Category Archives: fashions we can’t afford

Next Stop, Project Runway

Hey, friends! Can you believe it’s almost August? As summers typically do, this one seems to have slipped into some mysterious black hole. But even more importantly (at least for the purposes of this blog), can you believe it’s time for one of the best shows on TV—Project Runway— to enter its NINTH season? I’ve been watching it for all eight previous seasons, and I’m certainly watching it tonight.

hot mess tranny fierce

Can I confess that I’ve always secretly wanted to be on Project Runway? I mean, who wouldn’t want to take shopping trips to Mood with Tim Gunn? Or be insulted by Michael Kors himself (a la, “I’m sorry, but it looks like a purple fern with angel wings”)? Heck, I’d even be fine getting the “You’re out” from Heidi. But one thing holding me up from this far-out little fantasy is the fact that I can’t sew.

But that’s all going to change, and I hope you all can help me with this. A few weeks ago, I ordered this:

1-2-3 Sew by Ellen Luckett Baker is a charming little book with charming little patterns, all intended to build upon each other. The projects start out as simply as possible, and the goal is for the beginning seamster/seamstress to learn small skills along the way. The sewing tasks get a little more complicated the further you work your way through the book, maximizing what Baker has called a “building-block approach to sewing.” The projects are organized in groups of three:

And thankfully, every project is supplemented with lots and lots of helpful photographs and diagrams:

So, it’s with fear and trepidation (and an incredibly sketchy sewing machine that I bought from what may just have been a female drug-dealer in Hendersonville, TN) that I start this teach-myself-to-sew journey. I already finished the first project—a tea towel with basic folded corners—using my sister’s sewing machine and some Mary Engelbriet fabric my mom found at her thrift store.

It’s crooked, it has errors, and it’s definitely longer on one side than the other. But you know what? It’s a tea towel; and I will probably accidentally set it on fire anyway. And amazingly, I didn’t puncture my finger ONCE while turning the corners.

So, friends—I know several of you are masters with your sewing machines, so what helped you get started? Did someone teach you, or are you self-trained? What recommendations would you give to a greenhorn seamstress? Any resources you think I ought to check out? I’m determined to become proficient at this one, ladies and gentlemen!!!

Also, what are your first impressions of this new season of PR? After watching this first challenge tonight (pajamas + your bedsheet = high fashion), I’m not sure I’ll ever have a stable enough blood pressure for this show.




Dress Your Best, and Love the Rest

Hey, good-lookin’! Happy Thursday!

Can I recount a particularly mortifying experience with you? About four years ago, I went to a bachelorette party with some girlfriends. At some point in the evening, one of the partygoers—a particularly lovely, intelligent, and generous gal—decided that a fun “game” would be for each of us to systematically describe our least favorite body parts. Though she encouraged us to point out what we also like about ourselves, what ensued was nothing more than a complaint session in which each girl poured out a litany of body griefs. A series of gorgeous and smart women played along for what felt like an eternity, and few of them remembered to point out what they liked about themselves. It was almost as if they were all looking in a funhouse mirror, being horrified at what they saw. I kept thinking to myself, If THESE girls think of themselves as so hopelessly flawed, who KNOWS what they must think about me! The self-bashing was spreading like mold.

That night has stuck with me for a long time because not a single one of those women should have felt anything but pride in who they are, both inside and out. When a girl who weighs 120 lbs. sees nothing but her cellulite, that speaks volumes to me about our culture and how women are not allowed—much less encouraged—to love their bodies. It is with this in mind that I challenge you to spend the next few days joining me in dressing your best features, and loving the rest too.

