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.


Man, is it COLD today or what? We’re looking at a windchill around -55°F (-48°C).

The MPR website headline says it all:

Colder than Vostok?!?

Stay warm and safe!

2013 Retrospective

Hey, it’s navel-gazing time again!

1. What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?

I went through a corn maze. Thanks to Matt’s expert sense of direction, we got through this 12-acre maze in <2 hours without a map.

I also drove a go-kart for the first time. I was a very timid driver and laughed at myself when 12-year-old boys (and their middle-aged fathers) whizzed past me.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

No new year’s resolutions, as always, but I turned 39 this summer and made a birthday resolution to be in better shape by the time I turned 40. Didn’t act on the resolution 100% until late September, whoops, but I’m doing well now. Who knows what next year will bring?

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No babies in my family this year!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

My cousin Sandy died of pancreatic cancer this summer. She leaves behind her husband and teenaged daughter.

California, 2011

5. What countries did you visit?

We stayed in the good old US of A.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

Oh, my gosh, nothing? I feel like all my material needs are pretty much covered. But I sure would love more free time. Well-fitting clothes wouldn’t be too shabby, either.

7. What dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 29. House closing! Almost didn’t happen, as I mentioned before, but everything got signed on time.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I looked for and found my iron-clad discipline again. Kidding, sort of.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I suspect it has to do with my parenting again, ha ha. Am I too strict? Too lenient? Not sympathetic enough? Am I spoiling them? Can someone please peer into their crystal ball and let me know if I’m setting the girls on the right path?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

None! Healthy as a horse. Although I think I freakin’ had the flu over Christmas, despite receiving a flu shot.

11. Where did most of your money go?

Not including the house, a lot of our money went to daycare, holy cow, because it costs twice as much in Rochester as it did in Northfield. Guess there’s a lot of cardiologists and neurosurgeons having kids, eh?

We paid off our cars this summer (hooray – and yes, we drive cars for 10 years and/or until the repair bill exceeds the car’s value) and are now focusing on repaying my student loans, loosely following the debt snowball plan. I’ve been out of school since 2003, so it’s high time we finish paying for my education.

We’ve had to replace or repair a lot of appliances this year (washer, dryer, microwave, dishwasher, furnace motor… probably more, I’m forgetting now), which turned into an unexpected money suck, but I love the replacements and use them daily, so it’s all fine.

12. What was the best thing you bought?

The house, the house, the house! (Happy dance.) I look around and just love it. Best thing right now in the dead of winter – radiant heat in the basement. When I lay on the floor to do yoga, it is the coziest thing ever.

13. What did you get really excited about?

The house, the girls’ birthdays, a beach vacation at the end of the summer, dropping weight, and being happy about where I am in life.

14. Compared with this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? Happier for sure. The 2012 mess at work got straightened out, mostly, so we had far less work-related stress. The house purchase took a huge weight off my mind. We have some ongoing heath-related issues in the family that we are dealing with, but they seem to be in control for the time being.

– thinner or fatter? Thinner! I hit an all-time high weight in September that scared me, so I prioritized my health and went all type-A on it. I’m logging what I eat (via MyFitnessPal) and regularly doing yoga, stairclimbing (I work on the 10th floor and next to a 20-floor building, so I don’t take the elevator anymore and sometimes climb the stairs next door when I take a break), Stronglifts 5×5 (just started a few weeks ago), and C25K (week 5). I’ve come down about 15 lbs and am now the same weight as I was in college.

These pants were a little tight in August

– richer or poorer? Poorer, probably, with the house, but my life feels richer.

15. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Creative pursuits. Never enough hours in the day!

16. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Laundry. Sheesh.

17. How did you spend Christmas?

At home with Matt and the girls. We had carnage on Christmas morning with small, greedy children, which was partly amusing and partly horrifying. After lunch, in lieu of naps, we went sledding! After dinner, I zonked in bed because of the cold.

