Friday, November 29, 2013

Flip that vest.

I hope all of you that celebrate Thanksgiving had a wonderful holiday! We hosted family Thanksgiving this year, so our house was (literally) packed with people and food. The fridge is so stuffed full right now that I am afraid to open it!

Well, I'm back in business. Sort of. My sister kindly loaned me her sewing machine, an older (probably 80s) model Singer. I oiled it, adjusted the tension, cleaned around the bobbin case, and put a new needle in it. It sews well! As long as you don't make it do anything too challenging.

For example, don't ask it to topstitch through nearly six layers of ribbing, fleece, and flannel ... 

Or, more specifically, don't ask it to make the "Flip Vest": Dana's fantastic reversible vest pattern.

Which is naturally, the very first thing I tried to do with it.

Flip Vest

Oh well, if I only post slightly out of focus and/or distance shots, you won't be able to see how sloppy and bubbly the topstitching looks, right? And luckily the soft fabrics make it less noticeable.

It's that time of year again. Joe needs some warm layers to wear at the playground, but like many boys his age, he tends to resist outerwear that impedes his movement in any way, e.g., coats and jackets. This vest is the perfect way to add a layer of warmth without restricting play (it can go over a sweatshirt or under a jacket, too), and the velcro closures make it easy for a kid to take on and off himself.

Made Flip Vest

The "outside" of this vest is actually a lovely turquoise fleece. But when Joe saw the vest, he absolutely insisted on wearing it with the flannel "lining" showing and wouldn't even try it the other way! Luckily it's reversible. Myself, I prefer the plainer look of the outside, but Joe's enthusiasm for this super loud umbrella flannel (purchased at JoAnn's) is pretty infectious.

Kids on the Steps

It probably won't come as a shock to my loyal readers that I am not much interested in shopping on the the "biggest shopping day of the year," a.k.a. "Black Friday." Shudder.  I know some people love the ritual, but me, I hate traffic, and crowds, and lines, and Christmas carols piped in through big speakers, and yeah ... not for me.

But it was a lovely clear day, so the kids and I walked down to our local park, which is a little urban and gritty, to be sure (this is Oakland), but has a great fenced in playground for the little kids. Joe and Maggie, who has finally recovered from coxsackie (except a little runny nose), had fun running around, climbing, and shrieking. Fresh air is good for kids on the mend, and the park was vacant so I didn't feel too bad about bringing contagion with us.

Maggie on the steps

"Baby Snotface" a.k.a. Maggie. Poor bub! But she's the cutest, even with a crusty drippy nose. Her t-shirt was given to her by Jane, who blogs at Lempo Bee, when she was just a wee Snotface. This shirt is a magical garment - it has fit Maggie since she was about 5 months old, and continues to fit great at 16 months. I expect it will last us a few more years, minimum.

Flip Vest

Despite my sewing machine woes, I loved sewing the Flip Vest. It's super easy, but the ribbing at the neck and sleeves gives it a little extra polish and endless opportunities for fun fabric/color combinations. Like I needed any more reasons to collect knit ribbing in all the colors, right? Maggie is definitely getting one of these as well, but I'm going to wait until my sewing machine gets back from the shop.

This would make a really fast, easy, and fantastic gift for a baby or toddler in your life. There isn't any fitting required, it is simple to make, and the end result is both fun and useful. The pattern only goes up to size 5, but would be very easy to extend several sizes beyond that. Joe is long-torsoed, so I probably should have added a hair more length even to the size 5.

Flip Vest


Sunday, November 24, 2013

When your kids are sick and your sewing machine* is broken.

