Tuesday, July 30, 2013

New old quilt.

Whew! Things have been crazy 'round here. First of all, big house project: we are getting all of our windows replaced. And the front door! Yay, energy efficiency! Maybe this winter you won't have to listen to me complain about our freezing cold home and ridiculous heating bills quite as much? Won't that be nice? But whoa, living in a construction site with small children! What a mess. Total chaos. We're exhausted. Luckily, it should be completely done by this afternoon.

We've been spending a lot of time in this tent, which Steve set up in the backyard. A quiet retreat from the workers and noise. Joe has moved pillows, blankets, and books into the tent, and Maggie loves playing in there too.

Backyard tent

In moving furniture away from the windows for this project, I was forced to confront my "UFO/WIP" (unfinished object/work in progress) pile, which lives next to my sewing machine. Unlike some seamstresses, I generally don't have too many WIPs. I have my faults, but I usually finish my projects unless there is a serious hold-up ... or unless it's a quilt. Historically, I have not been speedy with quilts, primarily because I hand-quilted them (all two of them). So one of the larger items in the pile was a quilt I started around three years ago. I'm not really sure when I started it, actually, but I can see it in my WIP pile in December 2010 (keeping a blog is handy for recalling things like this). Even then, it was completely sandwiched and basted. It just needed to be quilted.

Moving it away from the window this past time, I noticed that the back of the quilt had faded in the light. Ugh. That's really bad - a WIP that has been sitting in one place untouched long enough to get sun damage, right? I opened it up, thinking maybe it was time to send this UFO to the trash bin, but when I saw the top, I still really liked it! Such a shame!

So I got this crazy, crazy idea: Maybe I should finally finish this thing? By machine quilting, which I have never done before! In an all-over diagonal pattern! Right now.

And I did. Over one evening and the next day, I finished it.

New/old quilt

The house was a huge mess, but sewing is one of my favorite ways to avoid cleaning, so it worked out perfectly. I quilted, while the kids reenacted The Lord of the Flies (kidding. sort of.). It was awesome!

New/old quilt

I know each quilt is supposed to have a story, but since I started this one so long ago, I really don't remember what its story is. I know I used this pattern, and the top came together very quickly and easily (with fussy-cut squares) and I made a fun pieced back for it. I always intended to machine quilt it, but at the time I pieced it, I was sewing with an older machine, and didn't have a walking foot. The idea of machine quilting totally intimidated me. So it sat, unloved, in a pile. For years.

New/old quilt
You can see the sun fading on the greenish strip at the far left.

I've learned it's much easier to tackle a new skill when the stakes are pretty low. This faded and long-forgotten quilt turned out to be the perfect vehicle for learning how to machine quilt. Which was really easy and fast, by the way! Yes, my lines are a bit "organic" (this is quilting code for "sloppy"), and there are a few wrinkles and crinkles in the back, but overall, I was thrilled by how nicely this turned out, given my lack of experience.

And it goes without saying that compared to hand-quilting, this went super fast. I still adore the look of hand-quilting and plan to hand-quilt more quilts in my life, but this makes whipping up a baby quilt for a friend seem like an achievable goal, rather than a three year project. It may represent a paradigm shift for me! In the meantime, it's nice to have a quilt that isn't quite so fragile and precious.

New/old quilt

Even years later, I still have many of the fabrics I used for this quilt (I am such a hoarder!) so it was no problem digging a few out to use for a scrappy binding.

So there you have it! My first machine quilted quilt, and a nice new/old quilt to take into the backyard tent.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer miscellany.

Ah, summer. Just a few moments from the past couple of weeks. (Scroll all the way down for some sewing.)


We are inundated with cucumbers in the garden right now, so of course we had to make some pickles. Over the past couple years my brother and I (mostly my brother) have been experimenting with making pickles the old fashioned way - by fermenting them in brine rather than packing them in vinegar. Once you have tried pickles made this way, there is no going back. They actually have a little fizzle - like champagne - and the flavor is spot-on (if you're a pickle person - I am). For my brother's birthday, we got him a beautiful ceramic pickling crock (one of those wonderfully selfish gifts where I was as excited as he was). There are weights to hold the pickles down in the brine, and the lip at the top can be filled with water and covered with the lid which allows the contents to release carbon dioxide while preventing oxygen from entering. A simple, primitive "airlock" (a brilliant and simple design) for delicious pickles.

