FO: Skirt and top

[Disclosure: This post contains an Amazon affiliate link.]

These items have been finished since May – figured it was time to blog about them!

I made another Flirt Skirt, this time out of a striped ponte knit, purchased a few years ago from Gorgeous Fabrics. I had a heck of a time matching the stripes on the side seams because the angles of the front and back somehow weren’t quite the same (?), but I used a gazillion pins and matched every. single. stripe. to make it work.

I made a really cool t-shirt using a digitally printed knit of a city skyline reflected on water (from Sawyerbrook Fabrics [now sold out]). I am on their mailing list and saw the fabric when it was first offered for sale toward the beginning of 2015. I resisted – obsessed – worried about the price [$23/panel, and I’d need 2 for a shirt] – obsessed some more – gnashed teeth – gave in – made the shirt. Whew. It probably is the most expensive t-shirt that I own. But I like how it looks.

I had to forgo all of the darts and fancy fitting tricks that I’d been developing because it would mess up the vertical lines. Also, I could not make the front as long as it needed to be – see how the skyline angles upward and it still rides up at the hem?

But I ran out out stripes in the hem allowance and thus didn’t dare try to make the shirt any longer.

Pattern placement was interesting. I wanted the skyline of the shirt to be fairly high and the neckline fairly low without the two running into each other. I also wanted the skyline to be more or less at the same place visually on the front, back, and sleeves.

I was scratching my head for a while, trying to figure out what part of the sleeve should match the bodice – I found this visual from Knits for Real People, which was a big help.

So there you have it!

FO: Business casual

I bought a short piece of ITY from Nancy’s Notions in March. It was advertised as “fronds,” but when I got it in my hands, it started to look like “feathers.”

Feeling indecisive during layout, I put out a call for advice on Instagram, and Kathy very helpfully suggested that I drape it on myself in both orientations. Ah, in the feathers direction, I looked like a miffed bird, so fronds were the way to go!

I pulled out all stops and used my ever-evolving shirt pattern with the custom shoulders and sleeves. This time, I added French darts (borrowed from Silhouette patterns’ Ann’s top) and back darts (borrowed from Maria Denmark’s Audrey dress).

Chalk would be near invisible on this fabric, so I marked darts using tailor’s tacks.

I realize you can’t really see any details on this print, but that’s OK. I’m still mustering up the courage to make this up in a solid color. :) But please note, if you can, the very limited number of drag lines, the lack of saggy-baggy in the back, and the even hemline. I added an extra half-inch to all side seams but ended up cutting them all off again. I set the sleeves in flat but attached the cuffs in the round.

The skirt is also new (review is here). This is the Magic Pencil Skirt by Pamela’s Patterns. Fabric is some kind of rayon-poly-lycra blend from FabricMart that I bought a couple years ago. I’d assembled the skirt last year and gotten to the pin-fitting, try-on stage when I got discouraged (sewing late at night after a long day of work and kids is not really conducive to success). It sat as a UFO for months, but it’s finished now. The amount of skirt pegging seems universally lauded by everyone who’s ever sewn one up, and I have to agree – it really is spot on.

I’d show you the darts and waistband, except my tummy is covered with little Xs of Steri-strips, and I’d rather not photograph that. So, yeah, I had to undergo laparoscopic surgery last week to remove some diseased lady parts (1 ovary and 1 tube). Everything went as well as could be expected, and the pathology results are negative for cancer [big sigh of relief]. Recovery has also gone as expected (postoperative day 1 = miserable pain; postoperative day 6 = off all meds), but I look like I’m 5 months pregnant. (I’m seriously holding my breath for the above photos… except I can’t seem to suck in my belly much any more.) I guess 4 incisions through all the core muscles will do that. Hopefully, this preggo belly is temporary…

FO: A simple towel

I inherited my mother’s ultrasensitive sense of smell. It’s like… the closest way I can explain it is, you know how you can smell EVERYTHING when you’re pregnant? It’s like that, except my nose has functioned at this higher level all my life. It’s a blessing and a curse, really. Everything has an odor. All those things that you think don’t smell like anything? You’re wrong. I can totally smell that. From pretty far away, too. 😉

Last year, Katy @ NoBigDill talked about their family’s solution to sour-smelling towels. She described buying thin cotton Turkish towels that dried fully between showers, and my nose perked up at the thought.