  1. Wail.
  2. Gnash teeth.
  3. Drop sewing machine off at shop.
  4. Mope.
  5. Google "Coxsackie" and "hand, foot, and mouth" and "sewing machine seized up" 500 times.
  6. Post whiny things on Facebook.
  7. Repeat all of the above (except dropping off the machine - that only happens once).
  8. Ten times.
  9. Decide it's time to get out of the house. Perhaps do some grocery shopping.
  10. Remember that your poxy "hoof and mouth" kids are really not fit for public, and especially, no one wants them near their food. 
  11. Send the almost-better child with daddy to the hardware store. Surely no one could complain about that.
  12. Go out to the backyard with your still very sad sick child.
  13. Clear out vegetable beds.
  14. Enlist child labor.
  15. Dig.
  16. Feel mood softening with cathartic work of yanking out dead plants and weeds.
  17. Discover that eggplant is still producing! Against all odds!
  18. And there is a good handful of fingerling potatoes too!
  19. Decide to make roasted eggplant stew for dinner.
  20. Plant garlic. Sow peas, lettuce, chard, and collards.
  21. Thank lucky stars for wonderfully mild California climate.
  22. Decide life isn't so bad after all.
  23. Make calm, unemotional call to sister to inquire about borrowing her sewing machine.
  24.  Wahoo! Loaner sewing machine is available! Thanks sis!
  25. Roasted eggplant and chickpea stew, baby.
  26. It's all going to be okay.

* Not just my regular sewing machine, but also my back-up sewing machine. Yep. Both are broken. No bueno.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What is inside bread?

Yesterday, Joe asked me, "Mama, what is inside bread?"

I took this as a challenge, of course. Never let it be said that I don't teach my children important life skills.

Joe kneads bread.

Yes, Joe was still wearing his pajamas from the night before (plus a random thread on his sleeve). That's just how we roll at my house.

Joe kneads bread.

You gotta put your back into it, kid.

Joe and I talked about how the yeast likes warm water, and eats flour, and poops/farts out air that makes the bread rise and get fluffy. Steve said he may never eat bread again.

Joe kneads bread.

At one point, when I took over and started kneading, Joe said, "Wait! Leave me some to squash, mama!" Oh, honey. Don't worry. You can knead as much as you like. It may be theoretically possible to overknead whole wheat bread, but I've never seen it happen (we only started hand kneading after the dough got too stiff for the stand mixer's dough hook).

I remember my mom used to tell me that well-kneaded bread dough should feel smooth and taut and plump, like a baby's bottom. Baking bread connects me to my forebears. An almost unbroken line between Joe, and me, and a band of hunter-gatherers living around the Mediterranean many millennia ago.

Joe's bread

Joe's bread

The bread (a 100% whole wheat bread from this book) turned out beautifully. Brown and nutty, but not too dense.

Joe's bread

Joe's bread

Things that you've made from scratch always taste best. Especially if yeast farts are involved.

Joe's bread

I love these two. Even better, they love each other.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fancy Field Trip PJs.


I am finally blogging the Field Trip Raglan t-shirt that I made Joe for KCW a couple weeks back! With Joe, the hardest part of blogging is not sewing him clothing, but getting him to put it on and suffer through a photo shoot. In this case, I made him a matching pair of Fancy Pants PJ pants and put on some dancing music, and proceeded with our nightly ritual of doing a little yoga, running around in circles, dancing, and general horseplay before bed. I have found that this is a good way to burn off steam for Joe and counteract the evening grumpies for us tired parents. Also, I find that spending some time in downward dog every evening helps to stretch out my neck and shoulder muscles, which get stiff after a long day of driving, sitting in front of a computer, nursing Maggie, or carrying kids around.

While I hang out in downward dog, the kids run around like crazed animals, crawl under my body, squawk, and generally "shake their sillies out."



Initially, I made this combo for Joe to wear under his Snake costume on Halloween. The green knit was leftover from Maggie's Bimaa hoodie, and the black was intended to disappear under the snake. But I didn't finish them in time, so I just grabbed a few dark colored items from Joe's drawer for Halloween and he looked great. But you can never have too many basic long sleeved t-shirts or PJ pants, so here we are!

