Saturday, August 31, 2013

Train PJs.

As you know, sewing for Joe has been a struggle recently. He has been rejecting mama-mades, refusing to even try things on. It's super discouraging. Okay, I'll be honest: it just plain hurts. So I took a break from sewing for him. I have been sewing for myself and a little bit for Maggie recently, but not so much Joe. Which made me sad. I love sewing for my kids. Both my kids.

But I'm part of an awesome network of sewing ladies, and we send each other scraps. Recently, one of my awesome ladies sent me some train flannel. More than a scrap - about a half yard, actually. I showed it to Joe and asked him if he would like "soft pants" from it?

"Yes!," he said immediately, "PJ pants!"

Oh my goodness, Joe wants me to make something for him? Maybe I'm a sucker, but I immediately got to work, before he could change his mind!

I pulled out my Parsley Pants pattern and laid it on the fabric. The piece of flannel was just a hair short. No problem! I have plenty of red flannel. I'll add little cuffs. Woo-hoo!

Zoom, zoom, stitch stitch ... BAM! Done. Without any pockets or details, it doesn't get much easier than this pattern. I took a quick shot with my cell phone to share with my generous friend who sent the fabric.

Train pants

But would Joe actually wear them? I still wasn't sure.

Joe is starting his second year of preschool next week. We absolutely love Joe's preschool. I mean, there are no words. Joe's wonderful teacher and the other parents have welcomed him into the fold, quirks and all. And Joe is a quirky kid - while he is growing out of his speech delays, he is still a quiet, introverted kid. They really love him, just the way he is. And I love them for that.

I would sure love to send him to school with some mama-mades ...

"Hey, Joe, do you want to make a t-shirt? A train shirt?"

I pulled a dark gray adult t-shirt out of my giant "refashion" pile; a too-large souvenir from a work trip I took years ago.

Joe said, "That shirt is too big for me!"

"Yes, it is! But I'm going to cut it smaller. Do you want to help?"

Out came the Flashback Skinny Tee pattern. Joe "helped" me pin the pattern to the t-shirt, and returned the pins to the pin-cushion when I was done. (It's never too early to teach kids safety around pins!) When I was cutting, I asked him if he wanted short sleeves or long sleeves. I was thinking short, since it was about 85 degrees today, but he pointed to his wrists and said "I'm getting to be a big boy, so I want big sleeves." Um, really? Okaaaaaay. Incidentally, it was so warm that at this point Joe had shed his (short sleeved) shirt.

train shirt design 1

Then we started to design the shirt. I asked him what colors he wanted for the steam engine and he said "Green, blue, and red. With pink wheels." I cut out shapes from my knits stash, and he showed me how he wanted it. Then I sewed it down while Joe supervised.

At some point he lost his pants too. It was a really hot day!

Joe was very particular about having a sun on his shirt. And it had to have the right number of radiating spokes. Initially I tried to do a "half sun" up next the shoulder, but he wasn't having that.

"I want an orange passenger train! And a red caboose!"

"Well, okay, but we're going to have to put them on the back of the shirt, you know!"

Train shirt - design

By the time we got this far, the dining room was covered in small scraps of knit!

"Almost done, Joe! Now I have to sew on the sleeves and finish it!"

For the next 45 minutes, Joe asked me whether I was done yet approximately once every 30 seconds. I had to take breaks to work on dinner, but Joe watched over my shoulder as I sewed it together. He jumped around the dining room like someone crazed. He bugged his little sister. (There is always time to bug your little sister.)

When I finished the shirt, he wanted to put on his new PJs right away. And happily ran into the backyard for a photo shoot?! Who is this child?

Train PJs!

He loves his new PJs! You have no idea how happy I am! I am still grinning! 

Train PJs!

It turns out that letting Joe design his clothes helps! And I have to say, he has good taste. He was exactly right about that sun. It's my favorite part of the shirt.

Train PJs!

It sure doesn't hurt to have fantastic Made by Rae patterns on hand. (I can't believe how happy he was to be in flannel pants and a long sleeved shirt, given the fact that it was still 75 degrees when this photo was taken!)

Joe's hair is getting so long. When I comb it out in the bath, I always ask him if he'd like to get it cut, and he tells me, "No, I want big hair. Like daddy's." Snort. I can't argue with that!

Train PJs!

I'm not going to win any awards for this applique, but I wanted to be able to follow Joe's directions without much fuss. In the end, I love the primitive, child-like look. And so does Joe, apparently!

Train PJs!

Yay! Happy mama here.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cookies and a cut.

