Renfrew (t-shirt) muslins

In my various e-mail conversations with Mrs Mole over the past year, we have talked at great length about sleeves and sleeve cap height. To reinforce what I’m learning from her, she periodically sends me photos from random sewing blogs, and I am quizzed on what I think the problem is and how it might be corrected. She’ll then send an annotated version of the photo with arrows and notes on what the drag lines mean. (Seriously, she is an awesome teacher.) She neatly summarized how to recognize and fix sleeve cap problems here and here.

Thus “armed” (ha) with new knowledge about sleeve caps, I wanted to give the Renfrew tee a try because I saw many striped ones around the sewing blogosphere with good-looking sleeves, ie, the stripes were running pretty horizontal (parallel with the floor). Sixteen bucks is a lot of money for a t-shirt pattern, no 2 ways about it, but I have learned from Tasia’s blog and wanted to support her. Also, I was curious to see how my customized pattern compared with the Renfrew draft.

Renfrew’s sleeve cap is considerably higher than mine (the pencil points to the apex for the corresponding size). Also, it’s symmetric from front to back, whereas my draft accounts for arms that swing forward.

Using my measurements and customized Jalie pattern as a guide, I traced a size 10 at the shoulders and widened to a size 12 at the bust and below. I added an extra inch to the front at the bust level (which prevent the front edge from riding up). I added 2 inches to the front and back at the shorten/lengthen line because I did not want the banded hem specified in the pattern. I kept the height of the sleeve cap but changed the shape to follow the asymmetric cap that I drafted last year.

Muslin source – free mens XL shirt from work

I think I’ve heard Mrs Mole say more than once that darts will practically drape themselves, if you let them.

Please forgive the unflattering photos. But let’s do this for science!

That seems to be the case here – I left part of the side seam open (skipped the side easing part), and you can see how the fabric is pulling deep folds under the bust, like it’s begging to turn into a dart. I used stickers (again!) to locate the bust apex, drew the approximate location on the pattern (and included what Mrs Mole calls “the no-fly zone” – a 3-inch circle around the apex that the dart legs must not enter), and pinched out a French dart. I didn’t have enough seam allowance to make it too deep, but you can see that even a shallow one help reduce the folds considerably. I made a mental note to purchase a t-shirt pattern with French darts.

The fit seems mostly OK but overall uncomfortably tight, I am seriously sucking in my gut in that photo. The back side shows some excess wrinkling at the level of my elbows.

On the plus side, I liked that I did not have to shorten the height of the armhole (a common alteration for 5’4″ me), the sleeve cap seemed smooth, and the sleeve allowed good freedom of motion.

I retraced the pattern again, this time making a size 12 above the bust and a size 14 below, plus the same adjustments as described above. I cut up a thrifted men’s t-shirt for the muslin and didn’t bother with making a second sleeve.

I didn’t feel so sausage-like in this shirt, yay. I closed the whole side seam this time but didn’t bother with easing the extra fabric at the bust. Note the deep drag lines around the bust again.

This shirt clearly confirms too much extra fabric in the lower back, time for a 0.5″ swayback alteration.

All right, 2 trial garments are finished and I’m feeling OK with how things look. Even better, I think I know what minor adjustments remain. Let’s move on to making this up in nicer fabric!

Final list of pattern changes:

  • Size 12 above bust, size 14 at bust and below.
  • Front lengthened by 3″ (1″ @ bust, 2″ @ shorten/lengthen line); excess bust length is eased in over 5″
  • Back lengthened by 2″ (@ shorten/lengthen line)
  • Swayback adjustment 0.5″
  • No bottom hem cuff
  • Made sleeve cap shape asymmetric from front to back

FO: Balaclava

Winter has been astonishingly mild this year, although we have had a few bitterly cold days. I am in charge of the snowblower at our house, and protecting my face while I clear the drive and walkway is a serious matter. At wind chill temps of -30F, exposed skin can get frostbite in <30 min, and if blowing snow hits my cheeks and melts, the cold wind quickly makes it painful.

I used to have an old black balaclava (purchased while I was living in Boston), but it seems to have recently disappeared. It was a stretchy fleece hood with a cutaway for the eyes, nothing fancy. I could make a new one, right? Save the $20 or whatever? After a little googling, I found a free balaclava pattern.

The medium size seemed appropriate for my head measurement. Note that the pattern does NOT include seam allowances! I made a trial out of thin white fleece, leftovers from my diaper-making days.

