Sunday, April 2, 2017

Ottobre Mini-Wardrobe, Joe Edition.

After Maggie's mini-wardrobe, I immediately cut out an Ottobre mini-wardrobe for Joe.  As you will recall, all fabrics are from my super-swollen knit stash. Joe is super sensitive about clothing textures and really only wears soft knit fabrics (le sigh), so his daily wardrobe basically consists of t-shirts and sweatpants or loose shorts. When I cut everything out, it was still basically winter. Since then, spring has arrived and the weather is warming up! (Joe also stopped wearing a hat all the time, YAY!) Time for Joe's summer mini-wardrobe of short sleeved shirts and shorts already?

On the bright side, it is easy to sew for Joe! He is a reasonably appreciative audience and wears me-mades that meet his stringent tactile requirements frequently. But on the other hand, it can feel boring, sewing the same things over and over again. I think this is the challenge of sewing for boys, at least for me - it can get a little boring or unchallenging at times! Enjoying sewing for boys requires that you appreciate subtle differences and details, whereas girls' clothes can be as splashy as you'd like.

This is one of the best things about Ottobre magazines - the cute boy patterns. Somehow, Ottobre includes basic t-shirt and knit pants patterns in every single issue, but always with some fun twist or details that raise it to "Euro cool" rather than "same old same old."

This spring mini-wardrobe consists of three t-shirts (from two patterns, 1/2017 #16 "Raw Edge Details" and 6/2015 #15, "Steampunk," and two pairs of the "Super Basic" sweatpants  (6/2016 #12). You can look at old issues of Ottobre here. All of the patterns were cut in a straight size 122, which fit Joe perfectly with room to grow and move.

Incidentally, for a long time I thought Ottobre patterns were a bit short and wide on Joe, but we seem to have hit a sweet spot where he fits the size perfectly. Joe is almost eight years old, wears a RTW size 6 in pants, and is average height (50%) but has a longer torso and shorter legs relative to RTW sizes. For a taller boy, you would probably want to add length to these pants.

Everything was pretty easy and straightforward to sew, and my coverstitch machine got a good workout. I think I'm finally learning how to sew SLOWLY with the coverstitch. It wants to zoom through everything, and it's hard to slow it down! I've now rethreaded it over and over and I'm feeling more comfortable with it. So far, it's very unfussy and easy to use, easier than the serger. And I do love the results.

First, let's talk about the "Raw Edge Details" t-shirt, which is in the most recent issue of Ottobre. This pattern features a fun raw edged neckband that allows a contrast neckband to show just at the edge. So I will say, I'm a little mixed about this detail and wondered if it just looked "home sewn," but Joe is a FAN. The comfort level is great and I'm noticing he tends to fidget less with this neckline than the standard type.  After a few washes, the jersey will curl up and I think it will look more intentional. In the meantime, it definitely gets Joe's "sensory seal of approval," and I like that the finish uses up small scraps of the contrasting fabric!

In terms of fit through the body, this is my new favorite t-shirt for Joe. I love the slouchy, slightly boxy fit on him. Joe likes it when I put a pocket on his shirts, because it helps him distinguish front from back without scratchy tags. This shirt has a basic, square patch pocket on the front that can be in a contrast fabric, which is always fun. 

The fabric for the blue star t-shirt was leftover from this project.  This is an European jersey and the quality is really exceptional. I often balk at the price of high quality jersey, but when I actually buy said jersey, I have to say, I rarely regret it! In some things, you get what you pay for, and knit fabrics seem to be one of those things. The stripes are a rayon knit from Stonemountain & Daughter in Berkeley. I couldn't find this one on their website but I noticed that Imagine gnats now has this fabric as well! Although I don't normally use rayon knits for the kids, this one feels pretty substantial and sewed up pretty easily. We'll see how it holds up in the wash!

The third t-shirt is the "Steampunk" pattern from 6/2015. This t-shirt has a cool "saddle" raglan neckline and bands at the cuffs and hem. I sewed this up in Joe's favorite colors - blue and green. I think both of these fabrics are Kaufman Laguna knits. I used the same pocket as the "Raw Edge Details" shirts and used the same raw edge finish on the neck (but with only one band of green). This turned out .... so so. I would probably say "this is not my best work," but I know Joe will wear it plenty anyway! I also wasn't as thrilled with the fit of this t-shirt as I was with the Raw Edge Details pattern, but it's pretty good and the cuffs and hemband make this is a great project for someone who does not like hemming knits. I also think this pattern would make a great sweatshirt with a more substantial knit fabric.

Now let's talk about these fantastic sweatpants, shall we? I puffy heart this "Super Basic" knit pants pattern. There are simple rib knit pocket openings, and rib knit is used to make the drawstring. The pattern calls for grommets, but I can't seem to install a decent grommet to save my life, so I made small buttonholes instead.

