Ikat dress

It’s been a hot summer and even though we are well into March now the heat doesn’t seem to want to let up. The ikat I bought in Bali last time I was there is ideal for these sort of temperatures, apart from being a gorgeous handmade treasure.

There are, however, some design restrictions with this type of fabric, because it is made on a traditional loom and it is therefore only 100cm wide, with a border on both selvages. I opted for the same pattern as for my last ikat dress, a sleeveless empire bodice with a pleated long skirt, because it shows this gorgeous fabric off beautifully and the loose style is so comfortable in the heat.

I have had the pattern I used for the bodice for donkeys years, bought second hand for 50c and it is certain to be no longer available, so I can’t recommend a specific pattern. But any bodice without bust darts and with straight sides would probably do the trick. I have used the bodice of the Eva dress before, straightening the curved bottom edge and making it around 37-40 cm long, including the 4cm flange that hides the top of the pleats. I flipped it partially up in the photo below so you can see.

An undarted bodice generally has enough ease to get on and off without a closure, but if you are more generously endowed you might need bust darts, in which case you might also need to make the back of the bodice in two parts with buttons, or put a zipper in the side seam. The sewing details are on PatternReview.

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The Scarlett Syndrome

Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind’ is not the only one who can make the most out of a curtain. I have always found home dec fabrics to be a treasure trove of opportunities, especially for interesting jackets, but really for any garment that needs a bit more structure and a heavier gauge. Furnishing silks, cottons and linens all have found their way into my wardrobe over the years and have been very happy there. With fashion fabric becoming scarce, home dec can really expand your options.

This top is a bit of a twist on that theme, not only is it made from curtain fabric, but from curtain fabric that matches my new kitchen. IKEA clearly liked the design so much that they made it into yardage (metrage?) as well as laminate meant for kitchen backsplash panels. You may remember these from my blog post when we were doing our reno.

Well, here is what it looks like as a garment, though a bit more green than blue toned, which is a photographic quirk.

After my tunic mania in the last couple of years I wanted to make something decidedly anti-tunic. Short but still boxy and oversized, and I thought the Tessuti Mandy Boat neck tee pattern, minus the sleeves might fit the bill as a starting point.

The body pattern pieces have a tiny cut on sleeve stub to allow you to set the sleeve in flat, which you can’t see in the line drawing above. I had to widen this quite a bit, as it was narrow on the original even for a stretch knit. A woven doesn’t have the same sort of give in it, plus my upper arms may be a tad larger than the model’s. Around 40cm circumference is about right for me, plus I added fold back cuffs. If you are interested in the nitty-gritty of the sewing, the details are on PatternReview.

For those of you who don’t want the hassle of fiddling around adapting a pattern, there are a few offerings around by indie companies, one of them the Bo Top by Seamwork.

I have not tried this pattern and am in no way affiliated with the pattern company, but it looks very similar, with the sleeves a fair bit wider perhaps.

The Mandy pattern is a bit too long to perfectly suit this variation, and I had to make a large second hem to bring it up to high hip level. I think it looks better shorter, but you be the judge comparing the first and second photo below.

The pants I am wearing are Vogue 8712 by Marcy Tilton, my favourite pattern, although I have never blogged about them because slouchy black pants don’t photograph at all well. For a better idea of what they look like than I can produce, here are the pattern photos.

These pants have an Oska-type look and are a great supporting cast for almost everything. I make them using Australian bengaline, which is the best pants fabric ever, doesn’t wrinkle, bag or pill and the stretchiness of the bengaline makes them superbly comfy to wear. The addition of a yoga waistband raises the comfort level to maximum, and also keeps my midriff covered when worn with such a short top.

From Eva to Iris

I might have mentioned before that the Eva dress by Tessuti is one of my all time favourites. I have been sewing it for years and one of the summer versions I made a few years ago needed replacing.

I have seen the Eva made up successfully in prints, but I think it is best suited to plain fabric to show off the top stitched seams. I had some medium weight linen marinating in my stash that fit the bill nicely. It is a light-ish indigo, just a little more purple than a straight dark blue. I pretty much love all shades of purple, especially the more subtle ones. Purple suits redheads almost as much as grey.

So here is the result.






If you are interested in the sewing details, they are on PatternReview.

