Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pavlova Presale! + Small Sewing Updates!

Pavlova... The latest delicious pattern from Cake, with illustrations by yours truly and graphic design by my talented hubby. And the $11 presale ends tomorrow, Dec. 20!

Dear fellow seamstresses, seamsters, sewists, sewaholics, knitfanatics, etcetera: I hope you're all having a lovely and craftalicious holiday season. Despite the somewhat despondent tone of my last post, I have several slightly exciting things to report:

I actually near-sewed a top last weekend. It was another Jalie 2921 scarf-collar top, this time in three-quarter sleeves in white rayon knit with red polka dots. I am not showing it to you yet for several reasons:

  1. It is rather transparent. Oops!
  2. It is rather snug. Really, it fits PERFECTLY, but considering issue (1), perhaps I should have been more generous with the ease. It's very sexy secretary. Er.
  3. I haven't actually hemmed it yet. I thought I had plenty of time (my parents borrowed my toddler for a family Chanukah celebration) BUT neglected to calculate in the three hours it always takes me to curse my serger into submission and actually get it stitching every time I pull it out of the closet after months of disuse.

Still... baby steps. Also:

The knitting has been helping me relax a little, and I almost have one sleeve on my chartreuse sweater. Really! (Pictures soon on all of this!)

Pavlova, The second pattern I've illustrated for Cake is now in presale (until tomorrow, Dec. 20, it's $11 instead of $17). I had so much fun with this — we moved the background model from Tiramisu, Esme, to the front and center, and added a new cover woman, Maya. And as you can see, with this pattern and Tiramisu, I'm trying to create girls of various figure types who are all gorgeous — but realistically so.

AND I've been enjoying seeing a number of delicious Tiramisus around the blogosphere. I'm hoping I can actually make one myself over the long Christmas weekend, but that might be overly ambitious for my current circumstances.

But back to Pavlova for a minute. Steph and I had fun designing a little paper doll / rag doll pattern (a "petit four" if you will) for the cover girl, Esme. So this weekend my daughter Z and I gave her a test run in paper — Z decided she would look best with purple hair, brown skin, brown eyes, blue top, green shoes and bracelet and a yellow polka dot skirt. I think her instincts were spot-on:

Warm holiday wishes and happy sewing to you all!

P.S. Thank you again for all your kind comments on my last post... I can't even describe how much your support and digital hugs meant to me!

P.P.S. When I am able... I have NOT forgotten about the blog giveaway I ran back in June. Really! Please just consider it a longish delay.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Knitting Therapy

Georgina Cardigan Progress

Don't worry, I didn't have to rip my sweater back to the beginning, I just needed a knitting image to go with the post title.

Part 1: The rut. Being in it. Etc.

When you fall out of the habit of making things, sometimes the smallest stumbling blocks seem insurmountable. You take a short pause, get stopped up or stuck... and then somehow it's months later and you can't remember where you keep the extra bobbins or where your elastics are or how the hell to do a wrap and turn.

By you, I mean of course, me.

It's been a long time now — nearly four months — since I mentioned I was struggling on a few fronts that were keeping me from crafting: Struggling with my daughter's life-threatening food allergies and debilitating severe chronic eczema. Struggling with a strict budget. Struggling with lack of sleep (due to afore-mentioned toddler eczema).

At the time I hoped it was all temporary, and in a month or so I'd have it sorted. But bad turned into worse, and temporary into never-ending. I'm afraid I even stopped reading all your wonderful blogs because it hurt too much to feel so behind and so out of the sewing and knitting loop.

On top of the above-mentioned, the minute my sweet girl started preschool, she (predictably) began catching every cold virus known to humankind. She'd get minor sniffles and a cough and be better in a few days... but between my sleep-deprivation and my own seasonal allergies, I began getting repeatedly seriously sick. Not cold sick, but fever and chills and fatigue and aches sick for weeks on end. I'd get well for a few days, begin to get back on my feet, try to catch up on my life and work and chores... and then the whole cycle would start again.

So. How does this relate to "knitting therapy"?

Part 2: The knitter on the subway.

Recently I was trying to keep my eyes open on the subway train after yet another horrible sleepless night of trying to soothe my daughter as she cried and itched and scratched from head to toe from her severe eczema. I was feeling pretty distraught and sorry for myself, and just generally glum and anxious and worried and tired. I was worried that the latest expensive time-intensive eczema treatment regimen would just be another bust. I was tired of all the well-meaning advice and comments from strangers on the street alarmed by the cracked, flaking, inflamed, infected red rash covering her face ("What's wrong with her face?" "Have you tried Vaseline?" etc.) I worried that I had distanced myself from my friends, and that the people around me that I hadn't pushed away were probably sick of hearing about nothing but my little girl's food allergies and eczema. I worried that the slight sore throat I had was a harbinger of yet another miserable few weeks of illness.

