Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Spain, and Kids' Swimmers

So, when I left off in my last post we were getting a plane from Paris to Barcelona, right? Well after that early morning flight we hopped on the train and went to a lovely coastal town about half an hour down the coast from Barcelona, a place we had high hopes for - Sitges.

UpSewLate - Sitges paddle boat slides 
One of the first things we noticed in Spain was the weather - it was hot, hot, hot every day; completely different to Paris! (Having said that, I think summer weather hit Paris shortly after we left, judging by Blogless Anna's Instagram feed). So all I wanted to do in Spain was relax by the water...  We stayed in a place that was above the old town, and it was perfect for us: a terrace with a view across rooftops to the sea for the grownups, and a huge garden and swimming pool for the kids.

The Sitges beaches we visited had sand (yay!), the water was the perfect bathing temperature, and the waves coming in were so minimal that people were literally walking into the sea with friends or family and chatting. You simply couldn't do that in Sydney :). And I was really struck by people's ease with their bodies at the beach - just about every woman under the age of 75 wore a bikini (except me I guess), and it wasn't because they all had the kind of "bikini bodies" we're told how to exercise for in Australia.  My kids didn't even notice people going topless, and again, it was very refreshing to note which women chose to go topless - it wasn't necessarily your cliched beach babes. Spain was still on holidays though, so the beaches were pretty busy by Australian standards.

UpSewLate - view of Sitges beach
While we're on the topic of beaches and swimming costumes, I'll show you the swimsuits I made for my daughter just before we came overseas. If you follow me (I'm @gabriellecorb, or 'gabrielle_upsewlate') on Instagram you would have seen them already, and you would also have seen (1) my premature claim that sewing swimming costumes was easy (ha!), and (2) my failed attempt at sewing one for myself (double ha!).  Can we just assume that sewing a swimsuit for a kid is a lot easier than sewing one for an adult? I haven't brought the failed grownup swimmers with me on holidays, so I'll save that post mortem for later.

So here's my daughter's favoured cossie, on the beach:

UpSewLate - KwikSew 3785 front view
UpSewLate - KwikSew 3785 back view
Isn't that fabric wild?

I made another KS 3785 cossie (with a racer back this time) that I thought would alternate with the above for swimming, but it turns out it's a little tight - so I only have pictures taken in our apartment. I'd spent a bit of time carefully matching up the checks along the seams on this cossie and I love the way it looks, so it's a bit disappointing that it's not going to get worn... 

UpSewLate - KwikSew 3785 gingham front view
UpSewLate - KwikSew 3785 gingham CB seam pattern matching

UpSewLate - KwikSew 3785 gingham side seam pattern matching
UpSewLate - KwikSew 3785 racer back
I made the blue gingham / checked swimsuit first, and I just love the look of it. The pattern, Kwik Sew 3785, fits a wide range of sizes and includes options for tank style shoulder straps or racer back shoulder straps. I don't remember where I got the gingham lycra fabric, but it's a good quality firm swimsuit lycra, and I fully lined it with knit lining (the pattern only calls for the front to be lined).

After adjusting the pattern size to my daughter's measurements and cutting my gingham lycra fabric out in those sizes (adjusted between a few sizes for width, length), Then I looked at the cut out fabric and the straps looked too long, so I assumed I'd made a mistake, and I rashly removed about an inch in length from the shoulder straps. This extra length turned out to be essential for my daughter's wearing comfort and even for getting the costume on and off - I guess it wouldn't have been such an issue with regular straps, but the racer back gives a tighter fit across the upper body. I might try to adjust this when we get home, but maybe I'll just give the swimmers away (anyone out there have a slim 5 - 6 - 7 year old, less than 120 cm tall?).

The colourful swimmers are made from the same pattern, with 0.5cm extra ease added on each of the side seams and that inch added back to the shoulder strap length. The costume has some wrinkles in it when it's worn, but it's apparently just the way a swimsuit should feel on, and the shoulder straps are not slipping at all even though they're the tank style rather than racer back style. The swimsuit lycra is one I ordered by email (no online shopping cart, but the process was very smooth and fabric delivery was ridiculously fast and cheap) from Spandex House in the US, as I mentioned back in my swimwear inspiration post. The fabric is more stretchy than the blue check lycra, but still a good quality - it has good recovery after stretching, unlike some lycras I've gotten from Lincraft. You might remember I originally bought this fabric to make myself some swimmers (the fail), but as I had plenty of fabric to play with I tried to place the print with the splashes moving in the same direction and with no weird colours on the crotch. And again the costume is fully lined with a mesh lining.