On a roll, I decided I wanted another summer dress. It is so hot at the moment and dresses are definitely the coolest option for work wear. Cotton batik is a superb choice for hot weather, cool and not as high maintenance as linen can be, and I had a lovely piece that I bought as a remnant from a roll of sheeting. It was only 85cm, but 2.8m wide, so enough for a dress. I would have been tempted to make another Eva, as the painterly batik was different enough to the plain linen not to be too obvious, and with the flowing colours there was no problem with an awkwardly chopped up print, but unfortunately the Eva is a little fabric hungry and there was no way to cut it efficiently from such a narrow and long piece.

So I had a look for a pattern I could use, and found the Iris dress, which is a variation of the Eva.


The bodice looks the same, but the skirt only has one horizontal seam. A four-piece skirt produces less fabric waste than one with eight, and as I am rather keen on bubble shapes at the moment it was settled.

Unfortunately I had not planned ahead, and had taken my printer to work. I was far too lazy to go in just to print off the pattern. What to do? I thought I could modify the Eva pattern enough to make the Iris, which is probably what Tessuti had done in the first place.

Bad idea! I did get there is the end, but it took me a lot longer than it would have with a proper pattern. For a start I sewed the bottom skirt piece in upside down, not the end of the world but I only discovered this after I had overlocked and top stitched the seams. Both front and back! Unpicking long seams with multiple rows of stitching is only recommended if you like boring hand work and have oodles of time you want to kill. 🙂

The second problem was that I made the bodice with too much ease. This was ok with the Eva dress, because it is quite long and the proportions are different. Even though the Eva is a bubble, it is not particularly voluminous. The Iris bubble is wider before it goes back in, as the top half of the skirt flares out more because it is longer, at least it is in my version. I would be interested to know if this is the case with the Tessuti pattern as well, so I will be buying it to have a look. Judging by the pictures, my bottom skirt piece is narrower, making the dress shorter. This was due to fabric constraints, but I quite like the shorter look.  Unfortunately it all added up to make the silhouette quite square, courtesy of the loose bodice on top of everything else. So more unpicking. I took a total of 7cm out of the bodice width, quite a lot, but it now looks much better. I can still get it on and off without a closure, always good news as far as I am concerned.

I ditched the short sleeves I had been toying with, again because they made the top of the dress look too wide. I think a deep U neckline might have helped make the bodice look less square, but I had already finished it with a self bias and I had well and truly enough of unpicking. The original Iris pattern had a little stand up collar which I rather like, but I have so many necklaces that I feel I need lots of clothes with plain round necklines to get some wear out of all this jewellery.

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A Bubble Dress

Now that I feel that I have done Lagenlook to death, I am casting around for a new style. Time to experiment a bit! My latest is the StyleArc Eme dress, rather a change for me because, even though it is still oversized, it is much shorter than my usual length. Just below the knee. Gulp.

bubble dress


I do like it. I had planned to wear this with leggings, but decided to be brave and just go ahead the way it is. I felt totally comfortable with the shorter length, a bit of a first for me. The only thing that makes me hesitate is that I am rather used to tight-ish fitting bodices and this one is very loose. I cut the size according to the StyleArc size chart, but I still feel I could go down a size. Or two.

It could be that I need to acclimatise to the change. What do you think? I might wear it for Christmas, it certainly is roomy enough to accommodate an enormous lunch, and see what the fashion police, aka DD has to say. If it is a thumbs down it would be really easy to take in the underarm and side seam a little. Or a lot, depending.

Your candid comments would really be appreciated.

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The sewing nitty-gritty is as usual on PatternReview.


Several months later
I did take it in and here is what it looks like now. Not sure if it was worth it, but I am still wearing it. The left is before and the right is the after shot. I think maybe I should have taken it in over the hips too, not just the bodice. It’s not too late, there might be a next iteration!

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The Hazelwood Top

After wearing pretty much only tunics for quite some time I seem to have developed an interest in short tops. From one extreme to the other, I suppose. Not sure though if the love is being returned, as my rear end is somewhat generous and a short top does nothing to hide that. But I have been looking for a bit of a change and it definitely is that. So when I came across the Tessuti Hazelwood top I thought I would give it a go.


