Sunday, August 17, 2014

Home sweet home.

We are home! We spent ten days on an epic train/taxi/ferry/car/light rail tour of the Pacific Northwest, visiting Portland, Seattle, Bellingham, and Victoria B.C. There were ups and downs, delayed trains and missed trains, nice hotels and awful motor inns, beautiful drives and carsickness, happy kids and massive meltdowns, lovely hot weather and a few characteristic dark and moody days that reminded me of why I love California so much. We spent time with family and friends all along the way, and ate a lot of blackberries. (Washington blackberries are sweeter than ours, I swear!)

It was awesome. And I'm exhausted. Traveling with two small children is great fun, but it's not exactly relaxing. Still, I'm so glad I broke through the psychological barriers, got out of our comfort zone, and decided to travel with the kids. They got to see new places and people, connect with distant family members, and while traveling with kids may be a lot of work, I realized it is definitely rewarding and worthwhile.

My little homebody Joe definitely struggled a bit with the constant change in scene. At one point he said, "My tummy hurts from visiting too many houses." Awwww!!! We all knew exactly what he meant (and we may have felt the same from time to time). But when he was bouncing on a giant trampoline or picking berries at my mom's house, or running in my aunt's garden, or taking a bubble bath in the giant hotel tub, he was so happy and carefree and excited to be in a new place.

And my family members commented on how bonded my kids are and how protective and solicitous Joe is towards his sister, which did my heart good.

Despite some delays and issues, I recommend train travel! The pace of travel is relaxing, the kids can move around freely, and the 22 hour journeys didn't feel that long. Honest. Also, you can bring all the sharp things you want - I took three pairs of scissors with me, including my big fabric sheers, and never even had to go through a metal detector.

I didn't take my nice camera with me (traveling light), so the best photos of the trip were taken by other people. If I can get their permission to share, perhaps I'll be back with a big "vacation photos" post. Right now that seems a bit overwhelming! So instead of procrastinating that post, I figured I'd come here and share a few moments from our homecoming. As relaxing as the Pacific Northwest is (and the pace of life really does seem just a bit less frenetic, especially in Bellingham and Victoria), I think we all shared Joe's delight in coming back to "the pink house" as he calls it.

We don't live in a beautiful area, or in a gorgeous and well-decorated house, but it's our home. Oakland's graffiti-covered walls and gritty run-down buildings never looked so good as when we were pulling into the station after all that time away!

We came home to a messy house (there was some crazy packing action happening before we left) and a ridiculous number of tomatoes! So I set about cleaning up and making pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes. Washington may have sweeter blackberries, but I think I have my PNW family beat when it comes to tomatoes.

Late summer tomato overload

And this is what I have to show for 10 days of train, car, and ferry travel (and some afternoons spent on the land around my mom's house: The beginnings of a Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt!

Grandmother's Flower Garden

It's official. I have been bitten by the hexie bug. These are crazy-time-consuming but strangely fun and addictive. And if I finish this quilt, it will feel like quite an accomplishment!

Grandmother's Flower Garden

These are 1 1/2" hexagons - on the big side. I am feeling drawn towards lots of bright and unexpected color combinations for this project (like this inspiration) for a bright and cheerful 1940s meets 1970s vibe.

Of course, this is one reason the house was such a mess. Before I left, I created quite the craft-astrophe yanking fabrics out of my stash and cutting five gugillion 3" squares to make hexagons. Doesn't everyone do this before a big trip? I cut out enough for 19 flowers, drastically underestimating just how long it takes to sew even one. At a rate of one flower every two days, I would not call this an instant gratification project.


Um ... I really need to do something about my sewing space. It is literally exploding fabric these days. Literally.

(I guess I could consider not buying fabric and using up what I have, but when it comes to quilting fabric, it almost seems to expand the more you cut into it. One problem with hexie fever is that it makes saving even tiny scraps seem like a good idea. While this appeals to my hoarding frugal instincts, it could be disastrous in my small sewing space.)

Right now I can barely get to my sewing machine ... all the more reason to hand sew, right?

