Hazards of living with little girls

Washed a dress with glued-on sequins at the wrong temperature – the sequins washed off the dress, but enough glue remained such that the these dots, temporarily liberated, successfully adhered to socks, dress shirts, underwear, and the dryer drum interior. They are impossible to remove now.

One daughter has a penchant for shredding books in her room when she’s supposed to be resting quietly. It’s been worse than what you see above – one morning, I looked in and thought the floor strongly resembled hamster bedding. Every few months, we ban books from her room, but they creep back in and then BAM, hamster nest.

This is the detritus of small children. When they are searching for a particular toy, look out, ‘cuz nothing is sacred. Of course, they lose interest in said toy about 45 seconds after they find it. Nothing motivates them to clean – not praise, threats, hugs, bribes, candy, yelling, adult help, clean-up songs – nothing. I’m at my wits’ end. When I absolutely can’t stand it anymore, I put half of it away and throw the other half away (take it to the trash or storage). They cry and tantrum as I toss out their stretched neon slinkies, lens-less kaleidoscopes, worn out glow sticks, and kids’ meal plastic crap toys, but they STILL don’t clean up. We’re doomed.

Clothing labels

These are the labels that I now use in many of the clothes that I sew.

The red mark is made with a Japanese hanko that I bought via ebay from an American living in Japan. (It is my name, if that wasn’t obvious.) Clothing size is printed using a metal stamp set that I think is intended to be used for stamping metal jewelry. My set is like this but also came with numbers.

The ink is set by the heat of an iron and seems pretty washfast. The cotton tape frays like mad if the ends aren’t tucked under or sealed.

I know I could have custom labels woven (um, if I really wanted 1,000 of them), but I really like the look of a hand-stamped label, it reminds me of old-school typewriters.

FO: Geranium dresses in triplicate

I finished the girls’ summer dresses last week! Aren’t they adorable?

The pattern is the Geranium dress by Made by Rae. The girls and I went to Joann Fabrics late last summer, they unanimously agreed on a popsicle print (a now-discontinued Lisette poplin in 100% cotton), even though I begged them to each pick out a different fabric.

I cut the pieces in August, but summer ended before I could sew anything up. I had somewhat anticipated the delay, so I cut size 4 dresses for Jordan and Casey and a size 6 for Meredith. (Yep, had to buy both versions of the patterns to get both sizes.) I am not experienced at pattern matching, so I tried to ensure only that I lined everything up horizontally.

Thanks to Deepika’s reviews of the dress (here and here), I knew I wanted to change the back to an invisible zipper. I followed the tutorial she recommended and cross-checked it against this tutorial, but I ended up with a weird bubble at the top of the zipper.

OK, I said I didn’t really attempt to match the pattern, but can you see how beautifully it accidentally lined up across the invisible zipper?

You can see it better if you look down from the top.

When the zipper is open, the 2 dress halves lay flat, so I knew it had to be the width of zipper pull itself that was forcing the fabric to buckle.

I checked in with Mrs Mole, who advised lowering the zipper and adding a hook-and-eye closure at the top, a standard solution that I have seen many times in RTW (I have a few dresses with that myself!). I mulled that suggestion over but could not force myself to do it because I have an intense (and admittedly irrational) hatred of hooks and eyes. I sought and found a different solution here. (Aside – I am so sad that Sherry no longer updates her blog. I learn so much from her tutorials!)

Yes, the zipper insertion process was time consuming, but I am very happy with the results! It’s not 100% perfect, but it’s a huge improvement over the earlier iteration.

Different dress than the one from above. See, popsicles not matching vertically at all. Think anyone will notice?

Now it will lay flat against the back neck.

Here’s a view of the inside.

Aside from changing the back of the dress, I also did a minor modification of the hem. Instead of machine stitching across, I pulled out my blindhemmer and put in an invisible hem. You can’t see it here, but the hem has a lot of skipped stitches. I ordered some new needles, hopefully that will fix the problem.

OK, the girls loved their dresses (and bragged that their mom made them to anyone who would listen) but were unhappy about posing for pictures.

But then I promised them jelly beans (on a Sunday morning, before breakfast!) if they would do a silly dance for me.

Candy bribes FTW!

The full pattern review is here.

Embarrassment of riches

It’s my 40th birthday today. Good. Now that’s out of the way.

I’m buried in work this week. But I’m OK with that, too. I like editing grants, even though they typically require twice as much work in half as much time, because if they bring outside money into the institution, how can it be a bad thing?

My health is good. My family is around me and loving. My 16-year-old diabetic cat is still alive. I remain giddily happy about the house we bought last year. I’m looking forward to eating dinner tonight and having a slice of pie.

