Wednesday, June 03, 2015

StitchFix #7 Review

You win some, you lose some.  It has been a busy month and I didn't give my stylist many guidelines about my needs.  I mentioned that I needed some blue jeans, but I should have been a bit more specific about what I needed.  So this fix was kind of disappointing.  Bummer.

Level 99 Dilan Distressed Boyfriend Jean

So, these jeans. First off, the color is horrible.  They don't go with anything.  I need a classic pair of jeans and these are more like baby-blue colored jeans.  Then, the really IS distressing. All the way up the leg and the knee.  I could never pay 98 dollars for jeans I would only feel comfortable wearing to garden.  Nobody wants to see a 40 year old mom's thighs squishing out of her jeans. Finally, the length:  too short to wear unrolled, so they can only be cuffed.  I hate being limited to only one way to wear them.  These fall under the "if you wore it the first time it was in style, you cannot wear it the second time it comes around" category.  I have a picture of myself in these jeans c. 1989 and it's not good, my friends. Not good at all.  They are light and comfortable enough even for summer, but these were a big miss for me.  I probably wouldn't have been so negative about them if I didn't just really have high hopes for the right kind of jeans for me.  The gray ones I got in my first fix were just so great, I had really high expectations.  Staring down the barrel of jean shopping in the stores now just feels like an overwhelming task, but I might have to resort to the GAP if I'm going to have something to wear.  

Papermoon Malton Knit Tee
Previous fix - black skirt
Next the top: Geometric and neon. Ugh.  I know this is a huge trend and I'm supposed to like it, but having seen it on Etsy for YEARS now, I'm so over it. Much like my chevron-fatigue, I have just reached the point of overload of this combination.  There's no way my stylist could know this, I realize now.  The cut of the shirt is great and I like the weight of the fabric well enough to keep this one.  I may pair it with my black skirt to hide the beam of light around my middle.  I know it photographs well, but I just cannot understand how bringing the eye to the part of your body that you are most uncomfortable with is the best strategy.

Fun2Fun Melika Button Down Blouse
This one is easy enough. Plaid is good. Weight of fabric is good.  The collar is a little heavy.  The only real negative on this one is that the finishing is really iffy.  For example, the buttonholes are not completely trimmed, so every time you button or unbutton it, you have multiple threads that pull.  In this fabric, it puckers and pulls the rest of the shirt.  I am keeping this one because it is very versatile, but I will be trimming all the threads first.  

Brixon Ivy Romford Stretch Lace Knit Top
Now this shirt.  It's a stretch lace top over a cami in navy blue. Something about the cut of the cami is a bit disastrous.  It cuts too far under the armpit, leaving too much exposed underneath.  The technical terminology is, I think, "tasteful side boob."  Other than that, it looks remarkably "granny" on me.  Not sure if it is the color, but I just couldn't see this in any other way than dowdy.  Maybe if it was longer or had a less purple under-tone.  I tried it with darker jeans and it was a little better, but not enough to make this one worth it.  I think I know what they were shooting for, but this just did not work for me. 
Side note: the dark jeans?  Stretchy jeggings from Target and the most boyfriend jeans of all:  my husband's.  Also, I cut my own bangs.  I might be too crunchy and DIY for the fashion world to help me.  *Sigh*

Market and Spruce Maeby Dress
Finally, the fifth piece: an actual winner, but I cannot nurse in it.  I wish the pattern was more of a floral than a geometric, but the cut is deceptively simple and easy.  I think this will be a keeper for years to come that can be worn in all seasons.  This is a good example of something I would never pick out for myself that works for me.   

So, this one falls in the experiment category.  It's good to try things, even if you don't end up with a hoped-for result. We can keep trying for the right jeans, I guess.  Maybe I should have just asked for five more pairs of those linen shorts I got last time because I wear them ALL. THE. TIME!  

Want to try it?  You can use my code:

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Stitch Fix #6 - Have I Mentioned That I Love This Service?

As spring turns into summer here in the Ozarks, you get about a week of perfect mid-seventy degree days and then it just gets hot. With those days descending upon us, I was scrambling to find something cool enough to wear.  When my sixth Stitch Fix arrived, my stylist Amanda saved the day!