Joe and I made peanut butter cookies today. Joe loves baking, for the same reasons most of us love baking - it's a no brainer, really. As he gets older, he's getting better at measuring, whisking dry ingredients, and supervising the stand mixer (while keeping his hands safely away). But of course his primary responsibility is for licking the beater and making sure everything tastes yummy.

Yay cookie dough!

This is before I added eggs, but I admit, he had a few tastes post-egg too.

Cookie dough.

After putting the first batch in the oven, we decided it would be a good idea to add chocolate chunks to the rest of the dough. Joe helped with that part too. After chopping up the chocolate, there was some chocolate "dust" left over. Couldn't let that go to waste.

Chocolate face.

Maggie is definitely too little to be eating raw cookie dough or supervising machinery, so she stood on the sidelines, playing with the pots and pans and squawking for food (this girl loves her food) and being super adorable.

Beautiful, expressive Maggie Joy.

Beautiful, expressive Maggie Joy.

Beautiful, expressive Maggie Joy.

I love this photo - she was grabbing for the camera - because you can see my reflection in her eyes! Crazy! Also, it gives you a good look at her teeth - her molars are in and she's getting her little eye-teeth/canines now. She was squawking when I took this photo; that's what her demanding squawk looks like, you're lucky you are not getting the audio track.

Peanut butter cookies.

Cookies are beige and don't photograph very well, but the end result - a big ol' pile of regular and chocolate chunk peanut butter cookies! The recipe was America's Test Kitchen. Fussy as always, but indeed, the addition of salted peanuts to the dough is genius. Deliciously peanut-y.


And I got a haircut! My appointment, yesterday, happened to fall on a very hot late summer day, which is a recipe for lopping off TONS of hair! I was ready for a change, and I ended up with a long bob with bangs. This is how I looked after another long hot day, today, without much styling. My bangs are still rebelling a little bit (I have some wave in my hair, so I'll probably be flat-ironing them a bit on workdays), but I love it. I feel like a new woman! I'm pretty sure I lost a pound of hair. As much as I have loved having long hair, I mostly wore it in a ponytail, so what's the point? I am enjoying my new 'do.

Every time I put Maggie in the Ergo carrier, and go to push my hair out of the way to snap it in the back, I'm like Whoa! I have no hair! ...  Awesome! 

New haircut!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hummingbird skirt.

Hummingbird Skirt.

Still sewing for myself over here! And still taking photographs in my "romantic" squash patch (we're getting some mean powdery mildew - might be time to find a new photo shoot location, some of it rubbed off on my skirt, blech).

This is a really basic, almost boring item. A straight navy cotton twill skirt. It doesn't photograph (or blog) particularly well. But I am thrilled with it. It may not be exciting, but I am going to wear it to pieces! As Steve said, "You can even wear that to work!" Yes! And that is high praise indeed!

Hummingbird skirt.

This is the "Hummingbird Skirt," from my new favorite pattern maker, Cake Patterns. I love Cake for a bunch of reasons: (1) No sizes, just measurements; (2) Everything is intended to be altered, and the instructions walk you through that; (3) Cute styles; (4) Styles that call for knit fabrics as well as woven (I do love to wear knits); and (5) Pockets. Plus, the printed patterns are sturdy and feel good and have great illustrations (by cartoonist and sewing blogger Mikhaela).

Incidentally, this is one of my favorite tops, from Anthropologie a couple years ago. I have worn it so much, and it's beginning to show its age. It is a simple drapey knit top, with cap sleeves and a light voile woven neckline (a bit cowl-like). The hem is raw and unfinished.When it finally breathes its last, I think I'm going to cut it up and try to copy it. It is so flattering and comfortable and easy to wear. It will be hard to find knit fabric half as lovely as this, though!

Hummingbird skirt.

Back to the skirt, this was actually intended to be a trial version of this pattern. I have some gorgeous mustard linen/rayon that I want to use to make the version of the skirt that has a back flounce (drool), but I wanted to try out the easier and simpler straight version first. And I am glad I did a trial version because I did some major alterations on this baby! Alterations that went above and beyond the alterations described in the pattern, that is.

So ... right now I have a post-baby tummy, but I've always had pretty narrow hips, and not much in the rear at all. So my waist-to-hip ratio is like, um ... practically 1:1. With more curves in front (tummy) than back. Hey, it's nothing to brag about, but I know I'm not alone with this problem! I am hoping to lose some of this baby weight, but you know, I'm not planning to do anything freaky like go on a diet (shudder). It's a good body and I might as well try to make the best of it!

By the way, I hate the term "apple" to describe a woman's body shape. Could someone please come up with a less, um, completely shapeless term to describe the normal and perfectly fine shape of many women after having a kid or two? Thanks a bunch!