And, for those know their vintage sewing machines, in the past month-ish, I am suddenly the happy owner of a Bernina 830 Record (paperwork indicates the first owner purchased it in 1977), a Bernina 1030 (circa late 1980s?), and a Husqvarna 6460 (paperwork indicates first purchase in 1979).

This is gonna be an awesome year.

FO: Nature walk yoga pants

I love denim, I love jeans, and I think little girls are just adorable in jeans, but sadly, none of my daughters agree. They absolutely refuse to wear jeans because they find them too restrictive, too heavy, and too bunchy around the waist. Having been clothed in elasticated jersey pants since birth, they see absolutely no reason to give up such comfy pants and will even refuse to wear chinos or other softer wovens. Not to mention, woven pants have pesky buttons and zippers that make solo bathroom trips nearly impossible for the younger crew.

You won’t find me arguing for style over comfort, but herein lies the problem – Meredith is very tall for her age (she’s the size of an 8-year-old), and most 8-year-olds eschew “baby clothes” for more grown-up styles, so we have trouble finding RTW pants that will fit her and aren’t pajamas or gym clothes. She wears a lot of knit skirts or dresses over leggings in the winter because of our first-world pants shortage problems.

This pattern is from Oliver + S, the Nature Walk yoga pants pattern. It’s a very straightforward sew and easy to execute. I was eager to compare it with the Ananda yoga pants, and I selected the size by overlaying the well-fitting Ananda pattern and picking the identical width at the widest point. I also lengthened the inseam to match Meredith’s long limbs.

Comfy for criss-cross applesauce

The crazier and brighter the fabric, the more Meredith loves it, so this was a good marriage of fabric and wearer’s taste. It is a 100% cotton interlock, a Patty-Young-for-Michael-Miller designer fabric called Aromatherapy (berry colorway) that is probably discontinued now. I’d previously had a lousy experience with cheapo Joann interlock (a t-shirt that grew in width by a whopping 9 inches while shrinking in length by some unconscionable amount), so I splurged on some higher-quality goods and hoped for better.

Stretchy enough to “kick” her sister

Turns out, this fabric s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d like crazy, too. Not quite as bad as the other, but I still had to create side seams to remove 3 inches of width from each leg to make it fit. I was very careful about not letting the fabric hang off the edge of a table, folding it before carrying it from one place to another, not pulling with the iron, etc, and it still grew. Disappointing. With this experience, I think I quit interlock.

With Jordan, also clad in not-wovens

After having the sides lopped off, the pants fit well and Meredith likes them. I may have made the waistband a wee too tight, I’m not sure. The instructions suggest using a length of elastic 1″ shorter than the child’s waist and then overlapping by 0.5″, and it just seems like a lot to take out when the kid’s waist is only 22″ anyway.

Teaching baby sis to dance

How does it compare to the Ananda pants? While the Nature Walk yoke is interesting, I think I actually prefer the Ananda pants (foldover waist, no elastic) for its ease of assembly, no requirement for elastic, and more forgiving waist. Still, I’m glad I tried the Oliver + S pattern, and I will probably revisit it next winter, when M is 6 inches taller and needing new pants again.


Long time

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen any handspun yarn on this blog, eh?

One ounce of wool roving (breed unknown/unspecified), handdyed by me, 2-ply, spindle spun on a midi Bosworth spindle, plied on an electric spinner. This was my rest-between-sets project while I lifted weights, no joke. What else can you do for 90-180 seconds?

I was aiming for worsted weight but don’t think I quite achieved that, too many years of ultra-fine laceweight for my hands to let go of habit. Looks like beginner’s yarn, doesn’t it? I had to ply this yarn twice, actually, the first try was underplied and looked stringy and miserable.

The fiber was a gift from a work colleague. Her parents had passed away, she was clearing out their home, and when she found a small carton with wool that used to belong to her dad, she gave it to me. I can’t remember what the box said anymore, but I vaguely remember thinking it looked like a laboratory supply. I dyed it and then it sat in my stash for probably 7+ years.

I’d like to make it into something that I can give back to my friend. However, the wool is not great for wearing (scratchy), plus it would felt upon washing, and I have only an ounce. So… any suggestions for a nonwearable, won’t-need-to-wash-it-ever something or other that I could make with 1 oz of DK weight yarn?

At the feet of a master

Toward the end of last year, Mrs Mole, custom clothier and genius creator of bridal alterations, e-mailed me out of the blue to offer to show me how to fix the rising hemline of this shirt. Having read her blog for some time, I was unabashedly impressed by her abilities and thus jumped at the chance to learn from her. As luck would have it, I had a lot of vacation time to burn up in November and December, so she and I worked long-distance on fitting a woven top and then a knit one.

