Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sewing Ruts and Safari Raglans ...

April has been a "meh" month for me, sewing-wise. I had such exciting plans! But I can't quite seem to motivate myself to work on them. I started swim suits for the kids, but then it rained and I got stuck, realized I had to unpick some seams, and put them aside. Since then, I've had a bad case of "WIP-itis" - you know, where you avoid sewing because you feel guilty about an unfinished project? Ugh. It's lame. And I'm still there, stuck in a bit of a sewing rut, still avoiding those darn suits! Super lame!

Anyway, a couple weekends ago, it got pretty hot - April in Oakland is generally really beautiful, one of my favorite months in the year, weather-wise - and it became pretty apparent that my kids are lacking in warm-weather clothing. Both of them have grown a lot in the last year, especially Joe. Meanwhile, the lovely Rachel at Stitched Together sent me a piece of this gorgeous Evelyckan Design Fairytale Hummingbird fabric with Maggie in mind a couple weeks ago. Sewing friends are TOTALLY the best! Maggie and I literally "squeed" when we saw this fabric! I thought perhaps one way to address my sewing funk would be to whip up some fast and easy items - palate cleansers, so to speak.

I started out with a vision for the hummingbird fabric - I wanted a simple knit dress with a drop waist for Maggie. I looked through my Ottobres and considered several different options, including an Oliver + S Sailboat Top hack, but most of them required more fabric than I had. Ultimately, I settled on a a really simple option - a Safari Raglan with a gathered skirt.

I tested the Safari Raglan Dress for Titchy Threads about a year ago, and the pattern has sat in my stash since. This time I cut the dress in size 2 with short sleeves for Maggie, and used the fabric I had leftover from cutting out the dress to cut a narrow rectangle for the skirt. The dress has a little bit of an a-line shape, and I liked the way that looked with the gathered skirt attached. I finished the neckline with heather gray bamboo ribbing from Stonemountain - a self-finished neckline would not have worked in this not-that-stretchy cotton jersey.

Unfortunately, the kids were SERIOUSLY not in the mood for a photo shoot! Ha! There was a lot of refusing to look at the camera while making funny faces!



Well, the dress turned out cute! The fabric is GORGEOUS, people. So pretty. I feel like the photos do not do it justice (well, especially with Maggie refusing to look at the camera and/or making silly faces). This was a really simple sew, with only one minor hiccup. The first time I made it, I felt like the skirt was attached too low and the dress looked like a nightgown, so I cut the ruffle off at the seam allowance, shortened the dress a bit more, and sewed it back on. Now the dress is definitely on the short side - almost tunic length - but the proportions look better. Maggie likes to wear shorts or leggings under her dresses most days anyway.

"So, Maggie, are you having fun?"


Uhhhhh ...

For the first time ever, I used the "ruffle" function on my serger to gather the skirt. This was especially convenient because I wasn't trying to gather a specific size rectangle into the width of the skirt. I ruffled a width of fabric piece, and then pinned it to the skirt and cut off the excess. It was really simple, and it gathers about 2x, which is perfect for this style of skirt (but you might like a more gathered look for other kids of skirts). All of my hems and the neckbands were done with the double needle on these items - hopefully the hems will hold up!


At least this one will look at the camera ...

With the Safari Raglan pattern out, I decided to try it out in Joe's size. Although the Oliver + S Field Trip raglan has been my go-to for the past couple of years, I thought it would be fun to have another pattern to compare it to. I used this really nice Cloud 9 organic cotton jersey in pale blue that I bought from Imagine Gnats a while back (also used in this project) for the body of the shirt. Light blue is Joe's color, big time - it makes his eyes really "pop"! Thankfully, blue is one of his favorite colors too, and he loves geometric prints, so when I see fabrics in light or medium blues, I grab them. The sleeves are plain white (I believe the white is a Laguna knit) and I used more of my favorite bamboo ribbing for the neckline, this time in aqua.


Joe told me that he likes shirts with  pockets. Not necessarily to hold things in, but "to help me figure out which way is the front." I don't usually put tags on my hand sewn t-shirts and I notice that Joe often puts his plainer t-shirts on the wrong way. A front pocket helps him know which way is which! That is functional design, huh?

The Safari Raglan has a pattern piece for a front pocket and it can be cut out in either a knit or a woven fabric. I decided to make the pocket from a plain chambray I had in the stash. I thought the different blues looked nice together. Because the pocket was in a woven fabric, I could use straight stitch to top stitch it, which reduces the "wobble" factor of sewing two knit fabrics together.



The shirt is a size 6 with a little extra length. Joe is long in the torso, so that is a standard modification for me. I would say that the fit of the Safari is a bit slimmer and longer in the body than the Field Trip raglan. But otherwise, yeah, they are pretty similar! Let's be honest, you probably don't need BOTH in your pattern stash, but the Safari Raglan does have some fun options (a dress for girls, long sleeves and puppet cuffs). Either pattern will get a major workout if you like to sew basics for your kids.

Speaking of patterns that get a workout, Joe is wearing some color-blocked Sketchbook shorts that I made him last year. At the time, they had tons of extra length, but now they are one of the few pairs of shorts in his bins that hits him at his knees instead of way above! This boy is growing! I definitely need to make this guy some more shorts as well.


Sheesh. What did I tell you? Worst photo shoot ever. They were just not having it!