Across from me on the subway there was a knitter. I found myself watching her calmly click-clacking her needles, working her way stitch by stitch through a thick wooly gray — scarf? sweater? it was unclear. I have no idea what was going through her mind, but she seemed utterly relaxed and absorbed in her work.

And I remembered my soft chartreuse merino Georgina cardigan, the one I had near-finished in September.

I realized the only thing that had kept me from moving to the next stage was that I just hadn't taken the time to search for the size 6 double-pointed needles I needed to pick up and knit the sleeves.

I didn't get around to searching out the needles just yet — I barely felt capable of putting my clothes on the right way front in the mornings – but I felt a tickling at the back of my brain.

Then I was watching an online webinar about the latest advances in managing pediatric eczema (yes, that's how I occupy myself these days) ... and the doctor presenting mentioned that they had some success in teaching children to keep their hands busy with knitting as a way of distracting them and calming them and stopping them from scratching their rashes and infections. As a kind of meditation.

Part 3: Digging out the DPNs.

It still took me a while. But, a few mornings later, while my husband packed me a lunch and got my daughter dressed, I found a few moments to rummage through my knitting drawers and find my size 6 wooden DPNs.

I began to knit again on my lunch break (I didn't want to mess with DPNs and short rows and lace and picking up stitches all at once on a crowded subway). It came back to me — mostly, though I had to look up tutorials on short rows and even which direction a yarn over is supposed to go (really). And I can't describe the feeling of relief and calm that came over me — even amidst the sleep deprivation and anxiety and worry for my sweet little girl — as the soft wool fed through my fingers and I clicked the needles back and forth.

Anyway. The title of this post is a bit of a joke, but a bit not. When you're really low, there is something to be said for the calm that comes from making things with your own hands, with doing something that is just complicated enough to absorb most of your attention, but not so much your mind can't wander a bit or you can't speak.

Part 4: Relearning the habit.

I really miss you all (am I still in your feed readers?) though I can't make any promises that I'll be back at active sewing or blogging or even blog-reading any time soon. But I no longer feel totally interrupted in my crafting, and maybe I can relearn the habit of never not making things, even in the small moments I have available to me.

On another front... my daughter's eczema has been so frighteningly bad lately that I couldn't possibly show any photos of her sweet little face here. But today, a new regimen we've been trying has been having some tentatively positive results... and we were actually able to take a family holiday photo. This is a huge deal.

Thanks for listening!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Last chance for Tiramisu pre-sale! (ends Oct. 5)

I know I've been quiet as a little wishes-she-had-time-to-sew mouse over here, but wanted to make sure you all knew tomorrow is the very last day for Steph aka the Consulting Dressmaker's Tiramisu dress presale. As you may have heard, I've been working with my husband Masheka on the illustration and design for the pattern, and it's been an awesome experience... can't wait to actually make the dress!

Anyway, from now until tomorrow Oct. 5 (Australian time tomorrow, which I'm totally confused about), you can get this lovely dress pattern for $11 instead of $17. It ships in early November. Go go go while you still can!

Still no sewing over here due to an ongoing battle with my toddler over bedtime—no matter how many times we send her back to her room, she comes popping back out again unless one of us lies there with her mumbling made-up bedtime stories and lullabies for hours and rubbing her back... which usually ends in me falling asleep on the guest bed around 11 p.m. while she's still trying to jump all over the bed. But as soon as the situation improves, I have lots of crafty plans!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chartreuse Cardigan Progress + Blue Ombré Overload Socks!

Chartreuse Georgina Cardigan progress - front

Rough as it's been around here lately—with no sewing going on to speak of—I've been stealing bits and odds and moments to knit, mostly on my subway commute. And somehow all those moments have finally added up to... most of my chartreuse organic merino Georgina cardigan! (full Ravelry details here).

Here's the back (I'm so into the lace, maybe I should just walk backwards so people can admire it more directly). It looked SO teeny-tiny while I was knitting that many people asked if I was making another toddler sweater... so I'm REALLY glad it actually fits.

Chartreuse Georgina cardigan progress - back

Oh, and here's the original sketch for reference, back when I was still dithering over my color choices:

Georgina Cardigan Color Options: Which Yarn to Choose?!

So... the fit is great... the organic hand-dyed merino is soft as a cloud... the design is awesome... BUT... I may not actually have enough yarn left for full sleeves. So—how do you all think this will look with cap sleeves? (There is no budget for an additional skein, though I WILL allow myself to buy proper buttons).

