Friday, May 30, 2014

Sew U Home Stretch - Breton Top.

Breton Top

I made this top this past weekend, but didn't get photos until today, after I wore it to work. It's a basic boat-necked Breton-style top I made using the basic crew-neck pattern  in Built By Wendy's Sew U Home Stretch. Amazon informs me that I bought that book on June 18, 2011. So it's only taken me three years to actually make something from it! (Corporate big brother, you should be making me feel good about my purchases, not reminding me of how long things sit around before I use them! Sheesh.)

This top was really inspired by the fabric. I found this cotton jersey that has panels of stripes and panels of solid cream at Stone Mountain a couple weeks ago - the fabric is clearly intended to be a Breton top! I have never seen anything like this fabric, and I can't find any examples of it searching the internet. It was so cool! I knew I had to have it, and I didn't waste much time sewing it up.

This top is based on the boatneck top shown on the front of the book, which was actually one of my primary reasons for buying this book. I love me some nautical-inspired striped tops! (And as much as I have lusted after  Tilly's Coco pattern, I wanted to see if I could make something similar without buying a new pattern, since I have way, way too many patterns.)

Home Stretch includes three basic patterns (crew neck, raglan, and a dress) with instructions on how to change them to make a bunch of different looks. So first, I whipped up a muslin of the basic crewneck pattern block to check for fit. I went by the fitting guide in the book and cut out a size medium based on my bust measurement. But it was pretty big, especially around the rib cage and under the arms. And the neckline was super unflattering on me. So I took it in a bunch, cut the sleeves to cap length, cut the neckline lower, and used some clear elastic on the neckline. This was my first time experimenting with clear elastic on knits, and I had no idea what I was doing. The neckline turned out stable, but a bit wavy - I think I need to stretch more while I'm sewing. So that's something I want to keep working on.

But with all of those changes, I decided it was acceptable for jogging in. Here is a dark cell phone photo of me about to go for a walk/jog around Lake Merritt in my "joggable muslin."

Joggable Muslin

For my Breton top, I cut the top out in a size small and made the pattern modifications for the boatneck and hem suggested in the book. Based on reading pattern reviews online, I knew that the neckline was bra-strap-exposing, so I made it narrower. But even with those changes, the finished shirt was still pretty big, and I still had to take it in a lot in the sleeves and rib cage area. And the neckline, reduced in width by almost 2 inches, is still wide and exposes my bra straps! I wanted the top to be roomy and a little slouchy, with wider sleeves, but it's a balance - it has to look like intentional ease, not like you're swimming in it. So there was a lot of after the fact adjusting to get things to a wearable point.

As a result of all this adjusting, my (for me amazing) efforts at stripe matching got a little messed up in the final product. Oh well, it's pretty good!

Breton Top

I am not sure if the boxy boatneck is the most flattering shape on me, but I really love this top. Sometimes it's not all about flattery ... sometimes it's more important to wear something that makes you feel like you are ready to bicycle around Paris in the early 1960s.

Putting this together was fast and easy. The neckline is just serged, folded back and stitched, like the hems. I used a zig-zag stitch for the neckline and hems - in cream thread on cream, it is almost invisible anyway.

Breton Top

I don't love how the side vents turned out. They look kind of ... clumpy. Next time I will draft proper side vent facings. But having pointed out all of the top's minor flaws, I have to say, I really like this shirt! The flaws are minor and the final product is super wearable.

Here is the whole outfit I wore to work today. I got several compliments and felt pretty spiffy ... dare I say, almost Parisian, in my cute new top!

Breton Top

I already have plans to sew more t-shirts based on the patterns in Home Stretch, although I obviously need to tinker with the fit a little bit more. I love the idea of having a simple t-shirt pattern that I can make endless changes to, and this top definitely gave me a little more confidence to just jump in and try modifying my own patterns.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bonnet-y bonnetness.

I'm not sure when it was, exactly, that I became obsessed got a bee in my bonnet to make Maggie a little sunbonnet for summer. This gorgeous white bonnet made by Sew Shelly Sew definitely played a part. And this one and this one on Flickr. I'm not sure what happened, but suddenly I became bonnet-obsessed.


