Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Peace, Love and Joy to you for 2014!

Wishing you all love, peace, joy and lots of crafty goodness and makerly awesomeness for the New Year!

My sore hands and wrists are healing up briskly (more on that later... I have some good tips) and I am really looking forward to getting back to making things soon (though I do admit I have enjoyed doing excessive amounts of yoga and catching up on lots of good books in the meantime).

P.S. Don't you just love those red cowgirl boots on Z? (Thanks to Lee's daughter for outgrowing them before wearing them out... Z is three but a GIANT and wearing six year old shoes.)

P.P.S. Also, of course my amazing mom made Z's matching dress and headband.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Selling Colette & vintage patterns on eBay, starting at $1

Hi all--I'm still having carpal tunnel issues and can't get back to regular posting and crafting just yet... but for those of you who can, I've done a little destashing and have some never-used Colette Patterns, vintage repro patterns, suits and cashmere sweaters (the latter two categories were in vacuum storage bags from a previous more-formal job) up on eBay... all auctions starting at $1, and some with free shipping!

Hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Coraline / Zoraline costume (+ carpal tunnel and RSI struggles)

"Zoraline" and her little me (Z as Coraline from her favorite movie of the same name)
Little Z dressed as Coraline (or "Zoraline") for Halloween, complete with her button-eyed "little me" doll, yellow raincoat and a blue afro wig
Hi all! Sorry for the silence but I've been suffering from some incredibly painful carpal tunnel and other RSI (repetitive stress injuries) from too much computer use and have to severely limit time on the keyboard/mouse (and all other hand activities as well, from baking to washing dishes to sewing to reading blogs) for the next few months.

Don't worry—I'm keeping myself busy learning how to use voice dictation software (which is how I'm writing this post!) going to physical therapy, practicing yoga, exercising, taking long walks and listening to lots and lots of audiobooks. Meanwhile my wonderful husband has been doing pretty much all the housework, and three-year-old Z has been helping even more than previously—measuring and mixing the waffle batter, cleaning up her Duplos, putting away her laundry, and getting herself dressed and undressed, no matter how finicky the buttons and zippers.

All of this obviously put a damper on my Halloween sewing plans, but my amazing mom came to the rescue. Z wanted to dress as "Zoraline" (inspired by the character "Coraline" from her—and my–favorite movie) so my mom made Z a "little me" doll for her costume. These were the inspiration images:
Coraline inspiration image, with yellow raincoat and little me doll

She didn't make the entire doll from scratch—it was a doll Z already had, but my mom sewed a little yellow raincoat and glued on some blue hair (aka leftover sock yarn) and button eyes (from an old sweater):

My mom working on turning one of Z's dolls into a Zoraline doll for Halloween.
None of Z's preschool classmates had any idea who she was supposed to be (I think this rather scary movie is intended to be for ages 11 and up, oops!) but she was just thrilled. Thanks Mom!

P.S. If you're interested in the voice dictation software, I HIGHLY recommend it. You can do pretty much everything on your computer or smartphone nearly hands-free, from sending email and text messages to searching the web to writing essays (though not drawing and PhotoShop or graphic design and such) without even touching it.

The best Mac voice software in my experience so far is Dragon Dictate (though I hear it's more expensive and not as good as the PC version, Dragon Naturally Speaking), and on my Android phone I use a combo of Dragon Mobile Assistant (free!) and the built-in Google Voice Search software (also free).

Sunday, September 29, 2013

I want my kid to be able to make or fix EVERYTHING

Little hands helping Mommy tape together her sewing pattern. #isew #mytoddlersews

Little hands helping me tape together my sewing pattern

I want my daughter to be able to make, fix and understand EVERYTHING.

I don't want her to think she has to SHOP her way out of problems or challenges: I want her to know she can DIY, not BUY. I want her to know she can produce, not just consume.

I want to teach her self-reliance and self-confidence, not helplessness.

I want her to know that she is capable of making it or doing it or solving it herself.

When I was growing up, my parents made and fixed almost EVERYTHING themselves: they constructed and upholstered furniture, put in flooring and wiring, built a porch and installed skylights, gardened vegetables and fruits and canned them, fixed and customized computers ... my mom did photography and painted and sculpted and sewed and knit and quilted and baked elaborate amazing cakes, my dad built beds and tables and chairs and bookcases. (All while both working full-time as public school computer teachers).