There's a cute rounded pocket on the back (Steve raised his eyebrows at this outfit, but I reassured him that Joe was unlikely to wear these two pieces together very often), and the waist is simply folded down and stitched. I put elastic through the waist, and the ribbing is also in two pieces with elastic holding it together in the back, so the drawstring is more decorative than functional.

And the fit!!! Is so good, right?!  This first pair of sweatpants uses the leftovers from yet another project, a very soft navy sweatshirt fleece. I was thinking that these would be too long, since Joe's legs are a big short for his size, so for this pair, I turned the hems up and inserted elastic into them. They turned out a tad short (but totally cute!) so I opted to use ribbing at the ankles of my second pair as provided by the pattern. 

I didn't get many detailed shots of the second pair. These are made of the same wonderful and well-behaved hemp/cotton french terry I used for this sweatshirt (which has held up extremely well in the wash, btw - this fabric is the bomb!), with gray ribbing details and a plain self-fabric back pocket.

The length of these pants is perfect with the ankle band. 

 Joe signalled his approval of these pants by running around and doing ninja moves.

Yeah, I think these will work!! Ha!

By the way, check out our backyard! As I mentioned last autumn, we had some serious work done to grade and improve the drainage in our backyard last year, and we have a new (flat!) lawn area and a new gorgeous patio (terraced!). We are installing all new landscaping ourselves, so it's still really "in progress." Steve installed those lattice screens, to create a separate "room" in the back of the garden, and to screen the storage shed we are planning to put in. We have had SUCH a wet winter here in Northern California, everything is still a bit soggy, but the lawn is really happy! Anyway, it will hopefully be an epic gardening year for us!

We have additional house projects lined up. We need a new roof, for starters. We actually got the estimate last year, and we were set to have the work done this winter, but the heavy rains delayed the roofers so much that we are still way down in the queue! After the roof is done, I want to have the exterior of the house repainted. I'm tired of looking at old, peeling paint. Big projects! 

Joe turns eight next month! He's finishing up first grade and doing fantastically. His reading fluency seems to improve every day, and he reads outloud to us every night (I also read outloud to both kids every night, usually one or two picture books as well as a longer chapter book). He isn't yet reading books independently to himself yet, but he's getting there and can read most signage and captions himself now. He obviously takes pleasure in being able to read, which is wonderful to see! His favorite book is My Father's Dragon.

Joe is really helpful and agreeable these days (although he still has a stubborn streak like you wouldn't believe - I don't even bother to engage in battles of wills with this kid anymore, I know I can only lose!), and continues to dote on his little sister. These early grade school years are really wonderful. His current obsessions include Minecraft, Mario, and Pokemon. I have to drag him away from screentime to do things outdoors, but once he's outside, he is always happy! He asks the best questions and is just such a kind, smart kid. Although he's definitely a shy, reserved kid, his teacher loves him and he has a couple of buddies at school, so my mama-heart is happy and at peace. My mom told me that these "latency" years were great, and she was so right!

As far as sewing goes, I desperately need to make some simple, basic things for myself next! Sewing t-shirts for myself is also a little boring, but really necessary as I have officially worn out a lot of my me-mades. Hopefully I'll be back here with some selfish sewing shortly.

What are you working on right now? Do you find you sew less during prime gardening season? How do you feel about boy sewing?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Ottobre Mini-Wardrobe.

Hello, readers! Did you know that this coming week is Kid's Clothes Week, and the theme this time around is "capsule wardrobe"?

Uh, I didn't.

But a couple of weeks ago, reminded of how much I love Ottobre and inspired by the latest issue (which is totally killer), I traced and cut out a big pile of items for Maggie from my Ottobre magazines.

Okay, time for some honest talk: My knits stash has gotten so big it won't fit in the two designated bins in my Ikea Kallax unit anymore. I had to move part (ahem) of it into large, laundry basket sized, plastic bins, and those bins have been piled in my living room (remember, I have no garage or closets) for the past four months. Toys got piled on top of them, other bins were shifted in front of them, and they became, literally, pieces of furniture that no one even saw anymore (except our guests, who were probably thinking "um, you have a problem," but were too polite to say anything about it, which is why we like them)  Except that when I look at them, I do feel a bit ashamed and disgusted with myself. I mean, seriously, my fabric stash is taking over the living room, people. This is not good. Plus it undermines my authority with my kids and husband:

Me: Toys don't belong in the living room. Neither do golf clubs.
Kids: Mom, you have three giant bins of fabric in the living room.
Steve: *shrugs, raises his eyebrows meaningfully, and walks away*

On top of that, I've been embarrassed to see Maggie wearing clothes that are too small or completely tattered with holes. We have been operating under a chronic leggings-shortage. (We are also operating under a sweatpants shortage with Joe, so that's next on the list.)

Time to stop feeling bad about the piles of fabric and sew some things!

