Wardrobe Orphans

God, I hate February. Every year it’s the same. Several months into winter but knowing that there’s several months ahead of you. Everyone’s sick. It’s cold, dreary, grey and you’re constantly getting sent pictures from your brother, who lives in Sydney, of blue skies, blue water, sunshine, beaches and tans.

Ugh.

And this year it doesn’t look like we’re going to get any snow, so there’s not even that fun to look forward to. I really think I was born to live in a place with year round summer - or at least close to it.

Sorry, envious, self-indulgent moan over.

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Anyway, moving on from misery, let’s talk about Wardrobe Orphans. Those loved items of clothing that languish in your closet despite your affection for them because you just can’t decide how, or with what, to wear them.

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Enter this shirt. It’s TPC20 from Trend Patterns (which can be made into a shirt or a dress) in a really lovely striped Bengal cotton shirting from the The Fabric Store online. I absolutely love it. The large statement collar, the wide elbow length sleeves, the huge cuffs, as well as the volume of the shirt. All of which make a big statement and coupled with the dramatic stripe, I think are really striking.

Although, after my wonderful, but perennially and proudly and highly amusingly inappropriate and rude brother-in-law mentioned, it looks like something a referee would wear, I can’t get that image out of my head. This doesn’t help with the below.

The problem is I’m incredibly particular about how colours, silhouettes and styles work together and with this I just don’t know how to wear it.

I think this type of volume on top requires a slimmer or tapered leg. Enter the only pair of pants I have that fit vaguely this description, but then the hem hits me at exactly my widest part and I don’t think looks particularly great.

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To resolve this, I think I might remove the hem-tie and wear it tucked into high-rise pants, but again all my slimmer leg pants are RTW and the supposed high rise is never high enough on me to actually fit the high-rise requirement.

Perhaps greater contrast in colour would also help.

I think, therefore, I need to make some more pants: which, as much as I love making pants is an annoying situation to be in. Having said that I did just order some gorgeous bull denim from Blackbird Fabrics to make the TPC Utility Trousers, again from Trend Patterns. Sophie and Shauni’s versions are totally wonderful.

I also have a plan to make another version of McCalls 7754 View C in black denim (I have a bubblegum pink pair I made in the summer which fit so beautifully but never made it to the blog), so with a proper high rise and tapered leg, we might be in business. Eventually.

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I’m also going to make the dress version of this in the Spring. It’s gorgeous. And won’t require outfit back up.

I’ve a few of Trend’s patterns and I really like her aesthetic. Modern with interesting shapes and details. The instructions aren’t hand-holdy - assuming you have a fairly decent sewing knowledge already - but they are really clear and very easy to follow. The covered placket on this, for example, was a doddle.

The only thing I didn’t love was the sleeve construction. The turn up is made - really cleverly I might add - before the sleeve inseam is stitched which means you end up with the seam running all the way to the end of the sleeve. This in turn means you have to be super precise to ensure you have a smooth line around the end of the sleeve, which is normally avoided by the hem or cuff being stitched as the final stage of the sleeve.

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Due to the sleeves’ wide design this can be seen when waving ones arms around - which is absolutely within my overly expressive, hand gesticulating nature. That all said, with the cuff made the way it is, I’m not sure there would be another way to finish it - or at least I haven’t tried to figure one out.

I have very few Wardrobe Orphans. It makes me happy that I usually get the balance of what I need with what I want to make about right. So I suppose the only solution to this problem is to keep on making things that fill the gaps. Oh well, that will help dispel that February malaise somewhat!

Do you have wardrobe orphans?

How would you wear this shirt?

See you soon x

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A 90s nostalgia moment - The Evie Skirt

Oh the 90s.

Back with a vengeance and causing me so many confused feelings.

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I was born right at the end of 1974 (I know I’m bloody ancient) so technically I’m an 80s kid, but my later teens and coming of age was in the 90s and that is most certainly the decade that had the most impact on who I have become as a person. I am a true member of Generation X. Angst, naval gazing, fiercely independent and authority shy and that feeling of ‘not being seen’ and all. Or maybe the latter is just a universal teen thing.

I left school in 93, graduated from uni in 97 and in those years developed a deep and unrelenting love of fashion. Well, I say fashion, but it was more anti-fashion. I definitely became very aware at around age 14 that a huge part of my self expression could be through my clothes. For a relatively shy, anxious and introverted person, I was pretty bold in my clothing choices and found this the easiest way to express who I was to the rest of the world. I suppose I still do.

I’d dig up pics, but thankfully they’re all in a loft in Hertfordshire.