And helping Mommy cut the pattern too. #isew #mytoddlersews

And always, always they tried to teach us.

Nowadays, I find myself wishing I had paid as much attention to my dad's teachings as my mom's — he would try to teach me how to build a bookshelf or install drywall or safely handle electrical wiring, but I really didn't listen. So I can paint, sew, knit, quilt and bake, but I can't repair a bicycle or fix a small appliance or design a computer network. Maybe next time I visit my dad I should ask for some lessons?

Little Z cut out the envelope all by herself. #mytoddlersews

Z cut out my Red Velvet Clutch pdf envelope all by herself!

Myself, whenever I am doing ANYTHING that is safe enough for Z to participate in, I let her if she is interested. She can't go near the pins and shears, but she can help me tape together sewing patterns and wind my yarn.


No, I won't get things done as quickly as if I did them myself and let her play with her blocks a few feet away. Yes, she sometimes unravels my knitting projects or puts too many chocolate chips in the cookies. Who cares? The pride on her face makes it all worth it:


Some of the things my husband and I are teaching her (or will teach her when she's ready) Sewing, knitting, quilting, baking, cooking, biking, painting, photography, cartooning, writing, graphic design, using a graphics tablet in PhotoShop — seriously:

Z using the Wacom tablet

Some of the things my parents (and my brother and sister-in-law) are teaching her: Gardening, carpentry, boating, fishing, farming (my brother has a farm in Maine)... spackling:


Here she is helping my dad (her Zadie) build a custom wall-to-wall bookshelf in her bedroom:


I think all of this is already having a big effect. Half the time when I try to help her with anything because I'm in a rush (like putting on her clothes or shoes) she says "No thank you Mommy, I can do it myself!" She also stomps around the house in her boots proclaiming "I am so brave and so strong, I can climb really tall ladders!"

Me Made May 23: Green and purple

Love you more than I can describe, my brave, strong, smart little girl!

P.S. The bookshelf in the above photo was built by my amazing dad, the sculpture of me and Masheka is by my amazing mom, and the skirt I'm wearing is by me.

So: What did your parents teach you to make? And if you have kids or plan to—what are you teaching them/will you teach them?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Red Velvet Collection Presale is on!

Oh hello... you know you want to sew me! I'm only $15.91 USD for a limited time or you can download me as a PDF right away for $14.47!

Red Velvet Collection—now on presale! 

And I just know you want to make all of my friends too... get all five of us as paper patterns for just $46.29 USD or download us right away as PDFs for $36.26.

Phew! I am so excited for the launch of these babies I can't even stand it. My husband Masheka and I are really proud of our work on the art and illustrations, and personally, I just can't wait to sew every one of these lovelies... maybe twice or three times, too!

Three of the PDFs from the Cake Patterns Red Velvet collection are already available for download, and the paper patterns will all be shipping in 2-3 weeks—at which time this lovely presale will be over.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dear Burda Style back issues: stop mocking me!

"Someday you might sew me... I looked really awesome on your friends!"

Dear Burda Style 2010 back issues falling off my bookshelves and spilling into my pattern drawer,

STOP MOCKING ME. I know I don't sew as often as some of your other lady friends, but it's not that I'm afraid of tracing or anything. 

It's just that well, you showed up EVERY SINGLE MONTH that I subscribed to you and some months I can't even pull out my sewing machine, never mind dive into a sea of criss-crossing colored lines and extract a stylish colorblocked knit dress.

And sometimes I leaf through you and circle ideas for things I might make someday, but then I don't, and I think you're laughing at me.

By the time you sent me the maternity-themed-issue above, I was already in labor (for FIVE days I might add, not that that's your fault or anything). What's up with that?

To be honest I've only ever sewn one Burda Style magazine pattern and it was awesome, but the experience of altering it for maternity and deciphering the binding instructions left me a little exhausted.

Please stop pretending that somehow, someday I am going to stand on the beach with the wind in my hair and say "oh, you know... I just traced up this Burda Style pattern last night and threw it together on my serger without making any mistakes. No big."

