Wednesday, June 26, 2013

LA Fabric Shopping & Science Geekery

We've visited LA several times in the past and spent most of our time eating.  For this particular trip, we decided to DO something as well as eat (ahem, priorities!).

Fabric Shopping - LA Fashion District
While the kids napped and my husband was mindlessly playing soccer games on his phone, I got to spend a precious hour at Michael Levine, a fantastically large (70,000 sq. ft.) fabric store in the heart of LA's Fashion District.  ML is split into 3 stores - the main store (pictured below), a home decor fabrics store across the street, and The Loft (also across the street) that sells a POUND of fabric for $2.50.  Unfortunately, the Loft was closed when I went, but I will definitely be checking it out on my next trip.

 Fabric Heaven - prices ranged from $3/yd and up

Well-priced zippers and 6000 yard cones of thread were only $2.25

Designer fabric options include Armani, Liberty of London, and more


The Loft and a peek at other fabric stores (so many!) in the area.  I could spend days here if given the opportunity.  

My loot:
Soft neutral jersey, $5/yd

Brushstrokes chiffon, $3.50/yd

Chain print knit, $5/yd

Navy Stripes Knit, $5/yd

Navy stripes cotton, $5.50/yd

Science Geekery
I am a tried and true science nerd.  I loved the hand-me-down chemistry set my cousin gave me (though all the "cool" chemicals were used up) and spent many years working in Pharmaceuticals as a Chemist.  So I was delighted when the rest of the family was as excited as I was about visiting Griffith Observatory (no admission charge, but I'd recommend making a donation to help support such a wonderful facility):

Periodic Table display

V learning about the stars

Both kids were intrigued by the exhibits

Nice views of the city on their decks

Hollywood sign nearby

 What are your go-to places when traveling?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Travel Maxi Dress DIY

On a whim, we decided to road trip to LA and visit some family.  In preparation for the 6 hour drive, I decided to slap together a maxi on the serger.  The words "slap together" did not work for me as my attempt to quickie sew backfired and I wound up tearing the dress apart 3 times (working up till 2 am the night before the trip).  I still need to properly hem the thing (right now it's narrow hemmed by my serger which is too visible of a hem for me), but this works for now and it lived up to my needs of comfy travel garb.

Machines: Regular sewing machine w/ twin needle for gathering and serger for all other construction.  LOVE the built-in stretch of serger stitching on knits!

Materials: 2 yards red ponte roma fabric (this is quite heavy, but very stretchy - modal might have been a better choice, but I wanted to use something I had on hand)

Difficulty: Easy if you don't try to shortcut it (I eyeballed instead of pinning - bad idea)

Dress Pattern: Modified bodice from McCall's M5893 (cut the neckline extra high then drew the asymmetry and cut), self-drafted skirt, bodice edges finished with facings rather than full lining to make sure it didn't get too thick / hot (ponte)

Another asymmetrical neckline

Long and drape-y with gathers at the center front and back.  This helps with tummy camouflage and I think the vertical lines look elongating (at least I hope so).  Belting it made it seem slimmer IRL, but the pictures here don't seem to look that great.

 The color IRL is more like this bright red from my original instagram

Will post about the fabric stores and food here soon!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

J. Crew Factory Finds and Weekend Eats

J. Crew Factory has been running 50% off their entire store quite a few times this year and it never fails to lure me in.  I'm thankful that it's relatively close so that I could sneak in during lunch on Friday (tried going on a Saturday before and all the sizes I wanted were wiped out).

Tailored Boy Blazer in Linen, White, Sz 0, $70 after in-store discount (here)
5" Printed Broken-In Chino Shorts, Red Nautical, Sz 4, $26 after in-store discount (here)

I'm a little particular about blazers.  I need them to look good both buttoned and unbuttoned.  It seems like many retailers provide a blazer that meets one of those needs, but not the other (honestly, I think it's because I'm don't fill out the chest area very well).  Thankfully, J. Crew Schoolboy blazers and the above Factory Boy Blazer (fit similarly) work well for my body type.  I also appreciate the 2-button closure since the 1-button variety tends to look floppy in the chest for me.  I wish JCF would quit scrunching the sleeves, it makes for some extra ironing when I get home.