I specifically asked for two pairs of shorts. I hate shopping for shorts (I pretty much hate shopping in general these days) and I usually end up with a couple of ill-fitting pairs in navy blue and black from Old Navy that I spend more about 25 dollars on and hate them every time I wear them.

Let's also take a moment to talk about the American obsession with cheap clothes.  We are buying more and more clothes, which are made quickly and as inexpensively as possible.  Our closets are stuffed full of clothes, we are hurting the environment at the beginning of the cycle to get more material, we are enslaving people working in terrible conditions and then we throw away all these cheap clothes in a short time (usually about 4 months or less) which also hurts the environment, and turn around and buy more. In the middle of all that, designers and creatives are also hurt because their designs are ripped off so often because factories are trying to make clothes so quickly. This is a terrible cycle which I have written about before.  For more on this topic, you can check out Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline   or follow the links on this Pinterest board.

Choosing to buy less and spend more is less conflicting for my values and how they have changed over time.  Some of you have asked and so I am telling:  Altogether, I am spending about two hundred dollars on this fix.  The pieces are more expensive individually than I would feel comfortable spending in the store, but there is a large discount if you buy all five items. It's worthwhile for me to communicate a lot about my experience with my stylist so that I consistently get all five pieces that I like, and therefore get the big discount.

 I've already explained how this is a such a time-saver for me, but I would also like to add that it feels nice to have someone listen to my preferences and choose things for me.  It feels like someone is taking care of me. For example, I mentioned in my last review that I wished the sheer top I got had a camisole with it, and my stylist included a cami in this fix to pair with the tops she chose for me!  So instead of just the "rush" you get from buying, which tends to fade quickly, leaving you with the desire for more, I wear these clothes and feel a sense of satisfaction that I was heard and thought about.  It's a more lasting feeling than simply getting something new.

So, without further ado: Fix Six.

Fate Elyse Striped Sheer Sleeveless Top with
Liverpool Susie Bermuda Shorts 

First off, let's celebrate that Whimsy has been sleeping through the night pretty consistently now, and I am starting to lose some baby weight. That means I'm between sizes. These shorts are mostly cotton with just 2% lycra, which means they fit great, but aren't so stretchy they will ultimately fall off when the fabric gets tired and old.  I would never have picked the color, but it goes with so many of the previous pieces, plus the things I buy for myself (aka black t-shirts), so they are great.

I'm not sure how exactly this shirt was intended to fit, but again, I'm between sizes, so it blouses on me when it might lie flat on a slimmer person. It's not uncomfortable or unflattering, though.  I like the creative use of the stripes and the easiness of this top. It is so versatile, I can wear it dressed up or down. This is great for the all-too-frequent "Oh, yeah, Mom...we have a meeting at school tonight I forgot to tell you starts in a half hour."

Ark n Co Lucas Hi-Lo Embroidered Sleeveless Top
with Skies are blue Cambria Embroidered Shorts
 Next up, two more pieces that can be swapped with the other two, making 4 complete outfits from this set of 5 items. I am a fan of this versatility, and the growing feeling of cohesion within my wardrobe.

see the cute back? 
The top is nursing-friendly, but admittedly, a little itchy.  I have never purchased so many articles of clothing made of synthetic fabrics before in my life, but I do like that they are much less wrinkly than my clothes normally are.  I am always a fan of small details, and this top has plenty: not only the intricate embroidery, but the back panel is made of  coral fabric and hangs lower across the back, which is perfect for me.

The shorts are a linen mix and they are perfect in every way.  The elastic waistband is forgiving without being schlumpy, and the color is safe without being boring.  The embroidered detail is pretty without taking away any versatility.  And the length is appropriate for a grown up lady with grown up stretch marks (Thank you baby number 1)  Now, if I could just do something about my scratched up knees (from gardening) or my bruised shins (falling over a kid's bike in the garage).

