My Month in France and Spain

As some of you may know, at the end of August, I left on a month-long trip to France and Spain. Paris and Bordeaux for 10 days, and 3 weeks through Spain (San Sebastian, Laguardia, Madrid, Cordoba, Seville, Granada, and Barcelona). And it was just as beautiful and delicious and inspiring as you would imagine a month-long trip to France and Spain would be.  

Before I left on this trip, I remember my mom asking why we chose the cities we did.  What are they famous for? What were we going to see, exactly? Besides the Alhambra, I didn't have anything to tell her. 

We were going to eat and drink, sit and relax, walk and explore, then stop to sit and eat and drink some more. We've done the whirlwind tourist thing before, rushing from one site to the next just to snap a photo and say you were there. I'm not knocking those kinds of trips. We had a blast on those trips. But there's a time and place for them. We wanted this trip to be different and we designed it that way, with more room for café lounging, afternoon siestas and evening wandering. It was exactly that. And it was the most happy and relaxed trip we've ever shared together. 

Anyway, as you can guess from this already-too-long introduction, summing up a month-long vacation is tough and my procrastination game is fierce. I could easily write a separate post for each city. So, in an effort to keep this to one post and to get it bloody well done already, I've decided to just focus on a few of the things that really stood out and made an impression on me during the trip. As you might expect, these could be boiled down to the food, the wine, and the architecture. These also happen to be the same reasons that drew me there in the first place... or travel anywhere, for that matter. Haha!


The Food.  We ate at some amazing restaurants in both France and Spain. The photo above was taken at Le Petit Commerce in Bordeaux, for example, where the seafood was out of this world and the service was refreshingly pleasant. 

But when I talk about food on this trip, I'm mostly talking about tapas. They are real. And they are wonderful. Most wonderful of all in San Sebastian, where we began the Spanish leg of our trip. This was both a blessing and a curse, because no tapas anywhere else could hope to compare. The tapas (called pintxos in this part of the country) were literally piled on top of the bars. All you had to do was point to what you wanted and the server would put it on a plate for you. It's the perfect setup if you're not too confident with the Spanish language yet. It was often crazy crowded, so you had to get aggressive with your pointing, but that all added to the excitement.

A close second place was Granada where the tapas weren't all mind-blowing, but their free-with-drink nature definitely upped the game. We knew about this phenomenon ahead of time thanks to Anthony Bourdain. In fact, it was one of the reasons we started planning this trip. But that didn't make it any less special. Honestly, I kept forgetting about it and being surprised all over again. It's a good way to be.

My only regret from this trip is that we didn't take more pictures of our food. If there is a time to be those kind of hipsters, surely this was it.

The Vino. My husband and I love learning about and tasting wine, and there was a healthy (or unhealthy) amount of both on this trip. 

In Bordeaux, we went on a guided tour of several chateaux in the Médoc region. We also visited the hillside town of Saint-Émillion, where we went on a super interesting private tour of an organic winery. The wine out there is so regulated and prestigious, almost annoyingly so, but it was interesting to learn about. Plus we got to try some ballin' bottles we would never get the chance to try otherwise, there or at home. So there's that.

After Bordeaux, we made our way down to the Rioja wine region of Spain. We rented a car, planning to make Laguardia our home base while we drove around to some of the nearby bodegas. We must've forgotten that we are terrible at driving in Europe and even more terrible at driving the only automatic they had, a full-sized van! After following Google into the town square, where no cars are permitted because of the the underground cellars (ahhh!), we parked the van and abandoned all our plans. But we loved the medieval hillside town of Laguardia so much, we were more than happy to stay put. We had a phenomenal guided tour of the winery in town, Casa Primicia, which is actually one of the oldest wineries in all of Spain.

The rest of the time, the wine tasting was done in places like this, standing at a bar, admiring the selection (and interesting decor), or sitting at an outdoor cafe, admiring the street life. Again, a good way to be.

The Architecture.

There are moments when you travel that strike something in you. They take your breath away, cause a lump in your throat, bring a tear to your eye. You will remember that moment, that place, that sight, forever, and every time you remember it, you will get teary all over again.

This is the reason I travel. Those moments.

In a month-long trip, it might only happen once or twice. But thanks to the incredible architecture in Spain, I experienced multiple moments like these on this trip.

This was modern design with a long history. A combination of bright colours, mathematically perfect shapes, and precise detail that overwhelmed me completely. I don't know how many times I turned to my husband, mouth agape, eyes wide, and muttered, "it's just so amazing." It was a lot to process. I saw textile designs and quilt patterns everywhere. It was inspiration overload and I loved every minute of it.

Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Views from our balcony, Bordeaux

Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux

San Sebastien

Almudena Cathedral, Madrid

Casa de Pilatos, Seville

Plaza de España, Seville

Mezquita, Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba

The Alhambra, Granada

The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

 Basilica Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona

La Mercé. I would be remis not to mention the grand finale of our trip, Barcelona's annual 5-day street festival, La Mercé. When we found out this was happening in September, we reversed our whole trip so that we could be there and we're so glad we did. It was electric! There were parades several times a day with the crazy giants you see here, as well as dances, human towers, fireworks and several other events happening at the same time, like a wine festival and a music festival. And it was all happening right outside of our door. A once-in-a-lifetime experience; no better way to end a once-in-a-lifetime trip.


New House, New Workspace

It's been just over a year since we moved into our new house, so it's about time I show you where I've been sewing all this time, don't you think?

As you can probably tell, I've claimed the attic. I'm not going to lie, it's pretty wonderful climbing up to this private space of mine every day. Add a window seat and it's pretty much my childhood dream come true.

What my 10-year-old self couldn't imagine, was how unbearably hot attics can be in the summer. With this year's constant heat warnings, I haven't been up there much since June. I've set up a folding table in our spare room for sewing and I do my editing work at the dining room table. It works, but it's irritating having to run back up there for one thing or another. Hopefully I'll figure out a solution to that problem next year. But let's be honest, I might not. Maintaining a house is hard, guys.

The Pinterest lust was strong when I was planning out the space. But when it came down to it, practicality had to take precedence. This is a workspace after all -- it has to work. I also firmly believe that you need to live in the space for awhile before settling on decor decisions. All the Pinterest pretty will have to come over time.

So the first room is more of an office space, with my computer, filing cabinet, yet-to-be-unpacked boxes, etc. I also set up my ironing board in here. And the second space is for everything sewing related.

There's not a lot of natural light and I moved that sewing table around to every possible configuration trying to capture it, but it turns out that the pot lights in the second room were better than what I was getting through the little window, so I went with that. I like having my computer desk in front of the window anyway. So it's all good. I just have to go to another room in the house to take photos.

I may change that back shelf into a skinny desk eventually, so I don't have to move my serger. A taller cutting table would be optimal too, to save my back. But, again, it works for now, so for now it stays.

Finally, my favourite addition to the room has to be my new office assistant. Meet Pekoe! If you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen many photos of him already. Some of his favourite ways to "help" include chewing notches in my patterns, unwinding embroidery thread, and keeping my office chair warm. Haha! All kitten hijinks aside, I absolutely love being a cat mama! When you work from home, having someone around to talk to (even if they can't talk back) makes a huge difference in your day. And, I have to say, it's pretty peaceful to sew with a sleeping kitten next to you. Just sayin'.


Me Made May Recap + Lessons from a Crash Course in Sewing Knits

Staying true to my lazy blogger status, here I am writing about Me Made May in August. I could just blame summer (and summer cocktails), but honestly, when I had some free time, I chose to spend it sewing. And that's a good thing. One of the reasons for my little creative hiatus is to reignite my love of sewing again, so it's working! Me Made May definitely had something to do with that. Let's talk about it.

This year, I pledged to wear handmade as often as I can and to supplement with vintage or repurposed the rest of the time.

As you can tell from the 28 photos above, clearly I underestimated how a tiny handmade wardrobe could be stretched across a month if you really put your mind to it. I'll admit, some days were tough, like those chilly, wet mornings in early Spring when you're facing a closet of sundresses. But it was also satisfying when I did find a way to make it work and discovered a cute new outfit in the process. Sure, I repeated many items, sometimes the same top three days in a row (don't judge), and it helped a lot that I made a bunch of basic knit tees, as they could be mixed and matched in so many different ways. Oh the power of basics. Which brings me to my second pledge...

I'm always been really intimidated by knits, even though I love to wear them, so I've decided to face that fear head-on and only sew with knits this month.

I'm so glad that I made this pledge. There were many times throughout the month when I was just dying to make something familiar and easy in a woven cotton. But because of this pledge, I forced myself to power through my fear and frustrations. I'm proud to say that I finished the month with 3 Lark tees, 2 Hemlock tees, a knock-off tank dress for my mom, and a heck of a lot more confidence.

It was basically a month-long crash course in knits, and I learned a ton!

Sewing with knits isn't hard. In fact, it's probably the easiest and quickest way to a completed garment. But you need to know a few tricks before you get to the easy, whip up a dress in an hour part. I spent hours scouring the internet, trying to unlock the secret. Turns out it wasn't just one secret. In the end I pretty much just mashed all the advice on the internet together and things started to look OK. Ha! I'm never 100% happy with my double-needle top-stitching (is anyone?), but I found if I followed these rules, I was generally happy with the outcome. Hopefully they help you too, if you've been struggling at all with knits.