Fitting is tricky. Most books on fitting require you to recognize “drag lines” – wrinkles, essentially – as the first step in deducing how to alter a piece of flat fabric to curve over a 3-dimensional shape. In principle, the line should point to the problem area, eg, a sloped shoulder has drag lines pointing to the shoulder. In practice, recognizing drag lines takes a lot of experience. I’m terrible at seeing the lines, first of all, and when I do see one, I have no idea what it means. Is the line pointing to my shoulder or to my bust or both? Does it indicate that a piece is too wide or too tall or too sloped or is the dart in the wrong place or not the right width or has the fabric stretched or WTF is going on here?

So every week, I would sew stuff up, send her pictures of me wearing a toile, she would use a drawing program to painstakingly trace over important drag lines and then send the photos back to me with instructions on what to slash, spread, overlap, nip in, widen, rotate, etc. It was amazing, I just wanted to suck in every bit of knowledge that she offered. All too soon, however, my vacation days were used up and sewing had to be relegated to the back burner.

I feel like I learned a lot during that time and even made 6 toiles through the lessons, but I felt sad that I never got a publicly presentable shirt out of the whole thing before my time was up. Still, I didn’t give up. It took me 4 months of sewing 15 minutes here, 10 minutes there, to make this shirt. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to date.


This is Jalie 2805. Mrs Mole and I had worked on altering a different pattern to include bust darts and a center back seam, but after 6 toiles, I started to think that maybe a t-shirt shouldn’t have so many seams. Still, it was important to try to get a good fit at the bust and account for some of the swayback. I sort of started from scratch but tried to be faithful to all the lessons she’d taught.

1) Swayback alteration. Instead of using a center seam, I followed the tutorial here to remove 1/2″ from the lower back.

2) Bust adjustment. Instead of sewing bust darts, I added 1/2″ of length and 1/4″ width to the bust (following a tip in Sandra Betzina’s Power Sewing). Look to the right side of the image below, and you can see the slender “D-shape” of extra fabric.

This curved part is eased back in so that the front and back pieces are the same length. When I photograph the back of the shirt, you can see the front is slightly wider than the back at the bust.

3) Sleeves – oh my, I had so much trouble with sleeves. I can’t even begin to describe how many sleeve pictures I sent to Mrs Mole. What I eventually did was to make sure the bodice fit well around the arm, and then I draped and pinned a sleeve onto my own arm to develop the pattern. Yes, it was as awkward as it sounds.

I was a little alarmed by the asymmetry for a while, but then I saw posts like this, which reassured me that my body wasn’t freakishly unbalanced.

4) Length – shortened the shirt at the hem by 1″. This was not surprising, given my height (5’4″ on a good day).

5) A note on sizing. Jalie’s measurement chart assumes the wearer prefers a lot of negative ease. I measured existing shirts to figure out the approximate size that I wanted.

I’ve gotten pretty good at inserting round neckbands into t-shirts. The Jalie pattern called for a crossover band, which was new to me. I did have to do a little handstitching at the point because I couldn’t get the machine to catch all layers but I think it came out all right.

I bought a Babylock coverstitch (BLCS) machine last year. I lurve that little machine. (I used to have a Janome Coverpro that was a POS. Never knew how good a coverstitcher could be until I got the Babylock.)

Here’s a close-up of the neckband, you can see I somehow managed to top stitch with the coverstitcher around the corner point, and it looks… pretty damn nice, actually!

Things to do differently next time:

1) You can see from the side view above that the hem is still riding up a tiny bit in front. I think I’d like to add little more length, maybe another 1/2″, but I’m not sure where. I’ll have to chalk some horizontal balance lines onto the shirt to determine where exactly it is riding up.

2) The sleeves are a wee snug. I think if I had even a scant 1/2″ more ease (circumference), then all would be well. I’d like to make a long-sleeve version, too.

Overall, I’m pleased with this shirt, and I’m really grateful to Mrs Mole for her patience and generosity in sharing her knowledge. I have a ton of books on sewing, fitting, and patternmaking, but there’s nothing like real live help from someone looking at your personal fitting issues, diagnosing drag lines, and knowing how to fix them all. She was a fantastic mentor! She said I could come back to her again, too, so the next time I have a swath of vacation days saved up, I am totally hoping to do something like this again.

OK, you made it this far! Thanks for reading!


FO: Knockoff and socks

In my head, the title for this entry sounds like “Knock your socks off” – but then it has nothing to do with the rest of the post and is a joke that is funny only to me. This reminds me of one of my favorite jokes from one of my favorite people from college.