Gilli Gabbiey Sleeveless Maxi Dress   
Now, let's talk about this dress, which is made in the USA (a social justice YES!)  I feel 20 pounds lighter and 10 years younger.  The color, cut and fit are amazing.  You can get a dress similar to this made much more cheaply, but I don't think you would get the same luxe feeling from the cheap version.  It is made so beautifully and hangs flawlessly.  The fabric is thin enough to be comfortable in the warmest weather, but not flimsy.  I really cannot overstate how great this dress is... it might be my most favorite piece my stylist has ever picked.  It might be most favorite piece I have ever had in the last decade!

So here's a thought:  if you are on track to get a bouquet of expensive flowers and a burnt breakfast for Mother's Day this year, may I suggest you drop your family a little hint and ask for a Stitch Fix gift card instead?   It will take you a little time to fill out the survey and really get the hang of getting the most out of this service, but the lasting feeling of having one thing about your life simplified is definitely worth it to me.  You can use this referral code: 

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Whimsy's favorite part of this fix.... you guessed it!  The box!  She played in it the whole time Mommy tried on her clothes!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Broken China Mosaic Cottage Sign - Two Years in the Making

More than two years ago, my friends asked me to make a mosaic sign for their cottage on Cape Cod.  I love making custom orders, but I always quake inside after making one, worrying that my idea and the client's idea might be too different (so far, that has only happened once, but it was not fun).  Making a custom order for a friend is even more intense because I want a level of perfection that I am never sure if I can deliver and my friends probably never even know I am shooting for. This leads to the inevitable procrastination that most artist struggle with.  In this case, that procrastination had some benefits:  in that LOOOOOONG  process of developing this piece, I created a new technique, found two new products that change the way I work, and ultimately ended up with a piece I couldn't have made two years ago.

my original sketch, from two years ago
We started the collaboration with a peek inside the cottage, which is decorated with beach-y pastels. My friend showed me a collection of signs he liked for inspiration. From there, it was a long wait, because I had just started to mosaic with words and was experimenting with techniques for the best readability.  And then I got pregnant with Whimsy and that REALLY slowed things down, because by that time I had begun cutting letters out with my wet saw.  A session with the wet saw means suiting up in a plastic apron because it sprays water all over the place, not to mention boots and safety glasses.  These aren't fun to wear in the hot summer months, but they are even less fun in the cold.  I couldn't reach the saw well enough with a giant pregnant belly and then I couldn't find a time when the baby was sleeping, but also somebody was home to help take care of her because the saw would wake her up.  It took a long time, but eventually, I got the letters for the double-sided sign all cut out of tile remnants I found at the Habitat Re-Store.  I chose the dark sandy color with an idea of how I would fill out the other colors, but once I cut them out, I realized my original idea was never going to work and had to abandon that idea. I also realized I wouldn't be happy with the sign unless both sides looked exactly alike. My lettering is usually free-form, but I would need to make them match, so I did a lot more drawing and guessing about the sizing, which is frankly just a lucky guess, ultimately. The other labor-intensive part of the lettering was using the Dremel to carve out the interiors of the letters. I didn't cut all the way through these, but rather just took off the glaze, which I knew would capture some grout during the final steps and add a nice weathered texture to the final project.

The other big challenge for the sign was creating something that would survive the elements of a northern beach.  I have finally developed a technique for mailboxes using silicone to attach the china, which allows for expansion in temperature changes. But that is on steel.  I would need to base the sign on wood; and wood and weather don't mix.  I knew from you-tube videos that there was a product that I could coat the wood with to repel moisture, but it took me more trips to Lowes to actually FIND this product than I care to admit.  I was thrown off the hunt because the video I watched showed a product that was pink when wet and dried purple and this product was green and turned a darker teal when dry. Also, the product in the video appeared to be rather gummy and this was more like a finger-paint consistency. And sidenote: after asking literally dozens of male salespeople for help in finding the product, it was a female worker who finally helped me find the product I needed, which had been under my nose in the flooring department the whole time.  (Sensitivity training in home-stores should be required. I can't tell you how many times I've been asked just what "my husband's project" is. A little pet peeve I should write about in another post. I digress.)

