Reading progress report, September

This month I finished The Girl on the Train. I listened to most of it as an audiobook, but finished the last 10% on Kindle. I’m not usually one for thrillers so maybe that’s why this didn’t really grab me. It was well-constructed, but it was just a long game of “is this character violently psychopathic, or just a horrible person?” bingo. Not my favorite thing.

Completed: Between the World and Me; H is for Hawk; An Ember in the Ashes; The Wright Brothers; Hold Still; Americanah; Becoming Nicole; The Nightingale*; A Little Life*; The Girl on the Train

Still to read: Purity; All the Light We Cannot See

Books read this month: 1

Books read total: 10

Percentage of year complete: 75%

Percentage of books complete: 83%

Reading progress report, June

I didn’t complete any books on my list in May. In June I finished Becoming Nicole, by Amy Ellis Nutt. This is a nonfiction book, about a transgender teenager in Maine and her family. It had some interesting insights, but it almost felt too personal and invasive. Obviously the family had agreed to share a lot with the writer and knew that the book would be published, and wanted to share their experiences. It’s just my own penchant for privacy, I guess, especially for those under 18. The one aspect of transgender life that I hadn’t thought much about was that given increasing knowledge and hormone therapy, children who feel decidedly transgender before puberty can now receive medication that delays/changes puberty and then have surgery at 17 or 18, as long as parents/doctors agree. That’s a very different experience than having to wait until you’re older, or realizing your transgender-ness when you’re older and have been an adult for a while.

The year’s half over and thanks to my early binge reading, I’m still ahead of schedule despite my recent slowness. Then again, I’m less than 50 pages into War & Peace and it’s probably as long as the rest of the books put together!

I’ve eliminated a couple books as I’ve gone so it seems like a good idea to repost the entire list with my changes and what I’ve completed so far.

Read: Between the World and Me; H is for Hawk; An Ember in the Ashes; The Wright Brothers; Hold Still; Americanah; Becoming Nicole

Still to read (original list): Purity; The Girl on the Train; War & Peace

Eliminated: Fates & Furies; The Nightingale

Added: All the Light We Cannot See; A Little Life

Books read this month: 1

Books read total: 7

Percentage of year complete: 50%

Percentage of books complete: 58%

Another way to deal with dressing while losing weight

One of the things I truly love about the rise of the internet is that it allows us to do specialized things that otherwise wouldn’t be practical or cost-effective. Take the online sewing community, for example – before being able to meet other sewists online, most of us would be stuck trying to find a few sewing friends in our local area, or learning from books and magazines. I don’t know about you, but at least half of what I’ve learned about sewing technique, fitting and drafting I’ve learned online. I posted the other day about dressing while losing weight, and I’ve used two online services recently to make that process easier. While neither has to do with sewing directly, maybe someone else out there will also find them helpful.

The first is Gwynnie Bee, which can be described simply as “Netflix for clothes”. They have a set of items on their website and you choose which ones you’re interested in. Then they send them to you, you can keep an item as long as you want or send it back and receive another item from your virtual closet. I am a loyal reader of Wardrobe Oxygen, and Alison has been a Gwynnie Bee fan for a long time. I wasn’t sure about the idea or whether it’d be worth the money for me. But sometime earlier this summer when I’d had a bad day and had nothing to wear I signed up, and I’ve been really pleased. They offer sizes 10-24 but specialize in plus sizes; a lot of the brands they carry, although not all, start at a size 14. Especially if you are a plus size and are looking for more variety in your wardrobe, I would recommend you consider Gwynnie Bee. I kinda wish I’d known about it when I was a larger size.

The second is kinda the flip side of Gwynnie Bee, a way to get rid of the clothes that don’t work for you anymore. Twice is an online secondhand clothing store that sells items but also will purchase your unwanted items from you. I sent off a big box of items that are now too big for me, all on their approved brands list, and they offered to purchase almost all of them. It won’t make you rich, and you might make a bit more selling yourself on ebay, but it’s easy and quick. They offer free shipping and will pay via paypal or check (or store credit, for which you get a 25% bonus). This was all stuff that I was going to have to tote down to the thrift store and get nothing but a tax write-off for, so I am a happy camper. (I have also bought some stuff from them but haven’t received it yet; I’ll keep you posted.)