It was really fun to comb through my Ottobre Magazines after long days at work, and pick out some things to sew. I ended up focusing on two issues: 4/2015 and 1/2017.

The latest issue, 1/2017 is excellent. So many patterns I want to try! I fell in love with this long-sleeved t-shirt with shoulder ruffles, #9 "Sun Ruffle." You know me - I'm a sucker for shoulder ruffles! This pattern intrigued me because the ruffles are inserted into slashes in the shoulder of the t-shirt. I've never inserted ruffles that way - they are almost like little darts. I had to use navy thread for the rolled edges of the ruffles and it doesn't match the purple binding, but as an awesome online sewing friend recently said, "you wouldn't notice it on a galloping horse." All I can say to that is: AMEN!

I made the top up in a pretty pink and purple lace-print cotton lycra that I bought at Stonemountain with Maggie in mind a while back, and just so happened to have the perfect purple contrast ribbing on hand (advantages of a giant stash, yo).  This is a size 98 (basically a size 3), and I added a little bit of length to the top, since Maggie often ends up wearing tops with only leggings. I used the coverstitch to sew the binding on the neckline and sleeves and to hem the top. Lots of coverstitch action in this post!

The leggings are also from 1/2017 - #3, "Baggy." These are described as having "narrow leg bottoms and added ease around the seat." Basically, these are comfortable, basic, one pattern piece leggings. I made three pairs! Easy peasy. The size 98 is a big long on Maggie, but I'm pleased there is some room to grow.

The other issue of Ottobre, 4/2015, attracted me with some great tunics/knitwear which you'll see below. On a whim, I cut out this cute mini skirt as well. This is #8 "Mini Dots," made from a small piece of purple corduroy I found at the East Bay Center for Creative Reuse. This pattern is great for using a teeny-tiny piece bottom-weight! I admit that the final product--a tiny miniskirt for my four-year-old--is probably one of those articles of clothing that is more cute than useful, but it's sure cute! It might come in handy on those days when Maggie wants to pair a cropped tee with too-small leggings. And it took less than a half-yard of fabric to make!

So I asked Maggie what she liked best about this outfit, and she said "the shoulder ruffles!" She is my child!

 Next up is a make that is not exactly from my stash (cough cough) because I bought the fabric only a couple of weeks ago. This is Sarah Jane's "Magic Folks" knit in navy. Maggie fell in love with it at the fabric store on our last visit, because ... pink unicorns, duh!! 

Me: Because everyone needs more unicorns in their wardrobe, right?
Maggie: Well, I need them.
Me: Here, just take my credit card.

Yeah, so I actually bought the same print in flannel, in the white colorway, to make Maggie a nightgown? Because my girl needs unicorns.

With the navy knit, I made Ottobre 4/2015 #13, the "Busy Forest" tunic. This is an A-line tunic with raglan sleeves, a center-front pleat and patch pockets (that extend across the side seams), which is is intended to be made in a sweatshirt fleece or french terry. It worked great in this single jersey, though I could see it looking great in a heavier fabric too. This busy print doesn't show off the details at all, plus I couldn't get Maggie to stop spinning and being super happy/blurry in her new tunic, but this is the kind of simple dress/tunic that Maggie all the time. The front pleat adds a little shape and interest, and the pockets, as always, are a hit! The neckline and cuffs could be done in a contrast ribbing, but I used self-fabric on this tunic.

The leggings are the "Baggy" leggings again, but in a pink Kaufman Laguna knit. I have already made a top and leggings with this fabric, and even after this second pair of leggings, I still have tons of this stuff! So much for putting a noticeable dent in my stash, right? (Note to self: 2 yard of 60" wide knit goes a LOOOOOOONG way.)

But I am addressing the leggings-shortage, so that part is good.

Finally, I made this cardigan from 4/2015. It's #11, "Super Sweet" and is intended to be made with merino wool, with exposed raw edges down the front. That didn't work with this cotton blend french terry I grabbed out of one of the designer sale bins at Stonemountain. This fabric feels like it has some poly content, and is dark pink on the inside, and this lovely mottled peach on the outside. To avoid any raw edges showing and give the collar the body it needs, I cut the collar pieces out on the fold (with the stripey texture going lengthwise) and serged the folded piece onto the front of the cardigan. 

This is the type of garment that I wear all the time. Now Maggie has a cozy cardigan like the ones that Mama loves to wear!

Okay! So here's the full mini-wardrobe!  One pair of leggings went unmodeled - it's a purply blue Laguna knit.

It's a little funny to me that Maggie's "capsule wardrobe" is all pink and purple, but hey, that's what Maggie loves, right? Either way you look at it - (1) Who needs neutrals when you can have pink and purple? or (2) Pink is the new neutral! - this is the perfect Maggie mini-wardrobe! Not bad for a couple weeks (intermittent) work. All of these were very fast, fun sews, and I got a lot of time working with my coverstitch and learning the ropes with my new machine.

