Another Fringe dress

My one planned dress for Spring was another Fringe dress, following on from my love for my palm print one.

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know I made a lot of dresses during October, but this was the one I actually planned! The rest were summer sewing ideas that queue jumped thanks to Frocktober.

This is the first time I’ve sewn the view with extended sleeve cuffs and button-up bodice, and I love it as much as it’s predecessor.

The pattern

The Fringe dress by Chalk and Notch

Size made

10

Fabric

Outback Wife cotton merino from Darn Cheap Fabrics

Fit

I took the darts back to as marked on the pattern (avoiding the double correction I made last time) and the rest was as per here.

What I love

The button up bodice is as easy to sew as the other view and gives another look. I love the detail of the tabs to hold the cuffs in place and got to use some of my Grandma’s vintage buttons. I still love the curved hem.

Challenges

Turning the shoulder tabs with one fractured arm was beyond difficult. If I’d thought about it in advance I would have constructed them without needing to turn them around.

Will I make it again?

I’m sure I will, this is my favourite dress style right now.

Happy sewing,

Shell.

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My Craft Sessions retreat

Back at the beginning of September I had one of the most uncomfortable, joyful weekends of my recovery life. I went to my first The Craft Sessions retreat. It’s the most wonderful gathering of crafty women (lots of knitters, but also sewists, quilters, spinners, embroiders, crocheters and a whole lot of us multi-crafters if you dig a little deeper) for 3 days of workshops, amazing food and connection through shared love of making.

It’s run by Felicia of The Craft Sessions blog and has been going for 6 years now, although I somehow only found out about it last year. After tickets had sold out, but before the event itself. It looked amazing and made it onto my mental bucket list for one day. Although if the truth be told, if I hadnt gotten AML, I dont know if one day would ever have happened. As a full time working mum, a whole 3 day weekend away from my family seemed too big an ask.

Well, come ticket release early 2018, I was in my hospital bed. In remission, recovering from a stem cell transplant. With a second chance at life. Wanting to do all the things. While I can. With a very hightened realisation that life is short and we don’t know how long we have. But no money. Neither of us had worked since my illness, we were living on benefits plus community fundraising. Then I read a little note about a scholarship. There and then, I answered the questions and hit send. September seemed a long time away. I was meant to be well by then, not able to work as a Kindergarten teacher yet, but able to do things.

A week or so later I received an email saying I was successful! I hadn’t even told my husband I’d applied!

Luckily, there was a $500 stipend along with the scholarship, so we made the plan that my family would stay in accommodation nearby just in case I needed to get to hospital.

The months quickly passed, with my recovery for the most part going to plan, except for my blood counts. They’ve lagged along very sluggishly, meaning I still have a very poor immune system. Until that weekend I avoided crowds and always wore a face mask when indoors in public. That week I was told my neutrophils had gone up to 0.8 (they’ve since come down lower again) and I flitted off to the retreat with a clear conscience!

The craft sessions are held in the stunning Yarra Valley, at the Yarra Valley Estate.

Grey skies, perfect crafting weather

Attending any sort of meetup like this solo is always going to geel a little bit awkward at times. Add to that my complete lack of socialising the past year and I felt like a fish out of water. But everyone is very welcoming and there were many others attending solo also. Felicia actively sets the tone of an inclusive event and over the 3 days I met so many lovely people who included me in their groups, plus started friendships with others braving solo-attendance.

It felt incredible being back in the world at large, meeting people and connecting over our shared interests. I tried not to tell my story to all, even though I felt self-conscious about my hair. These were people meeting the new me, with no idea I used to look any different. If it came up I talked about my illness, and I even met a wonderful maker who had a similar story herself and was nearly at the 5 year remission mark, so that was wonderful. Over the 3 days I felt more and more comfortable and even empowered by realising what a huge accomplishment it actually was.

So, to the workshops! Keen to up my knitting game, I did two half-day knitting workshops. The first was with Georgie of Tikkiknits.

They really were joyful! Georgie generously gave us a shawl pattern that uses the technique we explored in the class and I made it straight after the weekend. Unfortunately I made a boo boo I thought I could live with but it turns out I can’t so I’ll be ripping it back and re-knitting when I’m over my fractured humerus. It’s a great shawl though and I’m looking forward to finishing it properly.