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I spent a lot of time in thrift stores and army surplus stores. I wore DMs and combat boots, lived in cargo pants or floor length skirts (intermixed occasionally with mini mini skirts) and tiny tees and permanently had my lower belly on display.

And I’m glad about that as it was a bloody fantastic lower belly. The glory of hindsight.

I’m also glad that I didn’t embrace tie-dye or those tiny mirrors on clothing.

My style was definitely influenced by my musical taste but that was very contradictory. I listened to New Model Army and the Levellers (erm) but also the Pixies and Nirvana and Blur and everything that came out of 90s Manchester and to this day remain a massive Stone Roses fan. I also spent a huge amount of time at University at a variety of dubious dance clubs - (Jungle anyone?) - it was all very disjointed.

Anyway the baring of the lower belly transcended everything and was generally achieved via crop tops and very low slung trousers and skirts. Always accompanied by the DMs.

I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, so excuse me if I’m repeating myself and / or boring you.

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So the revival of some of the major aspects of 90s fashion makes me feel totally discombobulated.

For a start, how can I be so old that my defining fashion era has come around again?

Then there’s the fact that these things aren’t anti-fashion any more, they’re mainstream fashion and that annoys me - there is definitely some judgmental, old person, you don’t know what you’re wearing vibes going on there. Which I’m not that sorry about. Sorry.

And then of course there’s all the memories that it brings back and the regrets and the what ifs and the nostalgia and the bizarre realisation that I won’t live that part of my life again. I know that sounds obvious but I find it tricky to get my head around the fact that those parts of my life are over and my memories of them will only continue to fade. So yeah, that’s sad.

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Anyway after that judgey, meandering, rumination, let’s get down to the resurgence of a specific item of 90s clothing - the bias cut skirt or dress. As a hippy person (and I mean physical attributes not flower wearing), I tended to steer well clear of these, even though they would often have fallen into my wear-the-longest-skirt-possible tendencies, because they were always so badly made and inappropriate for my long proportions, that they just bunched around my hips and made me even more self-conscious about them than I already was.

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Yet when Tessuti released the Evie skirt pattern last year, accompanied by images of the Tessuti girls and their amazing midriffs courtesy of the low slung skirt and crop top situation, my nostalgia got the better of me and I decided to jump on that Evie train. I felt comfort in the fact that Tessuti’s patterns are always beautifully drafted, I could elongate and grade out where necessary and the skirt, whilst on the bias, is not dead straight; it slightly flares out from the hip down which gives a hippy girl a fighting chance.

I was looking to emulate their version exactly in the sunshine yellow satin, but then found this leopard print rayon voile on Blackbird Fabrics website and well … it is so so soft, so opaque and so drapey. And leopard print. Gorgeous stuff.

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It was a cinch to make. I’m usually pretty good about using the stay paper stuff that Tessuti always recommend for keeping armholes and in this case waistlines from stretching out, but I couldn’t find any. And this is despite the fact that lovely Colette gave me a heap when I was in Sydney last year. So I just stay-stitched instead and that was a mistake as the waist did stretch a bit and as such it is veeeerrry low on my hips. And two kids and twenty years later my midriff is not what it was. Sob.

It’s such a simple pattern and the nature of bias means that it does cling to the curves so there’s little to alter in terms of adjusting darts etc - cos there are none, dummy. *Eye roll at myself*

I added two inches to the length and graded from a 12 at the waist to a 14 over the hips and down to the hem. And it’s pretty good!

I actually meant to make this for the #sewfrosting challenge last November, but in typical me fashion finished it mid-December. I did wear it glammed up to a Christmas party but I think I prefer it worn like this with sneakers and a sweater. A move away from 90s styling. And that is OK.

I’m pretty sure I don’t need more bias skirts, but it is a lovely pattern, and I feel fab wearing it, so I’d highly recommend - just use the stay stuff that Tessuti instruct - it will make a difference.

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Oh, and just because this is a very self-indulgent soliloquy to all that is the 90s I thought I’d share this thing posted by a friend on Facebook the other day (yeah still haven’t bitten the deleting account bullet). It listed the dates that define the boundaries of each generation of the last 100 years. It was a screen grab from a TV news item:

The Silent Generation: 1928 - 1945

Baby Boomers: 1946 - 1964

Millennials: 1987 - 1996

Post-Millennials: 1997 - present.

Umm - something missing right?

It was accompanied by the caption “This is the most Gen X thing that’s ever happened”.

Isn’t it just.