I found out about “Dress Your Best Week” from the writers and fashionistas over at Academic Chic, where for the next few days they will be writing about their favorite body parts and how they like to dress them. As a fellow academic, I really appreciate these women’s opinions, goals, and insights into the body as a site of identity; and they have some pretty great practical advice about fashion as well. As part of “Dress Your Best Week,” they point out that though it’s no crime to be a little uncomfortable about parts of your body, by and large we tend to nitpick ourselves apart and forget to appreciate the parts of our bodies that are truly lovely. So with that spirit of maximize OVER minimize, let’s focus instead on the parts that aren’t so bad.

I’ll go first. Since I’m home alone for a few days and couldn’t get any decent full-body photos of myself besides this lame-o mirror shot,

I’ll break down my list, one body part at a time.

1. ) My hands.

My hands are getting a little more wrinkled, freckled, and spotted these days, but that doesn’t really bother me. I appreciate how my hands can hold a book; type a paper; write a letter; grade a student’s essay; and of course, open a bag of gummy bears. My fingers are slim but strong, so I decorate them with rings (Kate Spade) and nail polish (OPI’s “Suzi Sells Sushi By the Seashore”). I’ve always liked my hands, and I always will.

2.) My feet.

My feet take me everywhere, and they carry the weight of the rest of me. They get blistered and sore, but they sure do look cute in espadrilles from H&M. And if I’ve gained a few pounds during finals, my shoes will always still fit on my trusty, consistently-sized feet.

3) My hair.

This is a new haircut. And while it took me a few days to get over how I look a little bit like Pat Benatar, I think I’m finally getting used to it. In fact, I think I finally like it, so I’m wearing it down today.

4.) And finally . . . my butt.

OK, fine. My butt and I weren’t always on good terms. But now that I’m in my late twenties, I think we’ve grown fond of each other. I especially like the way Calvin Klein jeans fit me, because they tend to accentuate the feminine curve that I’ve grown so used to. If I were suddenly a stick figure, I think I’d miss this caboose.

This entry may seem like nothing more than a bit of braggadocio, but I truly believe that there’s no other way to combat the poison of self-loathing. It’s time for women to learn that their bodies are powerful, beautiful, and wonderfully made. Now it’s your turn—which parts of YOUR body do you love the most, and how do you dress them?



*If you want to participate in Dress Your Best week on your own blog, head on over to to let them know you’re taking part in the body celebration!

. . . and Kate Saved the McQueen

Ay-up, bezzy mates! Is anyone else still experiencing post-royal-wedding ennui as badly as I am? If so, read on. But if any of you feels/felt the same way that internet sensation Mad Melvin felt about the royal nuptials, then this post is probably skippable.

Aside from the mini-breakdown I had midday on that Friday upon realizing that Prince William had actually, really, truly married someone who is NOT me, I’d say the whole royal-wedding-shebang was as much fun as I’d hoped. Like millions of other crazy people, I woke up at 3:00 in the morning to watch the ordeal of the arriving guests, the hats, the tails, the fancy cars, and—of course—the dress. Though I’m pretty sure I slept through the wedding homily, I think I saw the most important stuff—including, but not limited to:

The Queen, who I must say looked just adorable and cheery in yellow Angela Kelly:

Beatrice and Eugenie, in Valentino and Vivienne Westwood respectively, taking some risks with unforgettable Philip Treacy hats:

Of course, these dudes:

Pippa M., whose derriere has now garnered international fame:

And the star of the day, Kate M., now the Duchess Catherine of Cambridge:

I must say: WELL DONE, PRINCESS KATE! Though the press had done a pretty good job sleuthing and figuring out that Sarah Burton from Alexander McQueen was going to be designing Kate’s gown, I still found it to be a lovely, lovely surprise. I adored the combination of the lace sleeves with the sweetheart bodice/neckline, as well as the manner in which her veil never obscured her face. Without going into much detail, I thought it was very dramatic and elegant, yet simple at the same time. And good grief did it photograph well!

So basically, I had already watched the royal wedding before our royal wedding watch party ever began; but it worked out well, because then I could tend to all the party goings-on. And the party was great, by the way—thanks mostly to great friends who brought great food. It’s my philosophy that any party will be successful if you have at least those two key components.