This was so much fun that I'm now back to the Ottobres, planning a mini-wardrobe for Joe (keep in mind this is basically all sweat pants and t-shirts!). I probably won't be participating in KCW this time around in the formal sense of an hour a day, since I have two - count them, two - freaking night meetings this week, but I do plan to sew! We'll see how far I get! Maybe I can consolidate my three living room fabric bins into two? A girl can dream!

Two prompts for the comments:

(1) Please tell me I'm not the only sewist with fabric in the living room.

(2) Are you working on a capsule wardrobe? Does the idea appeal to you? Dish!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Winter sewing.

Hello readers! January got completely away from me! And half of February too! Argh! I made this outfit a while ago, but it took a while to photograph it (badly; winter light does not make for good blog photos!) and here I am, finally blogging it, almost a month later! Ah well.

I haven't been sewing as much as usual lately. During January, I tried to follow the Apartment Therapy "January Cure" and spent a lot of time scrubbing various parts of my house. And bought myself lots of flowers, which was my favorite part. Now it's mid-February, and my life has passed by in a blur of work and night meetings. I am up to my eyeballs in contentious projects and late-night meetings, which is hard, and the state of our national politics sure isn't helping with my mood. My house has completely reverted to its prior disgusting self, and after I get home from work, I find I have no energy for anything except watching escapist TV curled under a heated throw with a beer in hand. I'm strugging to find the energy to crochet a few granny squares before falling asleep with the kids! I blame a heavy workload and the rainy days and long dark nights and, you know, Donald Trump - hopefully the vernal equinox will bring with it new energy and motivation.

We did get a trip up to the mountains in there, though, and that was really fun! It turns out Joe is a born snow kid! He would spend the whole day outside in freezing temperatures sledding and digging and making forts if we let him. Gotta get that kid on the slopes!

Anyway, back to this little sewing project. We've had an unusually cool, wet winter (the drought is over, so that part is good, but the neverending rain and the lake in my crawl space is not so great), and my kids are chronically short on long sleeved mild-winter appropriate clothing. I love putting Maggie in cute little pinafores, or jumpers, as we call them here, so I decided to whip one up in this lovely Kaufman "flamingo" 21-wale corduroy I've had in my stash.

I did a little Pinterest-ing and found this inspiration dress. It has a high bodice/yoke, a front box pleat, and patch pockets. I decided to use the Oliver + S Building Block Dress book to recreate this design. In Building Block terms, I raised the bodice, made the skirt A-line, and added a center-front pleat. I also lowered the neckline and armholes a tad, used bias facing, and added an invisible zipper in the back.

Once I modified the pattern pieces, this was a really easy sew.  After consulting with Liesl and other experts on the Building Blocks Facebook page, I traced the bodice piece first, and cut it off halfway between the shoulder and the bottom of the armhole. Then I A-lined (slashed and spread) the dress. Then I added the center pleat to the front piece. Finally, I drafted the pockets. The resulting shape is very classic and full for a little girl, reminiscent of some school uniforms or an artist's smock. This would also make a cute summer dress in a light fabric!

The finishing on this dress is pretty basic and frankly, not the prettiest.  I used bias binding on the neck and armholes and finished the seams with my serger (a lining in this style would be really nice). I struggled to get the invisible zipper in nicely, and despite multiple tries, it's slightly off.  Sometimes it seems like invisible zippers go in like magic, and you're congratulating yourself and thinking you've finally overcome the dreaded zipper, and other times it's just not easy. This was one of those latter times. It just would not cooperate!

Oh well! I'm the only one who will notice this (well, except you guys, since I pointed it out).

I also made the long sleeved top she's wearing under the dress. This is a Cloud9 organic knit, which is hefty and warm, but doesn't have much stretch. The pattern is from the 1/2014 issue of Ottobre, #11, the "Autumn Forest" top. Because of the lack of stretch in this fabric, I was nervous about doing a neckband, and worried it wouldn't go over Maggie's chunky head very well. So I drafted a little facing instead and used my (STOP THE PRESSES! I GOT A COVERSTITCH MACHINE!) coverstitch to sew it on. It sticks up a bit more than I wanted, I think I need to curve my facing more next time, but it does the job.

I'm still getting the hang of my new coverstich machine, but it does make beautiful, stretchy hems! And so far, it's really easy to thread and use! That surprised me. The only problem is - where do I put all of these machines? My sewing space is now more sewing space than cutting space, and I'm constantly rotating machines around. It's kind of a mess, but it's a pretty fun mess!

So, let's see. I love this t-shirt pattern for Maggie, and I plan to make more for her. It doesn't require much fabric, and the front detail is really sweet. The jumper pattern is perfect, and I would absolutely make more of these for Maggie, with a few minor modifications: real facings instead of bias binding, possibly a lining, and, hopefully, better zipper insertion! But it's such a classic, functional style for a little girl. 

