Monday, 26 July 2010

Little Houses

The following article was published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Saturday. I have always loved small places and some of the houses mentioned in the associated websites are just adorable. Of course, to have them work in this city, they would have to have some serious insulation and a space to put the furnace, and a small entryway would be advantageous as opening the door in January would cool off the whole place.
And as long as I had room for my books and a place to sew.....

Living large ... in a small house

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Wee homes are courtesy of inventive brains in Boyes Hot Springs, California.

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Gail McEachern lives big, below, in her charming 600-square-foot home in Ottawa.

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"I'm opposed to large homes. There's the environmental impact of extra energy for heating. It's a tremendous waste of space that people just walk through." Gail McEachern, Owner, 600-square-foot home in Ottawa

OTTAWA -- If small is the new normal in housing, as some experts suggest, a 120-year-old former barn in Ottawa is positively futuristic. Gail McEachern's house began life in the 1880s as a hay barn, morphed into a blacksmith's shop, turned into a corner store, and now serves as her home and office. Twelve feet wide, it totals just 600 square feet.

McEachern bought her tiny home in 2004. She subsequently converted the garage into a small bedroom-bathroom-kitchenette unit attached to the original home by a walkway, but the addition is used only by guests.

"I'm opposed to large homes," says McEachern, who owns Transitions in Living, which co-ordinates household moves for seniors. "There's the environmental impact of extra energy for heating. It's a tremendous waste of space that people just walk through."

What's more, bigger homes create a sense of isolation, she says, with owners having to create little pockets of cosiness they could have acquired by buying small in the first place. Besides, she adds, who needs all the extra housework that goes with a large home.

With an inevitable energy crunch coming down the pipe, soaring land costs and other factors in play, smaller homes -- though perhaps not quite as tiny as McEachern's -- loom large on the horizon, say many.

It's already happening with urban condos which are clocking in at as little as 300 square feet.

"Everyone's recalibrating," says Marianne Cusato. She's the Florida-based designer of the 1,771-square-foot, two-storey Home for the New Economy that made such a splash at the International Home Builders Show in Las Vegas earlier this year.

Someone who would have bought a 3,000-square-foot home is buying 2,400; people who would have bought 2,400 are going for 1,600 or 1,700.

Statistics seem to agree.

In the U.S., according to the National Association of Home Builders, the average size of a new home in 1978 was 1,750 square feet. By 2008, that had mushroomed to 2,520 square feet. Then, last year, for the first time since 1982, the size fell to 2,480 square feet, although the collapse of the country's housing market did make 2009 an unusual year.

U.S. builders, however, say they plan to focus on smaller homes this year. Canada does not collect such statistics, but where the elephant leads, we often follow.

Cusato sells plans for her Home for the New Economy for $750 at She's also had so much success with the Katrina Cottage -- the low-cost, 350-square-foot midget originally designed for victims of hurricane Katrina -- that she's currently working up a slightly larger version for colder climates.

According to Cusato, ever-bigger homes, appealing for their airiness and light, were a reaction to the often-dark ranch homes and boxy split-levels of the 1950s and 60s. However, low energy costs, cheap land and a perverse hunger to keep up with Joneses meant that, before you could say Topsy, homes were becoming unwieldy castles in far-flung communities. The only way to differentiate McMansions, she says, is by adding on more.

"The cold-water shower of the 2008 financial meltdown, coupled with growing concern about the end of cheap oil for both heating and commuting, mean that's all changing," Cusato says.

She thinks the 1,200- and 1,300-square-foot homes most of us grew up in the 1950s could make a comeback. You take the massing of those 1950s houses and rearrange it to add modern kitchens and bathrooms and closets -- and yes, it could work.

But shrink too fast, says John Herbert, executive director of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association, and there'd probably be a revolt by the population before you ever hit 1,200 square feet.

Despite that, he sees smaller homes on the horizon.

"We've been talking about this for 20 years, but I believe we've reached the point where we'll see it start to happen within a year or two."

Among other reasons, he cites rising interest rates, the curtailment of urban sprawl in cities and a new emphasis among buyers on quality finishes rather than simple square footage.

John Kenward, chief operating officer of the Canadian Home Builders Association, points out everything from demographics to regional variances in land availability will influence house sizes.

"Is there a market for smaller homes? Yes. But it's not as though we've got some sort of golden rule that says all homes are getting smaller," he says.

Small bungalows in the 1,200-square-foot range, often aimed mostly at the singles market, are starting to crop up in cities across Canada, but these seem like behemoths next to dwellings from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company in the California community of Boyes Hot Springs.

Available either in plan or completed form, and ranging from 65 to 837 square feet, they can be seen at The smallest are on wheels, making them more like trailers, and feature two-burner stoves, a bar fridge and a loft bedroom accessible by ladder.

Costing anywhere from about $35 to $200 per square foot, these and other very small homes are still a niche market. The Small House Society ( will bring you up to speed with a newsletter, links to books and other resources.