True to the "broken-in" moniker, the chino shorts were very soft and comfortable against my skin.  I thought the print was also adorable.  The thing that made me hesitate was the length.  I think I typically wear 3" inseam shorts and the 5" seemed a tiny bit frumpy on me?  I cuffed it in the picture on the right, but then some of the wrong side of the fabric would show.  I wonder if there are 4" shorts out there?  Perhaps a DIY to tackle?  My usual size 4 fit comfortably and sits low right above my hip bone with just a little bit of extra room for lunch ease.  
Verdicts:  Yes to the blazer and no to the shorts.  I would recommend these shorts to taller ladies though.

Cora Dress in Festival Green, 0, $30 after discount, (here)
I tried this dress in a size 2 (reviewed here) not too long ago and found that it was a little too big, so I was rather pleased to see that a 0 had popped back onto the clearance racks.  The smaller size fit better at the waist and chest making me look less rectangular in shape.  
Verdict: Though I try not to buy items I can sew myself, I do tend to cave when it's something at a good price / fit / quality like this.  It saves me some time in trying to recreate it!

After using my gift card,  I took both items home for $57.  Not bad for a blazer AND dress!

On to our weekend dining:

Clam Chowder at Hog Island Oysters (originally found this restaurant via Ping!)
Loaded with clams and veggies, this savory treat is the best tasting clam chowder I've had to date.  

Grilled Cheese
This is another "best" in my book.  A grown-up grilled cheese for the foodie.

More details about each item from their menu:

If you are a chowder fan, I'd highly recommend checking out HIO.  They have a location in SF (Ferry Building) and in Napa.  Hope everyone had a wonderful Father's Day weekend!

P.S. A note about shoes - I typically wear one pair of sandals on the weekends (not the ones above) that provide me the look of a heel (~3") while being comfortable enough to walk all day and sprint after the children when needed.  They are quite old and I still wear them very regularly even though I know most of you hate them.  I'm quite fond of them for being workhorse shoes that have maintained their quality and fit for over a decade, but also know that I will need replacements at some point.  If you've run across a sandal with height and comfort for walking all day / a little running, I would be grateful for your suggestion (looking for a neutral like brown or black).  Thanks in advance :)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Make Your Own Printed Fabric + Dress

Inspired by a J. Crew Factory dress (here), I looked everywhere for an embroidered fabric.  Not having luck, I pondered different ways to make my own.  I thought about renting an embroidery machine (too much hassle), sewing on embroidery trims (surprisingly pricey), stamping (most designs / stamps are too small), freehand painting (um yeah, I don't have that kind of talent), and finally the simplest method - painting via stencil.  See my first painted dress here inspired by Mondo's Rorschach dress.

DIY Printed Fabric Dress

Difficulty: Easy / Intermediate

Time: 3 days to paint (1 hour of actual painting) and dry.  ~3 hours for the dress.

Pattern:  My favorite bodice pattern McCall's M5972 (adjusted width this way, shortened torso to ribs in hopes of being big-lunch-friendly), self-drafted skirt (just a gathered rectangle), and tan pockets to minimize pocket show-through (nice tip from Kelly!)

  • Fabric (I used 100% cotton twill from Joann's here, 57" wide, 2 yards)
  • Tulip Soft Fabric Paint (here)
  • Paint sponge
  • Paint palette (I used a plastic lid)
  • Stencil - Martha Stewart "Tendrils"(here)
1.  Try your stencil, paint, and paintbrush out on a scrap piece of your intended fabric.  Try out different methods / materials / positioning until you find something you like.

2.  Cut out your dress pattern pieces.

3.  Position your stencils onto your cut pieces of fabric.  I taped the corners to make sure they didn't move around too much during the painting process.

Stencil Set-Up and Painting

4.  Lightly dip your brush into the paint and remove excess.  
Note:  With the Tulip Soft paint, I found you did not have to wet your brush prior to painting.  This actually made a giant mess and caused the stenciled design to bleed.

5.  Paint.  I dabbed my paint in to saturate the color, but use whatever method you liked from Step 1.  Per the paint directions, dry flat for at least 4 hours (mine dried overnight).  Fabric may be washed after 72 hours.

  • I highly recommend rinsing your stencils immediately after each use.  I neglected to do this and now have paint-gooped stencils.
  • I also recommend doing small sections at a time and then allow to dry.