Maggie trying dill weed

Maggie enjoyed "helping." Here is she is gamely trying some of the dillweed to make sure it was up to snuff. After a week of sitting on our counter (requiring almost zero labor from us), we now have two half gallon jars of delicious pickles in our fridge!


Blackberries can be a pernicious weed in Northern California, and in our backyard. They are fast-growing, hardy, can survive anything, and because of the spines, are extremely tough to pull out or cut back. But they sure are tasty and they attract all kinds of wonderful wildlife (bees, butterflies, birds). The spineless domesticated varieties just don't compare, flavor-wise. So we try to keep them confined to one corner of the garden and out of our vegetable beds. This requires constant effort (and heavy gloves), but as you can see, Maggie clearly enjoys the fruits of our labor.

This is what happens when you don't strap her in

I guess we should probably use the lap straps on the high chair, huh? Maggie says, "Meh. I'm fine. Just chillin'."


Joe, looking delightfully impish and full of trouble. He has been so much fun lately. He made up a new song recently, called "The Omie and Crouton Song." (Omie and Crouton are our dogs.) The lyrics go: "Omie and Crouton. They pee outside. They eat from bowls. Dogs have bones. Big boys don't let dogs eat their toys." Brilliant, right?

Daddy and Maggie

 Miss Maggie hanging out with her daddy. This little girl. She's an adventurer, but she also loves to snuggle. And she really loves to snuggle with her Daddy.

Briar top

Okay, finally, a little sewing (though you gardeners can check out my cukes, peppers, and tomatoes in the background). I made two more Briar t-shirts this past weekend. I have been wearing my first version all the time. It fits perfectly into my work "uniform," which, in case you were wondering, consists of a knit top, solid skirt or pants, and a cardigan or blazer. Rinse repeat. Hey, once you figure out what works for you, I say stick with it!

My first top was a little too big, especially in the shoulders, so I went down to a size medium. Much better. There is plenty of ease in the bust and waist, so I would recommend picking your size based on your shoulder width for this pattern.

This pretty soft green print might look familiar to long time readers of the blog - I made a maternity t-shirt from it (also a Megan Nielsen pattern), which I wore to death when I was pregnant with Maggie and then passed on to my sister, and she is now wearing it to death (she's expecting her second baby in late September). I was just able to squeak this Briar top out of the leftovers. I would have liked longer (elbow length) sleeves, but there just wasn't enough fabric. I managed a little pocket, but had to piece the neckband!

It's always such a good feeling to use every last little scrap of a fabric that you love, though.

Briar top

Having set up the walking foot/twin needle, I decided to make another t-shirt. This pretty tie-dye inspired knit was part of my recent "break the fast" fabric shopping trip, and was bought specifically for a Briar shirt. Again, I had hoped for elbow length sleeves (just wanting a little variety here), but unfortunately, this light tissue-rayon knit really shrunk in the wash! So I had just barely enough for a short-sleeved Briar, this time without the pocket.

I modified the neckline a little bit on this version. As drafted, I feel like the Briar neckline has almost a V-neck, but not quite. It's difficult to stretch the neck band around that curve and have it lay flat. So for this version, I scooped the neck out a little bit. My method for doing this? I just took scissors and hacked at it. Ha. I'm happy with the result! It's a softer curve which is easier to bind, and it's a more flattering neckline on me.

I think I am going to get more use out of this pattern and use it as a base t-shirt pattern for a variety of styles. I need to take a break from that twin needle/walking foot set-up though - it was driving me crazy towards the end. Two problems: First, I have to go excruciatingly slow, or something always goes wrong - the threads tangle with each other or tangle with the bobbin thread, or something. Second, the two threads rub against each other, causing friction that eventually results in one of the threads breaking. Sometimes this would happen after 12 inches of stitching. Sometimes after 2 inches. So I had to stop and restart many times on the hemming. Does anyone have a fix for this? I realize this is where a coverstitch machine comes in handy, but hello budget!

Moving on; take-away points on sewing for myself! Finding good styles, and getting them to fit correctly, is not always easy. So when I find something I really like and tweak it 'till it's just so, I should make a bunch! It's just the best use of my time and labor.  And the process of tweaking helps me to understand better what makes for a good fit and flattering style and develops my skills. Also, cute t-shirts! Win.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

12 Months!!!

12 Months!

Well, here we are! Maggie Joy is 12 months (and several days) old now. My happy go lucky, busy baby girl. It has been a fantastic year. (When it wasn't dragging along as slow as can be, it sure flew by! Hehe.)