See you soon x

Searching for the perfect fabric

Oh my goodness I wish I could get into some pattern of regular writing / blogging again. I know no-one expects it and it shouldn’t be something that I feel I have to do, but I really enjoy it - weirdly I find it immensely calming - and it’s frustrating not to be able to make it even a little closer to the top of my priority list.

I hope I can change that this year.

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These trousers are a case in point. I finished them before Thanksgiving and have carefully worn them a few times, finally taking photos last week and now thinking about what to say about them.

As with so many of the clothes I make, I saw an image of some teal-coloured jumbo cord wide-legged trousers and had to have them. Again as with so many of the clothes I make, finding or adapting the right pattern is never the issue, finding the fabric to fit the vision is often the tricky part. I quickly came to realise that finding teal jumbo cord was a non-starter.

So often, when in stores, you see absolutely stunning fabric that is impossible to replicate with what is available to the home sewer. I know many fabric stores stock designer ends, where they will have sourced the remainder of a designer’s roll of fabric. They also look very hard at stocking what is of the moment. But by its very nature designer ends will be at least a couple of seasons old, so what we are able to get our hands on in any particular season isn’t necessarily reflective of the current fabric trends, both in substrate and in colourways and prints.

And conversely what is available in any given season might be a little dated.

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Of course, the reason many people sew - myself included - is to step off that fast-fashion bandwagon of seasonal trends, so this brain-babble of mine could all be academic.

However, I think we are being disingenuous if we think that we are not at all susceptible to current fashions. The Big Four’s new collections are generally on trend (even if sometimes it’s unfathomable what trend they are trying to emulate …!); their businesses wouldn’t be sustainable if they didn’t release new patterns regularly that reflected current market desires. Market desires which are always, to some extent, reflective of the catwalk. And the very fact they have designer collections typifies this.

And while the indie pattern companies tend to produce more timeless designs - the nature of their business being such that they want and need to release patterns that have a potential selling lifespan of years rather than months - they are generally still influenced, with a couple of exceptions, by the basic silhouettes that are au courant. Wide legged rather than skinny trousers; ruffles ruffles and more ruffles; midi length dresses and skirts; cropped trouser legs. These are all trends of the moment - albeit an elongated moment.

So my longwinded point is that the patterns we choose to make are reflective of current styles, but the fabric which could really bring those patterns to life, is just not available at the same time. It will be eventually, but not when you - or at least I - reallllly want it.

So, you can see that I didn’t come up with any teal jumbo cord. In fact it was pretty hard at that point to find wide wale cord anywhere. As often is the case I was rescued by an Instagram commenter who pointed me in the direction of Stitches in Seattle, which I hadn’t come across before. And later on I know that Fabric Godmother had some lovely stuff in unusual colourways.

So I got some of the navy from Stitches and it is seriously wide wale - I mean not even three wales (you know the bumps that define corduroy - thems are wales) to an inch! It is pretty hard to see in these photos, but the below gives you some idea!

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I had a moment of consideration about whether to make a fourth pair of Persephone Pants out of this as I absolutely love them. But I’d been wanting to try the In the Folds for Peppermint Patterns Wide Legged Trouser pattern for a while and the inspiration image had side seams which Persephone cleverly does not, so Peppermint it was.

I’ve made a couple of the Peppermint Patterns now. I find it staggering that they are free to download, especially as Emily of In the Folds, who designs them, is so talented.

I really like this pattern. If I would change anything it would be to change the leg shape slightly - I think that is because I love the shape of the Persephone’s so much. But these are obviously a different pant with different styling, so this is just personal preference.

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Very surprisingly for me I had to make very few adjustments to the pattern. Because I made them so long ago and can’t find the pattern pieces to refer to, as a result of numerous sewing area tidy ups, I’m having to dust off parts of my brain. But I think I just raised the back rise half an inch and took the back seam in a little. I don’t think I even added length.

I absolutely love the pockets. They are anchored by the fly which makes them roomy and keeps the front of the trousers nice and flat. I think the only other place I’ve seen this is on the Grainline Moss Skirt. I also love the curved waistband. I have a very curvy bottom and lower back and curved waistbands always prevent the dreaded gape. This makes them so comfortable and I’m so thrilled with the fit, although they are getting a little big - either by fabric stretch or Charlie shrinkage.

I don’t think I’ve yet to find a perfect set of fly sewing instructions. These are pretty good, but I always end up in some type of tangle. Which is hilarious as a few years ago I couldn’t understand all the fuss!

I was so proud of myself that I remembered about the nap on corduroy (why is that so hard to type?) and got it all going the same way. This cord is very soft and these are particularly strokable trousers and when worn with my fancy new fake fur coat, garner a lot of weird looks as I walk down the street variously stroking parts of my torso and limbs.