The skinny jeans are not my style, being a pronounced pear they definitely don’t do me any favours, as much as I like the look on others. But I thought that my wider, Oska style pants might be quite a good combination.

What possessed me to leave off the cowl I really do not know, it was one of the things that attracted me to the pattern in the first place. Fortunately I block printed some extra fabric to give me the option of adding the cowl later and I think I will. It needs a little more oomph, probably because the tunics I am used to wearing have a lot more of a ‘presence’ visually, almost like a dress, but a short top is just that, a top and pants. That has much less of the appearance of a complete outfit, and adding a jacket is not an really option. almost too hot right now and it is not going to get any colder as we go into summer.

What I do like is the block print though.

For the print I re-used a block I already had, so that was a quick and easy job. Here is the top I made the first time I used this block.

Block-Printed Toni

The StyleArc Toni Designer dress is one of my favourite patterns, although I dispense with the collar and pare it down to its basic silhouette. I have posted about other versions of this dress here, here and here.

This time I wanted to make a long sleeve version, using a lovely cotton jersey that would be a great canvas for a bit of block printing. I used the same motif as for this t-shirt, except for mirroring it into a sort of abstract leaf shape.

I am very happy with the design, although the actual execution leaves a bit to be desired. This is due to the nature of block printing, where every print looks somewhat different and none of them are perfect, most with random bits where the ink didn’t quite cover. This is unlike stencilling which has a more solid application of the ink, but is more difficult to use on large areas such as a nearly maxi dress. Still, the block print seen as a whole doesn’t look too bad and close up the unevenness of the prints has a certain artisan charm. You can tell it hasn’t been done by a machine, at least that’s my story and I intend to stick to it. 🙂

But looking at the photos, I really ought to slim down the width of the bodice a bit, when I compare it to the dark grey version below, which has a more pleasing overall shape, because it looks quite tight below the bust and only flares out from there.

The two dresses are actually cut identical, but the lighter grey jersey is not as drapey as the darker. Or is it the large print that makes the difference? It has been a truism as long as I can remember that large scale prints are only for the super-skinny, but aesthetically I just like large prints so much better than small ones. It is a trade-off, but fortunately seeking to look as slim as possible is no longer my top priority when designing my clothes. Still, there is scope to slim done the bodice, and I will try it as soon as i can find the time and see if it will do the trick.

To get a winter version of the Toni, I combined it with my TNT t-shirt pattern, the Burda Lydia, for the upper part of the bodice and also used the long sleeves from that pattern. The sewing details are on PatternReview.

The Mandy Boat Neck Tee

Tessuti are one of my favourite pattern makers, and I don’t mind shouting it from the roof tops in the hope that it will encourage them to make more and more fabulous patterns. A pattern maker whose taste aligns with mine is a gift from heaven.  The other company that comes up with patterns I love is StyleArc, and both these companies offer PDF downloads, which is great. These days to go to a shop to look through the pattern drawers to find the one I want, which is often sold out, is something I avoid like the plague. A bonus is that the patterns printed at home use up the pile of misprints that collect around the printers in the office, something which appeals to my frugal self that doesn’t like waste.

But let’s get back to my topic today, the Mandy.

The Mandy is an oversized tee, clearly designed for striped jerseys, and I do like that look. However, to try the pattern I repurposed a wadder I had made a couple of years ago, a very voluminous tunic that looked pretty disastrous when it was finished. The jersey was to plain, to beefy to drape nicely and too yuk on its own for the wide expanse of the style. It would have needed a fabric that did all the talking to look good, and this one wasn’t it. I kept it because I thought there was enough fabric to make something else, and I am so glad I did.

Talk about ugly duckling to swan! The beefy fabric suited the Mandy so much better, the inky blue I disliked on its own looked transformed combined with the black print, and the result is now a firm favourite in my wardrobe.

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The low contrast between the dark blue and the black is ideal for block printing, because it hides the fact that this technique can look a bit scrappy. The rubber block does not deposit as much ink on the fabric as one would like, leaving a few specks of some motifs uncovered or transparent, and a high contrast colour combination can really highlight this unfavourably. Block printing also tends to produce a few ‘oopsies’, where a bit of ink is deposited where it should not be. This of course depends on the skill and concentration of the operator, and I don’t know what this says about me, but I find that there are always a couple of spots somewhere. Dark-on-dark or light-on-light makes these shortcomings far less noticeable. It is also better if your design does not have too many big, solid areas where a nice even coating of colour is desirable. A design with thin-ish lines close together seems to be better suited to block printing.