But I need a better space to work on hand projects at home. For years I've done most of my hand-sewing in the dining room, mostly due to the lack of good light in our living room. But this means I can't sew while I watch television or hang out with the kids in the evening, and that's no good. So yesterday I bought a basic Ikea floor lamp, culled the kids' toys a bit and rearranged some furniture to create a little handsewing corner in our living room. Now I can work on my hexies while I watch Magnum P.I. with the family! It was such a simple fix - I don't know what took me so long!

Handsewing corner

I have other house plans in store as well. Our housemate Rebecca left us about a month ago to move into a cute apartment down the way, freeing up her bedroom for my brother Harpal to move into. After painting over the glossy oil-based tomato red in that room with a nice gray (a big project!), Harpal is now fully moved into that room. And in our game of housemate musical bedrooms, that means that the small bedroom upstairs is now available to become a kids' bedroom.

If you haven't been following my blog forever, it may be news to you that yes, both of our children have been sleeping in our master bedroom since birth! This has actually been a good arrangement overall, and our kids definitely find it comforting to be close to us, but, needless to say, they are growing and things are getting more crowded! I am so glad to finally have a bedroom for my kids even if getting them to actually sleep in it may be a long term project!

And more changes on the horizon: Maggie starts preschool in a couple weeks! Since we've decided to hold Joe back from kindergarten for a year, Joe and Maggie will both be attending the super-awesome Peter Pan Co-op this year.  And you all know what that means: I need to get cracking on a toddler backpack for Maggie! Better unearth that sewing machine ...

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Plantain, meet Mabel.

Why, hello, readers. How are you doing?  I admit, KCW and Shorts on the Line kicked my behind, and I sent most of the last week recovering (and, you know, catching up at home and at work). When I finally came out of recovery mode, I couldn't face the unfinished KCW projects that piled up last week. After all of that kid-sewing, I wanted to sew something fast, fun, and for me.

We are getting ready to go on an epic train journey to the Pacific Northwest to visit friends and family, so I am wanting some easy pieces for traveling with kids during a heat wave. Knits, knits, knits, right?
Plantain, meet Mabel

I have wanted to try a sleeveless version of the Plantain T-Shirt ever since the weather warmed up, so I went ahead and used up the rest of the really-truly-lovely paisley knit I used for my first Briar Top (I still wear that shirt more often than any of my other Briar tops, and the fabric is holding up wonderfully; I bought it at Britex and it was probably really expensive but in this case worth it). I wanted to do something different with the hem, so I added "shirttail" curves along the front and back of the hem.

Plantain, meet Mabel

I used a RTW tank top to figure out how much to cut out the back neck and armholes, and then I bound the armholes just like the neckline. I was so pleased that the final result shows just the right amount of skin - enough, but not too much. And this fabric has the perfect drape for the flowy Plantain shirt; very flattering.

Plantain, meet Mabel

This is what my face looks like when I get tired of smiling for the camera! You know, posing for blog photos gives me a newfound respect for fashion models. Who knew it was so hard to pose for a camera? Don't worry, I have no plans to quit my day job.

(BTW, those are our two hops plants growing on the aluminum wall behind me. Cascade and Golden, if you were wondering. Right now we're just growing the hops - they are such pretty plants! - and giving the hops to friends who brew beer, but ultimately we hope to learn to brew ourselves!)

Plantain, meet Mabel

The skirt is the Colette Mabel Skirt, Version 3 (longer, with front panels and a kick pleat) made up in the same teal knit ponte I used for Joe's Sketchbook Shorts. I managed to get this skirt and the shorts out of a yard and a half of this knit, and all I had left were a couple of scraps! I love using up every bit of a piece of fabric - especially here, as I have no idea what I would do with scraps of ponte, but I would probably feel obligated to keep them anyway.

So ... brace yourself ... I sewed this up in a size Medium, and made no changes whatsoever. I tried it on before I sewed the waistband on, and it fit perfectly. That never happens. Gotta love knits - so forgiving.

Plantain, meet Mabel

I love the length, and the kick pleat. The fabric is sturdy enough not to show your underthings, but as comfortable as sweatpants. Perfect for travelling. And it was so easy to make with a serger (but completely doable without one too). I'm stoked! I want another one, in black, and maybe mustard yellow, or maroon? All. The. Colors. Seriously. Most practical garment ever.