12 Months!

Oh, my sweet baby sweetness, there is so much to say about you, and I don't know how to put it into words! True to your name, you are just such a joy. Everyone adores you.

12 Months!

So, we all thought Maggie would be walking by now, but she's still just on the verge. She has the skills. Occasionally she takes a couple steps between pieces of furniture. But it's almost as if she doesn't realize yet that she can do it. And she's so fast and nimble on her hands and knees, and such a good climber, she doesn't really need to walk.

12 Months!

Baby girl has a nice head of light reddish-brown hair and a full mouth of teeth (10!) now. She practically invented the "impish smile." And she has a few verified words too: "Mama," "Buh-bye," and my personal favorite, which you have to hear to believe, "WHOA!," always said perfectly in context, in delight at discovering something new and cool.

She loves: crawling, climbing, eating, mama's milk, being carried around, playing in the water, dogs, her brother. She doesn't love: diaper changes, sitting still, the playpen, getting dressed, being pulled from high places, being told "No." She spends her days trying to climb chairs, while her parents gain new gray hairs.




It's not so much the chair climbing that drives us nuts as the way Maggie likes to teeter on the edge of the chair. Shudder. I'm not going to lie: the constant daredevil antics are exhausting for us parents!

But, what can you do? Maggie is an adventurer! She loves to try new foods, go new places, meet new people, and of course, climb every new thing. She's game for whatever.

12 Months!

Yes, those are another pair of oliver + s "Sailboat Pants" in mustard linen with cream piping and buttons. These are size 12-18 months, and they are a little big for her, but her 6-12 months pair are getting a bit small. Now that I have done these with piping, I may never do them again without, because they are just too good with it! I'm getting a little better at applying piping to corners, too.

Sailboat pants detail

I faced the button placket with a cute floral quilting cotton, which you can just make out at certain angles.

(All materials were from my stash. My one-month-long fabric diet ended yesterday. Time to go shopping! Wahoo! I'm going to try not to totally binge, but no promises.)

We did have a little family birthday celebration this past weekend. Maggie was initially skeptical of her cupcake. Possibly because of the fire on top? But once she tasted it ...

Birthday cupcake!

Chocolate! Where have you been all my life?

Happy birthday, baby girl! I think this next year is going to be pretty fun!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Happy Birthday!

Happy birthday, beautiful Margaret Joy. You are my sunshine, Miss Maggie.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

How Nerf guns can help you get your child into mama-mades.

Coastal cargos

I really took a chance on these. I wanted to make Joe some awesome pants. Not soft pants. Something more challenging. Specifically, Blank Slate's Coastal Cargos. I have been drooling all over this pattern for months!

The question of the day was: Will he wear them? 

I know you're worried. But that's my blog: edge-of-your-seat suspense.

I did solicit Joe's thoughts on colors. I was leaning towards bright orange linen with blue accents or natural colored linen with orange accents, but Joe said he would like "dark blue" better. Okay, that would not have been my first choice, but I do happen to have some navy linen, which he specifically approved.

I added the bright orange accents. Joe was on the fence about the "o-sange," which is not currently his favorite color (big sigh). But the pants needed something bright and cheerful! As I explained to Steve, if I have to sew a bunch of stuff that looks like something you could buy at Target ... well, ugh, that is just too sad, right? How much design tyranny from a four year old can a seamstress stomach? So I added the orange and hoped for the best!

Omigosh. This pattern is fan-freaking-fantastic, people. I had so much fun making these.

Coastal Cargos - pocket detail.

It's definitely an intermediate pattern, even when you skip the welt pockets and zip fly like I did (I do want to learn how to do welt pockets - one day). But it's like, super awesome. I love the contrast stripe down the side - it is cute and serves a function, enclosing all of the raw seams for a super clean finish.


The instructions call for a fully functioning zip fly, but I opted to skip that step and do a faux fly instead. As Joe gets older, I am sure I will want to learn how to do a zip fly, but at this point, most of his RTW pants are pull-on, so I didn't bother. I did do some decorative bar tacks and sew on a button for show.