The other knitting class was an introduction to colourwork with international knitting teacher Mary-Jane Mucklestone.

Mary-Jane adapted the class to where each participant was at (complete beginner for me). I can now knit the basics and I can’t wait to get more into colourwork…starting with finishing the hat we worked on in class.

Mine is the red and cream

In the afternoons of these first two days were a number of shorter workshops you could choose from, walk around the estate or simply knit.

I also learnt spelt sourdough bread making over two sessions, which was the best unexpected bonus. I’ve had my own failed starter attempts before and this time not only did I learn all about the process, I came away with starter to add to at home. I got into the baking straight away and am now regularly making delicious crusty sourdough. Like our teacher Katie, the spelt doesn’t set off my gluten sensitivity. Great tasting bread instead of horrible gluten free bread. This is the best!!!

This was my first loaf!

The final day was a full day workshop. I chose Embroidered Herbal Self Care Bags with Elizabeth Barnett. It was such a beautiful relaxing day of stitching.

I can barely believe I drew the herbs, let alone stitched them!

So now that I’ve been home for a while and the euphoria of the experience has passed, would I do it again, as a paying participant? In a heartbeat!

I fully plan on setting aside some money each week once I’m back at work. I won’t be able to go next year, but 2020 has my name on a ticket already! I highly recommend this as a wonderful self-care retreat for any craft-lover.

And even though time with my family is precious, I figure one weekend away a year, doing what I love is worth it.

My motto in life since being ill is we all need to do what we love, so long as it doesn’t harm others. Giving each of the four of us in our family ways to do this is important to me. Our choices might not make sense to other’s, but they don’t need to, as long as they’re right for us.

So I say go on the holiday, buy the car, cut the fabric, do the job you love, knit the crazy difficult sweater, do all the things! All the things that are right for you. Life is short, make it worth it!

I’ll be forever grateful to Felicia and her team for my Craft Sessions.

Happy making,

Shell.

My scrappy Karri dress

The Karri dress by Megan Nielsen designs was one of those patterns that was love at first sight for me. I think I bought it straight away, printed it, then it sat, for a very long time.

It seemed like it would be a big task. Fitting a princess seamed bodice with all those pieces felt like it would be a huge effort. It took a combination of Frocktober and Megan announcing the Karri was her featured pattern for October to get my act into gear at last!

The pattern

The Karri dress by Megan Neilsen patterns

Size made

M

Fabric

Chambray left over from dresses for my daughters.

Outback Wife cotton merino left over from a Tea Party dress for Miss M.

Cotton left over from my soon to be blogged Patricia Rose dress, from Fibresmith.

Yarn dyed stripe cotton remnant from Spotlight.

Shot cotton remnants from Spotlight.

Chambray cotton pique from a too small rtw dress of my daughters.

Mystery very light woven lining, I think cotton, from bargain rack at Spotlight.

Fit

I’ve worked out my Megan Neilsen fit. Size M, graded to L from the waist down for fitted styles like this.

I sewed a bodice muslin and the only adjustment needed was a 1/2 inch small bust adjustment. My norm. No additional bodice length was needed, which is one of the great benefits of Megan’s patterns for me, she drafts for my height. So delaying this pattern for so long was completely unnecessary! I did add 2 inches to the skirt.

What I love

The whole design it yourself aspect of choosing fabric layout is such fun! It took me quite a while to choose and in the end I got help from my daughters and on instagram. This resulted in toning down my pattern play a little, which I think was a good choice.

My original plans … a bit too much!

Sewing a fully lined dress was fun too. The sewing of the bodice was really quick, even with the piecing, as you don’t need to finish the seams.

Challenges

To finish the dress I followed this alternate method on Megan’s blog. I’m a big fan of understitching and liked learning how to attach the lining with minimal hand sewing.

Will I make it again?

Yes, definitely. I’m already planning another scrap-busting one, and I’d love a ponte one for cooler weather too.

Do you like a scrappy make? What patterns you you enjoy colour blocking or pattern playing with?

Happy sewing,

Shell.

