Monday, September 30, 2013

Better late than never: Rayon Gathered Skirt.

Okay, here is one of those projects I finished a while back but didn't blog. A lovely gathered skirt in soft, flowing rayon challis. It was a very simple affair - just two rectangles gathered onto a waistband with a side zipper. I used Megan Nielsen's "Kelly Skirt" to help me cut the pocket pieces - otherwise, I made it up!

My first version of the skirt was "midi" length which is what all the hip people are wearing these days.

Soft rayon gathered skirt

Soft rayon gathered skirt

The rayon challis is cool and soft, and this skirt was a pleasure to wear. But when I uploaded the photos, I decided that "midi" looks more "middle-aged" on me than "young and hip." Especially since I am unwilling to wear five inch heels on a regular basis. There is nothing wrong with a more conservative look, but I am still pretending I'm not yet middle-aged (shush, you). Knee-length just feels more flattering and comfortable for me.

When it comes to skirt length, I know what I like, and I generally stick to it. (Some things don't change.)

So I chopped a half-foot off of this skirt. Not a huge difference, really, but it got me to my "comfort zone." I'm much more likely to wear this on a regular basis now. (Sorry about the glare in these photos - you can tell these were taken at a different time of day, huh?)

Rayon gathered skirt

Rayon gathered skirt

Do you have a favorite hem length? Or do you roll with the trends?.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Selfish Sewing Week: The Bess Top.

Whew. September has been busy! I am feeling behind at work and behind in my blogging. I have been sewing but there are several projects I haven't blogged yet. It seems like every time I sit down to blog my kids start screaming. And keep screaming until I abandon the blog post. Does anyone else have this problem? In theory, I could write posts after the kids go to bed, but (a) my kids never seem to go to bed; (b) if one magically goes to sleep on time, the other refuses to and wakes up the first one; and (c) by the time both kids are asleep, it's mama bedtime, and I am absolutely exhausted and could not string two brain cells together, let alone 500 words.

Aaaaaggghhh. (Mantra: "It's just a short season in my life. It's just a short season in my life.")

So anyway, it took me a while to get on the "Selfish Sewing Week" bandwagon, but here I am, better late than never! This is the "Bess Top" from Imagine Gnats. I was actually a tester for this pattern, and have already made up one version in striped linen shirting. Which I haven't blogged. Because I am so freaking behind. Because I can't blog, see above. Ah well. This version is in a voile from Anna Maria Horner's Little Folks line.

Bess top in AMH voile

This pattern is really simple and sweet. I love the way the shoulder wraps over the front. And the little pleat is perfect.

Bess top in AMH voile

Inspired by this version, I added two tiny little buttons to each shoulder pleat. Such a sweet idea!

Bess top in AMH voile

This fabric is like "budduh," people. So soft. And so gloriously yellow and cheerful! Not the easiest thing to sew, but lovely. I opted to face the neck, sleeves, and hem with self-bias. That's a whole lot of voile to cut, sew, and press (it resists pressing a bit), but the end results are so nice.

Bess top in AMH voile

To save fabric, I used a seam up the back, and used it to create a bit of additional shaping, too.

Bess top in AMH voile

It has been really fun to see my friend Rachael at Imagine Gnats graduate from regular ol' sewing blogger to pattern designer! And her patterns are the bomb. She's livin' the dream, people!

Sunday, September 22, 2013


I have a tiny new niece! Her name is Augustine. She was born in the early hours of yesterday morning, after a very short labor. She was born in triage, and the doctor didn't make it in time to catch the baby! The nurse was like "okay, let me check you ... whoa! THE HEAD IS OUT!" When this girl decides to do something, she does it immediately and expeditiously!

Augustine is pink and healthy, and my sister is a superstar.

KP and Augie

I'm calling her Augie for short. Others are calling her Gussie. We'll see what sticks.

Right after Augie was born, we had sudden heavy rain. This is the earliest heavy rain I have seen in many years. (My part of California has long dry/cool summers and mild wet winters - sometimes we don't get a single drop of rain for six months. The rain usually starts in mid to late October.) My midwife told me that changes in barometric pressure can bring on labor, so maybe that had something to do with baby Augie joining us on this wet morning!

September Rain

This beautiful pepper is the notoriously spicy "ghost pepper." I love to look at them, but I'm afraid to even touch them lest I get burned!

September Rain

It looks like our tiny lemon tree will give us a few lemons this winter!

The autumnal equinox is always a little bittersweet for me. I love autumn - the pretty sunsets, the fall colors, the abundant produce at the farmers' market. But you won't be surprised to hear that I don't love driving home from work after dark, dreary weather, high energy bills, and catching every cold. But just like the shortening days and cooler weather signals the tomato plants to set fruit and the trees to drop their leaves, the changing seasons seem to send my thoughts towards warm soups, good books, and warm blankets.