18. What were your favorite books of the year?

Do instructional videos count? I really have been digging Craftsy classes this year. I’ve bought more than I’ve watched so far, but I spent a lot of time with Amy Herzog’s Knit to Flatter and hope to have a finished sweater soon. I’ve also watched classes on jewelry and sewing, although I’ve yet to try the techniques.

19. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I went to work and had a nondescript day. I turned 39. Matt and the girls took me out to dinner afterward, they gave me handdrawn cards and earrings. That was lovely.

20. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Damn, this was a pretty satisfying year.

21. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?

Unkempt! I culled most of my clothes and now everything that remains is too big. Rotten year to be on a RTW fast, LOL.

22. What kept you sane?

Thinking “This too shall pass.” Eating really good instant ramen. Climbing 40 flights of stairs and realizing I’ve caught my breath back in only a couple minutes. Cleaning lady who does the floors and bathrooms twice a month.

23. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.

Love, forgive, teach, listen. Try to be kind, always.

Thanks for coming by this year! I wish you the best in 2014.

Fairy door

Meredith has started asking about whether Santa is real. “Some people don’t believe in him, you know,” she informed us one night. I replied, “Well, some people don’t believe the Earth is round, some people don’t think vaccination is a public health issue, and everyone has all sorts of ideas about God, so I guess there are lots of different beliefs in this world.”

While I haven’t completely clarified the is-Santa-real debate, I’m trying not to kill the magic outright. Same with the Tooth Fairy. When my girls ask, I tell them that I’ve never seen her (true) and that she used to leave me money when I lost teeth as a girl (also true).

According to our dentist, Meredith is old enough to start losing teeth, so I thought I’d better get ready by preparing a Fairy Door.

I first saw these on Etsy, but I still have that crafter’s affliction in which I say pshaw, I can make that, so I didn’t order one. I later saw instructions somewhere (Pinterest, probably); I’d link to them, but I can’t remember the URL, and it’s pretty obvious – just buy a door, paint it, and glue on accessories.

Paint was purchased at JoAnn, the door and all supplies were purchased at Hobby Builder’s Supply (NAYY). Total cost was ~$40, not including the wood glue that I already had on hand.

First, I applied about 3 coats of white paint all around the door frame (being careful not to get it on the plastic transom window).

Second, I applied some extreme number of coats of pearl pink paint to the door. In hindsight, I probably should have primed the piece first; I didn’t, and it took numerous coats before the blond wood didn’t show through.

Third, I applied ~5 coats of glitter paint. It is very subtle, and subtle doesn’t work for my kids. I was hoping to bling it up a little more. It’s hard to photograph the glitter because if I use too much light, the pearl paint underneath reflects and makes the whole door glare. In person, the sparkle is easy to see, especially in sunlight.

Fourth, glue on a doorknob, mail slot, and door knocker. The knocker is pretty cool – if you affix it correctly, it’s fully functional!

I ordered letterpress certificates from the Office of the Tooth Fairy. I have one for each daughter.

We have a little Lego treasure chest that the girls play with, and I think it will be a perfect place to deposit the tooth. I keep a stash of dollar coins where the girls can’t see it, and I also have a can of glitter hairspray to make sparkly fairy money, so we are all set!

FO: Daybreak shawl

This past spring, I cast on a new knit-whilst-reading project. (What, you don’t have one of those? You should!) As before, my only criteria are that it has 1) miles upon miles of stockinette; 2) minimal shaping.

This time, I chose the Daybreak shawl by Stephen West. He’s a relatively new designer (ravelry suggests his first pattern was published in 2009), but I can see why he is so popular. This shawl has a very clean look to it, modern and unfussy.

I bought no new yarn for this one; from my stash, I unearthed 2×50-g skeins of Schoeller Esslinger sock yarn in grey and 1×100-g skein of Colinette Jitterbug in variegated dark purple. I seem to have a lot of lavender-purple-grey-charcoal clothes in my work wardrobe, so I vaguely thought it would mesh well with existing outfits.