I bought 2 yards of Robert Kaufman linen/cotton (55/45) Essex fabric (the “wide” version, which is 56″), and I used scraps of the same fabric in plum for a band of color. Essex is considered a lightweight fabric (6.00 oz. per square yard), but I think it has a fairly firm hand; in fact, it’s the same fabric that I used to make my Flirt Skirt.

This was a very simple project. I laundered the fabric about 4 times to shrink it up, ironed the whole length, and then cut the fabric in half (to make 2 towels). I cut off the selvedges and made deep mitered corners following this tutorial.

I cut a strip of purple fabric (perpendicular to the selvedge) and pressed the edges to the wrong side center by passing it under a single pin (like making bias tape without a tool).

I sewed the stripe (edgestitch) onto the fabric and then edgestitched the hem all the way around. Pressed it one more time, just for photos. For sure, life is too short to iron towels on a regular basis! The final dimensions are about 50×30 inches.

Of course, I had to try it out with my shower today. It felt weird drying off with such a thin fabric, but it worked out just fine, of course. I kind of wish I could have made it a couple inches bigger (53 inches?), but shrinkage and the 1″-hems precluded a longer towel.

I stitched this on a Husqvarna 6460 that was my late grandmother-in-law’s machine (purchased in 1979). Although the machine sat unused for several decades, it seems to work just fine. I really enjoy sewing with purely mechanical machines, they make me happy.

FO: Felted Sweater Dog

I still get hand-me-down clothes from my sister – we’re not quite the same size, we have kind of different styles – but she often buys at places that I only “snoop shop” at, so it’s always fun to receive a box of clothes from her.

Last year, she sent a lovely brown sweater with a draped neck. It actually fit me perfectly, so I was pleased to wear it this past winter. I unthinkingly tossed it in the wash one day and was shocked to pull out a toddler-sized sweater. My sister NEVER wears handwash-only clothes, it’s either straight to the machine or to the dry cleaners, so I had just assumed it was a washable garment (because who dry cleans sweaters?).

After kicking myself for my stupidity (the tag clearly said 80% wool – and COME ON, as a Wool Person, I should have known better), I pondered the options and decided to make a doll out of the fulled fabric. I mulled over my stash and found the perfect thing – a plush Dog by We Wilsons. I found the stegosaurus pattern in my archive, too, so I must have grabbed the patterns during the giveaway, so many years ago. The pattern is still available for sale on Etsy.

I had just enough fabric to cut out the upper body and tail. I used Polartec (Windbloc, I think? Leftover from diapermaking days) for the contrast because I love brown and blue together.

Assembly was straightforward. The instructions confused me for a while about what to nip and tuck out of the underside legs to stop the dog from splaying out, but I figured it out eventually.

The fulled fabric was so stiff, I knew I didn’t have a chance at turning the tail inside out. I chose to just sew the 2 pieces together and leave it flat.

I stuffed it with some scoured Romney that I bought to spin a million year ago, before I realized that Romney is too harsh against my skin.

The ears were making me crazy, like he was trying to take off or perhaps was perpetually confused. This would be the second dog I’ve made with antigravity ears (2006!), and I just wanted to do it differently.

Taking a lesson from the leg tucks, I made ear tucks. Long stitches were pulled tight to bring the ear down. Does it look better?

The eyes and the adorable fuzzy brown nose were purchased from Suncatcher Eyes (9-mm nose and 12-mm eyes). I followed Planet June’s guidelines for eye placement.

Not much else to say, I guess! Enjoy the cuteness!

FO: A sashiko adventure

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I grew up in a suburb of Chicago that was mostly white and mostly Jewish. Even though I’m a nissei (second-generation Japanese), I’m not culturally Japanese by any stretch. I say this only to explain why, when the Surviving Tsunami Waves exhibit came to Rochester, it wasn’t exactly on my radar.

However, the event was partly sponsored by Mayo, and so a number of items were on display in the atrium right next to where I work. I passed by one afternoon, glimpsed some handstitched garments (ooh, textiles), and wandered down to check it out.

It’s painful to think about the people who lost so much in the Japanese tsunami that hit the Tohoku region in 2011. In addition to losing loved ones, homes, and possessions, many women in that area also lost their livelihoods that were based on the sea – gathering seaweed from rocks, harvesting sea urchins, that sort of thing.

