Wednesday, April 19, 2017

In Good Times And in Bad, For Better Or For Worse: First Comes a Honey-Do Project, and Then Comes Surgery

Salutations from the waiting room of the Cardiothoracic Surgery Center!  I've been here since 5 AM.  They wheeled Bernie into the operating room and relegated me to this waiting room at 6:45, began his open heart mitral valve repair and maze ablation surgery at 8 AM, and although all of the updates have been that things are "going well" in there, I have no details and they were not finished yet as of 1:30 PM. 

5 AM Today, Before Changing into the Gown
So of course we had to take a Pre-Op Snuggling Selfie before he got into his hospital nightie.  If that's not a Thing, it should be.

And I share that with you because in a moment you are going to be appalled and thinking I am a TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO-GOOD, VERY BAD WIFE when I tell you what I had my heart patient husband doing all day yesterday, the day before his heart surgery.  Let the evidence show that my husband still loves me, he knew exactly what he was getting himself into when he married me, and he picked me anyway.

Yesterday Morning, Loaded With Goodies
Yesterday morning we rented a big commercial van and drove in it together for two hours, until we got to Hendersonville.  After about an hour of shopping for goodies and loading the van, we drove home another two hours, unloaded the van, and returned it to the Enterprise rental place.  Then I ordered the heart patient to rest while I took Anders to his violin lesson, and after dinner, Bernie started the assembly:

Lulu Supervises as Bernie Adjusts the Table Height
Why, oh why would I choose to do this yesterday of all days, the day before his surgery?  Because I know this man and I know what he needs.  As the '80s pop song goes, "I know what boys like, I know what boys want..."

This man of mine has been SO worried and anxious ever since we got back from Florida.  Sitting around staring into space, googling gory images of his surgery on the Internet, worrying about the anesthesia, worrying about the breathing tube and the IVs and everything that could go wrong, giving me morbid instructions about his passwords and "final wishes" and the name of the HR contact at his company "in case anything happens."  This was NOT good for my husband.

But what IS good for my husband is any project involving tools, ingenuity, and focusing his brain power on figuring out how to get heavy stuff in and out of the van and up the stairs with as little exertion as possible, digging through boxes to look for parts, and concentrating his attention on putting something together that he's never done before instead of obsessing about his surgery.  Lars and I both helped him and made sure he wasn't overdoing it (I even resorted to standing on the bottom shelf of a heavy MDF bookcase to prevent him from moving it for me).

Thoroughly Modern Millie Comes Home to Roost!
And look what he accomplished!  This is before he put the rails on, when he was totally flummoxed and trying to figure out whether he was missing some kind of rubber bumper to keep the machine head from flying straight off the back of the machine.  He had to resort to looking at the manual as well as the installation instructions to figure out that the rails themselves keep the machine head from sliding off the tracks.

Isn't it cute how my 6'8" Sasquatch of a husband looks NORMAL sized next to this ginormous long arm quilting machine?  As Bernie likes to say (especially to short people), "BIGGER IS BETTER!"

He got it all set up for me last night, rails and all, perfectly level and with the legs extended 8", the height feels just perfect for me, MUCH better than any of the demo machines I've tried at quilt shows, dealer showrooms or at that hands-on Gammill workshop I took a couple of years ago.  This is a hand-guided APQS 26" throat Millenium machine on a 12' Blissed frame with auto fabric advance, a 4-year-old demo machine purchased from an APQS dealer who wanted to get one of the new 30" Millies in her showroom in this one's place, and I got a fantastic deal on it but needed to commit to the purchase before someone else snapped up the machine.

I've been looking for awhile, and it wasn't easy to find the exact make and model used machine I wanted on the exact frame size I wanted, with all of the features I wanted, for sale anywhere remotely reasonably near to me.  Best of all, my dealer, Sheridan Kay, is just the most wonderfully kind, knowledgeable and all-around fabulous person to do business with.  I am so glad to have her as a resource!

We had to pick up the machine before surgery, because Bernie won't be able to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk for the next 6 weeks.  I'm clearing my schedule as much as possible so I can be home with him and drive him wherever he needs to go once they release him from the hospital.  And now I have a new toy to play with while I'm home tending my sickie... 

I'll tell you more about my Millie and why I picked this particular machine once I get home.  I've been in the hospital since 5 AM this morning, and it's now 2:30.