In kid news, Joe got his hair cut in January, and hates it. I don't know if it's the appearance of the haircut (which is totally cute, BTW) or the feeling of air on his scalp and ears that bugs him most. He has been wearing a hat 24/7 since then. Ay yai yai! What's funny is that I used to struggle to get him to wear a hat on cold or sunny days, and now he won't take it off! He even sleeps in a hat. I have to switch it out occasionally to wash it. This child! I wish he would let us all see his cute head! But at least his ears are warm. I thought for sure that his teacher would lay down the law and make him take it off at school, but Joe convinced her that he NEEDED the hat. SIGH!!!!

Maggie, as you can see, is still obsessed with Catwings! She's a flying kitty here.

I cut out a bunch of Ottobre patterns for Maggie, so hopefully I'll be blogging again soon! Thanks for reading!  Have you ever had a kid go on a haircut strike? Or wear a hat 24/7?  I feel like I'm living in a Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book. This chapter is "Won't-Take-His-Hat-Off-Itis."

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Holiday Sewing, Part 2.

Hi everyone! It's chilly here in Oakland! Not by Midwestern or East Coast standards, of course, but since our house is uninsulated and has inadequate heat, when it gets moderately cool outside, it's pretty much the same temperature inside.  It's kind of like camping. It's freezing cold in the morning, warms up slowly, and the kids and I tend to spend a lot of time in the warmest room in the house, our dining room (where we do pretty much everything except dine, including sew, play, and work at the computer).

I complain about this every year, and I know y'all would feel deprived if you didn't have me to laugh at and roll your eyes at; I'm happy to oblige.  You are welcome.

As everywhere in the Northern hemisphere, the light is also fading, big time, as we approach the winter solstice, so please forgive the not-so-great photos in this blog post. My flash isn't working, so in the absence of good natural light, I present you with golden-y, somewhat blurry photos. The golden tone actually makes my house seem quite warm, which is lovely.

I haven't adopted making Christmas PJs as a tradition (at least, yet) as some families have. I am much more haphazard. I did it for Joe five years ago, then took a long break. Last year I made PJ pants for Joe on time but then waited six months to finish Maggie's pants. Neither of them were Christmas themed, and I never blogged them. So I don't think we can call this a tradition. That said, I always love seeing the posts start to show up in my blog feed in the week before Christmas. Seeing the girls in their pretty nightgowns and everyone looking so cozy and expectant! It's lovely. Some of my friends do this on an epic scale, for, like, TONS of kids! (I'm looking at you, Rachel.) I only have two kids, and making pajamas for them while juggling other holiday obligations seems like an awful lot of work!

But when I found a perfect used nightgown pattern, Simplicity 9968, at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse this year, in Maggie's size (actually even better than her size, since I never know what her size will be these days, but a range of sizes!), it seemed meant to be. I love old school nightgown patterns, but I've noticed that many have very high necklines, which my kids won't tolerate. They take after their mother in that respect - I hate anything touching my neck! So one of the first things I noticed about this ideal nightie pattern was the square neckline. Perfecto!

When I went on a Cotton + Steel Garland buying spree for my tree skirt, I obviously had to buy some yardage in the brushed cotton substrate, right? I let the kids pick which fabrics they wanted for their PJs - Joe gravitated immediately to the blue snowflakes. I admit, I hoped Maggie would choose the red snowflakes, so the kids would be really matchy, and I steered her in that direction, but nope. She wanted the adorable little reindeers. Little Rudolphs (but the noses are more pink than red, to contrast with the red background - so we decided to call this particular reindeer "Rudolpha the Pink-Nosed Reindeer").

Who could resist clothing these two in warm and cozy flannel, right? They do bicker and fight some, like all siblings, but the love between them is so strong, too.

Okay, right, sewing! This is such a great pattern! I made version D, a long nightie with long sleeves. Based on Maggie's measurements, I cut out a size 2, but with extra length in the skirt and sleeves (about 4 inches in the hem, some came out in the hemming; about 2 inches in the sleeves, and I used it!). I tried it on Maggie before hemming to get the lengths right and it worked out perfectly. The sleeves are a bit long, but because they are gathered at the wrists, she can grow into them. The hem is deep and can be let out. Hopefully this nightgown will last at least the next year.

I added some gathered eyelet lace to the bodice for a little contrast. The nightie has a sweet keyhole opening in the back that provided a rare opportunity for a heart button. I find weird different shaped buttons are always hard to get through regular buttonholes, but they work just fine with an elastic button-loop. (Obviously, I was not very worried about pattern matching!)

This nightie was so fun and fast to make! Nothing complicated here, just a really good, satisfying make.