The only mistake I made was that I cut this Mandy too long, as I realised later when I was forced into a shorter version due to lack of fabric. Fortunately this is easily fixed.

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Here is the shorter version, 55cm long on my 161cm frame.

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This time the print is stencilled on, the first time I have done large scale stencilling with a design covering the entire garment. I am still experimenting with stencil mediums, this time I used clear plastic meant for covering textbooks. I thought the adhesive side would help making sure there would be no bleeding outside the stencil lines, and the grid on the backing paper helped with even placement of the motifs.

The adhesive proved to be a disappointment, as it did not stick to the fabric very well, but being careful to apply the ink with the foam roller from the edge of each motif to the middle produced nice clean edges anyway. I might try another stencil medium next time. The freezer paper I have is in sheets and too small for a whole garment, but you can buy large sheets of stencil plastic. This is not sticky, but it’s stiffness will hopefully mean that loose edges in the design, such as the small strips separating the ‘fish bones’, do not stick to the roller and flip up as the roller is moved back and forth. I will report back after I have tried it, being designed for the express purpose of stencilling might just mean it will work better than the random stuff I grab and press into service, haha.

More pics below. Excuse the odd blurring on my face on the first one, my camera does this sometimes, it is not intended. It’s a good shot of the top, so I will use it anyway.

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Details about the sewing process are on PatternReview.

The Trouble with Perfect Patterns

I use almost exclusively so-called TNT (Tried aNd True) patterns, patterns I have used over and over where I know that the result will be a success. It makes sewing quick and easy and my wardrobe preferences are very much simple styles anyway. Good on you, sewist who are adventurous and like to try out the new and unusual, or who are keen to stretch your skills. I salute you and I admire you, but you are a foreign species to me.

There are those focused on detail, and those who see only the big picture. I am the latter, what matters to me is the look of the whole outfit. That needs to look professional, but the individual sewing techniques used to achieve this don’t matter much to me. I know I can do welt pockets if required, but my ambitions vere off into different directions entirely.

But back to TNT patterns. I have 3-4 top or tunic patterns, 3 dress patterns, 2 pants and 2 skirt patterns that are my staples. I sew something most weekends, so I have quite a few of each, but the fabrics make all the difference and only other sewists would notice that I use patterns over and over. As we are a rare breed these days there are not many in my real world orbit. Most non-sewing people would see it as personal style.

But sometimes I use a pattern so much, because it is stylish, flattering, economical with fabric, quick to make and oh, so very useful to sew down what I have in my stash, that even I have to admit that I have done it to death. Alas, my self-developed tunic pattern, with a swing hemline and side vents has been a firm favourite this past year summer and winter for both wovens and knits, and consequently is now in that category. I have posted about it here, here and here. May it rest now in peace.

Thankfully I have found a couple of patterns for tops that have sparked my imagination and may take its place. A little early to tell, I need to see how much I like wearing them over time.  They are both Tessuti patterns, who are one of my very favourite pattern makers. Quite a few of their patterns have been absolute gems, like the Eva and Lily dresses, the Jac shirt and the Fave Top. The latter in particular has been an obsession, that has now thankfully passed, but not before I made a gazillion versions in every conceivable fabric. My summer wardrobe is still full of them.

The Tessuti Mandy top has now captured my interest. It is still in my preferred oversized style, but a little more restrained than some of my wilder flights of fancy when I was in the grip of Tina Givens and Co.


The Tessuti Hazelwood top is not so much oversized as swing, a little short, but I love the look. Time will tell if I feel comfortable wearing it, and I’m sure I never will with skinny pants as pictured. I usually like to hide my bum as much as possible, and the new wide, cropped pants or culottes this might be a better option for me.



So watch this space for my version of these two. They would make a nice canvas for block printing too.

A Day in Taipei


I might have mentioned before, probably several times, that I visit my family in Austria every year. It’s a looong flight to Europe from Australia, which can’t be done in one go. That is fortunate, because 20 hours straight on a plane beggars the imagination, even for Aussies who are used to long flights. If you want to live in Australia you have to accept that the rest of the world is a long way away and if you want to go there you will be on a plane for many hours.