I just can't take it anymore. I know you are awesome and economical and have cool trench coats and unusual blouse construction and smarter, better fit than the Big Four and if I was a lot cooler, I would find the time to hang out with you.

But I just don't think we belong together anymore.

So yeah. I'm selling you all on eBay starting at $1 each. I hope you can find a faster friend who will trace you like there's no tomorrow.


P.S. Please don't be offended that I'm keeping my Ottobres.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A (Toddler) Dress a Day + Yummy Discount Fabric

 An improvisational pleated toddler dress in wax print fabric, designed and sewn by my amazing mom Beryl

A little while back I mentioned my mom had gotten into the habit of sewing a baby dress (or other garment) every day. After sewing up a fantastic wardrobe for my not-yet-born niece, I'm happy to report that she has now moved on to making some awesome custom clothes for my toddler Z.

Improvisational toddler dress by my amazing mom

The coolest thing is that these are all no-pattern—just self-drafted or copied from ready-to-wear. My mom is way less obsessive and perfectionist than me, and it doesn't bother her at all to just draw out a pattern, sew it up, and tweak it to fit. (Me, I'm too busy smoothing out my fabric so it is PERFECTLY ON GRAIN).

Toddler PJs by my amazing mom

I couldn't wait til they arrive in the mail and I can have Z model them... which is why I am showing you pictures of them now.

Improvisational toddler dress by my amazing mom

As for fabric, my mom was getting sick of the weak selection at her local Jo-Ann's, so she took a trip to the fantastic Sew Fisticated Discount Fabric shop in Dochester, Mass (see my review). She was rewarded with a huge pile of lovely fabrics at some very low prices (many $1-3 per yard), including some really gorgeous wax prints.

Aren't those yummy? Thanks Mom!

As for me, I've been working on a bunch of things behind the scenes I can't actually show you yet (I'm a woman of mystery, right?) but ... I promise they'll be worth the wait!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sewing pattern fun at the Small Press Expo!

Selling Cake sewing patterns and comics at SPX

With my cartoonist husband Masheka Wood at the Small Press Expo last weekend, selling sewing patterns, comics and my new children's book, Susan's Mess. (Note: Wearing the Tiramisu knit dress was a good sales move!)

Ok, I'm not sure if FUN is exactly the right way to describe sitting behind a table at a comics convention worrying that no one there will actually be vaguely interested in either children's books or sewing patterns and randomly yelling out "Hi there! Do you sew?" or "Hi there, are you interested in children's comics?" with a perky smile.

Luckily it turned out that many comics and cartooning enthusiasts DO sew, including a number who sew costumes for cosplay, and some of them were interested in learning to sew everyday clothes. They loved that I was wearing a dress that matched the Tiramisu pattern envelope, too.

As I suspected, the Bonny sailor knit top was the hottest seller. Here's Rachel, an illustrator who loves sewing and hockey (hence her hockey-fabric dress, made from a Simplicity Project Runway pattern):

Rachel, a happy @sewingcake customer @spxcomics. Love her hockey dress (Simplicity Project Runway pattern).

And there were a decent amount of small children about who were interested in my new children's book (more on that later when I have it properly and available for sale on Amazon!)

So despite all my nervousness, we had an amazing day at the convention, bringing in twice as many sales as I'd ever made in all my years of cartooning conventions, and actually more than covering the cost of the table and bus fare. And in the evening, I had the honor of presenting the Ignatz for Outstanding Series at the awards ceremony.

And it was great to hang with cartooning pals from way back like Matt Bors and Robert Kirby.

I even got a little time to finish sleeve one of my Delancey cardigan... the cartoonists around me found it very amusing ("That woman is knitting a sweater WHILE SHE IS WEARING IT!")

#knitting while selling comics and sewing patterns at @spxcomics with @whatmashekadid

Monday, September 9, 2013

In DC area Sept. 14/15: Selling Cake & Comics at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD

Family cartooning convention

Selling comics and soft stuffed doodles back in 2011, the last time we tabled at a cartooning convention as a family

Just a heads up if you're in the DC area: Masheka and I (and the little one) are going to be tabling at the 2013 Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland this coming weekend on September 14 and 15.