After I made these two raglans, I actually turned around and whipped up a couple of Rowan Tees for Joe as well, using thrifted shirts. Titchy Thread t-shirts are quickly becoming my TNT kid's t-shirts. Joe has already worn them both to school, but I haven't gotten photos of those yet. Soon, hopefully! I always feel really virtuous when I can put a dent in my knit scraps and thrifted shirts to upcycle, so this was a good run for me. I find that once I get the double needle set-up, I really might as well whip up more than one knit item, because they go so fast once you have the equipment ready to go.

Alas, I wish I could say this t-shirt spree did the trick and broke me out of my sewing funk, but it didn't really. This last weekend, I spent a few minutes finishing the last of the Rowan shirts, and then avoided my sewing area for the rest of the weekend. Ugh! I know I just need to get in there, unpick those serger seams, and finish those damn swimsuits, in order to get out from under this WIP-cloud-of-blah, but somehow I just can't seem to motivate. No bueno!!

How do you break out of a sewing rut? Help!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Mossy Maritime.


Hello readers! I have been busy sewing, and I'm running behind with my blog updates.  I'm not going to win any awards for photography on this post, but here's a selfish-sewing project I finished last weekend - a Grainline Moss Skirt and a Liesl & Co. Maritime Top.



This skirt felt like a pretty big deal, people! This was my second project using a zipper fly (the first was a pair of shorts for Steve). Learning how to do a zipper fly is one of those skills that really opens up a new world to the sewist - suddenly, all the things seem possible! If you haven't yet, try it! (P.S. It's more confusing than hard. Study the instructions and read all the tutorials, and it's totally do-able.)


I was a little nervous about fitting this skirt, so this version is a "wearable muslin" using leftovers from another project. This maroon cotton twill is a nice bottom-weight, but picks up an annoying amount of lint and creases a lot, as you can see in these photos. But I didn't want to cut out my first version out of really nice bottom-weight, so I used this for my first skirt. I do really like the color and despite my quibbles with this fabric, expect to wear this skirt a lot!

My process of fitting was (as usual, and this is a sad, sad thing) quite inexact. My waist measured as a size 12 but my hips at size 8. I knew that I would need more room around the waist, especially in the front, and that I probably wouldn't need nearly as much fabric around the hips and bottom. So like any really careful, precise seamstress, I totally winged it - I cut out a size 10, but added a little extra width between the hip and waist. 


After I had constructed the skirt, including the pockets, back yoke, the side seams up to the hip, and the zipper fly, I tried the skirt on inside out, and pinned the side seams to fit. I ended up taking the back yoke in a half inch near the back waist, and pinning out most of the excess fabric on the sides. I think next time I can definitely cut a size 10 with just a half inch extra on the front pieces and a slightly longer waistband. My conservative/sloppy approach worked but I definitely cut this much larger than I needed to! The nice thing about doing a "wearable muslin" is that if I make this skirt again, I can measure the actual skirt to guide the process (yes, yes, I realize I should be making the changes on the flat pattern pieces - do people actually do that?).

I used a silver southwesterny button from my stash for the front waistband. I find that the waistband creases a lot after sitting in this skirt - I'm not sure if a better interfacing would help that? It happens with a lot of RTW clothing too, so perhaps it's just the reality for this style of waistband? Obviously this fabric does tend to crease a lot.


I added a LOT of length. The Grainline has two views, a mini skirt (and it is mini, like no way would I wear it as is without leggings underneath) and a longer view with a hem facing. I am only 5'4" so I think I can say objectively that this pattern is SHORT. I decided to lengthen the mini view, but I did it by placing the hem facing next to the main pieces on the fabric and cutting them out with that extra length (seam allowances added to the length as well that way). So this was adding something like five or six inches to the length. Even so, the skirt skimmed my knees and I did not want to fold up a hem, so I made a bias hem facing from the same fabric I lined the pockets with. I love the length now but must admit, the width of the skirt does not allow me to take great strides. Getting off the bus in the morning, which often requires a decent leap from bus to curb, might be a challenge and require some hiking up. So while I love the narrowness of the skirt, I might have to make it more A-line if I want to do this length again in the future.

As an aside, I am taking the bus and BART to work now, and I love it. I have an inexplicable love for the bus. I resisted taking the bus for years, thinking it would be a horrible hassle and take much longer than driving, but it's just not a big deal. It comes frequently, picks me up a few blocks from home, and drops me off right at the station. It should be noted that although I live in a big city, the San Francisco Bay Area is not exactly noted for its amazing public transit. But I have an app on my phone with real time updates so I can time my departure from home so as to avoid long waits. And instead of driving and feeling stressed, I can walk and read my book more. It is a surprisingly awesome part of my day and I have been getting back to almost pre-kid levels of reading lately, which is freaking wonderful, people!

I had another, harder to articulate and more embarrassing fear, which was that the bus would be "squalid," which I can now see for the ridiculous race/class privilege that it was. Look, at least I am working on it, right? I am recording it here in hopes that others will see and recognize the bias and perhaps take a chance on the bus. I believe that the perception that public transportation is only for the poor and down-and-out is one that was encouraged by the oil companies who transformed California into a car-centric environment back in the 30s and 40s (a fun albeit somewhat controversial piece of California history, see conspiracy theories here) and endorsed by later white-flight suburbanites, and yet the idea persists. I am delighted to report that all sorts of people ride the bus and it's great. I love seeing a sample of the folks who live in my neighborhood and that is one of my favorite parts of the experience. That, and reading my book, of course.

(Don't get me wrong, I am a Californian, through and through, and I love my car. I still have to drive for work quite a lot, to visit my client cities. But I do not love driving my car across a congested $6 toll bridge and paying between $18 and $40 to park my car per day. Amazingly, a lot of people do exactly this, and resistance to the bus and public transportation is one reason they do.)