Put another way: Cooler weather + a new baby in the family = a new quilt. So after visiting my sister and baby Augie at the hospital, I came home and started cutting strips and scribbling notes.

Nine patches

Nine patches

Harpal helped me calculate how many pieces I would need to effectuate my design. He is my go-to for quilt math problems. I like to think I could figure these things out on my own, no problem, but I know he enjoys a good puzzle, so I let him help. It's a good arrangement. We both enjoy the process.

Then I started a little strip piecing assembly line. There is something about the tedious, repetitive task of piecing a quilt that really appeals to me at times. I love watching the blocks pile up and seeing my idea take shape.

Nine patches

Nine patches

A red and cream quilt ... it's very autumnal, isn't it?

Happy equinox, friends!

Monday, September 9, 2013


You know how I said I wasn't going to sew more for Maggie until she grew a little bit? You didn't believe that for a second, did you? Smart readers.


Oh my sweet, starry eyed Margaret Joy. I love you so. Naturally, I can't resist making you nice things.

It's no secret that I have a deep, nostalgic love for the styles and cuts that my mother and grandmother sewed for me when I was a child. Pretty little gathered dresses. Smocking. Flared pants and peasant tops. Overalls. Lots of eyelet trim. Seeing those styles - it's like coming home for me. One of my favorite late night activities is browsing"vintage" children's patterns from the 1970s and early 1980s on Etsy. I picked up this little beauty in a toddler size one a short while ago - I was on a quest for the perfect peasant top/dress at the time, but the idea of a pinafore/apron top really started to grow on me when I saw the pattern.

This weekend, I didn't have any projects currently in the works, although I had a lot of possible projects brewing in my head. When this happens, I thumb through my patterns and my stash and wait for inspiration to strike. On Saturday, the pinafore called out to me, and told me that it could be fresh and pretty in simple blue and white. Before you write me off as crazy, remember what Michelangelo said: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Well, that's pretty much how I feel about fabric. I wait for it to tell me what it wants to be. Okay, yeah, I might be a little bit crazy.

I cut out both the dress and the pinafore, but the pinafore was all I was able to complete this weekend. I spent quite a bit of time fiddling with the embellishment. I briefly considered embroidery, but rejected it due to time constraints. So then I spent a lot of time experimenting with rick-rack. My first version had rick rack on the bib and the sleeves and the hem and ...  it just seemed a bit goofy. It turns out it is possible to have too much rick-rack? Who knew? Let's face it, pinafores are a somewhat anachronistic garment these days, and while the idea of a pinafore or overdress has deeply practical roots (to protect an underdress and add a layer of warmth), to modern eyes a ruffly pinafore easily appears a bit twee or frou-frou, like something your mother plans to photograph you in and then blackmail you with later.

So I ended up removing the rick-rack from the bib and then ripping the halfway sewn garment apart to insert piping. A lined bodice always looks so nice with piping. And once you've piped the neckline, you have to pipe the waistband too, right? Most importantly, I have yet to see a garment that has too much piping. (If you've seen a garment with too much piping, I want to see it! Of course, I would probably think it's fantastic.) This meant that I spent a lot of time with my seam ripper on this one, and basically sewed the garment twice.

But oh. It was worth the trouble, because the piping makes this dress. The moral of this story: When in doubt, pipe everything. And it's easier if you plan to do this from the get-go, rather than changing your mind halfway through construction.


You can see in this photo that I lined the bodice with a cute little floral, which I am also planning to use for the little dress.

I find it rather lovely that in chambray, with white piping and white rick-rack, this pinafore actually reads 1940s and doesn't look 70s at all. With a shape this classic, fabric choices are everything. The final product is still a bit twee, and definitely retro, but not (I hope) completely over the top and blackmail worthy (don't worry, I have plenty of photos to blackmail my kids with, I consider it a sacred part of my parental duties to capture such moments on camera).

It turned out a little bit large. To be fair, Maggie measures a bit small for the size one, so I expected there would be room to grow. It seems that even vintage Big 4 patterns run a little large. Since this is a loose style, cinched in in the back, she may be able to wear it as a pinafore all winter and as a top next summer.


It is not perfect, of course. Most of the little "issues" are in the back, where, after ripping everything apart and resewing it, you can see that things did not quite line up horizontally, resulting in a little buckling and rippling. Luckily, a big sash can cover a multitude of problems.