Plantain, meet Mabel

Steve told me to shake my booty. Here you go. You're welcome.

Plantain, meet Mabel

And because no photo shoot would be complete without the "styled-with-a-cardigan" shot, here's the outfit with a cardy, which I'm sure I'll be wearing as much in the PNW as I do here in Oakland.

If you don't hear from me for a couple weeks, never fear! I will be back in mid-August to bore you to tears with photos from our trip!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Shorts on the Line! - KCW Finale Edition!

Or should that be "Shorts on the Line: Oliver + s Edition"? Or perhaps, "Shorts on the Line: Uncooperative Models Edition"? Or "Shorts on the Line: How to Get Your Sensy Kid to Wear Something Halfway Decent for a Wedding, You are Very Welcome Edition."

Whatever. I am so pleased be included in another Shorts on the Line, people! It's an awesome party where everyone makes ... wait for it ... shorts! Wahoo!

This year, I am dealing with a very specific challenge. Joe will only wear shorts these days, so that part is good. In the past couple years, Joe has gone through shorts-only phases, and pants-only phases. It's funny because these phases bear no relationship to season or weather. His pants-only phase lasted all of last year, and he wouldn't wear shorts no matter how hot it got. He waited until the dead of winter and then decided that it was time to switch to shorts. Okaaaaaay ...

Joe is also hyper sensitive to fabrics and comfort these days. Right now, he will only wear knit shorts. Preferably the athletic, baggy kind. There is nothing stylish about these. Other people's kids may enjoy dressing up in button-down shirts, bow-ties, skinny pants, and vests - Joe is apparently so hipster, he is anti-hipster.

It all makes perfect sense to Joe, I'm sure. 

The challenge is that we are going to my cousin's wedding in a couple of weeks, and while I am lax on dress codes and generally not willing to die on the clothing hill, so to speak, knit athletic shorts and a ratty old t-shirt seem a bit too casual for a wedding, even for me.

So I decided I would make him some nicer, less casual shorts. But still in knit, for comfort.

When I think of "polished shorts," the Oliver + s Sketchbook Shorts immediately come to mind. They have a British schoolboy look to them that makes them appropriate even for nicer occasions.

I have made so many pairs of Sketchbook shorts over the years, although not so much recently (because Joe wouldn't wear shorts at all for a while, and then he would only wear knit shorts). In fact, I had not yet broken out my copy of the larger size range. I decided to try them in size 5, in a very soft but stable deep green ponte knit. 

And then I made the Sketchbook Shirt, which I have never sewn before, in Cloud 9 Palos Verdes La Venta, just for good measure.

Sketchbook Shorts in knit ponte

This is Shorts on the Line, so first, let's talk about the shorts! In case anyone was wondering, these sew up GREAT in ponte, and they are, indeed, super comfortable. As comfortable as baggy knit athletic shorts, I reckon. But much more polished.

Sketchbook shorts and shirt

I assembled the pants on the serger, but since the pockets, hems, faux fly, and waistband are roomy and under no stress, I just used a long straight stitch for those. Ponte is a very stable (read: not very stretchy) knit, so I am not too worried about my stitches popping out. You can almost treat it as a woven, although I am glad I serged the inseams and crotch to allow for Joe levels of activity. For example, you want your pants to have a little give when the top edge of the couch is your favorite place to sit while Daddy assembles a kite.


Easy, breezy. I've always loved how fast the Sketchbook Shorts come together. It was one of the first Oliver + s patterns I ever tried back when Joe was a chubby toddler (the Sailboat pants were the first), and it has long been one of my favorites. At this point, I think I've said all that there is to be said about this fantastic and straightforward pattern, and now I know that it works in a knit fabric as well! Joe is set to dance his heart out at my cousin's wedding.

Can we talk about the shirt now? Even though it's not shorts?

You guys, I am so proud of this shirt.

Sketchbook shirt

How is it possible that this is the first Sketchbook Shirt I've made? I dunno. I guess I was a little intimidated by the details, and it seemed like a lot of work to put into something that my kid would put aside in favor of t-shirts and then quickly grow out of. And I'm gonna be honest. It is a lot of work, although the instructions walk you through the details with such care that it doesn't seem so daunting. And Joe probably will avoid wearing it unless he has to, and he will probably grow out of it pretty quickly.