Play with your machine settings.
This is the hardest part, but the most important, in my opinion. It's a very delicate balance and it takes a lot of playing around, but you'll be so much happier with the result if you take the time to get it right, or as close to right as you can. Then write it down! Haha! Every machine is probably different, but for mine, I lowered both the top and the bobbin tensions. Top (3), bobbin (1/2 turn). I also increased the foot pressure. I've always ignored this dial, but it really makes a difference with knits (and chiffon, for that matter... but that's another post for another day).

Use a walking foot.
I know it's annoying to put on, but get out your tiny screwdriver and just do it. It prevents any weird warping and stretching, especially for hems. I see this all the time on ready-to-wear hems and neck bands and I hate it.

Use a clean stretch needle.
I had better results with stretch as opposed to ballpoint needles, for some reason. Don't know why. Also, stabilizers tend to gum up the needle and cause skipped stitches, so make sure you clean it periodically. After every hem, if need be.

Stabilizers are your friend.
I used Wash Away Wonder Tape on hems and Pellon Knit-N-Stable Tape on necklines and armholes. It just makes everything 10 times easier. Trust me.

Not all knits are created equal.
Because the level of stretch can vary so much. This may seem obvious, but to someone used to working with woven cottons, I found this fact to cause the most fit problems.

For one, it's tough to choose a size when everything stretches. I made the Lark tee in both a size 4 and a size 0 and, honestly, it was hard to choose which one looks better. It's weird.

Two, neck band patterns can't be trusted. Both the Lark and Hemlock patterns came with neck band pieces, but neither of them fit quite right. They were either too small, causing puckers where I struggled to ease it in, or they didn't lay flat. I found I had a much better result if I measured the neckline first (or what I wanted the finished neckline to be) and angled the joining seam. This Colette tutorial demonstrates it really well.

My final pledge was to kick-start the blog again and post all the makes I haven't written about since I fell out of the blogosphere last year.

This was a success as well. I wrote blog posts for my four Laurel tops and dresses and my Darling Ranges dress. If you haven't had a chance, I hope you'll take a moment to check them out.

I'll admit, by the end of the month I was happy to wear some of my ready-to-wear clothes, and to not have to take a selfie of myself everyday, and to sew with gloriously predictable woven cotton again... but all in all it was a wonderfully inspiring experience. Maybe it's the accountability of it, maybe it's seeing your Instagram feed full of inspiring projects and talented sewists everyday, but there's something about this challenge that makes me more productive than any other time of the year. It ignites something in me that makes me want to sew all the things all the time. I can't wait for next year!


Closing Sale

You may have guessed this was coming, but did you know it would be this big? A certain U.S. politician might even call it HUGE! 

50% off everything in my Etsy shop! Woo!

That's robes for $40, aprons for $20 and $25, tea cosies for $15 and zipper pouches for $7.50. A few surprise gifts will be tucked in randomly selected orders as well. 

Get it now or get it never, guys. Seriously. I'm not making this stuff again. Click here to check it out.

And regarding the Canada Post strike that may or may not happen tomorrow, I'm still taking orders, but know that it may be delayed getting to you as a result. 


Riding High: Darling Ranges

The Darling Ranges dress pattern by Megan Neilsen is definitely a favourite of mine. I've sewn two sleeveless versions in the past that may need to be retired soon, as they've started to show exactly how much I love them. So a third DR has been on my mind, and I was itching to try the version with sleeves. Then I spotted this adorable horse print in my stash. It's super soft and slinky, which would also be a first for me, but it seemed to have the perfect drape for these billowy sleeves. And I was right! Yeehaw!

This fabric was a bit of a game-changer. It feels professional, like it could very easily have been from a store. It's ridiculously comfortable — I was tempted to wear it to bed. But best of all, it's given me the confidence to sew outside of my quilting cotton comfort zone, which opens the door to a whole new world of sewing options. Very exciting!

I feel like I finally nailed the fit this time too. There was always something just a little off with the other two. Third time's a charm I guess.
  • removed 1" from shoulder seams
  • lengthened bodice by 1"
  • lowered bust darts by 1"
  • lengthened bust darts by 3/4"
  • interfaced button plackets
  • stay-stitched neck (both front and back)
  • still need to add a hook and eye or inside button at the waist 

The main challenge with this fabric wasn't actually the texture, but the tiny pulls that kept appearing out of nowhere. I ended up reversing my button placket so I could cover some of the pulls. Is this the sign of poor quality fabric? What should I have done to prevent this? 

Unfortunately we pretty much skipped Spring this year and went straight to a blazing summer heatwave, so I've only had the chance to wear it out once. But that's alright, it gives me a chance to pick up a pair of cowboy boots and a hat to really complete the look. Ha!


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