I ended up making just a pair of PJ pants for Joe. These are the Oliver + S Sleepover Pajamas, just the pants. I'd love to make Joe a full set of pajamas some day, but I didn't have enough time or fabric to do it this time, and I know he'll get the most use out of the pants, so here we are. Cute pajama pants!

The Sleepover pants have no side seams, a separate waistband, and cute cuffs. I used the same fabric throughout, but added a little white piping on the cuffs of the pants. This is another super easy, fun, and cute pattern! I know this won't be the last pair of pajama pants I make for Joe using this pattern.

 I am currently reading Ursula K. LeGuin's Catwings to the kids and it has really captured their imaginations! They spend the better part of the day pretending to be kitty cats - who fly!

It is such a great series: it has enchanted both my children, and if I'm honest, me too! I will be sorry to finish it.

On the practical side, this has been one of my biggest wins with the kids in recent months - three days have gone by, and they are still wearing their flannel pajamas! Maggie had to be talked into taking her nightie off for a brief wash after she spilled something on it. The house is cold, and warm flannel helps!

Do you sew pajamas for your kids for Christmas? What are you reading to your children (or what were your favorite picture books when you were a kid)?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Holiday Sewing, 2016

Hello, dear readers! It has been a while! 

We decided to  decorate for Christmas a little early this year, right after Thanksgiving. Normally we wait a few weeks longer, but this year,  I think we all needed a little holiday cheer. I generally avoid talking politics on this blog, so I'll keep it brief. This past November: Lord have mercy! That's all I've got right now. Seriously. I am reduced to prayer.

But it's a fact that things seem better when there are pretty Christmas lights flashing in the window when you get home, and the house feels warmer with all of our stockings hanging by the fireplace. Sometimes, you just have to cling to the simple things!

The mini stocking is for our real-life cat, Maria, or Joe's stuffed dog, depending on when you ask Joe. I feel a little bad for the cat that she is so easily replaced with a fake animal ... but not really. She's a cat, she doesn't care about Christmas. Whereas Joe's imaginary dog might!

Most of my Christmas decorations are thrift store or Etsy buys, and every year I find myself adding to my collection. This chipped nativity scene was only a few dollars at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, and I love it!

Every year, I do a little bit of Christmas sewing, too. I figure in about a decade, my house will look like something straight out of a 1982 Better Homes and Garden Christmas issue. At least, that's the plan! My children are too young to find anything weird about this, and love to help me pick out Christmas decor at the thrift store. It's funny to imagine that their own childhood nostalgia may be inextricably linked to my own nostalgia for my grandmother's house at Christmas growing up. I guess that's how it works!

In mid-November, Rachel at Stitched in Color posted on her blog about the tree skirt she recently made, which she did in a "string quilt" zig-zag pattern in lovely Denise Schmidt pastels. Isn't it gorgeous? I immediately fell in love with it and decided I needed to drop everything and make one for myself!

Thus began what turned out the be a Really. Big. Project.

I have a modest pile of Christmas fabrics in my stash, and I dug deeper for pretty blues, reds, greens, and low volume prints from my non-Christmas stash, as well as buying a really lovely bundle of Cotton + Steel Garland fat quarters to supplement (I really love the whole Garland line - the light greens and aquas are the perfect complement to the true red!).

This is a "quilt as you go" project, where you sew the fabric directly onto the batting, then cut it into wedges for the tree skirt. Some brief thoughts:

1) This project requires more fabric than you think.
2) This project requires more batting than you would imagine.
3) This project requires three (count them, three) whole packages of bias binding!

You get the idea! I guess, in my mind, I thought of this as a small project, much less work than a quilt. Um, no. It's basically a really large, circular quilt. It is a giant, quilted, circle skirt, like the ones the ladies wear in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (and my respect for the making of those skirts is greatly enhanced). It did put a really big dent into my Christmas fabric stash, though!

Yeah. It's freaking ENORMOUS!! This would work for a Nutcracker-sized tree! I joked with Steve that it's for when we get a mansion and have a giant 12 foot tree. In the meantime, I have to tuck it up around our tree so that we can walk past it and into the room! But after all that work, it seemed far too wasteful to cut it down, and after all, you never know when you might move into a giant mansion? Uh ...

I backed it with miscellaneous Christmas yardage. Did I mention this thing is huge? It's about 65 inches across!! Here it is with Maggie for scale. :)

 This project just kept multiplying itself. I thought I would make it a "little" bigger than the one in the tutorial, and it was only at the end that I realized it was a lot bigger! Everything took longer and required more supplies than I expected. All of that quilt-as-you-go gave me a crick in the neck and exacerbated my tennis elbow (no, I don't play tennis; yes, I am getting old). I had to take breaks from it because it was so physically demanding to work with such large pieces of batting. Etc., etc. You get the idea. Anyway, it got to the point where Maggie was asking me when I was going to finish the Christmas tree skirt, because "there are only two weeks left until Christmas!" and I wanted it out of my sewing space too! No way I was going to cut bias binding or hand sew it onto this beast. Packaged double fold bias tape and a zig-zag stitch came to the rescue, and the epic tree skirt of never-ending-ness is officially DONE!