Forgive me that digression! Now I will get back to sewing. The top is another pattern I've had in my stash for a long time - the Liesl & Co. Maritime Top. It is a very simple boat neck tee with a faced neckline that has a maritime/French Briton top vibe. The fabric is a lovely, heavy rayon (or bamboo?) navy stripe that I bought from Imagine Gnats a month or two ago which does not appear to be on the website anymore. It was a little bit shifty to cut (and my stripe matching is not great, partially as a result), but feels really nice on.


I cut out this top in a size 10, based on my bust measurement, and it's clear that it I could go a size (or two) down on future versions, but I actually really like the boxy shape of this top. It reminds me (in a good way) of my Hemlock Tees. That said, the neckline is a little too wide, and tends to fall down and expose a bra strap, or drape a bit too much in the front, so I probably will size down at least in the neckline next time. The only change I made to the pattern was to shorten the sleeves quite a lot


This pattern is the woman's equivalent of the Oliver + S Sailboat Top and it's awesome! I really like the facing around the neckline - it feels substantial and stays put. I must say, I have not been a big fan of the "serge then turn over and stitch" method of finishing necklines that you see in some (quite a few) patterns, at least for me. I feel like the neckline is constantly trying to flip over, especially on curly jerseys (and especially where the neckline is a bit too wide). This faced neckline is a lot more secure. I may start drafting facings for non-bound necklines in knit!  Because the neckline is plenty wide, you can use straight-stitch to stitch down the facing because it does not need to stretch a lot to get over your head. The end result feels very stable and comfortable - no worries about what your neckline is doing at any given moment.

In other news we are going to be doing some substantial work on our backyard this summer, pulling up the ugly concrete to address some drainage issues (that became especially apparent during this rainy winter) and hopefully improving the function of the space. I finally came to terms with the fact that landscape design is not my thing, and we are hiring a lovely lady to help us come up with a vision for the space - especially to help us create some hardscape areas and seating areas. I am so excited to see what she comes up with! Whatever we end up doing, I promise to post some before/after pictures.

And don't worry, the plan will have plenty of room for our vegetable garden, which is already mostly planted up for this year. I have been harvesting greens (arugula, kale, chard, and lettuce) all spring and the tomatoes, peppers, and basil are in the ground. Last year was a terrible drought year and it was not a banner year for the veggie garden, but we did still get tons of peppers and tomatoes. This year I decided to "keep it simple" and grow plants that (a) grow well without much assistance in my climate; and (b) we really like to eat. So nothing fancy, given that we will be making changes around it and doing a lot of work elsewhere. My hope is to really expand on our herb garden, since Mediterranean herbs do so wonderfully in our garden with very little work (makes sense, since we live in a Mediterranean climate, but also they are just tough little plants!). It's fun to have a new project to look forward to!

As a pleasant side effect, perhaps I'll have a better backdrop for blog photos? Ha.

I could have titled this "Mossy Maritime and Miscellaneous Meanderings," huh? 

What are you sewing or planting this weekend?


Friday, April 1, 2016

Easter Playtime Dress.


Sometimes, you just drop everything to make your little girl an Easter dress. Because spring is in the air and your step-mom is handling the holiday festivities (thanks Mimi!) and your blog feed is full of gorgeous little girls in sweet little dresses.

Last Saturday was just such a time. I had cut out a big project for myself (more on that soon!) but I found myself powerless in the face of Easter-dress urges. I am still keeping my sewing journal/"rota," where I doodle and organize my ideas for items to make, but over the past month, I was feeling a bit dragged down by all of the unfinished projects I have yet to check off in the journal - I have a tendency to do the more "fun" projects on my rota first, leaving the less appealing ones for later. But then I end up with a bunch of blah projects to slog through. Sewing "with intention" is nice and all, but sometimes I need a little spontaneity in my sewing!


I bought a yard and a half of this gorgeous Cotton + Steel Bespoke double gauze (in coral "Spark") with Maggie in mind a month or two ago, and I wanted to make a long sleeved dress from it. The double gauze is light but quite soft and thick, making it a nice weight for a transitional garment.

Meanwhile I have been seeing some really great Playtime Dresses showing up in my blog feed recently (at Stitched Together, Frances Suzanne, and check out this Probably Actually version that came up after I sewed this, but it's incredible!). A friend just learning to sew (and really just learning to sew knits) asked me for a good leggings pattern and I loaned her my larger size range of the Playtime Dress and Leggings pattern to try out a while back. After conquering the leggings, she made the dress for her daughter in jerseys, and it's so cute - I think she's sold on Oliver + s patterns! So this pattern has been on my mind. I think the slightly dropped shoulder and topstitched facings look even fresher this year than when the pattern came out! (Liesl is ahead of the times!)


I have only made the Playtime Dress once before, and I skipped the pockets and topstitched facings on that version, so I decided to make the dress as instructed this time. I debated whether to use three or four buttons on the back, since my wooden buttons were smaller than what the pattern calls for. I posed the question on Instagram and got more comments than I've ever gotten on a single post! Ha! I love my sewing friends! Most people said four, but there were quite a few "threes" as well. After accounting for the loss of seam allowance on the bottom of the bodice, I decided to go with the three for a simpler look and I'm happy with it, although I think four would have looked really cute too! I will take sewing controversy over tedious election coverage anyday!


Double gauze is easy to sew with and gathers beautifully. This fabric reminds me of a beautiful gauzy Indian sari! Very pleasurable to sew. The final result is a casual everyday dress in the most saturated and beautiful coral.