The circumference feels good, snug but not too tight. Obviously, the eye hole on the pattern is completely wrong for my face. It starts too low and goes too far down, leaving most of my face exposed. If I pull the eye hole up to the appropriate level…

Ha ha ha! Now it gives the unfortunate impression of having a “reservoir tip.” But at least I know what to do next, which is the whole point of a fitting muslin, right?

I made a second one with some nice Polartec fleece. This time, I did not cut out any eye hole.

I thought about using a chalk pen or similar to mark the eye locations, but dot stickers proved to be handier (and safer).

Fumbling in the dark

Then it was simply a matter of cutting around the stickers…

And enlarging the opening to the right size. Sorry if I look a little scary here.

I used black foldover elastic on the lower edge and a strip of “fleece binding” (nylon lycra strip) around the eyes. I should have stretched the binding tighter when going around the curves of the eye opening, but it’s not a big deal.

Obligatory side and back views.

Now I’m ready for the next snowfall!

Pattern review is here.

Baby cheesecakes

Last week, I developed a hella craving for cheesecake. I was reminiscing about the good old steakhouse days (before we had children, Matt and I occasionally would treat ourselves to a big steak dinner and polish off a generous slice of cheesecake afterward), and the next thing you know, I was dreaming about crunchy graham cracker crusts and clouds of sweet cheese.

One of the top hits on my blog is a recipe for NY style cheesecake. Funny how something I posted 7 years ago still has relevance today. It makes a great cake, and I still bake it for dinner parties, it’s really a fantastic recipe. However, last weekend, I wanted something smaller and faster for a family dinner. I ended up adapting a recipe from Kraft, of all places.

1 c graham cracker crumbs
2 T sugar
3 T butter, melted

2 x 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Heat the oven to 325F. Line a muffin pan with paper baking cups. Mix the crust ingredients together. Spoon into 12 equal portions.

I used an empty spice bottle to pack the crumbs tightly down into the pan. No need to bake the crust ahead of adding the filling. Note: This makes a pretty thick base, but I love a lot of crust on my cheesecakes. I could probably eat it alone as a cookie, mmm…. Reduce the crust ingredients by 1/3 if you prefer less crust.

Beat the cream cheese until light, then add sugar and beat some more. Add vanilla and 1 egg, beat, add the second egg, beat some more. I have a rubber-tipped blade on my mixer that scrapes the bowl as it beats, which I find very helpful for cheesecake. If you have a regular beater, use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and beater in between adding ingredients.

Spoon filling into the baking cups. You’ll have enough leftover batter to satisfy even the greediest of bowl lickers.

Bake the cheesecakes for ~25 minutes or until the internal temp reaches 150F (mine went a little past that, whoops, to 158F). The center will still look a little jiggly when you take it out of the oven. Let it cool in the fridge for a few hours before eating.


FO: Excessively handmade teacher gift

Meredith and I decided it would be nice to give a little holiday gift to her teacher this year. At first, it was going to just be a couple bottles of baking spices. And then I thought it might be nice to present them in a gift bag. A cloth gift bag… with a handpainted stencil. Hey, might as well make it a handsewn gift bag with a complicated handpainted stencil. OMG, how does it go from a 5-minute errand into a couple hours’ work over the course of a few days?

I found snowflake clipart and had Meredith trace it onto freezer paper. I cut it out and ironed it onto some unwashed cotton muslin. We painted it together using a Martha Stewart glittery craft paint.

The bag was made following the dimensions of the spice bottles, and I serged edges and mitered the corners and everything. Actually, we sort of did it together. Meredith had no experience with the sewing machines, so I had her practice using the serger a little bit, and then we made the seams with me guiding her hands to make sure the fabric was fed fairly straight.

The foldover part was improvised to make a casing offset from the edge of the bag. I’d describe it, but I’m not really sure of what I did. In any case, should you be similarly inspired, this free Craftsy class teaches how to make a (lined?) drawstring bag, and ikatbag shows variations on drawstrings.

Add a little matching tissue paper and it’s done! Meredith even received a lovely thank you card from the teacher the very same day.

Good intentions

For the past couple nights, I tried to bring a little extra functionality to this site by replacing and tweaking the WordPress theme, but I ended up breaking the site completely. Whoops! Even with Matt’s help, it still took hours to bring everything back and make it run again. Sorry, hon!

In December, I attempted to put together my 2014 retrospective (4 times! I tried to write the darn thing 4 times!), but I lost a good friend to cancer last spring, plus I have not been too healthy this year, so remembering all of that only made me melancholy. Let’s just say that last year was sh*tty and I hope that this new year will be awesome. I’m prioritizing getting more sleep and making more happy in 2015.

