Tomato Roulette

Gardeners in New England tend to judge our short growing season by one crop: tomatoes. It was “a good year,” “a bad year” or an “OK year.” Sure, the cucumbers might delight for months and the blueberries, packed in the freezer, might get you through the winter, but nothing beats a juicy summer tomato, fresh off the vine and warm from the sun.

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Tomatoes, settling in for a summer of growing

The past few years have been blah for tomatoes. I think the soil in my raised beds was to blame. Even though I rotate the tomato crop between two beds and liberally supplement the soil with my own compost, raised-bed soil loses its oomph after a while. So this year, I’m trying four strategies:

  1. Replace about half of the soil. I had several yards of clean, screened topsoil dug in with the old soil. The result was a richer soil, but the screened stuff got mixed in with the actual ground soil, full of small rocks that have irked New England gardeners since Colonial times. So I will need to rescreen next year. It’s fine for this year.
  2. Plant further apart. I’ve tended to overbuy tomato plants because of all the fascinating varieties you can get nowadays. The plants tend to crowd one another by midsummer, and inevitably tomatoes rot on the vine because I can’t find them through the dense foliage. This year I followed the directive to plant each 2 feet away from the next.
  3. Skip most of the heirlooms. Many lesser-known tomato varieties provide fabulous flavor and gorgeous looks, but a paltry harvest, less disease resistance or other drawbacks. I have labored with these tomato varieties many times and have concluded that while they’re fun, they’re really not worth the trouble to invest in heavily. Hey – if you’ve got the time and patience, go for it. But I have wasted too much time and money on plants that succumb to disease and insects,  or that produce only a few tomatoes late in the season, to get excited anymore. For heirlooms, Brandywine is our favorite, so I planted a few.
  4. Try a test garden for commercial varieties. Many common varieties produce bushels of tomatoes, but they might not win beauty contests or pack as much flavor as heirlooms. I decided this year to try out several common commercial varieties, in search of two I can rely on year after year for volume with decent enough taste and reliability to be my “go-to” tomatoes. . I’m trying these:
    1. Big Boy – the granddaddy of big-ass backyard garden tomatoes
    2. Better Boy – a variety derived from Big Boy that produces more, but smaller, fruits with a slightly shorter growing season
    3. Brandy Boy  – a hybrid of Brandywine and the “boy” varieties
    4. Big Beef – Big Boy crossed with a traditional Beefsteak tomato
    5. Fourth of July – An early variety that produces loads of smaller fruits

Finally, I planted go-to cherry tomatoes, Super Sweet 100s, and tried a yellow cherry variety, just for fun.

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Gratuitous Garden Photos

It’s rained so much in New England this spring that people are joking that it’s like “Old England.” I’m not complaining, especially when I see the results of this wet weather and milder temperatures.

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Perennials having their moment – with a weeping cherry and Japanese lilacs for company in the back
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More perennials – Shasta daisies, phlox, bee balm, coreopsis, veronica and red yarrow showing off.

This marks the second year for these perennial beds that line a walkway from the driveway to our back door. I am pleased with how it turned out, with a few issues. A few things didn’t make it over the winter, and a few things grew differently than my expectations.

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Coreopsis crowding out the veronica

When I bought the coreopsis and veronica plants, for some reason, I thought the veronica would be taller. Maybe it’s stunted from crowding or not enough sun. Anyway, it’s fun to see the purple spikes try to break through the sunny yellow coreopsis crowd. I’ll move them to the front of the bed in the fall.

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Phlox and red yarrow

Here’s another unusual color combo – pink phlox and red yarrow. I think the blue undertone of the phlox makes it work with the red. I also like the contrast in flower shape and structure. Even if it clashes, who cares?

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Poppies… you are getting sleepy…

The poppies have been gone by for a few weeks, but I couldn’t resist a photo anyway,

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Jake photobombing the roses

My roses really went to town. I didn’t get around to pruning them all – a few bushes to one side of the garden were left to their own devices. See what a difference pruning makes?

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Pruned roses
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Unpruned roses

Even my little yellow climbing rose is putting out.

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After years of frustration with this yellow climber, I decided to just let it do what it wants. It will never really climb onto the trellis. I will always need to tie it. Boo. Look at the flowers though!