UpSewLate - two pairs of KwikSew 3785 swimsuits side by side
Both these pairs of swimmers were fast to make, and the colourful pair have been getting a lot of use. I think one of the things that makes kids swimmer sewing easier than adult swimmer sewing is the elastic placement. For a slim child, you can simply distribute the elastic pretty evenly over a leg hole or arm hole or neckline, but most women need to think about which sections of the leg, arm and neckline openings need to gather the most... Also, in looking at a pair of swimmers I ended up buying on sale at the last minute before we came away (needs must), good quality adult swimmers can have some rather complex details: like boning, bust cups, ruching, and lining sewn together with outer to avoid visible top stitching! It's quite a lot to aspire to...


OK, back to the travel section now.

We had a couple of day trips into Barcelona, and on the first of these we did heaps of walking: down La Rambla to La Colonna; around the old town; through the Baroque Catedral de Barcelona (ie the Cathedrel of Barcelona) in the Gothic district; and then through the gorgeous Art Nouveau area to Sagrada Familia.

The Cathedrel of Barcelona is a very pleasant place to visit on a hot day, but it's a working church, so your visit has to fit in with mass and other regular services (ie it seems to be open on weekday afternoons!). I love visiting old churches, and if you're a connoisseur of historic churches please have a look on the church's website to see what it has to offer, but this church has a couple of characteristics that were also of interest or use to my kids.

Firstly, as you walk in, straight ahead of you there's an oasis: an open air square garden with some very happy white geese sunning themselves in and around a pond. You can't go into the garden, but we found we could sit on a stone bench and look into the gardens. Secondly, off to the side is a tiny nondescript lift that takes just a handful of visitors at a time up to the roof where you can walk around or even sit on a bench and soak up the views. And thirdly, there are toilets, even if they are hard to find, dilapidated and a squeeze for full sized people to use (note for parents: there's a single toilet on the far side of the garden, through a doorway that looks like it's for use by maintenance staff).

UpSewLate - Catedral de Barcelona internal courtyard
The shabby green box in the next photo is the lift that takes you up to the roof of the Catedral de Barcelona - just a few at a time! It reminded me of both the Tardis and Roald Dahl's Great Glass Elevator :)

UpSewLate - Catedral de Barcelona lift to the roof
UpSewLate - soaking up the view from the Catedral de Barcelona

It's amazing to be able to see the roof, flying buttresses and stained glass windows up close, but once you're on the roof, you'd better try not to be scared of heights - you're on a lightweight scaffolding pathway, of which several sections are closed off, presumeably because they're simply too dangerous.

UpSewLate - scaffolding walkways on the roof of the Catedral de Barcelona
UpSewLate - on the rooftop of the Catedral de Barcelona

After experiencing the Catedral, we walked through town to the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. It looked fascinating, but it was such a hot day, and the sight of the long queue stopped us. So instead of queuing up we did a slow walk around with our heads craning up... it's such an amazing building - and then had an artisinal ice cream nearby before catching the train home. There was a lot of work happening on the outside of the cathedral, but I hear the insides are finished - and I'm sure they're as fascinating and intricate as the outsides!

UpSewLate - spires, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
UpSewLate - front facade, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
UpSewLate - back facade detail, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
UpSewLate - more back facade details, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

A few days later we came back to Barcelona and visited the Picasso museum. If you're travelling with kids, this turns out to be the sort of gallery that appeals to them, so long as you don't insist on seeing all the rooms of the exhibit. The gallery starts with a few rooms of Picasso's very early works - paintings and drawings from when he was a child - including some amazing, traditional Old Masters' style paintings he completed when he was 15 or 16. My kids were really interested to work out how old he'd been when he made each sketch or painting (age at painting = date of painting - birth date), and then (I think) quite bemused when they saw the different styles he used as an adult. We whizzed through the later works, and then came back to see the young Picasso works for a second time before leaving the gallery. Below is a photo of the "First Communion" painting Picasso completed when he was only 15:

Picasso First Communion
Then after lunch in a very cool cafe near the museum, we tried to get tickets online to the Parc Guell, which I thought the kids would love (I went there about 20 years ago and adored it). Unfortunately the online ticketing system wasn't working, and even with a couple of emails back and forwards with the park's administration / ticketing people, we had to give up on it - tickets for the time slots we wanted were selling out as we tried to buy our tickets. Instead we went to visit the Palau Guell.