The Senninbari Project came about to give these women a new source of income and to reestablish their sense of community and identity. The founders of this project are Tsuyo Onodera, a kimono maker and instructor for 50 years (analogous to a European couturier), and her daughter, Maki Aizawa; they went to the shelters and taught embroidery and sewing. The women displaced by the tsunami learned these handstitching skills and now collaborate to create handmade, traditional garments. I think the hope is that they will form a sewing collective (?). Their goals bear some similarity to Alabama Chanin.


Family crests of survivors


Is it wrong that this reminds me of a bowl of ramen?

In any case, the exhibit that I saw featured kimonos, quilts, and wall hangings. I went home, googled some more, and read that they were offering a 3-hr workshop on sashiko embroidery. I knew nothing about this type of stitchery, but hey, what a great chance to learn, right?

The master kimono maker herself was our instructor for the night! That was a nice surprise. We were all given a kit to make a “fukin” (btw, pronounced more like “foo-keen” than like a curse word), which is essentially a dishcloth. The cloth is printed with water-soluble ink.

The fabric is folded in half, roughly basted (as in stitches 1″ long). Sashiko is a plain old running stitch, nothing fancy or difficult. In (Western) hooped embroidery, the fabric is held taut and the needle is pushed down or pulled up perpendicular to the plane of the fabric. However, in sashiko embroidery, one hand holds the needle mostly parallel to the plane of the fabric as the other hand “wags” the fabric up and down over the point of the needle to form the stitching line. The fabric has to be smoothed out very frequently to avoid gathering.

The thread is knotted only at one end. We were taught to slither the needle in between the folded layers to hide the knot at the beginning of each length of thread, but at the end of the thread, we were to duplicate stitch over previously embroidered areas and then just snip the thread at the surface of the fabric, no knots.

The patterns are usually quite geometric. The traditional way of embroidering is to do all of the horizontal lines first, then the vertical lines, then diagonal lines 1 way, then diagonals the other, and then fill in whatever remains, including the border. Some duplicate stitching is inevitable.

The class itself was slightly chaotic because the teacher spoke no English and her daughter, the translator, was often preoccupied by her toddler son (who was having a nighttime fussy period). But we managed to get through it. Two other Japanese women were at the workshop, so among the 3 of us, we were able to decipher the teacher’s instructions and help some of the other students. (I can understand some Japanese but cannot really speak it.)

You can see me stitching away at the workshop. I was sitting next to a gal with a great sense of humor, and we joked about whether we would have the nerve to actually scrub our kitchens with hand-embroidered towels. We laughed even harder when the teacher remarked that we should be able to finish one of these cloths within a few hours. In fact, it took the better part of a week to get mine done.


Holding up >2 hrs’ work

When it was finished, I pressed it carefully, took a few photos, and then wondered if I should save it.


This is the “asa no ha” (hemp leaf) pattern.

Then I reminded myself that I vastly preferred keeping useful stuff (as opposed to strictly decorative stuff), so I briskly got it wet and scrubbed my kitchen table. It felt great.


In its native habitat

My parents see my Instagram feed and knew I had taken the class. My mom dug through her closets and sent me a surprise gift. This is a fukin that was embroidered by her cousin some 20 years earlier. My mom could not bring herself to use it. Now it is mine, and it is in as pristine a condition as it was when my mother received it. Isn’t that something?

I bought a couple more preprinted washcloths, plus a set of needles
and thimble that are specifically for sashiko. I have at least 2 more washcloths in my future!

The spinning of Pepé Le Pew

Five years ago, I bought a 4-oz bump of 70/30 Shetland wool and tussah silk blend. I spun a tiny bit of it on a spindle and then life, etc, twins born, blah blah, until I pulled it out again a month ago, when I received the unexpected gift of daily spinning time.

My first grader moved into a new reading level at the end of February. Her previous daily reading assignment consisted of us reading a short book together every afternoon, but in this new level, now she reads part of a chapter book aloud to me for 30 minutes daily. I no longer need to hover over each page and correct myriad mistakes, I just listen and question obvious errors. I’ve been learning a lot about magic treehouses, sigh.

On the plus side, one can actually get quite a bit of spinning done in 30 minutes per day. 😉 This is more spinning than I’ve done in a year, probably.