Bernie's surgery took 6 hours from start to finish and he went to the recovery room at about 2 PM.  They tell me all went well but I'm still waiting for the doctor to come out and give me his briefing.  The patient is still asleep and I haven't seen him yet.

A great big, heartfelt thank you to all of you who have been covering us in your prayers.  They are working!

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

What Happens In Florida Doesn't Stay In Florida: Fabric Shopping, Slow Stitching, and a Splash in the Pool... Oh, and Open Heart Surgery.

Well, hello there, blogosphere!  I've been in Naples, Florida all last week visiting my in-laws and just got home in time for Maundy Thursday church services.  While in Florida, my darling husband offered to take me to the local quilt shop, Flash Sew and Quilt.  And once we got there, and I started picking out fabric, he was SURPRISED.  Isn't that funny?  What did he THINK I was going to do at the quilt shop -- just pet the fabrics and then leave empty-handed?!  Silly man.

Fat Quarters, Layer Cakes, Charm Packs, and Kona Solids Skinny Strips
The assorted green and blue fat quarters are for my remaining six pineapple log cabin blocks, because I'm bored with the fabrics I've used on the other blocks.  Plus I want as much variety as possible so no two blocks in that quilt are identical, and it would be great if I could lay out my blocks so no patches of the same fabric end up adjacent to one another.

Work In Progress: Pineapple Log Cabin Blocks on My Design Wall
The purple and hot pink Kaffe Fassett fat quarters will be for clam shells and for my 6" sampler blocks.  The Moda dotted layer cake is going to mix in with some of those other big, bright prints in my Farmer's Wife blocks

Another WIP: 6" Sampler Blocks, Farmer's Wife and Others
The white charm squares and the charm pack with the cat food novelty print are for my clam shell quilt, too -- either that or for a tumbler quilt yet to be started -- because 5" charm squares are the perfect size to cut with my clam shell and tumbler Accuquilt GO! dies.

Cutting Out Clam Shells With My GO! Baby Die Cutter
I know I will have lots of leftover blue and green 1 1/2" strips left over once all of those pineapple blocks are complete.  The roll of brightly colored Kona Solids 1 1/2" strips will be mixed in with these leftover blue and green strips for some other project yet to be devised.

Current 1 1/2" Pineapple Strips, Leftovers Will Mix with Kona Solid Strips
After cramming all of these textile goodies into my suitcase, I was able to spend some time relaxing with some slow stitching -- my Frankenwhiggish Rose needle turned applique project:

Slow Stitching in Florida: Needle Turned Applique

I'm working on appliqueing the stacked petals that I assembled off-block to the remaining 8 applique blocks for this project.  I'm having some difficulty lining the pieces up properly when I pin them in place, however, as you can see in the above photo where the bottom petal doesn't touch the adjacent stems like the other petals do.  It's hard for me to tell where the stitching line is in relation to the stems when the seam allowance is still sticking out, covering up the stems!  Ah, well -- antique applique quilts aren't perfect, and this one won't be, either.  Going forward, I'm trying to feel for the bump of the stem and line up the petals that way.  We'll see if that works better.  After all, the whole purpose of this project is LEARNING new applique techniques.  

Here's my husband and son, splashing around in my father-in-law's pool a few days ago:

Bernie and Anders in the Pool
Hard to believe that Bernie is having open heart surgery this coming Wednesday.  Just within the past few weeks he was diagnosed with mitral valve regurgitation caused by a congenital heart defect that has degenerated over time, going unnoticed all these years (during which Mister Tough Guy rarely set foot in a doctor's office -- he has maybe been to the doctor twice in the last 20 years).  Until it got so bad that his heart was enlarged and only pumping blood with 40% efficiency, was short of breath, having chest pains... And finally this 6'8," presumably healthy and very active 48-year-old man was told that he was at risk for congestive heart failure or stroke and needed open heart surgery ASAP.  Very bizarre and surreal; we keep thinking this is a weird dream and we'll wake up tomorrow and laugh about it. 