Trees are also loving all the water. This redbud is a stunner:

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Eastern redbud with its variegated pink and green leaves

I have lots of peaches in my future:

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Elberta peach

And even my reluctant Cortland apple is putting out for a change.

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Cortland apple

And with some luck (and defense against birds) buckets of blueberries are in the future.

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Early Girl blueberries

I never water plants as much as I should. I mean, I will water annuals and my vegetables, and anything in pots or planters. But that’s it. I leave perennials, bushes and trees to their own devices. Seeing this year’s bounty makes me realize I ought to water everything more often, if Mother Nature hasn’t.

Sad-ass Menopause PJs

Here’s my latest glamour-filled sewing project:

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Menopause PJs to the rescue!

This is what happens when desperation + 2 hours + very sheer fabric = project.

Let’s overlook the tunnelling and unevenness of the coverstitched hems, the stretched out neckline and the fact that one leg is slightly shorter than the other, and focus on WHY these PJs came to be.

Damn menopause night sweats are keeping me up. Every night. I was desperate for some lightweight PJs in cool cotton jersey. I bought 4 yards of this featherweight stuff online.

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The sheerest cotton jersey ever

After a particularly bad episode last week, I got home from work, scarfed down dinner and got to work. Two hours later I had a set of PJs. The top is from New Look 6330. The pants are McCall’s 7297. The pants originally were enormous so I cut two sizes smaller and the fit is great.

I have never sewn so fast. It actually took longer to change my BabyLock Evolution from serge mode to coverstitch mode than it did to make the shorts. Let’s say I was motivated. I also didn’t sweat the details – enough sweating going on as it is.

They’re pretty successful so far – definitely better for adjusting temperature than my old PJs. I like a 3/4 sleeve because my shoulders and arms get cold above the covers, while the wide neckline affords easy venting when I sit up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat. The shorts keep my bottom just right. And the fabric is so light it wicks away moisture pretty well without getting soggy.

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Back view  – don’t look too closely.

I have enough fabric to make another pair – sounds like another after-work project later this week.

Ending Me Made May with a Whimper

So, it’s been cold here this May. I’d love to lay some of my summery me-made fashions on you this month, but I didn’t want to freeze my ass off. I ended up repeating a few things, so no point in taking pictures again. I did manage a me-made item every day, even though I had a couple of migraines (thank you – me-made PJs and T-shirts).

Here are a few unique looks. First, for the office:

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Head-to-toe Me Made – Style Arc Creative Cate top, Muse Jenna cardigan and Vogue 1312 skirt
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Style Arc Jasmine pants in stretch wool gabardine
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Simplicity 1202 top made from Nicole Miller fabric

For that last one, I was not having a good day at work – or a good hair day, either – sheesh! I was also wearing navy gabardine pants from McCalls’ 6901, but I couldn’t be bothered to get a full shot. Sorry, not sorry.

Here are some looks for home office and weekend wear:

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Kwik Sew 3452 sweatshirt. Yeah it was that cold!
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Breton tee from the GBSB book
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Tunic from Happy Homemade Sew Chic – I finally took off the black lace at the sleeves. Dog still will not pose for selfies.

My favorite look of the last week:

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Tunic from Happy Homemade Sew Chic

I was headed out to a hair appointment and then a baby shower. The skirt is RTW from the Boden catalog. This was the one nice day all week. I made the most of it!

And my “finish weak” look to finish May:

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Cardigan of shame

This cardigan is from Happy Homemade Sew Chic. It was the first knit item I’d sewn in ages, and it’s pretty… rough. For starters, the high-contrast geometric print is only on one side, so it’s not a great choice for anything where the pale and plain wrong side shows. Then there’s the error in factoring in how the pleats would work at the neckline with the fabric – not symmetrical at all. And finally I sewed on this silver clasp (the style of which has nothing to do with the style of the fabric, or the style of the garment) because I thought it would look better if it closed in front. Sure. Whatever.

I finish weak because I believe in showing the good, bad and ugly of my creations. I am not someone who photographs every garment and look to perfection. And I certainly don’t sew everything to perfection, either!