I made it up in size 2, and the size is just right, with a bit of room to grow. It has been a long time since I made a dress for Maggie that was so bare-boned (no piping, no trim, no modifications) and I really love it. For once, sewing under a tight deadline worked out absolutely for the best. This pattern lets the fabric really shine. Sometimes I need a reminder to "keep it simple" and then I'm just delighted with the results!


We had a little egg hunt at my Dad and stepmom's house. The weather was gorgeous and the Easter Bunny generous. My kids call my stepmother "Mimi" and she goes all out for the holidays and loves to spoil the kids! Needless to say, they love her and had a great Easter at her place! I love celebrating the holidays with my kids, but I love even more that I can rely on family to help create holiday traditions for my kids on some of the big days (freeing time for me to sew more dresses!). I feel very blessed to have my Dad and siblings pretty close by (of course, my brother is just down the hall!) and Steve's sister only an hour or so away. (I wish my mom was closer, but c'est la vie.)



This dress has all of the characteristics Maggie looks for in a piece of clothing - soft fabric, pockets, gathered, full or twirly skirt, and PINK PINK PINK. She's a fan!


Perfect for blowing bubbles in! Very, very serious bubbles.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Macrame Plant Hanger, window shelves, and some tips for happy houseplants!


I love houseplants. Steve recently counted all of our houseplants and determined that we currently have 32! Which is no where near enough, in my opinion - I wish our whole house looked like a jungle. I (not so) secretly wish that my house looked like one of those awesome 70s pads full of plants, like these:




Gah, I love that kitchen! Seriously! Anyway, houseplants are totally in right now, but being a snob, I feel that I must tell you that I am no fair weather fan of houseplants. Or 1970s decor. Oh wait, you probably know that by now, huh? Sometimes it's a little annoying when everyone on the planet decides that your favorite thing is the latest trend. On the one hand, it's vindicating: "I told you macrame was cool!!" On the other hand, it means it will be going out of style before long, and that's a little sad.

Anyhoo. I made a macrame plant hanger!



I bought a book about macrame a while ago and taught myself the basic knots. To be honest, it turned out I already knew what I was doing, because one of my very first expeditions into crafting, as an 11 year old, was making friendship bracelets. At age 11, I was pretty awkward, and didn't have that many friends (I know, I know, feel sorry for me!), so it was a little ironic that I was amazing at making friendship bracelets, which I mostly gave to my family members because you know, no one liked me at school. I taught myself how to make them and spent long hours with a bracelet pinned to my jeans, knotting away. At the height of my powers, I could make thick, wide, bracelets with complex chevron and diamond patterns. I don't think I'm bragging here, although I don't have any actual examples to show off anymore, but I was really darn good at it! (And thank goodness I found my tribe of fellow misfits in college.)


So macrame turns out to be a total piece of cake! The motions of square knotting came back to me immediately, and the thick cord or jute is so fast and easy to work compared to the embroidery thread I used to make bracelets. This kind of macrame is really three-dimensional and fun to do. I had put off learning how to macrame because I felt like I was maxed out on hobbies, but this is so easy and fast, I don't know that it even qualifies as a new hobby! I am not sure if it's because it's just plain easy, or because I learned the basic skills at a time in my life when my brain was especially fresh and open to learning new kinesthetic skills, but it just came very easy and naturally to me once I got into it.

For this hanger, I used some heavy cotton rope/cording I found at Michaels. I am looking forward to trying out some actual Macrame cords and jute/hemp. Did you know there is a Macrame Super Store? As much as I love the 70s, I can't imagine life without the internet!  



To make this hanger, I combined techniques from several DIY instructions I found online (if you'd like more information, let me know, and I'll send you some links), changing things out along the way. Basically, the top starts with alternating square knots, then switches to one-sided square knots, which naturally spiral around in a pleasing way. When you've reached a good length, you split the strands up, skip down a bit, knot, add beads, knot, skip some more, and do alternating square knots.



Once I got to the pot part, I started working around my little planter so that the final hanger would be the right size, and did square knots where it made sense. It was all very intuitive and fun! I finished the bottom with some square knots and a little tassel. This is definitely not the last macrame object you will be seeing from me - this is FUN!! - but Steve has indicated that there is a limit to how many macrame hangers he can tolerate around the house. Apparently he is not completely on board with turning our house into a groovy jungle pad? And surreptitiously installing hanging plants all over the house would be difficult due to the height of our ceilings and the noise of the equipment! So some kind of compromise will have to be struck.

In the meantime ... I am getting excited about macrame wall hangings (check out my Pinterest board)!! Steve will surely live to regret forbidding me more hanging planters!



Speaking of my large collection of houseplants and my wonderfully tolerant (slightly martyred) husband, I ordered these acrylic window shelves from this totally awesome Etsy shop so that I could turn a small, non-functional kitchen window into a lovely place for plants and knick-knacks. I can't recommend this small family business enough. They custom made shelves to fit this awkward small window, and because the shelves were so small, gave me a great price on the set. (Overall, their shelves are not super cheap, but they are custom made!) We just had to install the shelves with hardware that was included. These shelves turned an ugly window with a crappy view of my neighbor's driveway into something I love to look at! The little bottles, by the way, are things we've dug up in our back garden in the years we've lived in this house.

Steve actually got me the tiny orchid in the bottom right for our anniversary, and it fits perfectly beneath the bottom shelf. Isn't it the cutest thing in the universe? He may not love the 70s like I do, but he knows what I like.