Possibly, I read too many 19th century novels and watch too many beautiful costume dramas. Undoubtably, I have internalized a bunch of patriarchal ideas about baby girls in bonnets. But also, bonnets turn out to be a pretty practical form of sun protection in California. And they are freaking adorable.


Now, the market for bonnet patterns appears to be pretty small. And frankly, one pattern stands out from the others. Made by Rae's Peekaboo Bonnet pattern.

Why does it stand out? Piping, duh. (If you know of other piped bonnet patterns, please link in the comments - chances are I will buy them and make more bonnets.)

Once I got the pattern, I decided to make a "practice" bonnet. To make sure the sizing was right and all that. (*Cough cough* I might have bought some Liberty lawn for my "real" bonnet.)

Made by Rae Peekaboo Bonnet

Thus was born this white linen bonnet. The white linen came from the weirdest dumpster dive score ever, and the piping, bias straps, and lining came from the stash.

So, I was actually shocked by how fast and easy this pattern was. Maybe I just got used to the slower pace of sewing fancy party dresses, but dang, this thing was done in a flash! So easy and fast. Since this was a trial bonnet and I didn't intend it to be reversible, I did not hand stitch the finishing. But even with that additional work, this is almost-instant gratification sewing!

Getting Maggie to actually wear the bonnet was a lot harder, however. As I've shared, she's currently going through a nudist phase. If you try to dress her, she starts trying to strip it all off almost immediately. It's a daily battle. And she's super anti-headwear or hats.

So what did I do? Well, naturally, I tried the hat on Joe, who very sweetly modeled it for me!

Bonnet sweetness

It turns out that Joe looks uncommonly good in a bonnet. Even with a smear of chocolate on his cheek.

Bonnet sweetness

But of course, sibling rivalry being what it is, the second Maggie saw Joe wearing the bonnet, she had to try it on as well. Success! Muahahaha.

Bonnet sweetness

There was a little bit of resistance at first.

Bonnet sweetness

But pretty soon she got used to it and forgot about it and returned to her usual goofy, screaming ways.

Bonnet sweetness

Bonnet sweetness

Bonnet sweetness

Maggie is a incorrigible nudist, however, so, as you might imagine, the photo shoot quickly deteriorated.

Bonnet sweetness

She may have forgotten about the bonnet, but she didn't forget about all of the rest of her clothes.

Bonnet sweetness

 And diaper.

Bonnet sweetness

 But if you can find a cuter bonnet-wearer than this, I would eat my ... bonnet!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Birthday Caroline.

Caroline Party Dress

Ah. This is one of my favorite creations in recent memory. A Caroline Party Dress for my vivacious little red-headed niece Helen, who is turning four next week. Helen loves over-the-top frilly things and pink, and sparkles, and all of that stuff - this isn't that, at all, but it's definitely more feminine and frilly than the things I usually make! Hopefully she'll like it!

Caroline Party Dress

I got this pattern as part of the Perfect Pattern Parcel #2. It is a MouseHouse Creations pattern - a new-ish indie pattern company that just came onto my radar (I really want to make the Julia Women's Cardigan for myself!). Not only is the frilly, party-dress style perfect for Helen, but the wide size range allowed me to customize the dress to fit Helen, who is crazy tall for her age. After measuring her, I made a size four, with size six length. Yes, you heard that right - she's turning four next week, but she's the height of a six year old. I expect she'll be towering over me in about ... four years?

This was a straight-forward, if not quick, sew. I went with a little peter pan collar and full lining (bodice and underskirt for extra poof). I considered adding a layer of tulle, but I don't think the skirt needs any more fullness, and the tulle wouldn't quite "go" in my opinion.

