Category Archives: Family

FO: Felted Sweater Dog

I still get hand-me-down clothes from my sister – we’re not quite the same size, we have kind of different styles – but she often buys at places that I only “snoop shop” at, so it’s always fun to receive a box of clothes from her.

Last year, she sent a lovely brown sweater with a draped neck. It actually fit me perfectly, so I was pleased to wear it this past winter. I unthinkingly tossed it in the wash one day and was shocked to pull out a toddler-sized sweater. My sister NEVER wears handwash-only clothes, it’s either straight to the machine or to the dry cleaners, so I had just assumed it was a washable garment (because who dry cleans sweaters?).

After kicking myself for my stupidity (the tag clearly said 80% wool – and COME ON, as a Wool Person, I should have known better), I pondered the options and decided to make a doll out of the fulled fabric. I mulled over my stash and found the perfect thing – a plush Dog by We Wilsons. I found the stegosaurus pattern in my archive, too, so I must have grabbed the patterns during the giveaway, so many years ago. The pattern is still available for sale on Etsy.

I had just enough fabric to cut out the upper body and tail. I used Polartec (Windbloc, I think? Leftover from diapermaking days) for the contrast because I love brown and blue together.

Assembly was straightforward. The instructions confused me for a while about what to nip and tuck out of the underside legs to stop the dog from splaying out, but I figured it out eventually.

The fulled fabric was so stiff, I knew I didn’t have a chance at turning the tail inside out. I chose to just sew the 2 pieces together and leave it flat.

I stuffed it with some scoured Romney that I bought to spin a million year ago, before I realized that Romney is too harsh against my skin.

The ears were making me crazy, like he was trying to take off or perhaps was perpetually confused. This would be the second dog I’ve made with antigravity ears (2006!), and I just wanted to do it differently.

Taking a lesson from the leg tucks, I made ear tucks. Long stitches were pulled tight to bring the ear down. Does it look better?

The eyes and the adorable fuzzy brown nose were purchased from Suncatcher Eyes (9-mm nose and 12-mm eyes). I followed Planet June’s guidelines for eye placement.

Not much else to say, I guess! Enjoy the cuteness!

FO: A sashiko adventure

[This post contains Amazon affiliate links.]

I grew up in a suburb of Chicago that was mostly white and mostly Jewish. Even though I’m a nissei (second-generation Japanese), I’m not culturally Japanese by any stretch. I say this only to explain why, when the Surviving Tsunami Waves exhibit came to Rochester, it wasn’t exactly on my radar.

However, the event was partly sponsored by Mayo, and so a number of items were on display in the atrium right next to where I work. I passed by one afternoon, glimpsed some handstitched garments (ooh, textiles), and wandered down to check it out.

It’s painful to think about the people who lost so much in the Japanese tsunami that hit the Tohoku region in 2011. In addition to losing loved ones, homes, and possessions, many women in that area also lost their livelihoods that were based on the sea – gathering seaweed from rocks, harvesting sea urchins, that sort of thing.

The Senninbari Project came about to give these women a new source of income and to reestablish their sense of community and identity. The founders of this project are Tsuyo Onodera, a kimono maker and instructor for 50 years (analogous to a European couturier), and her daughter, Maki Aizawa; they went to the shelters and taught embroidery and sewing. The women displaced by the tsunami learned these handstitching skills and now collaborate to create handmade, traditional garments. I think the hope is that they will form a sewing collective (?). Their goals bear some similarity to Alabama Chanin.


Family crests of survivors


Is it wrong that this reminds me of a bowl of ramen?

In any case, the exhibit that I saw featured kimonos, quilts, and wall hangings. I went home, googled some more, and read that they were offering a 3-hr workshop on sashiko embroidery. I knew nothing about this type of stitchery, but hey, what a great chance to learn, right?

The master kimono maker herself was our instructor for the night! That was a nice surprise. We were all given a kit to make a “fukin” (btw, pronounced more like “foo-keen” than like a curse word), which is essentially a dishcloth. The cloth is printed with water-soluble ink.

