Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Preparations.

Well, time is running short, with Christmas only five days away now, but we are almost ready* here!

Tree 2014

Our tree is up, and we added lights around the windows and over our porch this year! Very cheery. I'm more of a white lights type, but this year, Joe insisted on "rainbow lights," and who can argue with that? Can I just say: Five year olds are the best. Joe is so excited about Christmas and so eager to participate in Christmas preparations! His enthusiasm is enough to warm even my Grinchy heart!

December tends to be extremely busy at my job (the rush before the new year), and years of working long hours up until Christmas plus recession-budgets have meant that decorations and general Christmas-y preparations were minimal at best. Well, this year hasn't been much different (I'm actually facing down several major deadlines on Tuesday, eek, and of course we're always on a budget), but Joe's energy and enthusiasm for the project makes it irresistible! On the one hand, I feel some pressure to create a really magical Christmas for the kids. On the other hand, I have to admit, when I put in that effort, it feels a lot more magical to me too!

Gingerbread persons

Yep, that's butter! Last weekend, the kids and I made gingerbread cookies to give away as gifts and thank-yous (of course we kept quite a few for ourselves too!). We used the Cook's Illustrated recipe for "Chewy Gingerbread Cookies." I'm not a huge fan of "snaps" - I like soft moist cookies better.

This recipe appears really simple, but true to Cook's Illustrated form, once you get into the very long second paragraph, you realize the recipe requires multiple steps, including some time in the freezer rolled out between pieces of parchment paper, and it's basically a whole-day project. Oops! When will I learn to read the recipe before I start? (Getting the parchment paper off of the dough and cutting out shapes turned out to be a pretty tricky exercise and I had to reroll and refreeze it more than once, fyi.)

Gingerbread persons

Joe helped me with every stage of cookie preparation, except for the frustrating part. He was too busy watching a show at that point, and I ended up being glad he wasn't there for the curse-y part. I managed to cut out a bunch of gingerbread guys, and rolled the remaining (now too soft to cut) dough into round balls and sprinkled them with sugar to create what we affectionately called (for the five minutes they lasted in the house) "unicorn turds." The kids took this very seriously and were like, "mmm, yummy poops! hahahaha!" Nothing like a molasses-based cookie for some hilarity, I say.

Gingerbread Persons

Next time I might do less guys and more turds. Nothing wrong with a plain chewy gingerbread cookie!

Although the recipe was a bit of a pain in the neck, I must admit that the cookies are really good. Like, exceptionally yummy. Oh, Chris Kimball, I just can't quit you and your micromanaging recipes!

Gingerbread Persons

The kids did the decorating, which was really fun and crazy messy. Many sprinkles were eaten directly from the bottle (causing damp sprinkles that stuck together, but what can you do? eat my sprinkles at your own risk), and a bunch more ended up on the floor. But seeing my kids' very serious expressions while they worked on their cookies .... priceless!

Gingerbread Persons

I made a small batch of royal icing (just powdered sugar and a little milk) to put on the men as a base to help the sprinkles stick.

Gingerbread Persons

Gingerbread Persons

Aren't these fantastic?!

I hope the recipients got a good chuckle out of these. I can't look at them without smiling! As you can see, Maggie does not believe in skimping on sprinkles! She's also a fan of pink, obviously. Whereas Joe is a bit more representational in his designs. Ah, these kids. This was totally worth having to sweep up sprinkles for the next couple weeks.

Joe was a bit concerned because we gave all of these away or ate them ourselves, and there are none left to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve.  I keep explaining that we'll make more cookies (probably regular sugar cookies) on Christmas Eve for Santa, and also leave a carrot for the reindeer, but he remains somewhat worried and brings the topic up almost nightly, like he's afraid we'll forget! So cute!

xmas bunting

There has also been just a tiny bit of sewing going on around here. I made a little Christmas bunting to put up on our shelves, using Christmas-y fabrics (including some reds and greens from my stash as well as more specific Christmas fabric) and some cream double fold bias tape. This is a pretty straightforward project, so I didn't need much instruction, but I did use the template provided with this tutorial to figure out the size of my triangles. This is an easy project, although I should warn you, it's not fast! Sewing all of those triangles, and attaching bias tape is actually pretty fiddly! But done right, it can go in the box of decorations and last years. It's even washable.

xmas bunting

I admit, I've resisted the whole bunting thing for years, filing that whole thing under "way more effort than it's worth" or "something that only Pinterest moms do" but now that my house is more nicely or thoughtfully decorated, I am thinking I need all. the. bunting. all year round! Haha, it's funny how that happened. I am really loving my new living room! Apparently I'm graduating to "Pinterest mom"! HA.

xmas mantel

Yeah, okay, I might be. I crocheted a little snowflake garland for our mantel and actually threw together a little Christmas decoration on the mantel? But hey, my rosemary bush really needed trimming back (that bush would take over the whole yard and choke everything in its path if I let it), so ... win win! It smells nice too!