Coastal Cargos - inseam detail

The hardest part of the pattern by far is sewing the bias onto the crotch and inseam. This requires serious scrunching up of fabric. Most of the time, I was working with less than an inch of room as I tried to topstitch the orange down. It was during this part of the operation that Joe knocked me on the elbow and this happened.

Ouch! Luckily, it seems that the (size 14) needle broke on my finger nail and did not go all the way through. My nail is broken but otherwise it's not too bad. Sewing with kids around is dangerous!

And check out the inside of these pants. Not a raw edge in sight!
Inside of Coastal Cargos

Who says sewing for boys isn't as fun? After a decade hiatus from garment sewing, I got back into it by sewing pants for Joe and I still really, really enjoy sewing for him. Assuming he'll wear what I sew, anyway.

And now for the moment you all have been waiting for ... he wore the pants! After I put them on him, he began to protest, so I immediately suggested playing with Nerf guns, which is one of Joe's most favorite things to do in the whole universe (thanks Uncle Harpal, for buying my four year old a bunch of semi-automatic foam weaponry rated for ages 8+).

It worked! Joe forgot to criticize the pants and ran for the guns. Clever mama! (If I do say so myself.)

Nerf Battle

So it turns out that the secret to a decent photoshoot with Joe these days is to arm him with a big gun? Hey, his pants match his gun!

Nerf gun!

The size 5 fits, with plenty of room to grow. Since they are convertible, the fact that they are really long is not an issue. Hopefully these will last a while. (The only flaw, if you can call it that, with these pants is that the pocket facings want to peek out. I'm not sure why. I might stitch the pockets down to the front next time?)

Nerf battle.

Nerf battle.

Within an hour, these pants were covered in dirt, dog hair, and yogurt. "Accepted into the fold," as you might say. Yay!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Fancy PJs for Joe.

Since Joe informed me that he didn't like his train jeans, I have been trying to figure out what his issue was with those pants. Was he just trying to push my buttons, in a classic power play? Or is there something else I could make for him that he would like? What's the deal, kiddo?

After some inquiring about what kinds of pants Joe does like, Joe told me he likes "soft pants." Like PJ pants. Well, okay! That's something I can work with!

As it happens, I have been meaning to make Joe a pair of Fancy Pants since Laura asked me to test the pattern on Maggie. Joe is four, but is a big kid, and wears more size 5 than size 4 these days. The fancy pants pattern only goes up to size 4, so I knew time was limited.

Indeed, they are pretty snug! Kind of a "men in tights" effect. But they are soft and Joe likes them!

Fancy Pants for Joe!

I cut these out in a soft stretchy stripe from the stash (fabric diet!). I didn't bother to match the stripes up on the bum panel too much. I was going for speed, rather than perfection here since I wasn't sure whether Joe would like them at all. For an older kid, I like the look of the bum panel done in the same fabric - it adds a lot of ease and moveability to the pants, without looking as baby-ish as a contrasting panel. Also, I happen to have a lot of this striped stuff.

I did add a little length to these to accommodate Joe's long legs. With Joe so close to the top of the size range, these would not work in a less stretchy fabric, that's for sure. Some lycra content is essential! They are skin-tight!

Fancy Pants for Joe!

Joe is super resistant to posing for a photo shoot these days. Or standing still, period, come to think of it.  But I think Joe really likes the soft knit waist with no elastic. These are definitely "soft pants."

Joe is such a good brother. Maggie (like any self-respecting almost-one-year-old) does not like being put in the playpen, even though it's sometimes essential so that Steve and I can get something done, because when she is out of it, it's climb, climb, climb, all the time, and she can't be left unattended for one New York second. So sometimes Joe helps us out by climbing into Maggie's playpen and entertaining her. Being in the playpen with your brother is way more fun than hanging out in there alone.

Fancy Pants for Joe!
Fancy Pants for Joe!

Yep, these leggings allow for a full range of movement!

Entertaining Maggie.

Thanks for keeping your sister happy, Joe!!

I got a little nostalgic making these pants, because it occurred to me that Joe is starting to size out of a lot of my favorite kid patterns now. Size 5 is kind of a turning point for kid's clothes - there's no more "T" - your kid is a big kid now. I am not a super sentimental person; I am generally not one to lament the passage of time and my kids growing older. Yes, the time does fly, but I wouldn't actually want them to stay little babies forever. So its especially funny that I would get all verklempt about a sewing pattern. The things seamstress mamas get nostalgic about, right? My little boy is turning into a big kid right before my eyes! Sniffle. 