Field Trip Raglan Tee

I don't have too much to say about this t-shirt pattern, except that here we have another basic, wonderful pattern from oliver + s! With this pattern and the Flashback Skinny Tee, I am completely covered for basic t-shirts for Joe for, like, forever (however, I do have my eye on some henley and polo style patterns, cough cough ... ). As always, I was impressed by Liesl's instructions for this t-shirt. This would be an ideal first project in knits - the instructions really hold your hand through the process. At this point I consider myself quite the old pro in sewing knits, but it's still really nice to work with such a well-drafted pattern.

The Field Trip has a more relaxed fit than the Flashback tee, which I know Joe appreciates; for my part, I love the look of a basic "baseball" raglan (so many colorful options!), so we're both sold. When I finished this shirt and showed it to Joe, he said emphatically, "I like that shirt." Because, did you know, Joe's favorite colors are "blue and green." He also loves a good pocket, so this shirt is a big winner!

I have plans to use this pattern to make Joe a sweatshirt for chilly days at school. I am thinking I could just go up a size in the body, using soft sweatshirt fleece, and add ribbing to the neck, wrists, and hem. Joe hates wearing jackets and even resists cardigans or hoodies, but he is willing to wear a basic crewneck sweatshirt, I think because it feels just like a t-shirt on. He has strong opinions about what he wears, but I am happy to report that he has been wearing his mama-made pants frequently lately, so he seems to be over that aversion, at least for now.

Joe spent a little time turning an old, cheap curtain rod into a marble run ...

Field Trip Tee

And then he piggybacked on Daddy, who was slithering around like a snake, as he is wont to do.

Piggyback on a snake

(Next time I might add a bit of length to this shirt, as it seems to creep up a bit on my long-torsoed Joe.)

And here he is piggybacking on an upright Daddy, who was pretending he was looking all over for Joe.


Where is that kid, anyway?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Play Pants.

These had been sitting on my ironing board in a state of partial completion for several weeks - since KCW, in fact. Another pair of After School Pants for Maggie, this time in gray twill and lined in soft flannel for the chilly winter days we have in store.

Maggie and Joe like to pile the couch high with blankets and pillows, push the coffee table up to it, and use it as a kind of launching area. Joe calls it a "couch mountain." The kids love to climb up on the coffee table and then hurl themselves into the pile of softness. I love watching my kids turn ordinary objects into toys and fun adventures. It's probably not the safest activity, but that's why it's so fun!

After school pants

Maggie can be pretty tough to photograph normally, but she's especially busy and blurry when she's running around, trying to keep up with her brother, and having a ton of fun!

After school pants

This is a great basic-but-not-boring pants pattern. True to their name, they make great play pants for running around in after school, or if you're too young for school, all the time!

After school pants

I decided to topstitch every seam with light green thread, for a rugged look. This ended up being more difficult than I anticipated, because I'm having a little trouble with my machine! The bobbin thread wants to bubble and blob up at the beginning of every seam. As a result, the topstitching isn't perfect and it took forever.

As mentioned in my last blog post, I recently took my bobbin case apart and cleaned and oiled it, hoping to address this issue, but it didn't seem to work. I am still tinkering here and there thinking that maybe I can troubleshoot it, but it's possible I need to bring it into the shop. Good thing I kept my old machine as a back-up for emergencies, huh? (Steve tried to talk me into selling it, but I just couldn't do it.)

After school pants

After school pants

I didn't match up the yoke seams perfectly, and the topstitching really makes that obvious! But at that stage, struggling with my machine, I just wasn't in the mood to try to redo anything. Oh well, they are cute pants and very practical and will get tons of wear.

I lined the pants in a light green toile printed flannel. I just made a separate pair of pants, minus the pockets and topstitching, and inserted them wrong sides together into the gray twill pants. Then I treated the two fabrics as one for the waistband, and pressed the hems on each layer and topstitched them together so that the contrast fabric shows when you cuff the pants.  

Maggie being photogenic

Oh yes, there is my photogenic Maggie right there!