Oh, and if you're wondering why I'm wearing my ombré polka dot dress for these photos, it's because I thought it'd be funny to photograph my ombré dress with my finished blue ombré Waving Lace socks (from yarn grad-dyed by me ages ago):

Blue Gradation Overload Waving Lace Socks

Though honestly... you'll never actually catch me wearing socks with a dressy dress. I pretty much wear them with pants or SOMETIMES with casual skirts.

They've actually been done for weeks now, but I didn't feel like doing a wool-sock photo shoot in 90-degree heat... here's a sharper look:

Blue Gradation Overload Waving Lace Socks

I swear the gradation is much more obvious in real life!

Next up in knitting—I think I'll tackle some colorwork. I really need some pretty winter gloves... or there are these cute striped convertible mittens (i.e. the tops flip off to reveal fingerless gloves) from an old issue of Vogue Knitting I know I have lying around somewhere...

convertible mittens

How are your fall knitting and sewing plans coming along?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Name the Cake Patterns cover girl!

As previously mentioned, I'm having a delightful time working on the illustrations for StephC (aka The Consulting Dressmaker)'s fabulous new independent pattern line, Cake Patterns. Almost-final Tiramisu knit dress envelope cover art above—but this cover girl needs a name, and Steph is soliciting ideas, detailed backstories (and pattern testers, too!) Why not throw a name or two in the hat?

I'm super-excited to make this dress myself in the chevroned strips version... I already have the perfect fabric in the stash—this lovely soft cotton/spandex knit I got at NY Elegant Fabrics a few months back:

Red and white striped cotton spandex knit

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sewing Without a Cat and Other Struggles

Although I try to keep this blog strongly focused on knitting and sewing, I've been struggling with a few things recently that I wanted to share, from least to most challenging.

#1: Life Without a Cat.

Above is a recent photo of my sweet cat Ronnie (on right), snuggled up with with his best friend Squeaky. But that's not my chair, and that's not my apartment.

A few weeks ago we were devastated to learn in Z's latest round of allergy tests that she had become SEVERELY allergic to cats (after previously testing negative)... which likely explained her constant runny nose and the horrible flare-ups she'd been having in her eczema, which her dermatologist told us were probably related to newly developed environmental allergies, not her existing severe food allergies.

As painful as it was, we had no choice—we sent Ronnie to live with my parents, washed EVERYTHING in the apartment, scrubbed and vacuumed and scrubbed again... the allergist says it will take SIX years to remove all the cat dander completely because it's so sticky, but we have hopefully reduced the allergen load by a big amount.

The good news is, little Z's eczema has improved significantly. She still scratches constantly (waking herself up at night), and still has some patches on her face, arms and legs, and we still have to give her Zyrtec every day and COVER her in layers of ointments and cream twice a day... but for the first time in MONTHS, her face is no longer covered with oozing open sores and a bumpy red rash—probably because she was so fond of hugging Ronnie and rubbing her face against him.

Still, living without a cat is such a bummer. We had already lost one cat when my sweet (but very sickly) little Riley died last year, and it's just WEIRD coming home to an apartment without a cat to greet me and wind around my legs, or sit on the floor next to the sewing table or... you get the idea. (Also: I'll never qualify for the Sewing With Cats Blog Award! Even though I've had to replace my presser foot cable TWICE due to feline destruction!)

Little Z really misses him, so she's been playing a lot with a stuffed kitty doll that she has named "Ronnie." But I have to say he probably doesn't miss her—she was always a little too generous with her affection! And both Ronnie and Squeaky are happier not to be solo cats anymore.

#2: Sending My Food-Allergic Toddler Off to Preschool

So #1 sucks. But #2... is beyond terrifying. Z has life-threatening allergies to sesame, mustard, eggs, tree nuts and cow's milk. Even a small amount of these foods—as we learned the first time she had a tiny bite of hummus and we had to call an ambulance to rush her to the ER—could be extremely dangerous for her. And because sesame and mustard aren't "Top 8" allergens in the U.S. (though they are in Canada and Australia), U.S. food labels aren't required to mention them, and can even include them in vague terms like "spices" or "natural flavorings."

So there aren't ANY restaurants we can safely take her to these days (she's just way too grabby and mobile), and all the constant label-reading and cooking EVERYTHING special and from scratch and calling companies to make sure they don't process sesame or mustard in the same factory as her bread or cereal is a bit exhausting. We bake her special allergen-free cupcakes if she gets invited to a birthday party, and we ALWAYS carry safe snacks for her everywhere.

Since she was born, Z has always been taken care of by family—at first by me, and then when I went back to work, by my mom, and for the past year-and-a-half, by my husband. We've never even hired a babysitter for her, since we don't feel safe trusting an outsider to manage her severe food allergies. The few date nights we get, she's been watched by family members or by generous friends who came to our sesame and nut-free apartment.

