

Meanwhile, I’m itching to move on to other projects. With consecutive days of 80-degree temperatures and 90-degree days on the horizon, I won’t be sporting this sweater any time soon—except for blog photos, of course. 😉