Bernie's Case Is Severe, Like the One on the Right
Again, Bernie's In the Severe Category
This is the best article I've found that explains about the prolapsed valve regurgitation thing, a condition which my family has (not so)fondly nicknamed "Vomit Heart": Mitral Valve Prolapse Regurgitation

Bernie's surgeon is 90% confident that he can repair this defective valve (rather than replacing it outright) and he is also going to do a surgical maze procedure where he will create scar tissue to disrupt the wacky off-beat electrical pulses that have been making his heartbeat go haywire (Atrial Fibrillation, see cool animation here).  That's why he's going in through the breastbone rather than one of the less-invasive side-access surgeries they can do for valve replacement or for bypass surgery.  He wants to be sure he has access to completely fix the whole heart so Bernie won't need to go back for a surgical encore.  So we're hoping for a full and complete recovery after surgery.  Wish us luck, please!  Warm and fuzzy thoughts and PRAYERS are greatly appreciated.

On My Mind
So this Easter, while I'm singing "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today," I'll also have little earworms in my brain looping "Change of Heart" by Cyndi Lauper...

...and "Tell Your Heart to Beat Again" by Danny Gokey:

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Weekend to All!

I'm linking up with Slow Stitching Sunday, Design Wall Monday, Monday Making, and Moving It Forward

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Burda 6911: A Sneaky Formal Pajama Dress for Comfy Choral Concerts

Burda 6911 Dress with Modifications
Not only did I make it through a week of late-night dress rehearsals and fend off a cold well enough to sing in both performances of the Bach St. John's Passion last weekend, but I also managed to sew myself a new dress to wear for the Sunday afternoon concert from a new-to-me pattern, Burda 6911:

Burda 6911 for 2-way Stretch Knits
This pattern popped up in my Pinterest feed around the same time that I was informed that the men in the VOX chorus wear tuxedos in concert, and women are supposed to wear something "black, formal and floor-length, with long sleeves, like something you would wear to a cocktail party." Maybe that's what SOME women wear to a cocktail party, but there was nothing in MY closet that fit that description!

Angelica Huston as Morticia Addams, Ready to Sing with VOX
Here's a photo of the VOX chorus (taken before I joined) so you can see what other women wear:

VOX Chorus Concert Attire, Pre-Rebecca Photo
So I got the pattern, ordered 5 yards of black 11 oz. rayon jersey fabric from Emma One Sock (UPS Next Day Air Saver), and rolled up my sleeves.

I found some well-ripened moss green jersey knit rotting away in my stash that had a similar weight, drape and stretch as my dress fabric, and decided to whip up a top version of this pattern to check the fit and figure out how the twist goes together.  I did read up on other people's experiences sewing this pattern on Pattern Reviews, and I was happy to see that most people's dresses and tops came out looking BETTER than the pattern photos, and that the style was flattering on other women with figures similar to mine.  (ah, how do I love thee, Pattern Review web site?!!!) 

Sizing: Based on the amount of fabric incorporated into the front twist, the width stretch of my fabric, and other reviewers' comments, I decided to cut a size 14 (based on my upper chest measurement +2", or what my FB measurement would be if I was a B cup like the "standard" commercial pattern fit models instead of a D). If I had used my full bust measurement as directed by the pattern instructions, I'd have been cutting between size 16 and size 18 -- I've done that before, and it always results in an unwearable, unfixable garment that is way too big in the upper chest, back, and shoulders, with necklines too big and gaping and sagging armholes.  It's so much easier to do a full/prominent bust adjustment to make more room where it's needed than it is to alter the shoulders, back, upper chest, sleeves, armholes, etc. to make them all smaller!  (This article on the Curvy Sewing Collective blog explains why). 

But in this particular case, with this pattern and this stretchy fabric, the smaller size worked beautifully with no need for any fit adjustments -- I got a fantastic fit through the shoulders and upper chest, no neck gaping or sagging armholes, yet there was plenty of room for "the girls" due to the stretch of the fabric and all of the twist gathers in the front of the top. I did grade to a size 16 through the hips on the top because I didn't want too snug of a fit through the tummy, and I'm glad I did because the top is quite fitted through the midriff. However, the top and dress are made from different pattern pieces, and the dress is cut with a lot more ease through the midriff so I was able to cut a straight size 14 on my dress.  I stopped working on the green top as soon as I was far enough along to know I had a working pattern in a good size, since I only had a few days to get my dress done and I sew VERY SLOWLY, like a sloth.  (Actually, I sew more like Hamlet, stopping every step of the way to ponder my options and research techniques before proceeding.  To be finished with my dress on time, or to squander my sewing time with mad dashes to JoAnn's in search of obscure notions and interfacing that I saw in someone's blog tutorial -- THAT is my question!)  But I digress.  Here's the green top version, 90% finished:

Burda 6911 Top, Trial Run
This is not the best picture because I had a weird balconet style bra on under the top that made the gathers go goofy, but I was in a hurry so this photo will have to do for now.  Anyway, you can see that the fit is pretty good, but if you click on the photo to make it bigger and examine the center front twist, you'll see that the wrong side of the facing wants to roll out at the top of the twist.  I still need to fix that, and then coverstitch hem the bottom of the top and the sleeves.  Eventually.