Out on the playground, we probably look like so-called "helicopter parents", because we have to constantly be hovering to make sure she doesn't put anything dangerous in her mouth (like a dropped nut, say) or go too near to a child eating hummus or a sesame snack or goldfish crackers.

But as much as I would like to keep her in a magic allergy-free bubble, little Z is old enough that she needs to be around more kids. So we've enrolled her fulltime in a wonderful little preschool near our apartment where she'll get to play, learn, grow and make new friends.

We're meeting with everyone at the school to work out a plan for keeping her safe whenever kids are eating or snacking, for having safe foods available for her for snacktimes—and of course for having an Epi-pen available and everyone trained to use it in case of a reaction.

They are super responsive and understanding, and have managed severe allergies before (though maybe not as many in one child as Z has?!), but I will admit the whole thing is giving me nightmares.

Z, on the other hand, is totally psyched. She had her first two "assimilation" (is it just me, or does that remind you of the Borg?) classes this week and keeps talking about how much she loves school and her teacher.

#3: Etcetera.

So yeah. Add in the complete lack of sleep or free time I've had in the evenings since Z learned to climb out of her crib and we tried to put her in a "big girl" bed... and the tighter-than-tight budget regime we've instituted to make preschool possible (we've completely eliminated takeout or buying lunches out, groceries for each meal must cost less than $2.50/person, no buying books or DVDs or sewing supplies or music, thrift-store clothes only, etc.)...

... and I'm a bit frazzled, to say the least. I'm trying to stay positive, though—I have a wonderful daughter, a loving husband, an amazing family and a cool job and I live in a fabulous city! The school is being great about Z's food allergies and my kitty is in a happy new home.

And there are upsides, of course! For example, our strict budget has led to us trying lots of tasty new recipes—and Z has been loving coming with me to the farmer's market every Saturday to pick out her favorite fruits and veggies. She even helps me cook—last night she mixed up the guacamolé herself and helped me make pizza dough for tonight's dinner, and the other day she tore the kale leaves from the stems to make kale soup.

Thanks for listening! Phew!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Can Home Sewing Save Us from the Evils of the Cheap Fashion Industry?

"Fashion largely deserves its bad reputation. It's now a powerful, trillion-dollar global industry that has too much influence over our pocketbooks, self-image and storage spaces. It behaves with embarrassingly little regard for the environment or human rights."
—Elizabeth Cline, in Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

The most inspiring sewing book I've read in years is not really a sewing book at all—it contains no patterns, no tips, no brightly colored how-to diagrams or pattern-matching instructions.

Instead, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion is a trip into the heart of the clothing industry of today—and yesterday—a personal history, and maybe even a bit of a slow fashion (or even slow sewing) manifesto.

This book was a more compelling call to get back to my sewing machine than any of the adorable and colorfully packaged sewing how-to books and pattern books I own. Thrifting, making and mending our own clothes won't solve the global environmental, labor and human rights disaster that is the rise of the cheap fashion industry--but they can't hurt, either. (And they may be the only way that those of us on a really tight budget can opt out—to some degree, anyway—of giving our hard-earned dollars to the undeserving cheap fashion industry).

Cline does an excellent (and even entertaining) job of breaking down the life (and afterlife) of cheap fashion, and its effects on the planet, human rights, domestic clothing jobs, the economy and more. As aware as I'd like to think I am, I quickly realized I knew very little about the history and present-day reality of retail clothing production.

She visits New York and L.A.'s Garment Districts, clothing factories in China and Bangladesh, thrift store charities overwhelmed with unusable donations of cheap crap, textile recyclers, vintage sellers, shuttered garment factories throughout the U.S. She talks to fashion designers, factory owners, cheap fashion addicts who post their large hauls on Youtube and luxury fashion addicts with soaring credit card debt.

She also gets into the nitty-gritty of how garments are priced (underpriced at the low end, and overpriced at the luxury end), and what those costs do—and don't—include.

A smart and inspiring read--and call to action!--Cline's book has been aptly called the Fast Food Nation or Ominivore's Dilemma of the fashion industry. A few surprises for me:

  • New York's Garment District—which I tend to think of mainly as an excellent fabric shopping resource—was once actually the main factory center of retail garment manufacturing in the U.S. (Sorry if this was obvious to all of you—I never really thought about it!).
  • One of the reasons the cost of good-quality vintage clothing has gone up so much is that it's one of the last ways textile recyclers (who purchase unsold second-hand clothes and rags from Goodwill and similar charities) can actually make any money, since most of the clothes they receive are worthless poorly-made H&M-esque crap.
  • In the 1990s, 50 percent of clothing purchased in the U.S. was still made in the U.S. Now it's more like 2 percent. (Quoting this from memory, as I don't have my copy of the book in front of me).