Some of you may remember Maggie's little top. It's a Class Picnic Blouse that I made for Maggie way back in March! This is another example of how Maggie can still wear most of her 6-12 month sized items even now (to be fair, I did add a little extra length to this blouse when I made it). But I really love this pattern, and want to make a dress from it soon. I love it in gingham with piping so much I am tempted to do another version in the same style! But next time, if I do the yoke on the bias, I will stabilize the neckline with a little twill tape to avoid the stretching out you can see here.

Well, I am slowly working through the WIPs in my pile. I still have a couple more, in addition to some longer-term projects like quilts. But I've made quite a bit of progress.

Wait a minute ... where is Maggie?




Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Thank you for all of your sweet words and condolences on my last post, it meant so much to me! We are doing well. We miss Crouton, but we are glad he had a quick and peaceful passing. Omie, for her part, has been promoted to "end of bed" status, and I was joking that she probably thinks she died and went to heaven. When I invited her into the bed, she seemed uncertain at first, but once she hopped up, she got under the covers and practically melted into the soft mattress, heaving a deep sigh of happiness. If there was a tinge of "Finally, that other guy is gone and I am restored to my rightful spot!" detectable in her sigh, well, who can blame her? It is a fact that pit bulls will fight tenaciously ... especially for pillows, blankets, and comforters. 

Life goes on.

Yesterday, Joe helped me take my sewing machine apart, clean and oil it, and put it back together. Joe is fascinated by machines and mechanics. Upon seeing all of the lint inside the machine, he said, "It's dirty because you sew too much!" Pretty much. He turned the hand crank and watched the "turny things" (a.k.a. gears) turn the bobbin case. When it came time to put it all back together, he helped me screw the case shut again. Like his father, Joe has great spatial sense and a knack for figuring out how things work. I have been promising him that I would start teaching him to sew - he can't reach the floor pedal right now, but my machine does have a start/stop button. To be honest, I've never even used the start/stop button, so I am completely clueless about how it works. I'm more of a "pedal to the metal" kind of gal, myself. Have you taught your child to sew? When did you start? Did you use the foot pedal or did you do it another way?

In other "maintenance" news, after blogging here for almost six years (!), I finally ponied up for my own domain name! I feel like a pro now. To celebrate, I updated my banner to include photos of both of my children. Crazy, right?

Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts and joining me in this space.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Goodbye Crouton.


Last night, we had to unexpectedly say goodbye to our funny little mop-dog, Crouton. It was very sudden - he went from normal silly dog to very sick in less than a day. Steve took him to the vet last night and after hearing that he was very ill and that his prognosis was not very good, had to make the difficult decision to end his suffering and put him to sleep.

Oh, sweet baby Croutie! We didn't expect to lose you so soon! We are going to miss your funny little face.

Remember when we first got you from the Oakland Animal Shelter? You were a scared little stray. And you always were a skittish dog, more like a cat. But affectionate in your way, too. The shelter had you down as "Spoof" but Steve decided to name you "Crouton." "Like a seasoned piece of toast?" I asked, incredulous. But the name stuck, and it fit you!

Remember how you and Omie would play? Remember the time you ripped apart my ugly sock creature? That was fun.


Remember the way you used to fly off the back porch? You were superdog!


Oh, how you loved food! You looked like a mop, but cleaned the kitchen floor like a Hoover! You were always so healthy and strong. We joked that it was hybrid vigor - you looked funny but you would outlive us all! I am sorry that wasn't true. You were always there to eat anything that Joe decided he didn't like. He was and is a picky eater, so that was a lot. With you gone, I will have to sweep the kitchen floor more regularly.


You and Joe had your moments and you didn't always get along (it took Joe a long time to learn to touch you nicely!), but mostly you were friends.




You and Omie were good friends. Omie misses you too. Remember the time you both ran away together? You stuck together, bless your little hearts, and a nice lady turned you into the pound. We were so worried about you! You silly adventurer. You never lost your stray-dog wanderlust, and Omie would follow you anywhere!