As per the recommendations of other reviewers, and to make assembly more serger-friendly, I disregarded the pattern instructions and put the sleeves in flat before sewing the side seams. This was a great idea.  On my trial top, I also ignored the pattern instructions about pressing the center front and dart seams open and just serged everything instead, because hey -- I bought the serger so I could use it on knits, and this is a knit, right?However, I think that's why I got the weirdness in the center of the twist with raw edges wanting to stick out on my top, because I had a loose flap where my serger seam stopped and the facing edge began instead of a pressed open seam allowance getting pulled back into the dress when I did the twist. So for my dress, I serged the CF seam as directed by the pattern, until a few inches before the slit, and then sewed the rest of the way with a stretch "lightning" stitch on my regular sewing machine so I could press the seam allowance open just below the slit and have the seam allowance tuck in nicely all the way around the hole. The bust dart seams I stitched the whole way with the lightning stitch and pressed them open per pattern instructions, and I was much happier with the way the twist front came out on the dress when I did it that way.

Peep Hole at Center Twist Prior to Hand Stitching
Oh, and another thing I should mention about the twist front is that you may need to add some additional hand or machine stitching after you pull the one side through the other to make sure you don't have a little peep hole in the middle of your boobage!

Do note that the arms of this pattern are asymmetrical, so you want to be careful keeping track of which is which. Also, as another reviewer noted, the pattern instructs you to baste the facing down to the shirt front before sewing the side seam, so I followed her suggestion to leave the facing edge loose and then wrapped it around when I sewed the shoulder seams for a clean finish. I also added clear elastic to the shoulder seams to prevent them from stretching out of shape.

Other Changes I Made:
This pattern is designed to finish just below the knee, but I needed it to be floor length and I'm 5'8" so I added 13" to the skirt length. (This is the first time I used a rotary cutter to cut out a garment, by the way and I am IN LOVE -- the shifty, slippery knit was cut MUCH more accurately, precisely, and easily with the rotary cutter than it would have been with scissors, and after all my cutting table has a butcher block surface intended for chopping food up with knives so the rotary cutting blade isn't going to hurt it and the butcher block won't hurt the blade, either.  No cutting mat necessary!)

Length Added at the Lengthen/Shorten Line, seam Lines Extended for More Fullness at the Bottom
I also added shirred self-fabric sashes at the waist, copied from a RTW Boden dress in my closet.

RTW Boden Anna Dress, From Which I Copied the Sash
I think the sash belt helps prevent it from looking like a nightgown, and stretch fabric plus sash means that I will be able to wear this dress comfortably even if I gain or lose a few pounds.

My Dress With Cloned Boden Sashes Sewn Into Side Seams
I also made a slight change to the shaped of the neckline at the shoulder seam. This was due to a mistake when I did a FOE on the back neck (instead of the goofy strip of fabric sewn on and folded over as the pattern instructs and as I did on my practice top), but I accidentally ate up some of the shoulder seams in my neck edges.  I compensated for that by slightly gathering front shoulders to fit the back, which gives just the slightest sweetheart curve to the top of the V-neck.  Not sure whether you can see that in the photos, but I can definitely tell the difference in the shaping  of the neckline from my top to my dress and I actually prefer the way my fixed mistake looks!

Fold Over Coverstitched Edge on Back Neck
Finally, although this pattern specifically recommends lightweight jersey knit, the hem allowances for both the bottom of the skirt and the sleeves is 1 1/4" deep. None of the RTW jersey knit dresses or tops in my closet has a hem this deep. I tried doing the deep hem with a coverstitch on my dress, and I got decent results on my rectangular sample swatch, but the dress is A-line so the circumference of the skirt is greater at the raw edge than it is at the stitching line. ROYAL pain in the butt and waste of time. I did my sleeve hems 1/2" due to where I wanted the length to hit, and it was so much easier and ended up looking much better, too. I've decided I want my dress to be a few inches shorter because the heavy jersey makes it longer when I put it on than it was on my cutting table, and when I redo the hem I'll just turn it up 1/2" and coverstitch it.