Throughout Overdressed, she also talks about the rise and fall of home sewing and mending—which used to be the main way women of modest and middle incomes were able to afford to keep their clothes up-to-date and in good repair. Towards the end of the book, Cline talks about the resurgence in home sewing and interviews a few sewists and make-do-and-menders, and even buys her own sewing machine.

"My opinion on home sewing is that it’s already so much more sustainable than buying off-the-rack clothes from a huge chain store. Home sewers are part of the solution, not the problem. I know that resources for home sewers have dwindled over the years. Parts of the country don’t even have fabric shops. I think the more immediate goal should be to grow the number of home sewers before we tackle issue of where their fabric is being sourced."
—Cline, in a recent interview on Pattern Review

After I finished the book, I was so fired up I immediately:

  • whipped up the polka dot dress I shared recently
  • began an obsessive inquiry into life, the universe and the meaning of STUFF and the materials economy, including reading Annie's Leonard's fantastic book The Story of Stuff (you do NOT want to know what goes into the making of a simple "cheap" white T-shirt or the costs to the environment, human rights and human health that get left out of that "low" price tag!) and checking out Greenpeace's "Detox Now" campaign
  • made a gazillion trillion plans for next projects, which were then promptly derailed when...
  • my 2-year-old learned out to climb out of her crib at night and we had to convert it to a toddler bed... upon which point she decided she wanted to party around the living room singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" until past midnight. Every night. And even when she does go to bed, by 2 a.m. we hear the pitter patter of little feet and she's crawling into our bed to kick us in the back all night long...

Sigh. So it goes.

What inspiring sewing reads have you picked up lately?

P.S. Did any of you watch the Project Runway All Stars episode a while back featuring the fabulous Nanette Lepore giving the contestants a lesson in estimating costs and designing garments to be sewn in a New York Garment Center factory? I've always admired her designs, but found it especially cool that she's one of a few "mid-range" (i.e. sadly way out of my budget but what a good quality garment ACTUALLY costs to make) designers who still manufactures here in the U.S...

P.P.S. One thing to remember—which I forgot to mention above—is that no matter how cheap a garment is, it was NOT spit out by a magic garment-making machine. Someone, somewhere, somehow, physically sat down at a sewing machine and sewed every seam on that $2 tank top or that $5 T-shirt.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Delicious Collaboration

My illustration for StephC (aka The Consulting Dressmaker)'s "Sisters of Edwardia" digital download pattern

I've been a little quiet lately, but it's not for lack of sewing or sewing-related projects—as you may have read over at 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World, my husband Masheka and I have been working behind the scenes on design and illustration for the launch of Steph's fabulous new line of independent printed sewing pattern deliciousness, Cake Patterns.

I can't spill all the exciting details, but trust me—these patterns are smart, saucy, vintage-inspired (yet modern) and just generally delicious, with fun details and a unique approach to sizing and construction.

Up top you can see some art I did for one of her pre-Cake digital download patterns—the style will be quite a bit different (more graphic and bold) but it's a little taste of what's to come.

Sign up for the Cake newsletter (and the pattern pre-sale update) here!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Polka Dot Ombré Dress Overload (McCall's 6070)

McCall's 6070 polka dot dress

True dress love: black & white polka dots of all sizes in a quick and easy surplice-bodice knit dress.

So do you ever pick up a pattern, grab some fabric from your stash, and just get cutting and sewing—without any detailed planning, sketching, agonizing, muslining, pattern matching or bust-adjustmenting?

Because I like, NEVER do that. Except, with this dress I did—and it totally worked.

Inspiration: When Lee offered up a copy of McCall's 6070 at a recent Brooklyn BurdaStyle Sewing Club get-together, a giant lightbulb of happiness materialized over my head... because with its wide gathered shoulders, surplice neckline and midriff band it was almost a dead ringer for my favorite RTW dress, the "Marisa" dress by Karina, shown here in December:

Mommy & Z

Now, Karina dresses are AWESOME: they're stretchy, comfy, sexy, well-made available in a wide variety of awesome styles and patterns—AND best of all, made by seamstresses sewing for a living wage in Brooklyn! So they're definitely well worth the $160 price tag... BUT I couldn't pass up the chance to make my own version with some stash fabric I had on hand.

The pattern: Easy McCall's 6070 (now out-of-print).

Pattern Description: Simple knit dress with gathers at shoulders and under the bust, surplice front and back bodice, back ties, midriff waistband and gathered dirndl-style skirt.