The Palau Guell turns out to be a terrific option for kids who don't like museums. The whole house - from below-ground stables / garage to rooftop - is over-the-top ornate; feasts for your eyes in all directions.  Even the tiny room housing the toilet (ie chamber pot room) was ornate, with a beautiful "pot" and gorgeous tile work on the walls:

UpSewLate - old toilet in Pallau Guell Barcelona
I guess my modern eyes don't see the palace the way the Guell family would have seen it back in the late 1800s :). but I don't know that I would have found this a restful place to live!

UpSewLate - in the Sala Central of the Pallau Guell in Barcelona
Everyone that comes into the Palau Guelll gets an audio guide to use as they walk through the building, and this meant that my kids could race ahead without waiting for parental translations. And the last stage of the tour, the roof, was the best, as when we got here, a guide befriended my kids and gave them a quiz before telling them some more interesting facts about the spires on the roof.  The outer spires refer to the local countryside and culture, a forest with ornamentation made from local tiles; while the main spire (not the one shown below) is a rocket ship!

UpSewLate - a rooftop spires on Pallau Guell Barcelona
Back in Sitges we enjoyed more days at the beach and by the pool, shopped locally, and cooked ourselves fresh fish or squid for dinner most nights. One evening we wandered around town and stumbled on a crowd of people, and several groups of children and adults in uniforms, by the Sitges Castle. There were locals and tourists, with people perched high on walls and hanging out of windows, so we knew something interesting was about to happen.  Then one of the uniformed groups gathered together, strongest men shoulder to shoulder, then others climbed on their shoulders and made themselves stable, and a human pyramid started to form. We watched in disbelief as the pyramid quickly grew several human storeys tall, with young children in the upper layers, and culminated in a very small child climbing up all the layers of people to balance on top of the highest couple of children and wave to the crowd! And then the tower took itself apart, with the outside layer peeling off from the top down, until there was a single column of people balancing one on top of the other in front of us. The human tower we saw being built and then deconstructed is called a castell, and the single layer human pillar is called an aguila (or needle). The Castellers I saw may have been this Sitges group - I felt very lucky to be able to see this Catalonian tradition in action.  I did take photos but I've lost them - instead I'll just have to show you what dusk looked like that evening:

UpSewLate - dusk in Sitges Spain
So all up, we got terrific weather and glimpses of a fascinating culture! 

I should mention that we were also pleasantly surprised at Spanish prices. I don't know if this says more about Paris or Spain, but food costs in local supermarkets / markets was about half the price of Paris, and meals out, clothes etc were also markedly cheaper than we'd expected. My Spanish is pretty pathetic - I can say a few simple things but I can't understand the responses I get in Spanish, and I generally can't understand the written language either - but we managed to get around and buy what we needed without too many problems. I didn't do much shopping (nothing sewing related, sorry), but I did get these cool Onikatsu Tiger shoes on sale at El Cortes Ingles:

UpSewLate - Onikatsu Tigers in Barcelona

In Sydney they would have cost me about $190 - way too much. In Spain, the starting price was 60 euros, then reduced to 32 euros (about $45 I think) on sale, less than a quarter of the Sydney price. Hmmm... is that about taxes or the economy, do you think? I have definitely got my money's worth from these shoes as I've been wearing them a tonne since Spain - they go with everything and are seriously comfortable compared to Converse shoes. 

So! I am very behind with this travel blogging. We've now moved on from Spain, spent a week in Cassis (near Marseille in the South of France), stayed just under a week in the hills overlooking Nice, and relaxed over a long weekend in Switzerland. Next up is Italy for two weeks, then home to Sydney - and then this blog will go back to being a normal sewing blog!