One Art Form Inspires Another

I was delighted when visiting the Cheekwood Estate in suburban Nashville, Tennessee to find a small exhibit by local fashion students. The museum tasked the students, who are in the class of 2021 at the O’More School of Design at Belmont University, with creating a garment inspired by a work of art in the collection.

Take a look:

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Dress and collage by Amy May, fashion student at Belmont University
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“Windy Day at the Sea” by Martha Walter

While this design is a bit on the nose, I love it all the same. Whenever I see those late 19th -century and early 20th-century paintings of women in flowing summer gowns at the seaside, like in this painting by Martha Walter, I can’t help but imagine the dresses as giant sails, blowing the women to freedom, away from what I imagine were pretty confining lives.

A close-up shows how the artist, Amy May, underlined the gauzy bodice with fabric in an antique map motif, like a secret underneath the proper summer white.

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This coat, by Justice Yberra, was inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s drawing “Banana Flower.”

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Dress and collage by Justice Ybarra
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“Banana Flower” by Georgia O’Keeffe

I liked how the artist included her muslin and pattern in the display, so you could see how she crafted the coat’s pleats to mimic the flower’s organic form.

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Design by Justice Ybarra

This showstopper was by Samantha Edington:

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Dress and collage by Samantha Edington

The collage includes imagery from the 1920s and metallic elements, reflected in the organza the artist chose. It creates such a mood!. You can see how the heavy gathers in the skirt were inspired by “The Feathered Hat,” by M. Jean McLane.

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“The Feathered Hat” by M. Jean McLane

I have sought out a few exhibits like this lately. I love the places where art and fashion intersect. I’d love to be more creative with my makes. As I gain confidence, I hope I can create a work of art worth wearing, someday!

Me Made May Week 3

Hi everyone – here are some quick Me Made May looks from week 3. So far, I have worn at least one Me-Made garment each day, sometimes head-to-toe looks. I am delighted that I have come this far, and I am confident I can finish out the month.

First, the rest of the looks from last week’s vacation, where the temperatures soared into the low 90s after starting the week in the 50s:

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Blouse from La Mia Boutique July/Aug 2018 and Maria Denmark Yasmin Yoke Skirt
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Lounging my the pool in the Tunic with Roll-up Sleeves from “Happy Homemade Sew Chic”
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Headed to a botanical garden in my poppy print top from Simplicity 1202 and Yasmin skirt
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The denim Yasmin skirt again, worn with an upcycled tablecloth top from Happy Homemade Sew Chic’s Tunic with Lace
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Dinner with my hubby in my Jalie drop-pocket cardigan and RTW dress

I went to the office yesterday and decided to dress up since I needed to get my head back in the game:

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Sewaholic Cordova jacket, Style Arc Creative Cate top and RTW pants in my office’s fancy elevator.

And then a couple of work-at-home days with suitably casual looks:

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The tunic top again, this time with the Seamwork Moji pants
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Planting spring flowers in a top from New Look 6330.

I notice that a few of my me-made items are nearing their expiration dates. This New Look top, for example, didn’t come out right and hasn’t worn well. The neckline is ripply and the hem is wonky. I wear it for things like exercising and working outdoors. Also, let’s face it, my upcycled tablecloth-turned-top is pretty funky (as was intended) but not a great look for me.

Likewise, that Cordova jacket is on its last legs. The zipper area is all rippled – I am not sure why but I suspect that the interfacing shrank when I had the jacket cleaned. It was always a little big, but it seems to be getting bigger as the years go by. I really need to make a new jacket for work.

 

Breaking the RTW Fast

My “RTW fast” lasted until May 12. Then I binged. Sort of.

The idea behind a RTW fast is to refrain from buying any ready-to-wear clothing except for lingerie, hosiery, shoes, and belts, and garments that you’re required to wear for some reason, such as a work uniform or a bridesmaid’s dress.

I thought this would be a great challenge to up my game and to force me to sew a few projects to stretch my abilities, such as jeans and a suit. So I signed up.

And then I hit a bad combination of vacation, poor packing decisions and unseasonable weather. It was much colder in Kentucky last week than it should have been. I mean, 20-30 degrees colder. It was also rainy. And I did not pack a raincoat.