Next steps in treatment – my AML story part 2

I started sharing my leukaemia story here.

The first month of chemotherapy is called induction. It was IV chemo for about 7 days, alternating between lighter and heavier days (different chemo drugs in combination). The chemo itself wasn’t too bad for me, the doctors are very good at medicating nausea these days.

The worst symptoms started around day 10 and lasted a couple of weeks. I had abdominal pain, bloating and constipation (likely caused by the nausea medication) that then became diarrhea once that was treated! It was a case of drugs to treat side effects caused by drugs to treat….a seemingly never ending cycle.

Lots of people ask why I didn’t go the natural route or try this or that alternative therapy. I can now say that while I’ve always been happy to fo this for a cold, sore back, headache etc, when it’s life threatening I just do what the doctors say! Plus, when you’re on different medications you don’t want to risk bad reactions by mixing in supplements etc…well that’s my opinion.

There’s so much that started as strange and scary and just became my normal. Blood transfusions, blood tests, hickmann dressings, allergic reactions (the more drugs you have, the more you discover you’re allergic to!), gcsf injections into the stomach to stimulate blood recovery, bone pain when the bloods are in heavy-duty recovery mode.

I spent my days knitting, watching TV (midday telemovies and house flipping shows) and with visitors as much as possible. Which wasn’t too often. I was soooooo grateful to everyone who came. My concentration wasn’t really there for reading, which sucked as a big reader.

Knitting was my sanity!

That first 3 weeks in hospital my husband and daughters were living 2 and a half hours drive away (thanks to roadworks). Carl came in 3-4 times a week, bringing the girls one day on the weekend and after school on a Wednesday each week. It was an exhausting time for Carl and a lonely time for me. When the girls got sick I didn’t see them for 9 days. If we hadn’t been able to access accommodation in Melbourne I don’t know how I would have coped with the whole treatment.

But happily, we did. It came about because there’s periods throughout the treatment when the patient can be released from hospital, but needs to be close by in case of emergency. So we requested a family apartment for the four of us. It was initially part government funded and part self-funded then as time went on we were helped by a fundraising sub-set of the Fight Cancer Foundation that owns the accommodation. Thank heavens for organizations like this! To us, being a family unit together through it all was more important than anything, for all 4 of us.

I recovered really well from the 1st cycle of chemo, meaning my blood counts quickly moved up closer to normal levels. I felt healthier than I had in months. I was deemed release-able ahead of time, by about day 21 of the cycle and we had to wait (with me impatiently in hospital) a weekend for our new city home to become available. The girls had to stay with family again as they still had their colds and couldn’t be near me for a few more days.

It was a very strange feeling being out of hospital! We settled into our new home away from home and enjoyed a week of recovery and reconnection together.

So I had my second bone marrow biopsy during that week and was pronounced in remission! This blew my mind, but it’s what they aim for these days. I’m so grateful my treatment went to plan, of course everyone’s doesn’t.

If you have any questions, please ask.

Until the next installment, Shell.

Style Arc Adeline dress

I’m currently participating in Frocktober, a fundraiser organised by the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation of Australia. The aim is to raise awareness about ovarian cancer and raise money to fund research. The immediate research goal is to develop an early detection test, as currently there isn’t one and most women aren’t diagnosed until the disease is at a more advanced stage, when outcomes aren’t as successful.

So, everyday during October, myself and many other women are frocking up to spread the word. If you would like to make a donation my fundraising page is here. Thanks!

Why ovarian cancer when I had leukaemia? A few reasons. First, frocks are fun. I need fun. I do plan to give back to the Leukaemia Foundation and Fight Cancer Foundations, both of which have helped us greatly, but right now it’s too fresh. Leukaemia is on my mind every 15 minutes I estimate, and I don’t need to add to that yet!

My pledge for Frocktober is to wear a dress everyday and post to Instagram. Most will be handmade, but not all. I have some lovely dresses that my husband has given me and a few favourites from prior to sewing most of my clothes. I will be sewing a few dresses that I’ve been planning for summer though, with the first coming off the machine today.

Sincere apologies for the photos. I know you don’t come here for stunning photos but these are scraping the barrel.