The fabric is folded in half, roughly basted (as in stitches 1″ long). Sashiko is a plain old running stitch, nothing fancy or difficult. In (Western) hooped embroidery, the fabric is held taut and the needle is pushed down or pulled up perpendicular to the plane of the fabric. However, in sashiko embroidery, one hand holds the needle mostly parallel to the plane of the fabric as the other hand “wags” the fabric up and down over the point of the needle to form the stitching line. The fabric has to be smoothed out very frequently to avoid gathering.

The thread is knotted only at one end. We were taught to slither the needle in between the folded layers to hide the knot at the beginning of each length of thread, but at the end of the thread, we were to duplicate stitch over previously embroidered areas and then just snip the thread at the surface of the fabric, no knots.

The patterns are usually quite geometric. The traditional way of embroidering is to do all of the horizontal lines first, then the vertical lines, then diagonal lines 1 way, then diagonals the other, and then fill in whatever remains, including the border. Some duplicate stitching is inevitable.

The class itself was slightly chaotic because the teacher spoke no English and her daughter, the translator, was often preoccupied by her toddler son (who was having a nighttime fussy period). But we managed to get through it. Two other Japanese women were at the workshop, so among the 3 of us, we were able to decipher the teacher’s instructions and help some of the other students. (I can understand some Japanese but cannot really speak it.)

You can see me stitching away at the workshop. I was sitting next to a gal with a great sense of humor, and we joked about whether we would have the nerve to actually scrub our kitchens with hand-embroidered towels. We laughed even harder when the teacher remarked that we should be able to finish one of these cloths within a few hours. In fact, it took the better part of a week to get mine done.


Holding up >2 hrs’ work

When it was finished, I pressed it carefully, took a few photos, and then wondered if I should save it.


This is the “asa no ha” (hemp leaf) pattern.

Then I reminded myself that I vastly preferred keeping useful stuff (as opposed to strictly decorative stuff), so I briskly got it wet and scrubbed my kitchen table. It felt great.


In its native habitat

My parents see my Instagram feed and knew I had taken the class. My mom dug through her closets and sent me a surprise gift. This is a fukin that was embroidered by her cousin some 20 years earlier. My mom could not bring herself to use it. Now it is mine, and it is in as pristine a condition as it was when my mother received it. Isn’t that something?

I bought a couple more preprinted washcloths, plus a set of needles
and thimble that are specifically for sashiko. I have at least 2 more washcloths in my future!

Recycled crayons

Our elementary school discourages (or prohibits, depending on whom you talk to) bringing in food for celebrations because of the potential for triggering severe food-related allergies, so I was hunting for something that we could add to Meredith’s Valentine’s cards that would be inedible and not too expensive.

I looked at dollar store pencils, stickers, and other trinkets but decided to go with crazy crayons. Yes, I did have to buy candy molds to do this project, so it wasn’t as inexpensive as I’d hoped, but the molds are adorable and can be reused. (I’d bet with some really careful scrubbing, they could even be used for food someday.) We did have a huge bucket of broken crayons, though, the raw materials were at the ready.

With my MIL’s help, we peeled crayons, chopped them into bits, and filled 3 silicone candy trays. After the wax was melted, the trays went into the freezer. The girls were able to pop the frozen crayons out of the flexible trays without my help.

Hints we gathered on the interwebs or figured out ourselves:

  • The labels peel off easily if the crayons are soaked in water.
  • Reported baking temperatures range from 150-250F. I used 200F, and it took probably 20 min to melt.
  • The final crayons look better if made from a mix light and dark colors.
  • Avoid a) washable crayons and b) Melissa and Doug crayons. The former will dissolve during label soak off, and the latter do not melt!
  • Overcooking results in a layer of white wax as the pigments settle. It looks cool but is no good for coloring.

All in all, it was a fast and relatively easy project.

I’m sure we’ll be doing this again!

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.

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.

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.


Groovin’!

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:

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.