With the recent Ten on Tuesday about books, I enjoyed seeing others’ book lists and realized that when I visit someone’s house, I’m nosy as hell about what they’re reading. For parity, I’ll jump in and show what I’ve read since I started keeping track in 2013. Links are in the sidebar (scroll down to “Reading List”). Word of warning – I read almost no fiction.

My laptop got a spendy makeover last week (new logic board, twice the RAM, new solid-state hard drive, fresh install of the OS), so my intolerably sluggish beast has been transformed into a sleek, rocket-powered machine. Altogether, this site is finally easier to update, and I’m excited about sharing more with you. Also, I am frequently posting on Instagram (@twosheep) and invite you to join me there; the “Glimpses” box in the sidebar show the most recent ones, if you’re not on Instagram.

As always, I thank you for reading, reaching out to me, and sharing a bit of yourself. Wishing you the best in 2015 – let’s make this a terrific year!

FO: T-shirt revised yet again

I finished a new t-shirt! I took the last pattern iteration and made it just a tiny bit better, and I’m pretty happy with how it fits now, despite the drag lines under the bust. (Something to work on for the next time!)

Pardon the indoor nighttime shots, it’s winter in Minnesota and likely will remain so for the next few years.

The major changes were at the upper chest and sleeve. I slashed a fisheye opening across the chest and add another half inch of length at the bust level so the shirt does not ride up in front. I also widened the sleeves by about 1/4 inch.

Actually, I originally made the shirt with 3/4 sleeves. But it was just Too Much Stripey.

Not impressed

So I hacked them off and was happier.

Obligatory back view:

Coverstitching around the neckband, still very much in awe of how well the Babylock machine (BLCS-2) performs.

But there’s something about the shirt overall that bugs me… Here, let me show you what I mean:

You see where I’m going with this? Ha! What was I thinking?

This summer, I was inspired by SunnyGal Beth’s cheerful striped shirt, so much so that I immediately popped over to the vendor and ordered a couple yards. Except – I unintentionally purchased completely different fabric! Wah-wah!

I thought I could make it work… but the stripes are all wrong and even Meredith (my precocious 6-year-old) studied me and said I looked like I should be selling popcorn. Argh…


In the past month, I’ve had a few instances in which I wanted to share something simple, quick, without requiring a full-fledged blog post. I decided to join Instagram… because people need to know more about my life? Whatever. Ego aside, I’ve added a little sidebar widget; I’m still tinkering and configuring that because I’m not crazy about the carousel setting. But if you’d like to glimpse the “smaller” goings-on, there it is.

FO: Blooming Crystals Bracelet

Some years ago, I’d wandered into the local Northfield bead shop, Glass Garden Beads. (They’ve since closed their physical shop and now are an exclusively online merchant.) I’m completely ignorant about beaded jewelry, having made only a couple of stringing projects previously, so I’m not sure what possessed me to buy an expensive kit for a hobby I knew nothing about.

I hung onto the kit for probably at least 5 years before daring to open it up. As far as beginner’s projects go, they did a really nice job with the directions and seemed to assume that the person putting together knew nothing about beads. The kit included thread, a needle, very explicit instructions, and enough beads to make a bracelet at least 1 inch longer than I actually needed.


Once I stop being intimidated, it was actually pretty easy to put together. I worked on it during sporadic lunch breaks over most of the year, but each individual segment actually did not take that long to create, I would guesstimate maybe 30 minutes per flower. I seem to have made the newbie mistake of running the thread too many times through the beads for reinforcement, the resulting bracelet seems a little bit stiffer side. I also had barely enough thread, probably from excessive knotting.

All that remained

I think it turned out really lovely. The flowers are made of Swarovski crystal beads, and they give the bracelet a nice heft, plus they’re very sparkly!


In the sunlight

Action shot – like I said, this was my lunch-break project

OK, so I was pretty dissatisfied about the quality of the above photos. Everyone raves about the iPhone camera, but it seems to distort faces and the colors are all meh.

Here I am trying again with my dSLR, I think the colors came out much more true to life.

FO: Flirt Skirt

As I’ve gotten older (lazier), I’ve come to appreciate crafting kits. Someone’s picked out a pattern and found the right fabric to go along with it? Terrific!

