Style Study: French Raspberry

In this week’s Style Study we’ll take a little trip to France. Okay, maybe it’s my backyard. But close your eyes. Can’t you just see the Eiffel Tower? Okay. Now open your eyes or you’ll miss this week’s outfit and the two DIYs that add a certain je ne sais quoi to the whole thing.

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The inspiration for this outfit came from wanting to add a pop of color to a neutral pattern. While any neutral print would work with a pop of color, I often gravitate to black and white stripes.  Seriously, check out last week’s Style Study. Right now this pattern is simultaneously trendy and classic, as I’m seeing it everywhere, like in this top from Modcloth, but I also have striped shirts I still wear from seasons ago. Along with the stripes, these pants from Torrid give the outfit a bit of ooh la la. I’m fairly tall, so the length hits me right above the ankle, which makes them a great for Spring.

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The shoes! I was so psyched to find these on Zappos, especially since I’m very hard to fit. I was originally looking for red heels, but seeing them changed my mind.

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The first DIY is this beret, or Gretel Tam as the pattern calls it. I believe that a tam is more Scottish than French, but it has the right vibe for the outfit. I found the pattern in Stitch ‘n Bitch: Superstar Knitting, but the designer also has it available for purchase on Ravelry. This is a tougher pattern, especially for me. I always call it the most difficult thing I ever knit and finished (compared to the projects on which I’ve given up). Remember though, there’s always a way to get something similar if this pattern isn’t for you. Beret/tam knitting patterns are readily available at all skill levels, or you could even find one to crochet or to sew out of a felt fabric. When all else fails, you can probably find a cute one online. In case you’re curious, the yarn I used was Stitch Nation’s Full O’ Sheep in Passionfruit, designed by the author of Stitch ‘N Bitch. Unfortunately, it has been discontinued, and I have seen some listings for it on eBay, but any single-ply, worsted weight wool should work just fine. Remember to check your gauge!

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This brings me to the next project, and I used the same yarn to make the felt ball beads since I wanted it to match the hat. There are several tutorials and cute projects to make with felt balls on Pinterest (P.S. You can also get them ready-made here). While I found this particular tutorial helpful, I ended up using my own method to felt the yarn. The most important thing to remember, no matter what method you use, is that the yarn must be 100% animal fiber, preferably wool. No acrylic blends!

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First I wound mini balls of yarn. Above there’s six, but you only need four. Remember, what you start with will be slightly larger than the size of the finished ball. I then filled a sink with warm water and about a tablespoon of shampoo. Keep the shampoo handy, as it will help with the felting process. Next put the yarn ball in the sudsy water and begin to roll it in your hands like a ball of dough. You will start to see the “stringiness” disappear. Keep going until it’s completely solid and you see no more strands. If you need extra help getting it to felt, add a dab of shampoo in your hand and continue the process. If you see any bumps, weird spots, or excess fuzziness, it’s okay to trim them away once the yarn begins to cling together. When you’re finished, rinse it off and let it dry. Repeat with the other yarn balls. It will take a couple of days for them to be dry enough to make the necklace.

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Assembling the necklace is super easy. You’ll need the felt balls, black embroidery floss, a sturdy and sharp sewing needle, a jewelry clasp, some black beads, and a pendant. I got mine from Hobby Lobby, in store. Being a New Orleans girl, I love the fleur del lis!  I also needed ajump ring to make the pendant face the correct way, but you may not need it depending on the direction of the hole. Using the needle and the embroidery floss (don’t separate the threads), alternate stringing the black beads and the felt balls, stringing the pendant when you’re halfway done. To add the clasp, I simply tied a knot on either end, trimmed the excess floss, and used a little clear nail polish to make sure the ends don’t come undone, and voila! You’re good to go!

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Have fun experimenting with patterns and color, and see what little extras you can whip up to make your outfit special. Until next time, au revoir!

Sew What?

When trying to decide which DIY projects to include in my upcoming posts, I wondered whether or not to include knitting projects. I love to knit. It was something I taught myself how to do many years ago when I was between jobs and had some spare time. The Stitch n’ Bitch books, along with Vickie Howell’s television show at the time, Knitty Gritty, were great resources putting all of the instruction in a language I understood. However, while there is a big community of knitters (especially on the web), it’s not something everyone knows how to do. Would I drive people away from my blog by including knitting projects? After all, this isn’t a blog primarily for knitters. It’s more about using different resources to create a personal style. Would I be alienating certain readers because knitting just isn’t their thing?

This brings me to my own personal confession. I can’t sew—at least not using a sewing machine. Sure, I can embroider, attach a button, or close up a hole, but all by hand. Believe me, I’ve tried to do it. Trying to wind the bobbin and thread the machine through the various nooks and crannies feels like being lost in an unfamiliar, sketchy neighborhood without a GPS. And I always recall the time when I tried to machine sew denim without knowing any sort of sewing machine basics, and I broke five of my mom’s sewing needles. Sewing machines scare me. If that’s the case, then why do I own these books?

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I bought them while I was in grad school when I neither had the time nor the inclination to learn how to sew. I mostly bought them because I was a fan of Wendy Mullin, of Built By Wendy fame. I first began to notice her work when some of my favorite bands wore her guitar straps and fell in love with her simple, indie fashions. She published the Sew U books and corresponding Simplicity patterns a while back. She includes instructions even a beginner who just purchased her first sewing machine can understand, but that wasn’t enough to help me overcome my fear. And the patterns included in the book weren’t even nearly my size. Sure, I’ve had to resize a few knitting patterns which usually involves measuring and simple math that even I can handle, but I have no clue where one would even start to size up a sewing pattern. That being said, what was I doing with these books?

The answer, they inspired me. When I shopped, I began to keep my eyes open for similar dresses, tops, and pants as those I saw in the books. Most crafty projects, whether they are needlecrafts, jewelry-making, or anything else fashion related, are usually based on things people can buy somewhere. Usually, someone who has a given skill sees something in a store, a magazine, or online and says, “I can make that.” I know that’s been the case for some things I’ve knit. But if you can’t knit it or sew it, rest assured, you can probably buy it.  Keep that in mind when I throw anything your way that might not be a part of your skill-set. Remember, too, if you can’t make it, someone on Etsy or in your circle of friends can. Barter or trade or have fun craft parties where you and your buddies can share your talents and your wares. Also, if you wish you could DIY so you can make garments for your size and shape, remember there are places that can do this for you. I just found out about eShakti, which custom-makes dresses, tops, and skirts to your measurements. I’m waiting on some dresses to come in from them, so I’ll give you all a report when I see how they fit. Don’t forget your local seamstress either who can make clothing or do alterations.

I’m not giving you any of these suggestions to dissuade you from learning a new craft or hobby. I remember it took me months to knit anything that even resembled a rectangle, but I stuck with it, and I would say my skills are now on the intermediate level. I’m good with cables, knitting in the round, and reading patterns, not so good with lacework or anything that requires a lot of counting. And who knows, maybe there will be an upcoming blog series titled “Becca Learns How to Sew.” Just remember, we all have our things we can do. Knitting just happens to be my thing, and you should use whatever your thing is to add to your personal style.

Oh, and there is cool knitted hat in my next Style Study! Pop in on Monday to see it!