The best thing about Cake Patterns is that they don't use regular sizes: rather, you cut out the pattern based on your measurements. And the measurements come in a huge range. I really can't overemphasize how fantastic this is. But, nonetheless, in comparing my measurements to the pattern, I learned that a 1:1 waist/hip ratio isn't really one of your options. The pattern is definitely designed with more of a pear shape in mind ("Pear" seems so much nicer than "apple.") So I cut out the waist based on my measurements, and cut out a larger size in the skirt pieces, knowing I would have to scale it down around the hips. I spent some time basting and trying things on until I got things right. One of the biggest changes I made was to reduce the back darts almost to nothing ("essence of back dart," anyone?) because I don't have many curves back there. The darts provide a tiny bit of shaping, but not much. Then I took the side seams in a lot - more in back than in front. This worked well and the fit is pretty good back there now!

Hummingbird back.

At this point, I allowed the baby into the shoot to distract you from the fact that I am posting a photo of my derriere on the internet. Man, I struggled with the invisible zipper this time. It's not perfect, but look, Maggie is walking all over the place now!

Here are some obligatory detail shots.

Pocket detail.

I love the pockets on this skirt - they are deep and generous and practical. I like to put my smart phone in my pocket when I go to meetings - you never know when you will need to check your calendar or shoot off an email or kill time surfing Etsy while you wait for everyone to show up.  What did we ever do without smart phones? Anyway, this is a deep and secure smart phone pocket.

I faced the pockets and hem with some scraps of navy floral that were given to me as part of a "scrap exchange." Actually, the stretch navy twill was also a gift from a sewing buddy! So this skirt was made entirely with gifted fabrics. When I wear it, I will feel extra blessed by my great sewing friends!

One of the reasons I used the hem facing is that this version of the skirt is pretty short. I am only 5'4", and I don't have long legs, so I am pretty used to everything being a bit long on me. Not this skirt. I imagine that on a taller woman, it would be almost scandalous! The hem facing allowed me to use only 1/4" of the hem and keep the length. Even so it hits just above my knee. So if you decide to make this pattern, keep that in mind. Of course, I wasn't too disappointed to have to use hem facings - it is one of my favorite finishes, as you know, and the contrasting fabric adds a little personality to a very basic skirt.

Ice Cream Top.

Maggie walking around.

Some parting shots of Maggie in her mama-mades. She is quite the toddler now! She has even adopted a blood curdling scream for times when she doesn't get her way. When you hear it, you would imagine that she has been horribly injured, but no, it usually means that someone has told her not to play in the dog's water bowl, or to stop eating Joe's crayons. She's starting to let her desires be known, shall we say.

She's still pretty small, though. Definitely less than 50th percentile, and a whole lot smaller than Joe was at this age (he was a big, big boy). Remember that top? It still fits her! And she's still rocking her owl Fancy Pants too. I have made her quite a few things that are still too big for her. Once she finally starts growing out of her 6-12 month sized stuff, I will probably start sewing for her again. But for now, she actually has a lot of home-sewn items, and I am enjoying learning to sew for myself!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A heavily modified Eucalypt dress.

As you know, one of my sewing goals is to sew more lovely things for myself. Because, unlike my children, I actually need new clothes. And unlike one of my children, cough cough Joe cough cough, I actually appreciate hand-made clothing!

So far, it has been a bit of a learning experience. I realized that if I'm going to successfully sew for myself, I am going to need to learn more about fit. One technique I definitely need to master is the "full bust adjustment," known in the biz as an FBA. I recently had myself properly sized for a bra and discovered I should be wearing a size 32G-FREAKING-ENORMOUS. I thought I was a 34DD, but no. While it was a rude awakening ("WHAT? I didn't even know cup sizes went that high!"), I am thrilled to have bras that actually fit.

So, wow, I am five cup sizes bigger than the B-cup most patterns are drafted to accommodate. While being quite petite in the rib-cage and across the back and shoulders. No wonder I have such a hard time getting a good fit from blouses, RTW or otherwise! This is why I mostly wear knit tops.

It seemed easiest to learn the FBA technique on a very simple pattern. So a few weeks ago, I started playing with Megan Nielsen's "Eucalypt Woven Tank" pattern. This is a basic woven tank pattern with no darts or bust shaping at all. I dutifully "muslined" the pattern straight out of the envelope and sure enough, duh, I need a full bust adjustment. So I broke out my copy of Fit for Real People and did a full bust adjustment, adding a dart on the side for a little more shaping.