Thanks for bearing with my travel posts and see you soon

- Gabrielle xx

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Paris, and Kids' PJs

Ten days ago we set off on a long service leave trip to Europe (don't worry, we have a house minder) and after about 30 hours of travelling arrived in Paris. Paris!

The Seine in Paris
I'm sure you've heard cliches about rude Parisians, but we were very glad to find them wrong. Parisians in shops. hotels, in bars, on the street - well everywhere - went out of their way to be helpful to us.

Paris streetscape in the sun
We'd rented an apartment (this one) on rue Vieille du Temple in the Marais district, with an arrangement to be met there by the apartment "manager" when we arrived very late (10pm-ish) on Sunday night. When she failed to turn up, a helpful stranger in a bar repeatedly tried calling the apartment owner for Mr UpSewLate, even though he absolutely desecrates the French language every time he tries to speak a word of French, the next door neighbour offered us to put us up for the night (but we couldn't take her up on that!) and left another message for the apartment manager on her phone, and finally, after walking around for half an hour we found a darling hotel, whose night manager found adjoining 2-person rooms for which he only charged us half the usual rate! And that's what it was like the whole time - difficulties met with helpfulness and friendliness.

The Hostellerie du Marais, Paris
Sorry in advance, I'm not doing any photo editing at all, so many of my photos are going to look too dark or too bright, or in desperate need of cropping!

On our first day in Paris we were up early and visited Notre Dame Cathedral before the queues had even formed. Mr UpSewLate and I enjoyed it, but the kids pronounced it pretty boring!

Notre Dame Cathedrale in Paris, before the queues

I'd left a note in French on the apartment doorstep and some of our bags were still there too, so we had a few trips back and forwards to check if the manager had turned up and to make a contingency plan with the hotel, and then spent a lot of time popping into Tabacs trying to get a Lebara sim card to fit our mobiles so we could try to contact the apartment's owner in America - the rest of the day was spent trying to sort things out, and trying to visit places that were closed (the Pompidou Centre, the Musee Picasso). Anyway, by the evening we'd spoken with the right people in America, a new "manager" had been lined up, and we'd been let us into the apartment.

The Pompidou Centre in Paris - closed on Mondays
On Tuesday we woke crazy early - 3.15am!! that's jetlag for you - and were up for the day. I got lost trying to pick up croissants and baguettes for breakfast (somehow I always go in the wrong direction relative to the Seine...), but eventually we were fed and out to walk along La Coulee Verte (also known as la Promenade Plantee). I found out about this walk through a cool book called "Around Paris with Kids", and it's a former train track walkway that starts on top of the Viaduc des Arts (viaduct on top of art / craft shops / workshops) at Place de la Bastille and takes you a couple of kilometres to the Bois de Vincennes. I imagine it would be terrific on a sunny day, but even in the rain it was lovely to be above the cars and among gardens, and you get a great view of building facades through the greenery. I thought I'd taken lots of photos but I can't seem to find them now!

Parisian facade
After that we headed to the Latin Quarter to visit the Shakespeare and Company bookshop and mosey around the area. The Shakespeare and Company is an English language bookshop that's been around for a long time - people like James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway used to get together there in the 1920s, and although the shop is filled with memorabilia I don't know that it's the exact same shop in the same location... Anyway, it was nice to revisit my fond memories of this place from when I visited Paris with my family as a teenager! I was disappointed to see the shop was absolutely packed to a standstill when we arrived, but a little later on the crowds left and we were able to relax with our books upstairs on the sofas. I noticed signs later on saying that photos weren't allowed - whoops!

Mr UpSewLate relaxing in the Shakespeare & Co, Paris
Famous habitues from the Shakespeare & Co, Paris
The sun came out, so we capped off the day with a relaxing couple of hours relaxing at the beautiful Place des Vosges, as did many others. My kids were also very interested to watch some teenagers videoing themselves doing the ice bucket challenge with water from a fountain, and an older couple setting up a very strange looking musical contraption they called a "murmurophone" (here's a different murmurophone, but the one we saw looked to include clarinet and flute pieces!).  I overheard a guide telling their group that the ceilings in the apartments of the buildings facing Place des Vosges are two storeys high, and that the apartments tend to be owned either by politicians or successful fashion designers... and that designers often show their collections here because the rooms are so grand.