I’ve always loved maxi skirts, even as they came in and went out and came back into fashion (mmm, gettin’ old), but I especially love maxis with a little something extra. Last February, I splurged on Craftsy’s Flirt Skirt sew-a-long kit. This maxi, with its fishtail back, is a winner! It’s a simple pull-on skirt with an elasticated waist. The kit has been discontinued, but the pattern alone is here (NAYY). The fabric that came with the kit was Kaufman Essex Linen, a cotton/linen blend.

It is a little wrinkly here (after wearing all day at work, sorry), and it looks like I’m bending my knees weirdly under the skirt when I’m not. Never noticed that until the pictures, though.

The .pdf pattern was 13 pages to be cut and taped… Screw that nonsense, my time is better spent sewing, so I used Inkscape to stitch the .pdf back together into a giant sheet and had it printed at a local printers for another $10.

I actually made a toile of this pattern, included horizontal balance lines and everything. From that, I made 2 main changes to the pattern. The original pattern calls for the front to be cut on the fold, but I decided to add a center seam, redraw the grainline, and cut the front as 2 pieces. Also, 5-foot-4-inch me actually had to lengthen the skirt by 2 inches (I know!) for it to extend appropriately to almost-the-floor. I cut the pattern approximately in thirds and added an inch at each cut, blending the seams to a straight line.

One minor change – I made a low-bulk waistband following Pam Erny’s tutorial here. It’s not the most beautiful thing, but to my eye, it looks a little better than a full casing.

I’m not entirely sold on the pull-on skirt concept because the waist has to be the same size as the hips for it to work… Before I made this, I thought that the straight shape would look decent on someone like me (waist:hip ratio of >0.8), but now that I see it, I think it would look better with darts, a real waistband, and an invisible zipper on the side. Hm. Or maybe it could be made up in fabric with a little lycra in it, so that it can stretch over the hips and still snug up at the waist. Tuck those thoughts away for a future iteration, I guess.


I love walking in this skirt – it has a little swishy drama going on back there, but the best feature of the fishtail is actually that it doesn’t hamper my walking stride at all. Not that I take enormous steps or anything, but I hate feeling constrained by clothing, so I especially appreciate being able to walk freely in a long skirt.

Because maxis cover the shoes, I tend to wear boring flats with these kinds of skirts, but these specific shoes are worth mentioning because they are barefoot shoes – like the Vibram 5-finger type, only less freaky looking. Here’s a better view.

It feels sooo strange to walk in these, I can feel every pebble and cigarette butt on the sidewalk, I am extremely aware of how hard my heels pound when I walk, I feel bumps in the lawn and not only hear but also feel leaves crunching underfoot, etc. This particular pair is made of “vegan leather,” which traps moisture, plus the back bites into my Achilles tendon slightly, so I can’t wholeheartedly endorse these shoes; still, I like them overall. I suppose I won’t wear them when it gets very cold out, I don’t think I’d enjoy walking barefoot on icy sidewalks!

That’s all I have to say! Go make yourself one of these fun skirts! The full review is here.

Ten years

Today is a joyful day for me and Matt, it is our 10th wedding anniversary!

What’s happened in 10 years between the two of us?

  • Added 3 lovely daughters to our family
  • Said sad farewells to family, friends, and a pet
  • Bought a house, sold a house, bought a house
  • Changed jobs 3 times
  • Enjoyed pretty good health (no major medical anything)

OMG, how can I sum up 10 years in a few bullet points? No, you’re right, I can’t. It’s been a great life together, and I couldn’t imagine having a better partner (I mean, OK, maybe he could put away his shoes sometimes, ha ha). But we’ve stuck through thick and thin, good times and bad, and we’re still here, still happy, and still so damn glad to be married to each other.

I was a little shocked to see it’s been >2 months since I last posted. I have been SO. BUSY. AT. WORK. I don’t know what got into me, other than possibly guilt over taking a 2-week vacation in August, but I took on too many projects at once in Sept, which turned into a nightmarish slogathon of 50- to 60-hr work weeks that has not yet relented. (Yeah, I know some people work like that all the time [HI, MARCIA], but I have not been one of those people since I finished grad school.) The end is in sight, I think, but I have done nothing but cycle through ||:work and parenting and cleaning and sleeping:|| for what seems like forever.

With my oldest now in elementary school, we’ve had a lot of changes at home, too, including flexing my work hours to be at home when school is out and making up the lost work time on lunch hours/nights/weekends. We’re doing (relaxed, informal) homeschooling on top of regular school homework, and it has been challenging on multiple fronts. Teaching young ‘uns is a tough gig, no joke! Altogether, my current schedule of zero free time is starting to feel unsustainable to me, so I’m going to shake things up a bit and see how they settle out.