I only made one change from the pattern, which was to make the dress apron-style - fully open in the back.  The pattern calls for the skirt to be sewn up to within an inch or so of the waistband, with the waistband overlapping. This would require putting the pinafore on over the head, and it's hard enough to wrangle a toddler into clothing, so I opted to leave it open in the back.


There isn't much cuter in this world than baby chub peeking out from under a cute summer top.

The peasant dress should be a much simpler, faster sew, and it's all cut out and ready to go!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Joe's first day back at preschool!

Here is Joe, ready to start his second year at Peter Pan Nursery School! Joe is a "big kid" now and will be attending the half-day program four days a week.

I have a planning commission meeting tonight, so sadly, I left the house before Joe got up this morning, and won't be back until after he's in bed. Boo. Sucky timing, for sure. But Steve sent me this photo of Joe in a mama-made t-shirt (an as-yet unblogged Flashback tee I made from a thrifted shirt with a Mickey Mouse applique) his mama-made backpack, and his A's cap (just like Dad's), and that cheered me up. Apparently Steve was barely able to get this shot before Joe ran inside to play! What a world of difference from last year, when Steve stayed with him all day at school for well over a week to help him get adjusted and used to being left behind. We were so worried he would have a hard time adjusting, but we needn't have been: Joe absolutely loves school and it has been such a positive experience for all of us.

This year, Joe is like, "Peace out, Dad! See ya!" and he's gone.

Happy new school year, Joe! We are so proud of you!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Santa Fe Dress.

Hey! I sewed myself a knit dress yesterday, and I love it! Check it out!

Santa Fe Dress

This is Nancy Zieman's Santa Fe Dress. It is a very simple knit dress or tunic with a draped bodice with the option of sleeveless or long sleeves. This pattern first came on my radar when sewing-blog-empress Gertie posted her version on her blog. I loved Gertie's sweetheart neckline version, but I was even more drawn to the simple draped neckline of the original pattern. I am always on the lookout for nursing-friendly surplice tops and dresses that don't show too much cleavage.

When I found this small scale green and pink printed rayon jersey at my local fabric store, I knew it would be perfect for this dress. Not only is the print pretty and very "me," but I knew it would be very forgiving and hide any flaws. I sewed it up (very quickly; it's an easy pattern) in a size medium with no alternations for fit, and it fits very well!

Some reviewers of the pattern have pointed out that it is a big "nightgowny." I would agree with that. On its own, it is a bit loose and nondescript, although I would definitely wear it this way on a really hot summer day in a casual setting. Incidentally, I have two nursing nightgowns that are not as nice as this that I have worn to tatters - I should make myself an actual nightgown.

Santa Fe Dress.

Some sewing details: I did most of the construction of this dress on my sewing machine, rather than my serger, since I wanted to be able to pick stitches to rework the fit if need be. It was a breeze to sew, and I didn't even bother to set up my walking foot.

In a less diaphanous fabric, I think I would take in a little at the back and waist, but for this very lightweight fabric, a little ease is a good thing. Since the knit was so light and also quite transparent, I copied something I have seen in RTW knit dresses (I have been closely inspecting my favorite knit dresses!), and lined the skirt with another layer of the same jersey. This helps to combat clinginess, makes the skirt less see-through, and gives the dress a nice drape. I will definitely use this technique again on knit dresses. I left the hem (both hems) raw. This is my preferred finish for very lightweight knits - it's very difficult to hem a tissue-weight knit and have it look good. Again, looking at RTW knits, I often see raw edges on lighter, drapier knits and they don't look unfinished.

Santa Fe Dress

While this dress is a bit plain on its own, it looks fantastic dressed up with a belt and cardigan. It's nursing/pumping friendly but doesn't show too much cleavage for work. And that draped neckline! The bodice gathers are super flattering. Although it is a very simple design, it may be one of my favorite things I've ever sewn myself!

Santa Fe dress

There is a little bobble on the waistline that I can easily go back and fix or just not worry about it and correct it on the next version. As Nancy Zieman warns in the instructions there is a "lot going on with this seam" and getting all of the tucks, etc., enclosed in the seam was a bit of a challenge. Luckily, as I predicted, this print definitely hides flaws.

I will definitely be making this dress again. I passed up some beautiful gray jersey printed with feathers at the fabric store the last time I went - now I am envisioning that in a long sleeved version of this dress for the cooler season. I am also considering combining the draped bodice of this pattern with the waistband and skirt of the Tiramisu Dress as I continue on my quest for my perfect nursing dress: flattering, comfortable, polished, and providing adequate boob-accessibility.

Santa Fe Dress

I wore my new outfit to work today (I added a necklace), and it is so comfortable and wearable! Yay!