Building facades around Place des Vosges in Paris
Place des Vosges in Paris is very popular when the sun comes out!
Looking out from Place des Vosges Paris
On Wednesday morning we explored the Jardin des Tuileries (I know, lots of parks, but visiting parks and gardens in foreign cities is one of my favourite things to do!) before visiting the Musee de l'Orangerie - a very nice space and the perfect size for kids. This museum has 2 large oval rooms where you can immerse yourself in huge Monet waterlily paintings (the Nympheas) that curve around you with the walls and that show the changing view as light changes through the day. On the floor below there are several smaller rooms of impressionist paintings to enjoy too. And the queue to get it in is really short compared to the Louvre :).

Derain painting in the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris
Matisse painting in the Musee de l'Oarngerie in Paris
Formal plantings in the Tuileries gardens in Paris
That afternoon the kids went with Mr UpSewLate to the Musee de la Magie (but they were disappointed as they felt the magic was more about clever machinations than magician's tricks, and everything was only in French), and I went off to meet up with Busy Lizzie in Brizzy!  It seems crazy to meet a fellow Aussie for the first time in Paris, doesn't it! Lizzie had been on a fabric tour of Paris that morning, and I think she'd also been on one last year, and she kindly showed me a couple of places to shop for fabric in Paris. We went to Lil Weasel first, which is a really sweet shop in an old passage. This shop sells indie patterns (many local French patterns), pretty cottons incuding locally designed prints, Liberty bias binding, and lots of other stuff you'd want, and has a sister shop across the passage that focuses on wools and knitting. I bought a couple of pieces of (local) Atelier Brunette fabric for summer tops and a Sarah Jane Out to Sea pirate girl remnant to use for my daughter.

Outside the Passage du Grand Cerf in Paris, where you'll find Lil Weasel
Interior, Passage du Grand Cerf in Paris

Some of the fabrics in Lil Weasel, Paris, including Atelier Brunette fabrics on the left
Atelier Brunette and Sarah Jane cottons from Lil Weasel in Paris
Lizzie also showed me a few shops on rue du Sentier, which looks like it's a fabric district, but I didn't buy anything there. Lizzie has a post up about fabric shopping in Paris, and I later found out that Susan Khalje wrote a very long, comprehensive guide to sewing shopping in Paris for the June / July 2013 edition of Threads magazine. I don't have the article, but if you do, this related article tells you how to find some of the trickier spots mentioned. We finished up in Les Halles with drinks, then dinner, then it was time for me to get back before the kids went to sleep. And here they are in their homemade pajama pants, which were nice and cosy for a not so warm summer in Paris:

Burda 9482 leggings as PJs, front view

Burda 9482 leggings as PJs, back view
Burda 9482 jogging pants as PJs, front view
Burda 9482 jogging pants as PJs, side view
Both PJ pants were made using Burda 9482, which includes patterns for leggings (made for my daughter), jogging pants (which I made for my son), and a chunky looking hoodie and high necked long sleeved top in kids sizes 4 - 14.  I made the striped leggings in a size 6 width and approximately a size 9 length, and the green jogging pants in a size 8 width and approximately a size 11 length. These patterns are so easy that you don't really need the instructions, and so I'm not sure if they included a pattern piece for the elastic - but I always just measure the elastic directly on my kids' waists as the last step in finishing up PJ pants. The leggings have no side seams, so there aren't many places to match up the stripes (do you recognise the fabric? It's leftover Jaywalk fabric from my competition dress!). They look a little tight, but my daughter is happy with the way they feel - if I make them again I'll make them looser. And if I make the jogging pants as PJ pants again I'll take them in, even though they're already looser than my son's RTW PJ pants. I'm not convinced by the cuffs, but when I made another blue pair with a regular hem (shown hanging from my picture rail) my sewing machine was playing up and mangled the stitching...