Little touches like this go a long ways towards reconciling me with my surroundings, imperfect and messy as they are. I love pretty things, and one of my rules of life is that loving beauty is not shallow. Sometimes it's easy to write off home decoration or pretty things as an unnecessary luxury, and certainly spending a heap of money on matching furniture is unnecessary for most of us, but a few pretty things can really help a place feel like home. That's how I feel about houseplants. In addition to cleaning the air, they really add life and beauty to a room.

As a person with a houseful of plants, I often hear from a lot of friends that they have "brown" or "black" thumbs and "kill everything." This tends to get me on a bit of a high horse, because I love plants and have gardened most of my life. It triggers one of my favorite lectures: "Learning how to take care of plants is not something that comes naturally to some people but not to others - like most things in life, it's a skill, and anyone can learn it!"

I think some people say that they have black thumbs when what they really mean is "I don't care that much about plants, and I'm not willing to put the effort into keeping them in my house." To them, my lecture above is probably annoying, and I just want to say, if that's how you feel, that is so COMPLETELY FINE. For heaven's sake, none of us can learn or be interested in everything! Some people love having a great-looking, clean, detailed car. They purchase a car that reflects their personality and they spend time taking care of it. I am not one of those people. I buy my car based on gas-mileage and reliability, not looks. I wash my car once every couple months at most, and the inside tends to be littered with sweaters and toys and the floor is covered in squashed cheerios. And as long as I can give someone a ride someplace without extreme shame (and I am not very easily embarrassed), I really don't care!

Maybe you sew and knit and bake cakes, but don't do plants. Totally fine. That doesn't mean you have a black thumb, it just means you have other priorities.

But if you are one of those people who says they have a black thumb, but you wish you had a green thumb, then listen up! It's not magic! There's no such thing as a "black thumb" (although there are certainly forgetful people, or people who don't have time for plant maintenance), and most "green thumbs" kill a lot of plants! A friend recently mentioned that she is coming to see houseplants as "long term flowers." If they don't survive for years, no big deal, they were still a good deal for something that adds a little life and interest to her house for a few months. I love this, and I think it highlights a difference between gardeners and non-gardeners - gardeners know that some plants are going to die, and they don't take it personally or assume that because they couldn't keep a specific plant alive, that they have a black thumb. In short, they take failures as par for the course rather than a sign that they should not be gardening.

You know, it's quite a lot like sewing that way ...

So, after growing houseplants for years, I have a couple of pointers, which I hope you will find refreshing and labor-saving!
  • Rule Number One: Most people kill houseplants with too much water (or by putting them in pots that don't drain). Put your plant in a pot that has good drainage, don't let them sit in water, and don't overwater. I water my plants once a week (less for succulents). Don't love your plants to death! Most plants (not all, but most) do better with neglect than over-attention. Yes, you heard that right: You will kill less plants by forgetting to water than by watering overzealously. 
  • One of my rules for my outdoor garden is "Figure out what grows well in your climate, and then grow lots of that." I mean, if you want to spend hours everyday babying your brussel sprouts, have at it. I'd rather sit and drink a beer and watch the plants take over the back yard, myself. This rule holds indoors as well. While I like to keep some more "difficult" houseplants around because I enjoy a challenge, most of my plants are practically neglect-proof: Spider plants, pothos, succulents, umbrella plant, philodendron. If I catch the flu and miss a week of watering, they will survive. If you like pretty coffee table books, check out The Indestructible Houseplant - it's beautiful to look at and full of really sturdy plants.
  •  Brown spots on the leaves are almost always a sign of overwatering, see above.  
  • Make plant care part of your regular routine. I water plants on Saturday, when we clean the house. It's easy to remember because it's part of a routine. If you can't remember when you last watered, that is going to make it a lot easier to overwater plants or forget to water them altogether. When in doubt, don't water unless the top couple inches of soil are dry. I only have a couple of plants that would probably like to be watered more frequently than once a week, and mostly, I just make them wait.
  • In general, I have the best luck indoors with glazed-outside, unglazed-inside ceramic pots that have a separate dish or saucer to catch the water. Unglazed ceramic dries out too quickly, and plastic tends to stay too wet. If you do use ceramic pots (which are also really pretty) you might want to use a little cork coaster underneath the saucer to protect your surfaces, because ceramic is porous. I put gravel or pot shards at the bottom of my pots under the soil so that the soil doesn't drain out as well as the water.
  • For looks, I also like plastic pots and a saucer inside a basket weave planter. Pots and planters are a great thrift store score (I wash pots in scalding hot water if they've been used before hoping to kill any disease or bugs.) Garage sale or free plants are a more risky score because of the possibility of bringing disease or bugs home where they could hurt your other plants.
  • Beware the kind of pots that have the dish attached to the pot. Unless you're careful, your plant will end up sitting in water. I have a few of these, and I pick them up and tilt them over the sink to empty out the tray every time I water. They seem really practical, but actually they are more work!
  •  If a plant is not doing well despite appropriate watering, chances are good the issue is light. Try moving your plants around the house and try out different spots. My living room windows are really hot and tend to burn all but the sturdiest plants, but the dining room windows are perfect for almost anything. The kitchen is better for lower light plants. The funny thing is, all of these windows face the same side of the house, it's all about the shade cast by our neighbor's house. One thing I enjoy about gardening, indoors and out, is that it makes me a lot more aware of natural light patterns. It goes without saying, if you have houseplants you need to open your curtains during the day so that they get some light. Just this tends to cheer the house up, so the plants are a good reminder.
  • If you move your houseplants outdoors, put them in a pretty dark, shady area. Most houseplants will fry in outdoor light or sun. Ask me how I know! 
  • If a plant still isn't doing well after some changes, consider tossing it and moving on. Life is too short to sit on your couch looking at a dying plant that makes you feel bad. If a plant appears to have bugs or disease, toss it immediately. Unless it's a really prized member of your collection and you know what the problem is and immediately start treatment, the risk it poses to the rest of your plants is not worth the effort of trying to cure it. (Just ask me about the black fly epidemic of 2013 sometime if you want to hear a tale of woe. I thought I could bring that buggy plant home from the office and save it! End result: Many of my house plants had to be tossed.)
  •  With the exception of African Violet, which doesn't do well with water on the leaves, I like to give my plants a bath in the sink every once in a while, to wash dust off the leaves and give them a thorough watering (I leave them in the sink to completely drain before putting them back in their spot). This is optional and you don't need to do it, but I really like seeing my sink filled with green plants - it's kind of 70s jungle-pad - and the plants look nicer if they aren't dusty.