I suffered through the first day of vacation, shivering under me-made tops and sweaters. On the second day, I caved in. We were headed to Churchill Downs to watch the horse races, which normally calls for an outfit like this:

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“Run for the Roses” dress, pattern is Tunic Dress with Lace from “Happy Homemade Sew Chic”

It was 50 degrees and drizzly. I ended up looking like this:

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(Look away from this hideous jacket – focus on the mint julep instead.)

I had a mint julep anyway and ended the day up about $4.

I bought this hideous Army green jacket at J.C. Penney. I had tried to buy a jacket at any of the independent downtown Louisville clothing stores, but all they all only had summer clothes on offer. The morning of the races I Googled “shopping mall near me” and drove 15 minutes to a suburban sprawl shopping center.

I hadn’t been to a mall in a few years, and I hadn’t been to a J.C. Penney since… who knows? My mother gave me a gift certificate once, many years ago, and I spent it on socks, underwear and undershirts for me and my husband.

Anyway… the pickings were slim. It took me 10 minutes to hunt down a saleswoman, and she had no idea where I might find a raincoat or jacket. I figured my best chance was the sale rack, where bereft out-of-season clothes hung in a jumbled display.

This jacket was literally the only thing for sale that would be warm enough and remotely fit me. It originally cost $64 but was marked down to $28.79. It had nice heavy copper zippers and some quality details like zippered double-welt pockets and proper facings, but only half of the snaps on the placket would snap and some of the topstitching was wonky. 100% cotton, made in China. Oh well. I cursed myself yet again for not bringing a coat, but I resigned myself to buying it and prepared to leave.

And then it happened. What happens to lots of people when they go shopping, I imagine.

The lure of cheap, fast fashion took hold.

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Shopping – grab it all!

I browsed the rest of the sale rack and identified other “bargains”:

  • A black V-neck sweater in a cotton-rayon-nylon blend, made in Indonesia. I already had packed a me-made black cardigan for the trip, but I thought I also might need this heavier pull-on style. Originally $32, marked down to $7.99.
  • A black lightweight nylon and mesh windbreaker, made in China. I convinced myself that since the Army green jacket was on the heavier side, I might also need a lightweight jacket for warmer rainy days on this trip. Originally $54, marked down to $26.99.

I drifted to another sale rack and started looking at tops and pants because, well, everything was so cheap. Then I remembered that I didn’t need anything else. Then I remembered I was trying not to buy RTW, especially cheap, foreign-made fast fashion. I slunk off to the register instead. In all, I spent maybe 5 minutes choosing, trying on, and deciding to buy these garments.

The black sweater was probably a good buy – it fits well and the fabric seems nice (we’ll see how it washes and wears over time). I wore it a few times on vacation because it remained chilly and my me-made cardigan was pretty lightweight.

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RTW sweater of shame, worn with a me-made Maria Denmark Yasmin Yoke Skirt

The windbreaker is really a sad thing. I’m sure I will wear it, someday. But I did not need it and I should not have bought it. Because I sew my own clothes, I have certain… let’s say… standards. While my me-made apparel is not perfect, I would never do something like this:

 

Yep, that’s a serged seam in the center of the hood that can be seen from the right side if the hood is worn down. The edge of the hood was serged with exposed threads instead of a clean turn-and-topstitch finish. Seriously. How hard would it have been to draft a flat-fell for that one seam and properly finish the edge? Also, the elastic was inserted into cuff  by sandwiching it into a turn-and-topstitch cuff that was serged closed, instead of inserting the elastic into a casing so that the edge is clean. You can see not only the serging from the right side, but also the edge of the elastic!

I would like to know what goes into these fast-fashion RTW designs. Yes, they are meant to be cheap and quick, but how much cheaper and quicker is it to do something so crappy vs. something decent? Without these two gross finishes, this would be a nice little jacket instead of an embarrassment.

My main takeaway from this experience is that I spent about a minute buying this jacket. That’s the dirty little secret of fast fashion that no one talks about. This stuff is designed fast, made fast and bought fast. I was a little astonished at the sale price and didn’t think further. If I had looked at this jacket with a critical eye for 30 seconds more, I would have noticed these big flaws and would have passed it by. Part of the blame rides with the consumer, too.

Anyway, I will reinstate my RTW fast for the rest of the year and finish Me Made May. And next time I go on vacation, I will definitely check the weather forecast before I leave, and pack a coat!