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My only concern with the cord is that the valleys between the wales are quite wide and fragile looking so I wonder how long they’ll stand up to wear. It also frayed terribly and the fluff from finishing the seams totally clogged my serger. (Although that could just be that I haven’t had it serviced since I bought it four years ago.)

I’d thoroughly recommend the pattern and sewing with cord is a doddle as it all kind of sticks together like velcro. Pressing less easy.

Sourcing the exact fabric I desire is also less easy, and as I’m a “choose pattern, buy fabric” rather than “buy fabric, choose pattern” kind of girl, it can involve a lot of detective work, emailing suppliers to see if they do actually have more than they say on their site and making do with what is available even if it isn’t in the colourway you want. There is always dying (fabric that is), but that kind of leaves me cold.

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So, even though these aren’t as my inspiration/ vision, I do love them. They nod to trends. But ultimately they’re one of a kind trousers which I love wearing and will wear for a long time. And that, to be honest, is all that matters.

I’ll have to remember that next time I’m sighing at my keyboard because I can’t find that just right fabric.

See you soon x

Persephone Pants x 2 ... and Mental Health Awareness

You may or may not be aware (or indeed care), that a significant amount of my sewing over the past couple of years has included many attempts at recreating a handmade version of Jesse Kamm’s of-cult-fame Sailor Pants. With varying degrees of success and comfort.

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Then, as I’m sure you are very aware by now, Anna Allen Clothing released the Persephone Pants sewing pattern earlier this year and the sewing community has gone totally nuts, with literally hundreds popping up in my Instagram feed.

I was pretty sceptical about the pattern at first. I know for a (untested) fact that Kamm pants would not fit my small(ish) waist accompanied by a large booty, and I couldn’t see how, without a side seam, I would be able to make them fit me. But then the as-ever-knowledgable and brilliantly talented Katie dived into the warm Persephone waters and came up with a few pearls of fitting wisdom that convinced me I should give them a go.

And they are awesome.

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I rarely make a pattern more than once, but I’m two down on these and gearing up for a third. When the desire to sew returns. The shape is immensely flattering, the fitting surprisingly easy and the instructions - particularly for the button fly - absolutely excellent. Although I would say choice of buttons for the fly is crucial as the ones above are quite thick, and as such you can see them and they make the front protrude more than I’d like.

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Both pairs are made in denim from Threadbare Fabrics, which is wonderful quality. The creamy colour is the 10oz Cone Mills S-gene stretch denim in natural and the blue is an 11oz Japanese selvedge denim in cornflower. My only concern about this denim was the stretch in both of them as the pattern specifically calls for non-stretch denim. There is a caveat that basically tells you it should work in stretch and it does, but in retrospect I would definitely go for non-stretch. The main reason for this is that I wanted these to fit me snuggly around the waist and upper hip, which they do and I’m pleased with, but the stretch means you see every lump and bump and a not insignificant amount of VPL. Never ideal.

I would also aim for a slightly heavier weight. The 11oz is definitely better than the 10oz and I think 12 oz would probably be perfect.

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So as I made both of these at the start of the summer and failed to make any notes, my memory of the fitting process is a little hazy. However I can tell you that I slashed and spread to add 1 and a quarter inches to the back rise, tapering to nothing at the front rise. And raised the centre back by half an inch.

I increased the darts to about 2 inches each on the cream pair but on the blue pair I put the excess across the back waist into the centre back seam as on the cream pair the darts really poke at the points. Annoyingly lengthening the darts just made this worse. Next time I might try putting in some darts at the side as Katie suggests in her post. Aside from that I didn’t make any adjustments. It’s staggering that that is all I needed to do!

I made the cream ones first and when I made them they fit so well. I then promptly put on 10 pounds which means they are snugger and more VPLy, but still surprisingly comfortable. In fact these are the most comfortable, best fitting pants I’ve ever made. Well until I made their sister.

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So this is where I go a little off topic. (If you’re here purely (and understandably) for the pants skip down to the next photo.)

I’m conscious that Wednesday was World Mental Health Day. It is also five years this week since we made the move to NYC with a five month old and a two year old in tow. This was pretty monumental and as much I hate to admit it, it had a huge impact on my mental state whilst I was still suffering from Post-Natal / Partum depression (PND). Also, my weight gain is due in part to a medication I have been taking to help with a mood disorder.

I mention these as they are all significant in the way I have dealt with life over the past 5 years. In this age of reducing the stigma of mental health issues and encouraging people to not to see it as a weakness (which is SUPER hard), I can’t really let this week go by without talking about how this affects my life.