Looking forward to finding more fun stencils for future projects :)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sewing 101: Blind Hem Tutorial (Using a Zipper Foot)

For what seems like an eternity, every time I did a blind hem on the sewing machine (had hand sewed my hems for about the first year), it seemed like such a long and arduous process.  I considered purchasing a blind hem foot to help me get a better, more uniform look, but a lightbulb turned on yesterday as I was inserting a zipper.

My problem with using the All-Purpose Foot was lack of visibility.  I wasn't sure how best to align my fabric to ensure a consistent, even stitch.  The Zipper Foot's open sides addressed the visibility issue while the notched area addressed fabric alignment.

Difficulty: Easy 

Time: About ~15 minutes for a skirt hem

Materials: Zipper Foot, thread that closely matches your garment

1.  Try on your garment and pin your desired hem length.

2.  Set your machine to the stitch in the photo below:

3.  Switch out your All Purpose Foot for the Zipper Foot and fold your fabric as directed below.

This post was inspired by Ping and our sewing conversations :)

For the traditional method using a blind hem foot, check out a great tutorial here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Hong Kong: Fabric Shopping & Travel Musings

This post marks my last (finally! Sorry for drawing it out, I didn't have the energy to make one gigantic post) Hong Kong travel installment.  If interested, here are the other posts:
Aside from the food, I was most excited about the prospect of fabric shopping in Hong Kong.  After finding this useful post from Traveller's Yarn, I knew to check out Ki Lung Street in Sham Shui Po for good bargains.

Finds from Ki Lung Street in Sham Shui Po

Fabric swatches galore in Sham Shui Po

Where we were - we also noted some street markets in the vicinity selling similar wares as the Ladies Market, but at more competitive pricing.

Recommended by my Aunts, we also visited the Western Market in Central for higher end silks and brocades:
Western Market in Central

Since I'm still not crazy confident in my sewing skills, I wound up buying a little brocade but did not purchase any silks.

Scenic Pics:
 Tsim Sha Tsui on a gloomy day

 Central (or Sheung Wan - I can't remember)

Hung Hom

The rest of this will be a very wordy post, so please feel free to skip :)

HK Preparation
Almost every major decision in my life has been researched first on Google - house hunting, car buying / selling, travel, etc.  It goes without saying that many little things are also Googled first - where to eat, what to do in X, where to find X.  We had originally planned on visiting Hong Kong around my birthday in October.  How apropos would it be to visit your birthplace on your birthday?  My mother has always planned our Asia trips with a travel agent and I wanted to do a pulse-check to see if that was still the best / most economical way to travel.  So I tapped the shoulders of fellow Asia-travel enthusiasts Elle, Cee, and Jean, and found none had gone the travel agency route.  (To appease Mom, I also checked with several travel agents and the prices were the same or slightly higher.  I *think* if you were planning a multi-country trip, the prices might be better.)

I first did some Kayak research which essentially told me October was a semi-pricey time to travel, but March / April had some good deals.  I was excited to see that Singapore Airlines (have always heard such good things about them) had a direct flight from SFO to HKG and went on their website to find out more about their flight "amenities".  To my surprise, the prices on their website were over $100 cheaper than quoted on Kayak!  A bonus was that the A380 also offered bassinets for children under age 2 - perfect for Baby E.

The Flight
Even with 2 little ones, our flights (both redeyes to take advantage of sleepy children) went pretty smoothly.  Our son either slept, watched the bevy of in-flight entertainment options (so many movies and programming!), or played with the iPad.  Our daughter slept for small snippets and had some cranky moments, but we tried our best in entertaining her with family photos / videos and snacks.  Often lauded, the service, food, and options of Singapore Airlines really did live up to the hype.  If given the choice, this will be our go-to HK airline from now on.

In Hong Kong
HK is not much of a morning person.  Most shops do not open until noon-ish, but there are plenty of yummy breakfast places to occupy your time (mostly open at 7 am).  Our daily schedule consisted of cha chaan teng breakfast - nap - lunch - sightseeing - nap/swim w/ the kids - dinner.

I gave up trying to look cute after Day 1 in favor of my running shoes, cropped pants, and loose, flowy tops with a scarf and cardigan at the ready for heavily air conditioned malls / eateries.