Here are some of the early arrivals posing with the gigantic Union Jack we hung from the front of the house:

We set up the table with red roses and white tulips; our Union Jack bunting and runner; some very hilarious diamond-ring doodads; and of course, the nosh.

Our friends brought everything from tea cookies to cucumber sandwiches to delicious cheeses and nutella. We served Irish soda bread, sausage rolls (recipe included below), stewed mushrooms, Framboises St. George, and Cottage Pie (Will’s childhood favorite). Everything we cooked came straight out of the book Eating Royally by Darren McGrady, who was at one point private chef to Diana. I was most proud of my super-easy raspberry dessert, which was supposed to look like St. George’s Cross.

The party flowed smoothly between the kitchen, the makeshift drink bar, the watching area, and the yard, where we had a lively game of nighttime croquet. Of course, my friends let me win because they have royally good manners.

All in all, it was a capital day! I think I can say confidently that we had a better time than Grace Van Cutsem.

Recipe for Sausage Rolls (adapted from Eating Royally)

I’ve made these twice now, and they are extremely easy and tasty. And they look kind of fancy, too, so I’d recommend them for any event that requires posh-looking finger-foods.


  • 1 lb. pork sausage
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 package of puff pastry

Preheat your oven to 375F. In a big bowl, mix together one egg with your sausage and dried herbs. Add salt and pepper. Make sure the herbs are incorporated thoroughly into the meat.

Take your puff pastry (make sure it is somewhere between frozen and thawed) and roll it out a little. Cut the pastry into thirds, along the fold lines. (I placed the pieces I was not working with in the freezer, to keep them from getting too mushy.) At one long edge of the pastry, begin forming a log of sausage about 1-inch thick. Once your log is in place, brush the other long edge of your pastry with the other beaten egg. Carefully tuck the sausage log into the pastry, rolling it up tightly. The egg wash should help to seal pastry into a sturdy roll.

If the roll is too mushy, place it back in the freezer for a while. If it’s still cold enough to handle without sticking, begin cutting the log into half-inch pieces. (A very sharp knife helps here.) Repeat this entire process with both pieces of pastry (6 rolls in all). Place them on a baking sheet (no need to grease it), and bake for 15-20 minutes. Before you know it, you’ll have 50+ little appetizers that look like this:


So what about all of you? What did you think of the wedding? Beatrice’s hat? The Archbishop of Canterbury’s glorious eyebrows?

Cheerio, loves!


A Royal Wedding Countdown!

It was just a few weeks ago when I woke up, turned on the television, stumbled out of bed, and yelled down from the banister to my roommate: “Nancy, it can’t be true!”

Nancy—ever more productive, efficient, and ahead-of-me-in-every-way—replied something along the lines of, “I’m devastated! My plans have failed! WhatEVER will happen to my plans for a Pottery Barn lifestyle?!”

I remember taping cut-outs of Prince William inside my high school locker; and Nancy, upon seeing the Prince himself in London last summer, got so frazzled with joy that (rather than snapping a photo of him) she instead took a photo of the sidewalk. So it only seems fitting that we celebrate the death of a dream with an enormous party, surrounded by friends, food, and festivities.

Remember this, girls? Be still my teenage heart.

To get ready for our “Watch Party,” I’ve been scouring the internet for party ideas and any new information I can find about the royal fashions. Though I had read earlier (and blogged about the possibility) that Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen might be designing Kate’s dress, I also read that Sophie Cranston of Libélula might be in charge.

from Vanity Fair's website

While the dresses from the Libélula website are just lovely, I’m still hoping for something gigantic and dramatic. You know, like Queen Victoria’s:

Or Carrie Bradshaw’s:

Or the dress Project Runway winner Leanne Marshall envisioned for Kate:

Or even Princess Giselle’s:

Just kidding. (Sort of.)