Cuffs on Burda 9482 green jogging pants
Mangled regular hem on blue Burda 9482 jogging pants

On Thursday we walked around the Marais, and then trekked over to the Jardin du Luxembourg. We had yummy lemon gelatos, played a family match of handball on unused basketball courts near the kids playground (which was unfortunately a bit young for my two), resisted the pony rides, then sailed a boat on the Grand Bassin pond. The sail boats are terrific fun and definitely worth the few euros it costs for a half an hour. You choose your own sail boat (we chose Australia, what a surprise), and you're given a bamboo pole with which to push it. Once your boat is on the pond, the breeze will blow it around, sending you racing to the other side, it'll come perilously close to the ducks, and it'll crash into other boats, and maybe even get itself attached to another boat! 

Kiosk in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris
Sailing boat ready to launch, Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris
AU and UK sailing boats get stuck together, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris 
Sailing a boat in the Jardin du Luxembourg is more fun than you'd guess... 
Sailing boats in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris 
Reluctantly returning the sailing boat, Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris

And after lunch break back at the apartment, we headed back out in the late afternoon to go to the Eiffel Tower. [Although you can of course just go there and line up and wait, if you buy your tickets online ahead of time you get to go straight up the tower when it's your time - a lot easier.] Last time I came here I'm pretty sure I walked up, and it was a long scary walk, but this time we got the lifts up (not too scary) and walked down (only a bit scary). The views of Paris from the top level are brilliant, as you'd expect, but the queues to go up and down between the 2nd and 3rd floors were unpleasantly crowded - I know this is heresy, but next time I might look for alternative views!
Approaching the Eiffel Tower in Paris
Looking up from the Eiffel Tower, Paris - it's a long way up!
View of the Seine from the Eiffel Tower in Paris
Rooftop view from the Eiffel Tower in Paris
A view from the Eiffel Tower in Paris

On Friday morning we just faffed about, but in the afternoon we took the kids where they really wanted to go - Oya, Jeux a Jouer! Oya is a game-playing shop in the 13th arrondissement. Their website is unprepossessing, but it's a really fun place to go with family or friends. You get a table, and one of the staff comes and talks to you about the games you enjoy, interests, ages etc, then recommends a few games to choose from. The person looking after us spoke excellent English, and showed us several games we'd never seen before. We chose a game called Indigo - a tile laying game that with 4 players benefits from some teamwork :). You pay to play at Oya (5 euros per person per game tried, and we played several rounds of our game), but I think you can also buy games here, and it would be a fun place to spend a rainy day. I really liked that our staff member discouraged my kids from choosing a branded game; he advised that these games are NOT usually the best...

Playing Indigo at OYA in Paris
On the way home, I decided I wanted to pop back to the fabric shops around rue du Sentier. My recollection was that this was where General Diff was located, but turns out it's round the corner on 44, rue de Clery. I got there about half an hour before closing time, and checked out the basement specials (nothing that interested me, but I did get a photo) before perusing the fabrics on the ground floor. The shop is very crowded with bolts of fabric and prices aren't marked, so I soon found myself chatting with M. Max, the owner, as I enquired about various silks. And then it was nearly 6pm which should have been closing time, but Max asked if I wanted to see the fabrics upstairs. Yes please! (If you get the chance, you should take it!) To get upstairs you have to leave the shop and be let in nextdoor, then climb a few floors of stairs. A door is unlocked, and shazam! before you are several rooms, less crowded than downstairs, and far more sumptuous than what you've seen on the ground floor. Max showed me amazing silks, linens, wools, crepe de chines... and matched up fabrics to photos of the original runway garments they were made into. There were Issey Miyake pleats (how do they make that fabric?), wild Lagerfeld wools, Chanel silk/ wool tweeds, Swiss laces, Dior and Lanvin silks, stunning linens, wool crepe de chines, and every type of amazing fabric and designer I could have dreamt up. There was a lot I really wanted, but I ended up with two 1.5m lengths only; a hot pink heavy Dior silk, and a very heavy (double layer?) Lanvin silk with an oversized floral pattern loosely woven into the fabric. I think the pink will be a simple dress, and the floral will be a simple jacket - nothing fussy, as both fabrics are stars.

Lanvin and Dior silks from General Diff in Paris

And then it was Saturday. Our taxi to the airport arrived super early, and we were off to Barcelona!

Statues in Paris

I'll blog again soon about our time in Spain - and some kids swimmers (mine didn't work out).

See you soon!

- Gabrielle xx

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