A few words about figure flattery: ...And, just when I think I'm done with this post, I think of something else to say.  While I'm really happy with this dress for me, I do want to point out that someone with either a very small or very large bust might not be happy with it.  Although the twist front makes it easier to fit a large bust, the style of the dress makes a larger bust appear even bigger, especially when you view the dress from the front:

This Dress Will Make Your Boobs Look Bigger...
See what I mean?  It helps that the dress is black because black is slimming, but all those wrinkle lines from the twist front extending from shoulder to waist can create the illusion that your boobage is more ample than it really is.  As you can see in the side view, I'm not really as big up top as this dress makes me appear:

See?  Dolly Parton from the Front, Normal Boobs from the Side
So if you're self-conscious about a large bust and that's something you want to play down, this style might not be for you.  I have an hourglass figure and my full hip measurement is a little larger than my full bust, but I think this dress makes me look a little top heavy, but it's also very slimming from the waist down.  Conversely, if you have a very small bust, you might not like this dress either.  Even in the lightweight rayon jersey that I used, the twist front creates a bulky lump in the center of the chest that might look like a third boob, or stick out farther than your boobs, if you're an A or AA cup.  On a medium to large bust, the bulky twist lies between your boobs in the cleavage zone so it isn't a problem.  I have an hourglass figure and my full hip measurement is larger than my full bust, but I think this dress makes me look a little top heavy.  Your mileage may vary.

A few more notes to myself for next time I'm sewing with rayon jersey:
The sleeve had to be basted before it was serged into the armhole, and the shoulder seam needed to be basted before it was serged, too.  I basted the side seams of the dress just inside the stitching line using a 3.5 straight stitch on my regular machine so I could check the fit prior to serging, and to keep those heavy, slippery layers aligned as they went through the serger.  I did need to pin this fabric if it wasn't already basted before it came to the serger, like so:

Serged Seams, 4-thread Overlock
The rayon jersey is heavy, so it was important not to let it hang off the sewing cabinet or pull away from the needle as I was sewing.  I used size 80 Jersey Stretch needles in my regular sewing machine, serger, and coverstitch machine, and regular Maxilock and YLI Elite serger thread in a 4-thread overlock stitch.  Next time I might go down to a size 70 Jersey needle and try wooly nylon in the loopers. 

Serger Tension Settings
On my Bernina 1300MDC serger, I got a nice, balanced overlock stitch that laid flat without rippling with tensions set as you see in the photo above, presser foot pressure reduced to low, a stitch length of 2.5, and Differential Feed set between 1.5-2.

Stitch Length and Differential Feed
On my Bernina 750QE sewing machine, I used my 5.5 mm stitch plate to prevent the jersey from getting pulled down through the needle hole into the hook area.  I reduced my presser foot pressure from 50 down to 30 and used polyester Metrosene thread, a Jersey needle, and either a long straight stitch for basting or the lightning stretch stitch where I wanted to machine stitch closer to the twist to close that boob hole. 

On my new Juki MCS-1500 coverstitch machine, I did a narrow 3-thread coverstitch hem using the left and center needle positions, again with Jersey needles, and reduced the looper tension to L, reduced the pressure foot pressure to L, left both needle tensions set at 4, stitch length 2.5, and differential feed set to 2.0.  I experimented with a couple different methods of turning up the hem before coverstitching, but I got the best results when I cut 1/2" wide strips of black tricot knit fusible interfacing, ironed them along the raw garment edges, and then turned the edge back a half inch to coverstitch.  The deeper hems suggested by the pattern instructions are a royal PITA and the narrower hem is both easier and looks much better anyway.  The tricot interfacing makes it easy to turn up a consistent hem without marking, but more importantly, it stabilizes the knit so it doesn't tunnel between the rows of stitching.

I am super excited about this pattern now that my dress is finished. It gives me a great fit without any FBA or PBA, it went together relatively quickly once I figured out the twist thing, the neckline is flattering and not too revealing because it really does stay put -- and best of all, the dress is so unbelievably comfortable that it was like I snuck into the concert wearing my pajamas!!!  Definitely a keeper!  I'm planning to make a just-below-the-knee version of this dress in red and/or a print, something I can wear more often than the concert dress.