Oh, right the crocheted garland. These are so fun! I also made a snowflake/star/tree garland for a friend. I started with this pattern, but ended up making a lot of little changes to the pattern to make bigger and smaller snowflakes. Once you've learned basic snowflake technique, it's easy and intuitive to make little changes here and there, so that each snowflake is like ... its own special snowflake, haha! These are a lot of fun.

snowflake garland

And finally (maybe if I blogged more frequently, my posts wouldn't need to be so long!), a WIP. I am coming to terms with the fact that I will likely be busting my ass on work deadlines up until Christmas Eve, which doesn't leave much time for sewing gifts or pajamas this year. (Anyway, Joe won't wear pajama pants, or any kind of pants. We are now on Year #2 of Shorts-Only. He was cold yesterday, so I suggested he might like some warm PJ pants, and he said, "Mooooom. You know I don't wear pants anymore." So I guess he's given up pants for life? This kid.)

But I am still holding out hope that I can maybe finish a couple of stockings for the kids? I still have the stocking my grandmother made me as a baby, and I've been meaning to make stockings for my kids for years. We'll see if this is the year. If not, there is always next Christmas!


How are your Christmas preparations coming along?

* If you don't count gift shopping. Hey, I have days to finish that!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A mother's love.

Oh, Joe.

Oh, Joe.

Oh, Joe.

"I like you and I love you a lot, mama."

"I love you a lot - a lot - too, Joe!"

"You love me more than I love you, mama."

*gasp* "What? ... " *rueful chuckle* "Yeah, probably ... "

"I love you 150. But you love me 30,000." (He's really into quantifying everything right now.)

"Really? How so?"

"Yeah, because you are always kissing and hugging and squeezing me. But I don't like being kissed and squeezed that much."


(But seriously, can you really blame me for wanting to kiss those cheeks?)

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Ooh, boy. The blog really got away from me that time! Let's see if I can do a quick catch-up and get back on that ol' blogging horse:


So, the main reason for my blog hiatus was that we painted our dining room! Which would be enough of an excuse by itself, but remember: My sewing corner lives in the dining room. So all was chaos here for a while. And since this is mostly a sewing blog, sometimes I forget that I'm allowed to blog about non-sewing things! (Of course I am, this is my blog!)


All of the terracotta orange paint is gone now (!!), replaced by Sherwin Williams' "Sea Salt," a pale green-blue-gray that looks more green or more blue depending on the light. I painted the frame of the mirror above our mantel "Trinket" - which is a nice shade of deep gold - and the mantelpiece and bannister "Tricorn Black." To be honest, I'm not sold on the black mantelpiece - I think I'll go back and repaint that a lighter color or white. The black is too ... slimming. Haha! But seriously, it looks out of proportion with the fireplace now and I want to repaint it.

But not for a little bit, because I am tired of painting! I know you're wondering what room I will tackle next ... I do have some ideas, but I need a freaking break!

(I think it was the bannister that did me in. A word of advice: Never try to paint a bannister. Well, okay, do it, because it looks awesome, but don't expect to like painting for a while afterwards! Luckily, I love the black bannister, because I am not repainting that thing, like, ever!)

The dining room is still a work in progress, and I did not completely refurnish it like I did the living room (because I spent all of my money on the living room! so it goes, haha), but I did do a few things, including switching out the curtains for some lovely mustardy-gold midcentury printed curtains from Cost Plus World Market. As you know, mustard yellow is one of my favorite colors, so I really wanted it to be the accent in this room.

Tidy and newly organized sewing space

I managed to tidy and spruce up my sewing area a bit. I switched out our tired secretary desk for an Ikea Kallax shelving unit with desk, to provide some extra workspace. I'm pretty excited about the additional cutting/playing area! Everything else is the same, just a bit neater. (Here's a pretty messy but not out of the ordinary "before" picture.)