While you're browsing, have a look at The website is dedicated to Toronto's smallest house, a 312-square-foot shrimp built in 1912. Newly renovated and energy-efficient, the media darling is still inhabited.

American architect Sarah Susanka is generally credited as a pioneer in the smaller-home movement. Author of the immensely popular series Not So Big Homes, Susanka advocates trimming one-third from the size and spending the extra money on quality finishes. Like others, she says the housing industry has been slow to respond to the economic meltdown, but is finally getting the message that small has gone mainstream.

-- Postmedia News

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Sun-Dappled-Grass Skirt

Frequently I buy fabric because I like the pattern or the colour and then go hunting for a pattern after the fact. The day I bought this fabric, I managed to convince myself to find a pattern before I had the fabric cut.
Of course, because it is such an odd green, it took me a couple of years to find any sort of top to wear with it, and usually wore it with white.

I am thrilled that full skirted patterns are becoming available again. While I like straight skirts, it is much easier to ride a bike when you have a more room to maneuver.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Variations on a Theme

I lamented not too long ago how hard it is to find a rayon knit;this top is a rayon knit circa 1989. I can't remember what pattern I used but it is not my usual fare.
The skirt is a linen/cotton blend and is that same pattern as these skirts, with some modifications.

I lowered the waistline by about three inches, then used the waistband from this Vogue pattern.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Three of a Kind

A few years ago I wanted some fun summer skirts so I zipped over to Fabricland and picked up these three prints, as well as the New Looks pattern.
They are all version A and were whipped up one weekend afternoon with no frills or fuss. The white skirt was made first, and the waist size was adjusted for the other two.
They orange and yellow one is especially cheery on a rainy day or when I want to be highly visible.
In this photo, both reasons are at play. It is a dull dreary day and I am going to be riding in heavy traffic. In fact, I already have my game-face on as I prepare to cycle downtown, on a route I prefer to avoid.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Bike Slip

I like riding my bike in my regular clothes. I hate having my full skirts blow up and show my knickers. I can't ride a bike in a regular slip as they are usually cut quite narrow and it is hard to get onto the saddle.
I modified a pattern for pyjama bottoms to that there was only one seam; on the side. I did not want any seams chafing against the saddle of my bike. I used bemberg lining as I like it so much better than any other kind.
I like this garment so much, I made another it in some other colours and I have given away the rest of my slips. I even wear it under trousers to prevent binding when I am wearing tights on cold days.
I have the full instructions here on Instructables if you are at all interested.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Lovely Fabric, Wrong Style

Earlier this spring I found this skirt at a Jones New York discount outlet. After all of said discounts had been taken, I $7 for a linen/rayon blend with a pattern I found to be quite interesting was not outrageous. The skirt, however, was a size 18 and I usually wear a 12. That wasn't a deal breaker, so home it came.

First I tried to be lazy and just tuck in the waist a bit. I should know better. It looked....bizarre. Plus the hem hit me at mid-calf, which is never flattering.
So I cut off the waistband and about 3 inches from the bottom. The bottom band of fabric became the new waistband and,
I really need to learn how to smile, even if my teeth do dry off while I wait for the camera timer to count down.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

I Love Orange

I made this during the summer of 2005. In typical fashion, I found the fabric, then went looking for a pattern.
Because I have an approximately size 16 hip and a size 12 (or 10 waist) I had to taper the waist to hip area more than the pattern lines suggested. I also had to take in about 5 centimeters under the arms.
If I were to use this pattern again, I would make the strap a little wider on the neck edge-my bra straps keep showing and I am of the generation who thinks that unseemly. Not to mention my bras are never that exciting.

Friday, 2 July 2010

The Happy Skirt

I made this skirt in Frebruary before we went to Mexico. I liked the happy, festive colours.

I used the skirt of a dress pattern (I'm not even sure which one) and attached a waistband. My measurements were simple; cut a length of fabric, wraps it around my waist, mark the ends, and gather to fit. It was a a little too big but I wore it anyway.
When I went to try it on a few weeks ago, it seemed to be even bigger so I pulled off the waistband, pulled the gathers tighter, and resewed the band. And viola!
It is a wonderfully fun summer skirt.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Once Again, Room to Sew

The sewing room is once again ready for action. We had set things up last fall and I had a great time working on projects. Then found an industrial sewing machine. That caused huge upheaval as many pieces of furniture had to be moved around in the house to accomodate it. A trunk and the futon went upstairs to the living room and sunroom respectively, and the papasan chair, formerly in the sunroom, were temporarily housed in the sewing room. I finally found a home for the papasan chairs, and with the acquitison of new bedroom furniture, another couple of dressers moved downstairs to house my stash. I have no excuses now!

The room is messy, but functional. And despite how it looks in the picture, the legs on the sewing table aren't that crooked. I suspect that is the seam in the picture- it's not exactly on the grain.