I'll probably be doing a lot of toddler chasing, but I also plan to have a children's comic book to sell... and I'll be wearing some Cake and selling a selection of Cake as well, including a few that are currently out of stock in the US and waiting to be reprinted. (Plus: if you come by my table and mention you're a regular Polka Dot Overload reader, I'll give you a 10% discount!).

Here's the official poster for the event. I have no idea if anyone else attending this thing will be of the sewing persuasion, but we'll see!

Please come by and say hello!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Finished (At Last): Vintage Pattern Illustration Giveaway

"You on a Vintage Pattern Envelope" Giveaway drawing by Polka Dot Overload featuring Simplicity 3471

Cosmo on her bicycle in a 1960s dress made with a 1970s print and an orange ranunculus flower in her dreads

Eons and ages and eras upon a time ago (otherwise known as June 2012), I hosted a giveaway for a custom illustration of a reader on the vintage pattern envelope of her/his choice. I had originally promised 6-8 weeks for completion...

And then things got a little stressed around here and then much more stressed and me and the little one were sick for eight months and we had hospital trips and I had surgery and... then we got better and I realized I needed to dig up the giveaway art and finally get it done.

Luckily Cosmo, the giveaway winner (who blogs at Just Too Much and Los Angeles Cycle Chic), was very patient and still loved her final artwork, one year plus late as it was!

She had requested a drawing of herself in Simplicity 3471, an early 1960s pattern (which I see you can get on eBay for about $26):

Made up in this wild 70s-esque fabric:

With an orange ranunculus flower pinned in her hair.

I also chose to draw her on her bicycle, as I always love vintage pattern illustrations featuring props and I thought it would suit her style.

Better late than never.

P.S. Meg the Grand, your promised bonus TARDIS giveaway artwork is next even though you told me not to worry about it!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Finished: A Tulip for My Niece

Tulip baby sweater

Here's the little sweater I finished just in time for the baby shower for my niece-to-be, a lucky little girl who will be living on my brother's farm in Maine*, picking lots of blueberries, going camping and kayaking and wearing lots of soft snuggly woolen things.

The pattern: Tulips, a Colorful Cardigan for Baby, 9 month size. (Available as a PDF, or as part of a kit).

The yarn: Dream in Color Classy, bought as a kit with eight colors from Eat. Sleep. Knit.

Time taken: A bit over a month (but I was knitting and making lots of other things at the same time).

The exhaustive Ravelry details: Here.


This sweater was so fun and pretty to knit I almost felt guilty — going from stripe to stripe with the little seed stitch, fondling the pretty soft colors, making the little I-cord edge and ties. It was very well received by my brother and sister-in-law and all the baby shower guests. Here's a closeup:

Tulip baby sweater

My amazing mom of course made some really gorgeous decorations and tasty treats for the baby shower. My favorite were these allergy-free (for my daughter) chocolate cake pops, with no dairy, eggs, or nuts:

The completed allergy free chocolate cake pops at the baby shower for my niece to be. No dairy, eggs or nuts!

Little Z wore her Oliver + S wax-print dress, and I wore my Cake Patterns Tiramisu. Luckily neither fell victim to the chocolate frosting:


I can't wait to meet my niece!

*My brother is actually a civil rights lawyer, not a farmer, but he lives on a 40-acre farm in rural Maine in a house he and his wife designed themselves with a big garden and lots of ducks, chickens and cats. It's super awesome.

Quoted: When Clothing Was As Precious as Metal and Stones

Detail of a silk dress from the 1830s, from the American Textile History Museum in Lowell

"In the West, apparel has been expensive to produce and has therefore been a high-priced and valuable commodity for centuries. Once fashioned, garments had long and varied lives. A dress or jacket might be born as special occasion wear, then become a garment for indoor sociability, and eventually be worn (and worn out) while doing domestic chores... In some households, garments were turned into quilting squares... A piece of clothing might end its useful life as a rag, and literally turn to dust.

... From the seventeenth century through the mid-nineteenth century, apparel was a primary medium of exchange, second only to metals and precious stones."
--Economist Juliet Schor, in Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth.

I came across this quote today in a book I was reading, and thought it tied in perfectly with our lively discussion and poll yesterday about the price—and value—of sewing today.