I think that's it! Instead of poring over books about how to grow exotic houseplants and address the many possible fungi and insects and disease that can afflict them, I've decided to grow mostly easy houseplants, toss ones that aren't working out, let things dry out between watering, and just not worry that much!

For the record, there is a limit to how many plants I can take care of - there is a limit to how much I can take care of, period! When I had two dogs, and a toddler, and a newborn - let's just say only my hardiest plants survived that period of my life (an aloe and an umbrella plant were among them, fyi). It turns out that my ability to nurture living things is in fact finite (one of several reasons I will not be having 19 children!). If your nurturing capacities are currently maxed out, don't worry. Keep your kids and animals (and yourself) alive as best you can, and don't worry about plants. There will be time later.  No pressure. I have a suspicion that the 70s pads shown above (at least the top two) were childless pads!

But when you realize that most plants can actually survive a lot of neglect, and that you're most likely to kill them by paying too much attention to them, and even if they do die, who cares, it's just a houseplant! - It is rather freeing, I think!

I am by no means an expert in any kind of gardening - I'm a lazy person who likes looking at plants. So I hope these tips help you relax and enjoy your houseplants rather than having them become yet another stress in your life.

This ended up being a long post!! Are you a lover of all things green and growing, or one of those people who believes they have a black thumb?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Wind-blown Lisette top.


 Hi friends! We're in the middle of another wave of El NiƱo storms, but I took advantage of a break in the rain to take a few pictures of this simple new top I made for myself. This is Butterick 6182, a great Lisette pattern with a boxy top and pleated a-line skirt. I've made this top once before and I really love the boxy shape in a flowy fabric.


My first version was in a bold print, so I wanted to try this pattern in a solid fabric that would show off the center seam and little centered darts better. I picked this tomato red drapey rayon twill up from the remnant bin at Hart's Fabric in when I stopped by Santa Cruz almost a year ago now. It has been ear-marked for this pattern since the beginning but I only got around to making it now!
 

Like my first version, I cut this out in a size 12, grading to a 14 at the waist (it's a loose top, so I'm not sure this makes much difference). Like my first version, I cut the back on the fold rather than having a center-back seam as well as a center-front seam. But this time I scooped out the neckline a bit more (my first is so high in the front it bothers me a little), and added a lot of length. I cut the hem near the hip marking on the dress pattern piece, and then turned it up and made a two inch hem. I like the extra weight this gives the hem and the longer length is still a bit cropped but easier to wear than the very cropped length marked on the pattern.


 The top looks like it has a slight hi-lo hem in these pictures, but I think the real issue is that it could use a full bust adjustment (sigh). Oh well, it's cute with the fake hi-low hem, right? No way I am going to do an FBA on a top this simple and boxy! Not going to happen!


Of all of the items I sew for myself, I wear the tops the most, hands down. I tend to wear separates more than dresses, and I always need nice blouses to pair with pants, skirts, and blazers or sweaters for work. This isn't the most exciting make on the planet, but it is exactly the sort of thing I love to wear! I am not sure I would call it Flattering with a capital "F" worn like this, but that's what blazers are for!


It was a little too windy for a photo shoot!


Haha! Glamorous, right?!

My nails just happened to match my top! Totally unplanned! (Jamberry nail wraps! Have you tried them? I like have "done" nails but I don't like the smell or mess of nail polish or supporting a troubling industry, so Jamberries are perfect for me! I'm a weirdo and prefer solid colors though.)

A couple hours after this photo was taken, rain is coming down in sheets. Again. All this rain is great for California, but it does make it hard for me to record and blog my makes in a timely manner! 




And here it is with the requisite cardigan and my best "resting bitch face." Haha! Posing for blog photos is such a challenge, right? I mean, some people just have that modeling thing. I am not one of those people but I force myself to do this for you, lovely friends, because I know I like to see garments on an actual person! So here you go! Y'all should know by now that awesome modeling in front of enviably lovely and impeccably clean backgrounds is just not my bag. If you see this face in real life, I'm probably trying to smile politely but thinking "are you freaking kidding me right now?" Now you know.



This is such a great, basic top!

Have you embraced the loose and boxy top trend?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Gaptoothed Creeper.


Over the space of two weeks, Joe lost both his front teeth. He's not a fan of this whole teeth falling out business. He thinks tooth fairy money is poor consolation and would rather just keep his teeth, thank you very much. Even though we felt so bad for him we gave him $10 for each front tooth!