But look at it!!! AHHHHHHHH.

Sketchbook shirt


Right??!! It is so nice. So nice. So here's a quick review, feel free to scroll down a bit if you'd like to skip straight to the photos of both of my kids refusing to pose for the camera.

Pattern: Oliver + s Sketchbook Shirt.

Fabric: Cloud 9 Palos Verdes La Vente, bought from Hawthorne Threads, which is actually a sponsor of Shorts on the Line! Joe helped me pick the fabric, which he likes because "green, blue, and orange are my favorite colors; actually all of the colors are my favorite, but blue and green are my most favorite; also I like triangles." I was so pleased at the very speedy delivery, and this fabric is so nice. So, so nice. I wondered more than once whether maybe I should have used it to make a top for me rather than my generally ungrateful child, because it must be like wearing butterfly wings.

First time? Yes!

Size: 5.

Modifications: Based on what I have heard about the length of the pattern, I added a couple inches to the body. I probably could have added a little more, actually, as it is still a hair short to my eyes. The sleeves are the perfect length, though. I also did a line of stitching on the one piece collar where the band/collar would ordinarily go, to help it roll back better.

The good: Um, so nice! Great instructions, classic shape, slightly easier than a full-fledged two-piece collar pattern. The fabric is heavenly to work with and the colors are perfect on my Joe. Joe was initially a bit on the fence about wearing a button-down shirt, but he seemed to forget about it after a few minutes (probably because it is like wearing butterfly wings) and I think he'll willingly wear this outfit to the wedding. I hope so, anyway!

The not-so-good: I will be honest, I don't really like the one piece collar. I appreciate the ease, but in the end, for all of that pains that I took with this shirt, I wish it had been two pieces. I think it would lie better. Perhaps I will draft a two piece collar next time.

Make again? Yes!! In the short sleeved version! Or maybe with some sleeve tabs? Like, today! HA! My only hesitation is that Joe's not likely to wear this very much. Maybe I should sew a button-down for Steve instead.

So yesterday I took both kids out to a local game shop that sells kites, and then to pizza in their new KCW/Shorts on the Line outfits, hoping to get some good photographs for the blog, but most of my shots ended up looking like this.

Sketchbook (with kite)


Unwilling model

Or my absolute favorite, this.

Unwilling models

Or this.

Unwilling models

Seriously? Seriously? The shorts are cute, but neither child would look at the camera.

Unwilling models

This was the best I could do.

Unwilling models

Oh well, my children were clearly not in the mood for a photo shoot, but we had fun buying a rainbow kite and eating pizza!

It wasn't windy enough to fly our new kite, unfortunately, so we came home. And then I crashed! I did a lot of sewing in the past seven days! Tired mama!

This post is part of the Shorts on the Line sewalong.  Shorts on the Line 2014 is sponsored by: Britex FabricsHawthorne Threadsmiss matatabi, and Soak Wash.  Hosted by imagine gnatssmall + friendly, and Kollabora.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

KCW Update - Day #5

Nothing says KCW like outfits shots taken at night, in the dark, with a bit too much flash (and a poor blinded child), am I right?

Class Picnic Blouse and Shorts

Hey, time is limited! I finished these shorts after 7 p.m. last night, but it wasn't too late to run outside with Daddy, who was practicing his swing.
Class Picnic Blouse and Shorts

Class Picnic Shorts

I don't have much time to spare, so here is a rushed review!

Pattern: Oliver + s Class Picnic Shorts

Fabric: Leftover pieces of blue linen given to me by one of my sewing buddies. I think she said she got it at Joann's. It's wonderfully soft.

First time? Yes, this is my first time trying the shorts!

Size: 18-24 months. Definitely a bit big, but I'm serious, I just can't sew anymore 12-18 month sized clothes for Maggie. She has so many handmades! This girl needs to grow faster so that I have an excuse to sew for her.

Modifications: None! I sewed these exactly as drafted, using the same fabric for the facings rather than a contrast fabric.

The good: This pattern is easy and fast, but satisfyingly clever and well drafted. The way the facings go on is really clever and fun. I had fun making these!