I always try to organise a stopover, because even with a fuel stop, getting off one long haul flight and straight onto the next is the pits. Much better to get a few hours sleep in a real bed in between, and if there is time to do a little sightseeing, that is even better again. This time I went via Taipei and had 18 hours to play with, getting in at 5am and flying out just after 11pm. I don’t know about you, but an overnight flight always leaves me with a burning desire to sleep in a real bed, so I had booked into one of the airport hotels for a nap. The airport Novotel is only 4 stars, but I was left to wonder why, as I can’t see how a hotel could be much better. Everything looked very new, or extremely well maintained if it wasn’t, and apart from a luxurious bathroom and comfy bed, this is what awaited me when I got to my room.


No getting lonely in your hotel room with that giant panda for company!

I always do my research when I visit a new place, and it is very easy to get around in Taipei by public transport. I avoid taxis in large Asian cities if there is a good metro system available, because many of these cities are notorious for traffic jams. In Beijing there are something like 30,000 new cars registered every year, and I have watched it getting steadily more and more congested over the 10 years I have been going there. I don’t know if Taipei is as bad, but I wasn’t going to risk it because my time was so limited. Fortunately the metro is very foreigner friendly with stations written in English as well as Chinese and maps everywhere. On top of that the Taiwanese are super friendly, you only need to look a bit confused for someone to come up and offer help in fluent English.

I had planned to visit three places in the time I had, the Yongle fabric market (what else?), the old town which was conveniently adjacent and Shilin night market. Night markets are a big thing in Taipei and the star attraction there is the street food. I have been to markets on the mainland, mostly Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, but the Shilin market really was about food, not the cheap and cheerful designer fakes that dominate the markets elsewhere. The idea is to walk around and pick up snacks to eat, and there were plenty of people doing just that. I didn’t see a lot of western faces, but I believe this market is very popular with mainland visitors, so definitely used to tourists.

I decided to be brave and try as much of the street food as I could manage. Below is a stall selling different types of octopus and squid. The fat things at the back looking like peeled bananas are actually octopus tentacles. They chop them into bite sized pieces and deep fry them, then put them into a cardboard cup for you to eat with a tooth pick. Utterly delicious!

I have a sweet tooth, so I enjoyed quite a few of the sweets on offer. Below is a lady who presses glutinous rice into the wooden mold she is holding in her left hand, to make the little cakes you can see on her tray. They are sprinkled with either ground peanut or ground black sesame. Very yummy!

I’m not that keen on meat, but there was plenty of it if you wanted it.

More meat in the process of being fried. Just look at the serious blow torch in the man’s hand.

I was impressed with the cleanliness everywhere, no litter, no flies, no scavenging animals. Many people handling food were wearing gloves, hats and even masks. Taipei is pretty developed and I was told the food in the markets was safe to eat. They weren’t kidding. I even had a papaya milk shake, which is probably more of a risk than I should have taken, but no ill effects.

The fabric market was less of a buzz, lots of poly and not much silk. Quilters would probably have enjoyed it a lot more than I did, I saw lots of very cute quilting fabrics and fat quarters of traditional Japanese fabrics. I managed to pick up some ultrasuede for a jacket, so it wasn’t a complete loss. A couple of friendly Chinese fellow sewists who spoke good English stopped for a chat, which was fun, and I also discovered that little girls in Taiwan seem to love ‘Frozen’ as much as my three year old granddaughter does.

I’m afraid I was too busy looking to take more photos of the fabric market, but there are probably quite a few online if you want to see. For my money, the tailors market in Shanghai is really the best place I have been to buy silks and linens if you get the chance. Lots of variety, great prices and easy to get to.

I didn’t spend nearly as much time at the Yongle fabric market as I had planned, which was probably a good thing because it made the rest of the day much less rushed. The market is right in the old quarter which is full of the most interesting traditional shops, so I had more time to explore and poke around. I was too busy looking there too to take photos, but I found a few online that will give you an idea of what it was like.

I have another day in Taipei on the way home and am really looking forward to it!