Q: What is the difference between a duck?
A: One of its legs is the same!

Get it? Get it? Ah, never mind.

Meredith recently informed me: “Mommy, your jokes aren’t really funny.” Ha ha, kiddo, wait until my mere presence is enough to make you feel embarrassed in public.

Speaking of college, I had a very bizarre run-in at work a while ago. I was breezing through the employee cafeteria one morning (thinking deep thoughts like do I want egg whites for breakfast? Or an omelet?) when some random stranger guy stopped me to ask where and when I’d gone to college. (And lordy, I couldn’t immediately remember what year I’d graduated, tee hee, OLD.) But it turns out he recognized me, almost 2 decades later, because we’d shared an undergraduate major and probably a lot of biology classes; moreover, when I mentioned Matt (another biology major back in the day), it turns out that he’d lived in the same dorm as Matt and his sister and even remembered their names. Phenomenal recall. And now he’s a doctor at Mayo, LOL.

I have two recently finished projects to share.

First – another pair of generic socks. To know the pattern is to love the pattern. I never tire of it.

The yarn is Berroco Ultra Alpaca Fine (Berry Pie Mix). This is 50% wool, 30% nylon, and 20% alpaca (all machine washable).

Second – a knockoff of a beloved twirly dress for Meredith.

I used Jalie 2805 as the base pattern for the bodice and sleeves, size M. Never go by their recommended sizing, always use an existing garment and take flat pattern measurements to decide size. I used another dress to determine the total dress length and then divided by 4 to determine the height of the tiers. I multiplied the length of each tier by 1.5 to determine the length of the subsequent tier.

I ruffle-edged each upper edge (the gaps in the rolled hem make me want to upgrade my serger) in contrasting wooly nylon and gathered it to fit the portion above. I used 3 lines of gathering stitches to make it very even. I set the sleeves in flat and then sewed the side seams.

The fabric was actually cotton/poly t-shirts from JoAnn fabrics, I think we cut up 3 size XL shirts. The dyed-to-match ribbed neckband is actually just one of the original t-shirt neckbands, just cut to fit and attached following this technique. Shoulders were stabilized with clear elastic. Seam allowances were serged. Hems were coverstitched.

Twirly, twirly

This was not a difficult project, but it was time consuming (and dare I say – slightly boring). By the time I got to the third tier, it felt like miles of ruffles and gathering. But my girl is thrilled in her new dress.

I just want you to know that she chose her own coordinating clothes (an underdress and Ananda yoga pants) and did her own hair. And whenever I asked her to pose, she always did something like this first:


I was blocking the front pieces for the Metro sweater a few days ago. I was pretty happy that the knitting was finished, although I knew I would have to reknit the back collar (I just wanted to see how it would stretch with blocking). However, I was dismayed to realize that I’d completely messed up establishing the ribs, too.

See how on the left side (right side when worn) has ribs that start an inch earlier than the cables on the opposite side? Arrgggh… How did I knit the whole thing without ever noticing?

I could ladder down the ribbed side and make the ribbing start higher up, but I think I like the look of the longer ribbing better. The plan now is to frog the entire upper portion of the cabled piece and reknit. Ah well. At least I caught it now, instead of after seaming.

FO: Ananda yoga pants

Last fall, in a fit of self-delusion about my level of free time, I purchased the Sew Fab pattern bundle. I figured if I sewed even 4 or 5 patterns from the set of 26, I would have recouped the money spent (compared with buying those patterns individually). So here’s the first one, yoga pants for my girls.

I’m a little dumbfounded by how quickly Meredith grows. Every year, it seems like I have to buy pants for her in midwinter because she’s outgrown the pants I bought her in the fall. How can someone like me (seriously, 5’4″) have such a leggy daughter!? Such a mystery.

Anyway, the pattern – I recommend it, but with some caveats. First, the size chart seems way off. Second, the front rise is too long (I cut off an inch). Third, the pants really look better hemmed. Fourth, the waistband functions better if it’s folded down and bar-tacked at the hips to keep it in place. Detailed review of the pattern is here.

Fabric is from the Fabric Fairy, a cotton knit. I actually made the purple pants first, for Jordan and Casey, but neither liked them and both flat-out refused to wear them. Casey even wailed, “No! They’re not my favorite!” when I asked her to put them on. Sigh. Meredith thought they were amazing and insisted on wearing them, but they were a little tight and definitely too short.

But since she made such a loving fuss over those poor rejected pants (and my poor ego, alas), I made Meredith her own pair in pink. She adored them so much that Jordan came around and started wearing the purple, and recently, Casey wistfully asked if I’d make her a pair of zigzag pants, too. These kids just kill me, ha ha.