I emailed Laura Tichener, creator of this pattern, and mentioned that I was bummed that it didn't come in larger sizes. To my great delight, she responded saying she is working on a "big kids" version! Yay! So I don't have to get all emotional about him growing out of this pattern, at least. Whew! I can stop sniffling and get back to business as usual.

I still really want to make pants for Joe that are not "soft pants" but that he will wear and enjoy. So I'm going to continue to work on that, hoping that the train jeans incident was just a fluke. But I will try to solicit his input a bit more on future projects, since that seems to help. Indeed, he is a big kid with his own opinions and ideas about what he wants to wear now!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Heat wave.

Wowsa, it is hot here! Not Texas hot, or anything, but hot for this part of the world. Living in a mild coastal climate, we don't have air conditioning (or insulation), so we experience heat waves up close and personal. Temperatures in the nineties with no AC and a baby who likes to be held a lot ...

*Mops brow.*

The kids have been coping pretty well.  I think Joe has the right approach: strip down to your skivvies and then hang out on the cool hardwood floor.

Heat wave ...

Nothing slows Maggie down. Steve calls her "Turbo." I call her "my little mountain goat." She is a climber. Climb, climb, climb, all day long.

My mountain goat

Saturday it was just too hot to sew. I took the kids to the ocean. It was breezy and beautiful. Perfect. Joe loved playing in the water. Joe was literally dragging me into the surf (and the surf was no joke - this is the Pacific ocean!). He got pummeled a few times, but just went right back for more! My children: They have no fear! Are other kids like this? Between the crazy climber and the kid who dives into the Pacific even though he can't swim ... I can just feel my hair going gray.

Sunday was a few degrees cooler and I wanted to sew! I wasn't feeling up to a major undertaking - I wanted something fast, easy, and good for hot weather. Well, obviously: another Roly Poly Pinafore Dress for Maggie.

So I decided to use some white linen that was once part of a strange outfit that I pulled out of a trash pile in my Oakland neighborhood. Yep, you heard that right - I pulled this fabric out of the trash. I was coming back from having breakfast with a friend, when I saw some white fabric sticking out of a a bag next to a dumpster. I would not have given it a second look, except it looked like white linen. Given that this is Oakland, and I don't live in the nicest neighborhood, I pulled it out very cautiously, using only the tips of my finger, at first, because I was worried about ... um, hazardous waste. But no! All I could see was a pristinely clean, if somewhat unique, white linen top and pants. And an eyelet top. 

So I grabbed the pile and ran! Here is a cell phone photo I took after running everything through the wash on "super hot" (sorry for the low quality photo). The eyelet top has black sequin trim (??!) and the white linen outfit is decorated with machine embroidery and, um, pockets made from um, baskets (!!?). The overall effect is ... interesting. But hey! Nice linen!

I cut the linen top apart - it is really just two rectangles sewn together with a neckhole in the middle - and was able to fit the Roly Poly pattern pieces on it with plenty of white linen to spare. Maybe I will dye some of it ...

Anyway! I decided to go fully reversible this time, using the white linen on one side, and two pretty prints on the other side. The white side is pretty plain, so I appliqued some doilies on it (ETA: These are not doilies! They are snowflakes!).

Roly Poly #2!

This time I took the time to stitch down the little inverted neck pleat (last time I was lazy and skipped it). Such a cute little detail. The other side is lace doilies.

Roly Poly #2!

And a pretty retro fruit print I've had in my stash for years now (remember, I'm still on a fabric diet!).

Roly Poly #2!

The best part is that it fits! This is the 6-month size, and it's perfect on Miss Margaret.

Roly Poly #2!

This is Maggie. She loves to climb, climb, climb.

Roly Poly #2!

Maggie thinks, "Maybe, if I flash Mama a big smile, she won't notice that I'm about to try to climb this chair?"

Roly Poly #2!

"So far so good ..."

"Oh no! Mama put down her camera, pulled me off the chair, and told me 'No climbing chairs!'"

Roly Poly #2!

"Mama, you won't let me do anything fun!"

Five minutes after this photo shoot, Maggie upended Steve's beer on herself. So into the wash the new dress went! The great thing about dumpster dived linen - you know it can be washed on super hot!