Caroline Party Dress

This eyelet fabric has been in my stash for a really long time - it's so special, I have been waiting for years for the right occasion to use it. It's not often that you find yourself thinking to yourself, "this really needs to be made up in an orange polka-dot, pink-red roses, orange eyelet fabric." I think the issue with this fabric is just that it's so ... specific. But it is so perfect for this dress, and so perfect for Helen. Not everyone can pull off orange and floral and lace, but it is just the thing for a little redhead who loves feminine details.

Caroline Party Dress

I love white or cream details on little girls' dresses, so I made the collar in a smooth cream quilting cotton. I added orange piping to the collar and the waist of the dress. If you decide to pipe the collar on this dress, you may find that the center front of the neckline has a lot of bulk, from the extra seam allowances. I understitched the collar, then I trimmed the seams, then I dug Steve's mallet out of his tool box and literally beat the collar into submission - Steve couldn't understand why I would treat a pretty little girl's dress so violently, but hey, it worked! The collar lies pretty nicely now.

Afterwards, I thought ... "hm, maybe I should have piped the armholes too ... ?" I'm telling you, piping is addictive! I almost ripped apart the bodice to add piping, but talked myself off that ledge. It would be cute, but it would have added some stiffness and bulk to the cap sleeves that I think I'm happier without ... I think ... but ... isn't more piping always better? ...

Okay, no. It's too late now!! Moving on!

Caroline Party Dress

I struggled a bit with the invisible zipper (not invisible in some areas, so tight it wouldn't close in others), but I'm happy with it now, and pretty darn proud of that perfect line of piping!

(As usual, I didn't even try to match prints. I greatly admire all of you print-matchers out there, but I have to say, I just don't care that much. Is that home-sewing blasphemy? Meh. I can live with it.)

Next weekend is Helen's birthday party, so I am hoping to share some modeled pictures of this dress here later! The best part of sewing for my little niece is that she actually gets excited about the clothes I make for her, and can't wait to try them on!! It's so nice to sew for appreciative recipients for a change!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Goodbye Omie.


This morning, our beautiful girl Omie died peacefully on our couch after a short illness (we had taken her to the vet, and were expecting her blood results to come back today, but our best guess is that her heart failed her). Steve had taken her outside to do her business and settled her on the couch. Five minutes later she quietly left this life.

Omie was such a good, sweet, loving girl. She loved everyone, but especially Joe and Maggie.

As Joe said, "if you get near Omie, she licks you." True words. Omie snuck in a kiss every chance she could get. Living with Omie, it was always easy to see why pit bulls used to be called "nanny dogs." This strong and powerfully muscular dog always had such a gentle soft way with the children.

We don't know how old she was, but Omie came into my life eight years ago, when my friends found her wandering stray with her two puppies in San Francisco. We think she was one or two years old at that time, which would have made her a quite elderly ten years old now. Omie's puppies were placed through a rescue, and I took "Little Mama" as we called her then.

Omie came to me at a very hard time, when I was grieving the death of my friend and romantic partner Marc, and she brought unconditional love, slobber, silliness, comfort, and fun into my life just when I needed it most. Omie and I had a special bond, and she will always have a special place in my heart - she was my first dog love, my "love dog," as I always called her.

I am glad that she had a peaceful and quiet end, at home, surrounded by her family - her loving people.

It is hard to imagine my house and my life without any dogs running around and getting into trouble. Joe is confused and sad, as are we all. How to make sense of death? It confuses and upsets me as well. One moment, our friends are with us, enjoying life and giving slobbery kisses, the next they are gone. We hope their spirits are free and happy and resting in love.

Goodbye, sweet love dog. We will miss you so much.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Birthday Geranium.

Birthday Geranium

Birthday dress #1, completed! This is for my BFF's daughter, who is turning 5 this June. I knew she (BFF and daughter) would appreciate this fun and cheerful printed cotton, which I bought on Etsy a couple of months ago after falling hard for the colors and the flowers and the pretty little houses.

You know when you're reading a sewing blog post, and thinking, "OMG, I love that fabric - what is it and where can I buy some?!" and then the writer says, "oh, this fabric is vintage," or "oh, this fabric has been in my stash forever," or "oh, I picked it up at an op-shop/thrift store."