The not-so-good: Sewing on said facings might be a bit tricky for a beginner, and your topstitching skills will be on full display (this would be less the case in a printed fabric). My topstitching isn't perfect, and I questioned my choice of white thread, but in the end, they are cute and it's okay.

Make again? Yes!! These are SO CUTE!

Okay, need to get back to sewing!!

sketchbook shirt - cut out!

Sketchbook Shirt, all cut out!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

KCW Update - Class Picnic Blouse.

Well, yesterday was day 3 of KCW, but the first night I was actually able to sew. And behold! A finished object!

I started this on Sunday, so it wasn't all sewn in one night, but it is a really easy and fast pattern (I had forgotten how easy - now I want to make more!).

So here is a quick and more formal review.

Pattern: Oliver + s Class Picnic Blouse

Fabric: Beautiful shirting-weight woven gingham from Britex. This is one the nicest quality ginghams I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Fine weave, smooth, a little glossy, and presses perfectly. The color is a lovely bright blue. I think it was ungodly expensive, but luckily my powers of denial and forgetfulness are strong. Sadly this is all I have of it besides scraps.

First time? Nope, this is my second version of this pattern. The first was also gingham, with a bias bodice and contrasting piping. I just liked it so much!

Size: 18-24 months (likely to be a bit big on my 2 year old peanut, Maggie). I will take modeled pictures when I can.

Modifications: Cut bodice on the bias (the lining is on the straight grain to hopefully avoid the bodice stretching too much), added piping to the neckline and bodice, hand tacked the bodice lining on the back (rather than topstitching), used contrasting bias tape on the sleeves rather than self bias.

The good: This is an easy and fast pattern and it is absolutely darling on. The instructions are helpful and really walk you through the sewing process. Highly recommended!

The not-so-good: Can't really think of anything! I do remember that in the smaller sizes, it is very difficult to hem the sleeves. This wasn't so tough in the 18-24 month size. Applying the bias binding to the sleeve tops is a bit tricky and mine isn't perfect, but after you've inserted the elastic, most minor issues become invisible.

Make again? Yes!! I had forgotten how much I like this pattern! Perhaps I will branch out next time and do it in something not gingham.

I also started the Class Picnic Shorts last night. This is my first time sewing this pattern, and I love the surprising little details - I always learn something from Oliver + s!  They are coming together nicely, although I am having doubts about using contrast white topstitching on bright blue linen. We shall see.

How is your KCW going?

Monday, July 21, 2014

KCW July 2014.

It has been a long time (September of last year) since I really tried to participate in Kids' Clothes Week (if you don't follow sewing blogs, KCW is a challenge to sew kid's clothes an hour a day for a week and blog about it). With a full-time job, commute, and family stuff, my weekdays are a bit of a blur! On top of that, my job as assistant city attorney requires that I attend Planning Commission and City Council meetings (and sometimes other meetings as well) during the evenings several times a month. The folks over at KCW have an uncanny knack for scheduling KCW on a week when I have not just one night meeting, but several. This summer, they've done it again - I have a Planning Commission meeting tonight and City Council tomorrow. I expect to be a limp noodle by Wednesday.

But it's all about defining your own success, right? So I decided to participate anyway - on my own terms. While I don't think I can manage an hour a day, I'm pretty sure I can manage 7 hours in the week, maybe a bit more. So that's my challenge - sew the equivalent of an hour a day for a week.

I did a little prep over the weekend, tracing some Oliver + s patterns and doing some cutting. Here's what I'm planning:

1. Class Picnic Blouse in blue gingham (with yellow piping) for Maggie. I made a gingham Class Picnic Blouse (with piping) for Maggie when she was a baby, and it was one of my favorite makes, so I decided to make another one. Same idea, slightly different colors.

2. Class Picnic Shorts in blue linen for Maggie.This will be my first time sewing the shorts, which have an adorable retro 70s vibe.

KCW/Shorts on the Line Prep!

3. Sketchbook Shorts in dark green ponte knit for Joe. Joe only wears soft knit shorts these days (he's very sensitive to comfort). We have a wedding to attend next month, and I am hoping that these shorts will be soft and comfortable, but a bit more polished than his usual knit athletic shorts.

