The Big North: Day -4

I’m going on a motorbike ride. And I’m going to write about it. I haven’t done this for ages (the writing about it part, that is – I’ve done plenty of riding).

The back story is that I’m not working at the moment, don’t want to ride in January as it’s crazy-busy (and crazy-expensive), hopefully will have work in February/March and am likely to move in April. So now is the very best time for a ride. And the week before Christmas is actually fairly inexpensive as everyone starts their travel the week after.

But I needed a goal – I couldn’t just ‘go for a ride’. Because I’m moving going to move south, I thought I should go north, which I really haven’t seen much of. I initially thought to see how far I could get in 4 days then turn around. That wasn’t enough of a goal though so I asked my buddies for a silly idea. One suggested I need to see one ‘big thing’. If you know me you already know that I don’t do small, so I decided to see just how many ‘big things’ I could find. So the plan is:

  • go North as far as I can in 4 days
  • on classic motorcycle roads where possible
  • avoiding highways where possible (except the spots on the Princes Highway that are really pretty)
  • returning by different roads
  • visiting and photographing as many ‘big things’ as I can
  • (and maybe photographing old pubs, just because I find them fascinating)
  • (and maybe seeing how many microbrews I can find)

I haven’t done a long ride in Australia almost since I started riding (I’ve done long rides overseas, and 2-3 day rides here). I haven’t done a solo ride for ages either. So this one will take some planning and decisions.

Choosing and checking the equipment

First job was to wash the bike after a recent ride in the dirt on the Bonang. And put the touring screen back on (I had the stock screen on as it’s easier to see into corners, but anything over about 80 is tiring – with my touring screen I can ride at 110+ with my visor up). Here’s the bike all clean…

My BMW F700GS, all clean

I had to figure out luggage. I love soft luggage as it’s light, but hard luggage is lockable. I’m likely to go at least one way through some of outback NSW, so I need lockable. I think I’ll use hard side bags and a soft top bag (I really hate the weight of a top-box).

Hard and soft luggage

I had to pull out and re-check all the things I haven’t used for a while.

First aid kit,

First aid kit, in big ziplock bags


Various tools, fairly shabby

the all-important SPOT so that if I fall down a cliff I can call a helicopter (or just so you can see where I am),

My emergency locator beacon

my camelback,

Camelback water bladder

and all my paper maps

Motorcycle atlas and a pile of cartoscope maps

Much to do, including mapping all the big things, researching microbreweries, checking weather, figuring out clothes, buying chain lube, buying rations, adding books to my kindle and more…

Posted in Riding | 5 Comments

How a spool of thread cost hundreds of dollars and an entire morning

This is a story that any sewer (or knitter, quilter, weaver etc) will completely understand.

I needed topstitching thread. I got this far on a denim jacket

denim jacket with no sleeves

2 rolls of topstitching thread finished already

and ran out of topstitching thread.

So I went to my closest store, but ran out the door without the thread spool. Of course, I picked up the wrong thread.

I also picked up some stretch cotton for my kiddo (we have this exact thing in lycra and were saying how awesome it would be if we could find it in cotton for a dress)

Gorgeous cotton stretch stripe fabric

Gorgeous cotton stretch stripe

and some stretch for me (for a wrap dress, or this great dress from Muse Patterns)

Black fabric with print with blue, black & white ovals

I don’t usually wear polyester, but this print is excellent

and some soft lycra that will go nicely with a brown I bought last week (oh, and 2 light bulbs and some spare denim needles).

Grey-green cotton lycra

This looks better in person

I got home, realised the thread was wrong, and went to the next closest fabric store (about 20 minutes drive). The thread I wanted was the only colour they didn’t have, so I went to the next closest quilting store (in the same mall, so just a walk).

The thread I wanted was the only onecolour they didn’t have, but I found some organic cotton thread that will be nice for my next blouse project

White organic cotton thread

Organic cotton thread, who knew

and an amazing pair of scissors for my left-handed kiddo

Left-handed scissors with printed handles

Left-handed, print-handled dressmakers shears! OMG!!

a buttonhole chisel (which I’ve been looking for for a while)

A buttonhole chisel

Very handy when I’m about to cut buttonholes in denim

a scissor sharpener (I just fixed my favourite 2 pairs of old scissors that have had blunt spots for years – I haven’t been able to find a sharpening service here)

Scissor sharpener

Now I’ll have sharp scissors forever

and a white marking pencil that I’ve been looking for.

Then I went to the next closest sewing machine store, but they didn’t have the brand of thread I needed.

So I drove across town (normally 25 minutes, but I was writing this post in my head and missed the turn, so it was a bit longer)…

…where I finally found topstitching thread

brown topstitching thread


(and some really nice silk thread for another project I have planned)

Red silk thread

I’ve never seen silk thread anywhere else

(and the store owner remembered me even though I haven’t been there for about 15 years).

And that’s how a spool of thread cost me a couple of hundred dollars and took me all morning to buy.