I made medium-weight singles and 3-plied them to make a bouncy worsted weight yarn. It feels good to squeeze.

I didn’t have a project in mind and thus didn’t bother with measuring yardage. I have no project planned because the yarn itself is not great. The Shetland fiber was distressingly full of short, wiry kemp. Had it been a fleece, I would have rejected it. As expected, the kemp is shedding out like mad.

Sadly, the yarn is too coarse for next-to-skin items, which rules out small projects like scarf, mitts, hat, etc. I was idly considering a Zoom Loom, but what would I do with 4 oz of scratchy, hairy, shedding squares? So this skein will go to the stash bucket to marinate, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Spam musubi & an unexpected multitasker

Canned meat (Spam, corned beef, tuna) wasn’t unusual in my house when I was growing up. However, when I was in college and began cooking for myself, I succumbed to food snobbery and eschewed Spam in all its forms.

Fast forward about 17 years, I’m in SoCal visiting family and immersed in this horrific travel experience that involves a looong flight with 3 screaming children (they were 1 and 3 years old at the time), only 1 crib at the hotel despite reserving 2, problems with the car rental, kids constantly wailing, etc; in the middle of this adventure (Matt is swearing we won’t take another family vacation for at least 10 years), my cousin takes us to a Japanese food festival. I hadn’t been to one of these since I was a kid in Chicago. I’m a wreck from the stress, and my cousin takes pity on me and brings me some food so I don’t have to get up.

He hands me a paper bag with a drink and 2 Spam musubi – for those of you unfamiliar, this is a seaweed-wrapped rice ball with a big slab of Spam in the middle – I am starving, so I cram half of one into my mouth at once, and it’s like angels are suddenly humming. OMG, it is so salty and chewy and substantial and carbalicious. It’s hits me like a childhood comfort food, and I feel so unexpectedly happier with this in my tummy.

So naturally, I come home to MN and am craving Spam after not eating it for nearly 2 decades. I browse web sites with musubi recipes, and darn if everyone isn’t using a wire slicer and musubi press. No one makes these freehand? Did they ever? I mail order the equipment via ebay from some Asian grocer in California. (It’s funny, I live not too far from Austin – home of Hormel Foods, the maker of Spam – yet nowhere in MN can I find a wire Spam slicer).

I make mine by pan-frying the slices (low sodium, please – and for the love of god, do not try the turkey Spam, so hard and jerky-like after frying) and patting off the grease with paper towels. I place the musubi mold over a sheet of nori (seaweed), press in the first bit of rice, sprinkle furikake generously (hence the lo-Na Spam), add Spam slices, top with rice, press again, unmold, and wrap with nori. I let it sit for a few minutes for the nori to adhere and then slice with a wet knife.

Shockingly, my kids love musubi. I can’t explain it.

The wire meat slicer takes up a lot of drawer space. I was unhappy about having such a big unitasker and set about finding other ways to make it useful. Once I started thinking about it, though, it wasn’t hard to come up with other ideas.

Serving its original purpose – it makes 9 slices of the exact same width, something I could never do freehand:

Avocado slices for a tacos, salads, or even California rolls:

Chopped eggs for egg salad, much faster than with a knife:


Btw – foolproof hard-boiled egg recipe here.

Sliced strawberries for strawberry shortcake or to top yogurt, cereal, or ice cream:

It would probably work for softer cheese and butter, too, if you like thick slices.

FO: The best and easiest sleeve cap you’ll ever draft

Let me introduce another round of t-shirt tweaks! I was saving this fabric for something good, it’s a fascinating digital print of Times Square on a rayon/lycra blend, reminds me of Desigual shirts. I purchased this yardage from the always-fabulous Ginny’s Fine Fabrics and Support Group. So wonderful to be able to browse there during a lunch break!

I did the easiest alteration first – moved the shoulder seam forward by 2 cm. The original pattern had almost identical armhole seam lengths for the front and back bodice, which didn’t make sense to me. Now the seam doesn’t feel like it’s sliding down my backside!


Remove seam allowances, abut 2 edges, redraw seam line, cut apart, add back seam allowances. Here, I’m also truing the shoulder apex.