The pattern

The Adeline Dress by Style Arc

Size made

10

Fabric

Tencel twill from Spotlight.

Fit

I went with my bust measurement for this loose fit dress and nearly made a drastic error. After sewing the entire dress I went to put it on and could barely wiggle the narrow cocoon hem over my proportionately ample hips! I just got it on, and I mean just! Leggings don’t even fit under this dress. So, next time I will grade out around the tummy area so I can widen the hem but retain the cocoon shape.

What I love

The cocoon shape is lovely, it’s a new silhouette for me and I do like it. I think it adds something to a loose sack dress. The facings (neck and hem) give a lovely finish. The v neck isn’t too low, in fact I mistakenly sewed it with a 1cm seam allowance instead of 1/4 inch and I still like it.

Challenges

Sewing Style Arc again, I remembered why I named my blog for them. I really have to think while sewing them. The instructions outline the basics, but things like seam and facing finishing, clipping and pressing aren’t spelt out. This is fine, but it really keeps me on my toes. Ultimately I’m sure it’s good for my recovering-from-chemo-brain. I followed Mie’s order of construction to achieve a nice finish at the hems. I had to look up how to sew a v neck too. This is something I’ve sewn many times but I needed to refresh myself on the finer points.

Pockets!!!

Will I make it again?

Yes, probably. It seems like it would be a great hot-day loose dress, yet with good sun-coverage.

So what other popular patterns do I need to sew? I must be the last person in the world to make this dress!

Happy sewing,

Shell.

One year after leukemia

It was a year ago today I was called into the doctor’s for the results of some routine blood tests. Tests that were only ordered because I saw a new doctor (for a routine script repeat) and she thought it was a good idea to see if anything could be seen to do with iron levels, hormones etc. Peri-menopausal womens troubles. I didn’t even mention my fatigue, I was so convinced it was just being a working Mum getting through a difficult winter of lots of colds. I didn’t even mention my back pain. Which seems crazy now, but at the time I thought I just needed a holiday, which was happening the next day.

Well the results put a sudden end to that. “This is not a diagnosis, but the labs believe there is no other explanation for these blood results than leukaemia. We will refer you to the Peter Maccallum Cancer Centre for immediate testing and a diagnosis. Try not to worry, this is not a diagnosis.”

Holiday cancelled. Extended family plans all changed (we missed one party that was going to be worked into our driving the next day, but went to another one to leave our daughters there while we sought answers). Carl and I staying in cheap accommodation in Melbourne with the unknown hanging over us like a death sentence. Even in everything that’s followed this past year, those first few days of the complete unknown were the longest and worst.

The day after the initial local doctor news, and basically today. I had no idea back then I looked so drawn.

Our plan was to be at the Peter Mac while the doctor sent the urgent referral through on the Monday. We figured if we were already there I could be seen, without the added delay of getting there from 2-3 hours drive away. Our local doctor was amazing. I called reception at the hospital and was told getting triaged would take a few days. The local doctor went direct to the haematology professors and somehow got me seen that afternoon. After an examination and review of the blood results I was booked in for a bone marrow biopsy the following morning, ordered to stay in the city and to call an ambulance if anything happened overnight. Errr, Ok. From that point we expected anything could suddenly happen.

That first doctor at the Peter Mac was matter of fact and reassuring. She told me it was likely either Chronic or Acute Myeloid Leukemia and that depending which, the treatment would either be as an outpatient or inpatient at the neighbouring Royal Melbourne hospital. She told me she would treat me as if I were her sister. And not to google! In the whirlwind of confusion over what was happening my brain felt like it was shutting down, but these words gave me a small sense of calm, and kept me off the internet!

The first bone marrow biopsy was scary but not as bad as they sound. Having a great big needle shoved into the back of your pelvis to suck marrow out from the centre of your bone doesn’t sound great, but there’s only a couple of seconds of intense pain that the local anaesthetic and green whistle don’t block out. And in the first of many small world moments, the doctor who performed it was a griend of a friend!

Within an hour I got a phone call with the news that they had a bed ready for me in 7B at the Royal Melbourne. OK, I guess that means it’s acute!