But now we have a new jacket, which will be the subject of another post.

Denim jacket

Looks just like a real one

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A new year: Cleaning up, setting up, restarting

I had a couple of weeks off over Christmas (actually, that’s not quite true – it’s my quiet period as well, so I have a fair amount of time, but on these 2 weeks I did no working-work). I had a bunch of projects that I wanted to start but an uncomfortable, unsettled feeling that was stopping me from getting stuck into it.

Usually for me this feeling is resolved by, instead of getting stuck in, stepping back and spending some time just fooling around and getting re-organised. So that’s what I did – mostly without as much intent as this will sound 🙂

The studio

I have a nice studio space beside my garage, but it was feeling crowded and uncomfortable to work in. I wanted to get another dressmaker’s mannequin, but knew I wouldn’t be able to fit anything else in.

After a bunch of thinking of options, I realised there was only one thing to do – the loom had to go (no, not forever, but I’m not going to be using it for a while). It was literally taking up half the room.

It just sits there and stares at me

My floor loom is enormous!

That opened up tons of space!

Plenty of space

Plenty of space

I’ve been doing sketching and drawing in my office in the house, but the lighting isn’t great and I don’t like working there – it feels like work. So I decided to set up a space in the studio for that. I bought some lights and pinboards, borrowed a trestle table and set up a desk to draw at. The bonus is that my daughter can sew at the same time as me now, which makes that more likely to happen!

A drawing & extra work space

A drawing & extra work space

The blocks

I have a set of blocks that I use for patternmaking, but I wasn’t happy with them. I wasn’t very good when I started them so every time I start a new pattern I have to remember the things that don’t quite work (bad waist positioning, terrible armhole shapes…). So I procrastinate when I want to start a project because I know the first draft won’t be very good.

I decided to redo them all, which is a big deal as it’s days of work. I also decided to try a new method (I’ve tried three different patternmaking methods and didn’t like any of them for real people who aren’t size 10 with an hourglass shape – one day I’ll do a detailed review of the methods). I bought a Craftsy class by Suzy Furrer which turned out to be my best patternmaking decision ever. Her method is fantastic, and the block it creates is wonderful. I still needed to do mine and kiddo’s twice due to some measuring mistakes, but now I have brilliant, wonderful, perfect blocks and I know my draft patterns will be pretty close to right first time.

And I have them on card, all hanging on pattern hooks, looking like I know what I’m doing. There really is something in the appearance of being professional 🙂

Looking like a pro!

Looking like a pro!

The projects

So with space and supplies, I should have been ready to get into those projects. But no, I was spinning around in circles, still not sure where to start. I had too many ideas and couldn’t start any of them.

Post-it notes to the rescue!

I wrote out every project I was thinking about – some were for garments and some were just fabric I wanted to use. I even colour-coded them with different colours for kiddo and I.

Then for each I applied the good old ‘Getting things done’ method and thought about the next action for each – what was stopping me from just getting started.

I had a few barriers:

  • Some (like a couple of pair of trousers) couldn’t be started until I lost a few kgs – there is no point making good things when I’m bigger than I want to be, then lose weight. These just needed to be parked.
  • For some, I actually didn’t know what to make. I know that I want some stretch tops and some cute blouses, but I don’t know what I want. These needed research.
  • For some, I didn’t have some skills I needed. I don’t have enough experience with fine (slippery) silk to start a silk blouse. I don’t know how to bind the armhole of a sleeveless blouse. I have very little experience with knits. These all got put on hold, and skills added to my projects list instead.
  • Some were for winter, and I really should work on things I can wear sooner, so they were parked as well.

The process of getting these out of my head and into a visible form was excellent. The worst place to hold ideas is in my head – it’s just far too messy. So now they are all on my pinboard, with sketches, inspiration and fabric.

All the ideas

All the ideas

This was better, but not perfect – I can see everything I want to do, but not what to do next. So I also put all my projects into OmniFocus, where my entire life’s todo is. Now I’m comfortable. I can easily see what the next step is for any project, rather than trying to hold that detail in my head as well.

All the jobs!

All the jobs!

This may completely look like overkill but with a job that involves running 3 conferences and a couple of client projects at once, I am accustomed to outsourcing all my thinking into a computer. I spend an hour a week looking over all my projects, updating them and figuring out next actions. It really means that when I have some time I can see exactly what I can do right now.


So with that all in place, I can start projects. The first three are a denim jacket and jumpsuit for kiddo, and a sleeveless blouse for me (I knocked over the ‘learn sleeve binding’ problem). I’ve even made a start on them:



Hmmm…so what now? Finish the stretch blocks, redo the denim jacket pattern or make a blouse? I might just do all three!