The pattern is straightforward and hard to goof up. My only surprise occurred during the bind off. I like to block shawls hard, so I used this classic stretchy bind off. I began binding off, but midway through, I realized I would run out of yarn. I tinked back the bind off and the entire prior row (this is the long purple edge – many hundreds of stitches) and bound off again. This time, I made it through nearly the whole bind off, but when I got to about 3 inches from the end, I realized I wouldn’t have enough yarn. (How much yarn does this bind off eat? For heaven’s sake!) Groaning, I tinked back the bind off and then tinked another row, took a deep breath, and bound off a third time. I spent >5 hours tinking and binding this sucker off.

But done is done, and it looks great. :)

It was blocked using wires, and I tried really hard to make the neckline symmetric in its roundness. Didn’t quite make it, but it is close enough. It reminds me of an eclipse, with the open circle moving in to cover the grey circle.

Meredith saw this and exclaimed, “A spider web!”

The tail ends curve generously toward the front, and it turns out that I like this feature very much. (I’ve only made rectangular and triangular shawls previously.) It sits well on the shoulders, tied or untied, although I tend to keep it tied.

In other news, I had my first mammograms ~2 weeks ago. I’m fine, everything is OK, but I just wanted to remind you to take a few minutes to check yourself (or tell your loved ones to go check).

I was taking a shower on the Friday before Thanksgiving when I noticed a distinct lump in my breast. I thought, hm, this seems… not normal. Matt agreed, and I got in to see a primary care doc later that morning.

Doc also agreed that it seemed unusual and asked me when I first noticed it. Uh, a few hours ago? She asked me how often I checked. Every few months, I said, and I’d had a physical in June that included a breast exam with normal findings. I asked if it might be cycle related, and she said no, the lump was a little too large for that. She ordered some tests for the following Monday.

I tell you, it was very strange to kick around the idea over the weekend that I might get bad news. Monday afternoon, I had 2 mammograms and an ultrasound. Every person who examined me (3 techs, 2 docs) asked me how often I checked and when did I first notice it. I’m assuming this is because the lump was so damn large (4.3 cm in its largest dimension) that they couldn’t believe I’d discovered it only a few days earlier.

Turns out they think I have an “unusual presentation” of a common, benign condition (fibrocystic changes) because the lumpy area is kind of concentrated in one spot instead of being diffusely spread. Even though they want me back for another scan in a half year, I’m feeling quite relieved and lucky. But ladies, do check yourselves… maybe more often than every couple of months.


I don’t sew Halloween costumes. Some people know I sew and knit, and every year, I get asked about whether I made the girls’ outfits. I went to Costco this time and my clone army picked out Disney Princess costumes. Whenever I explain this, I mimic taking a hanger off of a rod 3 times while saying, “Done. Done. And done!”

Everyone laughs, and this year, other moms (and 1 dad!) praised my good sense. The girls are happier in these clothes than in anything I would ever sew for them, so we all win.

FO: Hummingbird peplum top

I finished this top a few weeks ago and finally managed to get some photos snapped one late afternoon.

This is the Hummingbird peplum top from Cake patterns (pattern here). The fabric is ITY jersey (100% polyester), purchased probably about a year ago from Gorgeous Fabrics.

It purports to have a “4-leaf clover” shaped peplum, but I couldn’t tell what that meant after reviewing the pattern, line drawings, or even pictures from other sewing bloggers. But now I get it – see above, it dips down a little bit at the center back (and also the center front, the center left, and center right).

It looks like it’s riding a little high on the front, but I think that’s actually because I’m pulling my arms back (to show the side seam). When my arms are hanging at my sides, the hem seems pretty even all around.

I’m still not a fan of the cut-on sleeves, it feels like there’s just too much room in the armpit (the upper-body equivalent of pants with a too-low crotch?). The sleeves bunch a little too much with my arms down, too, even with this thin fabric.