Don't you hate that? Yeah, me too.

But, this fabric is vintage and I got it on Etsy and good luck finding any more of it. Sorry!

Detail front bodice

This is the Geranium Dress, of course. With a notched neck, ruffle sleeves, patch pockets, and gathered skirt. And a little yellow piping at the waist. I also lined the skirt as well as the bodice, because this pretty vintage fabric (a super soft cotton/poly blend voile - perhaps intended for curtains?) is a bit sheer.

Birthday Geranium

The ruffle sleeves are so darling. I love the way you cut them out almost in a spiral, so that they are mostly on the bias. Genius! I was worried that the zig-zag finish would look messy, but I actually really love it.

Birthday Geranium
Here is the back. This dress is so soft and poofy. I think it will be really nice to wear! It's definitely a party dress, but it's practical enough to wear for less festive occasions too. The only challenging part of sewing this dress was that waistline - gathering two layers of fabric into a waistband with four layers (two layers of fabric plus piping seam allowances) was not a picnic, and I had to redo several sections of it. But in the end, I triumphed, and deemed it "good enough." The side seams don't perfectly match up, and the front patch pockets could have been slightly better placed, but ... it's pretty darn okay.

Birthday Geranium

I decided to use three different colored buttons on the back for a fun and playful look.

Birthday Geranium

The size five could probably use four buttons at this size rather than three, but I didn't like any of my options, so I sewed a hook and eye at the back waist to help secure the waistline.

Birthday Geranium

I finished the lining - simple off-white muslin - by machine.

Birthday Geranium

But the bodice and the hem were sewed by hand for that vintage touch. And because, you know, it is Vintage May ...

The Geranium Dress is one of my favorite patterns to sew (I have to say, I always love Made by Rae patterns!), and this dress was a lot of fun to make. I hope its recipient loves it.

And now to my next birthday dress: For my little niece Helen, soon to be four!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday Random.

May 2014 Random

Chicken scratch embroidery progress.

May 2014 Random

Some basic black athletic pants/leggings/shorts for my friend's son, who is starting ballet classes. Because boys deserve special dance clothes too! (One pair of Nature Walk Pants and a long and short pair of Playtime Leggings.)

May 2014 Random

A birthday dress for a friend's daughter, all cut out.

May 2014 Random

Maggie helping me pick buttons for the birthday dress (she has a good eye, even if she largely avoids clothing herself!).

May 2014 Random

See what I mean?

Messy Space

Messy sewing space and overflowing stash. (The piles on the floor are mostly knits. I need to do some stash busting!)

May 2014 Random

Gathering fabrics for another birthday dress, this one for my little redheaded niece who loves frilly things. I think this will be a Caroline Dress.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pattern Testing: Alder Skirt.

Alder Skirt Testing

I finished my test Alder Skirt this morning and proceeded to wear it for the rest of the day (happy mother's day, everyone!). So here it is all rumpled after a busy afternoon. Hey, the sun was way too bright for a photo shoot until early evening! In real life, my skirt is often rumpled. So I'm just keeping things real here.

Alder Skirt

Rachael at Imagine Gnats kindly let me test this pattern even though I have a somewhat spotty record with pattern testing her designs, I'm afraid, and this time was no different. I missed the deadline by about five days (EEK). But the good part of that is that I got to read all of her notes and errata while I was working on this. And the pattern went together pretty easily with that clarification, so I think I can safely tell Rachael that the testing is done, and she can go to print (tomorrow is the release date, I think!).

Alder skirt testing

The pattern has four panels, an elasticized back waistband, an inverted center pleat, and pockets that bow out slightly from the skirt. I love these pockets. In a perfect world (i.e., the next time I make this skirt) I would deepen the pockets even more and spend all of my time with my hands in my pockets. 


I used a maroon cotton twill for this tester version. I love the color, but the fabric is a bit stiff for such a full skirt. Next time I will sew it up in something with a bit more drape. It's so hard to find soft and sturdy bottom-weight fabrics!