In contrast to the history of apparel, we have today's sad reality:

Bales of used clothing waiting to be turned into rags
"This history puts the nearly free gently worn garments of the early twenty-first century into sharp relief. The United States has been piling up mountains of clothing that have virtually no value... The production system drives businesses to use natural resources at hyperspeed, and the consumer system makes the resulting products redundant almost as fast. It's a recipe for disaster."

Plenitude (aka True Wealth) is not specifically about the fashion industry (for that, I'd recommend Overdressed), but Schor uses fast fashion and its devastating effects on workers and the environment as a case study for what has gone so wrong in our "business as usual" economy.

As a solution she presents her philosophy of plenitude, downshifting and sustainable living, which is in a large part about creating instead of consuming:

"The second principal of plenitude... is to diversify from the business-as-usual market and "self-provision", or make, grow or do things for oneself... Plenitude aspires to transform self-provisioning from a marginal craft movement into something economically significant."

I haven't finished the book yet, but I've always loved Schor's ideas—she was briefly my college women's studies advisor (before I switched majors to social anthropology and visual arts) and taught one of the most fun, engaging and thought-provoking classes I've ever taken, "Shop Til You Drop: Gender and Class in Consumer Culture."

I think I'll be grabbing those old wornout clothes and sheets I was going to take to be recycled and tearing them to use instead of paper towels!

So what do you think — now that clothing has been so devalued in our society, is there anything we can do to recover that value and respect for our garments? Is apparel doomed to lie on the dollar-a-pound pile of history? Will it ever again be precious as stones?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Does Sewing Save You Money—Or Bust Your Budget? (With Poll)

Does sewing save your money? Polka Dot Overload Poll.
Is sewing a frugal tool for looking fashionable on a budget... or just a hungry hobby demanding to be fed with pricey fabric and gadgets?

I know sewing could actually save me money. It's a basic tenet of most frugal philosophies that making is better than consuming. In theory. I could make quality clothes (and home items) for my family for way less than retail, scrounge for fabric at flea markets and swaps, repair and upcycle and alter and just generally defy the ready-to-wear retail lifestyle.

But in practice... whenever I am actually immersed in thinking about sewing and knitting, in reading all my favorite blogs and paging through Pinterest and Ravelry and picking up copies of Threads or Interweave Knits ... I start to feel like I NEED more sewing and knitting STUFF. Maybe a new presser foot for piping or bias binding. A bright floral knit in just THAT shade that I don't have in my already bulging stash drawers.

Another knitting needle set. A different weight of yarn.

A different kind of measuring tape. Striped elastic—the really soft kind!

Or maybe a bra-making kit—I could save so much MONEY by making my own bras! I just have to buy some specialty elastics... and lace... and...


I'm trying to change that, and I'm starting by listing the ways sewing HAS and HASN'T saved me money in the past. But first, I'd like to hear your experience. Please take the poll below and let me know: does sewing save YOU money?

And now...

Ways I have sewn on the CHEAP and SAVED money with sewing

  • By getting my machines used/secondhand. My serger was a gift left to me by my late grandmother, and I bought my Husqvarna Viking sewing machine used (for 50% of retail) with additional money she left me. (If I hadn't lucked into an inherited machine, I could have bought a vintage used machine.)
  • By swapping patterns and fabric with friends.
  • By sewing from the stash and choosing projects that work with my existing fabric and existing yarn.
  • By refashioning old clothes into new ones.
  • By mending my family's existing clothes — fixing tears, replacing lost buttons, hemming, replacing worn linings, even darning socks.
  • By altering the fit and style of old clothes to make them feel new again.
  • By making awesome Halloween costumes and then selling them on eBay right before Halloween the next year.
  • By making curtains and other soft household items.

Ways I have BUSTED the BUDGET and WASTED money with sewing

  • By buying way too many ill-fitting items at the thrift store with "potential" and planning to upcycle/refashion them... but never getting around to it.
  • By choosing sewing projects that require new fabric and can't be made from the stash.
  • By acquiring way too many "inexpensive" little gadgets and notions that really add up... special presser feet, special needles, special sewing lamps, special elastic, what a special headache.
  • By buying way more materials than my actual rate of sewing/knitting warrants—as much as 5 or 10 times as much as I could actually sew or knit in a given month.
  • By buying new when I could have bought used with a little more effort and creativity.
  • By subscribing to too many sewing magazines and buying too many sewing books and Craftsy classes (some of them unread/unwatched).