With muslin number #2, the good news was that there was plenty of ease across the bust and the darts were in the right place. The bad news was that it was way too big! While the additional ease was needed across the bust, it was not needed so much around the waist area (note, I did not add vertical under-bust darts).

Which brings us to muslin #3, a.k.a. "wearable muslin," a.k.a. "my new breezy summer dress, yay!"

Self-drafted dress.
I've had this lovely yardage in my stash for years. It's a very soft lightweight cotton with a pretty Indian print that used to be curtains. I picked it up at a garage sale years ago for dollars and have considered using it again for curtains! That never happened, but I could never find the perfect project for it. Doesn't it just scream breezy summer dress? I think so too.

With this version, I took out some of the extra ease (but not as much as I should have), took a bit of length off the shoulder straps, cut the tank off at the waist (well, probably could have moved it up a smidge), gathered a skirt onto the tank, and zig-zagged some thin elastic onto the waist. Ta-da! A simple dress.

Self-drafted dress.

I couldn't resist adding a subtle "hi-low" hem to give the dress a little extra interest. And of course, pockets! Gotta have pockets! I have to say, this dress is just so pleasant to wear - so light and comfortable on a warm summer day. Yes, I know the rest of the sewing blog world is talking about how the summer is almost over, and making plans to sew clothes for autumn, blah blah blah. I say hush, you. August and September are the nicest months of the year in the Bay Area, and my summer is still in full swing! I have in no way resigned myself to the onset of autumn. Nope. Take that, autumn.

Picking squash in my new dress.

You know those lovely staged photos of women in flowing dresses wandering through fields of flowers; here is my take on that trope: I am "wandering" through sprawling summer squash plants, with a healthy hops vine growing up on corrugated aluminum behind my head. Pretty romantic, right? Look, I found a summer squash!

(I forget the name of this variety, but it some kind of round heirloom zucchini. Which tastes ... just like zucchini. In case you were wondering.)

Things I will change for muslin #4: It is still too big! I either need underbust darts, or I need to take it in quite a bit more. I like "blousy" but this verges on "poofy." If I do another dress, I will also move the waistline up a little bit. This is still a work in progress, but I feel like I'm getting somewhere on this selfish sewing journey, and that's gratifying.

Summer squash!

And it looks cute with a cardigan too! Anyone want some summer squash? It is that time of year (i.e., the time of year when you regret planting so many squash seeds) and we have plenty to spare.

An aside: I have been growing my bangs out for about a year, and they are finally long enough to tuck behind my ears. So of course, now I desperately want bangs again. Check out my Pinterest board - it's bangs, bangs, bangs, and more bangs! I hope I'm woman enough to admit when I've made a  mistake - I just really like cute bangs. I don't feel as hip without them. Do let me know your thoughts, I have a hair appointment next weekend.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Family dinner and other conundrums.

One thing is for sure: No one will ever accuse me of writing one of those blogs that portrays a perfect life and makes other people feel bad. When you get sick of those blogs, I invite you to come visit mine! I live in a three bedroom house with four adults, two dogs, and two small children, located in a crummy part of town. It's very convenient ... if you're a user of heavy drugs. The inside of the house generally looks like a cross between a college crash-pad and a large family daycare. The mortgage has been underwater since we bought the place.

Feeling better yet? I thought so!

Life is good. We eat well, we pay our bills, we have happy kids. But it's definitely a bit messy.

So here is what my sewing area looks like right now. If you're thinking, "Wow, there is no space to actually do anything," well, you'd be right about that!  Actually, these heaps represent a bunch of fun projects I'm excited about right now. But I do need to clear a little space on the ironing board if I'm going to actually make anything ...


Did you know that disorderly environments have been found to stimulate creativity? If that's the case, I think you could say we have creativity in spades. But I will be honest with you, sometimes I think I need a little less "creativity" in my life, and a little more "ability to find things."

Here is our "computer desk" area. Can you see my well-loved copy of Getting Things Done buried in a pile? A little ironic, right? (I actually love that book and use a dumbed-down version of his methods at work. I should unbury it and start applying it to the rest of my life.) That pile contains an assortment of scratch paper taken from the recycle bin at work (why buy paper when your work printer prints out "banner" sheets on every single print job?), bills to pay, PDF pattern pieces, and who-knows-what. A yogurt lid, apparently? No one would ever accuse me of being a neat-freak. Sigh.


So it's with that background that I thought I would share something that is actually working for us.

One of our areas of struggle has been "family dinner." I love the idea of family dinner, but the reality is another matter. I don't think I am alone on this one. Especially because I work full time, and generally don't get home until after six. By that time, everyone is starving and we need to get something on the table immediately. I'm tired from working and commuting. Steve is exhausted after a day of taking care of the kids. The kids are hungry and near-meltdown. As you can imagine, this is super fun.