With a suitable weather-proofing agent found, I could use a simple birch board as the base for the mosaic, instead of a cedar board, which I couldn't find in my local home-store in the dimensions I needed.  This kept the sign from being too thick and too heavy. I should note that in hindsight, I wish I had attached the eyehooks for hanging at this point, but I was still shopping for sign holders at this point, and was uncertain about the placement.  I ultimately decided that there were more sign-holder options than sands on the shore and I decided to just make the sign and let the sign-holder be a secondary project.

Next came the layout plan.  Since my original sketch did not include all of the words that my friends wanted on the sign, I needed to do a lot of tweaking.  The color of the water-proofing agent really distracted me and more than once, I thought about painting over it with white paint just to help me with the layout. Everyone always asks how long a mosaic takes to make, and this is the time I always think of when they ask. It involves a lot of moving things around, standing on chairs and squinting. In this case, several four-hour sessions passed before I landed on a layout I deemed suitable.  It needed to be friendly, but not juvenile or crafty; and it needed readability without sacrificing beauty.  It should feel like a beach-cottage without being cliche'.  Finally, it needed some structure, or else it was going to be the worst thing ever... boring.

In studying the inspiration signs we first looked at, I noticed a star as a nautical motif that wasn't completely overwhelming and it provided the structure we needed.  Drawing a star on that scale really made me wish I had paid more attention in geometry class.   I finally abandoned my ruler and compass and went with free-handing and eyeballing.  You
know...really technical.

This started the exploration of color and pattern that would have me trying on dishes like my daughter tries on outfits in the morning.  More standing on chairs and squinting, more questioning the universe, and second guessing my life-choices and abilities.  This is the part of the project when you are fully convinced that you are over your head, you will never make this work, and you have made a huge mistake.

So you eat some chocolate and keep at it.  You can give up at this point and take a break, but I have found that this is pretty much the moment when success kisses failure.  If you walk away, you only prolong the agony.  Better to breathe through the pain and hope the labor isn't too long.



I was a little fixated on the address part of the sign "124 L.C.R" being done with the mosaic dishes, by Pier One.  They literally look like small mosaic tiles. I wanted them to be a nod to my client's love for New York City and the subway signs there. The "sign within a sign" was also one of the motifs in the inspiration pictures.  It's a small allusion, but it was a big deal to me.

At this point, I knew I was close, but it was still lacking the real flourish it needed.  I don't know what set off the sunset gradient idea, but maybe it was my own honeymoon on Martha's Vinyard.  We stayed long enough to watch the sunset before taking the ferry back to the mainland, and consequently almost ended our week-old-marriage by falling asleep at the wheel on the drive back to our Scranton apartment.  

So starting with the cobalt waves, I used some Fiestaware and some not-so-Fiestaware to create the blue.

Next, I use a lovely rare coral-red dish, with a hand-painted effect. I topped this with a salmon color, which has an antique wood crackle design, made by Wedgewood, "Sara's Garden." The pink is a 1950s Luray Pastel.  The yellow is by Royal China, c. 1960s. 
Above the yellow, I used J & G Meakin, English Staffordshire Sterling "Renaissance;" one of my favorites of all time. Green and blue come together in the next pattern, also by Royal China, c. 1970s. I topped it off with a sky blue, unmarked mid-century dish.  Top and bottom are capped with an aluminum channel to help with moisture and to give the eye-bolts strength. To each side, I added a series of small aluminum squares. These are the remnants from the process of making decorative aluminum railings. A sweet friend of mine gave them to me to work with after her husband passed away. It was his business in New Jersey that produced the oddly dimpled little bits of metal. I applied them with silicone glue as well.

Finally, I grouted the piece in white, and applied the eye-bolts. I then added some more silicone to the top seam to divert moisture, and sealed the entire piece, front and back, with professional grade sealer.   I also added a bit of acrylic paint to the interiors of the letters, which will certainly wear over time, adding a nice patina of age that seems appropriate. 

I can't wait to see how it looks in its new home.  Packing up a piece of this size feels a little bit like shipping one of your children, and I am resting better now that I know it arrived safe and sound at its destination.

So now you know how a double-sided mosaic sign is made and you can order one for yourself.  It probably won't take me two years to make another one. Probably.