Alder - back

I'm not 100% in love with the elasticized back on this skirt, but again, I think the stiff fabric is part of the issue there. The fabric wants to stand away from my body. Hopefully it will soften up a bit with some washing. But it's not too bad, and it's nothing that a longer cardigan couldn't hide, so this skirt will definitely be getting some wear.

Final notes: Seeing as this was a test, I made this up precisely as instructed, based on my measurements. The skirt turned out to be pretty short by my standards (I prefer not to show my knees!), so I used bias hem facing to hem it, rather than the 1" hem in the instructions, saving myself a critical 3/4" of hem. But in every other way, it is an unaltered size 8. Next time I will use a softer fabric (this would be great in baby wale corduroy ... isn't everything?), lengthen the pocket bags for nice and deep pockets, and add three or four inches to the hem, to allow for a nice, deep, heavy hem weigh down the hem and balance out the fullness on top. I also think this skirt would look great with a wider waistband, or eliminating the center pleat ... so many options!

Thanks for letting me test your awesome new pattern, Rachael!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Works in progress (and miscellaneous).

I've been feeling a bit uninspired with my sewing lately. Joe refuses to wear hand-mades (except t-shirts), and Maggie refuses to wear anything. Work has been stressful, and my weekends have been booked with social engagements. I'm juggling work, kid-stuff, friends, garden, and sewing, and everything seems to be getting short-shrift.

Despite all that, I do have a few little sewing things to share.

Vintage Pattern
A gift for my friend's daughter, a little dress made from a really cute 1970s pattern that another friend gave me. I wish it came in more than one size! Little H is four now, but I am hoping that this size 3 (in the shorter dress version) with a lot of extra length will fit her, as I find that most older patterns have quite a bit of ease (but ooh, boy, were those dresses ever short!).

Sweet dress from vintage pattern

I used a lovely and breezy, but very wrinkly Andover chambray. You'll never believe this, but I pressed this right before photographing it! Oh well, it's a summer dress; a little rumpliness adds to its charm. I know that I just give Maggie's chambray items a good shake out of the dryer, and that's as much as I'm willing to do, so I expect this will often be a bit rumply.

Insides - bike fabric

I lined the yoke and faced the hem and armholes with an adorable bicycle print, to add some fun to the dress. The pattern had armhole facings in addition to the yoke lining, but I made a little bias facing instead. I managed to get all of these facings out of a fat quarter of this fabric, and I was pretty pleased with myself!

Quick and easy upcycle.

Here's a quick and easy upcycle that I did for Joe. Steve is a season ticket holder for the Oakland A's, so he got this freebie XL t-shirt. I sized it down for Joe using my trusty Flashback Skinny Tee pattern, in the size 5, but with extra length to accommodate my long-torsoed Joe. Here you can see it after being worn and washed a half dozen times already. Joe loves to dress like his daddy, so you will often see him wearing some type of A's paraphernalia.  Since he's a bit anti-mama-mades, this seemed like an easy project that I could do for him that I knew he would like.

And some works in progress.

WIP - Pattern Testing

Pattern testing the Alder Skirt by Imagine Gnats. And running late, since she's about to release the pattern! I often bite off a bit more than I can chew, sewing-wise. But hopefully I'll have a finished skirt to show you very soon. With a pretty pocket lining, of course!

Chicken scratch progress

Last but definitely not least, here's a sneak peek at the apron I'm working on. I've finished the smocking at the waist and now I'm working on embellishing it with some "chicken scratch" embroidery (a.k.a. depression lace, gingham lace, etc.). This is a type of embroidery traditionally done with white floss on gingham. It's really fun and surprisingly easy,  but it's definitely not speedy! At least not compared with sewing - sometimes I forget the different pace of handwork. Of course, my ambitious plans to smock the waist and embroider the hem, pocket and bib, aren't making this any faster. Still, it's nice to have a project that you can work on in front of the TV, in the car, or take with you.

Maybe I should start embroidering while I listen in on long conference calls at work - I'd be done with this in no time!

That's today's update. More soon, I promise!