Pattern Sizing: You know, the usual. Since I was using a stretchy poly knit, I made the back bodice in a size 10... and tried to cheat my way out of a full bust adjustment by cutting the front bodice as a size 14 (except for the shoulders—I cut those in a 10).

This mostly worked, except the front wrap edges are gapping like no-body's business despite my best clear elastic application efforts—because I need extra length over the girls, but not over the breastbone.

I didn't use the midriff pattern or the skirt pattern—I just cut some 4" wide rectangles for the midriff, and drafted a half-circle skirt using Patty the Snug Bug's handy calculator.


Did it look like the photo/drawing on the pattern envelope once you were done sewing with it? Sure-ish.

Were the instructions easy to follow? Easy enough. But I didn't bother with putting elastic in the waistband (due to the high recovery power of my knit) or hemming the bottom edge.

What did you particularly like or dislike about the pattern? It's such a flattering style—it really emphasizes the waist (and bust?)!

Fabric: 2 yards of very soft mystery polyester ombré-effect jersey from the stash, purchased at Sew-Fisticated Discount Fabrics in Boston for $3/yard.

B&W polka dot ombre matte jersey

The really awesome thing about this fabric was the ombré pattern—tiny dots in the middle growing to giant dots at the edge. I cut the skirt from the tiny dots bit, and the bodice from the bigger dots, and the waistband from some medium dots.

But as much as I would like to pat myself on the back for thrifty sewing from the stash... half-way through the making of this dress I did some serious reading and research about textiles and the global fashion industry and the environment and human rights and toxic waste and... well, more on that later, but I'm generally pretty bummed out about cheap polyester (and conventional cotton, and... a lot of other stuff... sigh... I'm even wearing organic lipstick made out of hemp and beeswax in this photo).


Pattern alterations or any design changes you made: See sizing notes above. The main thing was I drafted my own half-circle skirt, as I was worried the gathered skirt would add too much bulk to the waist area.

Construction notes: I should have done most of this on my serger, but it's currently a bit hard to get to... so I did it all with a zigzag stitch with mixed results. Especially since I sewed it in a series of late evenings a few weeks ago while not quite awake, and had to repeatedly pick out miles of zig-zagged mistakes.

The worst bit is the narrow-hemming on the front and back bodice crossovers—it's just a total ripply mess, despite the clear elastic I stuck in there. Luckily the dots are a major visual distraction. I MAY unpick the waist seam and tighten up the front crossover edges... especially since the gapping/rippling got a lot worse after pulling the overlaps aside to nurse the toddler.



  • A quick, lovely, versatile knit dress that fits me just perfectly.
  • And it's NOT a costume!
  • Playing with patterns without tons of planning.
  • I want to wear it all the time.
Room for improvement?:

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I definitely highly recommend, though it may be a while before I sew another myself. BUT I most definitely plan to use the half-circle skirt pattern by itself again soon—maybe in a seriously crunchy organic hemp version or something.

Wear for: Work, date with husband, parties and twirling toddlers around in circles:

McCall's 6070 polka dot dress

Oh... and I have a lot of various ideas and projects cooking that I'll be sharing soon, some of which you may have heard about elsewhere. But for now, I just had to share that I sewed something that wasn't a costume.

So: do you ever seek out fabrics with environmental considerations in mind? (I never have before—but that's about to change!)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Blocking Magic: From Too-Tight to Just-Right (Cardigan Progress)

Georgina Cardigan progress-- back ready for blocking

The sad, tiny sweater upper back of lost hope--or is it?

A few weeks ago, I was starting to lose all shrunken cardigan hope. I had made decent progress in my odd moments on my lacy chartreuse Georgina sweater... but after the third time a coworker politely asked me at lunchtime if I was making another sweater for my daughter, I began to worry.

Before starting the sweater I had carefully knit and blocked swatches in both plain knitting and lace to make sure I was getting Perfect Gauge, and I had followed the directions exactly. Yet when I held out the piece that should cover my shoulders and back, well... it did look rather toddler-sized.

Enter the magic of blocking.

I had always heard about this mystical wooly transformation, in which lace knitting enters a gentle magic bath and emerges damp and slightly smelling of sheep and stuck with carefully placed pins to expand to its full glorious potential.

But while I've dutifully blocked everything I've knit, it never really seemed all that science-fictionally spectacular before. Sure I'd give my knits a gentle bath in tepid water and Eucalan, roll them in a towel to remove excess water, pin them to desired size until dry... and they always came out a bit neater and prettier, and maybe a bit bigger or smaller as desired (or not). THE END.

I'm guessing this is because everything I'd knit before was either not all that lacy, or wasn't lacy AND made of non-superwash-treated wool. Because when I finally got up the nerve to block my Georgina to match the ambitiously stretched out blocking diagram...