Fashion-wise, it appeared as though there were 2 general style populations - those that were uber casual (Converse sneakers, skinny pants, flowy tops, little to no makeup) and those that were willing to suffer for fashion (sky high heels, short and/or body con dresses, very made up).  I quickly fell into the casual one and was thankful I could travel in comfort without looking too touristy.  The amount of walking we did helped offset the mass amounts of food we consumed.  It was that much walking and that much sweating (humid high 80s)!

If you plan on traveling to HK or a similar destination, I would highly recommend the following:
  • Look for hotels within an easy walking distance from the MTR (mass transit rail)
  • Take a little time to map out where you'll be spending your time and where you'll be staying.  You wouldn't want to stay in Tung Chung if you're planning on spending the majority of your time in Kowloon Bay (opposite sides, multiple transfers).
  • Bring your most comfortable shoes
  • Bring weather-appropriate garments (read: hot weather), but also a jacket and scarf.  The temperature indoors is a stark contrast to the heat outdoors.  Garments with pockets are a plus!
  • Be wary of pickpockets when it comes to your wallet / purse.  I wore my crossbody bag in front of me.  Seeing people with backpacks worn in front is a common occurrence.
  • Many hotels now supply you with a converter.  Check if this is offered before you buy one.
  • If you have small children, bring a small, lightweight stroller that can recline.  Between the jet lag and all the walking, they spent a good portion of the day zonked out in the stroller.
  • Bring small "fresh" (either ones they haven't played with in a while or new ones) toys to occupy the children on the plane
Looking forward to going back in a few years!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Fitting Room Reviews: J. Crew Factory & More

We wound up going to the outlets this past weekend and there were some decent sales at a good number of stores.

First, J. Crew Factory:

Floral Embroidered Sundress, 0, $36, (here)
See also on Gigi
The sister dress to this one here, I was enamored with the embroidery and the price tag (on clearance rack for $60 with an additional 40% off).  The 0 fit well in the waist and throughout the skirt but was tight in the chest / ribs.  I also preferred the cap sleeves of the sister dress to this one.
Verdict: No, didn't fit well

Girls' Printed Poet Blouse in Neon Persimmon, 14, $33, (here)
I tried this on after seeing the pretty print on Cee, but was surprised that this girls' blouse was both too big and too small on me.  The frame was pretty narrow making it difficult to extend my arms, but the body was incredibly full and fluffy making me look like a balloon.  
Verdict: No.  Kids clothing is always a hit or miss, this one was definitely a miss for me.

Cora Dress in Festival Green, 2, $36, (here)
For the price / shape / color, I was sad that they didn't have my usual size 0.  Hoping that it would run small, I tried on the 2.  The fit wasn't horrible, but the extra roominess and floppy chest made me look more rectangular than usual.  This dress is probably TTS.
Verdict: No for a 2, but would def buy a 0 for the $36 price tag

Back in the late 90s, I remember there was a big scandal with Tommy Hilfiger being racist - particularly against African and Asian Americans - so I had always avoided his merchandise.  Upon googling it a few weeks ago, I found it was all an urban myth (details here).  Feeling like I was free to re-examine the brand, I stopped in the store and was rather drawn to the nautical theme / Americana colors.

Striped Tee, XS, $27
I really liked the single red stripe and roll-tab sleeves.  The fact that it was soft and fit well was icing on the cake.
Verdict: Purchased

Striped Sleeveless Blouse, XS, $24.99
Loved the stripes as per usual, but wondered if it might be TOO red / white / blue.  Body had too much volume for my taste.
Verdict: No, not for me

Next, we headed to Banana Republic Factory store:
Wrap Dress, 2P, $32 (clearance)
I loved the color scheme of this and wish it had been more flattering.  The dress was a pullover style and did not have any zippers / closures.  Though this is convenient for dressing, this often means the fit only works on certain body types.  It did not work for me.  I felt like the blouse-y fit / lack of definition was a poor choice for my shape.
Verdict: No, not flattering

Striped Dress, 0P, $60
Like with the one above, I love the blue / green color scheme, but eek!  This was definitely too small for me and it struggled to contain my Mommy hips.  The chest, because it is virtually nonexistent after nursing 2 children, fit fine.  A good option for smaller ladies!  (If you're wondering, that small hand belongs to my toddler who was directing me on what to try on next :)
Verdict: No, but I have some fabric to recreate something similar ;)

Today's OOTD:
DIY Handkerchief Peplum Dress (original post here)
2 eBay Necklaces

Hope everyone had a great weekend!


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