This was a big project, but I am really happy with the mix of fabrics and colors. It really is cheerful and lovely. It looks really nice under the tree with the sparkling lights all around it.

I was recently reading an essay by Charles Dickens, called "What Christmas is as We Grow Older," very Victorian and sentimental and pious, as you would expect, but of course, that's what we love about Dickens! He says that as we get older, the magic of Christmas fades, but in its place, we feel "the spirit of active usefulness, perseverance, cheerful discharge of duty, kindness and forbearance!" I would add, as parents, we create that magic for the next generation. Which seems like a good sentiment for this winter season, 2016, whatever holiday you celebrate.

Happy holidays, dear friends! Are you doing any holiday sewing this year?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Oliver + S Building Block Dress.

Happy October, readers! As usual, I am a little bit in denial of the change of seasons - we've had some gorgeous weather this past month, and I'm not ready for autumn! But, ready or not, here it is!

We've been really busy lately, finally working on the massive backyard overhaul I hinted about earlier this year. The whole yard has been graded, terraced, and new patios are in! It's super exciting, and such. a. big. project. Maybe I'll do a whole post about that soon? If it wouldn't bore you to tears. And if you're okay not having an obvious "after," because it's a work in progress, and I don't mean that in a humble-brag way, like, "see my gorgeous perfectly curated living room? oh, it's still a work in progress ... " I mean that in the "it's still a construction site" way. It's a bit of a blank slate right now - we have so much planting to do. In fact, these photos were taken at a local California native plants nursery where Maggie helped me pick out several nice plants! I thought to myself, "let's go off site for a photo shoot!" But then the light was a bit harsher than I was hoping for an October mid-morning and the photos aren't the best. Of course, after this, Maggie had pizza and ice cream, with predictable results. So these photos will have to do! For those of you who only post truly lovely, well-lit pictures, how do you do it? Do you do repeat photo shoots when one doesn't turn out? Do you not let your children eat pizza? DISH.

Anyway, sewing! Like many of you, when I heard about Liesl's new project for Oliver + S, Building Block Dress: A Sewing Pattern Alteration Guide, and saw some of the teaser shots, I was like "OMG TAKE MY MONEY. ... No, seriously, here is my money!" I just knew it would be awesome. It's a book with a basic dress pattern and instructions for altering the dress to be whatever you want it to be. Although information about pattern-making exists out there in the universe, and I even have a couple of books about it, I have always been pretty hesitant to try those techniques in any serious way. It is pretty intimidating stuff. And I didn't have a basic "block" to start with (I realize any number of patterns could be used in that way, but you know - mental hurdles aren't always rational). But I knew that Liesl would explain it in a way that is especially clear, and the Oliver + S community is an amazing resource, which helps too. My hope was to learn and practice some skills that could be used on all kinds of patterns - not just girls' dresses - but I figured, if nothing else, even the basic block dress is pretty sweet!

Incidentally, I want to say I think it's really cool that Liesl and Todd decided to self-publish this book.  Liesl talks about that decision here. With all the Oliver + s patterns I've bought and used over the years, the things I've learned from the blog, the Oliver + S community, all the friends I've met on Flickr and the forums, who really form the basis for my blog audience (THANK YOU, GUYS!), it was a no brainer for me to support Oliver + S in this way. I am a strong believer in supporting my local fabric stores (and small online stores) and favorite indie designers when I can. We all know that sewing is not a cheap hobby (especially the way I practice it, ahem), so I like to think that my money is helping nice people who provide great service or products to make a living wage. So anyway, the Oliver + S crew definitely put themselves out there, financially and otherwise, with this self-published book, and took a significant risk, and I was delighted to show my support. Also, this explained the long period without new patterns from Oliver + S, which had had me a bit worried.

Well, I preordered the book, and it arrived a few days later, after I had had a brutal and long day at work (I can't even remember now why it was brutal, because I've moved on to new firefighting exercises, aaaggggghhh). I parked myself on the couch with a beer and started reading it. So good! It really got my creative juices flowing and put me solidly in my happy place. You've heard it by now, but the photographs, instructions, and illustrations are just wonderfully organized and helpful. Liesl has a rare gift for developing clear instructions, even on quite a large scale, as in this book.

The weekend after it came, I dropped everything, scoured my fabric stash, and came up with this mock-up for my first try, a dress for Mags.

This was a first draft - a few things changed in the making, most notably, I decided to go with a "gathered pocket" instead of a lined pocket. The style is decidedly "feedsack vintage," and was inspired by the fabric, from the Cotton + Steel "Lucky Strikes" line, called "Clothesline Floral Red." The selvedge reads "Tuesday Night Ladies Bowling League 1972," otherwise known as Right Up Inder's (Bowling) Alley, right? Heck yes.