Blocking the Georgina Cardigan back

OK, maybe you can't tell at all here, but it grew by over three inches in each direction. CARDIGAN CRISIS AVERTED--for now.

So: for those of you who knit--have you been successful, or largely disappointed, in your blocking attempts?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Serger-Free Spandex (Mermaid) Skirt Sewing

BurdaStyle "Melissa" knit mermaid skirt

We never made it to the Coney Island Mermaid parade last weekend, but plenty of DIY sparkly spandex fun was had by all at Z's mermaid-themed birthday party on Sunday. Shockingly, I finished the toddler's mermaid skirt AHEAD of schedule (without using my serger OR a walking foot)...

Z showing off her mommy-made mermaid costume

And somehow found time to whip up a skirt for myself. Not to mention hair accessories for me, Z and Z's cousin T who was visiting for the weekend. T is nine, so she was actually able to help me--she drew and cut out the stars for the headbands, turned them inside out, and stuffed them, all very carefully. We had so much fun collaborating, and it got me excited for that far-off day when Z can actually be trusted in the sewing area.

T cuts out her mermaid headband

The results were fabulous:

Z and T, with their mermaid headbands and dresses

As for the details:

Serger-Free Spandex Sewing

My original plan was to do the smart thing and serge this super-stretchy stuff with wooly nylon. But if I had had to pull the serger out of the chest and set it up every time I wanted to sew... none of these things would ever have been finished.

So I used the same method my mom used when she made swimsuits for me as a kid--just zig-zag it. I lowered the presser-foot pressure to 2, and sewed everything with a medium-width zig-zag stitch using a size 90 stretch needle. The fabric was so heavy there was no rippling or waving like you get with delicate rayon or cotton knits. EASY. (And seriously--if you don't have a serger, there is no reason to fear knits!)

And I didn't bother overcasting or hemming, but I did reinforce the bottom of the split seam and side opening areas.

My Melissa Mermaid Skirt

This quick knit skirt came together in like, an hour, including the cutting. You might even call it a TNT pattern--except last time I made it I was pregnant and cut a larger size.

Mermaids posing out...
  • Pattern:BurdaStyle Melissa knit pencil skirt with high-waisted yoke band--no elastic necessary! Seriously, it's just three pieces, and I didn't even bother hemming this one.
  • Size: I cut a 38 and it worked just peachy (note that my weight seems to be fluctuating again--I'm currently at a 29" waist and 38.5" hip)
  • Fabric: Thick, sweaty, glittery fish-scaly spandex from Spandex House for the skirt--I think it was $10/yard. And shimmery metallic spandex in a contrasting color for the yoke/waistband.
  • Alterations: I just made it longer, but only sewed it down to the knee, for ease of walking.
  • Wear to: My daughter's birthday party. Other occasions may be more challenging.

Z's Split Mermaid Skirt

Trying to get Z to take this thing off after the party was NOT fun.

Z and T, with their mermaid headbands and dresses

I started out with this excellent mermaid tutorial from ikatbag (thanks to commenter June for the tip!), but was worried it would be tough to run around in. So I tapered the skirt pieces to points, turned them sideways, and added ruffles (see above photo for the latter).

Mermaid costume in progress

The fabric is mostly the same, except I used a sequined net for the side ruffles and a very soft rayon knit from my stash for the waistband to protect Z's sensitive eczema-prone skin from direct metallic spandex contact.

This one does have elastic in the waistband--she doesn't have much difference between her waist and hip measurement, so anything that helps keep her clothes up is necessary.

Mermaid Headbands and Hairclip

Z in her starfish mermaid headband

These are just a folded strip of the metallic spandex (2" less than the head circumference) sewn into a tube, with a stuffed spandex star handsewn on. DONE.

I also sewed a bunch of random bits of fabrics to a hairclip for myself--here's a detail view:

Mermaid hair accessory detail

Finally, here's the three of us under the ocean at Z's party. The fabrics and shell trims that didn't make it into our costumes were strewn about the room for ambiance and suchlike--no idea how else I'll use them.

Three mermaids under the sea

So: do you ever sew knits without a serger, even if you have one?

Oh, and next up... sewing something, like, wearable. To work and stuff. And a cardigan blocking update!

P.S. I almost forgot--we weren't the ONLY mermaids at the party!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sparkly Spandex Shopping Spree

Sparkly Spandex Shopping Spree

I had a bit of a sparkle attack today in the Garment District while shopping for mother-daughter mermaid costume fabric. (For Saturday's 30th Anniversary Coney Island Mermaid Parade, and Z's upcoming mermaid-themed 2nd birthday party).