(I never realized how much variety there was in tooth fairy practices until I asked my Facebook friends "What is the going rate for the tooth fairy these days?" and got answers varying from "small items from nature" to $20 per tooth, with most people falling around $1 per tooth. Now, I got $1/tooth back in 1982, and even then it wasn't enough to buy anything except candy. So I decided that the tooth fairy would  recognize CPI/inflationary increases in our household, and Joe has gotten between $5 and $10 per tooth. I realize this is on the very high end of normal and I probably couldn't keep it up if I had five kids, but as it happened I still ended up having to subsidize the Lego set he really wanted, and it hopefully distracts him from how much he hates this whole teeth falling out thing. Nonetheless, he would have happily skipped the Legos if he could have kept his teeth.)

The only thing worse than the teeth falling out is the part where they are loose, so at least we're past that with the front two. You should've seen this poor child trying to maneuver a grilled cheese sandwich past his wiggly front teeth. It was a hard couple of weeks!

Mostly, this is how he feels about it:


But he does find it mildly amusing that he can slip a whole Cheerio through his front gap now.


Anyway, yesterday I had a sewing buddy over and she recently got a serger and is learning to sew with knits. She brought a bunch of this navy ponte knit she picked up at Joanns. She had originally planned to sew leggings for her daughter with it, but I told her it wasn't stretchy enough for that and gave her some rainbow chevron cotton lycra to make leggings with instead, as well as a beginning serger lesson. In exchange, she let me take enough blue knit to make a Field Trip Raglan sweatshirt for Joe (she still has tons left to make a sweatshirt for her daughter!).


So I whipped up this quick and dirty "Creeper" sweatshirt for Joe. Like many six year olds, Joe is currently obsessed with Minecraft, and I just happened to have some apple green french terry hanging around for an applique. To make the Creeper face, I cut out and sewed on the square of green first. Then I traced the face on tissue paper and pinned it over the fabric, and sewed the details through the tissue paper and two layers of fabric underneath. Then I tore the tissue paper off and snipped away only the green layer to make the face. So it's a bit of applique and reverse applique in the same shirt!
I did exposed raw seams on the raglan, mostly because I didn't want to change my serger thread for this project in between two nicer and matchy projects. For the same reason, the neckline and waistband aren't as nice as they could be, because I did them on my sewing machine (no walking foot) instead of the serger. Sometimes I feel really lazy about a project, and later I look back and think, "would it have been that big a deal to do it right?" But I think I have to do that occasionally, to remind myself that doing it right is worth the little bit of extra effort for most projects. And I still like whipping up a quick item now and then and don't mind if it's obviously homemade.

Sometimes I neglect to blog my "quick and dirty" makes, because they don't seem nice enough to share. But they are often the most popular things I make for the kids! Neither the kids nor I view them as precious or not-to-be-worn. And in this case, Joe is a seriously happy customer! He said the sweatshirt feels nice and warm and hasn't taken it off since.

Speaking of quick and dirty makes, I made these pajama pants for Joe last year, when he still wasn't wearing pants, even PJ pants, and they sat in his bin unworn for a long time. With the chilly weather and return of the long trousers this year, Joe has taken a belated liking to these and wears them any chance he can now! He's discovered the joy of flannel pajama pants!  Again, not my finest work as a seamstress (check out my total disregard for the concept of pattern matching!) and nothing fancy, but a regular favorite. Joe doesn't seem to mind that they are "floods"!


Happy gaptoothed customer.

What does the toothfairy leave in your household?



Saturday, February 27, 2016

Sailboat and Sketchbook.


Hi again! As promised, I'm back to talk about the outfit you saw a sneak peak of on the Oliver + S blog this past week. I made the Sketchbook shorts lengthened into pants primarily for that post, to show how versatile and gender neutral this pattern is, but of course I couldn't stop there - it had to be a whole outfit! So I also made a Sailboat Top. All in pink, of course, for my pink-loving girl. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, I say. I've made enough items that don't get worn to know how little I enjoy that experience, so now I try to make items that will get worn, even if that means they are mostly knit fabrics and super soft on the inside and out (Joe), or entirely pink (Maggie).


First up, the Sketchbook Pants: I talked a little bit about these on the Oliver + S blog, so I will try not to repeat myself too much. These are the Sketchbook Shorts in size 2, lengthened into pants and tapered to the ankles with little cuffs, in this lovely Kaufman 21 wale corduroy.

Some sewing deets: I usually lengthen the Sketchbook Shorts by measuring the inseam and outseam on the child, and then simply extending the side seams of each leg vertically. If you do this, you will get a fairly wide/straight trouser like these. To taper these little trousers, I first extended the pants straight. Then I measured around Maggie's ankles, added some ease for her to get her feet in and out, and decided that the bottom circumference of the pants at the ankles should be 10 inches. That meant that the front and back pieces should be about 6" at the bottom (allowing for 1/2" seam allowances). I marked that width on the pieces at the bottom. Then I freehanded the tapered shape, starting at the hip (about the bottom of the pocket opening on the side seam), gradually tapering at first, and then a skosh more sharply from the knee to ankle.


The back piece is a little wider in the shorts than the front piece, but I tapered that difference out up to the low hips, making that back piece only wider at the waist and bottom, where you need a little extra width because of the elastic back. I didn't want to mess with one of my favorite features of this pattern, the roomy, full-coverage tush. I tapered the inseams straight from the crotch seam allowance to the ankles. If you try this modification, be careful not to reduce the amount of fabric at the crotch seam or at the waist, or you risk messing up that great fit around the bottom that the Sketchbook has.

(Her hems got a little wet when she started playing with the garden hose. It was off, but there was a little water left in it!)