4. Sketchbook Shirt in Cloud 9 Palos Verdes La Venta voile (currently en route) for Joe. Although I've made the shorts approximately 500 times, this will be my first time sewing the Sketchbook Shirt! Joe helped me choose the fabric, so I am hoping that means he'll be willing to wear the shirt!

KCW/Shorts on the Line Prep!

5. Sailor Blouse using the Croquet Dress pattern for Maggie. With so many amazing flipped versions of the Croquet dress showing up in blogsville this month, it seemed like the perfect time to try this adorable pattern for the first time. I love the turn-of-the-20th-century vibe of this dress, but Maggie doesn't really need any more dresses right now. So I decided to make a little lightweight cream linen blouse to go with the blue linen shorts. I am still undecided as to trim, so stay tuned!

KCW/Shorts on the Line Prep!

I have made two of the patterns before, but three are new to me, making a small dent in my rather long list of Oliver + s patterns bought but not yet sewn, yay me!

Of course, I realize this is an ambitious list, and I probably won't finish it all this week. I might not even finish half of it! But with everything ready to go, I think it will be fun to just focus on sewing during whatever small chunks of time I have this week. I will try to post on my progress here as well as update my projects in the KCW forum, where you can find me under the user name Inderific.

But the best part of KCW is following along with everyone else's sewing!

Are you participating in KCW this time around?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bess Top.

Imagine Gnats Bess Top

Here is my latest make - an Imagine Gnats Bess Top made up in abstract floral print and solid rayon challis, and photographed right after work right on my front steps (is that a can of WD40 - or equivalent - on the table on the porch to my left? sigh).

This top actually started out life as a Washi Dress in the printed rayon. I had high hopes for it, but when I had put everything together, and tried it on, I realized I hated it. The rayon was too clingy with the shirring in the back, and it felt frumpy and maternity with the high waist. I briefly considered throwing it in the bin and crying myself to sleep, but I decided to immediately rescue the fabric and make something lovely and flattering with it instead. And I am so glad I did. Instead of dwelling on sewing failure, I am wearing a cute new top. My fragile self-esteem and sewing mojo remain in tact!

I made the Bess Top before (I actually helped Rachael test the pattern) and I wear that top often, so I knew that it is easy to sew and the style is flattering on me. A soft drapey fabric like rayon challis is perfect for this style and complements the loose fit. The shape works perfectly as a shell under a jacket or cardigan. And it is as comfortable as a t-shirt.

Imagine Gnats Bess Top

But since my lovely printed rayon was already mostly assembled into a Washi dress, I had a limited amount of fabric to work with. So I decided to make a contrast yoke in rayon leftover from my Zinnia skirt. The pattern includes instructions on how to colorblock the top, but I must confess I did not consult the instructions for any aspect of the construction of this top. Having made it twice (once a test muslin, and once in voile), I sewed it up by memory and common sense. I self-bound the neck and arms with bias, and hemmed the top with a very narrow hem. It looks cute, although perhaps not quite as flattering, untucked, as it has a subtle, curved hi-lo hem.

I made several other changes to this version as well. I cut the bottom back piece wider than the yoke piece, and gathered it softly in the center for a looser and more blousy back. I also gathered the front pieces to the yoke instead of pleating them, a detail that is not very visible in this busy print but which softens the lines of the front of the top a little. Finally, I raised the neck (the pattern comes with two necklines to choose from). The deeper curve of my voile Bess Top tends to droop a little bit, and although I tend to prefer lower necklines as a rule, I actually think the higher neck suits the shape of this top a little better.

Imagine Gnats Bess Top

I hate sewing with rayon challis - it is so tough to cut or sew with any accuracy! But I sure love wearing it! It is soft, washes well, and seems to have magically flattering powers when worn (except in the form of a Washi dress on me, anyway!). I am already planning more rayon challis tops.

Imagine Gnats Bess Top

And here is is the rest of the outfit I wore yesterday. The top fits into my work uniform of skirt, blouse, and cardigan/jacket perfectly! (I love these shoes so much. Light blue-green goes with everything! And they are old-lady squishy and supportive.)

I think I need a few more rayon Bess Tops ...