Going forward, I'm going to thing hard about all the above and work from a fixed sewing/knitting budget each month with the help of the YNAB budgeting software I mentioned previously (that sewing/knitting budget is currently $0, but I have a BIG stash, so that's hardly a hardship!).

So, take the poll and do tell in the comments: are you a frugal sewing god(dess) or a fancy sewing or knitting supplies fanatic? (And no shame, please... if you have the budget and the time to spend on a creative hobby you love, where's the guilt in that?)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Follow me on Instagram (or how I cut my cell phone bill AND got a smart phone)

Because I know you want to see blurry photos of me knitting baby sweaters on a bus.

For a long time I was a smartphone holdout simply because it just seemed anti-frugal. I already resented paying $95/month to Verizon for two flip phones on the cheapest plan available, and I wasn't about to let that dollar figure budge upwards.

But as part of my recent intense budgeting obsession I discovered we could switch to a no-contract provider, save $1,000+ over the next two years AND have smartphones. So my husband and I bought three-year-old refurbished Android phones on eBay and activated them with Ting (my $25 coupon referral code is here if you want it).

And now I can take pictures. Wherever. Whenever. And sort of pretend they are like Polaroids and put them on Instagram. Here are a few from the last few days...

A family history quilt my amazing mom sewed in 1974, focused on her grandparents from Pickwick, Tennessee. Note the sewing machine—of course:

A few of the baby shoes my mom has sewn for my niece-to-be:

My mom showing Z how she makes the slippers:

And non-sewing, but still making: baking allergy-free chocolate chip oatmeal cookies (no dairy, no eggs, no nuts):

So yes. Follow me on Instagram (and on my Facebook page, if you like).

P.S. Also: am I the last sewing blogger to get a smartphone? Are any of you other thrifty types still rocking flip phones or candy bars? As much as I love the camera and other capabilities, it still doesn't seem like a proper PHONE to me... but I'm sure I'll get use to it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tutorial: Super Quick No-Elastic Knit Half Circle Skirt!

Super Quick No-Elastic Knit Skirt Tutorial by Polka Dot Overload

This skirt was so quick and easy it barely deserved a blog post, but then I thought I'd try my hand at making a Pinterest-friendly tutorial illustration for it. It truly took me just 15 minutes to sew — it has just five seams, after all.

15-minute polka dot skirt

I wasn't going to hem it at all, but it initially turned out 4 inches too long and a bit dowdy.

Skirt back

So I decided to hem it with a twin needle ... and my walking foot really chomped on the hem. Then when I was trimming off the excess I managed to stab three additional holes in the hem and had to hand-sew them shut. So no hem closeups this time!

And yes, I know I'm a black-&-white-&-polka-dot broken record. But I have a lot of this black & white ITY jersey in my stash, and I had already drafted the half-circle skirt for this dress that I wear constantly, using Patty the Snug Bug's handy calculator.

McCall's 6070 polka dot dress

This no-elastic waistband treatment is pretty common in ready-to-wear skirts—it's kind of like a yoga pants waistband. The key is giving it just the right amount of negative ease, or it will sag and bag around your midriff.

If you do give it a try, please leave a comment, I'd love to see your version!

P.S. If you don't want to draft the skirt yourself, just use a purchased half-circle skirt pattern like the Cake Patterns Tiramisu instead of the self-drafted skirt! Even EASIER.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Non-Toxic Beauty Routine Makeover #1: Safer Lipstick? (EDITED)

Urgent update folks: A super-smart commenter noted that the Colorganics brand I had researched a few years ago and had thought to be lead-free was in fact on the FDA's 2012 expanded survey list of products that did contain some lead. SO! I am after all going to need to do my research again, and go lipstick-free for a time. I will also contact the company about this.

The other brand I mentioned, Zuzu Luxe, states they test their products and are committed to selling lipsticks without lead contamination but I see some of their products on that survey list as well. So STAY TUNED.

Polka Dot Overload: Non-Toxic Lipstick Makeover before and after

Before: Turns out my L'Oreal lipstick was full of lead; After: Colorganics Hemp Organic lipsticks (shown here in Ruby) are made from hemp and beeswax and are allergen-free—but what about lead?