Seems like I spend a lot of my free time mulling over sleeves… I’d been using a pattern based on a sleeve that I’d draped on myself last year. It was OK but not great, despite endless rounds of tinkering. Meanwhile, I’d made a holy grail out of getting striped set-in sleeves to match a striped bodice. Imagine my delight when I saw on Cloning Couture’s blog that it was indeed possible! I won’t lie, I immediately ordered the Allemong drafting book that she used to draft her sleeve.

So the book arrived and OMG it is 38 superdetailed measurements before you can do any actual drafting. Whoa. Now Matt is actually pretty good humored about helping me with this sort of thing – over the years, he has patiently and lovingly covered me in duct tape, measured me for Wild Ginger Pattern Master software, for Cochenille Garment Designer software, for Custom Fit sweater knitting software… (Can you see I’m crushing on custom pattern software?) But the Allemong sloper seems like another beast altogether, I hesitated to ask him again and I have no sewing girlfriends.

Still, drafting the sleeve cap requires just 3 measurements, of which only 1 is a body measurement (bicep; the others are flat-pattern measurements of the bodice front armhole and back armhole). The rest of the cap is drafted with simple math, eg, bisect this line, divide this other line into quarters, draw a line connecting 2 dots and divide the new line by a third to generate a new point that you connect to a preexisting line… Taken 1 step at a time, it’s simple to follow and quickly generates a primitive cap.

The magical part occurs when Allemong instructs you to slap down a French curve to flow from one set of dots to the next. Add seam allowances and whoa! Personalized, anatomically correct sleeve cap?!? I measured the seam lines, and the whole sleeve cap seam line is only 1.7 cm longer than the corresponding bodice seam line. Very cool!!!

Next, I spent a long time agonizing over pattern placement for the cutting layout. I didn’t want to have a bright patch highlighting the wrong part of my body, if you know what I mean. I laid the entire piece on the floor, circled the approximate bust point on the pattern, and tried as many layouts as I could. This fabric was expensive, so I had only a little over a yard and no room for error. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out, especially with the vertical line running down the center front.

This time, I set the sleeves in flat, something I rarely do. I angled the right shoulder seam downward a little to match my shoulder slope, so the right sleeve cap had more distance to ease in, but it still looks OK. I eventually will make a full pattern piece with different shoulders and different corresponding sleeve caps.

It’s hard for me to understand how the Allemong formula works when I think of the myriad different shapes of an arm, and yet… It seems to work great! See for yourself!

I lightened the color a lot so you can see the details. To me, this looks darn near perfect – smooth cap with no drag lines, puckers, or excess fabric.

This shirt also underscored some of the challenges of working with knit fabrics because the varying stretch and drape among jerseys. This material is a rayon-lycra blend, whereas the prior shirts I’d made were polyester/lycra ITY and cotton/lycra. I made the same size 10-12 hybrid as I did previously, but it was embarrassingly tight; I had to let out the seams by 1/4″ from the waist downward to gain an inch of circumference. It’s probably not a bad idea to make wider seam allowances in the future and just shave them down during fitting.

Remarkably, the pattern was printed meticulously on grain. Very surprised and pleased to see that. Do you see what I did with the neckband?

I cut it so that it would repeat the motifs of the shirt right below it. It’s not a precise match, but I’m not sure it could have lined up exactly anyway. It’s good enough. I did completely mess up my calculation for where to cut the neckband edges, though, the seam was supposed to match the shoulder seam. Oops. Hopefully, that’s mostly invisible.

Side and back views, lightened for detail

I again gathered the side seam at the bust and left the back plain; adding darts is still on my list of future changes. Curiously, the back bagginess seems different with this fabric, funny how rayon hangs differently than poly. (Looks like part of the back got caught on my pants for the photo, those diagonal lines aren’t usually there.)

Are you sick of these t-shirts yet? Don’t be! I’m working on a new muslin with French darts, back darts, and shorter sleeves. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

FO: Morphing Renfrews

When I last posted about adjusting the Renfrew t-shirt, I’d made a couple of muslins and reviewed some of the adjustments necessary to improve fit. I’ve now sewn 3 more versions, let’s review! I was in a huge hurry to take these photos before my daughter came home from school, sorry that they’re a little fuzzy (no time to reshoot!).