You were an absolute expert at sleep. You slept at the end of the bed and kept my feet warm for seven years, love.


It's so hard to say goodbye. Rest in peace, sweet Croutersons.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sixteen months.

Whew! I don't know about you, but KCW and Halloween really knocked me out. I am only just now slowly easing back into the swing of sewing. My first goal is to clear off my ironing board, which is piled high with projects in various states of completion! Argh! I don't mind having a couple works-in-progress hanging around, but at some point, it becomes a burden. I hit that point like ... three months ago. I need to knock a few things out so that I can move on. I have been super inspired lately, but also really scatterbrained!

Bimaa Sweater - cowl neck

First up, some leftovers from KCW that I didn't get to. I whipped up a long sleeved shirt for Joe that I will try to get some pictures of at a later time, and a Bimaa Sweater for Maggie. Last time I made the hoodie version; this is the cowl-necked version.

Bimaa Sweater - cowl neck

Isn't the color just gorgeous? This top started life as an XL men's t-shirt that I nabbed at my local thrift store. I wasn't sure what to do with it - honestly, I wanted it all for myself! But it wasn't quite enough fabric for me to work with for myself, so I made it into a cozy pullover for Mags.

Maggie is sixteen months old now! She's a very busy baby. She's learning lots of words now - she says "mama," "dada," "dog," "hat," "that," and "choo-choo." Girlfriend is always on the move and keeps us all on our toes. She loves any kind of food (don't even think about trying to eat around her without offering her a bite!) but she requires only the best when it comes to beverages - it's mama milk all the time for Maggie. Although I am ready to pump wean at work (and have been for months), Maggie takes one sip of cow's milk and hands the bottle to her dad with an expression of disdain, as though to invoke the royal "We are most displeased." Attempts to force her to switch over to regular milk resulted in a very sad baby girl and daddy.

So I am still pumping once a day at work. Blargh! Only the best for my Mags-McGee, I suppose. It's hard to get too upset that your baby loves your milk so much that she won't even touch that (far inferior, apparently) cow's stuff.

Bimaa Sweater - cowl neck

Most of my photos turn out a bit blurry. Miss Margaret is solidly in that hard-to-photograph toddler phase. When I pull out the camera, she runs for me, because she wants to see the digital photos of herself from the other side of the camera! So photo-sessions are essentially games of "chase the mama." Oops, she almost got me!

Bimaa Sweater - cowl neck

 Maggie is a really outgoing and social baby. She loves to cuddle with me, but she doesn't have a lot of separation anxiety and loves to play with other children and meet new people. She's easy-going and adaptable ... as long as she gets her boob-juice, anyway!

She and Joe play together a lot these days. There is conflict - sometimes a lot of conflict - but it's obvious that they genuinely like each other too. Joe is (sometimes) very patient with his little sister and takes obvious joy in her. Maggie, for her part, practically idolizes her big bro.

Maggie and Joe playing trains

My heart skipped a beat recently when Maggie picked up the bunny I made and started carrying it around and playing with it, like it was her baby. Joe was never into dolls or stuffed animals, preferring trucks and trains over cuddly things. So it's pretty special to see Maggie playing with a softie that I made just for her!

Maggie with her bunny

 Which reminds me of a teeny-tiny sewing project I did recently ... bloomers for Bunny! According to Joe, she needed underwear, and I could see his point. There, now she's much more decent. Of course, Joe says, "Those are pants, not underwear." I tried to explain about bloomers, but gave up after a bit. You're right Joe, she's wearing pants under her dress. So apparently I still need to make her underwear?

Bunny bloomers

Sewing tiny clothes for small bunnies is fun, so who knows, maybe I will? But I really want to learn to knit (beyond scarves or dish cloths) and make Bunny a hooded sweater! Just what I need - another hobby, right? Maybe I should stick with what I know.