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Linen panel dress

[Intro: I’m switching direction again – from personal development to motorbiking to sewing. I design stuff, patternmake and sew; and I thought I might share some of my projects…]

The concept

I’m studying a Diploma in Fashion design and for an assignment had to design a mini spring/summer range. Amongst other things, I sketched this dress:

First sketch

First sketch

Which turned into this flat:


The fabric

I actually thought I wouldn’t be able to make this – it depended on being able to find colours that went together in the same fabric. I don’t have very good access to fabric stores so went shopping to look for things for another project. You can imagine how surprised I was to find these, all in lovely-quality linen:

5 examples of linen fabric

The pattern draft

The pattern is pretty simple. It’s from a standard dress block. I removed ease under the arms, moved the shoulder dart to the side seam, let out the waist darts a bit, widened the skirt and then drew in the neckline and panels. You can see most of it in this photo. The reason there is so much drawing on it is that there are a couple of stages of modification, each in a different colour (green is the final pattern). It’s messy, but easier (and more accurate) than tracing it for each variation.

Making the pattern

Making the pattern

I did make a toile, but the photo is fairly awful. I just traced the pattern straight onto the calico – again, that was much easier than cutting out the pattern and then cutting the fabric. I made it all in one piece to check the overall shape – I didn’t’ bother with the panels just yet.

The prototype

I made a prototype out of sheeting so I could double-check the pattern and see what the panels looked like, and it turned out great. All I needed to change was to narrow the skirt a bit.

Prototype dress, made from old sheeting

Prototype dress, made from old sheeting

I love the prototype – it’s almost wearable except for the fabric.

The final pattern

The final pattern pieces look like this:

Front pieces

Front pattern pieces

Pattern pieces for the back

Back pattern pieces

Lining pattern pieces

Lining and facing pattern pieces

There are a few little pattern features that may not be obvious:

  • The strap is the same colour as the top panel, but cut as a separate piece so it can be cut on the straight grain, not part bias (so it sits nice and flat)
  • The strap is perfectly positioned over the bra strap
  • The bust dart is hidden on the left, incorporated into the panel seam (but I couldn’t manage that on both sides)
  • I made a skirt facing instead of just turning up a hem. I wanted a bit of weight so the linen would hang straight and heavy-ish. I have never sewn a large turned up hem and have it look great. The facing is excellent for a really neat hem.

The dress

And here it is – the finished dress!

The final dress, and matching jacket

The final dress, and matching jacket

Just the dress

Just the dress

Sucking in my belly

Sucking in my belly

The wrap-up

I really love it. I’ve worn it twice already. It fits perfectly of course and is really comfortable. The linen crushes, but that’s just what happens with linen. I could even imagine making it again, which is unusual for me – I usually don’t use a pattern twice. If I did, I’d change the top angle of the centre panel to be less straight across the body – it’s a bit straight and visually wide, but that’s the only thing I’d do differently.

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Sinking sunk costs: Don’t continue work you hate

You may not know this, but I’m a weaver. I’ve had an enormous loom for longer than I’ve had a daughter, and my number 1 criteria when house-hunting is making sure I have space for my loom and sewing machines.

Some years ago, I made a rag rug out of denim jeans and gave it to my Dad. He hung it on the wall instead of using it as a rug, but that was OK. It was a good rug and I liked it enough that I eventually decided to make one for myself.

I collected jeans for years – going to op-shops and church sales, picking up $3 jeans, and delighting when I found a cheap pair of fat-man jeans.

I tore them into strips for years. Standing on my back deck, breathing in cotton dust, tearing until my arms hurt.

Thousands of strips of jeans

Thousands of strips of jeans

I wrapped them into balls by colour. Starting small and gradually getting bigger. It took ages and for a couple of years there were piles of denim strips in my loungeroom that would sit untouched for months at a time.

Rolled into balls

Rolled into balls

I wound a long warp and patiently put it on the loom. I threaded around 500 warp threads through the heddles, through the reed and tied them onto the front beam. It took days of continuous effort.

A very long warp

A very long warp

I finally started to weave – about 8 years after I started the project. And I hated it. It was just not fun weaving. I couldn’t get any rhythm, every piece of denim had to be placed in by hand, the warp was too wide to do it comfortably. So naturally, I stopped and did other things. I think it sat still for well over a year, possibly two.

It just sits there and stares at me

It just sits there and stares at me

The rug sat on the loom until last night, when I had some free time and thought I’d give it another go to get it woven off so I could start something pretty. It took half an hour to weave 10cm and I still hated it.

With only 1.6m done (out of a potential 8m), I decided it was not worth continuing. I didn’t want it to sit there for another 2 years, not being done. I wove a header to finish it off, took the scissors to it and cut it off the loom.

Finished weaving

Finished weaving

Twisting the fringe - another 3 hours work

Twisting the fringe – another 3 hours work

Ah, what a good decision that was. Now, instead of a hated project that I felt like I should continue because of the time I’d already sunk into it, I have an empty loom and infinite possibilities.

The rug is lovely. I would like more of them. But I don’t want them enough to risk locking up my future into a project I hate.

The finished rug is gorgeous

The finished rug is gorgeous

Now for something pretty.

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