As usual, the design process involved Maggie, who helped me go through my fabric piles and chose fabrics and lots of loud and clashing trims and buttons. I actually have several pieces from the Lucky Strikes line, and Maggie originally selected "Coffee Shop Red," but I only had a yard

Me: "Maggie, I love that one too but I don't think it's enough fabric for a dress."

Maggie, patiently explaining: "Mama, you have to cut it into pieces."

Ah, good point! 

There was additional negotiation, but we finally settled on the other piece of Lucky Strikes fabric, this lovely subdued, somewhat autumnal floral (the other piece will make a great little blouse or A-line dress). Having decided the fabric, I designed the dress. I decided to complement this lovely subdued floral with some purple lawn, also from Cotton + Steel (I think!), which I decided to use for the collar, lining, and accents. The inspiration to use a darker color for the collar came from the sweet little pink dress with the red shaped collar in the book

I have been obsessing over puffed sleeves lately and knew right away I wanted to try those! My love for sweet heirloom details persists over the years, and Maggie will only be "puffed sleeves" age for a little while, I must take advantage!

For my first attempt at the dress, I decided to keep the bodice untouched, so that I could check basic fit before branching into a-line shapes. This is a size 3 with no modifications, and the bodice fits Maggie pretty perfectly, with a little room to grow.

I also kept the peter pan collar, but decided to add a little tie made of a bias tube for additional interest. I stitched this to the neckline slightly outside of the seam allowance, so that you can barely see where it meets the collar.

I spent the morning tracing the block pieces and making the alterations to the pocket and sleeve, following the instructions in the book. The instructions for altering the pattern were, as always with Liesl's work, excellent and clear. One little tidbit I got from the book is to use washi tape when you are "slashing and spreading" a pattern piece and need to secure it to another piece of paper to trace it. The washi tape picks up easily (painters' tape would work just as well), allowing you to adjust and fiddle until you're ready to trace. Both the gathered pocket and the puffed sleeve involve a good deal of cutting and slashing, and this trick worked really well!

The pockets are the same little gathered pockets as you find on the Jump Rope Dress. They are not very visible in this busy print, but they are the perfect size for holding Maggie's beloved tiny Beanie Boo, "Baby Uni."

I want to pause and say that I really love sewing from patterns. While I have changed out many pockets, changed shapes or lengths of items, and even drafted a collar stand, a lot of times I'm looking for a more brainless comfortable sewing experience. I want someone else to do that work, and I just want my hand held. While there has been some talk about Liesl "selling all her secrets," I don't think any pattern makers are going to go out of business on my account! I will continue to buy patterns. But I think this book will give me more confidence to adapt patterns to fit my desires, rather than getting a good idea or seeing something on Pinterest and then searching the interwebs for a pattern that matches it, only to be disappointed that I can't locate anything quite fitting my dream. In addition, a book like this can help you understand the whys of sewing - why do certain pieces look the way that they do and how does that translate in a final garment - that I am sure I can benefit from.

The bodice is lined in the lawn, for neatness and to add a softer layer next to the skin, since the floral is your basic kind-of scratchy quilting cotton. I did one extra technique that was not covered in Building Block Dress book, and sewed the lining and body with the sleeves sandwiched between while they were still flat, much like you would for a flutter sleeve (it's quite a bit more tricky). This idea - no joke - occurred to me late at night as I was trying to sleep. That's a sewing obsession for you! The next morning I was scouring the internets to see if it would work - here is a tutorial that I reviewed to make sure I wasn't completely off base for that.

After all that, I did french seams on the skirt and sleeves - or, I should say, I tried to do french seams on the sleeves, but it it was not quite possible due to the fact that I had sewn the lining right up to the seam allowance of the sleeve (I am having a hard time describing the problem!). I am going to have to keep trying and tweaking this lined bodice with sleeves technique to figure out how it all works together! I hand sewed the bodice lining to the skirt, which is my favorite technique for an invisible finish on the outside, and I machine-sewed a deep hem.

Four navy blue buttons down the back, a little continuous placket on the skirt, and all in all, it turned out pretty close to my design! Very vintagey and a little bit autumnal. This book is so fun! I am excited to keep working from it and try some braver alterations. As for Maggie, she lovers her pretty new dress, and is already working to help me design the next dress, which will be from a knit. Maggie wanted to make sure I didn't get stuck in a rut with this Building Blocks concept, so yeah ... jersey. Wish me luck!

And here is Maggie with Baby Uni and Star, the baby dolphin.

What about you, dear readers? Do you have this book yet? Are you making clothes for your kids this fall (spring for you Aussies)? Do your kids love Beanie Boos and stuffed animals? Can you make a dress from one yard of fabric if you just cut it up correctly? Discuss.