I'm the boss, so I cook what I want

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Last weekend’s retreat was wonderful.

They always are. (Maybe not retreat number 7… but I can laugh about that now.)

There were impressive projects being completed throughout the weekend: photobooks, bullet journals, fancy zippered pouches, tote bags, knitting projects, and episodes of Sherlock. I had my first spinner attend the retreat: a yarn spinner, not a DJ, although it didn’t stop us from making DJ scratching sounds every time she went to go spin. We’re hilarious like that.

While everyone else is working to #completeatretreat, I spend most of my time cooking meals. And I really love it. I just cook the food I like, and hope that the guests like it, too.

I don’t think I always did that. I struggled in my early retreats to balance what I wanted to cook, and what I thought guests would want to eat. If I dared to try something different, I was haunted by the giant plate of leftovers and further divided about what to do next time.

But I’m in a new chapter now. I’m the boss. I’m going to embrace that.

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I served some familiar meals, like the charcuterie and cheese platter on Friday night, but I also made a pearl couscous lunch with roasted tomatoes and olives, with discs of eggplant and a lemony kale salad. And I served a roasted rack of pork with lots of earthy fennel flavours and a salty, crispy crust that fell apart when I sliced it but then I just scooped it up and sprinkled it on everyone’s plate. It’s so nice to just cook what I want, and trust that the guests will love it, too.

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Most retreats are filled with recipes and inspiration from Ina Garten. Although she is my forever-chef-crush, this past retreat was inspired mostly by Deb Perelman’s recipes. She has such a wonderful Instagram feed that links to recipes old and new — but always in the right season. I imagine she is actually making all these things in her small NYC apartment in real time.

Registration for my 2019 retreats is open. I decided to offer 4 retreats this year. Why not. If there isn’t enough interest, then I’ll just cancel one, or merge them together. You guys don’t mind if I mess around and try new things, right? It’s so nice being the boss.

Come for the surroundings. Come because your project pile is neglected and growing. Or come for the really delicious food. You get to see how much love I put into the meals, eat everything, and then not have to wash a single dish. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

There is an early bird discount right now for $50 savings if you register before the end of the year.

As added incentive, I’m doing a draw to win my extra copy of the amazing Handmade Getaway book. It’s a limited edition hardcover copy! The book is fabulous, filled with project ideas, guides, tips, and planning details to host your own amazing handmade getaway. All early-bird registrations will be automatically entered into the draw.

Hope to see you soon. xo.

Alexandria Peg Trousers

 Thankful for my 5-year old who is willing to help me with pictures. How else do you take pictures of pants?!

Thankful for my 5-year old who is willing to help me with pictures. How else do you take pictures of pants?!

I leave for Australia in 5 days! Eek! I used this trip to set some ambitious sewing goals. These chambray rayon Alexandria Peg Trousers were first to be checked off the list and I've already worn them to work thrice. [Mom: that means three times. It's a real word.]

This is my second pair of Alexandria Peg trousers and they are made with Robert Kaufman chambray rayon. The chambray refers to the dual tone weave, and rayon is a semi synthetic material made from wood pulp. It's soft and breathable: perfect for the coming warmer months. As opposed to the cotton+steel rayon, Robert decided to give us a full 54" width fabric, handy for grown up sized clothes so I can make these pants with just over a metre of fabric. 

When I first saw Karyn's Instagram picture of these pants, I knew they were for me. Pockets, pleats, elastic waist. Sold. 

I have problems with patterns that involve my waist measurement. When I teach sewing lessons, I do a run through of reading a commercial pattern and talk about how to pick the right size. As an example, I have my own measurements circled and it's always something like "size 2 bust, size 10 waist, size 2 hip". I'm like Mr. Smee from Peter Pan. There are various pattern adjustments you can do for a wider waist, but I generally try to pick loose shirts, dresses, or skirts that avoid needing a strict waist measurement. With exception to pjs and sweatpants that I sewed in abundance in high school, I have avoided pant patterns. Until now. 

This is my first foray into Named Patterns, the brand with a beautiful box and good, sturdy pattern paper that is so easy to trace.

The most complicated part is adding the pleats with the curved pockets --  which isn't too bad if you are good at reading instructions. The rest of the pants sew up quickly: flashback to high school pj pants.

Come to think of it, These are essentially fancy pyjama pants. There is even a drawstring option if you aren't planning to fake it at the office. I opted for just the elastic. Rather than grading the pattern for a size 10 waist and a size 2 hip, I just made a size two and left the elastic longer. This leaves less gathering at the waistband, but I'm okay with that since I'm trying to get away with a slightly more formal look for work. I wear them with nude heels at the office. It totally works. 

Fabrications in Hintonburg, Ottawa

After university, I returned to Ottawa to work my first Engineering job. It was then that I resurrected an old dream of singing, acting, and dancing on-stage. My previous experience included small roles in high school musical productions (where I danced alongside a younger Grace Lynn Kung) and I decided to give it another go: older and wiser, hopefully slightly more talented and worldly. I auditioned for the musical-comedy Damn Yankees and landed not one, but two roles: I played a baseball-loving, enthusiastic child wearing a modified Annie dress; and a mysterious dancer in the devil's lair wearing, well, almost nothing. The juxtaposition was humourous although slightly disconcerting. 

 That's me on the right, listening eagerly to the baseball game over the radio. 

That's me on the right, listening eagerly to the baseball game over the radio. 

 That's me on the right, hot as hell.

That's me on the right, hot as hell.