From that point the next few days were a blur. Telling people. Breaking the news to work and coming to terms with the fact that it would keep going on without me and my students would be fine. Trying to understand what was going on medically. Talking to the social worker and organising the financial side of things. Getting a Hickmann central line inserted into my chest for treatment and the daily blood tests. Working out how we would celebrate my youngest’s birthday.

The medical side was kept on a need to know basis, I think to avoid overwhelming us. As far as I knew, treatment was a month of IV chemotherapy then another bone marrow biopsy and we would see how I was and adjust the plan as needed after that. I was told the overall timeline was likely to be 3 months of treatment with 6 months off work. But at the same time, in the background, just in case it would be needed, they started the ball rolling on testing my brothers in case a bone marrow transplant were needed.

My consultant was the incredibly positive Dr Kate Burberry. She explained my disease was one that was curable (not all blood cancers are) and we were going for a cure. Not any sort of guarantee by a long shot, but enough to face each step positively and with hope.

I’m going to end this installment here and continue in further posts. It’s cathartic to get the story down, but it’s lengthy!

One year on and I’m still here and plan on being for a long time to come. I’m in remission, I’m home. I’m getting my strength back and doing things I love each day. I’m so grateful.

If you have any nagging niggly health symptoms, tell them to a doctor. Get blood tests. It may well be nothing, but then again it just might save your life. I have been incredibly lucky.

Wishing you love and health, Shell.

It’s love – the simple shift dress for me

This is one of those simple shapes I have wanted in my wardrobe for a long time. I’ve tried a few but until now they’ve never been quite right for my unique body (we’ve all got one). The Esme tunic and top had popped up on my radar through many lovely versions on instagram but it wasn’t until seeing the book Everyday Style in person in a bookshop that I was swept up in Lotta’s styling and decided it was worth a try. Plus there’s quite a few other good-looking basic styles to explore.

The pattern

Esme tunic and top from Lotta Jansdotter’s book Everyday Style

Size made

Medium, graded to Large from waist down on the longer versions.

Fabric

Top – quilting cotton from the stash with a chambray back.

Tunic – Art Gallery Fabrics Voile

Dress – Outback Wife back cloth

The fit

As is my usual, I started with the smallest fabric-commitment to test the fit. I raided my girls’ clothes fabric tub to come up with a pink and chambray scrapbusting version. Pink has never been my colour but my post-treatment grey hair has freed me to experiment much more with colour. I’m actually craving all the colours at the moment.

Amazingly the top fit perfectly! I rattled about in indecision about the fit over my tummy, but the bust and shoulders were just right.

I eventually decided a bit more room across the tummy and hips might be good and graded out to a large for subsequent versions.

This is the tunic length from the pattern. It’s quite long as a tunic or short as a dress (I’m 178cm). I have worn it with leggings but felt a bit self-conscious, like I was out in my mini-dress! I love the drape in this voile and there’s no shoulder/bust wrinkles in this apparel fabric.

What I love

The perfect not too high, not too low, not too wide neckline. The finish of the stitched down neckline facing. The silhouette, fitted over the bust then flowing out over my pear shape.

In the cut on cap sleeve version there’s room for layering.

So next up was to try the cap sleeve in my precious Outback Wife fabric. I purchased the last 2.4m in this design from Darn Cheap Fabrics so my dress plans were a little limited. At first I tried to get a muslin of the Gertrude Made Simplicity 8294 to fit with the non-gathered skirt. However after some playing with this I realized even if I spent the time to make it fit, I wasn’t going to be happy with this more fitted style on myself. Time for my new-found basic shift style again!

I lengthened the dress by 5 inches and gave it a decent weighty hem.

Challenges

My biggest challenge was deciding to be happy with the fit. As in not obsessing over every wrinkle and going down a pattern tweaking path that messes with my joy in sewing, for very little difference in outcome. I think the different fabric weights of these three makes makes far more difference to the look than the usual pattern adjusting I try.

Will I make it again?

Yes! Expect iterations of these to become the basis of my wardrobe.

Each of these in turn has brought me increasing joy. I’m loving a simple shape to use with bright fabrics I love. I can’t wait to sew up more styles from this book and see if I have as much success with them.

Happy sewing,

Shell.