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Seamwork Magazine about how sewing helped me with PND and coming to terms with my new reality as a stay-at-home-parent. I think about this article a lot. I stand by what I say in most of it, but some aspects of it seem a little disingenuous to me now. Disingenuous is wrong, naïve is probably more accurate.

My PND has never really gone away and as much as I try to do the things I’m supposed to, like immerse myself in things I enjoy, exercise and eat well (I could do a LOT better in both of the latter), there have been many days, particularly over the past two years, when getting out of bed has been next to impossible - only the requirement to get my kids to school has enabled it. I was taking SSRI medication (anti-depressants) this whole time, but the crippling feelings of utter despair, total hopelessness, worthlessness, feeling totally empty and numb of emotion coupled with copious amounts of crying, and some very very dark thoughts were only getting worse. Eventually I realised that, several years in, this was something beyond PND and I really needed help.

I’ve had a few false starts in finding treatment but this time last year I met a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with severe, drug-resistant, clinical depression coupled with anxiety. We are still working on getting the right medication at the right dose, as I have stretches of time where the depression comes back. In fact it never really goes away. But now it is not quite with the same force that it was previously. Although it can still make the day-to-day activities of life challenging.

My erratic sewing output is kind of a bellwether for where I am in the cycles I have. I can go from being hugely productive and motivated, to unable to even look at my sewing machine, or in fact engage with social media, as it is all utterly overwhelming.

For this and other reasons I’m working with my psychiatrist to understand whether my depression is unipolar or bipolar. This potential diagnosis initially totally freaked me out. And didn’t make any sense to me. Bipolar to me was all about insane highs, the mania, which I don't have, coupled with depression, which I do. But actually I’m understanding that there are different types of bipolar and bipolar 2, for example, is not the same. Yes there are highs, but these can manifest themselves in ways such as increased productivity, irritability and increased energy. Bipolar 2 is defined more by the long, intense periods of depression.

I’m still not sure whether this is where I am. My depression is pretty all-consuming but I’m definitely in a better place than I was last year. It looks like I will be on medication for the rest of my life, which is disheartening (a huge understatement) in itself. Don’t get me wrong, medication for me is a good thing, I wouldn’t be functioning without it. But the prospect of this never going away is incredibly upsetting.

And it’s a total f**ker when it means you gain weight as well and then find it impossible to lose. Bigger picture I know, but I hate it when my beautifully, painstakingly handmade clothes, that I really want to wear, just don’t fit me anymore.

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Did you see what I did there - moved so effortlessly from talking about something that I feel is so important to talk about, raise awareness, and destigmatise, to talking about sewing again. Don’t tell me I’m not a master of the segue!

Before I get back to the pants; I am no expert, but if you feel the same way and can summon up the wherewithal, and can actually get to someone who can help you, try and do it. It will drastically improve things for you. Also listen to this podcast - it deals with mental illness in an accessible, humorous and very personal way. And this guy, who I’ve just discovered, is honest and real and intersting to follow. I suggest them, mainly because both of these people get it. And people getting it, makes you feel so much less alone and so much less of a freak.

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Moving on: the second pair of Persephones in the gorgeous cornflower selvedge denim, have less stretch, more weight and fit a little better - although I didn’t tackle the waistband in the same way so that doesn’t sit as flush as I’d like it. For the cream pair I used a technique I watched on a Craftsy/ Bluprint class about copying your favourite jeans (Jeanius with Kenneth King) that has you press and stretch the bottom edge of the waistband before attaching it so that it curves and is essentially longer than the top edge. This then makes the waistband hug the curve of the body better. Literally genius!

I have worn and worn and worn these. I really wanted to use the pretty yellow selvedge as much as possible, so I made it ‘visible’ on the inside of the waistband and the backs of the belt loops.

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Interestingly these fit much better even though I made them around the same time. I think I was a bit more forgiving with the seam allowances and the denim is more rigid.

On both pairs I’m so thrilled with the fit, especially through the crotch. I know in these pics there are smile lines indicating they don’t fit well through there, but they really do! And are so comfortable!

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It really is a genius pattern; accurately emulates a highly sought after piece of clothing and I think, surprisingly, can really work for any figure.

I hope you don’t mind my little detour down the mental health path. I find it very hard to talk about with people face to face, but I also think, in this age of projecting a perfect life through all channels possible, it’s super important to be honest about our struggles so we can support each other and have real connections. That in itself can be so hugely helpful in relieving the loneliness of depression.

Stay strong, sew some Persephones and see you soon. x

(Oh and the jacket up top is also drafted and made by me. Hope to get some detail of that on the blog sometime.)