Anyway, I guess we’ll find out at our party on Friday! On the docket for the shindig:

  • food and drink, including: Cottage Pie, Irish soda bread, Croque Monsieur, and Buck’s Fizz
  • a DVR-d replay of the coverage, since we aren’t dedicated enough to watch it in the wee hours
  • royal wedding bingo
  • maybe a hat-and-jewels contest
  • tea sampling
  • croquet in my SUV-rutted yard (weather permitting)
  • probably lots of fake-English accent-speaking (although we can’t go too far, since our friend Victoria—who is bona fide British—will be there, and might get sick of us)
Right now I’m working on some Union Jack bunting to hang around the house. If I can make it, so can you. All you need is:
  • blue fabric
  • red and white ribbon of various sizes
  • hot glue (with gun)
  • scissors
  • white bias tape
  • and a rotary cutter

I’m making at least one or two more strands of the flag buntings, but here’s the first one:

What about you all? Are you geeking out as much as we are, or are you over it already? Are you going to watch it live, or will you wait until morning?

Cheerio, loves! Will check in with news or updates—


God Save the Alexander McQueen!

Dear Friends—

Some of you have asked what this blog is “about,” and I admit—I’m not always quite sure. It started out as a blog about our domestic forays, but I think we’ve deviated from that “theme” to the point where this really just seems to be a sounding board for the various interests we have indulged in beyond our work-a-day lives. For Jen, it has mostly been cooking; for Catherine, it has been wedding planning, knitting, and other crafty endeavors; and for me, it has been a mishmash of cooking, eating food, fixing things, and feeling sorry for myself. We’ve enjoyed ourselves, and we hope you have too.

That said, I think I’m going to embark on some different types of blogs. Namely, I want to do a better job of recording information about places I’ve been and plan to go, as well as the things I find inspiring from day-to-day. Once again, I’m sure this is a self-indulgent move, but I frankly need a few minutes a week to pretend that I’m not 10,000 pages behind on my schoolwork. Blergh!

So here’s what inspired me today: a bit of tabloid news that got me all excited about the extremely important (yet not so important in the scheme of things) event planned for the not-so-far future – – – that of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s upcoming nuptials!

You’re probably thinking I’m a total pedestrian for getting so exited over such things, but I’ll have you know that a collapse between the high and the low versions of art is a sign and symptom of our postmodern age, thankyouverymuch. In short, I don’t feel bad for loving Lady Gaga, the Real Housewives of Anywhere, or the occasional Sookie Stackhouse novel. This is what my culture is made of, people! And I am a consumer in my consumer society.

So of COURSE I was TOTES PSYCHED to see that Sarah Burton, now-director of Alexander McQueen, just might be dressing the princess-to-be on her wedding day. Some of you who are Gaga experts will remember some of her more memorable outfits are McQueen creations:

McQueen’s legacy of genius lives on beyond his death, and I just can’t imagine what Burton and team-McQueen will give us on April 29th. I’m sure it will be stunning, and perhaps a bit edgier than the dress worn by Diana in 1981. As long as Kate’s dress is as gigantic as Diana’s, I won’t be disappointed.

So in homage to Kate Middleton (who is a style icon in her own lovely right), I made a Polyvore collage of what I’d wear on a summertime tea date with the future Princess Kate (were she to invite me, of course, and were I to possess a bottomless bank account).

We’ll eat scones and share gossip, and Kate may let me try on her wedding dress before it gets sent to the royal archives forever (I’m just as skinny as Kate in this fantasy, by the way). Kate will no doubt be kind enough to introduce me to the other royals (single royal males, preferably), and we’ll have a jolly good (though not too rowdy, and within the boundaries of British decorum) time. She is the princess of WALES, after all . . . and of course, I promise to report back on the type of hat she wears. 🙂

Love and cheers,


PS – What do you all think about Kate’s hat? Is she bringing it back, or is it whackety-whack?