Otherwise, besides the standard pocket-opening mod I make to this pattern, to widen the opening to the pockets, these are made exactly according to the pattern. I omitted the button, mostly because I didn't have anything suitable, and I think this pattern looks great with or without the non-functional button. This lovely baby-wale corduroy sews up so wonderfully and presses really well. Although occasionally linty, I stand by my advice that beginners try sewing a garment with corduroy. Like chambray, it is easy to handle and sew, and just tends to make everything look good. It also wears really well for kid's clothes and is multi-seasonal in my climate.


I expected to have to go back and adjust the fit, but I didn't! My little modification turned out great, and it was so easy! These would be really cute in a linen or cotton for summer, too. After I put them on Maggie, I turned up the bottom hems, and liked the look so much I tacked them up as little cuffs. They aren't proper cuffs, because they flip up at the hemline rather than extending further up, but you'd never know that if I didn't tell you, right?


To complete the outfit, I sewed a Sailboat Top in a Riley Blake pink striped knit. Although I've made a lot of Sailboat Pants in my time, this is only my second time making the top, which is now available as a separate pattern. I love the maritime vibe of the pattern and the neck and hem facings, which make it a bit more complicated than most knit tops I sew. This is also a size 2, but it turned out too big, alas! It's not just the sleeves, which are too long, but also too big around the neck. I thought about rehemming the sleeves, but haven't yet ... like the pants, this top is pretty multi-seasonal in our cool-summer climate, so perhaps I'll just let her grow into it (assuming she does actually grow - sometimes I worry, she is so tiny!). I don't remember if the Sailboat runs big ... it might just be that Maggie is so small.

It was fun to break out two "oldie but goodie" Oliver + S patterns for this outfit! These were the very first Oliver + S patterns I ever bought! And the Sketchbook is definitely my most-sewn, with the Sailboat Pants coming second. When I bought these patterns, it was for Joe, and boy patterns were hard to come by. Now there are lots of boy patterns to choose from in the indie pattern world (something I love!) but these two really have stood the test of time. And how cute do they look on a little girl?



Maggie is three and a half now, and while she is small for her age, she is overflowing with personality and ... um ... executive leadership skills. She's cute as a button, but don't be fooled. She knows what she likes - chocolate and pink! And what she doesn't like - almost everything else! This can be a challenging age - sometimes it feels like an entire day can go by where I remember nothing but whining and arguing and negativity from this little sweet muffin. But she loves to snuggle and tell me how much she loves me and give kisses, which is pretty much the best thing in the universe - and that happens enough that I don't completely despair.

Joe was a very different sort of three-year-old - affectionate but rough, and not very demonstrative (and not nearly as verbal as Maggie so he was quiet and stubborn rather than wearing us down with chatter). He was, and remains, a more reserved child, although he is free with "I love yous" and hugs now that he's six, he still thinks "Mama kisses me too much" and squirms away when I hug or snuggle him for more than a minute.

Maggie, on the other hand, would prefer to be ON a person at all times, preferably climbing on their head or jumping on them or, in the case of family members, caressing them or showering them with kisses. She is also chatty and crazily persistent. I used to joke that Joe was like the ocean - he knew where he wanted to be, and there was no shifting him. He wasn't even interested in the possibility that there might be other options besides the one he chose. What did he care? He was the ocean! He would (and still does sometimes) seem to shut out any conflicting noise in the background (e.g., his parents telling him what to do) in his determination to pursue his own path.

Maggie, on the other hand, is more like a small running stream. Generally agreeable and well behaved, but when she decides she wants something, active and unrelenting, this girl can wear down mountains. Unlike Joe (but like many other three year olds) she's proficient at the "slow trickle" method of getting what you want - just annoy them so much that they concede just to get you to stop talking. Never, ever, give up. Exhibit A: the Grand Canyon.

Both of my kids would make great (albeit different in style) lawyers. I can't think where they got this from.

Like many parents, I comfort myself that disregard for the mainstream, clarity of purpose, and exhausting persistence are great qualities that will benefit my kids for a lifetime. In the meantime, I am going to need a lot of dark chocolate (and yes, Maggie, you can have some, WHATEVER IT TAKES).

Then Maggie will hop on my lap and shower me with kisses and say "you are a wucky mama, Inder" (yes, she calls me Inder - heaven help me)!

Parenting is hard work but it's also pretty fun.

 

Which brings us back to the Sailboat Top: Although Maggie gave me permission to do blue buttons at the shoulders (perhaps I pushed a bit too hard for consent), she later complained about this feature. She said she wished they were purple. Now, I like pink (especially warmer shades), and I even (sort of, sometimes) like purple, but please tell me I'm not the only one who finds the combination of pink of purple to be over-the-top nauseating girly? Sigh. These kids always find our buttons, don't they? Maggie would love if everything I made her was "pink and purple!!" I'm willing to sew all the pink things in the universe, but even I have my limits. Sorry, child, those shoulder buttons just WANTED to be bright turquoise! I hope it won't be an obstacle to Maggie wearing the top. If so, I will probably buckle and change them out (shudder) because when you have a three year old in the house, you need to be very clear about which hills you're willing to die on! When it comes to pink (and purple), I'm waving the white flag.


This was my favorite shot in this photo shoot. Joe came out, and I encouraged the kids to make silly faces in hopes of getting Maggie to smile. Maggie's side-eye in this photo just kills me. I really do have the greatest kids, even if they are a trifle demanding when it comes to what I sew for them, full stop!

Now, please comfort me with stories about your EVEN MORE STUBBORN three year olds, or failing that, send dark chocolate!

Thanks for reading!