What I Have Learnt Installing an IKEA Kitchen

I thought I would write down my pearls of wisdom, such as they are, while they are still fresh in my mind, for others who are interested in doing their own kitchen reno. Mine has been thoroughly enjoyable and I wish you the very best of luck for yours.

First of all, I was impressed by the quality of the IKEA components. Everything had a nice solid feel and went together really well, without gaps or problems with the fit. The drawers, for instance, are absolutely sturdy and well made, and will easily take a load of heavy crockery or whatever else you are going to put in them. Ask me again after 10 years of wear, but so far the quality seems excellent. The design and engineering are really good, and a whole lot of thought has been put into every little aspect. Because so many other people have installed IKEA kitchens, there is a plethora of help and advice via google and YouTube to draw on. Make as much use of it as you can, it really makes the job easier.

Because we installed the kitchen ourselves, we could adjust our design as we went along and that was really valuable. Just be sure you keep all your dockets in a safe place, because if you need to exchange anything you will need them. We exchanged some cupboards for smaller and/or deeper, one door to a different colour because we were given the wrong one, changed the handles to a different style etc. Knowing where to find your dockets is also important if there is a problem with something later on. A friend of mine had her oven break down after a couple of years, and because she could not find her dockets she could not get it replaced for free. I put mine into an envelope and filed them in a safe place, so if I need to claim on my 25 year warranty I hopefully will be able to do so.

When your items are delivered, it is important to count the number of packages. I was not prepared and fluffed that rather miserably. In my defence, there were 130 flatpacks, plus handles, hinges and other small pieces, 189 individual items in all and they kept coming, some in bundles where you could not see how many there were. Once delivered and crammed into a small space they were impossible to count, so I just made sure all the expensive bits were there. Thankfully we were only short of two packets of legs, $10 in total, but that is just as well. You get 7 days to claim for missing items, and when I tried claiming a couple of days outside this period, because that was when I discovered the problem, they completely ignored me. I am not prepared to fuss over $10, but if it was more serious I don’t know how it would have gone. That said, I thought at various points that something was missing, only to find it later. Easy to do with 189 pieces.

Keep the paperwork the kitchen designer gives you that lists all the cupboards with their components. If you lose it, you are toast! Impossible to know what goes with what without it. I referred to it constantly for all sorts of things, like codes to find the right package in the pile or what type of hinges went with a particular door. It is your bible, keep it where you can find it!

Putting the cupboards together is easy and does not require any particular carpentry or DIY skills. But you need to read your instructions really carefully and completely. If you don’t understand something, take the time to research online and puzzle it out before you go ahead. Skimp on that and you will ultimately waste time having to undo and redo things. IKEA has tested and refined their instructions over many years, so if something seems silly, assume that you misunderstood, not that they are idiots. I know I sound as if I am on their payroll, but believe me, I’m just a satisfied customer.

Cutting the holes into the sink and benchtops is in a different league to putting together a cupboard. The former does require some skill and knowledge of tools, and a familiarity with carpentry. If you are a total novice, get someone else to do it or buy custom made. Or approach with extreme caution, read everything you can find online and watch all the videos. Be prepared for a challenging job.

All that said, don’t sweat the small stuff. We did make mistakes, but none of them mattered in the end. The small crack in the worktop behind the sink that gave me conniptions cannot be seen unless you specifically look for it, and the same is true for assorted other little oopsies. Probably the biggest mistake we made was the raw material we used for our display shelves. Too lazy to make the 3 hour round trip to IKEA, we bought melamine shelving from the local hardware store. When it was installed we were horrified to notice that the white of the melamine was quite different from the IKEA white. We fully intended to rectify this with proper IKEA shelves, but when we put all our display items on the shelves to see what it would look like, we were amazed to find that the colour difference disappeared. The eye was completely captured by what was ON the shelves, and the shelves themselves became background, totally unnoticed.

Timewise, while the cupboards go together quickly, the finishing takes much longer than you would expect. I would even go as far as to say that 90% of the work will be done in 50% of the total time. The last 10% will take the other half. So if you are planning to finish for Christmas Day, or that huge birthday bash for your darling spouse, be warned. On the other hand, a kitchen that is 90% finished will probably be fully functional, just not ready to be shown off in all its glory to your admiring guests.

So, can I recommend the experience? I can. Would I do it again? Absolutely!