First up is a shirt sewn from ITY polyester, purchased a few years ago from Gorgeous Fabrics. Per the muslin version from before, I cut a size 12 at the shoulder and expanded to size 14 at the bust downward. Let’s see what’s going on…

I see a slight pucker at right sleeve cap, oops, but I’m assuming no one will ever notice because of the fabric. I skipped the neckband pattern piece and followed Sarah Veblen’s neckband tutorial, which I’ve used before to great success. With this shirt, however, I first cut the neckband too short, which caused everything around the neck opening to gather weirdly. That neckband was picked off and a new one was sewn on. I also cut slightly too much off at the hem.

I gave up trying to ease 1 inch of extra front length into 5 inches of the back and just gathered it at the side bust; I’m calling that a legitimate design choice.

Note that the excess fabric in back is reduced but not wholly gone. The fit seems a lot looser than what I saw in the muslin; I attribute that change to the thin, drapey ITY fabric (very different from “Beefy T” cotton).

I realize you can’t really see anything going on with the patterned fabric (not a coincidence), so I made a version in a solid color to get a better idea of how to improve the fit.

This is sewn from a cotton mystery blend (maybe with a little lycra in it?) from the now-closed Mill End Textiles. This is a strange fabric, it sticks to itself and even slightly to my skin. I added a 3-needle reverse coverstitch to the neckline and hems to make the top a little more interesting.

I lowered the neckline by 1″ on this version. My caution in ensuring that the neckband was not too tight resulted in the pendulum swinging the other way, this neckline is slightly too loose and doesn’t hug the body. :( The neckband is also too wide and folds over. You don’t see it here because I actually ironed this shirt for the photos, and holy cats, life is too short to iron t-shirts on a regular basis.

What else? I see wrinkles on right shoulder only, which I think is pointing to asymmetrically sloped shoulders. The same wrinkles are evident in the floral tee above (but invisible in the photos here because they are masked by the patterned fabric). The shoulder seam is too far back and needs to be brought to the actual top of my shoulder. I made long sleeves without the banded hem; I did take a half inch off the length but could probably stand to take off a little more.

The side bust gathers are not doing anything to stop the deep folds from forming under the bust. The shirt also is just hanging straight down from the bust, but maybe a little underbust shaping wouldn’t be a bad thing. I don’t favor the common strategy of negative ease throughout because that would only highlight my lady belly, so I’m ready to explore French darts.

You can see my differently sloping shoulders pretty clearly in the back view. Also, I have little “wings” of fabric in the back sleeve cap that can be shaved down. The length of the back is good, but the bagginess at the lower back will not go away without darts.

The fit still seems kind of loose, even in this thicker fabric. Given the tightness of the very first muslin, I was not expecting 1 size up to feel so floppy.

OK, here’s the third and last iteration for this update. I went back down a size (10 at shoulders, 12 at bust and below) and used an even thinner and drapier ITY polyester knit than the floral one (also purchased a few years ago from Gorgeous Fabrics). I was afraid that this shirt would be too tight, so I went with the cowl view to distract the eye upward.

I did not have enough fabric and had to piece the cowl. Other than going back to the smaller size and adding the cowl, I made no other changes. I’m not crazy about the loose turtleneck style; in this near-liquid fabric, it feels simultaneously heavy and flopsy.

Size-wise, this seems OK (or possibly borderline too tight?). Maybe I’m just being self-conscious. What do you think?

All 3 shirts feel pretty comfortable, and I’m happy about wearing them out and about.

Here’s the to-do list for the next round of changes:

  • Move shoulder seam forward by 2 cm
  • Angle shoulder seam downward on right side only
  • Shave excess fabric off the back sleeve cap
  • Shorten the long sleeve length by another half inch
  • Decrease height of neckband
  • Add French darts to front
  • Add vertical fisheye darts to back

I feel oddly satisfied with this process of making incremental changes. It’s not unlike optimizing a laboratory protocol; you tweak just a couple elements at a time and see how those changes affect the culture conditions, assay reproducibility, etc. It is a slow process and perhaps a little boring (sorry), but I’m learning and hopefully improving as I go.

No sheep were hurt in the making of this video

My mother spotted this video and forwarded it to me. It’s like the intersection between a somewhat surreal knitterly fantasy and commerce in normal life. Love it!

The caption translates (roughly, via Google) to “If you thought traffic was complicated in your city, wait till you see this video.”