Now I can sew again! YAY! I actually really like having my sewing area in the middle of the action in the main living area of the house (this is good because I also don't have any choice!) but I fully admit - it is a small area and it is a struggle to keep it even reasonably presentable! Hopefully a little extra storage will help. We'll see.

Okay, seriously? Who am I kidding? You guys know me! This will be a disaster zone in a week!

One giant granny square

But look! While I wasn't painting, I was crocheting! I just finished my first real crochet project after many hours of happily laboring on it while I watched movies and television with my family. It's one giant granny square. Quick and easy double crochet, worked around and around and around until it was a nice throw size (about 60" square). It's fast-going, although each row is slightly longer than the last, so it starts to feel less fast-going towards the end.

Wait a minute ... where's Joe?

One giant granny square

AH! There you are Joe!

All the ends are woven in now, and this afghan is going to be auctioned off to raise funds for the kids' preschool tonight! I used Vanna's Choice 100% acrylic yarn for this project - I got most of it on sale and while it's nothing fancy, it's machine washable and comes in lovely colors. Perfect for a beginner project and perfect to snuggle under on the couch.

It's a little tough saying goodbye to this one, but I know it's for a good cause!

One giant granny square

One giant granny square

One giant granny square

That's it for now! I'm working on some Christmas decorations now, hopefully I'll back soon to share those. Are you doing handmade decorations this holiday? Do tell.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

More pink stuff.

I've accepted it (for now): Maggie will only wear pink. It isn't my choice, but sewing pink clothes that I like too is actually turning out to be a pretty fun challenge for me. So the pink Oliver + s wardrobe continues!

This time I decided to go with some practical school clothes. Maggie may love pink, but baby girl is also active as can be and wears pants and t-shirts to school most days.

Hopscotch Shirt and Sandbox Pants

See what I mean? She's a monkey.

Pattern(s): Oliver + s Sandbox Pants and Hopscotch Top.

Hopscotch Shirt and Sandbox Pants

Fabric: The pants are made from Kaufman Interweave Chambray in "Sorbet" with some pink floral scraps used for the pocket linings. The top is a nice quality lycra cotton I bought ages ago and can't remember the provenance of.

Sandbox Pants

Sandbox Pants

First time? Nope! I made the Hopscotch top for Maggie when she was a baby. I've made the Sandbox pants for Joe twice, once in denim and once in linen. I love me some patch pockets.

Size: 18-24 months. I modified the pants to fit a bit better, so they are not sewn as drafted. They would have been way too big/fit weirdly (see below) otherwise.

Hopscotch Shirt and Sandbox Pants

Modifications: None whatsoever to the top, but a few to the pants. So, I'm going to come out and say this: I think that there is a drafting mistake on the Sandbox pants. The rise is so long, it's ridiculous. You either have to pull them up to your poor child's armpits, or the crotch hangs super low. With both of those pairs I made for Joe, I ended up going back and redoing the waistband to shorten the rise.

Now on my third pair, I was prepared for this, and just lopped a full inch off of the top of the pants where the waistband attaches. Adjusting the pockets isn't necessary (they are still useable even with an inch cut off the top - another reason to think this must be a mistake!) but I moved them down a half inch just in case. Even with this change, the rise is on the long side in my opinion.

I did use narrower hems on the pants to offset the loss in length from the top. It's funny, I've had this issue with every pair of these pants I've made, in different sizes. I know it's practically blasphemy to say this about Oliver + s, but I am pretty much convinced this is a drafting mistake and not a fitting preference. I'm surprised I haven't seen anyone else mention it in posts about these pants, but to be fair, this was a very early pattern for Oliver + s and they've come a long ways since.

Joe and Maggie

Man, I have cute kids. And they really love each other.

The Good: Practical separates for Maggie! Yay!  It was fun to whip up two relatively easy and fast (and familiar) Oliver + s patterns. Maggie needed more pants and long-sleeved tops for the autumn, and these fit the bill. Chambray is a bit light for really cold weather, but given Maggie's generally slow rate of growth, these pants will likely still fit next Spring, or I can cut them off and make them shorts in the summer.

Joe and Maggie

Okay, Joe, that's a bit TOO much love.