See, here's the thing: Steve and I love to cook. Actually, we pride ourselves on our cooking skills. We love to make big, ambitious feasts from scratch. Using garden produce and fresh ingredients where possible. I wouldn't say we are hard core "foodies" or anything, but yeah, okay, maybe a little bit. We love slow food. We love America's Test Kitchen. Given the choice between making something quickly that will be passable and making something that requires standing over a hot stove stirring for hours but promises to be amazing, we usually pick the latter. I think both of us have this idea that the longer something takes and the more difficult it is, the better it will be in the end.

In case you were wondering, this full-time lawyering, hipster-gardening, scratch-cooking, sewing-everything, involved-parenting lifestyle is awesome, but it is freaking exhausting! People often ask me how I manage it all. Well, it would be fair to say there is a good deal of hanging on for dear life involved. And a lot of sewing-as-escape-from-total-chaos. It bears mentioning that one advantage to having a stay-at-home parent is that we don't have to deal with the additional craziness of day-care drop off, pick-up, and other issues that dual-working parents have. Having two adult housemates means that Steve can often run brief errands during the day without kids in tow. Those two things allow me to do a lot more hobby-cooking/gardening/sewing than likely would be possible otherwise.

Right, where was I? Preparing amazing feasts is great and all, but it's seriously not compatible with weeknight family dinners. Ambitious dinner plans requiring additional ingredients we have to run out and buy result in an 8:30 p.m. dinner, which is not compatible with a 8 p.m. bedtime for babies. So Steve and I spend a lot of time racking our brains trying to think of something we can make right now, and quickly so that we can feed our hungry kids and relax. Under pressure to come up with something immediately, we suffer from decision paralysis. Like a kid being tested, our minds go blank. So we end up ordering out or making packaged food more than our tastes or budget like.

Two things that haven't worked for us: (1) Weekly meal planning.  It seems like the solution, but we always fall off the wagon after a week or two and end up right back where we started. (2) Crock pot cooking. A great idea in theory, but we are clearly terrible at planning ahead, so by the time we're thinking of dinner, it's generally too late to start something in the crock pot. Prepping meals after dinner is a good idea, but the kids' bedtime tends to be exhausting and that never seems to happen either.

So okay, we do not have our acts together for short or long range meal planning. What has worked? Two things.

First off, this book. Kitchen Express by Mark Bittman. This book is full of recipes that can actually be made in 20 minutes, and usually involve at least one fresh ingredient and pantry basics like beans, rice, pasta, and canned tomatoes. These are not gourmet meals, but they are a lot better than something out of a box, and it's a lot cheaper than take out. And most of the recipes are kid-friendly - not too many ingredients, not too spicy. This book is helping Steve and I to relax our high standards without feeling like we've gone totally "semi-homemade," shudder. This is our new go-to book for quick dinner ideas.


I've been joking that I finally broke up with Chris Kimball, my brilliant but somewhat nit-picky, critical ex, and I have a new boyfriend now, Mark Bittman. He thinks my cooking is awesome! Hehehe.

But when you're stressed and under pressure, even this book may seem like too much: too many ideas to consider, too many recipes, too much to choose from. That's when the second item comes in: I made a list of our favorite fast family meals, which I put on the fridge. At 5 p.m., when we're stressing, we can scan this list and determine, based on what we have in the house and our energy levels, how to feed the kids.


The list is organized into broad categories, with a list of "easiest" options at the top left for nights when we are really rushed or don't have much energy. Options like, "grilled cheese sandwiches" and "rotisserie chicken" and "quesadillas." We are learning that there is no shame in making a quick and simple meal that the kids love. Having a limited list of options that are tried and true helps with the decision paralysis that strikes when blood sugars are low and kid-squawking prevents us from thinking straight. (Seriously, can anyone think straight when kids are screaming? I feel like I go into lizard-brain mode when my kids cry.)

This is just a simple word document, so we can add to it or switch it up easily. Maybe at some point I will create additional lists and organize by season. But right now I'm trying not to be an overachiever. I'm trying to relax my standards and get food on the table.

I do think, when you are looking at better ways to organize information or possessions, it's important to look at what is working for you. Most of the time, all I see is the chaos, but we actually do have many systems that work well for us. Meal-time is a still a work in progress, but our new program of relaxing our standards and "getting things done" does seem to be helping us get through one of the more stressful parts of our day.

Now I'm going to go clear off my ironing board ...