I didn't really have a firm idea for the costumes, only that the skirts should be scaly looking, and the tops should be more floaty/meshy/gauzy. So went to Spandex House and, was totally confused and overwhelmed by all the hologrammy sparkly sequiny spandex-ness of the place, and finally ended up with what you see above. The shell trims are from Pacific Trimming.

Anyone have any tips on sewing with really heavy-duty hologram spandex fabric? This stuff is THICK, and every time I stretch it, the sequiny sparkly bits crack! I'm guessing serging with wooly nylon will be the way to go here once I have the skirts basted together and fitted.

I think the skirts can just be elastic-waist tubes to the knee (or maybe a bit above for Z--I want her to be able to run around and have fun) with big gauzy/meshy flounces at the bottom. Kinda like the girl in the middle here with the pink top:

For the tops, I'm not so sure--the other fabrics I got are really sheer, so maybe I'll have to do a two-layer thing or put tank tops underneath for bra coverage (for me) and sun protection (for Z). Shell bras are not my thing. Here's my illustration of Z as a mermaid:

Z as a mermaid illustration--almost done!

Once again, I think I'm just going to wing it, pattern-free! At least for the skirt--I might use one of her knit summer shirts as a rough guide for the top.

So why mermaids? Z has been obsessed with the parade and mermaids ever since she went to a live reading by Melanie Hope Greenberg of her picture book Mermaids On Parade.

I swear I'll get back to sewing something actually wearable in real life at some point, but whatever. Costumes are fun!

P.S. A few of the mermaid inspiration images I collected on Pinterest:

And randomly (for my costume idea, not Z's, of course): Bettie Page Mermaid...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Finished: Draped, wrap-style (T-shirt) wedding dress!

Finished: Doctors Without Borders T-shirt wedding dress costume

Making this dress was so much fun I kinda wish I could go back in time and sew my own wedding dress instead of worrying that I didn't have the right skills.

My T-shirt wedding dress costume was a big success--it fit the star of the little skit perfectly and garnered lots of compliments. (It's not quite as good a fit on me--the wearer was half a foot shorter than I am).

Inspiration: I won't get into all the insider details of the skit (which we put on at an informal afterparty for our general assembly). But the basic idea was that the people who are part of the international Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) movement care about MSF so much, we would actually marry it. It's not much of an exaggeration, either--we are a passionate, committed--you might say obsessive--bunch. So the skit had a wedding theme, and the character who wore the dress was the personification of MSF.


The pattern: I made this up as I went along, with pins and scissors and basting directly on the dress form, and then just sewing it together with no regard to finishing technique or sturdiness or whatnot--it only had to last for one night, after all. I originally intended to shir the bodice, but totally failed at it and switched to a wrap style with ties. Here's a detail shot revealing the total slapdashedness of it all:

Draped wrap T-shirt wedding dress: front detail
Pattern Description: Two-piece wedding dress. Top has a draped/surplice wrap style with wide straps secured with a tie. Skirt has loose elastic waist and back bustle/flounce that secures with several messy ties. Cheap single-faced discount red ribbon, a mosquito-netting veil, surgical gloves and a stethoscope complete the medical humanitarian look.

Fabric: Dress made from old XL MSF T-shirts from the office storage closet. Veil made from a cheap non-chemically-treated white mosquito bed net (I just cut a few strips of the netting and sewed them to an old haircomb).

You can see that it's a bit baggy on me in the back, and I had trouble tying the sash myself for the photo shoot:

Finished: Doctors Without Borders T-shirt wedding dress costume

The intended effect was more this:

Draped wrap T-shirt wedding dress: back view


  • Back at the sewing machine.
  • I love making costumes.
  • Everyone loved it, especially the wearer.
  • I actually sewed something for someone who wasn't my husband or daughter.
  • "Draping" (or my sad attempt at such) is fun.

Draped wrap T-shirt wedding dress: side view
Room for improvement?:
  • NONE. It got the job done.

Would you sew it again? Would you recommend it to others? I won't sew it again, but I do recommend playing around with knit fabrics on your dress form if you have one, and just seeing what happens.

Finished: Doctors Without Borders T-shirt wedding dress costume

Wear to: A skit. Or maybe just around town to help spread the word about MSF. (I did actually try this on at my sewing club, though I didn't wear it home for fear it would fall apart on the way).

P.S. Z found the dress very inspiring (as you can see from the surgical glove she is wearing in the above photos), and grabbed one of the leftover T-shirts and a hat to make her own MSF look:

Z in her Doctors Without Borders T-shirt

P.P.S. I would be remiss in not getting on my soapbox for a minute with a poster from the advocacy side of MSF about access to essential medicines for all. Look closely.

Accordingly, today's question doesn't relate to sewing: What issues are you most passionate about?