The Not-So-Good: Frankly, these are not my best work. Maybe it was the pink, or maybe it was the basic, practical shapes, but my heart wasn't really in it when I was sewing these. My topstitching is fair to middling on the Sandbox pants. Meh. Fine, but nothing to be proud of. And I whipped the top up on the serger, which turned out to be a mistake. Never try to attach a cross over bodice to a gathered skirt piece on a serger without basting it all together first. Just don't do it. What was I thinking? So yeah, I had to redo that seam like four times, each time shaving off a bit more fabric, and ... it turned out okay, but I'm not proud of it. Then it turned out I had no matching thread for the hems, and I zig-zagged them rather than using double needle so the zig-zag is kind of obvious and a little wavy too boot... whatever, it's fine. She'll get a ton of wear out of it. But I should make this top again and try actually paying attention!

Joe and Maggie

This photo really shows how TINY Maggie is compared to her big brother!

Make again? Oh, totally! For all my complaints, I really love the beachy, relaxed vibe of the Sandbox pants. I am hoping that one day Joe will decide to wear (a) woven fabrics; and (b) pants again, and I can make another pair for him. And I know I could do a better job on the Hopscotch top/dress if I just put my mind to it! Kids can never have enough knit tops.

And now I think I need to take a break from Maggie sewing, and possibly make something for myself ... ?

So, my Oliver + s peeps: Tell me honestly, do you think the rise on the Sandbox pants is freakishly too long?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Where in the world ...

... is my blogging mojo? It seems to have vacated the scene.

Part of the reason for this is that sewing clothing is currently taking a back seat to working on my house and a million and one handwork projects (hexies and crochet) which are progressing very slowly. And my day job is really busy and writing-intensive right now - when you are spending all day every day at a computer cranking out legal opinions, sitting down to write a blog post becomes a bit less appealing. I'd rather be crocheting!

Living Room Progress

Check out our new couch! Isn't it fantastic! I am absolutely loving my new living room. And look, my mom crocheted me some pillow covers! Mom and I are having a blast talking crochet right now. She's the pro, of course - I can't believe how even and perfect her work is.

Soft Pillows

The "ripple" afghan behind Maggie was a vintage score off Etsy.

But I haven't stopped sewing altogether, and I definitely haven't stopped buying patterns (ahem). I got sucked in by the most recent Oliver + s sale and purchased both of the new patterns the other day. This got me thinking about all of the o+s patterns that I own but have never sewn (cough cough), which in turn inspired me to whip up my first Roller Skate Dress for Maggie. Maggie really likes the dress, but boy can she be uncooperative with photo shoots these days (another reason blogging has become more difficult!). So here's my review, accompanied by various awkward shots of my fabulous daughter Margaret Joy.

Roller Skate
Mom is the paparazzi.

Pattern: Oliver + s Roller Skate Dress, view B with decorative facing and no ribbon.

Roller Skate
Hand in mouth.

Fabric:  Art Gallery Dreamin' Vintage Sweet Meadow Rose quilting cotton for the main part of the dress. Maggie likes it because it is pink. I love it because it reminds me of 60s bed linens. I used a scrap of soft light blue denim for the facing, and it's lined in a super soft sheer cotton batiste.

Roller Skate
Bottle in mouth.

First Time? Yes! I am trying to sew up some of my as yet unmade Oliver + s patterns in an effort to make myself feel better about buying all of the new releases! As usual with Oliver + s, the instructions are excellent. I expected a very fast and simple dress, but it was a bit trickier (and nicer) than I initially expected. Oliver + s patterns ask you to spend a bit of extra time on details. The decorative facing, lining, and elastic casing earn this pattern its "two scissors" rating.

Roller Skate
What happened to your arm, Maggie?

Size: Size 18-24 months. It's a bit roomy on my 28 month old Maggie. Sigh. I try not to worry too much about how tiny this girl is. After all, both Steve and I were tiny for our age as children, but grew up to be quite average in stature. Anyway, it will likely still fit next summer. I just can't bear to keep sewing 12 month-sized items for Maggie! She never grows out of anything, it seems, and the home-mades are piling up!

Roller Skate
Maggie thinks that she's supposed to stick out her tongue at the camera. I think Joe taught her this.

Modifications: The only thing I did differently than the instructions was to hem the main fabric and lining as one. 

Roller Skate
I don't even know.