I'm giving my beauty routine a serious green makeover.

I've been going through all the personal care products my family uses one by one — from baby shampoo and eczema lotion to sun block to makeup and nail polish — and replacing them with non-toxic, allergy-free, organic and/or more sustainable alternatives.

These things can be challenging to find, so I'd thought I'd share my research — and some of my new favorite non-toxic beauty products and sources! Today's featured find: safe lipstick.

How this all started: A few years ago when I was pregnant — and extra-worried about what I was putting in or on my body — I watched this eye-opening short animated video, "The Story of Cosmetics: The Ugly Truth of Toxins In, Toxics Out".

So I took a close look at all the products in my medicine cabinet (with some help from the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database)... and immediately tossed most of them out. For a while I didn't have ANY makeup to wear (not good for a vintage-inspired look!), and I was washing my hair with organic baby shampoo.

Why the freak-out? Beauty and personal care products don't HAVE to be poisonous. But many mainstream makeup and bath products are loaded with toxic chemicals, carcinogens and nasty irritants ... and even serious toxins NOT listed on their ingredient labels, like lead.

A warning: Don't trust "natural" labeling. Words like "natural" and "eco" are pretty much meaningless and unregulated, and many brands practice "greenwashing"–marketing their products as safe or sustainable when they are anything but. (And if you are dealing with serious allergens—like we are in my house—many crunchy and natural companies fill their products with nut and sesame oils.)

Luckily there are a growing number of small cosmetics and personal care brands and companies that DO make safety and sustainability a priority. And some of those products are even allergen-free. So without further ado...

Found: Safer, Allergen-Free Lipstick?

Hemp Organics lipstick by Colorganics in Coral: made with hemp, beeswax, and other organic, allergen-free and GMO-free ingredients.

The problem: FDA testing has found many lipsticks are packed with deadly contaminants and carcinogens like lead and cadmium. These aren't ingredients listed on the label, but companies are not required to test their products for contamination — and most don't bother to. And take note — one of the top 20 offenders was a lip shimmer sold by "natural" favorite Burt's Bees.

My before lipsticks: I mostly used long-wearing lipsticks from Revlon and L'Oreal. Both brands featured heavily in the top 20 lead-containing lipsticks, so I just went lipstick-free until I found something safer.

The hunt: I prefer to test out lipstick shades in person, so I started with the Whole Foods Whole Body store near my office. But all the natural and organic lipsticks they stocked contained things my daughter was allergic too — like sesame or walnuts — and I wasn't about to stop covering her little cheeks in kisses just to look pretty.

I finally found what I was looking for at the beauty counter at Perelandra, a fantastic natural foods store in Brooklyn.

My after lipstick: Hemp Organics lipstick by Colorganics.

Here I am in the Ruby:

Cake Patterns Tiramisu Knit Dress in Candy Stripes -closeup

If you're not avoiding nuts or sesame like I am, your safe lipstick options are much wider. Another good option (for the non-sesame allergic) is Zuzu Luxe lipsticks (sold at Whole Foods Whole Body, Amazon or the company's own website). They even have some gluten-free options. I like this bright red shade, Starlet:

Edited to add: Gabriel Cosmetics (the makers of Zuzu) says they test for lead contamination—yet they appear on that expanded survey list as well. On their website FAQ, they indicate:

Q. Are your products lead free?
A. Yes. We have tight quality control policies and can assure that each product is tested during and after manufacturing for pH values, viscosity, microorganisms or any other contaminants.

I hope this post was helpful, rather than scary—everyone has to decide what level of risk they are comfortable with of course, and there's no way to make your life totally toxin free... but I think personal care products are a great place to start, since we slather so many of them directly on our skin each day, and well... lipstick gets in your mouth, too!

Recommended further reading, viewing, and action-taking

So, do you have a favorite non-toxic lipstick? Are you as frustrated as I am by how hard these things are to hunt down... and as angry that companies are selling us poisonous beauty products?

And what's with all the new "luxury organic" lipsticks that actually contain awful ingredients when you look into them more closely? BLECH.

Happy safe lipstick hunting! (Next time: safe nail polish.)

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for (and quite likely spent on yarn or fabric to be blogged here!).