Both of these links are affiliate links, by the way, but both of these reviews were written on my own recognizance and express my true opinion.

The great Google Reader crisis

I live in Silicon Valley and am married to a software engineer, but I haven’t worked in the tech industry for quite a while. This gives me an interesting insider/outsider view on some issues, like Google sunsetting Reader. A few weeks ago, before the Google announcement, I was talking to my husband about my plan to switch from Bloglines to a cloud-based RSS reader like Google Reader that would sync with my new tablet. He incredulously asked me, “people still use RSS readers?”, like I’d admitted to reading only in cuneiform on clay tablets.

I guess the Google folks agreed with him, but given the strong reaction of most of the sewing bloggers I read to the Google announcement, us ‘regular folks’ still use RSS readers plenty. From what I’ve seen, a lot of folks are moving over to BlogLovin, which I have not tried myself. I have two additional recommendations: first, Bloglines has been around for ages and still works great. They existed before Google Reader, were almost shut down after Google Reader took over the space, and then were acquired by another company which has kept them happily kicking around for several years now. They’ve gotten a lot of new users after the Google announcement but the performance has been good for me the last few days.

My other recommendation is The Old Reader, which is supposed to be very Google Reader-like in its appearance. Because they, also, got a huge influx of new users I am still waiting for all my subscriptions to be imported, but from the little I’ve used it so far it is very nice.

Neither of these options has a native phone or tablet app, but The Old Reader is supposed to work well in a mobile browser (haven’t checked that myself yet). There are a lot of RSS apps out there if you only read on your phone or tablet, but not a lot that seamlessly go from computer to phone/tablet and back again, and those that do seem to be overwhelmingly visual in presentation (like Feedly and Pulse, both of which I tried once and recoiled from).

(Side note: one of the possibilities that Lifehacker recommends is NewsBlur, which from the description sounds like a RSS reader / offline reader like Instapaper fusion. But for full functionality, you’ve got to subscribe at $24 a year. Might be worth considering if the feature set makes sense for your workflow.)

I hope this is useful if you’re still figuring out what to do post-Reader (assuming it doesn’t get revived at the last minute). Don’t worry, soon I’ll be back to talking about the sewing I’m not doing and the boring food I’m cooking.

Review of Dobbin Clothing

I’ve been thinking about sustainable and ethically produced clothing recently, and my clothing consumption habits. I buy a lot of thrifted and second-hand items but I’m not so sure that that doesn’t just make it easier for others to buy disposable clothing knowing there’s an outlet for getting rid of it. I’ve been inspired by the example of several wardrobe and sewing bloggers who are doing “second-hand and handmade first” pledges this year. (Side note: is there more ‘made in Canada’ than ‘made in USA’ clothing these days? It seems like it.)

So when Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen posted about Dobbin Clothing, a new line of women’s clothing that is designed and made in the US, I was intrigued. I really liked the look of a lot of the items, and since their winter line was on clearance and there was an additional discount for new customers plus free shipping and returns, I made an order.

The items came the other day and I thought maybe folks would be interested in a review. I’ll say that all the communications were nice, the shipping was about a week cross-country (totally reasonable) and everything was wrapped nicely and included a hand-written note. The quality of the pieces was really good and the fabric was all fabulous.

The first top I ordered was the Griffith stretch pique top. I was afraid the fabric would look too 70s tennis player, but it was actually quite nice. The shape was good, but there was a manufacturing flaw – the front shoulder dart detail was quite uneven between sides – the dart on one shoulder was noticeably longer than the other shoulder.

The second top was the Harper stretch silk blouse, which was lovely. The fabric was a stretch silk with a crepe texture on the outside and charmeuse on the inside. The cut was good, the raglan sleeves with gathering were really nice as was the neckline. Unfortunately, the color was a true salmon orange and made me look horrible (I was hoping for a pinker hue) so it’s going back. I would also note that the lowest point of the neckline was pretty low – I could just barely wear it without showing my bra, and I’m taller than average, so most ladies would probably need to layer with a camisole.