The Good: This pattern only has a few pieces to trace, which is awesome. In Maggie's size, it hardly takes any fabric (well under a yard for the dress), and it has no buttonholes or zipper fastenings to worry about. This would be a great pattern for a beginner sewist who is looking to learn some new skills. It would also be a great pattern for someone who loves clean insides but doesn't have a serger, because the raw seams are all enclosed in the lining.

Roller Skate
What is that on your nose, child?

The Not So Good: I think the simplicity of this pattern is a bit deceptive. Decorative facings are hard to get right! I'm not 100% happy with this one, but it's good enough. I used a lead pencil to transfer the stitching line onto the lining fabric (that way if it doesn't wash out perfectly, no one will know), then I trimmed and notched that curve and pressed and pressed and pressed some more!

Sewing the elastic casing is a bit tricky as well. It's simple, but it's definitely not brainless. Of course, that's also a good thing. But consider yourself warned! I would probably suggest that a rank beginner try it without the contrasting facing first. Instead of marking the lines for the casing, I carefully pressed the dress along those lines with hot steam and sewed along the crease. I know I'm not the only person who hates transferring marking lines (I transfer the minimum of markings onto my fabric and rely on snips, pins, or lead pencil dots whenever possible rather than actually transfer lines). Rolling/folding the skirt and lining up carefully to get them out of the way while I was sewing the casing helped keep things from shifting around too much as well.

These aren't really complaints, of course. I like that even with such a simple shape, Oliver + s manages to provide enough interesting details to keep even an advanced sewist interested.

Roller Skate
Looking away, hand about to go back in the mouth.

Make Again? Absolutely! This is a great dress. Maggie took to it immediately. This dress is perfect for everyday wearing - not too fussy or fancy, but pretty and graceful nonetheless. And I think it actually looks best of all on older girls, so I expect I'll be making plenty more.

Roller Skate
She loses interest. I give up.

Another excellent Oliver + s pattern! Fabric-stash-busting and pattern-stash-busting! Yay me!

Okay, hopefully I'll be back in this space before another few weeks goes by! What are you sewing these days? Did anyone else splurge on the new Oliver + s patterns?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

KCW ...?

So, um, it's Tuesday and I'm still not sure if I'm participating in Kids' Clothes Week this time around. I had an interesting (read: difficult) planning commission meeting last night, and I haven't done anything tonight either, so ... that might be a "no," huh? Sometimes it's hard for me to say no. Especially to something as fun as KCW. But at some point, you just have to cry "uncle." I think the turning point was coming home after a challenging meeting last night to find Steve had put buckets all over the house - roots got into our drains, backed up the pipes, and a pipe upstairs had started to leak under the pressure. In short, the kids' bath was draining into my dining room.

Yeah. Ew. What the fuck. Uncle.

These are the moments when I'm like, "Oh, shit, we better call the landlord."

"Wait. Oh crap. We are the landlord."

This is the American dream, right? Good times!

But hey, look what I made this past weekend! An outfit for the Magpie!

2+2 top and Playtime leggings

Isn't she the sweetest? As you know, Maggie is on a major pink kick right now. Everything must be pink. Every. Single. Item. Of. Clothing. Including socks. It's pretty intense. Our days are currently punctuated with shrieks of "NO!!!! PINK!" Heaven forbid you should offer this girl blue socks. Unhappy Maggie, forced to wear blue socks, is not the sweetest.

2+2 top and Playtime leggings

But Maggie in a cute new 2+2 Top made from Heather Ross frogs and green chambray and pink Playtime Leggings seems pretty darn happy and sweet. Until something meets with her displeasure, anyway. This expression cracks me up! I like to think she gets this "looking daggers" expression from her mother.

2+2 top and Playtime leggings

2+2 top and Playtime leggings

I've made the 2+2 top once before, earlier this year, and honestly Maggie hasn't grown much since then. I made this top in the 12-18 month size, with about an inch of extra length for my 28 month old little girl. She's petite, and she loves pink, but don't be fooled: this girl can keep up with 5 year olds on the playground. She has no fear!

2+2 top and Playtime leggings

Maggie loved this fabric and chose it at the fabric store:

"Pink! FROG!" she squealed in delight as I carried the fabric to the cutting table.

2+2 top and Playtime leggings

I found some pretty pink buttons for the back, and whipped up a quick pair of Playtime Leggings in rosy pink knit to complete the outfit. I think she liked it!

2+2 top and Playtime leggings

2+2 top and Playtime leggings