The peplum is a new style for me. I’d previously avoided peplums because hey, no waist to accentuate, but this was pretty drapey and looked pretty subtle. I like this one!

If you’re interested in the technical details, the full pattern review is here.

FO: Snow mittens

Happy Friday, everyone!

The weather in SE Minnesota seems to have gone from late summer straight to winter. A couple weeks ago, I was mowing the lawn in a t-shirt and jeans, but this week, it’s so cold that I am wearing my full-length down-filled puffer coat for the morning commute. Crazy.

Our daycare has been reminding the parents to get hats and mittens for the kids because they still go outside to play every day unless it’s brutally cold (<25F or something). We managed to get everyone hats last week, but Matt was shopping alone that night and brought home mittens that turned out to be too big for the younger sisters. (My hands nearly fit into them!) I went back to Target yesterday, but with a big sale going on, the mitten rack was literally stripped bare. I snagged the very last pair of toddler mittens – pink, thankfully (because the girls at the age where they can recognize and reject “boy clothes”) – but we still needed another pair.

A sensible Mama would go to another store, of course, but a crafty Mama would just “whip up” a set of mittens. Guess which kind of Mama I am? :o

Aside: I cringe when sewing bloggers talk about how quickly they can put something together. T-shirt in a half hour! Chanel jacket in a week and a half! It bugs me only because it makes me think, so a pair of mittens, how bad could that be? Right? Riiiiight?

Let’s get this out of the way – I spent almost 4 hours making a pair of mittens. That includes time spent driving to the store to buy $3 of Insul-Bright and $2 of plastic clips. Let’s also make this clear – I am not sewing mittens to save money. That 30-min trip to Walmart to get $10 mittens doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

I also left the kitchen a total mess after dinner and lost >1 hr of sleep that I will never get back. Why did I do all of this? Because I didn’t want to have new mittens for only 1 sister and not the other. Because the pattern was free and I had almost everything I needed in my stash (PUL, FOE, thin fleece – leftovers from the cloth diaper days). Because, for once, I just wanted to throw my sometimes tediously orderly life (we must clean the kitchen after dinner! we must get to bed by 10:30!) to the wind and follow my heart, which was begging to spontaneously whip something up for my kids.

I had googled for “DIY mitten PUL” and ended up following this free pattern and tutorial. I loved, loved, loved the directions and tutorial. I loved the 3 layers of waterproofness, insulation, and softness. I loved the elastic sewn to the exterior layer. I loved the gusseted thumb. I loved the FOE binding.

But I HATED the mitten pattern itself. Maybe it was just me, but I could not get anything to align on the thumb area, to the point where I was wondering if I’d somehow reversed L and R pieces or was going batsh&t-crazy. I ended up soldiering on and taking in a massive seam allowance here and there, just so I could sew through all the layers at the same time. I have no idea what went wrong.

Speaking of seam allowances (SA), I could not sew through 4 layers of fleece and Insul-bright with a 1/4″ SA; everything was shifty and I inevitably lost some layers. Because the pattern author says the mittens fit kids ages 2-8, I figured I could take a 3/8″-1/2″ SA (my kid is 3). I did trim the SAs down after sewing.

So I highly recommend the tutorial and layers and the general ideas presented, but if I make mittens again, I will definitely use SOME OTHER PATTERN. (Maybe this one?) The Insul-bright is marketed as being usable in clothing, but it seemed oddly crinkly because of the layer of mylar. I kept thinking about the word “creepy” as I was sewing through it, so maybe I will swap that out for Thinsulate the next time. I added the little clip because I have them on my own (storebought) gloves, and it really does help me keep them together.

The tutorial doesn’t specifically mention how to apply the FOE. I measured the amount I needed, sewed it in a circle, sort of quarter-marked it, and sewed it on using a triple zigzag.

Casey and her new mittens