The musical was produced by Orpheus Musical Theatre, an amateur theatre company in Ottawa dating back to the early 1900s. Homebase was a red brick building in the heart of Hintonburg, about 10 min walk west from the Parliament building. I spent many rehearsal nights and days in the area. I remember it being... not so pretty. Not that I spent much time looking at the dark storefronts or uninviting loiterers. I walked impressively quickly to rehearsal.

Flash forward 12 years. 

The red brick Orpheus building is still there, but the neighbourhood is not what I remembered! Cafés, eateries and trendy shops are plentiful. The Saturday morning crowd was impressive for small-town Ottawa, and parking on Wellington is now quite a challenge.

 Orpheus house

Orpheus house

 This is late March. So much snow. Typical Ottawa.

This is late March. So much snow. Typical Ottawa.

I snapped a few pictures of the Orpheus building for nostaglic purposes. My dancing days are done. I've faced the music and learned that I should stick to my other passions. As it turns out, Ottawa's hippest fabric shop is just around the corner!

Mother-daughter duo Catherine Fournier and Faustina Konkal took ownership of Fabrications in early 2017. I reached out to Faustina shortly after my visit over the holidays and was so happy to hear of her enthusiasm about my retreats! I've been trying to connect with a fabric shop to partner retreat ideas, and I think I may have found a special connection!

Faustina will be joining the Purple Workbench retreat in June, and I'm looking forward to getting to know her more. It looks like the shop is busier than ever, offering more classes, adding a baby friendly vibe, expanding fabric selection, and I hear a future online store is in the works.

When I asked her how it came to be that she took over Fabrications, she shared her story of numerous occupations and passions before deciding to embark on this adventure as a shop owner. She worked in pastry shops and catering. She worked hard as a stay-at-home-mom to her three children and eventually worked part time at a local breastfeeding and natural parenting boutique. She spent time on additional studies at Carleton, but when it came time to decide what she really wanted to do, what she was passionate about, her past experiences learning to sew using wonderful blogs and youtube videos, sewing for her kids, the connections she made with other sewists in the community seemed to be at the forefront of her mind.

"The pressure of a full course load, plus kids and a family and spouse with a chronic illness really clarified things for me around that time. I realized that I am highly motivated by colour and texture and that I really enjoy the social aspect of working in a retail setting. I really like the small, frequent, social interactions with people through the day. I really like hearing about all of their stories and projects. At my previous job with new mothers, I really treasured the opportunity to encourage them in their mothering and to build them up. I also realized that I am the kind of person who will always be looking for something new to do." 

"When the previous owners of Fabrications sent out an email looking for new store owners, it seemed like the right thing coming at the right time. I contacted my mother and we started talking about whether or not we wanted to do this. We decided to pursue it and see where it went and whether it would be possible. As it turned out, all the doors opened (although some were slower than others) and the whole transfer was completed quite smoothly and quickly."

 I persuaded Peggy to smile for the camera. This was her first day. I bet she didn't think this would be part of the job description.

I persuaded Peggy to smile for the camera. This was her first day. I bet she didn't think this would be part of the job description.

 Faustina and Catherine at the shop on Saturday morning. I predict the fabric wall will be growing!

Faustina and Catherine at the shop on Saturday morning. I predict the fabric wall will be growing!

What project(s) are you currently working on? Right now I am doing a massive tracing and cutting of a big stack of projects to sew at my sewing retreat weekend with my friends. Several tee shirts, a dress, a skirt, some pants, and maybe a jacket. I'm also knitting for THREE babies that are due in my extended family this year. And, on a professional level, we're working on transitioning our point of sale, inventory and eCommerce to a single unified system that will allow us to stream line our work load and enable us to sell product online. Canada is massively under served for fabrics and sewing patterns and we know that being able to sell online will meet not only our needs and goals but also those of Canadian sewists.

Who or what is your current inspiration? My friend Johanna is always a creative inspiration for me. She's very organized, whereas I am not, and she a really fast sewer, whereas I am not. And, she is really good at pairing fabric and patterns and she's really good at sewing for her body. 

I follow a bunch of small fabric stores on Instagram and a few of those really inspire me. I love what Patch Halifax and Needlework are doing. I love their feeds. And Seam Allowance Fabrics takes stunning product photos! I'm also really lucky to know dozens of women business owners who inspire me so much. They have all different kinds of businesses, but they all amaze me with their creativity and confidence. 

Creatively right now, I'm really enjoying teaching myself to knit. I'll probably always be a novice knitter but that's fine with me. Give me a lap full of Madeline Tosh and I'm happy. I'm also stalking a bunch of bra making stores and bra makers instagram feeds because I feel like its a great melding of two passions - sewing and bra fitting. I love bras. I read bra blogs. It's a bit nerdy.

Describe your perfect day: That's a hard one. Sleeping in a bit, but not too long. Really good coffee, but not at a coffee shop, at home. A morning of sewing, half of it easy and quick gratification and half of it frustrating and complicated. In the afternoon, going to Le Nordik Spa in Chelsea either by myself, with my husband or with my oldest friend. Then, dinner some place really good. Doesn't have to be fancy, I love bistro style restaurants. But, they have to have a good wine list, know how to serve properly, get the foundations like bread and demi-glaze right, and make their dessert menu in-house. (See? Trained food snob who knows what's what. I'm kinda hard to please when dining out. If you cook for me at home, though, I'm a push over). A movie at home while knitting.

What is your favourite snack while crafting?: Lay's BBQ chips.

Learn more about the fabrics, supplies, and classes offered by Fabrications on their website or follow their wonderful instagram feed @fabricationsott.



 @fabricationsott Photo by Kelly Manweiller

Photo by Kelly Manweiller