I also ordered the Juliet ponte dress in black, which was just amazingly nice. The notch-neck neckline was faced, the fabric was thick enough so that no underwear lines showed through, and all the details were well-done. The only problem was where the waistline hit me – above my waist at the bottom of my ribcage, which is what happens to me a lot because I have a long torso. I vacillated for a long time about keeping it, but I just couldn’t justify spending most of a hundred bucks on a dress that didn’t fit perfectly.

Size-wise I would say that the fit is generous. I ordered an XL or 16 in everything and it fit well, and I am currently a 16/18 in mall stores.

It may seem weird that I’m recommending Dobbin even though I had to return every item I ordered, but I would totally try them again for tops, or if they ever have tall/long torso sizes in dresses. (BTW, all their current pants are cropped – what is that about for winter?) The cuts were flattering, the fabric was great, and the service was stellar. When I contacted them about the return and the issue of the darts on the white top, they were quick to respond and very friendly and helpful. If paying a bit more gets me this quality, I could get used to it. Anyway, I recommend them if you’re looking for a high-quality product that you can be pleased to wear. (I am not affiliated with them in any way and my thoughts are my own.)

What’s been happening in these here parts

I’ve been in “clear the decks” mode recently. A little before Christmas our water heater catastrophically failed and had to be replaced, and in the process managed to leak water all over the floor of the garage which includes my sewing area. Not much was destroyed, just a couple of sewing books that were on the floor, but a lot needed to be sorted through, dried and/or re-cleaned. I’ve used it as an opportunity to clean and clear out the garage, which is our storage area/workout area/my sewing room, not to mention the laundry room and it occasionally even has a car in it.

It’s a frustrating process, because we’ve lived in our current place over ten years now, and as tends to happen we’ve collected a lot of stuff which has ended up in whatever niches of open space exist. I feel like that for months now I’ve been taking bags to the thrift store regularly, and throwing a lot away or recycling it, and it still looks like I have too much stuff. I am not a minimalist by any means, but it certainly does impress upon you that everything that you buy also has to be dealt with at the end of its useful life (or whenever you don’t want it anymore), and that takes time, energy and sometimes money.

I am excited that I’ve found a donation location that will take unwearable garments and textile scraps, thanks to a helpful person on my local Freecycle list. Any fabric of useful size that I no longer want can go to FabMo, and wearable clothes can go to the thrift store, but I always end up with those little bits of fabric that usually get thrown away, if they can’t be used for quilts, and torn or worn-through clothes. Most textiles can be recycled if they can’t be reused (denim gets turned into house insulation quite often, apparently).

Right after the water heater incident, I went through my pattern stash and did a cull, donating the unwanted patterns to FabMo. I still have 3 file boxes full of patterns, and that’s just counting the envelope patterns, not the magazines. Assuming I made one new piece a week, which is laughably faster than I actually sew, I could have new projects for a couple years without buying anything new. That’s a little ridiculous.

I refused to make specific 2013 sewing resolutions, but as January continues, some goals for this year have crystallized. I haven’t bought much fabric for a couple of years, but I am still really far from stash equity, and I also want to work on using the patterns I have and getting rid of those I will never use. Melissa at Fehr Trade and some others did a Burda-a-month challenge last year; maybe I should do a “new pattern a month” challenge myself.

Some sort of grinch/scrooge fusion

It’s a rainy weekend and I’m really hoping that I can spend some time in my sewing cave and/or watching some of the Craftsy classes I’ve bought recently, rather than working like a madwoman. It’s nearly Thanksgiving and all the holiday shopping ads are out and I’m so unenthusiastic about Christmas I can’t even express it in words. I loved Christmas as a kid, but nowadays it just means shopping in horrible crowds and having to travel in horrible crowds and a few nice moments with family before having to travel in horrible crowds again.

OK, enough doom and gloom. If you are looking for a fun holiday project, this tutorial for a quilted stocking is very cute. I’ve always wanted to try the quilt-as-you-go technique. And if you’re more in the ‘curl up with an e-book’ mode, check out The Invention of the Sewing Machine at Project Gutenberg.